'Never Alone' was a runner up in the creative writing competition for 'Salvage'. I hope you enjoy it as much as the judges did.
There are moments in our lives that never leave us, like Polaroids kept in a draw. For fifteen years, I thought of a boy I played with in my back garden. I knew I loved him. But, it was a distant memory of love, a numb sensation as though time had worn it down.
I’m not quite sure when it was - some time before I reached my fifth birthday - I stopped seeing that boy. I can remember at least once asking: "mummy, where’s he gone?"
"He’s just gone away for a while," she said. "He’ll be back before you know it." I remember her eyes were red. So, I thought about him for fifteen years. At first, wondering what day he’d come back, and then, as I grew older, my thoughts turned to wondering what he’d be like now.
I sat in a coffee shop, rubbing my hands together, interlacing my fingers, before unlacing them. It was automatic, a tick from childhood, a kind of comforter for me during those lonely years of youth and adolescence. I picked up the warm coffee and sipped at it.
Three weeks ago, my phone had buzzed a notification at me. It was Facebook, "1 new Friend Request." I opened it up, wondering who it could be. I hadn't had any requests in months, maybe a year.
"Who the hell is Stephen Gould?" I’d asked myself. The profile picture was just some joke photo of a crazy cow. I hovered over the Accept and Ignore buttons before locking the phone and forgetting about it.
Another week had gone by, when my phone had buzzed again. It was another Facebook notification. "1 new message." I unlocked the phone and waited for the message to open.
"Hi" it read. "My name is Stephen, but that wasn't always my name. I found out two years ago that I was adopted. Before I was adopted, my name was Ben. I think you might know me as Ben Turner." This Stephen, or Ben, had included a photo.
It was a picture of my face, or so I thought at first. But, there was a slight difference. Something ever so slightly off about the shape of the face. Then it struck me: it’s not me, it’s him.
We had agreed to meet up, and so, here I am sat in the coffee shop waiting for him - the boy.
I watched an old woman walk passed, her walking stick wobbling as she made her slow way through the town centre. Where’s her family, her husband? I asked myself. Perhaps, she lives alone. I shuddered at the thought. I knew the feeling too well.
I thought of the little boy I’d played with, the little boy who’s face I’d almost forgotten entirely - and then I saw him, as a man, standing in the doorway of the coffee shop.
We stared at each other, over the tables of people going about their conversations, as we shared a moment together. It was as though space-time was knitting itself together, right here. I felt stunned, sick, scared all crammed into a single emotion. My mouth was open, a lump was growing in the back of my throat.
He made his way forward, zig-zagging through the assault course of tables, chairs, and buggies. He knitted his hands together and released them as he approached.
He smiled nervously. "Hi," he said.
I stood up, my mouth still open. I closed it, swallowed and gulped. "Hi, hello." My internal organs were spinning.
We sat down simultaneously, scratched our chins in unison and both frowned together. It was as if some kind of twin’s synchronisation had re-connected itself.
"What happened to you? Why-"
"Why did I go away?" he finished the question for me. "It’s a long story, but I was lost in a shopping centre. It should have been easy to get me back to the right family, but somehow I ended being lost so long I was put in an orphanage."
"That's crazy," I said.
"The system wasn’t so great back then, clerical errors and bad luck meant I was forgotten." He rubbed his hands together, knitting those fingers again.
My eyes felt inflamed, the lump in my throat was growing uncontrollably, and tears welled in my eyes. Years of loneliness and forgotten sadness were dredged up to the surface.
"Listen," he said. "What matters is that I’m here now. God, I’ve missed you. I’m your twin brother and I want you to know: you're never going to be alone again."
He took my hand and as he did, what ever bond that holds twins together kicked itself into place and we both began to cry - great sobbing, heart-wrenching tears.
Since that day, the nights and days when I sit at home, or when the world goes quiet - I feel him, my twin. He’s in the world, he’s there for me, and I’m there for him.