To be noticed was to be criticised; for being too messy, too indisciplined, too lagging behind in studies, too busty, too mouthy, too big, too much of all things undesirable.
But as long as I could fly low, at a pace that did not disturb peace, with noiseless stealth, I could do what I want, be who I want. A blur. The lack of gaze was my armour.
So I flew low.
The youngest of four children, everything I could say and be was already done. Between the three they had been prettier, naughtier, fairer, smarter, weaker, sicker. A penis would have been the only thing that set me apart, favourably, or so I was told repeatedly, when the gaze did fall on me.
So I grew steady wings that helped me fly low.
There was no expectation of me except that I inconvenience no one by being called to school over a bad report or falling ill or be needy of attention in any way. It did happen a few times. But by and large, I flew low.
You see, flying low was my superpower.
To go undetected into spaces that allowed me to discover things about myself and others that a constant gaze on me would have disallowed. I became the aggregator of people’s ticks and twitches. An expert at spotting the weird uncle and nasty aunt, through their smiles and gifts and overtures. A keeper of secrets I stumbled upon.
Couple of years ago, a handsome, lovely, impossibly youthful nonagenarian uncle (‘nana’) visited me, and while browsing my bookshelves, asked, “when did you change ma? You were so ordinary when you were a child.”
I took no offence, because what he meant by ordinary was the fuel to fly low.
I did not change as much as I imbibed. From friends who loved me, the ‘maid/nanny’ who adored me and cousins who enjoyed my company, and equally from those who preferred me invisible, absent or in the margins, giving me the power to observe without being observed.
I wanted to tell nana I was still ordinary, but just ordinary in a way he didn’t expect me to be.
Because, I am the daughter of no expectations.
Not enough has been researched about lack of expectations. That it can be exhilarating for many.
As an adult, and many years after the fact, my firstborn helping me clear the shelves of my childhood room asked my mother, “ammamma you must have been so proud, all these certificates, all these prizes, all these things she wrote when she was young, the college magazine and the youth tabloid.”
Amma, whose lack of expectation was truly wrapped in love and not to deflect disappointment, looked sad. “I never knew, she never told us.”
So, not speaking of what I failed or passed in was me flying low.
You see, wins left mementos. The no-wins only left impressions.
Then suddenly, what I did, my ordinary, every day work, was not mine to hide. My name sneaked up on them in the newspaper they subscribed to speaking of corruption, malaria, sex, sexuality, STDs amongst other taboo subjects. Just my double-barrelled name, no surname, no initial – bald, devoid of strings that attached me to other identifies, other people. An ordinary name.
There I was, the core of me, stripped of expectations and all things burdensome. More ordinary than ever, I thought. But the silent disavowing of even a glint of expectations only drew more attention.
But, I was still flying low.
I left my hometown, my country, and the periodical family dos and dramas. When I wanted to fly higher, I did so where no one knew me.
I was once again occupying spaces no one expected me to be in, the conspicuousness fleeting enough, I could go back to flying low.
What can be expected from the only woman in a room full of older men, the brown one in a meeting full of white people, comfortable in a field full of the fashionable? So everything I said and did, the most mundane of stuff, was not seen as ordinary simply because…
As a wife, and then a mother to children considered not fully ordinary by their aunts and uncles and grandparents… My very being and doing was enough.
You see, the power of having no expectations being foisted on me, gave me a lightness of being. A freedom of movement. An uninhibited desire to relish my life. To parent without judgement.
I will be 47 soon, and then 50 and 55 and 60… or maybe not. Who knows! No expectations beyond the now.
This daughter of no expectations will continue to surprise others with the ordinary things no one thought she could manage to do as a child.
It is this ordinariness of being, that nothing is expected of me, which has taught me implicit lessons in parenting I would not have learnt if I had tried.
It also helped me through the curveball this year has been.
I wish you all a year and lifetime of flying low!
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