My eyes scanned through the job listings on LinkedIn, and then fell upon Nirav absorbed nearby on his laptop. Vivaan meanwhile, ran about in the way of 5-year olds, bumping into things that were anyway out of his way but still making the effort at loud chaos. Nirav’s eyes met mine, and I gave him a slow wink. Let’s not rock that boat, I was saying. He nodded. Neither of us wanted to break that blissful silence with a million senseless questions. My phone began to ring.
“Hello, Madam….this is Priya from iEverAfter Technologies.”
I shifted away from Nirav, “Priya from where?”
The voice squeaked, “Madam, this is Priya from iEverAfter Technologies. Madam, you married to our product Husband 7.6…of the Incus product fleet.”
“Can you hold…” I interjected quickly as my skittish eyes gauged Nirav. I got up and moved to the hall. I paused there. Of course, Nirav would hear me. How couldn’t he? That was what you got when you went for an Incus model. Sensitivity through and through. But I managed to open the main door as quietly as I could, and called for the elevator. I could see their sillouhettes through the curtained window, Nirav and Vivaan. When the elevator approached, I bounded for the terrace.
“Yes tell me,” I said into the phone again.
“Madam…I see you raised cancellation request our service…Madam are you unhappy with your husband?”
“Of course not!!” I said with a fierce vehemence, and then lowered my voice, and continued, “I…actually, I called you folks many times…..and talked to many representatives without any use. You guys cannot make even a small change to my plan?”
The lady said, “Madam…we have many new plans and types of Husbands madam. WE can easily upgrade you for minimal charges…now popular modern options we have, Non-political Mallu, Family Friendly Sindhi, Non-vegetarian Gowda.”
“So that’s the problem…I don’t want an upgrade.”
“Madam….same model you can apply patch madam ForeplayFocus, SexMania, SAApioSexual”
“Can you listen… sex is not the problem. And for your kind information, I have a son. “
“Madam, nothing to worry. All new husbands are backward-compatible with any existing children.”
I sighed quite audibly, “See, this is why I just thought of cancelling. You don’t even listen.. I just want a break from the plan”
For once, Priya paused. I could sense her scanning at my profile in her database and working out a customised sales angle, she said, “Madam you are on HappilyMarriedPlan. We don’t have plan break in this subscription. I can apply divorce for you and then put you on boyfriend package…there we have many options there like plan break, break-up, double-dating features madam. In this plan…mm…no…madam….”
“Your US subscription plan has break. So why can’t you give it here?”
“Madam, it is not demand feature in India, madam. Pls understand. I can interest you in girlfriend package also madam”
“Fuck just…listen, I don’t want a boyfriend, I don’t want another husband. I don’t want a girlfriend. I just want a….” I took a long sigh, “break.”
“Madam…its not included in this subscription….pls understand….if you want AsAxual—”
“Priya, just cancel the damned service…”
“If you cancel service….you will have only hardware and basic service. We won’t able to support HappilyMarriedPLan…”
“Its better than this!“
“Madam we cannot provide any gurarantee, madam. What about son madam. Maybe you can exchange offer mother-in-law models. Now sale is ongoing I can give very good rate.”
I slammed the phone.
I took a few deep breaths as recommended by the damn therapist. And I walked back into the flat. It irritated me how Priya knew exactly how to play me. I could imagine Priya laughing with her coworker, saying that if they flooded me with enough options, I’d just pick one at random. Most likely some sleazy sex-variant.
But my body craved change, I could feel it. Damn it, I had already yielded. It began as always with the mobile phone, and upgrade with seven camera angles that could see everywhere I didn’t need to, and definitely not into my mind. Then the clothing stores offering Bohemian-Fusion, whatever that meant. The hair went green and blue and then frizzy and frayed. The apartment exchanged for one by the lake, and the human maid for a less-talkative robot. Then came the big one. The job. Or so I thought.
Nothing helped. I still wanted out. Out of what was not something my hairdresser could figure. And it was worrisome. Anything and everything was a target for change now. And if I were to go by the many advice of YouTube Gurus, I’d have to change the one thing Priya really couldn’t help me with. My personality.
