The Child Who Had No Wings

“Once upon a time, many moons ago, people didn’t have wings.”

All the stories my mother used to tell me when I was a child started like that: harking back to an ancient and perhaps mythical time when people had not yet acquired the ability to fly. I used to love listening to those stories, and I would ask her to tell them over and over again, even though I already knew them by heart. There was the one about the eager hero who, lacking wings of his own, made some out of wax and bird feathers; but when he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. And that other hero who invented a contraption out of wood and canvas so that, by launching himself from the tops of mountains, he could glide over the valleys of his country, taking advantage of the warm air currents—something that all of us do instinctively nowadays, but which, when told as a story, struck me as new and unusual, as if I myself had just discovered a phenomenon which nowadays seems so ordinary that it attracts no attention whatsoever.

What never occurred to me while I was listening to my mother’s stories was that one day, I would feel the lack of wings so immediately and so intimately, and that the story about those handicapped people would end up being a part of my life.

I never had a strong yearning for motherhood. I remember that, as adolescents, many of my friends eagerly anticipated the time when they would become mothers; it seemed that they had no other vocation in life, and their little shrieks of joy, their expressions and contortions whenever they saw a baby, used to irritate me profoundly. They positioned themselves around the cradle or pram, started making cooing and billing sounds like doves, and ended up asking the mother if she would please, just for a moment, let them enfold the little creature in their wings. And when, permission granted, they placed the infant on their chest and wrapped their wings around it, they assumed such an air of happiness that I didn’t know whether to slap their faces for being so silly and so dense, or slap mine for being so detached and so insensitive. The sight of them so full of illusions about something that left me cold made me ill.

In time, I came to understand that there was no obligation to be a mother. That was why, not far short of forty, happily married and well placed professionally, I had abandoned the idea of having children, but in an almost automatic way; quite simply, maternity didn’t enter into my plans. It was then I discovered that I was pregnant.

From the outset, my husband and I were surprised by my doctor’s solicitous concern, his insistence on subjecting me to tests and analyses, on repeating some of them on the grounds that the results were inconclusive. It seemed that something wasn’t quite right, and in fact, he was absolutely correct. I was at the start of the third month when the doctor called us into his office and gave us two pieces of news. The first, that the baby was a girl; and the second, that in all probability she would be born without wings.

I was offered the option of an abortion, but I refused. I, who had never felt attracted by the idea of being a mother, already loved that unknown little girl despite being aware that she would be a burden for life. But she was already my daughter and I would not give her up for anything in the world.

The birth went well, and was surprisingly easy. It was almost as if that poor mutilated little baby had arrived bursting with the desire to live, and all the strength, which would normally have been contained in her wings had been transferred to other parts of her body, especially her extremities. Already during the pregnancy, the power of her kicks in my womb had surprised me, and all the staff who assisted during the birth could see the strength that the infant had in her arms and legs.

When they brought her to me, still covered in blood and vernix, and put her on my chest, I clasped her in my tired wings and noticed how warm her naked skin was. I thought her the most beautiful little girl in the world, all pink and clean, without the cold and tangled feathery down which newborn babies usually had. That nakedness moved me so much that it occurred to me at that moment that ever since the human race had acquired feathers, it had lost that warmth generated by skin-to-skin contact, because the rough, dusty feathers always got in the way. And who can tell if the acquisition of feathers hasn’t caused us to lose many other soft and tender things, like unprotected skin.

From that day, the child was the centre of my life. The first months didn’t present any problems—after all, the wings of a normal baby are so weak that it cannot fly or use them for anything else, so my daughter seemed almost normal. She ate well, slept when she should, and began to recognise us, smile, and babble very early on. Whenever she saw me approaching her cradle, instead of spreading her wings, she would reach out her arms, begging me to pick her up. Apart from that small detail, there was nothing to distinguish her from any other little girl of her age.

