The Toggle

The Toggle

The unit beeped twice, signalling activation. In excitement, she raised her palm for a high-five, only for the joy to instantly crash when reality struck. 

***

The alarm clock screeched ominously. I got up with a start. Darn, I’m late again! My wife lay next to me, the comforter drawn up till her neck with soft snores escaping her. I glanced at her, hesitating but the annoying buzzing propelled me out. No time for laziness.

I rushed into the kitchen and kept the water to boil while simultaneously preparing for breakfast. By the time the water had boiled, breakfast was ready. It’s said the aroma of the tea leaves is very enticing. Why can’t I feel it? Realizing time had run out, I forwent the idea for lunch and purchased the school cafeteria coupons. Rushing upstairs to our daughter’s room, I gently woke her up. Satisfied, she was awake enough to start the ablutions; I bolted down, reaching just in time as the tea was about to spill over. Fetching a tray, I sprinted up to rouse my sleeping partner, mindful of the boiling-hot beverage. 

“Good morning. It’s 7.30 am. I’ve kept your bed tea on the table. Breakfast is ready, but you’ll have to eat at the office.” My wife frowned. “I missed the alarm.” Her furrow deepened. “Yeah, the second time this week. I’ll be on time tomorrow.” She gave me a pointed look as I retreated to check on our offspring. Once the family had left, I put the kettle on and loaded the dishwasher after checking on the washing machine. 

50 minutes left. Enough time to fetch the groceries. 

I leaned against the chair, sipping the tea, and made a mental list. On-route to the supermarket, I felt a searing headache almost blind me. The pain was debilitating and I felt my brain would leap out of the skull. A while later, standing at the kitchen island, chopping onions, the burgeoning discomfort distracted me. Lost in controlling it, I didn’t notice when the serrated knife sliced deep into my thumb. I howled in pain as blood dripped onto the cutting board. The bleeding subsided after a while, as always. My body usually instantly clotted. I put my digit under the running tap water and as the blood washed away, a metallic glint caught my eye. I pushed the skin on my thumb as far as feasible and saw nothing when suddenly I detected a glimmer. I focused the mobile’s flashlight app on it. All thoughts of lunch forgotten, I moved the torch over my thumb. 

There! What’s it?

Peering closely, I gleaned a slim diode that had caught the light’s glare. 

Why do I have a diode inside my thumb? 

I moved closer to the window as I examined my digit. Just underneath the upper skin, lay a minuscule green, electric board complete with interconnected wires. Before I could investigate further, my daughter’s arrival and subsequent request for food usurped my Sherlockian instincts.

***

The nanny camera uncovered a disturbing trend. The disconnect was apparent now. The patch had failed. She visited her daughter in her room, tucking her into bed. She confirmed her suspicions.

“Papa doesn’t love me as he used to earlier. He cooks all my favourite dishes, but he doesn’t snuggle with me. When I try, his body remains stiff. Why is that, mama?” she asked, embracing her mother.

She had no satisfactory answer.

***

At night, after our daughter slept, I rummaged in the storage cupboard till I located the powerful torch hidden behind other detritus. Proper illumination, coupled with physical examination, revealed my entire arm was replete with circuits. A series of spidery, soldered cables zigzagging it. 

Why do I have an electrical arm? Do I possess immense strength? I brought my fist down on the counter, only to yelp in pain. An idea struck me and I rushed to the bathroom, stripping while thanking the gazillion LED lights my wife had installed on a full-length mirror. I ran my hands all over my body, looking for what I didn’t know. 

Under my left knee, I felt an indentation. It was square-shaped, deep within the skin. I pressed the surrounding area, and it popped a lid open. 

A window to my body’s innards

I peered inside into the tiny window. My breath lodged itself in my throat. 

I snuck a finger into the hole and yanked a wire out. An electrical impulse shot through me as an idea germinated. I flexed my memory muscle. My first memory was of my mother. Flashes of my life looped around my brain. Meeting my wife. Our daughter’s birth. 

Disconcerted by my discovery, I donned a bathrobe, returning downstairs. After frantically searching, I found the albums. Paper pictures; relics of the past. Memories flooded my mind as I sat. Our honeymoon album felt like yesterday. Nearing its end, I found a few stray photographs hidden behind the last sleeve. Hidden pictures usually mean something unsavoury. They were intimate photographs of my wife and me. 

Phew! Just us having some naughty fun. 

One picture stood out. In it, my naked reflection made faces at my wife in the mirror. She stood behind me, partly visible, seen holding the camera and gesturing at my manhood while making a tiny gesture with her forefinger and thumb. I could recall the day; our first anniversary, where we celebrated it in an overpriced hotel. About to push the photograph into its place, I stopped midway when a detail snagged my attention. I re-examined it. On the right side of my waist, above the buttocks, was a birthmark. It was an amoebic-shaped mark, about an inch long. 

***

The clouds were at it again – torrential rains slapped the city senseless, but the black-tie annual award ceremony couldn’t be missed. The valets opened the door for her as she exited from the limousine. It was a short walk on the soggy, drenched red carpet where the paparazzi blinded them with the bright flashes. She felt bad for them. To be out in this weather to shoot an event, however prestigious, didn’t make her envy them. She glanced at the polka dot umbrella. It was a gift from her husband who teased her that her research was an umbrella activity in their life. Touching everything. A cover. Today it had fetched her the highest award for a civilian: for her achievements in the technical arena. She held the trophy, addressed the rapt crowd.

“Good evening. This trophy is very special to me, as it validates my life’s work at Renovamen Robotics. While the who’s who of the robotics world were innovating the most technologically advanced AI robot, my husband and I took it a step further. We toyed with the emotional aspect. We imported my husband’s memories onto a PCRAM – I’ll try to keep the technicalities to a minimum – downloaded it into a bot’s central system. I activated the robot, christened ‘Re-Do’. We wrote algorithms to teach the bot what to feel, but we… failed. My husband passed away from a brain aneurysm six months ago before we could conduct another trial. Our bot can communicate effectively but its emotive expressions and feelings are still stunted. We’re proceeding in the right direction but there’s a long way for it to be a functional humanoid…” 

***

Dizzy, I ran back to the too-bright bathroom. Turning around, I craned my neck to examine my waist. 

No birthmark. 

My skin was smooth. Everything clicked and fell into sync. It was the most obvious result. 

I’m an amalgamation of circuits, comprising of AND/OR gates; composed of boards created with these gates. Gates, the gateways to logical thinking. My thoughts are the results of mathematical operations performed by electrical diodes. I should feel horror at this discovery, but I feel nothing. 

I place a hand over my heart. Possibly, where my batteries sought refuge. 

I’m a robot.

***

She lay still, waiting for him to fall asleep. When his breathing slowed, she crept out and trod to his side. For a while she stood, staring. Then she bent over him, examining him. He had complained about a headache. Maybe a loose connection in the optic wire was causing a malfunction. She tinkered a bit and straightened to open the drawer to retrieve a cable. She plugged one end into a switch and the other side in the slot hidden behind his neck. The LED lights on his forehead glowed red as the batteries charged. 

Restless, she trudged to her side of the bed, plonking down. She picked up a frame. It was their wedding picture. They looked happy. They were happy. Tears ran down her cheeks. I miss him very much. It’s not the same. It’s never the same. 

Loneliness shrouded her in misery. 

Technology can provide everything but give you a heart. With feelings.
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