How did it get to this? Her eyes flicked toward the phone tucked in the far corner of the office. I couldn’t let her reach it, too much was at stake. A bead of sweat formed upon my brow. The secret could not, must not leave this room.
It’d all begun back in Primary 1. Rumours, whispered conversations in shadowy corridors. Some laughed, some simply dismissed them; but I was fascinated, drawn in like a moth to a flame—a secret society. A nod here, a wink there, soon I was in. It was a premise beautiful in its simplicity, of course, we weren’t the first to think of it. It had been nearly a hundred years since the founding of The Society for Neuro-diverse Excuse Making or S.N.E.M for short, but it was only now that we neared our goal—critical mass.
As I said, it was a simple idea. Each member of the society was assigned an entirely fictitious neurological condition, all of which were scribed with the blood of the founding fathers in our sacred tome—the book of S.E.N. Once our ranks had grown sufficiently in number, society would have little choice but to accept our conditions as genuine; and the world would become our oyster.
We could have an excuse for anything. Misplacing documents, misspelling words, mathematical mistakes, knocking over a cup; the possibilities were dazzling, wonderous and endless. Of course, there were hardships we all had to endure to reach our goal. I, for example had been assigned to the dyspraxic unit of my local cell, a condition that the boffins at HQ had characterized as affecting coordination, memory and social skills. So, each day at school I would play my part, knock things over, speak at inappropriate volumes, avoid eye-contact and let my arms and legs flail and flap wildly as I ran or walked. Some dyspraxics would just do the coordination stuff; not me though, I was a true soldier of the cause—committed to the bitter end. In P.E. the other kids would laugh and mock as I stumbled along, missed easy catches and tripped over my own feet. But I knew that when the day came that whenever I accompanied my mother to Tesco and she was able to park in the disabled spaces—they’d all be laughing on the other side of their faces.
Each day after school I’d hang-out at our cell’s clubhouse, a place where we give one another feedback, make plans for the cause and do all the things that our assigned conditions prevented us from doing in the world outside. I’d heard of clubhouses in all sorts of crazy places; sewers, underground laboratories, I’d even heard of one being inside a volcano. Ours was atop the spire of an old and decrepit church with the entrance secreted behind a revolving bookcase.
It was here that we unwound, acted our true selves without the pretence. On any typical day you would see the Lexers kicking back with a game of scrabble, pitting their wits against cryptic crosswords or nonchalantly flicking through pages of Tolstoy, Dickens and Proust, some were even partial to a spot of Chekov. The Dyscalcs would be leaning back on the chaise longue, chewing on liquorice pipes while discussing anything and everything from polynomial theorem to quantum geometry. And the Aspies? They were a wild bunch, if it wasn’t thumping techno and the flashing of strobes, then it would be the discordant blaring of thrash metal.
Then there was my crew, the dyspraxics or ‘The Fantastic Spastics’ as we called ourselves; Flatfoot, Cack-Hand and Spaz. We all had monikers slung at us as insults by the kids at school, but we wore them as a badge of pride. Why? Because having a nickname meant one thing and one thing alone—we had the suckers duped. Mine was Diddums, on account of the tearful fits of frustration I would throw when I dropped a ball, tripped or gripped a pencil so hard it stabbed through the paper. I hate to brag but I was a true master of the art.
We were a merry bunch. Flatfoot, our acrobat would tap-dance on a trapeze line while balancing a spinning plate on his nose, just for the crack. Cack-Hand, a devil with the knives. She could hit a bullseye, blindfolded at a thousand paces while doing a handstand and throwing with her feet. Spaz, the magic man, could memorize the position of every card in the deck plus the sixteen-extra face-cards he kept hidden up his sleeve. And me? I was the clown of the bunch. On any given day you could’ve seen me riding a unicycle, juggling fiery torches that illuminated the room or somersaulting from a cannon, only to land in a graceful pirouette with such finesse that the Bolshoi would be proud. And outside the room? No, not a soul knew.
Anyway, I digress. She stood before me a deep scowl ingrained upon her features. The photocopier had a long and complicated sequence of buttons that required pushing to get the thing to operate. Yes, I had been taught the sequence before and yes, I could remember it perfectly. I mean who wouldn’t? But Michelle, my boss; I just loved to annoy her. I hadn’t spent years and years cultivating a pretend ailment just so I could remember things. No, watching her look of exasperation was like nectar to my soul. Then, it happened.
“I think you’re just making excuses. I think all these disorders are just made up.”
She stared at me, intense intelligence seemed to emanate from her glare. Had she figured it out? Or was she just clutching at straws. I thought back desperately to anything that could’ve given the game away. Perhaps she had seen my surreptitious night-time unicycling. Or did she know who it was masked beneath the visor atop of the pyramid in the motorcycle display team? This was dangerous territory. The founding fathers of S.N.E.M; Einstein, Tesla, Turing; they were smart guys, but to have figured out our scheme; this woman was in a whole different league.
She made her move. Out of nowhere, she whipped out a set of juggling pins and hurled them to the air above my head. My instincts kicked in. Without thinking I plucked each pin from the air and immediately began my favourite juggling rendition: A Reverse Cascade that flowed effortlessly into Gilligan’s Box before finishing with a flourish on a Boston Shuffle. As soon as the final pin fell into place and I took my bow I realised what I’d done. All she’d needed was proof and I’d given it to her on a platter. I had to stop her, I’d worked too long and hard just to have my thirty-percent discount on rail fares prised from my grasp.
With a moment of recognition our eyes met. Then the briefest flicker of the eye towards the phone at far-end of the office gave her away. She began her dash, she had less ground to cover than I did; and she blocked the narrow aisle between the rows of desks and bookcases that lined the office. I had no option but to use the skills I’d kept hidden for so long. —Parkour, I leapt and vaulted the obstacles with the agility of a cat, just managing to tear the phone cord from the wall in the nick of time. Yet, before I’d regained my footing she was heading for the stairs. It was only moments before she reached the outside and any attempts to stop her by using my skills would become futile. Then, the solution hit me like a brick wall. It was audacious, but it was my only hope.
Several years previously, I had travelled to Tibet under a false name, with the aim of becoming the first person to ski-slalom from the peak of Everest; with one leg tied just to make it a challenge. It was there that I met a monk, a Grand-High-Wizard-Supreme of our order; who went by the name of Num-Té. He was a master of the ancient Shao-Dim art of neurodiverse mummery, better known as Dumb-Fu. I’d learnt much in the weeks I’d spent high in the Himalayas with Num-Té, but there was one move that no-matter how much I practised, I could never master.
She began to turn the door-handle. It was now or never. Launching myself into the air I unleashed the most challenging physical movement that mankind had ever dared to conceive—The Flying Millipede Memory-Wipe Technique. My body somersaulted backwards, whilst each limb rotated in opposite directions at lightning speeds, as did each finger and toe. Making the lightest of contact, tickling each and every pressure point upon her body within a fraction of second, overloading her senses to bring forth a state of bewilderment and confusion. Landing in a crouch, I looked up to her hand still gripping the exit’s handle, a look of puzzlement carved upon her features.
“Is there anything I can help you with, Michelle?” I asked.
“Em, no, it’s funny, I’m sure I had something important to do, but I can’t quite remember what.”
“Well, I guess that it couldn’t have been all that important then.”
“Yes, I suppose not.”
With that, she turned from the door and headed back to the office. Later that day, as I walked home, I wondered if she’d ever remember, if our secret was really safe. Then, I thought perhaps it didn’t matter, even if she did remember, who’d believe her story. I mean, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?