Naturally, with each passing month, the difference became clearer. Between eight and ten months, it’s normal for a child to start squatting or kneeling, to unfold its wings and start to flap them in preparation for the first flight. Instead of that, my daughter would sit down and rock back and forth, or support herself on her hands and knees and try to walk on all fours like a cat or a dog. My husband felt ill when he saw her doing this; he said she looked like an animal. Other members of the family suggested I should tie her to the cot to rid her of the habit. I absolutely refused to do this: I defended her right to be different, to express herself and to move in a way that differed from ours, from that of all the other children. “If she has no wings, she has to move somehow, doesn’t she?” I’d say to everyone. But no-one understood: they told me I should get her used to moving about like other children, so that when she was older, she might be able to compensate for her handicap by acquiring some prosthetic wings. That if she was different, we should do nothing to encourage it. The confrontations with everyone became more and more violent: with my husband, my family and my friends. No one wanted to understand that if the child was different, then it was logical that she’d do everything differently.

One day, I discovered something new and wonderful. I’d noticed in old engravings and paintings that in pre-wing times women used to hold their children in their arms, instead of sheltering them between their shoulder blades and wings as we do nowadays. I remember it was a winter’s afternoon, I was alone with my daughter, and the little girl was crawling on the living room carpet. At a particular moment, she sat down on the floor and stretched out her little arms to me. And I, guided by a spontaneous impulse, also stretched out my arms to her and took hold of her, picked her up and put her on my lap. I can’t find the words to express the tenderness that came over me at that moment: I was holding my daughter in my lap, and my arms embraced her completely; and, what was even more surprising was that she imitated me, linking her little arms around my body. And that’s how we stayed, the two of us together, for a long time, locked in this new and previously untried position, face to face, bodies touching, she without wings, I with mine folded back, united solely by our intertwined arms.

As of that moment, I acquired the habit of always picking her up like that. Initially, I did it in secret, partly out of shame and partly because I didn’t want to provoke any more arguments with my husband, who was less and less accepting of our daughter. But soon I began to pick her up like that all the time at home, and eventually I didn’t mind doing it in public. The first few times, it took a great effort to lift the tiny infant onto my lap, but gradually, my arms became stronger from the constant repetition of the movement, and I’m even tempted to say that it reached a point where they rotated differently, as if some of the muscles had developed and adapted themselves to accommodate that pose. During the long hours spent with my child in my arms, I came to understand why those ancient pictures, which portray the theme of motherhood, convey that tenderness which we find inexplicable, and do not repel us in the way that images of disabled people normally do. The mother who holds her child in her arms communicates with it as intensely as the one who enfolds it in her wings, perhaps even more so. Naturally, though, the few times that I dared to express such an opinion in public, people lowered their eyes and maintained the sort of silence which always arouses pity for someone else’s misfortune.

I stopped working and dedicated myself more and more to my child. Or perhaps it was she who gave herself to me because, without a doubt, she was revealing a new world to me, an earthbound world. Instead of flying, she crawled along the floor; then she began to stand up and take little steps, advancing by holding onto the furniture, and in this way, she was able to get around the room. When she had nothing to hold on to, she’d fall onto her tummy and support herself on the palms of her hands. It was so unlike what other children do. They learn to fly first and then, when their wings are strong enough, they begin to walk; in this way their wings act as a parachute for their first steps and, when they sense that they are falling, they simply unfold them. By comparison, my little girl learnt to walk much sooner than normal and, even more surprising, learnt how to do it without the aid of her wings. It was amazing to watch her find ways of keeping her balance in an extremely difficult posture, her back straight and with no counterbalance apart from her arms and her head. It was incredible to see her hold herself upright like this, watch her wobble forward without falling, and save herself whenever she stumbled by thrusting out her hands to soften the fall.

I became used to getting down on the floor to be with her. My husband would become angry when he saw me like that, face down on the carpet, with my wings folded like those of a butterfly, propped up on my elbows so I could play with my daughter. But I liked to see things from down there, as she did, without the possibility of taking flight and coming to rest on top of the wardrobe or looking at the room from a corner of the ceiling. And bit by bit, I got used to not flying.

Family and friends told me to fly, to lead a normal life, to go outdoors more, because this was a living death. But I wouldn’t hear of it: I was totally happy.

My husband went through several phases, from indignation to boredom. By the time our daughter turned two, we were scarcely talking to each other, and we were hardly ever at home at the same time. He was always very busy and only turned up, in a foul mood, on the weekends; weekdays he got home so late that he would slide between the sheets in the dark, believing me to be asleep already. Soon he began to go to work on Saturdays and then to take weekend business trips. Then he went back to being in a good mood, and I knew what was going on, but I didn’t say anything: I wasn’t prepared to have my daughter grow up without a father figure, even if it was merely symbolic. A child like that needs all the protection she can be given.

