Fiction

Social

By Ramprasath Rengasamy 

I offered a ten-dollar note to a beggar, but he took it and threw it back on my face and walked away. It was like he slapped across my face. I woke up in shock and realized it was just a dream. I took my mobile. It has been eight hours since I had swiped right on Bob’s profile. I wanted to check if he responded to my interest. With sincere prayers and much anticipation, I opened the MeT App. There was no response from Bob. It was a disappointment but not that much of a disappointment as I anticipated it. 

I went through his interests and hobbies once again. They were impressive, no matter how many times I reviewed them.  

He held premium membership in the MarginFit gym. His choices of good reads were in my favorites too. Some of the common keywords that we both had in our profiles were: structured, progressive, belief in astrology, conservatism, teetotaler, disciplined, and sapiosexual. I have read so many books while he has authored four fictional works so far. While waiting for his response, I took the time to read all his fictional works. The one I liked was a thriller. The other one was about existentialism. The essence of his writing was mostly social well-being. I could interpret it for giving back to society.  

Though he looked very handsome, his appearance was not a priority for me. Even if he looked average, I might have still gone for him as I counted only on his intellectual side and attitude. Bob’s profile matched my expectations to 90%. In my five years of dating, I have never seen one such matching profile. 

Our social placement was more or less similar. He worked in Information technology, and I worked in the IT division of a manufacturing firm. We both were into programming but handled different programming languages. I lived in the same city where he lived. On top of that, he lived in his own five-bedroom home. In my opinion, a lifetime spent working in the same place could shield us from changes that could affect everyone else. So I was primarily looking for someone who could live where I lived. 

To me, he was a perfect match. But it was up to him to choose me. That must happen. I didn’t know how to make it happen. I chose to wait for a few days before taking the next step. 

Almost a week passed. Nothing happened. The more I waited, the more I panicked because I was not the only girl in town. There were others, especially good looking ones. 

I was not an idiot. I was qualified. I was independent. I had a car and an apartment. I even had substantial savings. Coming to the appearance part, I knew my thighs were too big. My face was too undefined. Almost every part of me could use some work. True physical beauty has always been a social currency I could never redeem. 

Random guys on social networking apps have matched with me only to let me know how hideous I was. I have had to work harder at friendships with the opposite gender. I have struggled to keep people’s attention at parties. I found I was more easily ignored in professional situations, even when I’ve got something to say. I have had people explain to me how I can improve my skin and diets I should try. Ugliness was not the absence of beauty. But in people’s collective perception, ugly ones were stupid.  

Sometimes, I have seen guys walking away from me in mid-conversation to talk to a better-looking girl. When I wrote pieces on this subject or even alluded to having an opinion online, anonymous Twitter trolls told me I wouldn’t be so unattractive if I didn’t dye my hair and got a good chemical peel. Attractive waiters earned more tips. Beautiful people got more job interviews, got promoted more quickly, and made more money than their unattractive counterparts. 

But everything has a limit. I should say, I learned to perceive things differently. Over a period of time, I gathered enough immunity to all these. 

At one point, my inferiority complex became a motivating factor. I learned to use my feelings of inferiority to push myself to become a better individual. 

That was when I met Dr.Sihn. He was a researcher. His research was on a scientific solution that could make anyone look better. According to him, an ugly looking face could be tricked to look pretty by controlling the photon emission at the right spots. The impressive stuff about the solution was, it didn’t involve facelift, surgery, or plasma implant.  

Dr.Sihn’s was a classified project. It had not gotten approval from the government yet. But I trusted his methods. He looked for test subjects, and I gladly became one. 

By definition, objects were visible to humans because of the light reflected from it. His solution was to deploy photon emitting microcells.  A chip would control these cells. The chip manipulated how I appeared to others from all angles. The collective objective of all these was to make me look beautiful.  

I took the treatment on the following weekend secretly. It was like a pharmacy visit and getting some vitamin tablets over the counter. Dr.Sihn gave me a small bottle full of a gel. I could apply it like how I applied Vaseline every day. The chip was a tiny one injected in the dermis layer of my skin. The gel wasn’t supposed to be contaminated. Once applied, the chip controlled the photon emission. The chip needed a power supply to do its job. When outdoor, the gel functioned as solar cells. When indoor, I could plug a small battery that lasted for hours. 

