Monday, October 26, 2020
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Numbers

She was not like the other little girls. She did not run or shout or jump or play. The world, to her, was too loud, too bright, too sharp. But the numbers, the numbers were always her friends.

They danced before her eyes from the moment she woke— 20 steps from the bed to the curtain draped over her doorway, 50 to the kitchen. Five big bubbles and twenty small ones dancing in tatay’s coffee as he stirred it thirteen and a half times; thirty seven tiles were across the kitchen counter, thirteen tiles deep.

Her Nanay and Tatay, bless them, were simple folk. She sold fruit in the market, he was a farmer. They did not quite know what to make of her. “Perhaps God has a plan,” Nanay remarked, putting a statue of the Virgin Mary in her little room. But she shrank from it and wailed, afraid of its face that was altogether too human and not human enough. Nanay took the statue away.

“Perhaps they are lotto numbers,” Tatay remarked about her endless scribblings and whispered countings. But after a few months without winning he gave up on that.

Still, she was happy enough, it seemed, and she did not get in the way. So they let her be in her quiet room at the back of the house, just her and the numbers. Sometimes nanay or tatay would bring her outside— a brief visit to a relative perhaps, a blessing in church, a quick peek during the fiesta. But she did not like those outings. They made her head spin and hurt. There were too many things happening, too many things to count. People touched her without her knowing, and she did not know how things were and why. Eventually noticing her distress, they took her out less and less, choosing only the quietest of places, the times with the least people.

In the little school at the center of town, the teachers did not know what to make of her. She understood math, but little else, it seemed. She rarely spoke, and only in stolen whispers. She did not look anyone in the eye, or the face, even. Every day she had to sit in the same chair, with her pencil on the left and her paper on the right, arranged just so. Else she weeped, unable to make sense of things around her.

Finally the principal, overworked and underpaid, told her parents she was a “special child” and should be sent to the school in the city, an hour’s ride by jeep on a good day, longer if it rained. Tatay shook his head. There was no money for that, and who would take care of her there? They had a son and one more daughter; nanay had her hands full as it was. So they sent her home instead, with wringing hands and apologies.

“What will we do with you?” Nanay whispered sadly as they walked home. But she did not answer, content instead to count her steps (1,787 so far.)

She was left at home after that, her brother and sister going to school without her. “Ate is different” Tatay had told them with a shrug, and left it at that. So day after day she sat in the quiet, counting and whispering, content to be left alone.

What she loved best were the dark quiet nights, when lone window was open to the breeze and the stars twinkled above. Those nights, if she was very still, she could hear the numbers whisper.

“One, One, Two, Three, Five…” she heard one night. The barest whisper, soft as a beetle’s legs on the thatched roof. Smiling, she looked out the room, in the stillness of the night, and she heard the numbers again, “One, One, Two, Three, Five…”

“Eight,” she whispered excitedly, “eight, thirteen, twenty-one, thirty-four.”

“One, two, three, five, seven…” she heard again. “eleven, thirteen, seventeen, nineteen” she replied with a grin, liking this game very much, wondering if her unseen friend would answer as well as ask.

“Twelve squared?” she murmured, unsure of what to ask first. Instantly the answer appeared in her mind, “144.”

Furiously the numbers flew, from her to them, from them to her. Primes and squares, roots and exponents. Her heart danced with joy, a joy she never felt before. At last, at last, someone who saw what she saw, understood as she understood.

Night after night the dance of numbers continued, harder and faster. She did not know where they came from, or why, but the numbers were her friends, and she was content.

One evening, while nanay and tatay relaxed before their old TV, a newsflash appeared: “NASA confirms mathematical patterns in signals detected by ISS. Possible proof of sentient life, scientists say.” it proclaimed.

“We don’t know where they came from or where they’re going,” Dr. Howard Davis, lead researcher, remarked on camera. “But we’re all very thrilled about this.”

“Aliens?” Tatay mused. “It’s just like in the movies!”

Nanay smiled and nodded; tomorrow everyone would be taking about this. Such exciting news indeed.

Meanwhile, in her quiet room in a forgotten corner of a distant province, a little girl stares up the night sky, waiting for the nightly dance of numbers to begin.

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