At two she spoke almost without faltering; she was an extraordinarily bright little girl and I felt proud of her. But a short while later, my anguish began.

I had the first hint one night while I was giving her a bath. I was soaping her back and suddenly noticed a little rough spot at the level of her left shoulder blade. I examined it, thinking that perhaps she’d hurt herself: all I could see was a little redness, and I didn’t give it a second thought.

A few days later, there were two red patches, located symmetrically on either side of her shoulders. I could feel a miniscule lump under the skin. It frightened me, but I refused to take her to the doctor and did nothing more than apply some ointment. A week later it was worse: the lumps had grown and were now two little boil-like knobs, swollen and seemingly painful to the touch, because she complained when I brushed my finger over the top of them.

I covered them with a dressing and more ointment, but it didn’t help. I changed the dressing twice a day and still the knobs kept growing. Next I got hold of some bandages and sticking plaster, and I bandaged her entire upper body, making sure that the bandage was firm but not too tight. Fortunately, it was winter and nobody noticed the bandages hidden under the layers of clothing.

That didn’t work either. The knobs were growing bigger and harder, like a protruding bone threatening to pierce the skin. I didn’t know what to do or whom I could turn to for help.

Until what had to happen finally happened. One morning, I went in to get her out of bed and found her lying face down, something she usually didn’t do. There was the outline of a suspicious lump under the bed sheets and I knew what it was even before I’d lifted the sheets.

There they were, just starting, but well formed enough to leave no room for doubt. They had sprouted during the night, breaking through the skin, and lightly staining the small bottom sheet with blood. My world came crashing down around me.

I knew there was only one thing I could do. I lifted my daughter up in my arms, I removed the clothes from her upper torso and I bit with all the power of my anger and desperation. A revolting taste of dust and mites filled my mouth: it’s incredible how much dirt wings can accumulate in just one night.

It didn’t seem to hurt the child. She probably only felt slight discomfort, because she cried a little, and then she calmed down right away. I took her to the bathroom, attended to her quickly, and managed to stop the bleeding, disinfect the wound and dress it.

She wore the bandages for a few days and I changed them frequently. Each time I took them off I checked the state of the wound. I was relieved to see that it was healing quickly and well, and within a few weeks it had healed completely.

There’s scarcely a trace of it now. She just has a barely visible scar, which you can only see if you look closely or know what you are looking for. She’s back to being the little girl she was, and I continue to devote all my time to her. To those who tell me that I’m burying myself alive, that I should return to work, that I’ve lost my husband, that I mustn’t attach myself to my daughter in this way, I reply that I’m happy with what I’m doing, and that it’s a mother’s duty to sacrifice herself for her daughter.


«Había una vez un tiempo en que los hombres no tenían alas.»

Así empezaban todos los cuentos que me contaba mi madre cuando yo era niña: remitiéndose a una época antigua y tal vez mítica en que los hombres no habían adquirido aún la capacidad de volar. A mí me gustaba mucho oír aquellas historias, y le pedía que las repitiese una y otra vez, aunque ya me las sabía de corrido: la de aquel héroe desalado que, a falta de alas propias, se construyó unas de cera y plumas de aves; pero, al volar cerca del sol, la cera se derritió y el cayó al mar y se ahogó. 0 aquel otro que inventó un artilugio de lona y madera para, arrojándose desde lo alto de las montañas, planear sobre los valles de su país aprovechando las co­ rrientes de aire cálido: una cosa que hoy en día todos hacemos de forma intuitiva, pero que así contada me parecía nueva e inusual, como si yo misma acabase de descubrir un fenómeno tan cotidiano que hoy nos pasa inadvertido.

Lo que jamás pensé mientras oía los cuentos de mi madre es que alguna vez yo misma llegaría a sentir como propia y cercana la carencia de alas y que aquel mito de los hombres mutilados acabaría habitando junto a mí.

