Mirene Arsanios


E autobiography di un idioma

It is in this way that I did not become a mother; it is in this way that I bore my children.
—Jamaica Kincaid

I am deregulated. A language for which no jurisdiction applies. My past is dirty. All pasts are dirty, though some are filthier than others. I’m of the filthier kind (sorto). I sit in a greasy bank account somewhere in the British Virgin Islands. I live here, amid a slew of luxury resorts, spas, and white tourists lathered in sunscreen, trailing iridescence in infinity pools. They smoke cigars, inhale tar, synch marriage proposals with blazing sunsets. They say I look pretty (bunita) in my blue (blou) robe, compliment my hair, the way I keep it (e) silky with imported oils. They ask questions: What do you do and are you a (un) local?

“I was born on a nearby island where my mother Elsa was born to her mother, Elina,” I say. They give me a faint, uninterested smile. To shut me up, they buy me a glass of sauvignon blanc. I ask for an extra ice cube, a (otro) refill, then another (otro). It took a while, but I’ve improved at being myself. I can now speak without fatigue. I know everybody here (aki), the elderly and the young. The young believe I’m one of them but generations do not apply to me. I’m centuries old and have been pregnant for the past twenty years. They, the tourists, think I’m delirious, that I’ve had too much to drink. When they realize I’m telling the truth, they feel betrayed. What are you talking about? Is this even (hasta) a (un) language?

I also want to know. Why this language? In my mother’s bedroom, an old television playing American movies was left on day and night. At first I thought I was alone, the private recipient of a dialect in black and white, but I soon realized that everyone was concerned and that this expansion was irreversible. It no longer needed ships—the physical vessel of its early dissemination. English scurried across ocean bottoms, seamlessly meandering continental distances. I never considered this language to be my own. I do not hate it. I do not love it. It is incidental and life is made of circumstances, outcomes of unruly trajectories. Elsa firmly believed that English would help me find a job in the hotel industry, communicate with tourists and the world beyond the island. English, she said, always leads to a resolution. It rarely strays from its intentions. It means what it says and is suited for uneven deals in which one of the parties always feels slightly fucked. English has “fuck” in it, a word that gives me great satisfaction.

People complain. They say I talk (papia) too much, but I’m not talking to them. I’m addressing Rea, my unborn daughter, in a language she can address me in. “Mother tongues” imply a process of natural acquisition, an (un) accumulation founded on (riba) the repetition of syntaxical gestures, but the link between “mother” and “tongues” isn’t as linear as it (e) may (mei) seem. It is circuitous and (í) hot and (í) cold. Rea is delivering a language I’m preparing myself to receive. Her words have traversed the future a long time ago, as they say.

With time, I’ve learned to lean on expressions. They’re founded on hard-won consensus and their meaning is fixed like an island rock. I wasn’t entirely honest when I said that I could speak without fatigue. The acrobatics of points of view are exhausting. I’ll (lo) have to stop scavenging hotel bars for dregs of white wine, get my narrative (historia) straight, find an interlocutor. If we (nos) sat facing each other (otro) or next to each other (otro) at a bar, you’d recognize me because I’m rather petite and wear a finger on each (kada) ring or vice versa. A diagonal scar cuts through my right cheek. I’m average looking, with long, wavy hair (kabei). We’d have an arrangement. You’d ask me about my life, then (anto) I’d tell you about it. How generations are stages crafted between sleep and lucidity. How I have come to language by tending to my own absence. I’d say: If it weren’t for you (abo), I wouldn’t be here (aki).