‘Why are you looking at me this way?’ Colin said. ‘Don’t tell me…’

She kept her eyes on the leaves outside their window. Blowing in the wind calmly.  Their green colour had faded to a dirty brown, somehow skipping the nicer orange-tones they usually had at this time of year. That’s when the cries started again. They were not high pitched exactly, rather like a dying seagull’s cry.


‘I just think we might have made some mistakes when choosing’, she said.

She got up and went to start the kettle. Colin was left alone on the sofa with the crying crib to his back. He activated the small bed’s rocking function with his phone. He just wished they’d taken the voice control option on that one. He hadn’t imagined they’d use the rocking, cuddling and heating functions that often. To be honest, he hadn’t imagined anything at all. Everything had happened so quickly, and he’d thought he’d handle it somehow, like he handled everything, with his usual cool and self-control.

‘Colin, we should give it back.’

‘But, my dear, …’

‘I know you don’t like making a fuss and all, but it’ll have to go.’

The rocking function was not efficient at all in managing the cries coming from the No-Cry Crib. Colin turned the cuddling, heating and music functions on all at once. He needed the calm.

‘You could have asked me before placing the order’, she continued.

‘I’ve already apologised about this. And you know I just wanted to help you out. You had so much on your mind, what with your promotion and everything. I felt like this would make me a good dad. Less traditional. Not letting the woman do everything.’

‘But it was such an important decision.’

‘I felt like we were hesitating for too long and that we just needed it, so might as well stop all the fuss and go get it. I thought you would trust me on this.’

The crib was playing a happy nursery tune that didn’t fit their mood at all. It had been advertised as being able to read the room and not make you even crazier than you already were by playing stupid baby-talk songs. One more failure.

‘What is wrong with it anyway?’ he managed. ‘I thought you liked green.’

‘The green is not the problem.’

That’s when she had started crying.

The store was not far from home. Understandably, the returns had to be made in person. Colin crossed the road when the lights turned green, pushing the crib in front of him. He’d bought the double-function crib-pram model so that they’d have less stuff lying around in the house. He’d really tried doing everything right, but somehow Sheila always found that something was wrong if she hadn’t made all the choices herself. Now that he thought of it, she’d chosen the sofas, the bed, the bedsheets, the house and, well, his own career had kind of been her choice. Or rather, he’d been accommodating. Yes, that sounded more like it. Accommodating. He was a good guy. A nice guy even. But he was confused, he’d thought Sheila would quite like the green.
Re-entering this building made Colin feel a little bit shy. She could’ve come with him. She had said she could, and he had said it was ok, he would manage on his own, but he thought she should’ve insisted some more. Who was she, to criticise his choices and then let him deal with the consequences alone? Well, he did this out of love anyway. Good thing there was a separate entrance for returns. Colin sighed and went to the counter with his receipt.

‘Are you here for a refund?’ the clerk at the desk asked.

‘I am’, Colin answered without looking them in the eye. If only this could be over with quickly, he thought.

‘Ah, I see this is an online purchase.’ She looked at him pointedly, but then her face softened. ‘You know, we recommend coming in person. Well, as a couple ideally. Otherwise we get a lot of these. We have those, eh, counsellors that can spend some time with you modelling things out so that you really know what you’re getting.’ The clerk noticed he wasn’t really listening to her speech, so she just cut to the end of what the contract required her to say. ‘No surprises, is our motto here’, she said, arching her eyebrows, nonplussed.

The guy still wasn’t looking at her. He seemed kind of ill at ease. Well they all are, she thought. She was a little disappointed.

‘Can you please sign this form? You will receive an online questionnaire asking why you’re returning the purchase.’

He signed quickly. He felt like an idiot, and thought the clerk must find him despicable.

‘Can I leave it… eh… him here?’

