Virtuality

Virtuality

My parents fight all the time! I am sick of it! What should I do?

The phone made a whooshing sound as the message was sent. Ishan sighed. He could still hear his parents through the walls, their increasingly high pitched voices filtered through the closed door of Ishan’s bedroom. His phone pinged.

“Tell them to shut the fuck up.”

“Break something expensive.”

“Shout right back at them.”

“Stop whining and play video games.”

“Cry like the baby you are.”

“Run away.”

Ishan snorted at the responses and began typing his own. The shouting seemed to die down a little, as he ventured forth in the comfortable, safe world of YOLO*.

“Ishan! Come down for dinner!”

Ishan’s mother called out from their downstairs kitchen. Ishan pulled out of the virtual web of friends and dragged himself down to the kitchen. He plopped down on his chair and started eating as his parents continued to bicker. He tuned it out and played with his phone on his lap.

“Ishan? What did we say about phones at the dinner table?” Ishan’s father admonished him.

Ishan scowled at his father and put it away.

“Are you guys done fighting?,” he asked bitterly.

“Ishu!” His mother’s eyes widened in surprise. “Is that any way to talk to your parents!”

“Your mother and I had a disagreement Ishu,” Ishan’s father interjected. “And we will work it out. I am sorry you had to experience that.”

Ishan looked at both of them and scowled again. “Fine.”

He gobbled down his food and left the table before he could be roped into another  conversation. God forbid they asked him how school was going, or are you making any friends Ishu? Ishan screwed up his face at the naïveté of his parents. They had forced him to come to this new school mid-term! How was he supposed to be making friends! Weren’t adults supposed to be smarter than 14 year old kids?

Ishan was not doing so well at school. Notwithstanding his label of the weird new kid; he was also being bullied by a gang of students two years his senior. Most of his time at school was spent trying to avoid these thugs. Unable to cope with the sudden change of cities and schools, teachers and a complete lack of connection with his schoolmates, Ishan was falling behind in coursework, forgetting to submit his assignments in time and as a result, unable to maintain the requisite grades.

The teachers had noticed this and had spoken to Ishan. The discussions had not been very productive, as Ishan kept deflecting the questions. He didn’t know how to say – I don’t want to be here. Or I miss my previous school and friends. Or even, it is all my parents fault! They were the ones who had decided to move to this new place and new jobs, and had just assumed Ishan would ‘adjust.’ So he had chalked it all up to the bullying; and even though there had been multiple warnings and detentions for the bullies, Ishan couldn’t see any significant change in their attitude towards him. The only change was that now they beat him up where nobody could see them. The teachers felt sorry for Ishan, but they refrained from contacting his parents, lest it reveal their own incompetence at protecting him from the constant bullying.

But Ishan was okay. He had his friends on YOLO. Whenever he got bullied or harmed by the gang, he logged into YOLO and asked for advice. Whenever he failed a test, he would go on YOLO and ask the cloud, how to forge his parent’s signature. YOLO had all his answers, and it was becoming increasingly clear to Ishan that he needed neither his parents nor his teachers. They had failed to protect him, in more ways than he could count, while the virtual web of YOLO provided him with instant, practical solutions to all his problems.

I want to go to this party, but my parents aren’t letting me go! Ishan typed.

“Then listen to your parents and stay home.”

“Parents know what’s best.”

Ishan swiped the responses away. Useless.

“Go anyway.”

“Sneak out the window.”

“Put pillows in bed and cover them up. They won’t know!”

Ishan smiled deviously in the dark, the mobile’s sterile backlight illuminating his face. He arranged the pillows in a vague humanoid form on the bed and covered them up with a blanket. He then gently unlatched his bedroom window and slithered down the adjoining pipe that carried water into his bathroom. He scratched himself and landed a little harder than he expected, feeling a slight pull in his ankle. Ishan ignored it as he sprinted away towards the party.

Later that night, unbeknownst to his parents, Ishan managed to climb up the pipe and into his bedroom. He slunk beneath his blanket, glowing at the ecstatic thrill of the night’s adventures. He had gulped down a few mouthfuls of stolen beer that was being served to the older students at the party. He felt warm and fuzzy and presently drifted off to sleep, beaming into the darkness of his room.