Nunca tuve un.a gran vocación por la maternidad. Recuerdo que, de adolescentes, muchas amigas mías hacían planes ilusionados con respecto al momento en que se convertirían en madres; parecía que no tuviesen otra vocación en el mundo y a mí me irritaban profundamente sus grititos de alegría, sus mohines y morisquetas cada vez que veían un bebé: se apostaban junto a la cuna o el cochecito, empezaban a proferir gorjeos y arrullos de paloma y acababan pidiéndole a la madre que, por favor, les dejase arropar un momentito a la criatura entre sus alas. Y cuando, obtenido el permiso, se colocaban al niño sobre el pecho y lo envolvían entre sus plumas remeras, ponían tal cara de felicidad que yo no sabía si emprender­ la a bofetadas con ellas, por bobas y pánfilas, o conmigo misma, por despegada e insensible. Verlas tan ilusionadas por alga que a mí me dejaba fría me hacía sentir mal.

Con el tiempo fui comprendiendo que ser madre no era ninguna obligación. Por eso, al filo de los cuarenta años, felizmente casada y situada profesionalmente, había renunciado a tener hijos, pero de una forma casi automá­ tica: sencillamente, la maternidad no entraba en mis pla­ nes. Entonces supe que me había quedado embarazada.

Desde el principio, a mi marido y a mí nos extranó la solícita preocupación del médico, su insistencia en someterme a pruebas y análisis, en repetir algunos de ellos alegando que no veía claros los resultados. Parecía que algo no iba bien y, en efecto, así era: estaba ya en el inicio del tercer mes de embarazo cuando el doctor nos convocó en su despacho y nos dio las dos noticias. La primera, que el bebé era una niña; la segunda, que con toda probabilidad nacería sin alas.

Me ofrecieron la posibilidad de interrumpir el embarazo, pero no quise. Yo, que nunca me había sentido atraída por la idea de ser madre, amaba ya a aquella nina desconocida, aun a sabiendas de que sería un lastre para toda mi vida. Pero era ya mi hija y por nada del mundo quería renunciar a ella.

El parto se dio bien, fue sorprendentemente fácil. Parecía como si aquella criatura mutilada llegase llena de ganas de vivir y como si la fuerza que debería tener en sus alas inexistentes se hubiera localizado en otras partes del cuerpo, especialmente en las extremidades: ya durante el embarazo me sorprendió el vigor de sus patadas en el vientre y todo el personal que asistió al parto pudo notar la fuerza que hacía la criatura con brazos y piernas.

Cuando me la trajeron, envuelta aún en sangre y grasa, para ponérmela sobre el pecho, yo la estreché entre mis alas cansadas y noté lo cálida que era su piel desnuda. Me pareció la niña más hermosa del mundo, toda rosada y limpia, sin el lanugo de plumón frío y enmarañado que suelen tener los recién nacidos. Aquella desnudez me conmovió tanto que pensé por un momento que la humanidad, desde que tiene alas, ha perdido la calidez del contacto de piel sobre piel, porque siempre se interponen las plumas ásperas y llenas de polvo. Y quién sabe si al ganar alas no hemos perdido otras muchas casas, dulces y suaves como la piel desprotegida.

Desde aquel día, la niña fue el centro de mi vida. Los primeros meses no resultaron problemáticos: al fin y al cabo, un bebé normal tiene las alas tan débiles que no puede volar ni servirse de ellas para ningún otro menes­ ter, así que mi hija parecía casi normal. Comía bien, dormía a sus horas, empezó muy pronto a conocernos, a sonreír y hacer gorjeos. Cuando veía que me acercaba a su cuna, en vez de extender las alas me echaba los brazos, pidiéndome que la cogiera. Salvo por ese detalle, en nada se diferenciaba de cualquier otra niña de su edad.

