by surabhi riya vig, photo credits.
At the topmost floor, the city becomes a mere map beneath me. The doors open, and the operator shows me out. I find myself in a large lobby. The floors are made of coloured tiles arranged in jagged patterns, and the walls are made of glass, revealing additional views of the city and the mountains to the east. A frosted glass partition separates the lobby from a private office. Silk banners hang from the ceiling. Polished stone pedestals hold golden and silver statues portraying nude men and women. Everything in the room is rich and lavish; I find myself rendered speechless. Then another officer guides me through a set of glass doors in the frosted glass partition, and they pass into a wide open office space. The office looks much like the lobby, only instead of statues and banners there are holograms and display screens. Contrasting with the bright floors and the bright exterior view, there is a black desk on one end of the room, made of a rare dark organic wood.
In a rich and toned voice, the officer requests I sit down as the director of operations whom I have requested to meet makes his way here. His words go through one ear and out of the other, barely registering in my mind. Shakily, I sit. I need this appointment to work. It has to. It’s the only way.
The man who enters the office is not one whom I expect to see. His eyebrows are raised and dark, framing the detailed and delicate features of his face and narrow jaw line. His eyes are a thick brown colour, much like melted chocolate, and I find myself getting lost in them. His lips pursed into a gentle smile, he asks, “I heard you’ve had problem. How may I be of assistance?” In a somewhat hurried manner, I explain my situation. Nodding in turn, he gets up and leads me to anther showroom.
I suppose I should explain a little. The year is 2515. By now, the world has progressed immensely. Tall glass buildings stand out everywhere, their tips scraping the sky, in some cases touching the clouds. Genetic engineering is the norm and plastic surgery is a process long outdated. We don’t have aeroplanes anymore. The only aeroplanes you will find are those in the museums. We have hovercrafts, fast and unrestricted by air resistance and friction. Similar to what used to be called air hostesses, though, there are hover craft assistants, who care for and attend to passengers, just like me. However, as an assistant, I travel to various countries every day and while it is an exciting life, it is simply unsatisfying. My husband passed away years earlier, leaving my frail mother and I to take care of the baby I was expecting. But all is not lost. I’ve heard of robots who take the place of mothers temporarily while they are out, and in the same bid as many other working mothers, I came to get one of them. Maybe, just maybe, it would help to ease the pain of leaving my child at home while I went out for work.
The man shows me many robots but I shake my head dejectedly at each one, sometimes complaining that their glass eyes are too piercing, sometimes that they are too cold. The same process continues till we have almost reached the end. By now, my spirits are deflated. I feel as though a rope has been wrapped around this little bubble of hope in my chest keeping me alive, squeezing it and gently squeezing out any last drops of hope left in it.
Then I see it. This robot, unlike the rest, has a motherly feel to it with a chiselled jaw and blushing cheeks and eyes that are just the right shade of blue. The price is high but no price could possibly match what I am willing to pay and so, fishing out the cash from my pocket, I tell them to deliver it.
I am eating dinner with Caleb, my five year old son, and my mother, when it is delivered, and a few men haul it into the house. I quickly explain to my wide-eyed mother and son what it does and just as I feel like I have covered everything, my son asks, “But mommy, why do you have to go anyway?” I sigh. Here it comes. ”To get you all the fun things you play with, sweetie,” I gently murmur. “What if I don’t want the things and want you at home instead?” he whines. This single innocent comment of my son breaks my heart as I wrap him in a hug, forgetting momentarily about my mother who stands quietly at the side. Then as I swiftly gather my things and luggage and give them swift kisses on their cheeks, I hurry out of the house, a mental image of my son looking dejected boring into my mind. “Have courage, I’ll be home soon…” I say as though I am trying to convince myself.
For the first few days, Caleb calls every night, saying that he misses me, that he wants me to come back home. But eventually, the number of phone calls start to dwindle, lessening in number till it finally stops. Worry starts to overtake me and soon I find myself anxious to get back home. What I don’t know is what awaits me for when I finally do get home.
When I finally do, I ring the doorbell in eager anticipation, expecting a warm reply; eager to see Caleb. But what I see shocks me. As the door opens, I see Caleb standing there. My mouth widens into a smile and I open my arms wide, expecting a hug, but he just stands thee, a glum expression plastered on his face. “So you came back.” He says blankly and I feel all my happiness disintegrate into hopelessness. In an attempt at lightness, I show him all the gifts I bought him. A spark of joy lights up on his face but as he takes them, he runs to the Bot3500, that robot, in the kitchen to show them to her, his face joyful, ecstatic even.
My mother doesn’t show any reaction to my appearance. I try not to take this hard but feel tears prickle behind my eyes. I shiver involuntarily, but as I get myself into the usual chain of getting dinner ready I see that thing doing it. This bears too much for me and I run to my bed collapsing and breaking into wrecked sobs. I cry and cry till my eyes go dry as I wait. I wait and wait and hope for them to call me to the table. Surely my return means something? But as I wait and wait, dread overtakes me and I creep outside. There my family eats dinner with that robot, laughing like a proper family and it occurs to me that I am not needed here. No one here needs me. I am nothing but the bread winner. I run back to my room, fresh sobs taking me. I feel no wisp of relief, as my mind drifts further into the abyss of sorrow. Hopelessly I ponder these afflictions, only reaffirming the hell I now wander. Any hope for relief is thwarted by the agony and sadness that haunts me. I feel as if
something had reached in, torn my heart from my chest, thrown it on the ground, and stepped on it before putting it back. The pain is so deep, so agonizing, so intense, it is as though my heart is mangled beyond recognition. My mind is numb, racing in circles, unable to make sense of what is happening… is this real … it can’t be real, wake up, wake up…
I am not sure I can use my heart again. I am not sure it can heal anymore. I am not sure I can live… I am awake, living, but somehow, I am dying.