***

Ishan was sitting in the Principal’s office. The left side of his face was swelling rapidly, and his teeth hurt. More than anything physical however, it was Ishan’s pride that was damaged and broken. One of the bullies was sitting in a different chair and Ishan took some satisfaction in the fact that his face was even more banged up.

Good, he thought. Serves him right.

The door opened and Ishan’s parents walked in. His mother took one look at him and rushed forward, checking his injuries and blubbering. Ishan pulled his face away from her.

“I am okay. You should see the other guy.”

He smiled in a conspiratorial manner and watched, as his mother took in PigFace Pratham’s appearance. The expression on her face changed from concern to horror. She slapped Ishan. There was a sharp ringing in his ear and his cheek smarted as he touched the spot where she had slapped him.

“How dare you gloat about this! You should be ashamed of yourself! Fighting like common thugs in school! I am so disappointed in you Ishan!”

Ishan looked away from his mother and lowered his head. His breathing grew ragged, as if he had just run a marathon. He felt his whole face burn up with hot shame and anger.

“It was his fault!,” he shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at PigFace Pratham. “He came at me! He has been hurting me for so long and nobody did anything!”

He glared at his class teacher, the principal and then at his parents. “None of you did anything to stop him! So I did!

He ran out of the room, out of the school and into the parking lot.

Ishan spotted his parent’s car and squatted beside it, his back resting on the rear tyre. Some nerve they had! Shouting at me! When I did nothing wrong!

Did they complain to the teachers? NO!

Did they protect me? NO!

They just shout at me and blame me for everything!

He picked up a thumb sized pebble and threw it at another car with all his might, where it pinged uselessly and bounced away. He his mobile out from his pant pocket and typed furiously, pressing the keys with venomous rage.

Parents are STUPID! Teachers are STUPID! Everyone is STUPID!

“Yeah! You tell them!”

“Bad boy! Don’t say such things about your parents.”

“Fuck’em!”

“Everyone is selfish dude. Get over it.”

“Parents are the worst!”

“They act as if they OWN us!”

Ishan responded to the texts. By the time his parents came out of the school, dusk had begun to fall and Ishan’s rage had cooled down to a simmering boil.

“Inside.” His father ordered.

Ishan stared at him. He is always ordering me around! Who does he think he is!

They drove in silence. Ishan could feel the heat emanating from his parents. They did not look at each other, they did not look at him. He watched them nervously the entire ride back home. The volcano erupted as soon as they were all ensconced in the living room of their house.

You failed your midterms!

Why didn’t you tell us!

You forged our signatures! Ishan! Are you a criminal? A fraud?

Where did you learn to lie like this!

We do so much for you and this is how you repay us? By becoming a delinquent?

Is that what you want to become Ishan? Say something!

We will take you out of school now! At least we will save some money.

You didn’t even think what people would say about us?

You are SUSPENDED from school Ishan. Do you understand what that means!

Ishan sat on the too big couch and hunched his shoulders to protect himself from the barrage. He felt alienated within his own home; aloof, caged. His parents looked like gaping onlookers at a zoo, jeering and pointing and laughing at him through the bars. It went on for about an hour, after which he was told that he would stay in his room and will go without dinner so that he realized what a naughty and ungrateful child he had been. Ishan slouched off to his room as his parents sat on the couch looking everywhere but at him.

My parents are starving me! I have no food!

“They can’t do that!”

“Sneak into the fridge after they have slept.”

“Run the hell away from there!”

“Call the police!”

“I have food, tell me where you live.”

Ishan bit his lip looking at the text. His stomach rumbled loudly and he typed out a quick response. Come to Khera road after midnight and wait at the corner. There is a huge hoarding of Samsung TV. I will meet you there!

Ishan waited for his parents to retire for the night. Presently he heard their bedroom door shut; apparently they had also opted to go without dinner tonight. Ishan lay in bed caught with indecision at this act of commiseration. Should he go to them and apologise for fighting at school? Surely they will understand why he had needed to do it. He tried to imagine what their response would be when he told them that he just felt so lonely in this new town. What would they say when he admitted that he had in fact, not made a single friend at school.

