The creative wing of the office, where people sat around all day in their slacks, seemingly doing nothing whatsoever, was a far cry from the accounts wing of the office, where people dressed ready to rush out to an afternoon soiree at a minute’s notice sat around all day, doing nothing productive whatsoever. Accounts also got more phone calls than creatives.
Emil knocked twice on Rashed bhai’s glass door and was waved in, “Bhaia, do you have a minute?”
“Emil, yes come in. What’s up? You have been quieter than usual all morning. Is everything alright?”
“Unfortunately, not.” Emil said, pulling a chair out and sitting down.
“What is wrong?” Rashed bhai asked with a concerned tone.
“Family emergency. I cannot go into the details, but I need some time off. Till the end of the week.” Emil did not want to leave without goodbyes, but unfortunately, he did not have enough time to put in his two-week’s notice. Because he was going to be off with Inora the next day, and because the earth was going to be destroyed before the next week. Quitting also meant filling in a lot of paperwork. So he decided to ask for some time off which would be enough for him to say his goodbyes. Make a clean break.
“Family? I thought you had no family.” Rashed bhai asked, eyeing Emil suspiciously.
“Well, that is the emergency. Turns out, I do. On an emergency basis.”
“Got a big inheritance from some distant mama?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Got stuck with debts of some distant chacha?”
“No, bhaia, I cannot go into the details.”
“Fine, that is fine. I only asked to know if I can be of some help.”
“Of course, you can.” Emil said.
Rashed bhai smiled, “How?”
“By giving me the week off.”
“Done. What else?”
“Really? The entire week? All I had to do was ask?”
“It is family. Family always comes first. Especially family you did not know you had. One of your wild oats have sprouted into a fruit of sins and the mother has created a stink back in your gramer bari, hasn’t she?”
“No, really, it is nothing like that.”
“Fine, fine. I only ask because…”
“You want to know if you can be of any help. You are being helpful; by giving me the week off.”
“It’s just three or four days, right? Why the hell not? The change of scenery may get your creative juices flowing. Stay in touch with Anindya, he’ll fill you in on any important developments.”
Emil made his round around the office, telling everyone he would not be coming in for the rest of the week and that his tasks were to be forwarded straight to Anindya. A few people asked how come he was going on vacation at such as odd time; he corrected them; told them it was a family emergency he was not comfortable sharing with. Some of them smiled sympathetically and said everything was going to ok. Some promised to pray for him. Some prayed for him. Others prayed for him and blew into his face to scare evil away. A few spat at him. Some of them went as far as to recount their own family emergencies and asked if Emil’s troubles were anything like that.
They were not.
Emil said so.
That offended some people, “Well, I’m going to ask for time off anyway. Why should you be the only one to enjoy a break, huh?” they told him.
Masum bhai was very interested. “But emergency with what?” he asked.
“Yes, but with what?”
So Emil tried a different track, “Family emergency.”
“I know, but what has happened?”
Nothing worked, “Is someone sick?” Masum bhai asked.
“Uff, Masum bhai, just let it go, ok.” Anindya said.
“Na, I am just concerned. Maney…”
“You know, there is a word for people like Masum,” Shaheen bhai appeared from nowhere.
“What is that?” Zakir bhai and Kaisar asked.
“There is a word for it that I cannot quite remember right now…”
“Aachcha, if you do not remember, why tell people about it?” Masum bhai said, “Let’s go have lunch.”
“A voyeur! That is right. You are a voyeur, Masum bhai. Right Emil?” Shaheen bhai asked. Emil shrugged his shoulders, “That sounds about right,”
“What does that mean?” Anindya asked.
“It means that he is the sort of person who would roll up his prayer mat and then sit in front of his window with a telescope or a binocular and look into a woman’s bedroom in the next house.”
“HAHAHA!” Anindya erupted, “HA-HA-HA. Masum bhai, eta ki koilo? Do you really do that?”
“I figured that out long ago.” Kaisar said, “This is not new information for me.”
Emil emptied out his drawer; few packs of gum, pens, batteries, a remote control for something he could not figure out, and underneath everything, his spare TeleDev, that was rolled up and tied with a string like an ordinary rug. It even had the word ‘WELCOME’ printed on top of it because research indicated that it calmed people down right before teleporting somewhere.
