The Forbidden Question

15
APRIL, 2017

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2076 A.D.

“What is it?”

There. I’d done it.

I had asked a forbidden question. There was no going back now.

It all started on my seventh birthday; the day I was legally old enough to finally use all the wondrously fantastic gadgets the grownups used. I had already been injected with the serum which connected me to the virtual world everywhere; all I needed was the equipment, which most of my relatives and friends readily provided.

Made by Ishita Srivastava

My mother was waving a box in front of me, “Jill! Come here, sweetheart.” She said.

I went to her enthusiastically and she smiled. She took out a wide wristwatch with a blackened face which she put on my right hand and a pair of small diaphanous lenses. I put the lenses in my eyes as they instantly adapted to them and looked at my mother eagerly.

“Jill, the world is yours now. Whenever you want to know something, just think of it and it will appear before your eyes as a hologram. Anything at all. You want the Cloud Internet? Just think and you can access it right in front of you, at your fingertips. Want your favorite music? Just think of it and the sensors will play it for you. You just have to think it to get it. Nothing is beyond you.” She beamed in the end.

“But what if…” I trailed off, the look in her eyes stopping me. It was one of disbelief and incredulity, “Jill!” she said, “Never, ever say that. You can’t. As long as you have this,” she patted the spot where the serum had been injected, “You have nothing you would possibly want.”

Then what should I do? Where is the fun if I don’t have to want anything at all?

But I knew I never was to speak those words aloud. Not that it made a sound, nor did it alert me then, but something died that day. And life went on.

Three years later, I was still on the same ride. Carrying a corpse inside me without even being aware of it. Interestingly, despite my initial doubts, I quickly adjusted to my new lifestyle. It was far easier, I barely had to do anything and quite fun at first. But I had put on a lot of weight since my last birthday, not that anyone else is any different. Call me impetuous, but I began to feel after three years, that I had been cheated out of something; as though I had signed a contract seeing the benefits in distilled clarity but much as I try, I cannot focus on the fine print. I felt restless, though it is a remarkable feat to feel anything at all, considering the constant bombardment of entertainment at my whim. It almost makes one numb, if my friends knew they would laugh so hard.

But one day, all that changed. I walked into school amid whispers and hushed voices. At first I paid no attention; this was normal when you are sharing minds. Because of the serum in all of us, social media got a great boost. We can now accepts friend requests in our thoughts and whenever we do, our mind is linked with theirs, no need for status updates, your friend can hear it all! At least, that’s what the advertisement says. Most of us can block each other out at will; no one wants to give up their privacy completely.

I too had learned to tune out of the familiar hum of thoughts of my friends as soon as I entered a room. But today, one conversation caught my attention:

“Did you hear the news?”

“God, its so unbelievable!”

“They say they have found things from over a hundred years ago, intact!”

I was immediately curious; I went up to them and thought aloud, “Whats going on, guys?”

Rina, my best friend, rolled her eyes at me, “Good morning sleepyhead, don’t you know? Its all over the place.”

She showed me the buzzing news  and instantly a picture propped up of a report which said “Ancient artifacts discovered at Newtown while new constructions; things date back to a hundred years.”

My heart beat faster and I looked up, Rina was staring at me with a triumphant smile.

An alarm beeped then in all of our wristwatches, it was time for class. We all shuffled to the rooms but my mind was full of the news. All through the day my mind spun with it knocking about inside my head. I barely listened to the professor as he spoke about the necessity for peace.

By the time school got over, I was determined.

I grabbed Rina by the arm and dragged her back to the yard behind the building despite her protests, “Rina, I want to go and see the site.”

“What are you talking about??” she screeched angrily.

I told her my plan; I wanted us to find out the artifacts had been discovered.

“You must be insane.” She said, looking at me with disbelief, “Hello? Anyone? My best friend has just gone completely nuts, she-”

“I just want a look.” I cut her off amid her speech, “I’m curious. Aren’t you?”

“About things that were hip a 100 years ago? Uh, no?!” Rina exclaimed, “What are you trying to prove? That you are some super-special whiz or something that is set apart from us mundanes? You are crazy, you are. I don’t get why you are curious at all.” She folded her hands and looked at me patronizingly.

I felt something snap inside me then and I spoke without thinking, “I just want to know what it was like back then, before all these gadgets and stuff, what did the kids do? How was life like that? How did they live?” I took a deep breath and looked back at Rina, “Listen, if you don’t understand this and you don’t wanna come, its fine.”

