I was rather certain that my parents had forgotten.
I was finally becoming an adult, legally adult in a world ruled by them and I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. My parents, you see, had always been very protective of me, more so than of any of my friends and it, while it had been a comfort at certain times, it had also been a nuisance as, I suppose, it would be of anyone of that age with such parents. I loved them, of course, but I wanted to fly free, try my own wings and find myself, so to speak.
This wish comes to all those on the threshold of adulthood, or nearing it.
It is a fear, really. Every time we know change is coming, for better or worse, we begin to feel fear. In some, this becomes uncertainty, in others boasting and swaggering. For me, it was neither. Or both. I am not quite sure, but I was certainly looking forward to it.
I remember that week. I was trying to slip hints as to what I desired about my coming of age, about my birthday, as all children do, as I had done ever since I was able to, but these seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Both my mother and father were strangely preoccupied, as if they were watching something before their eyes that I could not see. I received elusive, vague and even odd, at times, comments that made me simply not bring up the topic after the first few tries. It was strange. I had never seen my parents behave like this before. Unsettling would be the best way of describing it.
The week went by with nothing other than the usual. There were the semester finals, I had entered college early and in my first year, I attended study groups and a few parties to lighten the load. I could afford to, I was a good learner, even if I do say so myself. And I also had a much-envied ability to hold alcohol very well, and I never got a hangover the next day.
I think I was rather an irritating young cock, really. Proud and self-assured and sulky that I was now believing that my parents had forgotten my birthday, like some child cheated of a sweet. This, if nothing else, tells me now just how unlike an adult I really was back then. Funny that.
So, I was a dapper young lad, full of life and lust for it and arriving home on the day of my birthday after a night out with my friends from college, I found my parents waiting for me in the lounge room all prim and silent, very much unlike the lively couple who had brought me up over the years. It was deeply troubling.
“Is something the matter?” I asked, walking over to them, confused and fearing something horrible had happened. “If it’s about my going out last night. We didn't gamble, mother. I swear. Richard did, even when we told him not too. But even he didn’t lose more than a silver guinea.”
“It’s not that, son.” My father said, as if he had not really heard what I had said. Usually, if I made excuses like that, I got a crisp remark from him and a disapproving look from Mother, but this time, nothing. “Sit down.”
I did, looking from one frozen face to the other, wondering what I could have possibly done, me, their pride and joy that would have elicited such a response from them.
“There’s no right way of telling you this,” Father continued, his words chilling me to the bone, “But your mother and I agree the day we got you that we would tell you on your 21st birthday.”
Frankly, I breathed a sigh of relief, picking up on his use of the word ‘got’ instead of anything one would use for a naturally born offspring.
“I’m adopted?” I said, grinning. “I rather guessed that a while ago. I’m not worried about it, dear Father, Mother and neither should you be. I consider you the best parents who ever lived and I wouldn't have anyone else. Not in a million years.”
Mother’s lips trembled and I thought that the worst was over and that she would finally stop twisting the lace of her dresses in such a tense manner. She did not and Father looked even tenser.
“Son, things are a little more complicated than that, I fear.” He said.
“What? Am I from that bad a family?” I asked, my eyes searching both their faces, trying to find some clue as to what this difficult secret could be. “Am I the son of a prostitute? Or a murderer? Did my family want to kill me?”
Father took a very deep breath and seemed to come to a decision.
“Son, your Mother and I love you very much. I think we have made that clear and there is nothing that can change that.” He paused, as if in pain and I felt more and more uncomfortable, not knowing at all what to expect. “However, we finally must tell you, know that you are old enough to make your own decisions, that you were never born at all. Not to any family. Not to us, nor to any prostitute, murderer, or other human being. You came into being, but you had no birth.”
I listen, astounded by this, and then burst out laughing. I could not help it. The idea was ridiculous!
“Really, Father!” I admonished, slapping my knee, grinning from ear to ear. “You’re a gem! A gem and a half! I can seriously say that this joke is the best birthday present I have ever gotten!”
I stopped, however, when they did not join in my laughter, only staring at me as if I were a tightrope walker high above them without a safety-line.
“Are you serious?” I said, “You can’t really expect me to believe that nonsense, you, of all people who have always taught me, ever since I was a child about logic and reasoning? You can’t expect to believe you do.”
“Be that as it may, it is the truth.” Mother said, voice cracking and making me completely rethink my earlier statement. Tears were running down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry that we didn't tell you before. We reasoned that this is how it is done with orphans adopted at an early age, so it’s best done with you as well, dear.”
“We got you from a Dr Furbisher, son, who built you.” Father went on as Mother wiped her eyes with that violet handkerchief I had given her a few years back when I had returned from Paris. “He was a very intelligent and amazing man. A true genius. A master at all things mechanical. He was also a very old friend of mine, we grew up together, really. He was always a bit off in the head, so to speak, but none the better at what he did. I helped him when he needed to communicate with people as he was always horribly bad at it, and he help me with machines when I needed it. One day I was telling him, as a close friend of the family, that your mother and I could never have children.”
Here he looked lovingly at his wife of over 20 years and clasped her hand warmly.
“I had gotten a heavy cold when I was around your age.” Mother said, sniffing. “And it had attacked my womb and I was made infertile as a result. So Dr Furbisher helped us. He said he would make us a son to be proud of. I didn't believe him. As marvellous as he truly was I could not understand how he, a lone man, could make a son for us. But then he disappeared into his workshop. We didn't see hide nor hair of him for months and we were certain that something was wrong. Your father was about to set off and find him when the man appeared at our door, cradling a small bundle and with the proudest look I have ever seen on any man’s face. ‘Here’s your son, George, Mildred’, he said and gave me the most beautiful child I had ever seen right into my very hands and told me he was mine.”
“I panicked at first.” Father admitted, nodding. “While your mother was doting over you, I thought that perhaps my old friend had finally snapped and had stolen a child. After all, you can’t make a child out of spare parts. I told him as such, but the fine fellow shrugged it off with a wave of that oil-smeared hand of his.”
“Very unsuitable for holding children.” Mother noted, sniffing now with disdain and not over-excitement, thankfully.
As for me, I was simply swept away by the story, true or no, but it was too fantastic for me.
“But Father, if you know that that is true, why are you telling me this?”
“Because he did make you from parts, albeit, not from spare ones.” He replied, green eyes meeting mine. “And he showed us.”
“He opened you.” Mother whispered, looking faint. “A horrible sight to see, though it did you now harm in the least.”
“Oh, but you cannot be serious!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet, irritated now. “Heavens, it’s my birthday, not All Hallow’s Eve! I eat and drink and have perfectly normal bodily functions! I grow! You cannot ask me to believe all that rubbish!”
“Dr Furbisher was a true genius and we’ll not see his like again in a long while.” She said, looking strangely admiringly at me.
I stood there with my mouth hanging rather stupidly open. I had no idea how to react to this madness.
“Fine, then!” I said. “How, may I ask, does one go about ‘opening’ me? And if you even mention ‘knives’ or other utensils, sharp or other, I shall be running as fast as my little legs can carry me out of this insane asylum!”
Father grinned, his usual good humour returning to him a little, though his face remained pale.
“Oh no, nothing so vulgar, son.” He said, “You are no primitive machine or no value. You are beyond value, just like any human. Just take off your clothes until your waist and press those three birthmarks you have simultaneously. The two on the right side of your neck and the one right next to your belly button. Just warn your mother and I as we wish to look away. Seeing your insides was enough once in our lives, please.”
I did so.
I really wish I had not done so and had just left at the beginning.