Give Me A Sign

Give Me A Sign

Give Me A Sign

I used to live in a world of silence. People’s mouths would open and close, but no sounds would reach my ears. They were like fish, trapped behind bars of water and glass with only meaningless bubbles escaping their lips. But somehow, it made me feel as if I was the one who was imprisoned. I wanted to swim with the other fish in the caged ocean before me, but I lacked the fins to take the dive.

A single decision at the age of eleven turned my whole world upside down. I was confused at the time, and a bit anxious of what was about to come. My parents didn’t explain much to me. When I asked what was happening, my mother would just sign to me that this ‘device’ would make me like the other children. That it would help me. I wasn’t so sure about that.

Indeed, the cochlear implant, as I later discovered it was called, did make me ‘like the other kids’, but I still stood out like a sore thumb. All the fish around me had colourful, sparkly, and most of all, well-trained fins. When they spoke, it was as if their tongues composed symphonies of sound, structured and harmonious. When I spoke, it sounded like I was drowning underneath the waves that towered above me when I had my surgery.

Even at the age of twenty, I rarely used my voice. I guess that most people just thought I was shy or something. So when my mother and I walked in a Chick-fil-A restaurant, I braced myself for another round of bittersweet humiliation.

Every time a customer received their order, and we moved another spot further in line, dread came crashing into me. I was silently praying that my mother would order for me, but when I glanced sideways, my hope was crushed. My mother always tried to ‘encourage’ me to speak out loud, oblivious to the anxiety it would cause me.

When we reached the front of the line, the cashier greeted us with a warm smile. She turned towards my mother first and took her order. When that was done, I could feel expectant eyes burning into my skin. Say something, I tried to encourage myself. Anything.

I felt something change in the cashier’s demeanour, and I noticed that her gaze rested at the side of my head. It was then when I realised my mistake. I had forgotten to wear the bandanna I used to cover my implants. My most well-kept secret was exposed for the whole world to see.

Panic flooded my chest, and I was just about ready to drag my mom out of the restaurant and into the car, when movement from behind the counter caught my eye.

The cashier signed to me. She signed to me.

Hi, she said. Her signs were still a bit hesitant, but I could easily understand them.

How can I help you today?

They were just a few basic signs, but they looked so beautiful to me. I felt my hands moving on their own, and within a few seconds, we were drifting away in a conversation I thought I would never have again. I was finally speaking. I was finally the conductor of my own symphony, swimming with the other fish like me.


*Author’s note

Hi, everyone, and thank you for reading! This story was written in honour of the International Mother Language Day. Sign language is not my mother tongue, but I think it is probably one of the most forgotten languages when people are talking about mother languages. My story is based on a video on Youtube about a cashier interacting with a deaf customer, check out the link below if you haven’t seen it yet.