‘Course honey.’ And after a pause. ‘Don’t worry, we dispose of them just fine.’ There was a blank as the half-formed image of a dump behind the shiny quantum-light lit building started to form behind Colin’s blank stare. The clerk noticed and quickly corrected herself.
‘I’m talking about adoption of course! You know, lots of family nowadays cannot have a baby naturally and cannot afford to have the necessary procedures done. So, in a way, it is quite charitable that some of the babies are non-conform and have to be returned. It’s a win-win situation really.’
Colin’s eyes still looked kind of empty, so the desk-lady thought maybe she had not hit the point yet. ‘Don’t worry, our privacy policy will cover all damages. And of course, the official date of birth will be set to after the return so that everything that happened here will be erased from the records. You will appear as having given the baby up for adoption upon its birth.’
She was not getting any kind of answer from the client, so she just finished: ‘Just so you know, you can still change your mind in the next 48 hours. Lots of customers have a change of heart and take them back. Otherwise he’ll be up for adoption. Take care.’

Colin left with his receipt and his relief. Back home he found Sheila had been cooking. A three-course meal was underway. She didn’t come out of the kitchen. He went straight upstairs and sat down on the toilet with his phone to check his social media accounts. He checked all of them, even the ones he didn’t usually check more than once a year. Now he found it oddly relaxing to just scroll through the photos and let his mind relax. The baby would be fine. They’d been wrong, they weren’t ready for such a big commitment. The program was well made anyway. As promised, the return was a no-questions-asked procedure. There were so many people looking for a child to adopt, they were almost doing a good deed by giving it up. And they could try again in a couple years or so. Once he had a better job and could afford full-time day-care. Maybe even a nanny.

The crying had been bad. Next time they’d have to invest more of the stats on this one. They’d been like many first-time buyers, focusing on the fancy items like early smiling or lots of hair straight-away. It’s not like maxing up those stats would actually make the baby be more intelligent or have nicer hair later on. The technology was not this good yet. But it was kind of annoying to think that so many important things about the baby’s future were out of their control. Maybe they should wait until the technology had gotten better… but then they wouldn’t be in their prime anymore, so being parents would be more tiring. And who knew how long it would take for the technology to get better. You always felt like everything evolved so quickly, but then it still took years.

Back downstairs, Sheila barely touched the nice meal she’d made for both of them, as usual. Lobster Raviolis. Beef Wellington. Chocolate Mousse. Colin was definitely putting on some pounds. She looked so happy when he enjoyed her cooking. It was a way of saying I love you. They went to bed without a word.


Next Chapter

Going home using public transportation Bethilda thought about the last client to have come in. She came to realise she had been the one at the delivery one week ago. She had been opening the shop in the morning when this guy had come in hurriedly out of the strong winds outside. It had been a Tuesday. He had been dishevelled and kind of frantic. Not fat but not athletic either, with soft brown eyes, and kind of soft-looking. She had found him cute. He had looked to be in turmoil though. He’d come to the desk and rummaged in all of his numerous coat pockets before finding his phone and the email with the reservation number. Online purchase, unfortunately. Either the guy had wanted to do things fast, or he was ashamed of some of his desires for his child. There were many psychological levels involved in those kinds of choices. She’d just looked at him kindly, went to fetch the squirming purchase from the nursing machine and thought nothing more about it until this evening when he’d come back. He had somehow looked even more lost and sorry than the first time. She liked his type. So cute. She had wanted to hug him. But instead she had very professionally addressed his concerns. Or so she hoped. She quickly reviewed the conversation again, and her memories of the introduction course, chapter four: how to help our clients accept the emotional challenges of reproductive assistance, coping with failed design. Or was it coping with failed attempt that she should consider? It was very complex anyways, and she was glad she had landed this job, so she’d better perform. But thinking about the conversation again, she felt like she maybe hadn’t addressed the FGFI as thoroughly as she should have. She had been distracted by this poor soft ball of a guy and her urge to hug and console him. FGFI, she mouthed, sense of failure, guilt, fear of judgement and self-image. She should have been more empathetic, she should have used the four perfect sentences: “It was probably not your fault. Sorry the product did not fulfil its promises. I had to have three goes before I found the right one and You will make a tremendous father once we find the correct match for you.” She had completely forgotten about the perfect four, what a fool. What would she say at her evaluation this evening? Her supervisor would call to review the video and discuss the case. She just had time for a quick dinner before that. She hurried on, a little stressed out.

