Aliens by Vesna McMaster
In common with an increasing mass of humanity in this mixing, shrinking world, I don’t really come from anywhere. I just growed, like Topsy.
In this predicament, surroundings can seem relentless. Nowhere to run and hide, nothing so familiar that mores and customs are never questioned, simply worn like a hardy waterproof. Humans crave the easy carbohydrate of mono-culture, the refined sugar of knowing where you belong – sweet words in your mouth, filling your stomach with warmth.
But we move about these days, our legs far outrunning our minds. We have mixed families and are perpetually on Skype. I keep a special book with all the addresses I have lived at since leaving the last house I shared with my parents (itself the end of a scattered dozen or so that I can recall), because ‘they’ ask these things sometimes when you apply for official documents. The current tally is 22. I am 42 years old and still shifting.
The other day, one of our children (age 8) comes out with the random question of ‘Have you ever been to Poland?’
‘Yes, I was born in Poland.’
My partner spins round, half-chopped onions scattering in an astonished arc.
‘How come you never told me you were born in Poland?’ he demands, with the indignation of just discovering he’s been diddled out of a tax rebate.
Why would I? It’s not a stand-out feature, salient, defining. It’s been absorbed and translated within the general package of Me-ness but doesn’t need explaining any more than a stew needs to separate out all its ingredients while being served in a bowl.
Sometimes, one Serial Migrant (which is what we are) will bump against another. The ‘tells’ are light but unmistakable. An unwillingness to elaborate on origins in a casual introduction, a skin colour that jars with an accent, resignation in the gaze – acceptance. They nod, exchange unspoken condolences/congratulations, and move apart. Space is needed.
Life is hard for such children. Young bones compiled from calcium from so many different breeds of cattle cause growing pains. Personalities and opinions in an unformed, amorphous state wobble without support, thrown from one mould to the next until the original intended form is barely discernible. They struggle to stand without support of an accepted culture, and wonder if they’ll ever be fully formed as they stand before adulthood.
Then they start to let go, realising that they will never have that one place where they are safe: the place they’ve been trying to create with such desperation. They straighten up and find (with astonishment) they can stand. They are a little like those sci-fi monsters who absorb strength, appearance or other intrinsic attributes from their human hosts to acquire an undefinable polymorphous anonymity. A uniqueness carved from a host of typicals. This shape-shifting ingests the foreign particle, digesting, utilising, neutralising.
On the bus home from Junior High as I sat chatting to my friends, strangers would often stare at us without restraint. Sometimes their bafflement forced them into a direct question.
‘Are you Japanese?’ they would blurt out.
‘But you are speaking Japanese. Why are you not speaking like a foreigner? You don’t look Japanese.’ Again, there was that diddled-out-of-a-tax-rebate ring to this last.
‘Because I live here.’
‘Oh,’ they would say. Then they’d retire back to their own private space to consider the implications of such encroachment on the natural order. Reminiscent of a child's expression on first learning how much space the atoms of seemingly solid matter consist of. A re-focus, a silence. My friends would suppress a giggle and be a smidge self-conscious for a few minutes.
I am a sci-fi alien. Under the freckled skin, bones morph and glide in visible bumps, changing my shape to fit into any crevice, lodge on any outcrop. I have prehensile toes to grip the branches of trees and leap off again in one spring. I have rudimentary gills and a skin that absorbs oxygen from the water so I can survive in tidal estuaries, burrowing into the salt mud and feeling it cool on my sides. I can clamber up sleet-whipped cliffs with clattering hooves, safe inside wiry fur, and relish the desolate echoes that drop down the ravine. It is not odd that some people stare.
Strange is familiar. Foreign is home. In this oxymoron of linked disassociation, I am a paradox of exotic familiarity – unique in a completely similar way to millions of other inhabitants of this narrowing planet.
© Vesna McMaster
'Aliens' was first published in Foreign and Far Away - an anthology from Writers Abroad. Buy it now on Amazon
Vesna McMaster writes mystery novels under the pen name of Moosey. She brought out The Fastro Connection July, 2014 and is currently working on her second title. www.MooseysMysteries.weebly.com She has published a book of short stories as well as numerous fiction, prose and poetry pieces. www.VesnaMcMaster.com Vesna also has a weakness for Elizabethan poetry and has recorded all of Shakespeare’s Sonnets at www.ShakespeareMadeClear.weebly.com
Vesna offers fiction proofreading services for anything from short stories to full length novels. She has a BA Hons from Cambridge University in English Literature and is a writer herself. Details at http://www.vesnamcmaster.com/fiction-proofreading-service.html HWC members pay 1/2 prize
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