It was a month since Alaya saw her counselor. She was in her living room with her best friend when the office worker showed up to get Alaya when she didn’t present herself for counseling even though she had received an e-mail from her counselor to do so. Alaya did not like her new counselor because she thought she didn’t understand her like her old counselor did.
‘Would it make a difference if I tell you that I don’t want to talk to you?’ asked Alaya walking into the counselor’s office. The counselor sat cross legged on the sofa with her hands on the arm rests.
‘Where is Miss Manasvita? I always spoke to her.’
‘I tried getting her for you like you wanted’, said Miss Shayle.
‘You didn’t try hard enough.’
‘I don’t think she will be back soon. She left me your case file. I know pretty much every conversation you had with her.’
‘Then you don’t need to ask me about anything you already know.’
‘You will talk to me Alaya. I will be patient with you. Our last meeting did not go well.’
‘Ok what is it that you are offering me this time?’
‘Alaya, you are smart. You are smarter than most of the girls.’
‘Stop reading from a script and start talking.’
‘First off, I need you to please respect my credentials, and my intelligence. You don’t talk to a counselor like that. I am your best bet. Secondly, I am here to help you. So, I am recording this conversation’, said the counselor pointing to the recorder. Alaya nodded in agreement. ‘Now, coming to the point, have you given thought to your future?’
‘May be’, Alaya shrugging her shoulders.
‘We shall continue from where we left off. And this time let me help you. I know you are not comfortable with me but give me a chance.’
Alaya sat on the empty chair in front of her counselor.
‘So did you understand what I told you last time?’
‘You told me about an implant in my head, but, I wouldn’t worry too much. I think everybody’s erroneous in their brain.’
The counselor sighed, ‘You were epileptic during your childhood. Surgeons placed an implant to control your epilepsy. It it doing its job, but it is also stimulating the Thalamus and Neocortex region of your brain. The Neocortex region is where your imagination, your language, and sensory perception originate, and controlled. Because the implant is stimulating that region in your brain, its functions are amplified. You told me last time that you had bad dreams you remembered for a long time, didn’t you?’
‘Yes. I had bad dreams until I met Mister.’
‘You mentioned that name. Let’s talk about Mister.’
‘Didn’t I talk about Mister the last time?’
‘Yes but don’t be discreet this time. Today it’s being recorded.’
‘Why are we talking about a medical procedure I underwent years ago?’
‘That’s because it is important that I know you better. So, tell me where did you meet Mister?’
‘I met Mister at home. I still remember the first time we met. We spent a lot of time together, especially in the shower.’
The counselor nodded, ‘How was life in school?’
‘I didn’t like school. I was smarter than most of the girls. I quit school and started studying on my own. I hated people. They are so fucking stupid.’
‘We don’t use profanities here Alaya’.
‘Sorry. Well, school was boring, the worst in Belagoor. My classmates were boring too. They never understood me. I felt like I was talking to a wall. I spent most of my time at home, or in the park, reading, painting, sometimes dancing and singing. I even got a chance to sing on radio once. It was a nice experience. My school wanted me to represent them in competitions, but I kept refusing.’
‘Your time with Mister in the shower?’
‘The shower is my favorite place to be, especially when the water is hot. I love steam. I liked breathing steam. I like it when the water flows down my shoulders. This is the only place I feel clean and at peace. It is such a relief to feel to feel so. I never liked it outside. It kills me. There is only chaos, and I feel so artificial.
Showering with Mister is the best. I looked forward for shower time with him. I like the way my hair flows around my neck and shoulders when water flows down my body. I like it even more when Mister runs his hands on my hair making the water flow down to my legs.
I was alone in that house until Mister came. I was thirteen at that time. We were always together. He never left me alone when we were at home, and I liked being with him. Mister is tall, has broad shoulders, and is very attractive. I remember the first time we met.
“Hi you must be Alaya”, he extended his hands looking into my eyes. My heart beat fast when his hands touched mine. I wondered if he could hear my heart beat.
