Paranoia in Suburbia
I think my new friend’s fifteen-month-old baby is an alien. I really do, and have done for some time now. Don’t ask me why, I really couldn’t tell you. I do know it’s not because he is easily the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. While his large brown eyes and cute dimpled cheeks are quite extraordinary, there isn’t anything altogether other-worldly about them.
And it’s not because in the four months since I moved here, I have never seen him cry. Not even once. No. No, that’s not it. I suppose it’s just a feeling I have. Please don’t push me for more because I’m sure I couldn’t give it to you.
I’m not crazy though. I know for a fact that my new friend’s baby cannot be an alien, regardless of any feelings I may be experiencing; and just as has been recommended to me in the past, I’ve made a point of reminding myself of this fact repeatedly.
Thankfully, I think it’s finally working.
The funny thing is, though, I’ve recently begun to suspect that my new friend’s fifteen-month-old baby thinks that I am an alien; and while my earlier supposition is perhaps lacking in verifiable evidence, this one is practically drowning in it.
First is the way he looks at me each time I visit. The minute I walk through the door, any activity he is currently engaged in comes to an abrupt stop. He toddles over and proceeds to circle me cautiously, all the while regarding me suspiciously from behind what must be at least two-centimetre long lashes. And when I do sit to talk with his mother, like a satellite, he monitors every move I make, listening, it seems, to every word I say.
I see him, I do. Out of the corner of my eye. Even more unnerving is the steady glare he maintains when I attempt to unsettle him with a sharp turn in his direction. Holding my gaze with barely so much as a blink, his eyes appear to say I know who you are. I know who you are and I’m watching you. It makes me very uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable indeed.
The other thing is the way he reacts whenever I come within touching distance of his older brother. I see the baby look hard at his sibling, concentrate on him, and I get the feeling he’s trying to communicate with him. Warn him, you know, telepathically, toddler to toddler, just like in that movie from the nineties. But he can’t because his brother is too old and has lost the ability to hear him that way. When that fails, he seeks to position himself between me and his ward, like some kind of familial wall of defence. Covertly, of course. Tottering awkwardly on plump, stubby legs, he would pretend to retrieve a cleverly aimed ball, choosing the precise moment he is right between us to fall heavily onto his diapered bottom. And then he just wouldn’t move; not until his oblivious older brother wanders off and any perceived danger has been successfully averted.
It probably sounds insane and I bet I know what you’re thinking: it’s all in my head. But I promise you that if you saw it, if only you could be there, you’ll know it’s real. Real as the sea is deep.
Needless to say, I don’t visit my new friend at her house anymore.
Something happened last week. Something very disturbing, but very revealing.
I was on my way to my daughter’s year six class at Living Spring Junior School. It was Friday, the one day of the week that had a uniform closing time for every class. Walking past my friend’s baby’s playgroup class, I noticed the door was slightly ajar, and got the idea to walk in. I thought I might see my friend, talk with her maybe. I pushed against the door, went inside, and heard it slam shut behind me.
Nothing prepared me for what happened next.
The well-lit playroom was rowdy. The minders were absent, and about thirty little children were in various states of play. I looked around. My friend wasn’t there, but right in the middle of all the energetic romping, I noticed her baby sitting quietly by himself, meticulously building a wall out of yellow plastic bricks. He looked up sharply and saw that I was watching him. Jerkily pulling himself to his feet, he stared straight back at me, yellow brick clasped tightly in his left hand.
For reasons I can’t quite explain, I decided to go to him, and had taken no more than three steps when, without warning, a small rubber ball tore through the air in my direction, hitting me squarely on my right shoulder. I yelped loudly, more from surprise than from pain. The culprit, a skinny little boy with a huge afro, paused long enough to throw me a menacing glare before toddling off triumphantly to the far-left corner of the large brightly painted room.
Meanwhile, my attention was arrested by a disconcerting sound coming from my right. I turned in time to see two identical sisters dressed in identical pale blue dresses, running unsteadily up to me and laughing wildly like a pair of unhinged infantile clowns. As they came to an abrupt stop right in front of me, the laughter stopped. Funny…. funny ….funny they began to chant listlessly in perfect unison, pointing their pudgy index fingers as close to my face as all of their two feet height would allow. It was truly eerie, I tell you.
It was at this point it became clear to me that something very strange was going on.
Just then, a big, round boy in a way too tight white t-shirt (which, in spite of evidence I now have to the contrary, boldly proclaimed the wearer as being the world’s best kid), forced his way forward and The Shining Twins were unceremoniously shoved apart in opposite directions. He took one look up at me and, without any provocation, pulled back a large turgid leg and flung it forward right into my shin. I yelped for the second time that day. This time, it was the pain.
Then, suddenly, almost like a switch had just been flicked, the already rowdy classroom became a noisy, riotous mad-house. I watched in horror as toys went flying in all directions like misguided missiles and the thirty or so toddlers ran, crawled and rolled all over the padded floor, screaming and screeching like a herd of deranged cranes.
