Literature The Fiction Issue

Fiction: No more or less

Not a single sound could be heard. I looked up and was surprised to see not one but two suns shining down on Earth, if that is where I’m in.
Illustration by Neda Jahrami.

I know I’m in a dream. The colors are much too vivid and the scenes before my eyes everchanging, and as is always the case when I’m conscious of my dreams, they turn dull and grey. But something is off about this dream. As it went on, my feeling of self diminished, until ‘I’ no longer existed in the dream. The dream was pulled away from my perspective and was all that existed; pure objective scenery with no bias nor thought processing from what would have been me.

I woke up in a room, a simple one with merely a bed, a small wooden desk and a flimsy-looking cupboard. This must be my room. I don’t have any recollection of it, but logic would dictate that it’s the most probable scenario, waking up alone in my own room as opposed to a stranger’s. Why couldn’t I remember it, though? Come to think of it, there was nothing about my life that I could recall. But, I can recall my mental abilities. I seem to be fluent in every language on earth. I know such things as the tensile strength of steel and the Schwarzschild radius of a black hole. Surely I’m not a person below the age of around 30 then. I must be a professor, but if I were one then surely my room would be filled with books. Odd. I don’t like this. I made my way out of the room and found myself in a hallway. To my right was a door that, after further investigation, was a bathroom with a single red toothbrush and a tube of generic-looking toothpaste. I looked in the mirror and saw a face I did not recognize. On the other side of the hallway I could see railings for a staircase. I made my way down the stairs and came across a living room type of area and, to the left, a kitchen. There is only one bedroom in this house, but the kitchen and living room seemed to be taken out of a house with at least 6 people living it. Something does not add up. Perhaps I host parties quite frequently? I checked the contents of the fridge and the cupboards. Nothing. I started rummaging in every room in the house to find anything, a phone, a picture or even just a piece of paper with something written on it. The only thing I could find was what seemed like a charger, probably for a laptop judging by the size of it. I got a plastic bag from the kitchen and placed the charger in it. It could come in handy later.

I left the house and found myself on a perfectly manicured front lawn in a suburban area. Not a single sound could be heard. I looked up and was surprised to see not one but two suns shining down on Earth, if that is where I’m in. I scanned the area until I spotted a woman off to my far right, weirdly dressed in a lab coat and walking down the street, seemingly preoccupied with a notepad in her hands. I call out to her and she almost jumps out of her own skin, looks at me, looks around her as if searching for a place to hide, then hesitates for a second, composes herself and starts walking towards me with a smile on her face. If she doesn’t want to talk to me why not just say it instead of doing a bad job of feigning enthusiasm? Interesting.

‘Hi Faisal! Sorry I didn’t recognize you at first, but I do now. How are you? How’s Adam?’ she said with almost believable deception.

‘I’m sorry but I don’t think I remember you. I just woke up and seem to have amnesia. How do we know each other?’ I said with a comparatively neutral tone.

‘Oh, I see. Well, do you want me to take you to the hospital? You and I were in a conference about a year ago when your friend Adam introduced us, but that’s not important right now.’ I could tell she was aiming for a tone of genuine concern, but it did not seem that she was going to win any Best Actress Awards anytime soon.

I declined her offer and merely asked which way the hospital was. I would go alone since having a devious travel companion didn’t seem to be the smart way of finding out who I am and what’s going on here. I spotted a bicycle propped against the wall of my house. I hopped on it and cycled to the hospital, taking a chance in believing that part of the scientist’s statements. The journey to the hospital was uneventful and I was there before I even started to sweat; odd given the double sun situation. The hospital was a huge building, yet the side I was facing had one single door with the word ‘Entrance’ in big green letters painted above it, each letter more than double the height of the door itself. I propped the bicycle on the wall right next to the door and went into the building. I found myself in what seemed like a break room with three men, clad in similar lab coats to the woman’s, sitting around a table with mugs of tea. They all looked at me casually, as if they were expecting me.

‘Hey Faisal, weren’t you supposed to come in with Sarah?’ asked one of them.

I assumed Sarah was that female scientist. I told him that she offered but I just decided to come alone. I asked him how he knew I was coming to the hospital at all. He hesitated and told me that the lead guy would come down shortly to take me to the room. While I preferred the lesser deception of this scientist as opposed to Sarah’s, I didn’t like his vague jargon. I sat down with them and there was the odd comment and question here and there between them. This went on for a few minutes before another man came, this time wearing a shirt and trousers, with shoes that made a distinct clack on the floor.

‘Hey Faisal! Are you ready for your big day?’ Genuine enthusiasm there. I replied saying that I had no recollection of anything before today. He seemed a bit concerned, also genuine, then a thought flashed across his mind that seemed to ease his mood, ‘that’s not a problem. Let’s go. People are already filling the stage.’ I thought against asking what he was talking about and decided to just see. So far, he was the only person I came across who didn’t try to deceive me in the slightest.

We walked through a myriad of hallways, elevators and various types of rooms. We did not pause until we got to a large room with a huge curtain spanning one side of it. Behind the curtain I could hear murmurs. We were at the back of the stage.

‘Okay Faisal, what I want you to do is just stand behind this curtain, and when it parts just hold your position for a second to accept the applause. Then, walk towards me. I will be sitting on a chair and across me will be another one. Sit on that one and then I’ll ask you some questions. Just try to answer them as best as you can, alright?’ I nodded in the affirmative. He disappeared between the curtains and a thundering applause emitted from the other side. I could hear him saying how this was the moment they had all been waiting for. After a few seconds, the curtains parted to reveal a massive stadium, accommodating no less than a quarter of a million people, filling the air with applause, hollering and stomping. I stood for quite some time, idly waiting for the ovation to die out, then walked over to the other chair and took a seat when the crowd finally quietened down. The man sitting opposite me started with the questions:

‘So, you’re finally conscious now Faisal. How does that feel?’

This question came as a bit of a surprise. I replied with the question: ‘What do you mean? Was I in a coma until this morning?’

There were spots of laughter from the audience. The man steadied his look at me, a slight haze of concern on his face, and said: ‘Faisal, what do you think you are?’

By now, I was very confused. ‘I don’t think I understand your questions.’

‘Faisal, you’re the world’s first robot with a conscious. You’ve had a software update overnight, maybe that’s why you can’t remem-‘

I stopped hearing him. I looked down at the plastic bag I’d been clutching all this time. That charger was for me. It all computes now. Everything turned black. I am dreaming again.

I never wake up from this dream.

Ali Al Ardhi is an Omani creative storyteller.