I looked at myself in the mirror at his clinic. It was only to know how I might look to others. Dr.Sihn assured me that the new face of mine would not match with anyone. I took a picture of mine and used it to create another profile in the App. I named the profile Natasha. I searched for Bob’s profile and swiped right on it. Within a couple of hours, I got a response from Bob. 

It was a very short message. 

‘5 PM. Miller Park’ 

Since it was outdoor, I gladly accepted it. In the evening, before leaving, I applied the gel on my face. I took a battery just in case if I ran into power supply issues. 

Our first meet happened in the park. We greeted each other. He appeared to have been in the middle of his evening jogging. I joined him. 

I have read your books. 

Oh, Really! 

Yes. I liked the thriller 

Which part did you like the most? 

The bottom of the cover page. 

Bob laughed at this.  

What are you? A fan follower? 

No. I like people who are very creative at lying”. 

Is that a compliment? 

No. A lie. 

Which part of it? 

“Every part of it” 

Bob laughed again.  

Any tips for improving my writing? 

Just one. Quit it.” 

What? 

You heard it right. Quit it. 

Why? 

We have more write-ups turning into movies these days. It is hard to see poor screen adaptations of excellent book works. 

Bob laughed again.  

I like reading printed papers rather than watching digital videos, Bob.  

We share the same feelings, Natasha 

I think the best way to continue to be a writer is to write less and think more. 

You almost read my mind, Natasha 

“I wonder how you are still single despite being familiar, Bob 

“I think a social system need not always guarantee everything you deserve, Natasha 

We spoke a lot after that about his work, other books and so on. 

Somehow I held him captivated in my conversation with him. I gave him enough clues of me being interested in him. But those clues could also be taken for my genuine interest in books. I was playing safe. To me, that was more important. A smart woman would not let her status quo sword fall. 

We only spent thirty minutes together running on the trails. After that, we parted our ways to our homes. Once back at home, I didn’t wipe the gel off from my face. The way it blended with my skin, I didn’t even feel its presence. 

 Before I went to bed, I received a call from him. He asked me if I could accompany him to the library the next day. I gladly accepted it. Now I was pretty sure he liked me. I considered our first meet, a grand success. 

The next day we were at the library. I introduced him to some of the best books from my favorites. I figured, being a fiction writer, Bob was not familiar with non-fiction works. So I shared with him my views on how important it was to go over non-fiction works to pen down best fiction. I also shared my views on how significant it was to have an idea of all the mathematical concepts to come up with better ideas and to write better fiction. 

He shared his views on my views. We had a very long debate sitting in one of the many concrete benches in the park outside the library. My intention was to make him understand how important it was to partner with a like-minded to have a meaningful living. 

All the while, I observed him going over my facial features. I pretended not noticed. The truth was indigestible. I was presenting my hard-earned knowledge and skills for someone who came for a face that was not mine. But that was what I got to play with. Isn’t everything fair in love and war? 

I have read some of the books that were in his ‘to-do’ list. The advantage of this was, he didn’t have to read them. I elaborated on those books while we had coffee at Starbucks. I also offered to proofread his works. Indirectly, I was hinting him how beneficial I could be within the four walls. 

Our game-changing meet happened at a waterfall in our neighborhood. I didn’t forget to apply the gel on my face. I went to his place in my car. We went to the waterfalls in his car. The falls was a nice one. We took off our shoes, took some pictures together, and stood in the water for some time. I was sure he was going to mention that experience in one of his write up. 

Suddenly, Bob asked me if he could take my hand forever. I was glad my plan finally worked out. Although we have only met a few times, his proposal sounded well thought through. Much of the maturity in it came from the various books that we have commonly read, discussed, and debated. I took it for the advantages of reading on varied topics. We slipped into a live-in relationship soon. The Idea was to get married if everything went well. 

