Children don't notice something they have always been around. My childhood was spent in a blissful bubble of ignorance, surrounded by my aunties on all sides. I even saw Founder once, she was the oldest person I had ever seen in my short life and that was the time I realized what I would look like when I grew old. She was nice, she patted me on the head and gave me sweets.
I never attended childcare, instead my aunts would gather all of us kids and teach us in our own special family childcare. I never thought it was special, it was just something that happened five mornings a week, between the exciting weekend trips. I always liked the aunty Cass, she played nice songs on the flute that we all sang along with.
My generation was special. Adults don't realize what children can understand but I knew that my sister Hannah and I were special. We were the same age after all, and we were the first sisters of the same year. Louise, one year older than us, was always envious of that special status and the whispers the aunties made around us. She would argue with Hannah and I about toys or candy or any reason she could think of.
It was only when Louise became six that I started to get an inkling of just how abnormal we were. Lousie went off to school for the first time and Hannah and I were now the oldest kids in the nursery. All our aunties were there talking about her first school day, even aunty Nisa despite being pregnant and heavy.
Louise came back home crying. I will always remember that afternoon when she returned in aunty Quella's arms, crying incoherently. Was school really that scary a place? What tortures did the school do to her? Maybe she wasn't even allowed to have candy at lunch!
That day, aunty Quella stayed overnight with her. Quella rarely did that, she usually left the family to sleep with her husband and her children. They were our cousins, so the aunties told us, and looked nothing like us at all. This was a source of much speculation among us children and we made up fanciful tales amongst ourselves about how her children must have blue skin or horns. They never visited after all.
Louise never gave us trouble again. After that disastrous first day, she was even nice to us. Hannah and I worried about that change but our aunties said that was normal. Just a part of growing up.
That made us worry about when we would turn six.
That fateful day arrived like any other day. Hannah and I were given new clothes to wear, a primary school uniform our aunties called it, and took a car ride. On a Monday morning no less.
We had seen and heard so much of this mythical first school day. The trip to school was so nervous that Hannah was almost crying by the time we reached there, but I was the slightly older sister so I had to be brave for her. I would make sure she wouldn't cry.
Aunty Quella was with us as well. I wondered if that was because aunty Quella always brought the kids to school. It wasn't true of course, only for the first school day.
Quella took us towards the classroom but we passed by another woman with her kid. And Quella took the time to talk to the woman while waiting outside the classroom. The kid just stared at us. And this kid was male.
That was the first surprising thing. We had seen men and women during shopping trips even the occasional other kids, but that was far away. Like the people in television and computer screens. But to have another kid our age so nearby, and having to go to school with him for six years? That had never happened to us before.
And a boy? That was even more surprising. He might as well have been an alien.
Hannah and I hid behind Quella's skirt while we tried to figure out what to do. The boy could do... anything. Whispers about how the boys were violent were recalled. I had to protect Hannah from this boy's depredations! There would be no aunties at school with us after all. I wouldn't let him make Hannah cry!
I looked out from the skirt and saw him still staring at me. His skin was different, his face was different and even his hair was blonde and his eyes were blue. I counted the number of limbs then the number of fingers, at least those were the same. I couldn't tell if he had the right number of toes because we were wearing shoes though.
In short, he looked nothing like us. So this was what boys look like, I thought to myself.
He didn't seem to be depredating anything however so I nodded to Hannah that it was alright and she took a look too. I watched her count his fingers again.
That standoff, the two of us staring at him staring at us, lasted until a bell rang and aunty Quella hustled us into the classroom and said her goodbyes. I held Hannah's hand and we chose two seats next to each other in the corner near the door. The boy avoided us and sat behind us on the other side of the classroom. I still made sure to sit between him and Hannah though.
And then more shocks happened. More kids began to come into the classroom, talking amongst themselves and occasionally shouting in excitement. There were boys and girls there. But the shocking part was that they all looked different. Even the girls.
Blonde hair, black hair, black eyes, brown eyes, brown hair. Even yellow and brown skin. I expected the girls to look like us but the girls were not at all like us, even they were as different from each other as they were from us.
I dare say neither Hannah nor I remembered any of their faces in any detail that day. We were sitting near the door and so anyone who came in had to walk past us and we got to see how different they all were.
And how noisy they were. Some of them seemed to know each other and three of the boys even tried to talk to us. Hannah tried to cling to me but I must confess I wasn't much help myself. The biggest boy called us twins and said that was because we looked the same. One of them corrected him and claimed to have an older brother who 'knew the freaks', one called Louise.
He had an older brother who knew Louise? She was one year older than us and therefore was one floor above us in the school. I knew we wouldn't see her except at breaks. I didn't know what to think of that but that boy started to explain what he heard.
That all of 'those clones' look exactly the same. That we were not twins like the biggest boy had said, and that we were famous because we all looked the same.
Apparently, not everyone looked the same.
I knew that from television, but knowing it and experiencing it was completely different. And at that point, I also knew that we, all of us, Hannah, Lousie and all our aunts, even the Founder, we all looked the same and that was not right.
We were special because we looked the same. And that people were supposed to look different. That was like turning the world upside down.
Hannah started to cry and I had failed.