The Other Words

In my head I always had some words that meant one thing. But now I am learning other words that also mean the same thing. The sounds are very different. My tongue moves like I’m rolling ice cream around my mouth. At first I laughed or hid my face when I was asked to speak using the other words, but now I am used to it and I don’t laugh anymore. I can only use the other words sometimes though. Not with Mummy or Daddy because they don’t understand them. They just tell me to learn them because I have to. I whisper them to my baby brother and he smiles even though he doesn’t understand either. Sometimes if we go to a place where a man or a woman is sitting at a table with lots of paper in front of them, Mummy and Daddy speak to me and I speak to the man or woman with the other words and then the man or woman says something to me and I say it to Mummy and Daddy. It makes me confused and tired. But I am the only one who can do it and Mummy hugs me afterwards and says I did well.

For a long time we stayed together with all the people in the Big Building with the walls where we could hear what everybody was doing. Some adults shouted and I didn’t like it. Other ones picked me up and played games with me and that was better. There were some children there as well, but when I spoke they did not understand me. After a while, though, we started using the other words and we all understood each other and then we could play together. When new children came, we had to wait until they knew the other words as well before we could play with them. I made a good friend and we did everything together. We went to the school by the tall tower and we stood together when we were waiting for food in the Big Building. When it was time for bed we swapped bracelets. We gave them back to each other in the morning at breakfast. One day my friend was gone and so were her brother and sister and her Mummy and Daddy. I still had her bracelet. I cried for a while, and then one of the men wearing black spoke to me and I explained about my friend, but he didn’t understand so he shook his head. That was when I realised I’d forgotten to use the other words. Afterwards, he sat down with me and we wrote a letter to my friend and he said he would send it for me. It made me feel better.

That was a while ago. Now we are in a house and we do not have to stay in the Big Building anymore. I have my own room and there is a garden. I go to a different school and everybody there talks with the other words. When I come home I can only think in the other words and I am quiet when Mummy asks me about my day because it is hard to stop them from falling out of my mouth. First I have to go upstairs and see my baby brother and then it is okay and I can think like I used to. Mummy is starting to learn the other words from the television, but she is quiet when we go outside. I can see her cheeks go red when we go to the shops and she has to say something. Daddy does not watch television or know any of the words. Once I was singing a song I learned at school and he asked me to stop. Mummy said I wasn’t doing any harm, but Daddy said that in this house we didn’t use those words.

In a week it is my birthday. This morning we were having breakfast and Mummy asked me what I wanted, so I said I wanted a princess dress like from the film we watched at the school, because the princess in the film is the most beautiful girl in the world. And I started singing the song again because I forgot what Daddy said. Then he left the table and went up the stairs. Mummy went out of the room as well and followed him. I wanted to say sorry, but at the top of the stairs I stopped because I could hear crying and I thought it was my brother. When I went to him, I saw that he was sleeping. Then I went to Mummy and Daddy’s room and I saw that it was Daddy who was crying on the bed and Mummy had her arm on his shoulders. He was saying that he was losing us, and some tears fell onto his trousers. Mummy said it wasn’t true and made the noise that she does when she wants my brother to go to sleep. I walked over to Daddy and said I was sorry and I wouldn’t sing the song again and he hugged me very tightly and we all sat like that for a while, Daddy and Mummy and me, and we didn’t say anything.

Grant Price is a writer from the UK living in Berlin. He recently published his first novel, Static Age.