And of course, Nirav was patient. And I was sure that was the problem. That boundless river that was not helping me by helping me too much. In that well-marked trail that was the forest of our love, I was somehow craving to be lost and forgotten. And more than anything, I wished it somehow his fault, but I damn well knew it wasn’t. And I hadn’t lied to Priya when I told her, well I hadn’t told her, damn it I hadn’t even bothered to tell him, had i? That he worked hard. That he listened to me. Cared as much of Vivaan’s needs as of my restless nervous energy. Always ready with the most un-obstrusive, kind life-advice, and almost only if I asked for it. All the while looking as if he were straight out of a fashion magazine. No human husband could have done that! Only the Incus model, and surely only my Incus model. Perhaps it was hard for Priya to believe that I was capable of love. And they didn’t make models like that these days, Everafter didn’t.
Of course, I could just talk to him. Nirav. Tell him how I felt. One thing I was sure of. He’d probably be more useful than the therapist, the hairdresser, and Priya combined.
Talking to Nirav had its own challenges. Primary of which was that he would listen, and not merely to shove an opinion down my throat. At this moment, I would have preferred that. My reasons when voiced, were as ugly as a burst zit, and it was bad enough that Priya knew.
“Nirav”, I said, “Can we talk…?”
He paused what he was doing, his eyes fluttering in my direction for an endless flash at the oddity of the request, and the timing. Vivaan was engrossed in the bedroom with his television show. Nirav said, “Give me a moment babe. I will be with you.”
In the interval that he took to send a couple of mails, answer a call, and close his laptop, my heart proceeded from one palatable mistruth to another, desperate attempts to weaken a blow I did not even know the nature of. A deep voice inside me beseeched me, that honesty was a fool’s way out, the most uncreative exit. Had not my life taught me this a thousand times. Was it not why I had abandoned humans and sought comfort in forgiving arms of AI and aesthetic silicon? And what if I was unpalatable even to that inorganic palate?
I faltered in the grasp of his trusting eyes, wishing desperately to understand, to be understood, or even better to be misunderstood, and then hopefully be annihilated in the energy of it, “I….I quit my job…”
His face experienced a quick glimmer, a semi-conductorial work of art that I would have otherwise appreciated no bounds. Now it registered as hurt. His hurt. Singularly, I represented humanity’s capacity to hurt an Artificial Intelligence that we had trained so hard to love…and love us in particular, only so that we could enjoy that love, hurt it, and then avoid wallowing in that guilt. But despite wisdom to the contrary, I wallowed. The hurt I was to inflict the man that had held me through so many of my sobbing pain, stabbed into my heart like broken glass. But what exactly would hurt him, I still couldn’t guess. That I had taken decisions without talking to him? That I might leave him for another human/robot-house mopper/hair-steamer/asphyxiation-sex-dome if I knew he’d take care of Vivaan?
But Nirav was not one to put his own needs or emotions ahead of anyone’s, let alone mine. The pain was erased, and on that canvas came the bliss of loving understanding and a trembling smile, “And there is more…?”
It was meant to prompt my guilt-ridden, convulsing conscience into a semblance of clarity. I said, “I just needed a change….”
Now I was equally blunt in empathy to caring humans as I was to romantic programming. Perhaps all I could understand and deserved was callousness? Nirav knew about the mobile phone, had watched incredulously as I painted my fragile hair into colours of insanity, watched as I filled my overflowing wardrobes with clothes I would never wear and gadgets for which I barely cared, all the while possibly wondering at the wretched nature of the humans that his kind had chosen to love.
His logical circulatory was confounded, and his quivering lips betrayed this. He said, “But you liked your job…You said you liked your boss. That he was no longer an insecure Indian man who was petrified of a woman who could speak her mind.” .
She focussed on her wringing hands, “Yes…”
“This is worrying,” he said, folding his hands delicately over his lap, his forehead wrinkling as if a headache was touching its fringes, “I wish you would not hurt yourself. At least not needlessly.”
“I know, my love,” I said. My mobile phone beeped. The cancellation message had arrived both on my phone as well as in the depths of Nirav’s mind. I could see the vastness in his eyes and as I stared into it the oncoming galaxy of pain, and noticing my mistake. There was not a trace of fickle jealousy or egoistic possessiveness. His pain seemed wrought out infinite caring for me in all my wretchedness, cast with an empathy that seemed humanly impossible and exquisitely artificial. But they would get by it all together, this pain? But no, he was learning I didn’t give him even that trust. Was not planning to bear it or share it, I was…”
He said slowly, “So you plan to be with a human?”
The grin upon my face grew slowly to a maniacal peak, as if it stood at edge of the universe of perpetrated chaos, I said. “Humans? No fucking way!”