“Hi”, I said unable to say anything else, and unable to take my eyes off him.
“How many days will you be here?” asked Mister.
“I don’t know. As long as I am allowed to. So, they put you here?”
“Yes. I think we will share this place for a long time.”
“What is your name?”
He looked at me blank. I didn’t know what to make of it.
“Call me Mister”, he said.
“Hello Mister”, I said shaking hands with him.
We became friends soon. I would always wait for him for breakfast, and dinner. If he came to the table first he would wait for me. I always looked for an excuse to touch his hands. They were smooth and warm. I know he liked being touched by me. I was fourteen when I first kissed him. I still remember the kiss. I had the urge that day. He caught me looking at him. I leaned forward, placed my hands on his thigh and kissed him on his lips. My heart raced. It felt like I was breathing hot air. I quickly retracted myself and walked out of the room. I think he was waiting for me to make that move. From then on we showered together.’
The counselor squirmed. She opened Alaya’s file and closed it but Alaya did not notice. Alaya continued looking down.
‘Mister and I invented water games. I loved making soap bubbles, and arrange it one on top of the other. We also passed drops of water between each other with our tongue. The rule was to not spill the water, or drink it. I could cup the water in my tongue, and hold it but he had the height advantage. So he pretty much won all the time. I would always end up drinking the water and he would laugh his head off when I did. If Mister wasn’t with me I would spend time reading books. I love novels, especially fantasy.’
‘Wow. You like fantasy?’
Alaya shrugged her shoulders and smiled, ‘I liked enacting scenes with Mister. Whenever Mister would be back I’d tell him what I read that day. Mister and I liked reading old books, and also smelling them. We liked reading Earth History. Star gazing was another activity we loved. We would go to the terrace to look at the night sky. I had a telescope. I always hoped that the Belagoor planetarium would be open to general public instead of school students only.’
‘What about your job Alaya?’
‘I went to work at the music store in the mall, and I still do. The people working there are nice. After work we discussed music, art, and life generally.’
‘Did Mister come to your workplace?’
‘He came by few times. I had supervised the store once. That day after all the employees left the store I brought Mister over. That was the only time we had sex at the store.’
‘Did anyone meet Mister at your workplace?’
‘No I never introduced anyone to Mister. I didn’t feel the need to.’
‘Did you see your roommates after they moved out?’
Alaya hadn’t met her school mates after she quit school. She had met her roommate on the way to the counselor’s office earlier. She had refused a ride with the office worker, and chose to travel alone. An auto rickshaw pulled up to where Alaya was standing, and out of it emerged her former roommate Sara. Alaya, Sara, and another roommate Dhrithi were staying in the same house, and they were also classmates in school. Alaya was disinterested in learning but she had diverted her mind towards the arts. She liked being all by herself and she was often found by her classmates talking to herself, so she became a target. Nobody liked her, they called her “Freak”. One night Alaya woke up hearing heavy breathing and soft moans. She looked at the other end of the room and found Dhrithi lying on the bed. She had her back arched and Sara was performing cunnilingus on her.
‘Would you girls mind? Take the other room’, Alaya said pointing towards the living room.
‘Shut up Freak. Go back to sleep or else go to the living room’, said Sara.
‘Sara shut up and get back down there’, said Dhrihti.
‘Hey are you videotaping it?’ Sara asked pointing to the camera on the table. ‘Am I on film? You are crazy. Delete it.’
Alaya deleted the video and threw the camera out of the window of their tenth floor apartment. It was during class when some of Alaya’s seniors pulled her out of school the next day.
‘I told you I have something to talk to you about, Freak. Heard you don’t need school at all. You think you are smarter than us?’ said a tall girl, Alaya’s senior.
‘I know it’s about the video camera. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want any trouble please. It’s between me and them.’
The girl had Alaya by her shoulders. She led Alaya behind the school. There were more girls waiting, and one of them had a video camera.
