A mute sits on a park bench, and that’s nothing extraordinary. Nobody knows he’s a mute until he has need to speak, and must use his hands instead. A voice is something we take for granted, and for him, something undesirable. A knife is a useful tool in the right hands, an instrument of barbarism in the hands of others.
A young woman approaches the mute, which isn’t to say that she is intending to speak to him. She passes within a few feet of the mute, and he yawns. A feeble, strangled noise emanates from his glottis, and passes through his mouth. The young woman tries not to stare, as if that’s an easy thing to do. The mute is accustomed to this, and smiles apologetically. He makes a fist with his right hand; a sort of demure version of a thumbs up. He circles his fist clockwise on his right side breast, as if she could understand, or cares what he has to say.
The young woman recognises the gesture, returns his apology, and tells him that she didn’t mean to make him feel uncomfortable. She tells him that she was a little bit startled, that’s all. She tells him that it’s not everyday you find someone who has had their tongue removed, and did it hurt? Who did this to you? Who would do something so cruel to a person?
The mute is hesitant; he knows the truth will be stranger than any fiction he could create. He is also unsure of the extent of her knowledge of sign, seeing as how she answered him verbally. How do you explain to someone that you removed your own tongue?
Sometimes, we cause chaos with our actions. Sometimes, we take drastic steps to avoid that chaos.
The mute can’t – won’t – tell her. He won’t tell her how, to avoid causing further pain, he cut out his own tongue. He couldn’t reconcile the duplicity within himself; couldn’t live with what he could, and would do, given the opportunity. It’s one thing to live with regret, and quite another to live in fear of one’s self. Not this one, he tells himself.
It’s been a beat, and the young woman is wondering if he is deaf, too. She’s wondering if whatever monster cut out his tongue had put out his ears for good measure. Her face blanches as she starts to imagine unspeakable torture, as she stares earnestly into his kind, unremarkable face.
In truth, he hasn’t interacted with anyone in a meaningful way since he cut his tongue out, with pliers, whisky, and a scalpel, that grey December morning. He is the invisible man, only visible when he yawns, or eats, or coughs, or laughs. Only noteworthy as a freak. Barely even a footnote, or an addendum.
She has no idea what he is saying, but she feels like she should nod anyway. She can feel, in the deep recess of her heart of hearts, that the mute just needs to be heard, for once. She nods along, every pound of her soul’s weight yearning to lift him up, just this once. She tells him that she understands, and she isn’t lying. She doesn’t understand his words, but pain is a universal language; one we learn through experience, regardless of race, or creed. His hands are a blur, as her eyes start to water.
The mute can’t stop now, and his hands collide, and regress, and form words that were created for those without the ability to give them flight. She imagines how they might feel, if they were to caress her skin. He imagines how she might look, in the moonlight, as he steals the light from her eyes forever.
We create chaos, with or without the gift of sound, with or without the awareness of it.