Home Visit (A K’wow Story)

Not the girl we visited. Cute, though. (A Dreamstime image.)

[3-minute read]

Dreamily, we’d been visiting new friends, a young mother and her daughter, a freckled, smiley kid with straight auburn hair, cropped just below her earlobes. She had the radiant, gappily eccentric grin of somebody losing baby teeth and growing big ones. She was six or seven. She didn’t really have much to say, but she wasn’t timid.

My wife and I learned more about the woman. She was relaxed having new people into her small home, easy-going in her loving but not overly attentive side chats with her daughter. The details have become gauzy, ephemeral, except for this: so casual, so homely was our meeting that, at one point, I realized that the girl was washing her hair right in the middle of the living space, in a 19th-century tub. My bride had decided to recite a favourite meditation that she thought our young hostess would enjoy. I sat quietly. Just behind and to my right, the girl raised her head from the water.

Probably her ears were plugged; she was speaking more loudly than she had been before, and was clearly enjoying the oddness of surfacing from the small tub in the middle of an adult conversation. “WHAT’S GOING ON?” she blurted. My wife carried on with the psalm, the prayer, the poem, whatever it was. The girl’s mother tried a gentle ‘sshhh’, and I put my forefinger to my lips with a quick wink and a smile. “But HOW COME?” she blurted with a twinkle that showed she knew she was just a bit naughty. She did then lower her voice.

The girl also switched from English to her mother tongue. I guessed that she really did want to understand what was happening. Maybe she hadn’t known why these two strangers had come to her home. She clearly wondered why quiet was suddenly, and unusually, necessary.

I think she was asking why? It sounded to me like k’wow. She said it very softly, but she repeated it over and over.

K’wow    K’wow    K’wow    K’wow

I first thought it was Spanish, but slowly knew it couldn’t be; I do know a little Spanish. Is this Aramaic? Wait, that’s bizarre. What in the world would I know about Aramaic – except that somewhere along the post-Sunday School road I’d learned that this was the language that Jesus likely spoke. That made no sense. What was I thinking? I was fascinated by how softly, how regularly, she persisted in asking the question.

K’wow    K’wow    K’wow    K’wow

I was trying not to be irritated. After all, it wasn’t my place to correct or admonish her, and the two women were apparently not disturbed by it. Can’t be Aramaic. Alsatian? Wait, is that actually a language, or just some kind of dog? No, Amharic. But that wasn’t likely it, either. That was the home language for one of my students, no, that was Mikyas, from the team. Holy cats, how many times is she going to ask?

K’wow    K’wow    K’wow    K’wow

She said it breathily, ever so gently, and she was a metronome. I marvelled at the consistency, the unperturbed rhythm of the thing. Was K’wow even an accurate description of the sound? That ‘k’ seemed too hard. C’wow? Qu’ao? I kept thinking of ‘A’ languages. Arabic! Maybe it’s one of those breathy, throaty ‘H’ words. Hwow? It hardly even seemed like a word anymore, but my impatience was gone. There was only one sound in the room, and I was fastened upon it. There was barely a whisper of difference between one question and the next repetition of it, and that only rarely.

K’wow    K’wow    K’wow    K’wow

I’d kept my head down for what felt like minutes of this endlessly repeated, unanswered question – if it was even a question. I was insanely curious. What did the girl look like as she puffed out this mysterious recitation? Was anybody else in the room as fascinated by it as I was? I got up on one elbow and pivoted slightly to the right.

K’wow    K’wow    K’wow    K’wow

Now I knew where I was. (And the language I was searching for? Esperanto! Have I even heard Esperanto spoken? One man’s dream of a universal language.) I was in my bedroom. It was 3 a.m. My bride was breathing. I’ve listened to her breath for many a year now. I don’t believe she’s ever asked me K’wow? before. I listened to her for a long time after that. It made me happy.

It always does.


Aramaic. Amharic. Alsatian. (Is that a language, or just a dog?) Esperanto, maybe,

Comments (3)

  1. Paul Desailly

    ‘K’wow’ Wow, James. Just wow.

    [Dedicated Esperantist Paul D. also added more; I wasn’t writing about anything other than a dream, but he pointed out the following information to me, which was new and interesting and I offer it below for your possible attention as well. JH]

    2017 is also the 75th anniversary of the murder of Lidia Zamenhof in Treblinka..17 Sep 1986 the Universal House of Justice [the governing council of the worldwide Baha’i community] stated: “Lidia was so devoted a follower of Baha’u’llah.” See the British Library high praise for this Baha’i champion whose father invented Esperanto::

  2. Paul Desailly

    Your approach is perfect James vis-a-vis a Baha’i audience. The Esperanto topic is so obscure to our youth and so sensitive to our leaders (as individuals) that I prefer only to write about the subject, and when in those rare face-to-face discussions I jokingly deploy Socratic irony: ‘I’ve heard of Esperanto. Isn’t it an Italian opera set in Utopia?’

    • Kind of a silly piece, but I had fun with it; I’m experimenting with stories. Thanks for your comment. Only on waking did I understand that Esperanto was the language I was imagining I might be hearing in the dream, and what “k’wow” actually was…

      (Paul is a scholar of Esperanto, this noble attempt to create a global language, and he informed me that 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the passing of its creator, L.L. Zamenhof. )

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