Today was my birthday. I turned ten and everyone in the family was with me in the family room to celebrate it. Everyone except Dad; he went downstairs to get grandpa out of the cellar. This is the best part about my birthday; it’s the one day of the year that I get to see my grandpa. He lives there underneath the house for the rest of the year. No one ever goes down there except my dad, and sometimes my aunty, too. We live in a big house; it has fourteen bedrooms, two kitchens, a study, a reading room, a classroom, a rumpus room, a family room, and a dining hall. My house is on a big property surrounded by gardens and trees. I live here with my parents, my five brothers and sisters, my aunt and uncle, and my four cousins. My grandpa also lives here of course, locked away in the cellar unseen by all except my dad, but for one day every year dad opens the cellar door and lets grandpa come up to see me on my birthday.
Grandpa didn’t come up right away, he needed time to wake up, eat some breakfast, and for Doctor Allenson to run some tests on him. Dad also said he needs to explain to Grandpa what’s been happening since he last saw me and the rest of the family. Then when it’s lunch time, up comes grandpa. He looks exactly like I remember him being the last time I saw him. He smiles warmly and always gives me the first hug, then he hugs all my siblings and cousins. We have lunch together in the big dining hall. As the birthday boy, I sat at the head of the table, my grandpa sat in the middle, and asks everyone in turn what they have been doing since my last birthday.
We spend the afternoon out in the garden, some of my friends come over and we go off and play by the creek. My dad usually comes with us, but he spends all his time with Grandpa today. I thought that funny because he checks in on Grandpa every other day of the year, yet he talked to grandpa today like he’s not seem him all year! I think it’s unfair that Dad gets to see Grandpa so often, but I only get to see him for one day. I remember when I used to see Grandpa every day. After my friends leave, we have a family dinner together and Grandpa falls asleep. I really miss Grandpa. I kissed him goodnight and, as I went up to bed, I knew during the night my father will take grandpa back down to the basement and I wouldn’t see him again until next year.
It has been almost three years now and it will be my fourteenth birthday in just a few days. My father was making his daily trip down to the cellar to check in on Grandpa; so I stealthily followed my father, a difficult thing to do in such a large household full of children. The cellar door is unusual. It is solid metal, about two inches thick. In fact, the entire basement section of the house is reinforced concrete. That’s so it would make a good shelter if we should ever need to hide down here. My father eases the door open and slips inside, but he doesn’t completely close it over. There’s a gap and I can just see inside: lots of high-tech equipment. I know the batteries for the house are stored in there. The house has solar panels on the roof so we don’t need to be attached to the grid to have electricity. I couldn’t see where my father has gone, but I put my ear to the gap and listened for the sound of my grandpa’s voice. Nothing. I could only hear the occasional mumbling of my father as he was typing on a keyboard somewhere inside. I was just about to leave when my mother walked down the stairs and caught me eavesdropping at the cellar door.
Sheepishly, I stood up and made my way back up to the ground floor of the house. My mother kissed me gently on the head and reminded me that my fourteenth birthday is a special event and I should be upstairs in my room finishing my preparations for it. I dutifully agreed and went up to my room to continue writing letters to the local business owners asking if they would like to take me on as an apprentice for a few weeks during the year. I recall being excited about working in the steel factory or the assembling plant. While I was writing one of these letters, my father knocked on my door and came inside.
“Your mother tells me she found you eavesdropping outside the cellar door,” he said gently.
I nodded and told him that I was curious about why I never saw Grandpa during the year except on my birthday. I actually went through a long list of observations I had made about how peculiar it was that grandpa never aged, never ate, and seemed completely in the dark to everything that had happened not only in the family in the past year, but what had happened politically as well. My father listened to me with bemused patience.
“Son, grandpa is locked away in the basement all year because he is really sick with a disease called cancer. Do you know what cancer is?”
All at once tears came to my eyes as I recalled how grandma had died of cancer. I nodded as I could not speak.
“The scientists at the hospital are working on a cure for grandpa’s cancer, but it might not be ready for a few years longer.”
I didn’t understand so I bombarded him with all sorts of questions that seem silly now in retrospect. My father decided to explain it to me as simply as possible.