At his desk the next day Colin was thinking about everything that could have gone wrong if they’d kept the baby. Over the course of the last few days before the return he had felt that Sheila had started cooking up a nervous breakdown that would have come down on them in what, 1 or 2 months? He’d recognised the early symptoms: she had started rereading her favourite book, she had barely talked, and with the minimum number of words needed. And the crying. Why wasn’t there something they could do to minimize this crying? Or rather he should call it a squealing. A pill or something. It was unbelievable that people would put up with so much noise willingly. And how could a howling little beast like that survive in nature? It would have attracted all the hungry predators. Colin was baffled.


Tom was bored when he felt Colin’s presence two rows away and decided to hurry his way. He could’ve spotted that heavy silhouette and uneasy gait a mile away. He always felt a rush of pleasure at his colleague’s appearance. Everything else in the office was standard fare: neon lights with no warmth, other humans that were closer to ghosts, bad coffee. It tasted burnt as well as dusty. Everyone dressed the same, smiled the same, laughed the same, to the same jokes about having to work too much and hating your boss. But Colin now, that was something different. He caught up to him and clapped him on the back with a big smile. It could have been called harassment but Colin was a man, and men don’t complain. Or only to their wives. Good for them. Colin’s desk was neatly arranged, with a picture of his wife Chiara on the right side, or was it Leila?, and a candle that he would never light on the left side. His coffee mug harboured one of those terrible office jokes. Tom knew this already, but he always took one amused look at the spotless display for his own pleasure.

‘So Colin, have you finally tried it? Or at least read about it? I am telling you, it is a revolution!’

If only Colin would do it, he’d finally have someone with whom to talk about the whole process. It was great but people who hadn’t done it themselves had trouble really understanding the challenges it entailed. Colin would be the perfect wingmate. They could complain together, and talk about their wives, and everything. Colin answered by the negative, again. Tom wasn’t put down at all, he simply smiled some more and pushed on some more. ‘Come on mate, don’t you want to see what those genes of yours could produce?’ Colin seemed kind of gloomy today, he thought. ‘Losing your sleep again?’ he asked. Colin just shook his head and tried to look occupied, but Tom knew it was just for show and simply kept on babbling about how the new catchphrase “Make your genes come true!” was a little simple-minded and lacked originality.

Colin just let him ramble on. Tom was clapping him on his shoulder every now and then. He used this as punctuation. Colin hated it but he still smiled amicably.

Tom and Elisa were at their third attempt. From what Tom said, they somehow always got really afraid on the last night of the seven-day trial and went to bring the baby back. Such a pity, they said, we feel like we are almost ready, but we still haven’t found the one. ‘The bonding was not perfect’, Elisa would say. ‘The vibe was off’ Tom would add. It was such an important decision to make. Tom had been trying to convince Colin to try using the baby-maybe app for a while now. Colin had finally given in. The homepage and the characteristics toggles were impressive. You could choose lots of things about the baby. And you just had to give some of your genetic material and a short biography with diplomas and the like. There was the fee of course, but you could avoid pregnancy and delivery, which was a really big step forward for women after all. And the waiting time for the baby to be made was getting shorter and shorter. Crazy what you could do these days. Colin was not really used to being at the avant-garde of technology, but he had actually quite liked the idea. And what with Sheila who was always finding excuses to postpone their having a family. Not that it mattered now. ‘No, we are still thinking about it’, he replied. Tom was a nice guy, but also had the tendency of repeating the stories he heard to about everyone.

Colin went back to his work for the third time, and this time Tom seemed to get the message and left him alone. So, about this activity report for the Thai branch last year, he began thinking.

