She called it a robot leg.
I mean, I wished it was. That it would fizz and whirr into motion, then propel me across that primary school hall to that the other side so far away, so I could look back to her, and look around, and Did you see that?
I think I nodded along. Yeah, it’s a robot leg. What else is it? What else could it be?
Did they have a word to describe them? Barely padded plastic brackets that I had to be fitted into whenever I grew (they had a Rubik’s cube there in the clinic in Sydney), that the specialist (also in Sydney) would always ask about, that made me need to shop for two shoe sizes, that got so hot in summer, that got discoloured around my toes where I would press in, that stuck to my skin and kept my ankle from moving because if you let it then it would move and tippy toes – tippy toes were bad.
A splint, I think. But that was a word from another world. I didn’t know what the doctors meant when they said it.
So I nodded along to robot leg.
Cool! She smiled a bit, then walked off to somewhere else.
Was that- was that me? Hey – I was the robot leg kid. Robot leg. Robot leg. The robot leg was cool.
Optimus Prime had a robot leg. He had two robot legs, and they had wheels on the side, and would fold backwards when he turned into a truck. And he was cool.
And it would go clunk, clunk, clunk when I walked but that was the sound of the robot leg, and it was cool.
Yeah, robot leg!
But then I noticed that all the other kids didn’t have robot legs. They didn’t seem to need them. And they could run, and play handball, and walk through the bushes without getting twigs stuck inside their legs.
Faster, easier, more balanced. Perhaps I wondered if I would be able to move as fast, as easy, as balanced if I didn’t have a robot leg.
And the robot leg was cool, but wasn’t it also cool to do all that other stuff, go out there, and tumble, and roll, and play? Soccer was a foreign word. There was no point trying in the cross country because I knew I’d be at the end. I threw up a barrier at even the notion of speed. It wasn’t for me. Couldn’t be for me. But wasn’t it cool when they did it?
I wasn’t the only one with a robot leg.
His had camo on it. It was gaudy because the brown looked like skin, and the robot leg wasn’t made of skin. His was worse than mine. He had more of a limp, needed to wear glasses. I saw him at events, sometimes at the Governor-General’s house with the party pies, sometimes in the Exhibition Park with the fire truck and everything – but I never talked to him. It was like-
It was like a funhouse mirror. Things blurred and distorted – blown and exaggerated. Things ballooned, bloated; they were ugly, unnatural masses, and they didn’t work properly, and nothing fit. He didn’t run, he didn’t play handball, he didn’t go walking around in the bushes.
And if he’s reading this right now, I’m sorry. Because it was them, or him, and I chose them.
I hated that robot leg. I wish I could have just said ‘oh, cool’ and walked away from it, like she did.