“After grandma died, I had a special bed put into the cellar. This bed is really special. If you sleep in this bed it will stop you from aging. Astronauts use these beds when they travel to other planets. Every year though you need to wake up for one day so your body can adjust to the next year of sleep. Grandpa was given only one month before the cancer had progressed too far to ever be treatable so we are keeping him in the cellar until the scientists have finished working on the cure.”
I asked him how much longer for the scientists to finish, my father explained they already had a cure, but it needed to be tested and approved first and that can take ten or fifteen years. It had only been six years and he wouldn’t be surprised if grandpa was still in the cellar for another six years until the cure was finally available for use.
My father left the room and I remember that my head was spinning. I don’t know how long I lay on my bed thinking through everything my father had just told me, but I know I eventually got up and threw the previous vocation letters away and instead started writing new letters to the local hospital and research labs.
Today is my nineteenth birthday and I am hurrying home from my shift at the hospital. I can’t wait to see my grandpa, dad would have woken him up and filled him in on some of the news, but I wanted to tell him the big news myself: the cure for cancer has been tested in clinical trials and works. We’re just months away from being able to deliver it to grandpa. When I arrived home there was my grandpa sitting at the table having lunch with the family. My place at the head of the table is free and I joyfully bask in the eruption of happy birthdays and joy from my family. Everyone seems happy, except for my father who has a lot of concern on his face.
Later that evening my father, grandpa, uncle, and I were sitting in the study together. I was explaining to grandpa how the cure for cancer was administered. It required a lot of preparation with different research centres contributing different components so it wouldn’t be ready until next year when he was woken up for my 20th birthday. My father was still gloomy, I asked him why. He said that he was growing concerned about the tensions between China and India. He suspected that war would break out between the two countries soon. I agreed that war would be a terrible thing to happen, but I was not sharing his level of concern about it. He put on a forced smile but I could tell he was still worried about something.
Today was my 20th birthday, and for the first time ever I was with my father as he demonstrates the complicated procedure for waking up my grandfather from his medically induced cryogenic sleep. I am a medical doctor now, thanks to my commitment to my studies and early work experience at the hospital. No need to have Dr. Allenson here when I can do the tests now for him. A person in cryostasis needed to be woken up every year because of the amount of microbes that slowly accumulate inside the body even when it’s frozen to minus seven degrees Celcius. I was impressed with how nano technology was used to put just enough anti-freeze into grandpa’s cells so that none of them would rupture while he was frozen. The body was gradually warmed up to eleven degrees, the heart and lungs were restarted at this point, and then the body was rapidly warmed in a pool of thirty-nine degree water. After thirteen years of doing this my grandfather had aged less than two weeks, yet now his son was starting to look almost as old as he was. Although my grandfather once cured would still have at least another ten or twenty productive years of life in him as he was only sixty-two.
Sadly though, I was not there to deliver good news to my grandfather. There had been developments.
I watched my grandfather pull himself up from the warm water tank and draw in the first breath of air his lungs had had in twelve months. He looked miserable. My father and I gently sponged, dried, and helped him climb out into a special chair waiting for him. He needed twenty minutes more to recover from the experience of waking up before he could talk to us comfortably. Then he smiled and looked up at us and said, “that was the last time I have to do that, because now you’re going to finally treat my cancer and I be a part of the family again!”
However, neither I nor my father smiled. He guessed immediately something was wrong.
“Dad,” started my father, “The world is in a state of total war. Within weeks of you being last frozen India and China went to war. It’s been a chaotic rollercoaster ever since. Long story short: the Chinese developed a nuclear missile defence shield that was 100% effective. 300 million Indians were killed for next to no losses on the Chinese side. Right now every single person with an IQ north of 115 had been conscripted into coming up with solutions to checking Chinese technological hegemony. All research for a cancer cure is on hold while we’re in a precarious situation for this war.”
My grandfather just sat there staring saying, “good grief!” over and over. The world had changed a lot in thirteen years.
That was the most solemn birthday of my life.
Today, I turned thirty-four.
My grandfather was revived two weeks ago and at long last cured of cancer now that infrastructure has been sufficiently repaired since the end of world war three.
As I sit at the dining table with my wife and children, I can’t help but notice how much older my father is compared to my grandfather. Still, it’s good to finally be a complete family again.