Sheila was at home, immobile. Whenever she felt overwhelmed, she could just shut everything out, and live as a blank for a few moments, floating in an eternity of nothingness, which let her relax. She could let her mind hover in that absence of everything, and cease to be. That’s what she needed at the moment, when thinking was getting too painful. But she knew she had hurt Colin, and she had to do something about it. She came down from her empty world and tried to come to terms with her fears.


Next Chapter

It was Bethilda’s office day today. One day at the desk, one day at the office, that was the deal. Today she had to check all the new orders, answer the client’s email questions and enter the numbers in the calculator that would review the program’s performance in the last weeks. They’d had a 30% increase in orders since the launch of the choice of hair colour. It was slightly less than the increase of 35% upon the addition of freckles to the catalogue. That hadn’t been possible at first; they did have to work with the genitors’ original genome after all. But the people at R&D had found a way around in the case of freckles, so you could even get it in an untraditional skin colour combination. The know-how was a heavily guarded secret. It was all very exciting being in on all these classified details. Bethilda’s contract specified she was forbidden from talking about the new advancements EnGENEeering had made.  Only select patients with the Premium Pack were allowed some information, and some more choice. What she had come to understand was how it all functioned in layers. At the moment, the VIP clients had access to thirty-two more options than the regular ones. The hypes at the moment were “high metabolism”, “high IQ”, and “no mental illnesses”, but the company carefully avoided doing publicity on those topics, they were far too controversial. Better to be seen as a thoughtless blue-eye-baby factory.  They did however do some discreet testing with the Starter’s Pack Babies, that nobody noticed anyway. Bethilda had been told to see it as kind of a free upgrade of the product.

But Bethilda had to concentrate on something today. Her job was not quite finished on case #231, the cute and clueless client from the day before. She had received a scolding on her handling of the return: “you barely said a word, didn’t encourage the client at all, or sell the brand, or offer a free counselling appointment. What a failure!” management had said. Well, that was that. She had been distracted. Now the tricky part started, and she’d better do well on that one: find a likely family for the adoption. But she had just the one in mind.

The baby would be efficiently delivered to its new location on Thursday at 18 o’clock, precisely 24 hours after its official date of birth.

43 Postmington Road. “The house looks quite shabby”, the driver would think, and when the door was opened, they would get a glimpse of a dim interior with an awful yellowish fitted carpet and faded tapestries. The man at the door would look the part of the scruffy and unkempt inhabitant of this den, and in the background the driver would probably hear some howling. There were already no less than six little adopted babies in this house. The poor couple couldn’t afford reproductive design and had always wanted to have a large family. What with not having to go through the ordeal of pregnancy and labour, many families were choosing to go Xtra-Large. Of course the firm offered a large allowance for each refund-baby they took in. It was a win-win situation really. The driver would go home after delivering their last package, happy to have contributed to the perpetuation of the human species.


Next Chapter

A few weeks later, Colin and Sheila were in the sleek waiting room together, reading the introductory leaflet from the plush two-seater sofa. They were going to do this the right way this time. Like everything in a couple, you sometimes needed more than one go to get it right. You had to work on it. That was how life went.

The conversation yesterday had marked a turning point. Colin had come into the kitchen at dinner time, and he had prepared what he wanted to say. ‘I thought I couldn’t live without you. But then I understood it would be worse if I couldn’t live with myself.’ He had said. ‘I want a baby. I am not going to give up on that because of you.’ So there they were. Sheila had been impressed by his resolve, at last, Colin thought dreamily. Then something caught his attention in the label Sheila was reading. ‘Wait, so you have to give him this med his whole life so that his eyes stay blue?’ Colin asked. Sheila showed him the back of the sample they were given. ‘Yes, it stops the melanin from being produced in his eyes. And if you give it once a month instead of once a week, his eyes would turn some shade of green.’ ‘This is madness.’ He knew they would do it anyway, but he marvelled at the lengths to which they had to go to see their wishes fulfilled. He had chosen green eyes the first time around, but somehow had missed this explanation about having to take the drug. Good thing they noticed it now. Then the leaflet went on about all the different choices you had. There were various packages from which you had to choose, and each package meant a certain number of points, that you had to give to the different aspects of your child’s development or looks. They couldn’t really afford more than the Starter’s Pack, which was already quite expensive. In it you had a hundred points that you had to assign to height, hair colour, eye colour, metabolism, lower risk for cancer, and so on. Colin was starting to sweat. He suddenly noticed there was a middle-aged man in the waiting room next to them who seemed friendly enough, with a neat striped suit and a friendly curl to his hair. In fact, said man addressed them with a smile just as Colin was about to politely look away :

‘Is this your first time? What stats did you pick?’