It was all getting out of control and I knew I had to get out of there. I turned around to make my escape and was confronted with a wall made up of four children, who it would seem had been standing almost directly behind me along. It occurred to me that they were likely there to prevent me from leaving. Or maybe, in all the chaos, they had sought refuge next to the only adult in the room. Or, maybe indeed they were there to prevent me from leaving. Look, I really don’t know what they were doing, but they scared me, standing there like that in a perfect row.
With a slow and cautious sideway shuffle, I eased myself along the length of the four-child-wall, and then around it, all the time looking to see if it moved. It didn’t, except for eight large curious (watchful?) eyes that followed my exit. I only turned away when I was nearly thrown headfirst to the floor as I stumbled over an object in my way. It was a large Thomas the tank engine toy that some evil kid must have craftily placed four feet from the door. Luckily, I managed to avoid a full-out fall, thanks to my outstretched right arm that had somehow found the edge of a small but sturdy shelf. Struggling to regain my balance, I continued my retreat.
Within seconds I was at the door. Gripping the knob like my life depended on it, I turned, but nothing happened. I tried again, harder, but still it wouldn’t budge. Behind me I could hear the tempo rising and rising. I became frantic, hysterical almost. I turned the knob again but this time in the opposite direction. It worked, and the door opened freely.
Relieved, I rushed right out, but not before I turned around to take one last look. There he was, my friend’s baby, right in the centre of all the madness around him. Still standing, still watching me, still holding the yellow brick in his left hand. He hadn’t moved a muscle. He had done all this, I was certain of it. Probably sent off some alien baby signal or something, causing his mates to turn on me like white blood cells on bacteria.
As I hurried away, I bumped into the class minder. I tried to explain to her what was currently going on in the room she had left unattended. I told her about all the shouting and the violence. I even showed her my shin which by then bore a steadily growing bump at the point where Tight White T-Shirt’s large shoe had made contact. I tried to warn her, but she just began to calm me down saying the children were usually excited and restless at this time of day. And then she just walked away. I looked after her and felt an overwhelming sense of pity, because I knew what was going on.
I had been right the first time, but only partially. My new friend’s baby is an alien alright, but so are all the others.
It’s been six whole months since I started to suspect that something unusual is going on in this this town and two months since the frightening episode at the school. I avoid my friend and her baby altogether now. But that’s OK because now I have a different friend. I met her at the supermarket; she saw me struggling with some grocery bags and was nice enough to give me a hand. She’s a doctor, which sent off a red flag at first, but then I learnt she’s one of the good ones. An optometrist. You know, the eye people. Everyone knows it’s useful to have a doctor for a friend.
More importantly, she has no children.
Yesterday, after much consideration, I decided to talk to my doctor friend about my suspicions. I told her everything and how I felt certain that the town had been invaded by aliens masquerading as young children. She laughed. Actually laughed out loud. Then realizing I was serious, she stopped laughing, cleared her throat, looked me straight in the eye and began to speak very slowly and deliberately, like an adult trying to explain String Theory to a child. Or to another adult.
She said I was imagining things, that there were no aliens. She said my irrational fears probably stemmed from feelings of not fitting-in in a new town. She said I just needed to get out more and engage in activities I enjoyed. Pick up a new hobby, she said. At first, it felt like one of all those many sessions I’ve had to endure almost all through my adult life, and just like all those times, I dismissed what she was saying to me as pseudoscientific nonsense.
But now, I begin to think she may be right. Maybe the move here has affected me more than I realized. Small towns are just so …. different.
I believe the dark night has broken into a bright and beautiful dawn. All is different now. I’ve started going out more, made a few other friends. I’ve even joined the PTA at the school and have somehow managed to find myself on the Sports Committee as well. I never really noticed how friendly everyone is here. I don’t want to be too hasty, but I think I’m finally ready to call this place home.
I’m taking it slow though, haven’t been to anybody’s house yet or invited anyone over. Except my doctor friend, that is, who has been so amazing since our talk. She visits regularly, always finds a reason to stop over. She invites me everywhere. Lunch, parties, drinks at the bar. Heck, she even got me to join her book club. I hate to read, but I joined anyway. I’m just glad all the craziness is finally behind me.
Aliens? Baby reconnaissance? What on earth was I thinking?
Yes, my doctor friend is amazing. Probably too amazing. She’s always there, I can’t seem to be able to get away. The phone rings, it’s her. The doorbell rings, it’s her. I get a text, it’s her either sharing some useless bit of information, or giving me her favourite line – Just checking up on you. I know what she’s doing, I tell you. I know.
You’re probably thinking the good doctor is just trying her best to make me feel like I belong here, trying to make me feel included. But I know that’s not it. Call it a certain sense I have or whatever. Please don’t ask me to explain this any further, I really shouldn’t have to.
And to think that for a moment there, they almost had me, the crafty critters.
But I can’t waste too much time worrying about all that right now. There’s too much to do and too little time to do it in. I really hate this part, disdain the entire process. Yet, one must do what one must. The best I can do is make it easier on myself.
That is, after all, the very reason I have ZoomNow Ltd, Professional Packers and Movers, on speed dial.