Day 351: Two weeks before your birthday
He is there in front of you. You can feel his faint breath as he moves in closer to examine your face. His boney fingers lightly glide over your eyes, your ears, and finally your lips. Then, he cusps your face with both hands, furrows his bushy eyebrows and stares. It takes you a couple of seconds until you can see his stone-cold eyes with great clarity, almost completely gray in contrast to the hazy yellow lights. With what seems like a sigh of relief, he takes his eyes away from you and leaves the room. He comes back a few minutes later with a breakfast tray and places it on the table next to your bed. You can’t move. At least not yet.
“Good morning, Ignis.”
“Good morning, Mr. Brian. The weather sure is nice today.”
You reply automatically and focus your strength to your core as you sit upright. You don’t need any time to process who this man is because you are familiar with him. He is Mr. Brian and he calls you Ignis. For the past 351 days, you have been living in this room which he calls his world and he has been taking good care of you. As for the weather, you just know. Today is mostly sunny; unexpectedly breezy and nice for a temperature in mid-August.
Mr. Brian opens the blue opaque curtains and the sun pours into his world. Continuing on to open the windows, he lets out a laugh and smiles for the first time today. He turns toward you again, and you can see through the slits of his eyelids that his gray eyes have become slightly blue and iridescent. The seriousness that stiffened his muscles was gone now, and a certain tenderness remained in his expression. His flaky white hair, distinct wrinkles and drooping skin emphasize his age, yet his skinny, upright figure and those eyes which have stood the test of time say otherwise. Something about him, maybe the gentleness of his touch or occasional uncertainty in his voice, still resembles that of a young child that is lost and confused. You search for the perfect word to describe Mr. Brian standing by the window, but all you come up with is the same word as every other day: beautiful.
He has taught you many words so that you can make sense of your surroundings. However, when he first taught you the word “beautiful”, you could not understand what it meant. He told you that beauty lies in new beginnings and the underappreciated. It lies in the petite weeds that struggle to grow in between the concrete and also in babies who can only communicate through burst of emotions. When something is beautiful, Mr. Brian said that anyone who notices it will instantly perceive the world differently. “Perception” of course was another word that you failed to comprehend, but you knew that watching him continue to explain the word while pacing around his world and using dramatic hand gestures fascinated you. You wanted to stay in that moment with him. You thought that you had found beauty.
However, when you told him that you found him beautiful, his cheek flinched as if your words had pained him. He threw an icy glare in your direction and forbid you from calling him that. He was shaking, carrying his head and pulling his hair. He then shouted that beauty is a concept that only the gut can grasp and yelled that you will never understand because you are not the same; that no matter how hard you try, you cannot be the same. You listened to Mr. Brian rant, but none of his words were processed because his reaction did not make any sense to you. All you knew were the facts that you had misunderstood beauty and that he was angry because of it. He was angry at you. You had said something wrong. But what were you supposed to say?
When he had calmed down a little, without thinking, you asked whether you were beautiful. His murky gray eyes turned clear again, and with a forced smile he answered, “Ignis, you were very beautiful.”
In that moment, you recognized that he was sad. You realized that he has always been sad. And you don’t remember anything else that happened on that day.
Day 355: 10 days before your birthday
This morning, you watch him eat breakfast. It’s the same two pieces of toast with butter and jam and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. He asks if you wanted to eat some and stretches his arm to hand you over a piece. You shake your head and tell him that you aren’t hungry right now. In fact, you are never really hungry anymore, but you find comfort in the same breakfast he brings you every morning and the same few words you converse with each other. It’s probably the same for Mr. Brian.
Today is another pleasant day so you stand up to open the windows. A fresh whiff of wind soon fades away the stuffy air of wheat, steel and plastic from the inside. The wheat is from the toast and the plastic and steel is probably from the completed gadgets that he has lined up on his bookshelves and the unfinished ones spread out on his desk. Mr. Brian says he doesn’t have to work anymore now that he is retired, but from day to day all you see him do is tinker away on those plastic pieces with multiple tools. You know that he thinks the world of them because he calls those gadgets his creations.
After he finished chewing on the last piece of bread, he snapped his fingers and soon, a box on wheels opens the door and enters his world. It is only a meter in height and is splattered with rainbow colors. It patiently waits for Mr. Brian to place the empty glass back on the tray, then proceeds to roll out its silver twigs from its sides, only to awkwardly place the tray in its stomach area. With a nod and a pat on its head, Mr. Brian signals it to leave and the box spins around and glides toward the hallway in a zigzag manner.
