Yesterday’s story opening continues. Pictures of real life Esther continue. Enjoy!
I know what you’re thinking. My mum sold me out for £500. But the thing is, we really did need the money. Since dad left, we’ve really struggled. Mum’s been trying to get her qualifications sorted so that she can work as a Science teacher. She says once she qualifies, we won’t have to worry about cash anymore. She says we can get a car and go on nice holidays every year, and we can even decorate my bedroom in any colour I like. But in the meantime, we have to count every penny.
I have to hand it to mum: she’s great at counting pennies. I’ve never seen her buy new clothes, and she always knows which supermarket has the best deals on. She’s always thinking about how to make our money go as far as possible. So I understood why she wanted to get us the £500. Plus, mum likes doing stuff for charity too. Like I said before: everyone’s a winner, right?
When we got outside, Mr Silk had a taxi waiting for us. I’d never got in a taxi before. I could tell mum was dead excited by it too: her eyes were darting around everywhere, taking everything in. She was trying to hide it from Mr Silk though, so I tried to hide it too. I just sat quietly and watched the meter tick up and up, counting the price in multiples of bus tickets. After five minutes we’d already spent £4.57, which would have been enough to get all three of us back to Erdington on the 903 AND have 7p change. I went to tell mum that – she loves how good I am at Maths – but I decided to keep it to myself, because Mr Silk didn’t seem like the kind of man who ever got buses at all.
Instead, I sat and thought about how I could decorate my room, once we’d got the £500. I’ve already picked out the colours I want from the paint chart at the shop: ‘Moroccan Flame’ and ‘Volcanic Red’. I want it to feel like the room is on fire, like I’m sleeping in the middle of a star. Not the silly pointy ones little kids draw, but real stars, like you see in the night sky. Close up, a star looks like a huge ball of flames, although really it’s made of gas. Hydrogen, mostly. The coolest thing about stars though is that they look tiny but really they’re HUGE, even bigger than our planet, they’re just dead far away. In fact, sometimes they’re so far away that by the time the light reaches us and we can see them, they’ve already burned up and aren’t even there anymore. So when we look at stars, we’re looking into the past. How cool is that?
“Don’t go letting your mind wander too much Esther! We want to keep that memory nice and fresh!”
My mind had wandered and I hadn’t even realised that the taxi had stopped. Mr Silk was holding the door open for me, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital looming behind him like a ginormous spaceship.
“Come on, Star!” Mum was forgetting to pretend we were posh. She looked dead anxious, digging her hands into her pockets and shifting her weight from one foot to the other like she was holding in a big wee. So, as we walked towards the hospital, I looped my arm through hers so that she’d know we were in this together. That’s what she always does for me when I’m nervous.
It was hard trying to be the relaxed one, when I was feeling a bit frightened myself. The hospital was MASSIVE. But I just stared at my feet, and tried to ignore all the hurried nurses, the mopey looking visitors with flowers and the shuffling patients in their paper thin nighties. If you just stare at your feet and think ‘left foot, right foot’ over and over again, it’s easy to make big things seem tiny. Footstep size. So we paced through corridors and up staircases, the sound of bleeping and whirring everywhere, and I thought ‘left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot’ until eventually, we stopped. Mr Silk’s voice went all sing-song cheerful. “Here we are! Ward 411: Neurology.” Mum was still looking nervous, but I felt better now it was quieter, so I gave her arm a little ‘we can do this!’ squeeze. Mr Silk pressed an intercom button, flashed an ID badge and we walked in.
After that, my memory gets a bit blurry: everything was so new that it was hard to take it in. Mr Silk talked to a doctor who introduced herself as Dr Green, a cognitive neuroscientist. How cool does that sound? It means she’s an expert in how the nerves in your brain work to make you think or learn or remember things. Anyway, Dr Green told me she’d be performing the operation to extract my memory and that I shouldn’t worry, it wouldn’t even hurt. Then another doctor came in and didn’t even tell me his name, only that he was an anaesthetist, which means his job is to be able to put people to sleep during operations and then wake them back up again, so that they can be cut up and not even feel it. Mum panicked when they started talking about putting me to sleep, and she started asking a zillion questions. But I was dead excited to be put to sleep. It happened to Poppy in my class, and she said she couldn’t even count backwards from ten before falling asleep. I wanted to see if I could beat her, and that was all I could really think about, until they lay me down and inserted the cannula, which hurt a tiny bit but not as much as Poppy had made out. Then the anaesthetist was smiling down at me and saying “count back from 10” and I was really concentrating, doing my best to stay awake and saying: “10! 9! 8…”
And the next thing I remember is waking up.
