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3rd February, 2014
When Toph was born, Lao and Poppy each had a moment of clarity. They were parents; there was now a little life, borne of both of them that they were now responsible for. They had never felt more grateful—more appreciative of life—until they heard the plaintive cries of their baby, and set their own eyes on her unique creamy orbs. Carrying her to term had been hazardous, as the unborn child in Poppy's womb placed extra strain on the small woman's already frail frame. For that reason, those first few weeks with their little girl proved to be some of the most emotional, but rewarding, weeks that either had ever experienced.
The downward spiral began when she was four months, one week, and three days old.
Lao's sister, Sakira, had arrived to meet the newest Beifong, bringing her own son to meet his cousin. A right terror, Kodan was four and extremely hyperactive. On more than one occasion, Sakira had expressed gratitude that he wasn't a bender, while Poppy had expressed sadness that he would never be able to learn the skill—after all, bending was a talent that many young bachelorettes were after. Poppy brought out her daughter, and began gushing that little Toph had already displayed some aptitude for earthbending—yet another attribute that would serve her well in the future. After all, there were plenty of well-off young men who weren't benders, but wanted an earthbending son. She had taken a breath in order to sip a small cup of lemon ginger tea, when Sakira's voice broke through.
"Poppy, she doesn't look at me."
As her aunt gently rubbed her cheek, Toph merely stared straight ahead as though she wasn't there at all.
"What do you mean, 'she doesn't look at you'? She's a baby," Poppy asked sharply, a small frown on her face as she set her tea cup down.
Poppy had noticed her daughter's proclivity of staring of into the distance, however the first-time parent had thought nothing of it. The child was healthy–she ate and cried and laughed and played. Everything a child should do. They weren't supposed to see yet, were they?
Suddenly, the delicate woman was gripped with fear, and calling a servant she demanded with a most un-Poppy-like attitude that he fetch her husband. Sakira watched her sister-in-law closely as she handed back the small child. Kodan had wandered up to peer at his cousin, although his mother held him back. Poppy was staring into Toph's eyes, gently rubbing her stomach as the girl laughed in delight. Her hand was grabbed as Toph pulled it to her face with surprising strength, only to begin sucking on the delicate fingers. Small growls of happiness emerged from her throat as she stared, unblinking towards her mother's face. Poppy couldn't help herself. For the very first time, the tears she shed for her daughter where not ones of happiness.
Toph did not realise she was different. As the child grew, she never saw the looks of pain, the sad half-smiles her mother would shoot in her direction. It was perhaps ever-more excruciating that she did not notice—did not know—that she was special.
She grew up handicapped, but that was not her mother's doing, nor her father's. She was allowed playmates, the children of guards and servants visiting often to keep her company. Occasionally, she would be allowed to travel outside the walls of her home and into the city. Watching carefully over her daughter, Poppy would never understand the exuberance that would appear on Toph's face at the new adventure—how could she understand when she couldn't see?
They were travelling by carriage, a five year old Toph sitting on her mother's knee, when the little girl learnt she was not the same as other children.
The Beifong women were returning from a day at the markets. They may have been rich, but they didn't achieve that status by spending lavishly on items of only slightly greater quality that the gorgeous hand-crafted objects available right in their home town. Toph remembered her mother commenting on the skill of the paints, of intricate doves and Avatar Temples; and stories—the story of the Two Lovers, etched and painted onto an expensive crockery set.
"Mama?" she asked, her head resting on her mother's chest. She felt her mother's acknowledgement rumble in her chest, and giggled slightly at the feeling it gave her ear. "What's blue? You were speaking it with the man with the funny words," she questioned. She heard Poppy suck in a breath, and felt her hands slowly stroking her back.
Poppy was silent a moment, but Toph knew better than to ask again. Her question had been acknowledged; now to wait. She did so silently, breathing gently, although not too deep. The smell of her mother's perfume was getting to her, but she would never dare to leave. The comfort in Poppy's lap was worth the small irritation.
"Blue is a colour." The answer came quietly, although it meant nothing to the tired girl. She blinked a few times as her small mind tried to decipher the strange words.
"Can I feel it?" That question had become a staple in the Beifong house, and all the inhabitants were usually happy to grant the little wish. Many of the younger visitors had picked up the habit of asking that, and those who spent the most time around the lively girl tended not to use any visual words. Poppy had been careless that day in seeing the brand new Willow pattern on a fine set of bone china.
Toph felt her mother shake her head, and heard her voice, low and sad. "No, Tophy. You can't feel the colour blue..."
The little girl huffed through her nose, a frown appearing on her face as she stuck her bottom lip out in and adorable pout. "Why not, Mama?"
Poppy's stroking of Toph stopped, and she moved her daughter to look into her vacant eyes.
"You can't, Tophy," she said, and Toph could hear the tears in her voice, the wavering hurting even her own little heart. Her disgruntled expression fell as she looked towards her mother. "You need these," the older woman continued, brushing her fingertips over her daughter's eyelids, closing them, "and yours don't work."
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