“ Do you agree with all the terms and conditions of “Ficture” technology?”
‘Are you sure, Sir?”
“Again, we will clarify this is just a beta-testing for this newly developed technology.”
“Your safety is not guaranteed on the duration…”
“I get it. Alright. I read the papers well and I signed it already. Can’t we just start?”
”Alright, Sir. The operation will commence in 10 minutes. Please proceed to the Brown Room.”
The Brown Room is at the far end of the dimly-lit hallway. I can’t see anyone, but there is a different sound from each room I pass. I assume there are people manning machines or whatever they develop here. All I can hear are my footsteps as I approach the Brown Room I am not quite confident with this operation. My heart pounds heavier as I draw near the room. But, this is a risk worth taking. I want to see him. I badly want to. No matter which way. I just want to see him again.
* * *
In a typical high school, there are cliques—the braniacs who do not know anything at all except Math and Sciences, the athletes who love to go to class in their PE uniform, the rich daughters who feed on campus gossip, shopping and nail care. But in this school, it’s different. No braniacs, or athletes or rich daughters. There’s only two—the existing and non-existing. The existing are those with friends (requires a circle) and the non-existing are those who go to school just to get a diploma with zero to minimal interaction with other people.
He is one of them. He is one of the non-existents who are just like ghosts. One will definitely not be aware of his presence inside a room, even though he is just beside you. Sometimes, people might feel his presence, but he is just there floating alone. Wandering alone. Or with other ghosts too, but people would not bat an eye on them. He is like the abstract painting in the classroom that everyone knows it’s there, but no one pays attention to. No one would care why it was there.
There are times that people are forced to interact with him—for groupworks, laboratory exercises, term paper, class presentation and skits. During all these contacts, he is consistent, consistent in replying with only one word.
However, he delivers when given a task. Most of the time he is the first one to submit within the group. It makes me wonder that he looks smart but does not translate on his grades or records. Probably because he is just on his phone in the entirety of classes. He probably is too busy on some geeky games, or some sites explaining the conspiracy on the end of the world, or some porn sites. I don’t know. No one knows.
This semester, I have noticed that we have been grouped together in several activities in different classes, partners in PE, Chemistry and Speech. It means more interaction, more conversation. More one-word replies from him.
A month or so of being partners, his presence became my constant. His smell that resembles baby powder in which is far from his image (I’m not sure if he has one), stayed in my room. His sharp jawlines with growing beard and mustache that I noticed when he’s too close when discussing a mathematical solution. His thick-rimmed eyeglasses which he left on my bedside table one time. His soft hands which I got a chance to hold during PE class. His hazel brown eyes, long lashes and thick eyebrows which I photographed for a requirement in Arts class. His red sweatshirt, probably his favorite, I wore one time when he spilled his juice on me. His husky voice which I found awkward at first for irregular breathing, but eventually became soothing to my ears. Only months after, did I know his name. It’s Marco. Marco Santiago.
Currently, we are working on a Chemistry assignment where we are grouped according to our last names. We, or more likely I decided to finish the homework in my house since it requires quite a time to see the chemical change which we are supposed to observe. At home, he shyly sits on the sofa hugging his bag on his lap. Observing his surroundings.
“Let’s eat first before we do the experiment.” I motioned him to follow me in the dining area.
“Thanks.” He said coldly and followed me meekly.
It took him a second or two to decide on where he is going to sit. I tapped the part in front me motioning him to sit in front me. Every time he ate a slice of pancake, he is crunching closely to table. I didn’t know if he does not want me to see his face when he’s chewing, or at his most vulnerable state.
After eating, we went up the stairs. He is following closely. He is holding his phone as if he is waiting for someone to call him up and save him from this situation. Sorry, but it’s not happening. He sits on the edge of my bed still hugging his bag on his lap. He is looking up his phone again awkwardly.
“Can you help me with this?” I asked him while setting up the materials we need for the experiment.
“Okay.” He stood up and put his bag on his back and went close to me and wipe the dust from the laboratory equipment.
We finished setting up the chemicals and put it over the Bunsen Burner. It takes at least two hours to finish. I sat on my bed as he stood by the study table where the experiment is ongoing.
“You can actually sit or lay here on the bed and put your bag down. If that’s okay?” As a classmate or the host I wanted to make him feel welcomed and comfortable in my house.
For about 30 minutes, he is just sitting on the edge of my bed while I lay there. The room is filled with just the sound of air conditioning unit and the sound of frying from the kitchen
I can’t take this awkwardness anymore. I get off my bed and pulled a chair in front of him. He seemed to be so shocked from what I did. I look closely on him, checking his features.
But, he keeps on pulling way, leaning back until he falls on his back on the bed. He quickly gets up and sit on the other side of the bed. I pulled the chair again towards him. He is not looking at me. He’s staring at the ceiling.