“Welcome back, Esther.” Dr Green and the anaesthetist were still smiling down at me and it was like they’d never moved, but the clock on the wall behind them said 3:25pm which meant two hours had passed. Mum and Mr Silk were sat in chairs next to the bed, and suddenly I realised that everyone was staring at me and waiting for me to speak. But I was SO sleepy. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and go back to sleep. Dr Green said it was important that I answered a few questions though, and she propped me up with some cushions and gave me a glass of water. The questions were dead easy at first: yes I’m fine, yes I remember why I’m here, no, nothing hurts. But then she asked me to describe my morning, and suddenly everything got REALLY weird.
I had nothing to say. The whole day before me was a fuzzy blank. The first thing I could remember was putting my coat on in the school gym, getting ready to catch the bus. My brain felt wooly, like when you wake up half way through a dream and you don’t know straight away what’s real and what isn’t.
“Is it Saturday? Was the gymnastics competition today? We were at school. We met Mr Silk.” I felt stupid asking such ridiculous questions – even more stupid when I heard my slurred, sleepy voice – but Dr Green beamed at me as though I’d just recited my 72 times tables backwards. In French.
“Perfect!” Mr Silk was standing up and clapping his hands together enthusiastically. “Well done Ms Green, a perfectly clean cut again. Exactly what we wanted!”
“It’s Dr Green. She’s a cogni-” I started to explain, but Mr Silk wasn’t listening. “Show her,” he said, gesturing at a glass bottle on a metal trolley behind Dr Green. With care, she picked it up and held it to the light for me to see: an inky purple liquid which glinted pink and black as she turned it in her palm. “This is your memory from this morning.” Dr Green was spellbound, her eyes locked onto the glass bottle as she spoke. “We can give this to another little girl or boy and all of the joy and excitement that you felt this morning, they’ll remember it as though it happened to them. We know it seems a little strange, but we think that giving” – she paused to choose her words carefully – “less fortunate boys and girls the chance to remember happy childhoods like yours… could really help them to build happier futures of their own.”
“Was I really happy this morning then?”
I was too sleepy to feel happy or sad at that moment. I remembered feeling nervous when we got to the hospital, and pleased about the hot chocolate. I didn’t remember feeling especially happy.
“You were very happy!” Dr Green’s eyes were bright and kind. You can always tell which adults actually like kids or not and I could tell Dr Green did, from how bright her eyes were. “You’d won a gold medal, Esther! Don’t worry: your mum will explain it all to you later. But now, another child – who has probably never felt as happy as you did this morning in their whole life – will get to know what it feels like.”
It was a lot to take in. I’d forgotten about the gold medal. Part of me felt happy to be told that I’d won, but it didn’t ring even the tiniest of bells. Part of me felt confused: adults were always saying how dangerous and bad drugs were, and this didn’t really seem much different to me. Mostly though, I was just sleepy. I wanted to just close my eyes again for a minute.
“Do you like it, Star?” Mum was stepping towards me, looking dead nervous. It was strange: it was exactly the voice that I used when she was cross at me – a tiny hamster voice that makes it harder for someone to stay mad at you – except I didn’t know what I was supposed to be cross about. “It looks a little bit like outer space, doesn’t it? I thought you’d like that.” She turned to Dr Green and smiled proudly. “Esther loves outer space. She’s brilliant at Science. And Maths.”
Dr Green smiled back. “Ah well, if that’s true Esther then I’m sure you’ll want to do some investigation yourself.”
Carefully, she placed the glass jar in my hands for me to inspect. It really did look like outer space, dark and deep, a glittering universe of its own.
“Do they all look like this?” For a moment, I thought about asking to keep it. Suddenly, £500 didn’t seem so special. I couldn’t imagine what I could buy that could be as beautiful as the galaxy shimmering in my hands. I wondered what would happen if I drank it: if the memory of the morning would come jolting back. But Dr Green was already lifting it away from me.
“No. They’re kind of like mood rings. They change from donor to donor, and depending on the kind of memory. Isn’t that interesting? We label them in detail of course, but the colours help us to categorise them, which makes them easier to assign later. Greens are family memories, for example. Pinks are to do with academic achievements. I’ve never seen one quite like this before. Normally sports memories are blue but this one is more of a dark purple. When we get a new colour we name it after the donor – Suzie Pinks, David Greens – so this one’s going to be called ‘Esther Purple.’ Exciting, hey?”
“It’s indigo,” I said, sleepily. “Esther Indigo.”
Mum gave my hand a little squeeze. “Actually, her name’s Star. You should call it Starlight.”