Author’s note: Seeing the technological advances around — in particular instant messaging, digital banking and online shopping — I have wondered if we may be heading towards a silent future, a world without speech and words. A world where speech is a forgotten or obsolete art.
I have tried to depict a scenario in such a quiet world. I hope you, the reader will like it and would share your thoughts on it.
The smartphone screen lighted up and began to ring with an annoying tune until Calvin took it in his hand and swiped it off.
Stretching his body, with the eyelids still drooping he walked to the bathroom with an ataxic gait that is typical of anyone who wakes up reluctantly from bed.
Calvin came out thirty minutes later, all brushed and bathed but appearing just as sleepy as before. He lethargically entered the kitchen and prepared himself a breakfast of cereals and coffee.
The caffeine managed to bring some spark in his sedate eyes, as he went to the drawer to take the dietary supplements which consisted of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential amino and fatty acids and some preventive antibiotics. Indeed the tablets occupied a greater portion of the plate than the regular food stuff.
It couldn’t be helped, however. The government had made it mandatory for all with the prevalent lack of nutrients in every food product sold.
Of course, being a doctor, Calvin also knew that the antibiotics were just an eyewash with all the pathogens resistant to them. It however, was a secret kept out of the knowledge of the general public lest it create a panic.
He put on his work clothes namely a full sleeved blue shirt with a pair of black pants and put on a lab coat. He also smeared his face with sunscreen and followed it up with a transparent gas mask. Locking the gate with a swipe card, he set off for his clinic.
Calvin’s clinic was just a ten minute walk away and it had its perks. Everyday he caught a glimpse of the famous government greenhouse, one of the last surviving ones and witness the greenery of plants from afar. He could never understand it but the sight always pleased him. It was definitely more pleasing than the eternally black sky above or the parched metallic footpath ahead of him.
He finally reached the clinic. It was more like a white citadel in its appearance. Of course, every other building looked pretty much the same, with the government having specified the exact colour and architecture of each and every building to be constructed. The buildings had to be airtight, watertight and be insulated from UV and cosmic radiation.
Another swipe of his card and he entered inside. A queue of anxious patients and their relatives were waiting for him in as he walked past them into a room, put on his protective gear and began to call them one by one.
His first patient for the day was a seventeen year old boy. He was already fiddling with his smartphone. Calvin took out his own and began to type.
Ready for your weekly check up?”
“Yeah Dr. Calvin.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Fine, but these tests are really annoying even though they’re weekly. Can’t something be done about them?”
“I’m afraid this is government policy. It has to be done.”
Calvin proceeded to examine Joseph after both of them put down their phones. While examining the mouth, he observed that there was a white plaque covering the inner lining of his left cheek. He was able to scrape it off with a tongue depressor.
He gestured Joseph to sit, signalling the end of the examination. Both once again picked up their phones.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
“What is it?”
“You have candidiasis.”
“Is it bad? Do I have to go to the camp?”
“However unpleasant it sounds that is the truth. You have been diagnosed with a disease. As per the guidelines issued by the government you’ll have to go to the quarantine camp.”
“I can’t believe it…”
“You will be leaving tomorrow. You may go and send the next in line.”
And Joseph dejectedly left the room.
Calvin could hear the screams of anguish from outside. He had gone used to it by now, at least on the outside. It was a lot more heart-wrenching earlier, sending someone to quarantine. Knowing that quarantine camps were just rooms where the ill were dumped till they die and after which their bodies unceremoniously incinerated, it used to make him detest being a doctor. Even after hundreds of cases, it hadn’t settled in.
He overheard probably the boy’s mother talk of spending every penny they have. He couldn’t help but smirk. Humanity had gone back to those grim or happy times, depending on the perspective, when money couldn’t buy one a way out of every problem. Yes, back to those times when humans were powerless against diseases. The golden era of chemotherapy much like a candle has burnt out. The government is, however, fooling people into believing light still exists.
After going through his daily quota of patients and consigning half of them to the camp. Calvin left for the neighbouring shopping mall.
He saw Joseph’s family enter a luxury clothing outlet. In the earlier days of his practice, it might have shocked him, but he knew better now. The world today wasn’t poor financially, it lacked in health. Perhaps it was in these times that such recreational activities assumed a greater significance.
He went to the food court on the roof and sat in one of the chairs. He looked above. There was a transparent, corrugated shed ruining the view of the black sky above. It never ceased looking hideous.
Suddenly, his phone vibrated. It was Miranda.
“Hey, how have you been? Would you mind looking to your right instead of at the sky?”
Calvin looked to his right and smiled. Miranda was sitting on the table next to him. He walked over to her table and sat down. Picking up his phone he typed:
“So, how was your day?”
