Sunday, 20 October 2013

Faith by Lizzy Harries

Read by Sin Gwamanda

Faith was not an ordinary child, for she did not possess that fearlessness inextricably linked to childhood. Faith was afraid and fear pursued her like a dark cloud.

Faith was not an ordinary child. A calm, if colic baby. But colic turned to melancholia. Calm became concerned. Her disconsolate eyes and downturned mouth betrayed the weight of apprehension on her slight, sloping shoulders.

It became manifest that Faith’s quirks were compulsions, her habits obsessions. I met Faith when she was four. A curious patient, erroneous and anxious.

She feared the sun and on the brightly lit days of her childhood would go outside only if forced and only when shrouded in duffel coat and balaclava and clutching an umbrella. This was how she was clothed upon entering my office on the hottest day of the year. That morning she had left the house with her mother. Reaching the front gate, she had turned and walked back to the door, carefully trying the handle, first with one hand, then with the other, as she did every time she went out.

Faith came in and hovered by the door, clasping the handle with alternating, nervous hands. She edged her way around the square of light cast onto the floor through the window to settle on the green beanbag in the corner, away from the wide reaches of the sunshine. Faith was frightened.

Faith was frightened of pencil sharpeners, sleeping, gloves (but not mittens), sneezes, aerosols and bathtubs. To her, their aesthetic roll top threatened certain death by drowning. She would bathe only in the farmhouse sink, until her size displaced all of the water.

Some children who are referred to me are, with time, able to drive away their black clouds. They grow out of them, or they stare into them until they fade. But Faith’s cloud followed her at a safe distance through her childhood. At the age of 17 something happened and the dark cloud descended in a fog, grew stormy, and engulfed Faith.

It all started when Constance came.

The first encounter was in a shop in town. Amongst the rails of t-shirts and jeans, Faith felt an 'other' presence. “These would suit you” said Constance, as she stuffed a pair of jeans into her green leather satchel, took Faith’s hand, turned on her heel and marched out.

Faith told me how invigorated she felt by this new friendship. Constance had been afraid once too, she said. But then she had chosen not to be. She had replaced anxiety with apathy; caution with abandon. She no longer cared for consequences. When she was with her, Faith was fearless.

The first time Constance ever got Faith into trouble was at a party in a squat. Faith, emboldened by Constance had found herself in a dimly lit, damp room. She sat, along with a motley crew of down-and-outs and small time dope dealers, around the centrepiece of a naked mattress. Its sheets stripped to protect the modesty of the unclothed windows. Constance was volatile on a cocktail of vodka and valium. Faith looked down at the mirror onto which Constance was cutting a white stripe of cocaine. Their eyes met and they smiled.

Faith awoke feeling cold and grey. She opened her eyes to harsh, clinical lighting. Her mum looked down into her face and Faith was afraid once more. Constance was nowhere to be seen. But Faith knew that she would be back. To hold her hand and take away the rising fear that intensified within her.

Her parents, her doting parents’ concern swelled. Constance had become a significant part of Faith’s life and was spending increasing amounts of time with her. Days and nights were spent with the unafraid friend. They wished she would disappear. Dissolve into the rough fabric of life. But Constance didn't disappear. Constance came into their home. And then she came again. And again. Always unannounced. The first of these (anti)social calls had come as a surprise. An ambush, more than a visit.

In archetypal melancholia they sat at their dining table. The artificial lighting was too white. Then Constance came. She didn’t even introduce herself, she just sat there. Then she stood. Pacing the room. Any warmth from that bright white light was absorbed into Constance and ejected as menace. The air turned blue and numbed them all. She spoke verbosely about all of the men who followed her. She wasn’t afraid of them because she knew that one day they would kill her. It was a fact, and you can’t be afraid of the facts. But Faith’s parents were afraid of the facts. They were afraid of this character that they did not know. They were sad and frightened. The dinner descended into an ominous word salad.

She visited sporadically, sometimes accompanying Faith to college. Or Faith would find her sitting in a skip, searching for the precious things that had been stolen from her by the men that followed her. She prised up floorboards looking for the wires that recorded her every move. She clawed at the walls until her nails broke and her fingers bled. With bloodied hands pulled out her hair. She looked around always, searching for the cameras. Then, her eyes squeezed shut; she listened and waited, often for hours. But she was not afraid, she told Faith. She was not afraid.

Faith was not an ordinary child. Faith was afraid and fear pursued her like a dark cloud.

In her solitude, in her sadness, Faith was constant.

In her madness, Faith was Constance.

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