Serpent's egg

By birth, my son Tiresias was a silent observer. At first, we thought he was deaf-mute, but we soon found out that he was not, he simply would not speak. Nothing we did could change that. Instead, he watched everything and everyone night and day like a sentry at an enemy post, with an uncanny hostile alertness.

Girl after girl, we had longed for a son, but the first time he opened his eyes to look at me, I regretted it. I told him so, later, when he was seven or eight, hoping that he would finally raise his voice to explain, to argue, even to accuse. But he just said "ah, mother" and the sound of his voice scraped like a dull blade. His father hit him on the mouth at once, knocked him against the wall with a hard blow to the chest, reached for the cane and swung it high. But then he froze in mid-air. After a long moment, he lowered his arm: "You are willful and useless like a woman", he said, turning away, "from now on, you will be raised as one of the girls. You are not my son anymore."

The girls did not want him, of course. When he entered their chambers, the little ones hid giggling behind a curtain, the older ones covered their faces, and the eldest went to block his way. "Father does not rule in these rooms!", she shouted, threw her head back and let out a long, high pitched, tongueclicking wail that was immediately picked up by the others. I shut my eyes.

When I opened them again, he was gone. From that day on, he came and went completely unnoticed, as if he were invisible to everyone but me. To me, he mattered. I did not care for him, on the contrary, every time he suddenly reappeared I noticed that I had not missed him at all, but whenever I looked at him, something told me that he had a role to play, a task to accomplish. I did not have a clue which role, or task, but I was certain that he did. Therefore, every time he came home, I gave him bread and olives, cut his hair, and mended his rugs.

On his sixteenth birthday, I finally knew. When he left the house before sunrise, I followed him quietly, murmuring a long forgotten prayer. He walked fast and determined, I could hardly keep up with him. It got worse after sunrise. I sweated, tripped, dropped my cloak and left it. He fastened his pace, I speeded up, the path seemed to lead steeply uphill, I started to use my hands to pull myself forward, wished that I could glide instead of walking and discovered that I could, went down on my belly and slid forward among grass that grew higher and higher. I was swift and determined, I knew exactly what I had to do, but I could no longer see properly. I stopped and listened, smelled, felt, but everything was cold around me. Then suddenly, something hit me very hard on the head and the back. The blow rolled me around, I was struck on the belly, rolled again and received an even fiercer blow on the head, my left eye seemed to burst. I could only think that it was right, so many times I had handed his father the cane. Then everything went black.

When I came to myself, my son was sitting beside me in the grass, under an olive tree. He seemed asleep, dreaming an unpleasant dream, frowning, but when I moved a little, he grabbed his cane in a wink, ready to strike again. I whispered: "Slowly, my boy, can't you see I'm dying?" He lowered his arm, shrugged, and shut his eyes again. Trying to sound gentle, I added: "Besides, I am not venomous". He retorted with his father's coldness: "Liar. I have seen people die because of you".

I was going to answer, but a voice in my head snapped at me: "You are not doing it right!"

"What do you mean?", I thought.

"You stupid thing! Did I not teach you anything?!"

It was my mother, no doubt, scolding me, her high-pitched, creaky, resentful voice.

Considering how hard I had just been hit on the head, this was not surprising. Strangely, however, my mother's voice seemed to come from inside of my mouth and part of my tongue moved as she spoke. That might be an aftermath of the blows, though. My son sat against a tree, gazing upward at the branches, paying me no attention at all. My mother screeched: "Did I not teach you ANYTHING?" – "Well, what do you think I should do?" – "How would I know?! He is not my son, is he?!" – "He is your grandson, and more of it than it's good for him!" – "Fine! Blame it all on me, that'll be a great help!"

She was right about that. But I did have a plan, that is why I had been following Tiresias all morning; I just could not recall my plan at the moment. I had to think, to focus. Could she not ever keep quiet? I tried to shift, but that caused such pain that I thought I would pass out again. What would I do if he got up and walked away? I would never be able to follow him. I had to say something, anything, to keep him there and to gain time. I whispered: "At least, you could grant me a last wish". He looked down, frowning; my mother croaked: "That's better". I wished with all my soul that I could cut off my tongue, spit it out and get rid of her voice.

