Second grade – and I can’t utter a word. Something trickles down my forehead – sweat? Rain? Blood? I can’t tell – though my brain tells me I must be imagining it, my heart knows otherwise. For surely I must be bleeding – surely this is a river crimson flowing from my skull, a scarlet lake gathering on the ground, a pool carrying within it all the dirt and filth of a liar’s sin – surely I must now suffer a slow and agonising death, all the dark penury of Adam, for having lied to my own parents?
Fear is my companion, the only one I can trust to stay. Isn’t it fear I feel every time I look into my mother’s eyes and tell her – falsely, cheerily – that I have done well, better than anyone, in my exams? Isn’t it fear that makes my muscles limp, my legs loathe to move, my heart racing every time my father asks me genially how my day has gone? Fear lurks in corners, creeps with the shadows, looks out of paintings with eyes that laugh at my burning shame – because I have lied, and it knew, and I knew, and it knew I knew it. And I cannot stop: this is the worst part, the thing that makes my lies almost gruesome, blasphemous, a slight against all that is good and great and noble. Each time I utter a lie, it hovers above me, a dark, heavy cloud that diseases the air – and I go on uttering it, because once spoken I cannot dare retract it; because I am not a bright student, have never been a great student, and I – only seven, at the time – have not the courage to hurt them with the truth. Did I have a choice? An excuse? Only that I was a prisoner to love; only that I was a slave to fear. I went on nearly failing my exams, and I went on telling them I had done well, hating myself each time I did.