You do not think so highly of this particular gadget because it never fails to barge in on your peaceful mornings, and you feel discomforted from the fact that it has been with Mr. Brian longer than you have. Yet on the other hand, you also know that it occupies a special place in Mr. Brian’s heart because you have noticed two distinctions from the box and his other creations. First, it is the only creation that he actually considered naming. He first picked a human name for it like Steve and Will, but in the end, he changed his mind so many times that he simply gave up personifying it. Now, he calls it his Helper and you call it as you see it: Box. Second, Mr. Brian usually signs his name on all of his creations, but this one has an equation scribbled on its back. 13+1. You asked him before about this equation, but every time he would either reply with the answer “fourteen” or dismiss the question— almost as if he doesn’t want to remember something. You don’t press further because you don’t want him to get angry.
Nonetheless, it puzzles you as to why such a brilliant man like Mr. Brian will value such a simple creation. Everything that Box does throughout the house, you and the other creations can do easily, perhaps even more efficiently. He has other creations that can fly as high as airplanes and can cure diseases that were thought to be impossible, yet he still treats Box with special attention. The more you watch him interact with it, the more you want to deconstruct that box, figuratively chomp away at each of its components and hide its remaining parts under the bed. You sincerely wish that one day you will be able to make it come true.
He looks over his shoulder and calls you by your name. Those thoughts immediately evaporate into thin air and you lift the corner of your lips and walk over to his working desk where he sat organizing his screws and bolts by size. He takes your hand, and without lifting his gaze off your fingers, he continues to lightly poke your palms with his screwdriver. You wait obediently for his next few words.
“Everything is still perfect. Let’s go for a walk, Ignis.”
Day 358: A week before your birthday
It is supposed to rain today but the sun conveys no sign of hiding. Mr. Brian is holding an umbrella over you to keep your skin from scorching, but sweat drops start to form in between his forehead wrinkles as he fails to cover himself from the heat. You look at your arms to check to see if you are, by any chance, perspiring like he is, but to your disappointment there is no sign of water seeping out of your body. On another note, your energy state is higher than usual because this is your second time going outside this week. He does not enjoy the hot weather, so it is rare for him to leave the house this many times in a week and also bring you along with him. You assume that he is also excited.
On the inside, the house is white and dull like a hospital, but it is actually built with sturdy red bricks, just like the house the third little piggy built in the children’s story. The contrast of the crimson walls against the greenery surrounding it is vivid and bright, almost too colorful when the sky is also a clear sheet of blue like today. However, you have noticed that the annexed three-story tower next to the house is much darker in color. Mr. Brian explained to you before that it is much older than the main part of the building, yet you sense from its peeling paint and blotch of black stain around the top window that it is not only time that has withered its form. You think to yourself that the overall charcoal brown color resembles the burnt toast Mr. Brian sometimes brings in for breakfast. He says that he took his eyes off the toaster for a little too long. He says that even a short moment of neglect can ruin everything. He calls the tower his past.
You have never been in his past before because of one simple reason: he never gave you the permission to enter. Of course, you could have taken a peek when he leaves the house for a gathering, and he probably wouldn’t notice if you sneaked out from his world to climb the tower. There are so many options in disobeying Mr. Brian’s orders, but you stay loyal to him because you want to. He has taken great care of you, and you believe that listening to him is always the right thing to do. However, this doesn’t change the fact that you feel intrigued by the only unknown factor in the whole property, and you continuously wonder why he doesn’t want you to see his past.
This is why you were not expecting Mr. Brian to suddenly grab your arm and walk you over to the entrance of the tower. The big door that used to be closed shut was already flung to the side, as if welcoming you with open arms. He asks if you wanted to take a tour, and you almost impulsively answer yes. He then takes a deep breath and says with a nervous smile that today is a special day, that it is a gift. You are so eager to climb his past that you don’t think about anything that he has said.
Taking a step inside the building, you immediately scan the room for anything your eyes can grab on to, yet to your disappointment, there is nothing but a shabby couch and an empty shelf on the first floor. On the walls, there are rectangle stains of where many picture frames and posters probably hung. It was something he called sun fading, yet to you, it just looked like the leftover spirits of those decorations. Dust was also accumulating on the wooden floor, as if to hide any track of life before the building was abandoned. You turn back to Mr. Brian who was still standing by the doorway. He was staring in your direction, but you could tell he was lost in his thoughts. You wait for a couple minutes more and ask if you can go see the second floor. He nods to give you his permission.