We began to live together at his place. It was like a dream come true finally. His five-bedroom home was too big for us. It was a fenced home with a huge main gate. An electronic key opened and closed it. He had an in-house library at home. We together spent most of our time in that mini-library of his. I only had to keep that gel and the batteries away from his notice. 

At his home, I cooked our food while he read out our favorite novel work. When we didn’t read a book, we spent time playing chess and sky watching at night. He shared his immense knowledge and understanding of Kundalini, a form of astrological reading in mass practice in India. 

We spent days and nights together going over our favorite works from around the world. Having lost myself in the company of my favorite man in the world, I didn’t realize I had exhausted all the gel. It was time for me to top up the content of the bottle.  

I took my mobile and sent a message to Dr.Sihn asking for the gel. He replied to me, asking me to stop by at his clinic first thing the next morning. 

After ensuring Bob has gone to sleep, I tiptoed my way to the main gate. I was not ready for the situation. I didn’t have the key to the main gate. I cursed myself for not taking a duplicate key from Bob. For a moment, I thought if I should go back to retrieve it. He usually kept the keys under his pillow. 

I wondered what he might think of me if he came to know what I was doing behind his back.  I might end up losing him forever. It might be irreversible. 

I wanted to avoid that at any cost. Therefore, I chose to jump over the main gate. The Iron Gate was very tall. There was no other choice left. I grasped the iron rails tight. The moment I touched the top edge of the iron fence, the alarm went on. I never knew there was an alarm installed in the home. 

Bob showed up at the gate within minutes. I heard sirens from distance approaching. 

“Who are you? What did you do with my girlfriend? Where is she?” Bob asked. 

Natasha was found missing. There was no logical explanation for my presence at Bob’s place at night when Natasha disappeared. Between successful cheating and failed robbery, the punishment was lesser for failed robbery. Therefore, I chose to take a failed robbery. I knew my job as a programmer in an IT firm and own car with zero delayed payment in the credit history would not qualify me for a poor robber. Therefore, I pretended as if I had a nerve for stealing for adventure. 

But fate had something else for me, which I came to know when I was in prison. The judicial system decided to deny me bail. As long as Natasha remained in dark, I was not going to be released. With Natasha being a fictional character created by me, I was sure I was never going to be released. 

The fact that it was illegal to use unapproved medical solutions rendered me speechless. I didn’t even appoint an attorney. 

The fictional character I created had put me in deep trouble. I hadn’t expected this. But I had no other choice. I thought I had accrued pleasant memories with Bob with which I could live another 40 years. That was much for me considering the reality. With my real face, I could not have got such memories. I was also afraid of getting closer to Bob anymore. Even a slight smooch could disturb the chemical balance of the gel. So I was fine to stay away from Bob with his memories. I wanted to possess Bob but not by faking things.  

In prison, I took permission from the jailer and obtained quality books from the library. I began to spend my time in the best possible way.  

Four weeks later, while I was going through a book in the prison library, a man came and sat next to me. He had all the crooked looks of a typical prisoner. I didn’t pay much attention initially. But he turned out persuasive. 

I am Nathan. You? 

I am Ari. 

Why don’t you write a book? 

What? 

Why don’t you write a book?” 

That is none of your business. 

I know why you don’t write a book. 

I shook my head up from the book and stared at him. 

We have more write-ups turning into movies these days. It is hard to see poor screen adaptations of excellent book works. 

That surprised and shocked me at the same time. 

Is that you, Bob? 

Yes. Panicked by your arrest, Dr.Sihn met me. I came to know everything from Dr.SihnI even got a bottle of gel and a chip implant to meet you here. I used the gel to look like Nathan, a computer-generated unique figure. Dr.Sihn has promised me to supply the gel as long as we are here. 

But, the gel needs power, and batteries don’t last long indoor, Bob. 

I asked him the same question. He said there were some updates ever since the version you got for yourself from him. The gel Dr.Sihn gave me can last long. So there is no need for a battery now. 

I hugged him tightly.  

You came for me, Bob? 

I came for Natasha 

This time, I laughed. 

“You are not going to be free here, Bob. You shouldn’t have come here.” 

“Rather than being a part of a part outside, I thought I 

could be a part of a whole inside.” Bob said. 

Categories: Fiction

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