A few minutes before everyone was going to go out for lunch, Emil got off his workstation and left Proverbial Advertising for the last time. He slowly walked down the six flights of stairs, took a few step forward when Masum bhai called him back, “So this is where you work, old boy?” he asked, emerging out of the elevator, looking around, throwing his limbs around in wayward motion, as if trying to get used to them, spinning his head in a circular motion, doing obscene groin thrusts and clicking his fingers, “Very shabby. We’ll give you better facilities when you are back at the Planet.”
“Zara?” Emil asked, not yet surprised, not yet anything else, “Is that you in there?”
“Who else?” he said, stuck his tongue out and stretching it in any direction it would go, wrung his neck on either side, “This Masum bhai of your, he does not work out much, does he?”
“I doubt if he works out at all,”
“I walk from the bus-stop to the office and my home every day,” Masum bhai answered.
“Quite now, this is official business.” Zara said. It was still Masum bhai’s voice, but Zara’s tone was more assertive than Masum bhai had ever sounded.
“What are you doing here?” Emil asked.
“Technically speaking,” Zara was saying, “I am not really here, am I? My body is still lying in the EZ-Vacation T3000[i] back home.” He said, “I just borrowed this body for a few hours. The best way to travel, won’t you agree?”
“And non-technically speaking?”
“I’m here to supervise the apocalypse, old boy.”
Emil could feel himself getting a little surprised, and a little panicked, “And what did you tell Masum bhai? He just let you in? He must have freaked out!”
“It was easier than you’d expect. But then I told him I was an angel.”
“How is that now?”
“I told him I was an angel of heaven; here to do the lord’s bidding. Masum was more than willing to give up his body for the cause. Poor guy. What did you all do to him? He was quietly sobbing in the washroom.”
“He was sobbing?”
“Well, yes. But it is alright now. He seems quite delirious with delight right now. Masum, say hi to Emil.”
“Hi Emil. I have been touched by an angel. It is a miracle!” He informed.
“Technically,” Zara was speaking now, “I have not lied. I am here, after all, to take care of official matter on behalf of the big guy. So yeah, I am an angel of the lord as far as this idiot is concerned.”
“I am not an idiot.”
“And what exactly are you here to do? What do you mean by supervise the apocalypse?” Emil asked.
“I told you I was going to drop-by and see how things were going. I have vested interest in the Apocalypse Initiative.”
“I thought you made Post-it Notes!”
“Among other things. Zara Conglomeration also owns a dismantling company. It is irrelevant whether the economy is good or bad, people will always need to dismantle things. That is where I come in, Emil boy. Zara Decimators will take anything apart. A gift wrapping with too much scotch-tape on it or a sentient robot that just happens to be ticklish. Whether you want to split an atom or blow-up the moon, Zara Decimators, baby. You pay us, we take it apart.”
“And right now, you are here to…”
“To dismantle the focus group, of course. Or should I say, Earth? To speak in local parlance. Yes. A very lucrative contract. I petitioned for it myself. I tell you, the prospects of Zara-Decimators are far, far better than Zara-Stick ’em. Definitely better than Zara Advertising. You want in?”
“You want in? Need a job? I could do with a person I trust.”
“No, Zara, I do not need a…”
“Think about it; do you really want to work for Zara Advertising all your life? I am giving you a chance to play with the big boys here.”
“I will consider it, Zara. But for now, I am focused on getting my affairs in order before evacuation.” Emil said, and then asked, “How long will it take to implement AI?”
“We will officially begin tomorrow. Conservative estimates indicate we should be done within four to five days.”
“No, four to five days.”
“Well, I did say conservative estimates.”
“Is Emil an angel of our lord as well? Is he going to join us?” Masum bhai butted in. His body cringed, closed its eyes and moved around as if in a seizure for a few seconds and then Zara was back again, “Sorry. Just gave that guy an earful. Told him not to interrupt official heavenly matters. Where were we?”
Emil and Zara parted ways soon after. Zara was going to vacate Masum bhai as soon as he reached the airport, where he would commandeer someone else and fly out. He had placed to visit. Masum bhai was going to be left with an experience of being touched by an angel; a true miracle.
