A lifetime ago in Japan, my teacher colleagues were recounting stories over lunchboxes in the staff room. I was a student of Japanese and my speaking skills were patchy, but my listening vocabulary was improving every day. My teacher-friend, Yumiko, explained how she was bathing with her three-year-old son when she’d asked him,
‘Umaretatoki, nan to iu kimochi?’
Literally, ‘What did it feel like when you were born?’
She’d used ‘to be born’ in the passive, umareru.
Was she asking if he remembered being a baby? Or being born? Both ludicrous to me.
Our small group of women listened in awe as she recounted his response, gesturing to the junction where the four frontal and parietal bones meet on the top of her skull, the spot where a newborn has a soft spot after birth.
‘Atama itaku’te; te ga kou’te,’ He said, my head hurt and my hands were like this. Then she crossed her arms tightly to her chest. The other teachers gasped and clucked.
‘Sou nan desuka? Sugoi desu ne!’ they said. Really? That’s incredible!
The hairs prickled on the back of my neck as I visualised the position of a baby being born; cone head, arms pressed to the body in a squeeze.
My head hurt. My hands were like this.
I was still young and fearful of everything procreational. I had never conceived of the notion that a baby not only feels its own birth, but has the potential to remember it three years later. Perhaps, it is a memory buried deep within all of us.