Naturalmente, el paso de los meses fue poniendo de manifiesto la diferencia. Entre los ocho y los diez meses lo normal es que un niño ya se ponga en cuclillas o arrodillado, despliegue las alas y comience a batirlas, preparándose para el primer vuelo. En vez de eso, mi niña se sentaba y se balanceaba adelante y atrás, o se apoyaba en las rodillas y las palmas de las manos e intentaba· andar a cuatro patas, como los perros o los gatos. Mi marido se ponía enfermo cuando la veía hacer eso: decía que parecía un animal. Otros familiares me sugirieron que la atase a la cuna para quitarle ese vicio. Yo no quise de ninguna manera: defendí su derecho a ser diferente, a expresarse y moverse de forma distinta a como lo hacemos nosotros, a como lo hacían todos los demás niños. «Si no tiene alas, de alguna forma tiene que moverse, (¿no? >> , les decía yo a todos. Pero nadie entendía: me decían que debía acostumbrarla a moverse como los otros niños, que de mayor quizás podría suplir su carencia con unas alas ortopédicas, que si era distinta no podíamos fomentar que lo fuese cada vez más. Los en­ frentamientos se hicieron progresivamente más violentos con todo el mundo: con mi marido, con los familiares, con los amigos. Nadie quería entender que si la niña era diferente, resultaba lógico que lo hiciera todo de diferen­ te manera.

Un día descubrí algo nuevo y maravilloso. Yo había visto en grabados y cuadros antiguos que, en los tiempos de los hombres sin alas, las mujeres solían tomar en brazos a sus hijos, en vez de acogerlos entre las escápulas y las plumas remeras, como hacemos hoy. Recuerdo que era una tarde de invierno, estaba sola con mi hija y la niña reptaba por la alfombra del salón; en un momento determinado se sentó en el suelo y me tendió los bracitos. Y yo, guiada por un impulso incontrolado, también exten­ dí los brazos hacia ella y la tomé, la levanté en vilo y me la puse sobre la falda. No puedo explicar la dulzura que me invadió entonces: tenía a mi hija en el hueco de mi regazo y mis brazos la enlazaban por la derecha y por la izquier­ da; y, lo que resulto más sorprendente, ella me imitó, enlazó sus bracitos en torno a mi cuerpo y así estuvimos las dos mucho tiempo, en esa postura nueva y nunca usada, una frente a otra, cuerpo contra cuerpo, ella sin alas y yo con las mías apartadas hacia atrás, unidas única­ mente por nuestros brazos entrecruzados.

Desde entonces, adquirí la costumbre de cogerla siempre de aquella manera. Al principio lo hacía a escondidas, en parte por vergüenza y en parte porque no quería provocar más discusiones con mi marido, que cada vez aceptaba peor a nuestra hija; pero pronto empecé a to­ marla de aquella forma en cualquier momento, en casa, y luego no me importó hacerlo en público. Las primeras veces me costaba muchísimo trabajo alzar a la criatura hasta mi falda, pero poco a poco mis brazos se fueron fortaleciendo a fuerza de repetir ese movimiento, e inclu­ so yo diría que llegaron a tornearse de forma diferente, como si algunos de los músculos se desarrollasen y mol­ deasen para adecuarse a aquella postura. En las largas horas con mi niña en brazos entendí por qué los cuadros antiguos que representan el tema de la maternidad ema­ nan esa ternura para nosotros inexplicable y no nos susci­ tan el rechazo que sería normal, al tratarse de escenas entre seres mutilados: la madre que sostiene a su hijo en los brazos se comunica con él tan intensamente o más que la que lo arropa entre sus alas. Aunque, naturalmen­ te, las pocas veces que me atreví a manifestar semejante opinión todo el mundo bajó la cabeza y guardo el silencio que siempre suscita la lástima por una desgracia ajena.

Dejé el trabajo y me volqué en la niña cada vez más. O tal vez se volcó ella en mí, porque lo cierto es que me descubrió un mundo nuevo, un mundo a ras de tierra. En vez de volar, reptaba por el suelo; luego empezó a poner­ se de pie y a dar pasitos, avanzaba agarrándose a los muebles y lograba desplazarse de esa manera por toda la habitación; cuando le faltaba un punto de apoyo, caía de bruces y se apoyaba en las palmas de las manos. Algo muy distinto a lo que hacen los demás niños, que aprenden primero a volar y luego, cuando ya tienen las alas lo suficientemente fuertes, comienzan a andar; de esa mane­ ra las alas les sirven de paracaídas en sus primeros pasos y, cuando se sienten caer, no tienen más que desplegarlas. Mi niña, en cambio, aprendió a andar mucho antes de lo habitual y, lo que era más sorprendente, sabía hacerlo sin ayuda de las alas: era asombroso ver cómo se las ingeniaba para guardar el equilibrio en una postura difici­ lísima, con la espalda recta y sin más contrapeso que los movimientos de los brazos y la cabeza. Parecía inverosí­ mil verla sostenerse así, avanzar bamboleándose pero sin caer y salvarse, cada vez que tropezaba, echando adelante los brazos para amortiguar el golpe.

