It was 1976 and Northern Ireland was a war zone and into this war zone came a little girl, with a newly discovered talent for mimicry, and her mother, who could best be described as having a writer’s imagination.
The little girl, her mother and the rest of the family had spent the day navigating checkpoints and unapproved roads, visiting family and friends and the little girl had stared open-mouthed as soldiers with real guns had interrogated her mother each time as to where they were going and who they were visiting. Barbed wire was everywhere along with an all pervasive tension that hung thick and heavy in the air like an invisible fog and each time they were stopped at a checkpoint the little girl could feel unseen eyes watching her.
The same little girl had a fascination with cars and loved the sound of the engine of the Ford Cortina MK II as it responded to the touch of her mother’s foot on the accelerator and zipped along the twists and turns of the country roads. She loved the smell of the leather and the feel of it under her hands and she loved the squeak that came from the boot every time they went over one of the many bumps, which drove her mother crazy but made her smile secretly to herself. And this day she realised the car she was so fascinated with made another sound. Every time her mother put the indicator on there was the most satisfying tick tock sound, like the loud but dull ticking of a clock. The girl loved the perfect timing of this sound and started copying it in her mind. Soon, she switched to mimicking the sound quietly to herself in the back seat. The sound was soothing and the little girl loved how she could reproduce it flawlessly.
Soon the family arrived back at the rural farmhouse they were staying in and the little girl and her siblings were fed and put to bed. However, this little girl always found sleep elusive and in the absence of a book to read she contented herself with practising the tick tock sound of the indicator. Soon she was fast asleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night she woke up and was surprised to see the reflection of a blue light flashing through the window. She crept out of the bed and peeked out through the net curtains. There were lots of men in black uniforms. They were different to the soldiers she had seen throughout the day but they still had that hard look in their eyes. No-one was smiling. No-one looked friendly. There were also soldiers a little further down the road. Soldiers and guns. They seemed to be guarding the entrance to the property. The little girl didn’t know what was going on but she knew when there was trouble, somehow she was usually to blame. However, on this occasion she couldn’t see how it was anything to do with her so she crawled back into bed. She resumed the tick-tock sound of the indicator and was soon fast sleep.
The next morning she found her father fixing things on the car. She thought this odd as she hadn’t realised there was anything wrong with it. She mused to herself that maybe he was looking for the mysterious squeak. Her father didn’t speak to her. Next she met her great-aunties, Nora and Kate. They looked at her curiously and Kate even smiled but they didn’t speak to her. Then she met her mother and her mother didn’t have to speak, the little girl knew from the thunderous look on her mother’s face that she was in trouble on an epic scale.
The little girl stood there waiting for the storm of her mother’s fury to hit.
“You,” her mother stuttered, “you.”
The little girl found it strange how her mother didn’t seem capable of talking. Word failure was not a problem her mother suffered from.
She was also breathing hard as if trying to control herself and the little girl was reminded of a dragon and half expected to see smoke coming from her mother’s nostrils.
“You,” she choked out the word, “do you have any idea of the trouble you caused here last night?”
The little girl thought back to the men dressed in black uniforms and the soldiers but couldn’t for the life of her figure out how any of that had anything to do with her. However, judging from the look on her mother’s face, her life very much depended on figuring her connection to these events out.
“N…o….” she replied, cautiously. Very cautiously.
Her mother took a step towards her and she quickly took a few back.
“You only had half the police force and the bomb squad out here last night, you little witch. You and your weird little noises.”
Realisation was starting to dawn on the little girl…..
Her mother narrowed her eyes.
“If I ever catch you making your weird little noises again, I’ll kill you myself,” she exclaimed as her hands clenched into a pair of fists and unclenched again, as if she was seriously trying to control the urge to carry out that threat immediately.
The little girl didn’t understand how sounding like an indicator from a car could cause such trouble but she thought better of sharing this with her mother. Instead she slinked off in the direction of the nearest field and decided to see if she could figure out how to talk cow instead. It seemed like a much safer option.
The little girl was, of course, me and this is a memory from my childhood that I had completely forgotten about until I saw the photos of Ahmed Mohammed being led away in handcuffs from his school in Texas.
Back in 1976 in Northern Ireland the main detonation device for the many improvised bombs was a clock. On hearing an unidentified ticking sound, my mother called the authorities who thankfully didn’t arrest me when they discovered I was the source!
Poor Ahmed wasn’t so lucky but if it’s any consolation to him I’m sure his techie talents will see him go on to have a stellar engineering career, which is more than can be said for a gift for mimicry which got me absolutely nowhere.