The little girl lost her voice. She silenced herself for fear her words would betray her darkest secret. The silence was painful but it kept her safe. And in doing so, she forgot the shape of words.
“What’s happening at home?” Miss asks her mummy, who had been summoned to the school the day before. “She’s not performing and she’s in a world of her own. She doesn’t even play with her friends anymore. Is it the divorce? Where do you live now?”
She could hear Mummy’s voice in the distance. She doesn’t want to, so she covers her ears and shuts her eyes tightly.
She thinks of the man, the one who took her voice. She fears him, hates him. He ruined her, devastated her, filled her small heart with great dread. With every inappropriate touch, every attempt to penetrate her, every dirty thing he had done to her, and made her do, he sloughed off a piece of her voice and carried it off like a hungry thief in the night.
She could never be normal again. Ruin is her portion. He broke her spirit and tore away the part of her that could never be stitched whole again: the part that made her innocent and pure.
She sits under the big, shady tree to the front of the schoolyard and observes her classmates at play. Tears soak her shirt as she sees them laugh, play, and look normal. She’s an outsider now, so she stays in the shadows, declining their invitations to join in. As the bell tolls, signaling the time to return to class, fear envelopes her. For a moment, her breath catches in her throat and her heart skips a few beats. One more clang of the bell and it will be time to go home.
Home. Home used to be nice because Daddy was there and she had a room of her own with nice things. Now, in her new home, she sleeps on the floor in someone’s living room, in a fetal position, doing her darndest to become small and invisible so the man would not see her. Her heart quickens as she catches his scent in the night air, a combination of cheap perfume, sweat, and something acrid. She squeezes her eyes tightly and pretends to be asleep, hoping that it would stop him, this time. He is not fooled. He is never fooled! He chuckles at her attempt at deception and covers her small face with a big hand as he explores her body with the other, touching her places she knows in her little heart he should not. She screams into his cupped hand which has partnered with the loud television to stifle her voice and makes it easy for him to do unwelcomed things. Things that would leave a stain on her eight-year-old soul. As he reaches his point of satisfaction, he reminds her of the danger that would come to her if she tells anyone. Terror fills her as she catches an image – her body cut her up and dumped in the ravine that only stray dogs and vagrants frequent. She shivers at his words as fear grips her like an icy blanket. She agrees to keep her silence and bear her pain and shame within, for Mummy.
Poor Mummy. She imagines Mummy sitting at the bus stop well past the last bus, waiting for her to come from school, wringing her hands and crying, wondering where her girl could be. Her girl is far from the bus stop or the house with the scary man; even further than the bottom of the ravine that was slick with oil and teeming with flies, garbage, and dead animals. She’s in a place where grown men can’t hurt her, a place where pain doesn’t know her name.
He has ruined her in ways he could never imagine. And in getting his pleasure, he not only exposed her to the HIV/AIDS that later kills him, but he does something more sinister. He puts a mark on her that only people like him could see. People who find pleasure in abusing voiceless little girls, and in later days, broken women. Thankfully, she isn’t infected with his illness, but she is still marked, still stained.
In his place came two more abusers. Each worse than that the one before, their weight not only crushing her small chest but splintering her soul. And she never tells. After all, where does a voiceless girl go when no one cares to wipe her tears or stymy the infection of her untreated wounds, wounds that render her vulnerable for every vulture to see? Nowhere. So she forgot the shape of words.