‘There won’t be any trouble Freak. Why haven’t you chosen anyone of us yet? Aren’t we any good for you? Is that what you are saying?
‘I never said that. I am not ready yet.’
‘Did you all hear that? Freak is not ready yet. But she will be now.’
The girls laughed. One of the girls reached up to her and locked her arm behind her back. The bully pulled down her skirt while another girl started videotaping. Another girl reached around from the back and squeezed her breasts. Alaya kicked her legs hard to free herself.
‘I didn’t take you for a physical type’, said the bully.
‘Leave her alone’, ordered a khaki clad policewoman on patrol while getting off the police vehicle.
‘We are all friends ma’am. We are sorting out a personal matter. This doesn’t concern the law.’
‘Everything concerns the law. Will you let her go, or do you all want a hot shot?’ said the policewoman flashing a pepper spray.
The girls left Alaya alone but she felt humiliated. Back at school that evening Sara and Dhrithi tried to apologize to Alaya, they told her that they didn’t know the bully would harass her, but an exasperated Alaya picked up the metal flower vase on the teacher’s table and assaulted them sending them to a two day visit to the hospital. Alaya too took a trip to a hospital, but to get a tracker installed in her arm.
‘Because this assault happened in the school premises you are a “Delinquent”. You cannot travel out of the city. You cannot touch anyone again. This tracker will let us know where you are and it will also attract the attention of the cameras wherever you are so we can watch you. Is that understood?’ asked the police officer. Alaya nodded her head while toying with a paperweight. Her life had changed that day. Sara and Dhrithi were moved out of that house, and Alaya lived alone since then. It had been seventeen years since that incident had happened, but Alaya still resented Sara. Alaya and Sara recognized each other when Sara got off the auto rickshaw.
‘Alaya Samriddhi right? It’s been a long time. This is a surprise’, said Sara.
‘Yes a surprise I don’t want’, said Alaya turning away from her and walking away.
‘Alaya please, that was in school. I think I can do something for you.’
Alaya stopped and turned to Sara. ‘Ok then help me lose this Sara’, said Alaya pointing to her forearm where the tracker was placed.
Alaya was sitting in the middle of the air conditioned room looking at her forearm when the counselor snapped her fingers to bring her back to the present. ‘You don’t have to talk about it. Is there anything you hate?’ asked the counselor looking at Alaya’s file.
‘I hate ice cream, and cats and also the mention of them. It’s a fear I had during childhood. I couldn’t get over it. Maybe my fear of ice cream has something to do with the movie “That”. People in the movie shed their skin, their fingernail, and at last their eyes after eating the ice cream. I hate cats because a little girl gets scratched on her face by a cat in one of the novel I read.’
Alaya stopped to check if the counselor was still attentive. The counselor smiled and nodded her head, and asked, ‘Didn’t Mister get intimate with you?’
‘We became intimate when I was sixteen. The first time we did it was when we went out for a movie. We reached home late at night. He held my hand and took me to an alley at the back of my apartment building. There was nobody there. We sat on a wooden plank placed over two barrels. We had sex for the first time. Actually that wasn’t the first time. The first time we had sex was in my room. It was painful. He was fast and I told him to stop. I was angry when he didn’t. He apologized but I did not accept his apology that night’, she said laughing.
‘Alaya you can stop now. I think I got enough. Who do you think Mister is, and why do you think he is staying with you?’
‘Like I said, Mister is my friend. We live together.’
‘Only you are allowed to stay in your house.’
‘Correct, but that’s because I am a “Delinquent”. It didn’t feel good. Everything was strange in that house, until Mister came in.’
‘So what does Mister look like? His body, his face?’
Alaya thought for few minutes and said, ‘I don’t remember how his face looks like. But I remember what we did, and that’s the best part. We did things I never thought I would experience. He said he went to a boys school.’
The counselor shook her head and said, ‘That’s wrong Alaya dear. I haven’t met anyone who has seen a man.’
