I snapped back to the present and began reading the chunk of text which had appeared in my conversation window.
Matt: “Yeah, we were originally from an orphanage and got transferred to a foster home nearby when I was 7 and Kathryn was 4 but we weren’t there for a month before Julie and Sam, a young couple at the time, snapped us up and adopted us together. We're not actually blood related but I totally consider Kathryn my sister, since we were brought up in the same family. We moved away from the area we were living in about five years ago. They’ve been the best parents we could wish for – we owe so much to them. We only moved out into our own place a few years ago but we still visit them from time to time: at Christmas and birthdays and stuff.”
Me: “Wow, I’m so glad it worked out for you. It must be nice to have a place of your own now and each other to keep you company. So where was the orphanage originally?”
Matt: “Oh, somewhere in South London. It was called St Aloysius’ orphanage.”
I reeled from the sudden jolt which had fired in my head at the mention of St Aloysius’s orphanage. Why did that seem so familiar? I felt like I should be remembering something but my thoughts remained clouded. I shook it aside.
Matt: “You okay, Michael? You look really confused.”
He gave me a quizzical look over the top of his laptop screen and I shook my head as if to shake off my thoughts, and pulled a false smile.
Me: “Oh yeah, fine, sorry, just thinking about something else. Carry on!”
Matt: “So yeah, we ended up getting pretty lucky it seems. I don’t know what happened to any of the other kids who were there. I can’t really remember most of them anyway.”
Me: “So it was just you? You didn’t have any real brothers or sisters then...I mean, what was it like at the orphanage?” I was getting carried away with all the questions that I had, but Matt didn’t seem to mind. Although at this point, the ease in his face faded and his countenance became strained.
Matt: “Well, I did have a brother. He was 2 years younger than me and we grew up at the orphanage, doing everything together, looking out for each other. It was the only thing that kept you sane in there...having a brother or sister. It was very cliquey and so much bullying went on. It was a mess. I’m slightly surprised I wasn’t mentally scarred by it all but I’m just glad we weren’t there for too much of our childhood. Some of the kids there were in their late teens and had been there their whole lives!”
I was getting wrapped up in this story as much as Matt was. I’d watched the look of loss growing on his face as he typed up his memories and it pained me to see it.
“Then one day, the orphanage caught fire. No one really knows what happened still. The alarms went off, we all got evacuated and...”
I could tell Matt was finding it hard to keep typing yet he was determined to not let it get to him.
“Well, Julie told me that when she collected me from the foster home that I refused to leave without going back and looking for Seth...”
Seth. Confusion and recognition hit me all at once as I felt a ridiculous tie to this name. Someone had called me this at another time, somewhere. When...where? I didn’t understand. And it wasn’t just one person...lots of people. I suddenly felt sick and my face grew instantly hot.
“I-I’m sorry, I don’t feel well all of a sudden.” Balancing the warm laptop onto the cushioned arm of the chair, I stood up weakly. “I’m really sorry to leave you guys like this. I’ve had a great time...I’ll see you tomorrow, I mean, next week for class, Kathryn. Sorry.”
“What? You sure you're gonna be okay?” Matt stood up concerned, but I could sense that he was slightly affronted by my abrupt desire to leave. I felt a rush of guilt and realised my rudeness for upping and leaving in the middle of an evidently poignant moment for him; that a guy would open up to me having only met me once was astonishing and yet here I was, throwing it back in his face. But it wasn’t enough to make me stay.
“Yeah, yeah I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.” I waved away their concerns, mumbled something about seeing them later and then left.
I ran all the way home that day. Though my lungs screamed for air and my muscles ached in confusion at my sudden demand for their use, my mind disconnected from their wants. Fragments of my memory had seared into place yet everything remained a mess of doubt and confusion. All I knew was that my name was Seth. But why? What could this possibly mean? I'd heard the name a hundred times before: in film dialogue, on a radio interview; read it in a newspaper article, in my favourite novel; seen it on a school peg, on a university textbook. But why did it register now? And what did this St Aloysius's orphanage mean to me? Was I from there? It bugged me senseless that I couldn't connect it to anything. I lay in bed much of the night, awake and restless. I was trying so hard to delve into my buried thoughts to make sense of it all, yet my mind stayed a stubborn mass of tangled wires, refusing to separate and wrap up into a neat coil. Tomorrow I should probably pay Uncle Alan a visit and ask him what all this was about.