Me acostumbre a echarme en el suelo para estar con ella. Mi marido se indignaba al verme así, tumbada boca abajo sobre la alfombra, con las alas plegadas como las de una mariposa, apoyándome en los codos para jugar con mi hija. Pero a mí me gustaba ver las cosas desde allí abajo, como ella las veía, sin la posibilidad de alzar el vuelo y colocarse en lo alto del armario o mirar la habita­ ción desde una esquina del techo. Y poco a poco me acostumbré a no volar.

Los amigos y la familia me decían que volase, que hiciese vida normal, que saliese más a la calle, que me estaba enterrando en vida. Pero yo no les oí: era comple­ tamente feliz.

Mi marido pasó por varias fases, de la indignación al aburrimiento. Cuando la niña cumplió dos años apenas nos hablábamos, casi ni coincidíamos en casa: el siempre tenía mucho trabajo y sólo aparecía, malhumorado, los fines de semana; los días de diario volvía a casa tan tarde que se deslizaba a oscuras entre las sabanas, creyéndome ya dormida. Pronto empezó a tener trabajo también los sábados. Y luego, viajes de negocios los fines de semana. Entonces volvió a estar de buen humor y yo supe lo que pasaba, pero no dije nada: no estaba dispuesta a que mi hija se criase sin la figura de un padre, aunque fuese meramente simbólica. Una niña así necesita toda la pro­ tección que se le pueda dar.

Con dos añitos casi hablaba de corrido; era una niña extraordinariamente despierta y yo me sentía orgullosa de ella. Pero poco después empezó mi angustia.

El primer indicio lo tuve una noche, mientras la bañaba. Le estaba enjabonando la espalda y de repente note una pequeña aspereza a la altura del omoplato izquierdo. La examiné, pensando que quizás se había herido: sólo vi una pequeña rojez y no le di mayor importancia.

A los pocos días, las rojeces eran dos, colocadas simétricamente a los dos lados de la espalda. Al tacto se notaba una minúscula dureza bajo la piel. Me asusté mucho, pero no quise llevarla al médico y me limité a aplicarle una crema cicatrizante. Al cabo de una semana la cosa iba peor: las durezas habían crecido y eran ya dos bultitos como dos flemones, hinchados y al parecer dolo­ rosos al tacto, porque la niña se quejaba cuando yo pasa­ ba el dedo por encima de su superficie.

Le puse un apósito con más crema cicatrizante, pero no surtió efecto; le cambiaba los apósitos dos veces al día y los bultos seguían creciendo. Entonces tomé vendas y esparadrapo y le vendé todo el tórax, procurando que estuviese firme pero no demasiado apretado. Por fortuna era invierno y nadie notó los vendajes, ocultos bajo las ropas abrigadas de la niña.

Tampoco esto surtió efecto. Los bultos eran cada vez más grandes y más duros, como un hueso saliente que amenazase con rasgar la piel. No sabía qué hacer ni a quién acudir.

Hasta que sucedió lo que tenía que pasar. Una manana fui a levantarla de su cama y la encontré boca abajo, en contra de sucostumbre. Bajo las ropas de la cama se marcaba un bulto sospechoso y supe lo que era antes de levantar las sábanas.

Allí estaban: incipientes pero lo suficientemente bien formadas como para que no hubiese ninguna duda. Du­ rante la noche habían brotado, rasgando la piel, y la sabanita de abajo estaba ligeramente manchada de san­ gre. Se me vino el mundo abajo.

Supe que solo podía hacer una cosa. Levanté a mi hija en brazos·, le desnudé el torso y mordí con toda la fuerza que me daban la rabia y la desesperación. Me llenó la boca un sabor asqueroso a polvo y ácaros: parece mentira la cantidad de porquería que pueden acumular unas alas en sólo una noche.