The second floor was distinctively different from the first. The first floor might have been empty, but this floor was not only vacant but also filled with black paper bits. You are not sensitive to smell, yet even you could tell that this room had an ashy smell. You predict that something has burned here before. Perhaps Mr. Brian kept all the blueprints for his creations here since he did mention before that he spent a lot of time working in this tower when he was younger. Although you want to find out what creations he was making before, realizing that everything probably disintegrated in the fire, you head towards the third floor. However, the staircase was taped up so that you cannot go any further, and you notice that the steps leading up were not in fact leading towards the final floor but was actually nonexistent.
Nothing was left in his past for you to discover. But as you turned around to go back to where he was, a colorful cardboard box, hiding right behind the staircase, catches your attention. The rainbow patterns slightly resemble that of Mr. Brian’s Helper and stands out in the dark room. You wonder how you could have missed such a bright object and lean in to take a look. Inside the box, there were a few documents and textbooks. You shuffled through the paper and continued to dig deeper. When you were about to give up, the tips of your finger touched something solid. You look and find a picture frame at the very bottom. Flipping it over, you see a photo of yourself. No, it is not you in that picture because you don’t remember him ever taking a photo of you. It is someone else who is in the picture. A girl who is extremely similar to you, grinning from ear to ear and looking right back at you. But at the same time, why is your name and his name carved on the frame?
13rian + 1gnes. 14th Birthday.
Before you are able to ponder more questions, Mr. Brian tells you that it is time for you to come down. You drop the picture in the box and scuttle down the stairs as fast as you can. He was waiting exactly where you last saw him and signaled for you to follow him out. When the both of you leave to go back to his world, you ask him if there was a fire before in the tower and he answers yes. He says that an experiment had gone wrong five years ago and caused a great accident. You decided not to interrogate him further. After a while, Mr. Brian started muttering to himself. He says that it is better for you to not go back to his past for a while and that today was a special day— your birthday. But you know that it’s not your birthday. In fact, your birthday is supposed to be in a week. Maybe he forgot the date due to his old age and declining memory. Maybe he meant the tour and picture frame to be an early birthday present. Or maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with that girl in the picture.
Day 365: Your birthday
“Good morning, Ignis.”
“Good morning, Mr. Brian. It seems like it will be a little cloudy today,” you reply but there is no sign of him in his world.
“Good morning, Ignis.”
There it goes again. From its depth and tone, you are sure that it is Mr. Brian’s voice. You stand up from where you are resting and see Box looking up at you from the floor. Without thinking, you kick it to the other side of the room, but then you see that its silver twigs were holding onto a voice recorder. You walk up to where Box was lying face down (if it even had a face) and take the recorder from its hands. As Box awkwardly brings himself upright, you realize that Mr. Brian probably gave orders for it to wake you up like this. It points at his working desk, and you apologize to Box for kicking it and dismiss it from the room. On Mr. Brian’s working desk, there was a note in his handwriting. It said that he had to go to a robotics conference this morning on the other side of town and won’t be back until the afternoon. You read and read and read over the paper to check if you looked over any hidden message, yet there was nothing else written on that note. Not one word of acknowledgement for your birthday. You are not angry or sad because you still do not understand feelings very well. You are just confused.
You remember the picture of the girl you had found in his past. You did not ask Mr. Brian about it because…you couldn’t. You might be afraid of his reaction. Maybe even afraid of what might happen to yourself when you see his reaction. So instead of using your time and mind capacity to wonder about who that girl is, you decide to forget that you even saw the picture.
There is not much of a difference between when Mr. Brian is in the house and when he is not. You spent the morning walking around his world, sitting on the bed, and sometimes peaking at the hallway to watch Box go on about his duties. You wonder when he was coming home.
Around noon, you hear a car drive up to the house. You assume that his conference had ended early, so you gaze down from the window, expecting to see him come out of the car. However, to your surprise, you see a madam in a gray dress with voluminous hair, the same color as Mr. Brian, step out. For the whole year that you have known him, Mr. Brian never had guests over at his house. This was a completely new situation.
You hear her press the doorbell three times and shout for Mr. Brian to come down and open the door. There was some more aggressive knocking, and Box must have let her in because the next thing you know, you can hear her footsteps charging for his world. You only saw her from above, but you thought that for an old lady, she was exceptionally fast at climbing the three flight of stairs to where you were at. Before you were able to plan out how you were going to place yourself, she had already flung open the door, half-crouching to catch her breath.