[i] A human body might be the greatest machine ever made, but it also requires great maintenance. You have to sleep and eat and drink and get a healthy amount of physical exercise and amid all these, find time to answer nature’s call (do not you ever consider letting it go to voicemail). Conscientious people also have to take showers, get haircuts, shave, clip nails, and do a host of other things and by the time you are done doing all of them, you have soiled yourself again, your hair is sprawled messily across your forehead and it hurts when you scratch your stubbles because your nails have grown long. An average person might find time to indulge in all these menial tasks (because he is average and has nothing better to do) but it certainly will not do for the greatest thinkers of the world. They needed something that facilitated their contemplations free from all physical constraints. Enter BodyBehind, a revolutionary technology that literally allowed anyone to leave their body behind and fly with the wind or just float around as nothing but a blob of consciousness. Pure consciousness, free from the exacting demands and distractions of a physical existence.
Consider the possibilities; consider the progress; consider the giant leap forward for mankind.
Consider the profit margins; consider bankruptcy.
When GOE bought out BodyBehind for pocket changes, patented it, and released EZ-Vacation T1000 the following year, they revolutionized vacations – no more hassle with luggage or hotel bookings or even travelling; ’Travel without the Travel’ the ad campaign said. EZ-Vacation provided exactly what it promised. You went wherever and did whatever.
Sales went through the roof.
But the first models are always found wanting. One of the few problems with the T1000 models was that when you uploaded pictures of yourself standing beside the Great Well of Sakia, it just looked like a picture of Great Well of Sakia. And when you uploaded daring pictures of yourself jumping off the Flying Fortress in Ginzachi to one of your social network accounts, it simply looked like, well, like air. A hastily put together promotional campaign, ‘Be there in Spirit’ tanked.
Your vacations earned you no bragging rights and no one considered you a wise and travelled man, well-learned on the ways of the world; in spite of those three vacations that you took that one time on alternate weekends a few years back.
A handful of philosophers, on whom the initial testing for a beta version of BodyBehind was conducted, floated the question, ’If no pictures of your vacation is uploaded to your social media profile, did the vacation even take place?’ That threw the customers of EZ-Vacation T1000 into such an existential crisis that it was feared that the entire GOE conglomerate would collapse; not to mention that without any physical tourists, the tourism industry of many small economies were actually on the verge of collapse. And if small economies do not make for great tourist destinations, what, after all, is the point of not annexing them into a larger body?
Then came the best new thing since the coining of the phrase, ‘The best new thing since…’
It was the novel concept of Proxy Bodies – people rented their bodies out to faraway visitors and holiday pictures again included people; sure you did not recognize any of them, but it was better than nothing. Here are some of the best things about Proxy Bodies (ProBo, or, affectionately called, the ProBe):
i. Once your consciousness was permitted to enter a body, you could take full control of the appendages;
ii. The original occupant would still be in there, and thus, you were never lonely in your vacation;
iii. A built-in guide; and
iv. Greater ease of mobility in xenophobic regions.
This was strictly legal, obviously, and closely monitored. But there were troubles. There were cases, one too many, where, for example, a woman had pretended to be a guy and rented herself a male ProBe because, “…I just wanted to know what it felt like to jump up and down; the way it spins around! It is a unique experience…”
Other times, the tourist and the guide did not get along and things came to blows. The guides were always the ones to suffer the most (on account of all the blows landing on their bodies) but the tourists complained of intense psychological trauma as well. And no one should have to go through any psychological trauma, intense or otherwise, during a vacation.
This also developed an entirely new side-industry, Proxy Vacations, where people with means paid other people without means (to travel) to travel the world and take pictures which later went up on said meanful people’s social media profiles.
The next model, EZ-Vacation T2000, added an internet connection with a screen right in front of your face because sometimes, before going on a week-long vacation, you just have to check your mail one last time. Based on the success of that model, GOE started to produce computers as well in a bid diversify their business. They started a subsidiary company for that and called it GONowhere. Finally, the EZ-Vacation T3000 model added Bluetooth that could transport the user’s consciousness to anywhere in the world (i.e. a TeleDev for consciousness) to circumvent transportation altogether.