“It was great, I managed to settle my client’s lawsuit. It is so relieving. The months of brainstorming, slandering and debating have finally come to an end. My client got back their assets and I walked away with a handsome pay.”
“And you? By your looks, it seems it was another rough day at work, huh?”
“I didn’t know it was that obviously written on my face but yeah.”
“Anyways we have come here for having some quality time. Let’s order something, shall we?”
“I know it is hard on you, but it will be fine…you are doing it for the sake of those who are healthy, aren’t you? Just keep calm.”
“Yes we should. I’ll send the waiter our order. The usual, I suppose?”
Miranda opened the restaurant app on her phone, typed out the order, and sent it to one of the available waiters mentioned there. At a distance the phone of a young waiter with a Mohawk cut beeped and he nonchalantly took it out of his pocket and went in the kitchen.
He came back a while later with two cups of coffee. Miranda and Calvin began to sip while simultaneously they also typed along.
“You know, I think you’re not in the mood for this, are you?”
“Why’d you say that?”
“I fully understand that your work is extremely draining but you’ve frankly been in this long enough to be able to deal with it.”
“Despite my appearance, believe me, I am really happy for you.”
“I know you are. But you need to make it visible at times. Subtlety all the time is not enjoyable. You are getting my point?”
“I mean here we are meeting after two weeks and you’re the same apathetic self as you were in our last date. Our relationship has become more of a mother-son relationship, where I’m the one always taking care of you. I can’t remember when was the last time I was down and you were there for me.”
“I am sorry I haven’t been my best in a while…”
“Well you need to translate that into actions. I’m afraid I have an appointment and I’ll have to go. Goodbye.”
And she stood up and walked out.
It hurt her as she walked away from Calvin. She had been in love with him ever since that meeting at her law firm. Calvin had happened to come there on behalf of the government for a medical assessment of the employees. No one was found to be ill but Calvin’s face was flustered as he left the premises with her contact details. She had at that point, found him to be a very fascinating man with his confident demeanour and boyish attention to detail.
The first date was spent in pleasant introductions. Soon enough, they were officially a couple.
But alas, the euphoria had faded away drastically in the past year or so. He seemed much too passive for her liking. It was she who took the initiative for the dates, she who would be there when he needed her but that was all. Calvin always appeared too sad and preoccupied with his own work. Surely, pronouncing a verdict of segregation and inevitable death on hapless patients was draining but she has had her share of troubles too.
Her firm always chose it’s clients based on how much they’ll pay and often she had had to defend obvious wrongdoers. Achieve those ends always had its share of walking a tightrope between legal and illegal; moral and immoral. But she dealt with it and led a normal life. It wasn’t that she felt guilty, she was professional enough to know that it doesn’t define her; nevertheless, there were times the horrid memories of her legal practice would prise out a tear or two from her eyes at night.
Those nightmares would also make her question herself. Despite working in the cynical legal corridors, Miranda had heard enough curses and cries to fear fate, if not entirely believe in it. “Will I be denied happiness for my crimes? Do I deserve happiness? Does Calvin really like me? Will he be with me?” were the thoughts plaguing her mind.
Similar thoughts had been troubling her as she was sitting in the food court and seeing Calvin, apathetic as always. As she was coming down the escalator, she began to feel guilty about her emotional outburst. However, she reasoned that he must harden himself up if he wishes to survive even if her manner of asking wasn’t the most polite.
She was about to step out of the main gate when she noted that she had run out of water. She swore in frustration. That flask was supposed to last for a whole day. With most of the available water diverted to agriculture, water had become a rationed commodity. Buying another bottle will involve a lot of red tape and a lot of money. Miranda decided to start typing out the mandated application for another bottle sighing as she mulled the thought of parting with a month’s salary.
Calvin dejectedly stood up. He knew he had it coming. He hadn’t really been enthusiastic about their year old relationship with Miranda in recent times. He loved her, no doubt, but the stress of his practice was getting to him and that was evidently wrecking his bond with Miranda.
He knew Miranda on her part had every right to be annoyed. He hadn’t really been matching up to her in showing his commitment to the relationship. Never really the person who is into gaudy displays of affection, he was faring equally poorly in being the quiet but dedicated partner.
On the contrary he perhaps had degenerated into a whiny, self-obsessed kid, looking to his partner as a morale booster. The realisation was piercingly accurate.
The present situation was not the thing she or anyone for that matter would have bargained for.
He needed to show his appreciation for her, make her happy as she has made him so many times before. He began to ponder. What would make her happy?
Surely just celebrating her victory would not be sufficient – he will have to recommit himself to their association – but is there something else he can do just for creating a memory for her?
