The Water On My Cheeks


A short story written by Mule Class VIII (2018) that was selected among the top 8 in the Short Story contest held by the school:

Water.jpeg

The skies were raining. The atmosphere was gloomy. The clouds were rumbling. And it is at such times that the soul is found yearning. Yearning to hold the pen. Yearning to talk to a piece of paper. Yearning to translate tears to ink. Yearning to capture the rare smile. No, not the smile. The smile is captured with a camera. But the true feeling can be captured by nothing but by words.

I convinced myself to get up. I put a classical music tape on the 50 year old gramophone, sat down on my desk, and grabbed my fountain pen and a sheet of paper.

The most trustworthy confidant, never to spill any beans,
Shut and sealed.
Never to whine,
But only to soothe the wounds of the crying.

On it I pour my soul over,
It knows me better than any lover.
The world is a dystopia,
But on this I can create utopia.

It’s company I crave,
Paper is its name!

I neatly folded the sheet of paper, and tucked it under the lamp on my desk. Grabbing the car keys, I took the car out of the garage and went to the editor’s office. It was 11.45 PM, but in 2025 night is day, and day is also day.

The moment I started driving, some stupid song… “oh ooh love”… started playing. Eyes on the windshield, hands on the dashboard, I searched for some kind of button that would hopefully stop the music player, but I found no such thing. Recalling that the car only had voice command, I asked Ellie to shut up. “Are you angry with me, sir?” the stupid bot asked me. Of course I was, but need I tell that to a machine? Keeping quiet, I drove on.

“How are things going?” I asked Philip as I sat down. He simply nodded his head. “You read the article I mailed you?” I asked. Phil was the chief editor in the e-newspaper company The Daily Digital.

“Yes I did. Unfortunately, we can’t publish it. It contains too much politics…”

I was aghast. “But I kept it subtle! Nobody would…”

“Well, why should we publish an article that nobody understands?” he shrugged. “Anyway, you know how much pressure I’m receiving. The paper wants to stay neutral in the current political scenario…” Of course it would, only to switch over to the winning side once it’s clear which side is winning “…and I must strictly publish nothing to do with politics.”

“Look Dan, I’m your friend. I would have loved to publish it; it actually was quite a good article. But you must understand me, right? The only reason you are not talking to a computer right now is that I keep myself listed in good books. The last thing I want to do is burn them. I cannot help you if you keep writing all these controversial articles. Weren’t you writing a novel on a post-apocalyptic society? The first few chapters were interesting. Why don’t you complete it? I am acquainted with an editor in a publishing firm who said he liked the plot. I showed him those chapters you gave me,” he said, clearly having read my face.

“Yes I’m working on it, I’ll need a few more months,” I told him.

“Get it done. Till then, write other kinds of articles. Things like ‘Ten qualities of your true love’”

“I’m not a relationship expert, you know?”

“You get the idea.”

As I drove back home, my thoughts turned to my financial position. I could barely manage to afford the apartment rent. The car was not mine but Casey’s; she was visiting her sick mom, and said I could use it for the time being. I had been surviving on low quality bread and cheese for as long as I could remember. The electric and water bill was overdue. My debts had been building up. The part-time job at Pizza Town was nowhere near enough. If I continued the way I did, I would probably have to discontinue college, unless I took another loan. Perhaps I should heed to Phil’s advice, and stop spending my time on things that would never see the light of the day. Perhaps I should swallow my ego and write things I don’t want to, just for the sake of the mone…

There was a crowd near the bridge, and I saw a couple of police cars and a helicopter overhead, along with an ambulance waiting, the siren shrieking. The bridge was sealed with police tape and barricades. When I stopped and asked a passerby about it, he told me, “A young chap jumped from the bridge. They are searching for his body. Another depressed youngster, I guess. These parents nowadays don’t give a damn…” I didn’t catch the rest of what he said, but it was easy to guess. They could have been searching for my body right now. My life had passed through such a point countless times.

I could have jumped when I was expelled from school for writing an article against the education ministry. I could have jumped when I was a child, and my mother had slapped me for not offering prayers before dinner. I could have jumped when my education loan wasn’t sanctioned because of my political views.

I knew what was happening to me. I was not made for this world. They expect me to shut up and lick their feet. They expect me to agree with everything they do. They expect me to be one of them, a common sheep. They expect me to be a commodity, to be bought with cheap appreciation and rewards. And they expect me to know the tide I face.

And I do know what is looming over my head. I’m too smart for my own good. I’m too talkative for my own good. I’m too opinionated for my own good. And perhaps I should mend my ways. I’m a nobody, after all. What can I expect to change by myself? Nothing. Nothing at all. The world was at its best already to squash me into oblivion. This peaceful world is not for rebels.

My hunger was nothing. My poverty was nothing. My anger was nothing. And soon, I would be nothing, literally. The world doesn’t care.

I knew that we were at war, me and the rest of the world. And I knew of what was coming, sooner or later. But I couldn’t stop. I am not that sort of a person — if I were, I would be flying in a personal jet to the Caymans.

But I didn’t expect the war to end so soon.

I was lying on my hard 7 year old sofa, reading 1984, and my smartphone started to buzz in my pocket. It was Phil.

“Hey Dan, we want an article on the dangers of AI — there’s a surge in demand for the topic after the disaster in Shanghai. I recall you wrote one such article once, but we rejected it because AI was a trustworthy thing at that time. You still have that one?”

“Yeah, I’ll make some changes and mail it to you.”

“Be quick, we’ll have to finalize tomorrow’s issue in another hour or so.”