They had promised that things would be better here. That the new jobs meant more money and more money meant stability. Ishan let out an involuntary cry of anguish as he contemplated the disconnect he felt in his own house, with his own parents. Where was the stability? He wondered. A single tear of unspoken feelings and unaired thoughts ran down his eyes and onto the bed. They had promised!

The image of his mother’s shocked face in the Principal’s office flashed in front of his eyes. He shook his head, they wouldn’t understand. And frankly he wasn’t sure he could take another – We are disappointed in you –  speech tonight. They were too busy with their own lives and their own problems to give any of their attention to him. In fact, Ishan let out a derisive snort, every time he tried to reach out, they lashed out at him for making their lives miserable. The last thing they wanted was a trouble-maker; it was better to be ordinary, unnoticeable, invisible.

Ishan wiped his eyes with the back of his hands. He got up from his bed, stuffed his phone down the back pocket of his jeans and slithered down the pipe beside his bedroom window. He stole away into the night to await the arrival of his dinner.

***

Four days later, the police found Ishan’s body. He was naked and crumpled. His legs were pointing in odd directions as if significant bones had been broken. He had various puncture marks along the inside of his elbows. His entire body was covered in scratches and lesions and blue black marks where his blood was clotted inside his body. The post-mortem report cited clear evidence of repeated sexual assault, lacerations, and death from overdose of barbiturates, which must have been administered to keep him quiet.

Ishan’s phone was found abandoned near the tall, wild grass at the end of Khera road, under the big hoarding of Samsung TV. The police surmised that it must have fallen and had not been noticed in the struggle. The part about – in the struggle that ensued when the unknown man had abducted Ishan and forcefully taken him away and brutally murdered him – was left out.

Ishan’s parents sat in their empty dining room, clutching their son’s phone. Their eyes stared, shocked and unbelieving as they logged into the You Only Live Once application and read through its description.

YOLO is the baby of proud parents – Starkey Inc. A brand new virtual application that is breaking all records, all over the world! YOLO is a fun and exciting new feature that can be added onto the previously launched Starkey app – FaceChat. The app allows the user to post pictures and questions on the cloud, to which fellow users can respond anonymously.

Don’t you want to know what people really think about you? Download it! It is an anonymous drop box about your life!

You Only Live Once – the name seemed to mock them with a terrible, blasphemous irony. Ishan would never get to live the life he was meant to live.

As Ishan’s parents read through the messages that their son had sent – the questions, feelings and worries – seeking answers, understanding and solutions; a realisation struck them – It could have been avoided. Now that they saw Ishan’s heart lain open in front of them, they reeled with the realisation that they had been just one honest conversation away from saving their child’s life. The question that haunted Ishan’s parents for the rest of their lives, just as much as the empty chair at the dining table, was whether the YOLO application could be held responsible.

How much of the blame rested with the monster who had taken Ishan’s life?

How much of it was theirs to share?

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References:

*YOLO is an actual application that was created by French start-up Popshow, Inc. using the Snap Kit platform for third-party developers. It was marketed as a free add-on feature for Snapchat—when users connect YOLO to their accounts, they can add a sticker to their Snapchat Story that invites their followers to give them feedback or ask them questions anonymously. Then, if they choose, the users can respond to those questions in their Stories.

You can read more about YOLO App and the concerns raised by parents here – https://offspring.lifehacker.com/what-parents-need-to-know-about-the-yolo-app-for-snapch-1834736418 . Other information is also available on public domain.
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4 thoughts on “Virtuality

  1. As I was reading your story just as reader, without the intention to judge, it is a very engaging story. Very sad ending though. But quite a common problem in schools and among youngsters these days. Bullying is becoming more prevalent in schools these days.

    1. Sharda – Thank you for reading. 😊🙏💖
      I agree, bullying is something that is increasing exponentially, both physically as well as virtually. The social media and it’s associated anonimyty is bolstering the negative elements to influence children and vulnerable individuals. One of the reasons why I wrote this story. Create awareness. Talk about it and prepare our children to be aware of the dangers.

  2. The first thing i am going to do is check my children’s phone for YOLO. thats how impactful your story was.

    1. Doel – Thank you for your kind words! 💖🙌
      I am sure they aren’t using the app. There were a horde of concerns raised by parents trgarding the app.

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