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Aging In Reverse

It’s strange that we were both born on the same day. Maybe there was something in the water that our mothers drank. Maybe an auspicious alignment of planets and stars. Maybe we were just fortunate. Although that’s easy to say in hindsight. Most of our life has been difficult, and to be honest, very, very strange. But at least we were together for the best bits.

I was always aware that I was different, I mean it was obvious. I can remember things from the moment I was born. It’s only now that my memory is fading. Soon everything will be lost. But that is why I want to tell our story.

From the moment I was born I knew that something was not quite right. I felt fine, great in fact, but the way people were reacting to my presence was slightly disconcerting. Not least the reaction of my own parents, which I could tell from the look in their eyes as they studied me in my crib, that they were confused and frightened. My mother sobbed quietly, while my father looked off down the long hospital corridor, eyes blank, as if considering a quick exit and a new life.

In an effort to reassure them, I said hello and enquired after their health. But this really frightened them, and it was a while before they had calmed down enough to be able to take me home. I decided it was probably best not to say too much more at this point. And so it was a silent journey back to our house. I was distracted anyway with looking out of the car window and studying the scenery. It really was beautiful. Seeing the sky for the first time, the mountains, trees, it was almost too much. I understand now why babies are usually born with their senses somewhat muted. It takes a while to adjust to all the stimuli, a sensory overload that bewilders and bewitches.

It’s relatively common for people to make comparisons between the appearance of new-borns with that of bald old men. But here I was, literally an old man, faculties all intact and with the ability to talk and communicate. My mother, bless her, didn’t know what to make of it at first. And even though her dreams of what her child might be had been thwarted through my unexpected arrival, I could still feel her love. I guess it might also have come as a relief to her that I very rarely cried, that I could ask for food when I was hungry and that she could comfort me through conversations when things overwhelmed me.

My parents, to be fair to them, soon adjusted to their new reality, despite the odd looks and whispered comments of the extended family, neighbors, and indeed complete strangers that passed in the street and looked down into the pram my mother was pushing, only to look up at her with an expression of shock.

It became a private joke between us, and we had many a laugh at the expense of people who didn’t know where to look or what to say when confronted with my unique appearance. But it wasn’t all fun and games. I found it difficult to fit in with the children my own age.

Instead, as I grew older, I found companionship with the old men who played chess in the park. Instead of in the playground, I spent my time in the bookshops and quiet cafes where my looks didn’t attract attention as people assumed that I was just another lonely old pensioner going about my day.

Naturally, my condition attracted attention from the media, much in the same way the discovery of a new species of animal might. People came to photograph me and write articles that were distributed around the world. I was a spectacle for a while, but then the hype died down, people moved on, other events took precedent in the minds. The general population had no doubt forgotten about the weird boy-man they had read about once, scarcely believing it to be true and wondering instead whether they had strayed into the fiction pages.

There was a benefit though to this scrutiny. My mother, being a shrewd and intelligent woman ensured that she received a payment for every article that was written about me. This money she set aside in account so that I would be able to access it when I reached the right age.

As the years passed, my appearance steadily altered. The skin on my face gradually tightened, my body gained strength and suppleness. My white hair became darker and thickened.

I stayed in the same city in which I was born. In the same neighborhood actually. So that I might be close to my parents to look after them. I did have an urge to travel. But to be honest, the thought of it frightened me.

I began to feel other things too. The natural longing I had to fit in and be a part of society intensified. The thought that I might one day have my own family never occurred to me. I believed I was destined to wander the world alone, a quirk of nature, a one-off, unique specimen that had no counterpart. I was moving in a different direction to everyone else and thus relationships were doomed to fail as I appeared increasingly younger while they aged.

I came to accept this. Besides, it wasn’t so bad. I could still delight in the simple pleasures of life: the appearance of the streetlight on the rain-slicked cobbled streets outside my apartment; the smells from the bakery below it; the way in which just as you start to believe that things are progressing in a predictable way, something happens that turns everything upside down.

