Published on: 31 March 2016
Written by: Thomas van Heyningen
He just stood there, on a lonely Wednesday afternoon. I can’t recall where I saw him, exactly. Could’ve been in the train, could’ve been before I got on it. He was clutching his leg and I noticed him, from the corner of my eye. I was instantly drawn to him, not it. What was he doing on a train station? I’d never seen a scenario like it before. So I hopped over to him and held out my hand. To my genuine surprise, he shook it. Such flexible fingers, I caught myself thinking. What are they made of?
‘’Are you alright?’’ I asked him.
He shook his head. ‘’No.’’ Would he be able to answer me in full sentences? I wondered.
‘’What is wrong? Could you describe what you’re feeling?’’
‘’I… can.’’ He took a little pause after each word. ‘’But… first: can I trust you?’’
An odd question, yet not completely unexpected. ‘’Yes, you can, absolutely.’’ The words tumbled out of my mouth.
‘’I… seek… adventure. Adventure cannot be sought, when injured.’’
I got very excited. I was supposed to meet up with a friend of mine in Amsterdam, but this was much more exciting. Adventure! Woowzers. I should definitely try to convince him to let me join.
‘’Your injury is stopping you from having an adventure,’’ I said. ‘’I won’t let that happen – tell me what’s wrong!’’
‘’I think… it is this part of my body.’’ He pointed.
‘’Knee. It’s called a knee.’’
‘’…Nie… A knee.’’ Absentmindedly, he rubbed the sore spot. I watched him, fascinated. After I shook the first (of many waves of) fascination off, I went on my own knees to examine him. And that was the beginning of our friendship.
I promised not to bring him back – I would help him on his adventure and give him energy ‘’from the wall’’ (as he put it). For all of this, he said he could only give me his name in return: ‘’Fred.’’ But he had given me much more already.
Fred wanted to go to the toy store first. We went to the Bart Smit in Nijmegen and bought a chess game. When we got on the train, it was the first thing he wanted to do. He beat me every single time, the metal bastard. I only won once, which Fred let happen on purpose. I liked him even more for it.
We were kicked out of the train when the conductor noticed Fred didn’t have a train ticket, nor an OV on him. We laughed because we were at our destination anyway: Leiden (I still made a mental note to buy a train ticket next time). Onto CORPUS, then. Fred wanted to. Yet, after CORPUS, he had a little tearless cry. ‘’Why he was so different,’’ was his question. I shushed him and told him what they said in the movies: ‘’It is okay to be different. You are special in your own way.’’ I did mean it, though. Fred laughed again when I’d challenged him to say as many numbers of pi as he knew, and I failed miserably. ‘’You… do not have the best memory.’’ His mood had cleared up, he was content again.
When Fred met my parents, it only took 2 minutes for them to split us up. My dad gave me a final push into the hallway and my mother was already there. ‘’Are you crazy?!’’ he said. ‘’Someone, or some institute or something is missing that…’’ He lowered his voice and hissed: ‘’Robot!’’
‘’Don’t call him that, he’s my friend!’’
‘’You’re delusional!’’ I didn’t know where my mum had gotten the ability to scream and sigh tiredly at the same time, but it was a special sort of talent.
I pleaded: ‘’Please let me show you how special Fred is. He only needs a place to sleep and some electricity.’’
The next evening, they were begging me for forgiveness. Fred’s flexible fingers were excellent for decorating cupcakes, mum said. Fred’s intellect helped dad finish up this important research paper he’d to turn in on Friday. ‘’He’s a quick learner,’’ dad said.
And I? I liked Fred’s innocence. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He looked at everything with a childlike wonder. He slept with blankets on even though he didn’t need them. And every day we would go on a different adventure. Life was sweet.
On yet another day, I felt the train stopping: ‘’Amsterdam Zuid’’, was announced through the intercom. My eyes opened, I jumped up. Where was Fred? Oh… Right… Unbelievably disappointed, I headed towards the train doors. It was still Wednesday afternoon, only a couple of hours later. I guess it was time to see if my human friend could top all of that.