The first thing the midwife noticed about Michael K when she helped him out of his mother into the world was that he had a hare lip. The lip curled like a snail’s foot, the left nostril gaped. Obscuring the child for a moment from his mother, she prodded open the tiny bud of a mouth and was thankful to find the palate whole.
To the mother she said: ‘You should be happy, they bring luck to the household.’ But from the first Anna K did not like the mouth that would not close and the living pink flesh it bared to her. She shivered to think of what had been growing in her all these months. The child could not suck from the breast and cried with hunger. She tried a bottle; when it could not suck from the bottle she fed it with a teaspoon, fretting with impatience when it coughed and spluttered and cried.
‘It will close up as he grows older,’ the midwife promised. However, the lip did not close, or did not close enough, nor did the nose come straight.
She took the child with her to work and continued to take it when it was no longer a baby. Because their smiles and whispers hurt her, she kept it away from other children. Year after year Michael K sat on a blanket watching his mother his mother polish other people’s floors, learning to be quiet.
‘Life and Times of Michael K’, J.M.Coetzee