This was true I suppose for my parents who never expected or even imagined they would have a child like me. And so now I can relate, in a way, because a surprise was in store for me too.

I remember, of course, the first moment I first saw you. How could I ever forget? Standing on those same rain-slicked cobbles, an umbrella at first obscuring your features. But then as you looked around, as if lost, the streetlight caught your face and I felt in that instant like I had known you my whole life.

Obviously, I had felt this first flush of attraction many a time when passing strangers in the street, but always it was gone in an instant as I suppressed the feeling, always aware of the fact that things could never possibly work between myself and a normal person.

I expected the same to happen on this occasion. And so I pressed on with my journey. But when I got to the end of the street and looked back, you were still there, looking around anxiously, like you had been dropped in the middle of a strange city and not given an address to go to.

I did something that I had never done before. I turned around and walked back to you and, once I arrived by your side, took a deep breath and asked whether you were lost.

The look you gave me cut me to my core. I regretted instantly ever approaching you, muttered an apology, and went to leave.

“Wait!” Then I felt your hand on my arm, light as a feather but with the power to prevent the world from turning.

“I’m sorry,” you said. “I just didn’t think I would find you. And so easily. I can barely believe it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “have we met? I think I would remember if we had…” I trailed off as your eyes searched mine.

You shook your head. “No, no, we haven’t met before, but I’ve known about you for a very long time. Sorry if that sounds weird, but I can explain. Is there a café nearby or somewhere we can go to talk?”

“Sure,” I said. “Right around the corner.” It would be good to get out of the rain.”

You smiled then and it was like the sun had broken through the clouds.

Seated at the café, hands clasped around hot cups, we exchanged names, although you already knew mine. I remember you apologized if it came across as untoward. But then you explained how you knew it.

My heart rate quickened when you began your story. As a child, you were born different. You lived in a remote part of the country and your parents, who lovingly raised you, managed to protect you from anything too troubling.

It was a relatively normal upbringing, and you didn’t really mind your condition. But as you got older, a curiosity formed about whether you were really as unique as you had been led to believe. You began researching and that’s when you found the old articles about me as a child that contained the information about where I lived and what my condition entailed. “We were the same.” You said. “We are the same.”

From then on, neither of us was ever alone again.

No, we were never alone. I remember distinctly standing in the street wondering how on Earth I would find you here in this huge city after our first meeting, as the rain lashed down and I stood shivering on the sidewalk. And then suddenly there you were. It felt a lot like fate. Luckily, we liked each other. It would have been pretty awkward otherwise. The only two people in the universe suited to be together and we didn’t get on. I could see the funny side to that.

I never took it for granted though. Maybe that’s what helped us get through the hard times at the beginning, when our bodies were old but our minds were still young. Despite everything, I always appreciated that I had found someone like me. Someone to share things with. It helped us I think. Of course, there’s also the fact that the longer our relationship went on, the younger and more beautiful we became.

The attraction increased exponentially, and we matured in our thinking. In many ways we were blessed to be born this way. It was a pleasure, to grow younger with you. Especially when we hit our thirties. When we had worked enough to be able to afford to travel the world and were in perfect health to enjoy it.

By the time we were teenagers, we knew enough about partying to last us a lifetime and were able to appreciate the sensation of transforming into something more simple. We left the cities behind, we had chosen a beautiful place in the country to see out our childhood. As our world closed in around us, the summers seemed to stretch forever. Life seemed innocent and scarcely conceivable at the beginning of our lives, when you especially had been subject to such scrutiny.

No one minded us as we ran through restaurants playing hide and seek, or in a park pushing each other on a swing. Our garden took on an enormous size as our bodies shrunk. To experience nature through the eyes of a child is like watching a miracle unfold. Even as we neared the end, when memories of things learned started to disintegrate, and meaning was only available through the present moment, there was bliss to be found in surrendering to the abstraction of one’s senses. A psychedelic descent into an eternal realm of pure sensation, and thence into oblivion. 

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Fantasy