Born in a house without heating system in the middle of that foggy, gray and scattered November of 1917, her screams and shrieks seemed to be much more agonising than her siblings’ altogether when also born. Disturbing was also the fact that she was the only red haired in the entire family of genuinely blonds. No one could tell that upon birth but a mother’s insticts never lies and the shivering little girl was bound to be a disturbance, if not a disgrace, for the family and herself, in the short future to come. The signs of her mother’s prophecy came sooner than she had expected: again, the red haired was the only one to reject whatever little milk to come out from her mother’s breasts. She cried in hunger, yet would not admit one single drop of what was supposed to be her most desired element of a two-day lifetime. The crying went on for days until the neighbour finally came up with a bowl of fresh and warm milk from his own cow. Bliss ruled in the house for a few hours as the little red haired swallowed it all in with such craving and desperation that it made her tired and fall into deep, beautiful sleep. That was the first time she got a kiss from her mother and a distant smile from the father. The siblings actually just cared that they got a few hours of silence and that made them forget even more they had a red haired sister to take care of, and more over, love. The family ended up buying the neighbour’s cow (for a much higher price, may I say) to provide the girl the only thing she would accept. She drank that cow’s milk until the cow died. She was 6 years old and that was a day she would never forget – she felt as if her mother had died, for the cow was the only one to provide her with warmth, protection and strength through her milk. She wept for days, but now in silence, as she now had some sense of right and wrong, of being a stranger, a discarded.
Her mother had to tie her to her little wooden bed the day the cow was taken away to “go to heaven” as the girl only wished to go with the cow and die. She begged her second mother (as she considered her mother to be) to let her die happily with her true mother.
A sense of horror invaded everyone’s body upon hearing her dying wishes and that was the first time (out of many) that her father beat her. The slap was so strong she had the finger marks on her face for days. As white as the milk she had drunk for six long years, the red haired easily got bruised, marked or hurt by the smallest pinch. Her eldest siblings started calling her “hot milk”, a mix from the colour of her hair and skin.
Hot milk grew up to be a silent, distanced, skinny and forgotten child no one dared or wished to understand (and also all these when turning into a woman). No one talked directly to her: if the subject had anything to do with her, they would talk about her in third person even though she would be standing right there in front of the ones holding the conversation. She never made any decision by herself, never spoke, complained or participated. It is as if a red haired ghost lived amongst the blond living.
She learnt how to read and write by observing the teachers of her siblings when they came to the house and would never miss one single lesson from the border of the dining table. No one ever even told her to go away – just as no one tells a ghost to do so. She was invisible, she did not exist.
She came to understand that this was life and even she herself would punish her voice from coming out whenever a laughter lit her veins or anger burnt her stomach. She would control it all, even the tears, and go back to being invisible – even inside her. She managed to live so well doing such controls that her observance skills grew to be as sharp as the disabled people normally have and her instincts as acute as an animal’s. She could sense her father coming back from work four precise minutes before he would show up at the door. She could her her siblings whispering across the halls or walls, listen to her mother’s sobs in the kitchen even if she herself was out climbing a tree. That way of being protected her, shut her from the world in a safe place she could not name nor recognise. Sometimes she would really wonder whether she had died with her cow-mother and was just a ghost haunting the footsteps of the family they told her she belonged to.
By the age of 17 she had read so many books about geography, history, philosophy and languages (she learnt French, Latin, Russian and understood German, though she did not especially enjoyed the sound of it) that her obvious fate came to face a date. She left the house to an unknown destination just as ghosts simply wander around. What she did not predict was that the world outside that house could and would see her. Her instincts were now a source of fear, dread and internal voices talking uncontrollably in all languages she knew. Each voice told her something different, gave her mixed directions, guidance and she just wished she could now control them to make them stop and be quiet. All the control she had was now a total lack of orientation, a handful of internal disorder.
A sense of bewilderment took over her when she heard a woman asking her for the time while looking straight and deeply into her eyes. The red haired was numb, in shock and paralysed by her own image that reflected from the woman’s dark brown eyes. That was the first time Hot Milk ever saw her face. It lasted seconds as the woman quickly turned away from what seemed to be a lunatic standing in front of her. Hot Milk stood there regaining all her control again by saving that image in the most hidden places of her memories. The strength she used was such that she fainted right there, in the middle of platform 8 of Victoria’s Station.
When she came to her senses, she was surronded by women dressed in white that had a mix of concern and relief in their eyes. Nurses or angels, she thought. She had seen pictures of both in the books she devoured. Dead or alive, she wondered. Alive, she knew the second the nurse touched her forehead and smiled. Tender, this must be the tender the dictionary described, she remembered. She could not, however, smile back for she did not know how to.
The nurse quickly came in with a warm broth and made sure not to leave the red haired bedside until all was consumed. Hot Milk’s stomach felt alive and nauseous for that was different and stronger than her daily milk. It did not take long before she vomited every drop and made the doctors and nurses even more worried as nothing seemed to be a problem, a disease. They could not find a solution, a cure for the unknown. And she would not dare to speak as she herself had taught her inner voice to disappear with the years. She just observed, stared, wondered and guessed some events. She soon became a phantom in the hospital too. They did not dare to release her and run the risk of her spreading the unknown disease she might carry inside her, and neither did they dare to come too close to her. Food was pushed in her direction and only taken away when eaten. A routine they did not learn and care to change: she would be sick every single time and have it all out within minutes.
A priest was called to pray for her.
A linguistic tried all languages possible to communicate with her.
A psychiatrist did not reach a conclusion.
So she became, once again, a ghost in a new place. All her shame grew stronger and more certain inside her as she remembered how mistaken she was by believing she was alive when that nurse touched her. Dead. Dead is what she was and on that day she was to become more dead than ever before. The lack of life at the hospital reassured this everyday. Ashamed, dead, guilty, lost, alone and vomiting. Hell. She must have been sent to hell amongst the living – for the second time now. She figured she would now no longer try to escape for there could be a third and worse hell awaiting for her.
The red haired longed to see her image once again before departing this body. She knew she was growing thinner and thinner by the day and there was not much hope left for her. No other eyes came in her direction so her desire to see herself once again began to leave her, just like everything else in her dead life. She tried to remember with all her force the image she hid inside her but was so ashamed to even look for it, to dare to think that she deserved remembering it that an instant new image showed itself right in front and inside her own eyes. She drew herself as she perfectly imaged her to be. She drew the perfect image of scattered and shredded memories all around her, all around her skinny, white, fragile body that carried fire her head. She drew and saw her as she was, as she had always been, as pure as clear water. She saw her naked and unique image there ever was. She smiled upon her masterpiece. She painted the most truthful and memorable image of her that ever existed: shame.