The Price of Youth

Moon Bhatt

Blood flows like time, from youth into old age

The Doctor looks old but he is barely a fifth of my age. He smiles at me as if we are friends but I know that beneath that smile he is cursing me for my youth. He is a new doctor, new to me. The last time I was here, no more than two weeks ago, Dr Mjocha, an old friend, had looked so pale and grey. I guess the job had got too much for him and he had been forced to retire. Either that or the other thing. Hopefully, he retired. I remove my coat and one of the nurses takes it. Although she isn't new, I know because I recognise her cold blue eyes, her sharp intake of breath and the nauseous look on her face tell me she hasn't been here long enough to get used to the sight of my twin. I settle down onto the bed and let the nurses run through their preparations, inserting tubes, clipping on electrodes, and fitting an oxygen mask.

Then the incision comes; a cold silver scalpel, the sharp knife of surgery caressing me once again. The conjoining artery is cut and my end is quickly clamped. I can instantly feel the loss of my twin. I close my eyes and say a small prayer. I never watch this part, the body being taken away to be disposed of, it's not something I like to think about. I savour the moment. It never lasts long enough, but for a fleeting minute I am happy. I am free, again. The feeling of peace overwhelms me, the silence calms my mind and lets me think once again. Am I a monster? How many lives will I sacrifice? I'm an individual, one man, with one mind and, more importantly, one heart. The joy quickly ebbs, like a tide that turns, like a wave that crashes in and hangs high on the shore for just a moment until gravity sucks it back into the sea. I can feel myself aging, I can feel time like a wind rushing through me, pulling down every cell, like leaves dying and falling from the branches of my tree. My skin is almost visibly sagging, becoming heavier with every breath. I feel more like a monster now than ever, an aging portrait of Dorian Grey, old and gnarled beyond my youthful looks.

I'm whiter than the sands of Taiwan, colder than the icy plumes of Enceladus, but I can still move like a fiery teenager
My peace is soon shattered when they bring the next twin. These blessed moments of peace are getting shorter every time. It seems as though I'm back here in the hospital more frequently with every visit. Soon, I won't be leaving at all. I'll just lie on the cold metal bed and let the doctors bring me ever more fleeting moments of peace. This one is crying already and the sound is higher and sharper than before. One of the side effects of de-aging is an over-sensitivity of hearing. It seems I am suddenly inside the mouth of the child, hearing the scream from within my own head, and it isn't even close to me yet. I can't stand the wailing, it penetrates me and gnaws at my bones. If there was one adage from older times which I would happily adopt it is that children should be seen and not heard, although in my case the child shouldn't be seen either. Maybe children just shouldn't be. Then I wouldn't even have the option, I would have passed into the gray mist a long time ago.

Another moment of peace ensues when they anaesthetise the infant, preparing it for surgery. I don't like to know the sex, although I'm always telling myself it's a boy. I don't want to hurt little baby girls, I'm not that much of a monster. Am I? I know that the sex isn't important, that either way it'll last a week or two, maybe even less if my theory on diminishing returns is accurate. The nurses always have that same apologetic look on their faces when they treat the baby. They look as though they are sorry. What are they sorry for? I'm the monster! They are just doing their job. Agreed, it might not be a glamorous job, it might feel as if they are helping to exterminate unwanted children, but they get paid for it; they are putting food on the table for their own children. They and their kin are still surviving. They never give me apologetic looks, no, the looks of scorn are all saved up for me and focused into small blasts of toxic glances. Some people think they know it all. Well I've been alive long enough to know that you don't get anything for nothing; there's no such thing as a free lunch, we all pay the same price in the end. Even if we stave it off for a year or a decade or, in my case, a century or two.

My name is Peter Petual. I am 245 years old and still going strong. Last week I played my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson, or maybe it was his son, I don't remember. Anyway, I played one of my descendants at squash and won. I always win. They think they can beat me because I look old. I'm whiter than the sands of Taiwan, colder than the icy plumes of Enceladus, but I can still move like a fiery teenager. It's the knowledge that lets me win; I've seen every trick in the book, every feint and play. I know what move they are going to learn next before they even realise their current skills won't work on me. I'm a champion, and I'll be playing for many more years. Sometimes, they accuse me of cheating. They say that technically I should be playing two of them, playing doubles, but it's usually an ill-conceived joke.

At last, they join the baby's artery to mine and, in that moment - the moment the newborn's blood runs fresh into my old veins - joy pulsates through my tired body. I can feel the years that I've picked up in the few minutes I've been living on my own fall away from me in the first few seconds of new blood. The clean, unsullied blood invigorates me, and I love it. It feels so fundamental. I'll do it again and again. I'll drain a thousand babies if it gives me one more day of life. I might be a monster but I'm not going without a fight. I will not submit. Not until I run out of babies. And this world will never run out of unwanted babies. They aren't unwanted, I want them, I want their blood. I want their youth.

Copyright © Moon Bhatt 2010 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 19:03 Sat 18 Sep 2010
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