The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

The First time ever I saw your face by mac22013

I’ve stalked your facebook page. Of course I have. And I’m willing to bet you’ve combed through mine. I know what your face looks like: half turned towards the camera; lifted in an awkward selfie; pulling a slightly out of focus funny face; sweaty and triumphant after your first bike race; laughing lovingly at other people I’ve never met. So there’s every chance I’ll know you on sight but what if I don’t? What if you walk right past me, pushing your baggage-laden trolley, eyes scanning the crowd and skimming right over me without a flicker of recognition?

What if you’ve already passed by? Anxious and convinced I’m not here to meet you. Perhaps you’ve gone up to a few likely candidates, introduced yourself haltingly only to be rebuffed with a – this woman’s completely bonkers – roll of the eye and icy shoulder. My stomach, already queasy with nerves and a cacophony of airport caffeine, lurches at the thought.

I really should have made a sign, I think to myself as I dodge my way to the front of the jostling horde. Something quirky and humorous. “Alexa, your wait is over!” A big arrow pointing down to the top of my head. But nooooo, instead here I am – idiot – completely invisible in a mob of frantically waving hands. Submerged in a tidal wave of greetings: ‘Yoo-hoo! Over here!’ ‘How was your flight?’ ‘Daddy, you’re back!’ ‘Sweetheart, I missed you so much!’

How will we ever find each other?

And after we’ve only just found each other.

The entire gamut of human facial expressions stream out the wide glass doors separating the real world from the cocoon of customs. Expectant, excited, frightened, grumpy, whiny, exhausted. Most scanning for the people they expect to meet them. The odd exception staring down at the handlebar of their trolley or down at their solitary feet. Not all of them eager and happy either. Some seem dispirited, mouths curled down at the corners, returning to lives they take no pleasure in. How will you look? I can’t imagine you’re completely free of misgivings.

Your flight left Heathrow at 9am yesterday and it’s only just that now. A full 24 hours on planes and in airports. I know you were delayed in Dubai for an excruciating 6 hours – right now you’ll be feeling grubby and wishing you had a chance to freshen up before you meet me. I know this because I know you, even if I’ve never been in the same room with you. All those hours online, all those phone calls with me captivated – every time – at how deeply, shockingly familiar the lilt of your voice is.

I feel as if I’ve known you all my life. As if we grew up together, whispering secrets long into the night and navigating the perils of adolescence. Together. Isn’t that strange? That I feel so close to you, so bonded. So instinctively, primally connected.

What happens if we just don’t get along? What if, when we aren’t safely floating in the bubble of virtual reality, we just don’t like each other? What if you’re strident or snotty or self-righteous or boring? What if you find me irritating or shallow or arrogant or just downright unpleasant? It’s not the first time I’ve wondered what it will be like. Meeting you face-to-face. And it’s not the first time I’ve been horrified that it may not live up to expectation. We’ve waited so long for this moment. You more so than me. You’ve, in fact, been waiting all your life. All forty-five odd years of it. Sweet Jaysus, let me not let you down. Let me not be a disappointment.

And suddenly, there you are. I’d know you anywhere. Your face lights up in a smile so dear and so known my heart seizes. It’s not just your voice then that’s familiar. It’s the curve of your nose, the very particular way you walk, that specific curl to your hair, the colour of it, the slightly sardonic laughter in your intelligent eyes. Eyes I have looked into all my life. As we cross the few feet between us, I wish with every part of me that you could have met my mother.

Our mother. Who gave birth to two daughters but raised only one. Who silently held a lifelong grief instead of you, the girl who looks so much like her. Sounds like her. Laughs like her. Who has her musical talent and her wicked sense of humour. Our mother who you’ve missed meeting by only 6 months. She would have been unbearably proud of you and the courage it took you to be here.

In the very second of seeing you for the first time, I feel every strand of the DNA that defines us both plaiting itself together into an unbreakable weave.

There you are. My sister. My big sis. And I know you as if you were the very first person to take my infant hand in your own. As if you’ve been holding it all along.