My son asked almost gently: "And what would that be?" My mind went blank and my left eye throbbed as if it was going to jump out of its socket, but I managed to say softly: "My last wish is that you see the world through my eyes."

It was true, but it was not what I had followed him for. My mother bawled: "Now you've done it again, you stupid girl!" She yanked me away from the wine jar I had just broken and sent me stumbling out in the yard. Grandma stood up – "Stop it, Amasia, leave the girl alone! Ever since she was born, you have been picking on her! Enough! I can't stand it anymore!" – "It's her fault! She is stupid and useless! Always cowering by the fireplace, talking about voices in her head, dropping threads, can't spin, can't cook, she is a disgrace to us all!" – "Well, she will learn it all eventually!" Grandmother came out the door  – "Won't you, dear? There, there, don't cry, come and sit in the sun for a while." – she stepped back inside – "You just have to be patient. Pelias has set an eye on her, he will be asking you next spring." – "What are you talking about?! Why on earth would he want her? And she doesn't even bleed!" – "He knows and he doesn't care, so why would you? Don't you want to have her out of the house, properly set up with a decent young man?" My mother paused. Then she went down on her knees and started picking up the shards. "He's only young to you, mother", she said more calmly – "But they say he's decent." – "Right. And he will take her as she is. So let her be, will you?"

Pelias' skin was flabby, but he was rather gentle. By the time we had our first child, I had come to like him. He had needs, as all men do, but he always let me nurse the babies properly, never rushed me into the next pregnancy, although they were girls, never complained, even consoled me after the sixth one, said that he had consulted the augur, we would be lucky next time. But then I gave birth to Tiresias.

My plan came back to me in a whisper. "Follow him and make him the prophet of a different future. Use his talent, he will become one of the greatest, most famous augurs of all times. Even in thousands of years, the peoples of the earth will remember and honor his name. What you make him say will come to pass."

My son laughed short and toneless – "You want me to see the world through a snake's eyes?"  – "I didn't say it right, it's the blow on the head you gave me! Listen, please!" – I begged, struggling hard to lift my head from the grass and slide toward him  – "You are destined to become a great augur, I know it, trust me! What you will say will come to pass!…"

I inched toward my son, struggling to stay conscious. After a long moment he said almost gently: "Perhaps you are right, but I do not want to be an augur."

I managed to lay my head on his foot. He didn't pull away. I whispered as softly as I could: "Augurs are very respected people, dear, and they are powerful." Tiresias looked up. The sun was high, blazing and glaring. He sighed: "Why would I want respect, or power?" He shook his head: "This is absurd. I have to go, now." He pushed me away with the tip of his cane and stood up. I said gently, softly: "You are blind, Tiresias, blind and deaf, but if you would see the world through my eyes, you would know how much it needs a different future and you would want to be the maker of that future." – "Of what future?" he snapped, "If you know so much, why don't you just tell me?" – "But I do not know, darling! I can only change you! It is for you to tell!" – "You don't know what you are talking about!" – "How could I? You have hit me to death!" He would not listen. I could no longer flatter, nor would I spare him. "But you shall be an augur, Tiresias! You cannot escape your destiny!" My son stepped away. He would leave now, I couldn't stop him, nor follow him. Two more steps, he was already too far and I couldn't slide, couldn't reach him anymore, but I could yell at the top of my head, and I did: "You will run into snakes again, just wait and see! And after you become a woman, you will have to do as you are told!" It was not enough. He fastened his pace. He was almost gone. It was not fair, he owed me! Had I not kept him alive?! Had I not fixed his bruises, pleaded for him?! His father would have killed him but for me! I had a right! Must I watch him walk away leaving me here alone and forgotten?!

Something burst inside my head, scattered me from within, and all pain disappeared in a flash, we were perfectly clear at heart and soul, sharp tongues, swift limbs, we slithered away in all directions, gathered again and slid towards the road. There he was. He raised the cane and hit us, poor ridiculous creature, as if it would help. We took the cane from him, it is not safe for a boy to play with such dangerous things. We crept up his legs, wound ourselves around his arms, chest, neck, and pulled tighter. This would do it. He croaked: "Please, mother, do not hurt me! Let us talk some more, I will listen!" We whispered into his ear: "We are done talking, sweetheart. You shall speak, whether you want it or not, and what you say will be the truth."