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The Sealed Lips
No. That was the first word I said, and for all I knew, it may have been my last. Now, it seems as though I knew, just then what they were going to do to me. Now, it seems as though I had tried to protest.
“Bad omen,” pronounced my grandmother. She frowned as she held me up and examined every inch of me. “Too tiny,” she said, “Not good for bearing sons.”
I remember how she disapproved of me and how I disappointed her…simply by smiling.
“You may smile,” my mother instructed, “but never show your teeth. Always keep your head bent. You value is measured by your modesty.”
Of course, she was right. Of course, Mother knew best. Of course, I complied.
“It’s a girl,” declared Dr. Diatomo.
My mother smiled weakly. I don’t remember this, of course, and like every other aspect of my life, I had to speculate. I could imagine how my father must have felt. Another girl. I was the third to be born in my family. I was nothing new. On top of it all, I was a girl.
Three days after I had uttered my first word, we visited Father Suprè. It was he who performed the rite and it, too, was he who bound my lips with the sacred thread-the dreaded Silenca.
“May you blossom into a virtuous female,” recited Father Suprè, “And may you grow to be a good wife, mother and provider of care.”
My mother sat in the front row, her face beaming with maternal pride. Tears splashed down her front as my lips were sealed.
“May you now be a good and obedient daughter,” continued Father Suprè, “May you know your place within your household and may you, as a token of respect to your father and mother, utter not a word to displease them.”
I burst into tears as he said this. My teeth were hurting horrible. My lips felt dry and parched. Somehow, I knew I had been violated, once and for all.
I was two years old.
When I was nine, I became enrolled at the Academy. It was nameless, faceless and knew neither for nor friend. It was the institute of the feared Madame Appeara.
“I am Madame Appeara,” she said on our first day of school, taking care to enunciate each word with astounding precision. “You are here to learn. At my boarding school, you be taught how a girl may act, so that you shall become a successful woman.”
Throughout my entire experience at the Academy, I was taught to view the world with fear.
“Never leave your hair down,” said Madame Appeara, “It is an invitation. Let this be your sermon. I mean everything I am about to say: young girls are like flowers who will lose their charms as soon as they are wilted, tainted, caressed. You are instead swans waiting to be delivered to lordly lions-your masters whom you will follow throughout the world.”
“You are worth not half of this guppy. You live at the mercy of your parents and husbands. Speak not, and you shall survive.”
“At night, when the Sun has bid the Earth farewell, darkness swallows us all. At this time, groping and clumsy hands dominate our world. We surrender and exude our melting femininity. When day breaks, and the Sun has returned, we dare not refuse it, for it gives us light, this bringer of hope, this bringer of joy, this object of worship.”
I listened with a weak mind, and believed all that was said. At night, alone in my bed, I looked across the room where twelve other girls, with lips as bound as mine were, slept.
At the foot of my bed one night hovered a lonely figure. I believed she was a part of my dream. She lamented the loss of her maids-her twelve virgin maidens-through dance and song. Her hair reached her waist and was as fiery as her temperament. Her eyes bulged as blindly she stumbled. Her lips were bound, as mine were.
Her name was Morva.
‘My name is Morva and I shall conquer mankind.’
The next day, Morva was gone. She had arranged strand of her hair to read her message. The red lines resembled blood on the sheet of pure white. Morva’s belongings remained. On her bed lay a silver thread. I knew what it was the instant I laid eyes on it, for I myself have worn it throughout these seven years: the thread was no other than the Silenca.
I felt a growing sense of dread as my feet carried me to Madame Appeara’s quarters. Frantically, I knocked. Madame Appeara was still in her nightgown when she appeared from behind the oak door. She sensed my apprehension. Wordlessly we tumbled the stairwells that led to our dormitory.
Madame Appeara did not speak, even though the Silenca had long been taken off her lips. She lifted a strand of Morva’s hair and inspected it-peered at it critically as a photographer may examine a misshapen model. Her face conveyed nothing. Like us, she knew not of expression. Self-revelation was no quality to be found in a woman.
But in my heart I knew and rejoiced that a caterpillar, destined to be a butterfly, had narrowly escaped imprisonment.
At noon, the church bells sounded. Morva had been captured.
They found her at the top of an apple tree. Her hair was let down, her village robes taken off to reveal a collared shirt and shorts. In her eyes, that usual look of defiant, strong-willed rage remained embedded. They looked towards the sky, where the Sun shone on her and on her alone, bestowing upon her jubilant acceptance. From where I stood, I saw her smile, for she had found her equal.
In that instant, the full weight of her situation seemed to fall on Morva. She looked down at the massive crowd she had attracted and slowly, ever so gracefully, climbed down. Father Suprè seized her. With his withered, dying hands, he tugged her burgundy hair.
“You!” he bellowed, his face crimson with fury, “I condemn you for infinity! You have so scornfully shunned the customs of your ancestry, and abandoned your virtues. This dress that you wear shows the true colors of you flesh, the tone of your temperament and the level of modesty you possess. Never have I witnessed such criminology! Girl, have you no morals? Have you any idea what girls like you become?”
Morva’s lips remained sealed. She shot Father Suprè a look of pure loathing. For an eternity, they locked eyes, until Morva opened her mouth to speak. No sound escaped from it, yet it said in a voice, ringing with resonance, “Go to hell, Father.”
For twelve days and twelve nights, Morva was imprisoned.
During those days I felt in my heart true joys and true sorrows combined to form a delicious whole. Often, I gazed courageously at the Sun, for I no longer feared him. The Sun seemed content enough, and more than once he smiled, showing all of his teeth.
My Silenca prevented me from smiling back.
On the thirteenth day, an execution was intended. Morva was brought to the altar, where instead of her marriage her death was to be celebrated. To Father Suprè’s horror, she unbound her lips with ease. For a moment, I thirstily drank in our reality, and the image before me: that of Morva, standing her lips gloriously parted.
She spoke, “We are taught to be submissive and silent, but being silent can kill you.”
Pretty ironic, as she was about to be killed…for not keeping quiet.
At this, however, she became a billion butterflies rolled into one, fluttering as they slithered past and one by one soared towards the Sun. With nimble souls, they punched the sky and flew past the golden orb.
Her voice sounded, “I am Morva, the Moon Queen, and I am equal to the Sun.”
And so, twenty years later, as I kiss my two-year-old daughter, Freeda’s, forehead, I remember. With memories comes pain, but with pain comes the promise of a better tomorrow. My fingers touch her lips, bound with nothing but her own judgment, and I smile. She would grow up to be a virtuous female, who runs and plays and reaches for the stars; who speaks her mind and sings her heart and laughs with her head thrown back.
Freeda utters her first word, “Yes.”