#fridayflash : the window children

It’s controversial to say, but I am convinced that both confidence and despair give you certainty. Now, the counter-argument is perfectly clear. There will always be some Sally or Sanjay Sunshine ready to leap up and insist that despair is a paralytic while confidence is a motivator, but I am equally convinced that is false. Look what confidence did to the rabbit in the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable.

That seems to be what confuses the general population about myself and all of the other window children. Our forebears were selected for their robust constitutions, determination, problem-solving skills, intelligence, tolerance, ability to work well with others – all those things they knew their descendants would need for the voyage out and the colonisation. The history books make explicit mention that they checked for claustrophobia, because of course you don’t want a claustrophobic on a generation ship travelling through deep space. But they never checked for agoraphobia.

I am part of that small baby boom that happened when the outer planets ceased to be visible except from the portholes in the stern of the ship, and the dark green face of Gaia became visible off the bow for the first time. Thirty-seven of us were almost exactly three years old when the vibration of the floor plates and the croon of the great engines grumbled to a halt on the planet’s surface.

My parents stayed with me in our quarters and watched the wall screen. The camera on the starboard aerial showed the access ramp lowering for the first time since the ship left Earth.

“They’re letting the air out!” I screamed, and flung myself at my mother’s lap. I put my hands over my mouth, cheeks puffing out to conserve air. We’d played with balloons in nursery. I knew letting air out was a bad thing.

“This is why we can’t go to the observation lounge with you yet,” said my father, ruffling my hair.

I suppose he tried to explain airlocks next, but I was three, and at any rate I don’t really remember.

When it was time for the general population to disembark, my mother tried to carry me to the exit, but I screamed and twisted out of her arms, and ran back to our quarters, dodging between the legs of everyone else who was heading out. My father tried next, but although he was too strong for me to escape his grasp, he gave up and took me to the observation deck. He showed me the rest of the colonists exploring our new world, walking and playing in real sunshine for the first time in their lives.

I wasn’t having any of it. In the end, they had to give me a sedative right before bedtime. I woke up in our new, prefabricated shelter, and spent most of my first week screaming that I wanted to go home.

There were others, of course. Any child more than one or less than five years old experienced a certain amount of agoraphobia. Some older children and adults admitted to it as well, although none of them reacted so badly as to not be able to go outside at all. In the end, only eleven of us became permanent shut-ins.

So I’m not the only one, but I am the most famous, having become both a journalist and an award-winning maker of nature documentaries. That always makes people wonder, but the nature documentaries are because of my wanting to stay in, not in spite of it. My parents used to encourage me to watch the environmental exploration footage on the wall screens, in the hopes that I would acclimatise that way. Instead, it sparked an interest in drone photography. I’ve never left my parents’ pre-fab from the day they brought me here, but my drones have travelled all over the planet.

My poor parents. When I reached adulthood, they moved out rather than making me move away and suffer the terrors of another unfamiliar space. I suppose by that point we had reached a rough sort of understanding. Besides, by then they knew things could be worse. I really am a window child, in that I can look out the window at the world and not be (too) frightened. There are five who are so agoraphobic they can’t do that. Instead, they live in rooms with wall screens that play animations of stars going by, imitation ship’s engines rumbling through hidden speakers, every last tube of furniture taken from the original ship.

I’m not that bad. I’ve learned that if seeing the wind blow through the trees frightens me, I can just close the curtains. Easy.

Tomorrow it will be seventy-five years since we first landed here. The newscasts have been featuring different experts discussing what would have happened if we had missed the planet, or if our ancestors had been wrong about its inhabitability. Besides the famous fuel shortage which had to be compensated for en route (and that I still can’t quite believe — sounds like a conspiracy theory to me), supposedly the outer hull only had about ten more years of collisions with space particles before it would have been too thin and weak to land anywhere.

But that just sounds like a false dichotomy, like the supposed difference between confidence and despair. A room on a ship, a room on a planet. It doesn’t matter. They’re just places with windows to look out of.