‘We have been living together for the last seventeen years.’
‘That’s impossible. Remember I talked earlier about the operation that amplified your imagination.’ Alaya nodded her head. ‘Mister doesn’t exist. Men don’t exist. Alaya, you are thirty now. You will need to think about your future. You will need to think about how you want to procreate.’
‘If at all I am having a progeny it will be with Mister.’
‘Alaya, there is no Mister. He is your imagination. I have a plan for you. There are only two ways you could procreate. One way is having yourself cloned, Another way is to artificially inseminate you. Artificial insemination was developed in a laboratory not far from here. It is safe but not widely used. But cloning is a proven, and a successful process.’
‘Miss Shayle, please stop. I want to leave.’
‘Not yet. Think about your off spring?’
‘I am not ready yet.’
‘No Alaya, you have to be ready, and you cannot have a baby with Mister. There have been no men since a long time, and there won’t be any.’
‘Yes I know that. But Mister exists.’
‘Then you will call him now.’
Alaya fiddled with her phone. Alaya knew that it was many years ago when the sex ratio was imbalanced. In dire straits the government launched a project to balance it. A drug was invented to alter the genetic information of the men and women so that only girls would be born. But the project failed when the drug usage couldn’t be controlled, it also got sold in the black market after which the project wasn’t a secret anymore. The drug was destroyed but it was too late to save the men, and efforts to retrieve DNA failed.
‘Alright. Mister isn’t real. He shows up when I want him to.’
‘So, we will have to agree on it. Now the question is do you want an off spring, or do you want to go into service? You can do whatever you want if you choose procreation. You will have a good life, you could learn new skills. I got four children, and I am living a nice life. If you don’t choose to give birth you will automatically qualify to do service. I heard life isn’t that good. They overwork you but you got to choose either as mentioned in the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution.’
Alaya stared blankly at the counselor. She wanted to run away but couldn’t.
‘Take the procreation option Alaya. You can have babies, go back to college, travel the world, or anything you want. I can also let you lose the “Delinquent” tag.’
‘I need to be left alone. I cannot agree with the system Miss Shayle. It’s not your business what I do or don’t.’
‘You are confused Alaya. It is my business, understood? This concerns the law. This concerns humanity.’
‘I need time to think about it.’
‘You are young and you have a long way to go. Procreation is the best way of giving back. Women go to service if they can’t have offspring, but that’s a long shot. Besides you were among the first fifty clones to be born after the new resolution was passed. The government has already exempted you from service.’
Alaya did not answer. She looked down at her shoes. A tear dropped on her shoes and made it look shinier.
‘I need an answer tomorrow’ the counselor sniggered, got up and left the room. ‘But remember, you cannot mention about men anywhere. You will invite trouble. We will be watching and listening.’
After Alaya left the counselor’s office she walked down the road feeling overwhelmed, her legs shaking in excitement while thinking about the options she had. She reached an old building near the outskirts of the city. It was late in the evening and light was fading. Alaya raised her right arm, and using a knife that she bought from a hardware store on the way, she made a small incision on her arm. Pain shot up but unfazed she kept digging in to get the tracker out of her arm. She grimaced but she was determined to get the tracker out.
‘Stop’, Alaya heard a voice behind her. She looked behind her and saw a policewoman. The officer had caught up to her when they tracked her leaving the city. She could have fought but she would have got beaten up with the baton by the policewoman.
‘Call an ambulance. Name is Alaya Samriddhi. Age is 30. Self inflicted wound in her arm. She tried to remove the tracker’, the policewoman bellowed into her radio while covering Alaya’s wound with her hand. Alaya was driven to a hospital where she was treated. The doctor that treated her was her former roommate Sara who Alaya had to meet the second time that day.
‘Alaya, the tracker in your hand was a decoy just so that someone tries removing it. The real one is behind your eye.’
‘Is this why I get a headache every night before I sleep?’