Calvin had by now walked out of the mall. He was still thinking of an idea when he heard the cawing of a crow.
“It has been a while since I heard that voice… a voice…a voice… my voice!” thought Calvin.
Calvin frantically searched the internet for information on training to speak. After finding it, he enlisted himself in a course of spoken English at the local college.
He waited patiently outside the department of English where he met Damien Schultz, the in charge of the course.
Slightly taken aback at the appearance of this panting young man, he held out his hand for a handshake and introduced himself.
“My name is Damien Schultz. How may I help you?”
Calvin was stunned. It probably was in school that he had last heard a person speak. He took out his phone to type.
“I have enlisted in your spoken English course. How long will it take me to be able to speak?”
Damien read the message and instead of typing back, he spoke.
The phone beeped again. There was a message which read.
“Dr. Calvin Bracken.”
“Mister Calvin…it is not like you’re learning to speak afresh. Till primary school all of us have had speaking as part of our curriculum and method of instruction. Your skills may be a little rusty but we’ll get over that. It is more about losing your self-consciousness about speaking in my opinion.
I presume you are soon going to be a parent or have applied for a teaching job?”
“You see, most of the applicants happen to be young parents who have to learn to speak so they can teach it to their children. Or student-teachers or singers or actors. If that is not the case then what’s your reason?”
The phone beeped again. Damien read through the rather long explanation. He smiled.
“Tell you what, we could use this to advertise our courses.”
“It should take no more than two weeks for you to master the skill.”
Couldn’t it be any sooner?
“It depends on your willingness to learn. Classes will begin from tomorrow. And I would appreciate if you avoided using your phone to type messages henceforth.”
Calvin nodded, shook hands with Damien and left.
Two weeks passed like a breeze. Calvin’s speech was still guttural — although he got a B- in his review examinations. He did, however, learn to utter a particular sentence with utmost fluency courtesy some special training by Damien seeing his desperate needs.
Two days later, Calvin was at the same food court, waiting for Miranda. This time, it was he who had taken the initiative. When he nervously messaged her about the date , he could understand by her reply — all in capitals — that she was overjoyed. For today he had ordered a cake complete with the ‘celebration package’ that consisted of balloons and party poppers.
With everything ready, he just sat down and stared upwards into that same hideous black sky. In the past few weeks, he had gone through so much. The stress of his job wasn’t bothering him so much anymore, he was able to take them in his stride. And the English classes were actually fun. He smiled thinking of the wonderful people he met there, especially Damien who had specifically asked him to tell Miranda’s response.
His phone beeped suddenly. He clumsily took it out. It was Miranda.
“So what’s the occasion?”
Calvin looked to his right and then to his left to see Miranda had already come and sat on the chair next to him. So much for a surprise!
“It is a little delayed but we’re going to celebrate your victory in the lawsuit.”
“It is really not needed now. I am working on another case now.”
“A random celebration it is then.”
Calvin set off the party poppers. Miranda looked on with a bemused smile.
“I haven’t really been a responsible partner for the past few months, having gone so far as to take your presence and affection for granted. Yet here you are trying to keep this together, always being so patient with me. Thank you for being with me.”
“And please do not take this celebration as my way of tiding you over but rather as the start of a more active relationship on my part. Will you?”
As Miranda read the message she smiled warmly at Calvin and typed:
“Oh Calvin! Of course yes.”
“I love you so much.”
“I love you too Miranda.”
They kept chatting like that for hours. As they stood up to leave, they hugged.
As they separated, Calvin decided to speak, speak that one sentence which he had been especially practising.
“I love you, Miranda Crawford.”
Miranda was shocked – her hand covering her mouth, her cheeks turning red in surprise. So were the dozen or so other people at the food court.
Slowly she took out her phone and typed:
“You learnt to speak…my name?”
“Yes…for the past few weeks. I wanted to do something special. Something not subtle. How do you like it?”
Miranda rushed to hug him, this time passionately. Calvin could hear her sobbing and he himself was feeling like crying. His innocent self felt happy that she was happy. His cynical self, however was shocked at how much she was moved by it.
She separated from him and typed:
“This is the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced. Thank you so much!”
“I LOVE YOU.”
“I want to learn to speak too. I want to learn to speak your name too!”
“I’ll take you there tomorrow. How about that?”
“I love you too, Miranda Crawford,” Calvin said again.
They embraced each other again, deciding to positively meet tomorrow at the university to relearn speaking. As both of them walked their separate ways home, it was hard to tell which one of them was the happier person: the man, who finally did away with the last vestige of childish passivity or the woman, who could barely contain the fact of being loved so profoundly.