“Marco. Marco, right?” I asked him as if I didn’t know his name. He nodded.
“For the longest time, I am wondering why you aren’t speaking in sentences. I mean, in longer sentences and not with just one-word replies. Do you not like interacting or even speaking with other people? Why are you avoiding conversations? Is there something wrong with the way I speak to you?”
I let my thoughts take over me.
He shuffled on the bed. Looking at me intently. I felt my heart beating fast. I don’t know why. Probably, it is because of the anticipation for of his answer.
“I’m not sure.” His voice is husky I can feel his dread on being forced to answer that question.
“I lived most of my life with nothing around me. I don’t know what and how to act.” He said while keeping his gaze on me.
“But why are you telling me this now?” I asked again.
“Because you are forcing me to. As if you are going to let me stay in this house without having this kind of situation.” I lost my attention on what he is saying because his phone suddenly lighted up and saw a photo of me sleeping inside the classroom. My curiosity arises.
I asked sloppily, “Why do I have a photo on your phone?”
His eyes grew big and seemed to be taken aback by my statement.
“Be honest, why am I on your phone?”
“It’s nothing. Nothing really.” His voice is shaking, probably because of the room temperature or nervousness. He is avoiding my eyes.
“I don’t believe it. It’s not nothing.” This time, I hold his arms for him to stay on his place.
“No-nothing. Okay?” I can feel his body trembling.
I leaned closer. “Are you a stalker?” I leaned more and more. Closing my face on his while maintaining his eyes on mine. “Tell me, why do you have a candid photo of me on your phone. Answer me.”
He grabbed me on my arms and flipped me laying on the bed. He inched closer and kissed me with his eyes closed. I was lost for a moment. Or two.
He gets off the bed and picks up his bag. He is leaving. He is leaving. I am left on the bed staying in that position.
“I hope that answers your question,” he said before closing the door of my room.
* * *
Inside an isolated building that can be found along the roads of the city, is where the Brown Room located. The 12-storey building is owned by the The Forge, the biggest company in the country shared by the richest people. They pioneer technological advancements from the most absurd to the almost simple ones. Each floor of the building corresponds to different fields of their studies such as medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence and many more.
The Brown Room is in the 9th floor, this is where the uncategorized inventions are. The Brown Room houses their very own “Ficture” technology wherein a person can relive his past using a photograph for only 24 hours after the photo was taken. This is invented by Leonard Brown.
The room is relatively empty besides it is like a bedroom of a 14-year-old kid because of the hanging photos all around the corners of the room suspended by a string. These photos vary from sizes, from colored ones to black and white, from old vintage-looking to new ones. At the center of the room is a bed, which resembles a hospital bed, metal frame with wheels and a mattress on top. Besides the bed is a computer-like thing which has differently colored buttons on it, blinking at the same time – this is called the “Scanner.” From the name itself, this where the photo will be scanned and processed eventually for someone who will undergo the process. Connected to the “Scanner” is a helmet-looking head gear, when put on the head this will put you to sleep immediately.
Among the photos hanging on the thread, I picked the one with the note at the back. “When you need an explanation.” I put the photo on the Scanner and grabbed the helmet and lay down on the metal bed.
* * *
It was that day, the last day I met him. Hours after he left the house after kissing me.
He is running. Running towards nothing. He is soaking wet from his sweat and the rain. He stopped at a waiting shed. Panting. Grasping for breathing. I’m not sure if he is crying or but I can see he is sobbing. He is shivering probably because of the cold.
When he calmed down a little bit, he grabbed his bag and looked for his phone. He turns it on. After a few seconds, it is the photo that I saw from before. He smiled a little when he saw my photo. He cried. I don’t know why. My heart shrunk with this scenery.
“It is my first time. It is you all this time. It is you from the very start.” Now, he is crying loudly while looking at the picture. “It was you who first talked to me in campus. It was you who I like being with during classes, during groupworks. It was your scent which I like to smell first thing in the morning. It was your laugh which put smile on my face as well. It was your gaze which makes my cheek red and heart go crazy. It was you. It was you, Vince. It was you, Vince who made me felt this way, I don’t know if it’s love or just an attraction. It was you, all along.”
My eyes are wet, but no tears are streaming down. My heart feels a ton heavy on my chest, and it’s hard to breathing. If I’m breathing on this world. I’m not sure if I’m ready to witness the stories I just heard from the news report about him, about his…his…death due to a car accident.
* * *
Now, tears streaming down my face. With a heavy breathing, I removed the helmet from my head. I can’t believe what I saw. Why him? Why hi…m?
It took me a few minutes more to muster energy to get up the bed. My body feels weak. I walk on the hallway soullessly. The image of him being hit by a truck is engraved on my mind. I can’t believe it. As I reached the reception area of the building, the lady on the desk said, “Thank you for trying the Ficture, reliving your memories from a photograph for 24 hours. Please, come again.”