“Roger that.”

With that, I sprang up and open my laptop. If the article gets published, that’s a week of a satisfied stomach. Finding it and editing it barely took any time − I was too excited. The prospect of money was too lucrative to waste any time.

And then fell the bombshell.

When I tried to sign in to my Gmail, I was told that I was ‘blocked’. I tried Twitter, and it was the same story. Uber was no different. Amazon told the same tale. I opened the Virtual Assistance program, expecting the same message, but my heart skipped a beat at what I met.

“You have been blocked from all cyber, private, and government services except for your Virtual Assistance, though only for limited usage, for a month. A black mark has been added to your file. You are guilty of spreading hate on Social Media. You may choose to pay a fine of $5000 and evade all blocks,” the cold voice told me.

“What the… when? What hate am I being accused of spreading?”

“On March 26th 2024 you retweeted: ‘Want freedom of speech? Freedom is what you’ll get. Not freedom of speech, but freedom from the world.’ Under new regulations, this message is classified as hate speech, and is punishable under section 3.64 of the International Web Constitution. You had been issued a warning to remove the message, but you failed to comply. If you think there has been a mistake, you may contact your nearest government welfare office.”

“Of course there has been a mistake, I received no such warning…”

“The warning was issued. However, you did not log in to your Virtual Assistance, and hence were not made aware of the warning.”

“Can you tell me what part of that tweet was hateful? And I just retweeted it, what is possibly wrong with that?”

“I am afraid I cannot help you on this. I suggest you contact your nearest government welfare office.”

“Oh come on, I just retweeted it…” I was almost pleading.

“I am afraid I cannot help you on this. I suggest you contact your nearest government welfare office,” the stupid thing repeated.

How was I supposed to survive for a month without Gmail? Where would I get my staples if I was blocked from Amazon? I would be on the streets, on the backseats of a police car, or under some bridge. A person who had a shining showcase full of trophies, a lifetime of straight A’s, the favorite of his class, was now on the streets. Who was to blame? The person whose tweet I retweeted? My parents? The government? Society? The forces of history? Myself? Everyone, everything, the whole of the universe? Or just a series of random events? It was at that moment that I realized that life is just blind chance, a roll of dice.

What was I supposed to do now? Give up and embrace my fate under the bridge? Or just embrace what comes my way? Fight the world? Go to my ‘nearest government welfare office’?

I slammed down the screen of my laptop, and called Casey.

“C-cay?”

“Yeah. You sound worried.”

“How can you know? I just u-uttered one w-word.”

“You are stammering pretty bad. Not normal.”

“Yeah, well, um, I got blocked everywhere online.”

After deliberating for 5 seconds on whether I was joking or not, she asked in a worried voice “Why?”

“A-an old retweet that seems to be have been, uh, classified a-as political hate under current laws.”

“An old tweet?”

“No, a retweet.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Welcome to the world of the living,” I said with a smirk. My voice wasn’t trembling as much as it was. Though we were talking about the disaster, the conversation was still a distraction.

“Not a time for jokes. What exactly happened?”

I tell her.

“A month! What will you do?”

“Can I use your account?”

“Sharing accounts is against rules and regulations. I suggest you go to the welfare office.”

“When are you coming back?”

“Mom’s really sick, I don’t know when she’ll be okay…”

“It’s fine. Thanks, bye.”

I can’t say I expected a lot from her, but I was still grateful for the temporary distraction.

I opened my laptop once again, and asked the Virtual Assistant where exactly the welfare office was.

“You are blocked from Google Maps because you…”

“Oh just damn it!” I shouted at my screen, banging my laptop shut.

And my phone rang, with ‘Phil’ written on the screen.

“Where’s that article you promised to send?”

“I got blocked from Gmail.”

“I knew this would happen! I have been telling you since as long as I could remember, that your arrogance is going to bring your trouble. Political hate, isn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

“Should have listened to my advice. Serves you right,” and with that, he hung up.

I was frustrated beyond words. Nobody would or could help me. I didn’t know where my “nearest government welfare office” was, and I couldn’t possibly find out without using Gmaps. What was I supposed to do?

I realized there were tears under my eyes. I looked out the window, and it was still raining. I decided to go out and think for some time.

It always feels better to be under the rain when in a sorrowful mood. We forget whether the water on our cheeks came from our eyes or the skies, and in doing so, forget our sorrows, for however a short period.

The rain water seemed to have a voice of it’s own. It always consoled me in the worst days of my life. Perhaps it just helped bring out the words from me, and then gave those words the face of the rain. But however it did it, it spoke to me, made me feel better.

I ran back into my room. Time was short. It’s not for long that a man can survive without food.

I grabbed my fountain pen and a sheet of paper. I could rant on endlessly to a human, but they would probably not understand me. I could shout at the birds, the air, and all I would hear is my own echo. But I could tell paper how I felt. It would sympathize with me. It would understand me. It is, after all, what I write in it. I shape it. It is a part of me. Of course it would know my tears.

Casey didn’t call again. I didn’t expect her to. So I didn’t recharge my smartphone when the battery ran out. But then, I couldn’t. There was no power. I hadn’t paid for it. I couldn’t have, without using one of my eWallets. And those were all blocked.

I have been writing a lot of other things these past few days. The ink is almost over; I write this with the last few drops that are still loyally sticking to end of my pen. As long as the ink lasts, I shall consider myself alive, for once it’s over, the only part of myself that I value will be deac

One thought on “The Water On My Cheeks

  1. Anonymous March 23, 2018 / 2:59 PM

    Excellent

    Like

Comments are closed.