‘Why are you telling me this?’
‘I think I need to. And please don’t try to remove it’, said Sara and walked away.
That night Alaya went to the washroom and looked in the mirror. She placed a hand on her eye and rubbed it. Pain shot up her nose and forehead. She shut her eyes hard. Even though she wanted to get it out she couldn’t ever go through with it. She went back to her bed to go to sleep.
‘Alaya you tried to escape. Listen to me. Sign this form or life will be more difficult for you’, said Miss Shayle when Alaya showed up at her office the next day. Alaya signed the form without glancing at it, but she knew what she signed up for.
‘From this point on there is no going back Alaya. This means you will lose all “Privileges”.’
That evening Alaya was in her apartment looking out of the window thinking about her life. She looked at the sun which was at an angle of forty degrees to her. It was late in the evening; the sun had turned into a red ball. Belagoor which meant, ‘the city of shining lights’ was always busy at this time. She tried to remember how old her mother would have been right about then. Alaya hadn’t seen her mother since she was twelve. The government separated children from their mothers at the age of ten. They would take care of all their needs, and in the future would also bury them at the event of their death.
Tomorrow would be a big day for Alaya. She whistled a tuneless melody and picked up her dairy in which she had written tomorrow’s date, below which she wrote “Reset”. From tomorrow she wouldn’t remember anything. Would she forget Mister too?
‘Honey, you are the bravest I have seen. Most of them would break down if they know they are not “Privileged” anymore’, the nurse had told her while pushing her wheelchair towards the reception. Alaya looked up at the nurse and smiled.
The auto switch off tone of the water heater went off signaling Alaya’s bath time. She gathered her towel, her clothes and went to the bathroom. She used the shower for the cold water, and the faucet for the hot water just the way she liked it. She hadn’t met Mister since morning, and she hoped to say goodbye to him. Mister was real for her. She didn’t want anybody convincing her otherwise. She got into the bath tub, and pressed herself against the wall of the tub, her eyes closed. She saw Mister when she opened it. Was it Mister? The silhouette came close to her, and then she saw the eyes looking down at her. It wasn’t Misters’. She let out a wail and tried to get off the bath tub. She slipped and went under the water.
Water filled her ears and mouth, her hair swirled in front of her eyes blinding her. Alaya panicked, she had never panicked before. With shaking hands she reached over and ripped the shower screen apart, the tub overturned while she pulled at the screen. She fell over to the cold bathroom floor. The chill seemed to rip her stomach apart. She slowly got up, ran to the bathroom door and opened it. She then ran into the dark living room dripping naked.
Alaya swung her hands. Water splashed on Alaya’s face waking her up. She was still in her bath tub. She had slipped into a deep sleep, and it was a bad dream. The shower had stopped. She didn’t know how long was she slept. She felt sadness, not for her but for Mister. For the first time she started weeping. She relaxed and her breathing slowed down. Regaining her composure she shut the water, dressed up and came into her living room. There was a half-eaten bar of chocolate on her dressing table. She had eaten half of the bar of chocolate and left it on a book. She looked at the book under the chocolate bar, and read the title. It was her favorite book of all.
She got onto her bed and looked at the stack of books that gave her company over the years. She switched off the light, turned up the air conditioner, and slept on her side. As she was about to sleep Alaya felt weight beside her. She felt aware of Mister. She felt Mister getting on to the bed with her. Alaya smiled. She felt Mister move closer to her and placing his arm over hers. She felt a light graze of his hair on her ears. She recognized the scent; the sweet scented breath which Mister always breathes on the nape of her neck before she slept. She took Misters arm, kissed it and placed it over her breasts. She sighed and closed her eyes. For the first time in weeks she slept soundly.
Kishor is a Bangalorean. He grew up in Mangalore, and hence loves fish. He likes reading suspense and thrillers, good coffee, first person shooter games, trying different genres of music, sometimes cooks, and sometimes longs to write. He wants to get his novella published.