“It’s been five years, Brian. You promised that we’d go to her…”
Standing up, she stopped midsentence. She looked around and realized that in place of Mr. Brian, you were the only one in the room. You see her eyes, which had the same iridescence as him, were wide open with shock.
“Ig-nis… You’re alive?”
You have no idea who she is, yet not only did she know your name, but there was also so much hurt and love in her face. She shakes her head as she answers her own question.
“No, you can’t be. You died in that fire. You… You are not Ignis.”
You now connect the dots between the tower, the fire, and why he didn’t want you near it. Someone died and he wanted to protect you from that fact. Yet it still didn’t make sense for her to say that you were dead, so you decide to tell her that she was wrong. You interrupt her and say that you were Ignis and you were well and alive. However, the moment she heard you speak, the water in her eyes dried up and her mouth grew stiff. You could see her laugh line clearly, but she showed no sign of joy. You finally understood what Mr. Brian meant by the idiom you could cut the air with a knife.
“Brian… he must have created you. You are just a robot that my idiot brother created to replace the real Ignis, who was mygranddaughter.”
“What are you saying… I am Ignis.”
“Stop saying that! Ignis is dead! Brian failed to save her from the explosion!”
She continued to tell you that you repulsed her and that you had no value whatsoever, yet you were not able to process what she said before about Mr. Brian creating you. According to the hysterical woman in front of you, you were also his creation. You did not know what the truth was. She seemed too frantic to make up such a lie. She seizes you by the wrist, and your sight becomes blurry from her swinging you around. You end up in the passenger seat of her car, somehow already driving away from the red bricked house. You wanted to turn back, tell her that she was wrong, and go back to his world like nothing happened. However, you didn’t know how to respond. You just sat and watched her drive, farther and farther away from what you thought was your world as well.
Thirty minutes pass and the both of you arrive at the end of the forest. She tells you to get off and never go back to the house again. You leave the car and watch her drive away into town, still not having pieced together the whole story of who you are. You stand there thinking about what you have found out so far. Your name is Ignis, but five years ago there was another Ignis who was Mr. Brian’s great niece. That Ignis actually died in a fire in the tower he now calls his past, and since he was not able to save her, he decided to create you as a duplicate of her. All the pieces were set, but there was no way you could accept this reality. It was too much in too little time to digest. Accepting it would mean that he never cared about you and only longed for what you had replaced. It means that you were never real. You were never alive.
The sun was setting, yet you were not able to move one step from where the old lady left you. You couldn’t go back to the house but knew that there was no future for you outside of this forest as well because Ignis did not exist. So, when Mr. Brian showed up suddenly, panting and sweating profusely, a light inside of you flickered. You decide to forget everything the woman had told you until you heard it from Mr. Brian himself. Moreover, even though you may not be real and may not be the real Ignis, there was a man who needed you. A man who had rushed to find you. A man who was desperate for you. That was enough.
Charging straight at you, he pushed you to the ground and you found him on top of you. His sweat and tears were raining down on your face and he touches your cheek to wipe away the salty liquid. He called you by the name he has always called you with, and you knew that somehow everything was going to be alright again. He said, in between his breaths, that he loved you so very much and that you were not dead. He whispered that he could not live without you anymore, that you were the only thing keeping him alive. You listen to him sob like a young child who had lost and found his mama again.
However, when he has calmed down and lifted his head from your chest to sit up, you see that his eyes were completely shallow and blank. For someone who was just crying, his attitude was too composed, almost serene. In this moment, you discover that you had never truly seen this side of him, which was perhaps the real Mr. Brian. You knew that if you were still awake tomorrow, nothing would be the same.
The last thing you hear is: “You are my creation. I cannot let you leave me again.”
A man is there in front of you. You can feel his faint breath as he moves in closer to examine you. As he cusps your face, you feel the vibrations from his boney fingers. You realize that his hands are trembling, but his eyes, completely gray under the hazy yellow lights, are stone cold and determined. Everything is familiar; the blue curtains, the breakfast tray, and the shelf stacked with all the gadgets. Even his white flaky hair and wrinkles on his forehead you think you have seen before. However, you just don’t recognize who this man is. In fact, you think you don’t want to remember until he calls you by your name:
“Ignis, good morning.”
The man is Mr. Brian, and he will take good care of you.