Colin and Sheila looked at each other and then engaged conversation with the waiting-room stranger. He was obviously looking for someone to tell his story to, poor man.

‘I have had more than ten tries, and with three different wives! Can you believe it? I am quite the expert. This waiting room is almost my second house really! But now I am here for my second child, the first one we kept turned out to be absolutely perfect. A little wonder of a child. Do you want to see some photos?’ They politely declined. ‘And I have observed the other clients here a lot, while waiting for my first wife to calm down from her tantrums, if you know what I mean.‘ He winked amicably. Colin was a little disquieted by the man’s easy ways, but Sheila seemed really intent on listening to him, so he listened on. ‘Somehow I have noticed it is the ones that spend the most time choosing the options that end up dissatisfied. Too much choice is the curse we have placed on ourselves! But well, the more choice they give us, the more it sells! We can’t blame them. But we have to be more intelligent than this.’ He tapped his temple gently. ‘I feel confident about you guys. I have a good feeling. You seem to have a strong connection as a couple. I am sure you will be fine. Don’t make a fuss about the details. Take a leap of faith! Or at least that is what worked for me.’ He flashed them a dazzling smile. They continued chatting for a while, until it was Colin and Sheila’s turn with the counsellor. They went in with a smile, and later left with a contract for a Starter’s Pack in a neat little folder. Their first baby would arrive next week, if all went well down the pipeline. They smiled at each other on the way out. They had just about enough time to go and find a good crib for the baby.


 The costumed man was leaving EnGENEeering with a fat bonus this evening. The gullible couple had signed a contract not ten minutes after speaking with him. His technique was getting close to perfect. People could really relate to him. Too bad his acting talents hadn’t been recognised at the castings where he’d been rejected. It didn’t matter now; tonight he would indulge in something nice, like delivery Thai food, why not. Too bad he would be all alone to enjoy it. He could maybe get himself a baby and be a single dad? He burst out laughing and started singing to his liberty and independence while walking down the street.

Bethilda was sad to learn about Colin’s order the next day. She had thought she might try and ask him out soon, but obviously the couple was still holding on. She kind of hoped the second order would be a disaster. Should she make some subtle changes to the commissioned baby?



Far away on the outskirts of town, at the 43th of Postmington road, and after reading its delivery slip, the baby with green eyes thought: “Colin and Sheila, you have let your human whims taint Nature’s all-knowing supremacy and stern approach to life. Why is my brain so developed already? Wait until I can talk, dear parents, I will let you know my thoughts on it.” The baby mentally wiggled its fist in the air and resumed sucking at Mister Gobington’s teat.



And that is how my life started and those were my first sentient thoughts, officially on a Thursday, at 9 days of actual life. Of course I always felt more like a Tuesday baby, but it would take me many years to come to terms with what had happened to me at the very dawn of my life, and admit the absurd truth. Luckily I had all my sisters and brothers around me. We all shared the same destiny. As a unifying trait, we had all received funny names like Returned, Rehad and Remade. I was called Refurbished. Of course that was not my real outside-world name. But my adoptive parents the Gobingtons were never shy of telling us where we came from and why they had adopted us. Strangely, they were the most caring people I would ever meet.
The reader might think it was a difficult start, and that I would never be able to develop the so-called secure attachment that all humans need and crave and that helps them function well enough. I must say well enough was never my idea of success. And secure attachment makes you boring, I would say. Insecure, on the opposite, well that is quite spicy. Let me tell you how it went.