A la niña no pareció dolerle. Quizás sólo sintió una ligera molestia, porque lloró un poco y se calmó ense­ guida. La llevé al cuarto de baño, le hice una cura rápida y logré cortar la hemorragia, desinfectar la herida y ven­ darla.

Estuvo unos cuantos días con los vendajes, que yo cambiaba con frecuencia. Cada vez que se los quitaba, examinaba el progreso de la herida. Vi con alivio que cicatrizaba pronto y bien y a las pocas semanas estuvo cerrada del todo.

Ahora no se le nota apenas. Únicamente tiene una ligera cicatriz invisible, que sólo puede apreciarse al tacto si se pone atención o se va sobre aviso. Ha vuelto a ser la niña que era y yo sigo entregada a ella. A quienes me dicen que me estoy enterrando en vida, que debería vol­ ver a trabajar, que he perdido a mi marido, que no puedo atarme a la niña de esta forma, les contesto que estoy contenta con lo que hago y que la obligación de una madre es sacrificarse por su hija.

Translator’s Note

“La niña sin alas” was originally published in a 1996 collection of short stories by Spanish women writers titled Madres e hijas (Mothers and Daughters), edited by Laurea Freixas. I find the collection fascinating because of its varied portrayals of the mother-daughter relationship. Many of the relationships are fraught, several of them—including this one—are presented from an unusual perspective, and all of them examine and question the expectations that (Spanish) society has regarding this relationship. My interest in the stories was in part provoked by my academic research in the work of contemporary Spain’s women writers, and of how their work reflects both their own experience of their world, and Spain’s changing attitude to women, and to their place and role in society.

The main challenge in translating this story was to capture and portray accurately the narrative voice, the tone and character of the narrator-mother. This is a woman who clearly loves her child despite the baby girl being born “different” and despite the criticism, anger—and subsequent indifference—of her husband, her family, her friends, and her society generally. She is a woman who is open to the discovery of the many new experiences her “wingless” child brings her, in particular, physical closeness and touch. She is prepared to defend her child from the attacks she will endure from her community, and willing to accept the cost this has—and will have—to her own life.

And yet the ending of the story—the mother’s final act of love?—may well leave the reader (and translator) of the story wondering whether this act owes more to selfishness  than to love. Does the mother in fact behave as she does because she does not want to lose the relationship, the physical contact and new outlook on life experiences she has acquired with her earthbound daughter, or is she truly motivated by selfless love for her daughter? Conveying the mother’s dilemma and the potential uncertainty about her true motive was a key aspect of my translation of the story.

Photo: Carlos Mota

Photo: Carlos Mota

Paloma Díaz-Mas (Madrid, 1954) is a research professor at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and was for eighteen years professor of literature at the University of the País Vasco. She has published studies of oral and Romance literature, Medieval Spanish literature, and Sephardi culture. At the age of only nineteen she published her first book of short stories (recently re-published as an e-book under the title Ilustres desconocidos). At Anagrama she has published the novels El rapto del Santo Grial (runner-up for the 1st Premio Herralde de Novela 1983), El sueño de Venecia (Premio Herralde de Novela 1992), and La tierra fértil (Premio Euskadi 2000 and runner-up for the Premio de la Crítica); the book of stories Nuestro milenio (1987), the autobiographical tales Una ciudad llamada Eugenio (1992), and Como un libro cerrado (2005), and a book of nonfiction narrative, Lo que aprendemos de los gatos (2014). She also worked on two collections of stories edited by Laura Freixas, Madres e hijas (2002) and Cuentos de amigas (2009).

L_Thwaites_headshotLilit Žekulin Thwaites is a literary translator and an Honorary Fellow in Spanish at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, where she formerly coordinated the Spanish Program. She specializes in the society, cultures, and literatures of contemporary Spain, and in particular, the work of women writers. Her translation of Tears in Rain by noted Spanish author, Rosa Montero was recognized by World Literature Today as one of the 75 Notable Translations of 2012. The Immortal Collection: A Saga of The Ancient Family (Eva García Sáenz), was published in April 2014. She presents sessions at writers and film festivals, organizes visits by writers from Spain and Latin America, and is also a media commentator on matters Spanish. For further information, see