How I became a father at 11 years old
It wasn’t by choice.
It wasn’t a conception I remember much about at all. I do have vague memories of a brief liaison in the jungle, although liaison suggests mutual consent. To be clear, it was not. I wasn’t given any time to protest or fight back. Horrendous as it sounds, I was used for my 11 year old body. An innocence taken which I will never get back.
I should explain why I was in the jungle alone as a child. At the time we were living in Belize, Central America. The jungle was just an extension of our garden. We never had fences as such, it was all communal land — it was a playground for the kids. We were oblivious to the dangers but then we would never have listened even if we were told. We would only venture deep enough to add excitement and adventure. It wasn’t unusual to be exploring the edges alone.
It was my school uniform that alerted my mother something was wrong. We had to wear white cotton short sleeve shirts with navy blue trousers, thankfully no ties or blazers. I underestimated the effort required to produce consistently pristine white shirts and never showed my mother any thanks, yet every day she would dress me to perfection. The brown stain over my left shoulder horrified her. She naturally assumed I’d been getting into trouble, but I was soon reprieved when she found a puncture wound on my skin, directly beneath the stain. There was a slight swelling that seemed to be a boil or a cyst. She covered it with gauze and sent me on my way. Neither of us thought anything of it.
Every day for a week my mother would inspect the boil, replacing the stained gauze — that was until she realised the boil wasn’t healing, it was getting bigger. We were sat together on the living room couch when she decided to investigate further. She applied pressure around the hole on the boil to see if she could release any more fluid. She suddenly jerked away and gave a muted scream. My mother is rarely fazed by anything, something was not right. I leapt from the couch frightened.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” I yelled.
“Nothing, it’s okay,” she said calmly. “I just need to get your dad to help me. Stay here.”
I was agitated. She frightened me too much for her words to comfort me. I waited, standing staring at the couch.
Whenever my mother got my father involved, it meant something was definitely wrong. He was a stoic man from a generation that produced men of few words who were even more difficult to read. He called me back to the couch and examined my back. He began to squeeze the boil. Even though I wasn’t facing him, I felt him flinch. I freaked out and made a break for it again. There was no way I was staying there if whatever was happening made my dad recoil as it did. Tears started to form in the corner of my eyes.
“Come on, it’s okay. Let me take another look.” He gestured for me to return to the couch. His look was not one you would want to defy. He applied greater pressure but this time with an air of excitement he said “I’ve got it!” I leapt from the couch again. “Would you get me an empty jar?” he said as he turned towards my mother.
He waved me over to take a look. I approached cautiously. The closer I got the more horrified I became. On the floor near his feet was what appeared to be a soft boiled sweet wriggling around. My father carefully scooped it up into the jar which gave us the opportunity to look more closely. My fear was replaced with curiosity, the adventurer in me had returned.
Inside the jar was a larva that was the size of a thumbnail. It looked like a white tube appeared to come out of one of the ends which, I later discovered, was what my mother first saw when she squeezed my back. Its body was round with a speckled pattern. It was disgusting to look at and also to think my shoulder had been feeding it for a week or so.
We went to the doctor as a precaution, to check it had been fully removed. He had a look and gave me the all clear but to be honest he was more interested with the intact specimen in the jar.
When I think back about my jungle excursion, I do recall a nip on my shoulder. That must have been when the botfly laid its egg. I still have the scar today, to remind me of my first experience of fatherhood.