“… Happy Birthday dear Adam, Happy Birthday to you!”
Adam smiled up at his parents, but couldn’t maintain it for long. He remembered birthdays in the past, the large parties, all his family gathered around, smiling, doting on him. And the presents, so many presents. All that he could ask for and more, every whim indulged, every toy and game that he had casually expressed an interest in, there, wrapped up, waiting.
And in the background, gazing out from his bedroom, Jason. Poor, sickly Jason. Adam couldn’t understand Jason. He didn’t do anything that an older brother should. There were no games, no adventures. Jason just sat in his room, reading, tubes and wires coming out of his arms and face, and that wheezing cough that kept Adam up at night, it was so loud. The same cough that Adam had developed in these past few months.
Jason was always happy when Adam was close by, another thing that confused Adam. Surely Adam just reminded Jason of everything he couldn’t do? But Jason loved Adam, and was always upset when Adam was sick, or if he fell and hurt himself.
“I’m fine! No harm!” Adam would always wave cheerily, before running off, aware of Jason’s ever present gaze from the window.
It was just after Christmas, Adam could remember because he was playing one of the new video games he had got, that his parents began talking.
“… old enough now … should be ready … another operation … won’t be sick again …”
Another period in hospital for Jason. It seemed every few months there was an operation, or a hospital stay for Jason. Adam never knew what happened to his brother at these times, and he felt guilty for thinking it, but he was always happier when Jason wasn’t there, watching.
The next day, Adam was surprised when his mum drove him out to the hospital. He normally wasn’t allowed to visit Jason during these times. But this wasn’t a visit. Adam’s mother had a bag, with Adam’s clothes in it, and when the doctor showed Adam to his bed, he realised that the hospital stay was for him, not Jason.
“But, I’m not sick?” Adam was confused. The doctor looked at his mother, before crouching down to talk to Adam. “We just need to check a few things Adam, just in case. You be a brave boy, and soon it will all be over.”
Adam could remember lying on the bed, as it was wheeled around the hospital, and the green mask being placed over his mouth, and told to breathe… deeply…
He awoke in pain, and with a cough that rivalled his brother’s. “You’ve been such a brave boy” his mother kept repeating.
The cough didn’t leave him, nor did the pain. More tests, more operations. More pain. Adam kept feeling weaker and weaker. Was this what had happened to Jason? Did he have whatever sickness Jason had? He couldn’t remember a time when Jason was well, but perhaps Jason had once been like him, and then something had happened, the very thing happening to Adam now. No wonder Jason was always concerned about him – maybe he suspected that the same thing would happen to him one day!
The doctors kept prodding and poking, and telling him how brave he was being, and what a good boy he was. Adam didn’t feel good, he felt wretched. Even just breathing was tiring. He slept mostly, and dreamt. About running. About how things used to be.
He awoke to more tubes in his arms, a mask over his face, and the final words of “Happy Birthday” in his ears. He could barely move, but mum and dad were here, it was his birthday. It should be a happy day.
“Look who’s here to see you Adam”. His dad smiled, and stepped aside. Jason came to the side of the bed, Jason walking, Jason free from the lines and tubes and drips that Adam was used to seeing in him. The sallow colour and bags under his eyes, gone. No wheezing. No coughing. Jason, as healthy as Adam had once been.
Jason leaned over and gently hugged Adam. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.” He stood back up, and ran a finger along a suture across his chest. He then gently did the same on an identical suture on Adam’s chest. “Thank you” he smiled again.
His parents beamed at Jason, and hugged him tightly. Their mother ruffled Adam’s hair softly, then patted it back down smoothly. “Our little saviour” she said, as the family left the room.