She kept silent for a few seconds before nodding, “Okay.”

“I’ll just go on my own then.”

And I turned around and went out of the door.

I was walking with my bag slung over my shoulder, a little dejected at Rina’s rebuff when I heard footsteps behind me. Someone calling my name. Footsteps beside me.

I looked around and to my surprise-

“Don’t say a word!” Rina warned, “No one must know about this and I’m only doing this because someone has to protect you from yourself, you can’t let a mad person roam the streets alone, NOT because your sentimental nonsense back there made any sense to me.” She was glaring at me but I could see the softness back in her expression.

And I felt a long-lost warmth fill my bones as I smiled and said, “Thanks.”

Rolling her eyes, Rina said “Whatever. Come on, let’s get started already.”

And we began walking towards the site, and with each step I took I could feel the curiosity burning hotter within me.

After a few five miles, we were both panting and the only thing burning was our throats.

Finally, Rina groaned in between breaths, “Jill, if we survive this, I will kill you for making me walk a “few” miles in my new shoes!”

But it turns out Rina’s threats didn’t have to be so threatening after all, since after a few steps we could see the Newtown construction site looming before us.

Though a million thoughts crashed through our heads, the only sound we heard was of our heavy breaths, slowing down.

“Well….come on.” I muttered finally and took a step towards the site.

Rina understood what was on my mind and we kept walking in silence until we reached the entrance of the site.

The site resembled a tumbledown building, only this time it was being made not the other way around. The walls of tin erected around it were flimsy and broken in some places. Rina and I walked around to the back where a large enough gap was visible in the wall and walked in through it.

All the workers had gone home now for a break, and only a few security guards remained who were sleeping.

“So, which way, any idea?” Rina asked, after we had walked to the building.

“I’m not sure….but let’s try this way.” Saying so, I walked around to the first path I could see inside the building with Rina behind me.

The corridors, or what was there of them, were dark and reeked of a pungent smell, which made it really hard for us to go on. But I was determined to see the end of it.

I suspect Rina was a bit scared, because she didn’t try to walk any faster than me. We kept walking until we came to a dead end.

“Well, that’s that.” Rina snorted, “Come, we should go back, there is nothing here and we are wasting time anyway.”

I felt as if one of the bricks on the construction site had just made its way to my heart. I could hear Rina’s footsteps walking away from me. I could hear my own will waning.

But I refused to give up. I was sick of this. And this was my only chance for an alternate.

But even I had to admit that there was nothing to be found here. It was a blank.

Turning around, I walked after Rina dejectedly. I could hear her various attempts at trying to cheer me up (“Come on, it wasn’t so bad, we tried and it didn’t work. That’s okay, right? Okay, we’ll have pizza and bumper bash at my house, howzzat??”) but it was like telling a beggar you will give them a lottery ticket after telling him he will remain a beggar all his life.

I had almost not noticed it, in fact, I would’ve just walked past it had it not been for the light reflecting off my watch’s glossy surface which momentarily blinded me.

“What…” I held up my hand to shield my eyes as I turned towards the light source. It was a tiny room set in the left wall of the corridor, almost like a broom cellar. Through a small shaft a ray of light from the bulbs outside hit the floor and that was what had caught my eye.

I hadn’t seen this before, “Rina, wait! We missed this!” Trepidation coloured my voice.

“Now what?” said Rina impatiently as she walked back to my side.

I said nothing and walked inside the room and as though by instinct, which was a foreign thing for me, kneeled in front of the object highlighted by the lightbeam.

“Look.”

I could sense Rina’s enquiring gaze on it. I myself couldn’t take my eyes off it.

It was a small pile of bricks, it seemed. Only, the bricks weren’t the usual ones. They were yellowish-white in the middle and had coloured covering. And they were old, very old.

I touched the top most brick and took it in my hands, it was surprisingly light. And to my utter shock it fell open. It was as if the brick had been sliced minutely into thin wisps and they fluttered open in my hands.

And there were words printed on it.

Not just words, whole sentences. Stories.

Neatly printed and preserved in this fragile thing.

I stared in utter amazement.

I could sense Rina’s bafflement too as I heard her sharp intake of breath and her inquiring gaze.

Finally, I said what was on both our minds:

“What is it?”

There. I’d done it.

By guest author:

Subarna Bannerjee

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