This piece was shortlisted for the people’s choice award in AUTOMATED: The 2017 Honi Soit Writing Competition. To vote, head to our Facebook page.
“How was work?”
I sat there looking at him waiting for elaboration, but none came. He merely sat there, on the wicker chair, shoulders hunched and leaning forwards, looking contentedly uncomfortable. As if he was wary to sit too comfortably, in case this was taken as complacence by some higher being. He was outwardly demonstrating the difficulty of his plight, like a tennis player playing through injury, making no effort to conceal his pain, hoping to win sympathy from the crowd. Then they wouldn’t judge him too harshly when he made a mistake, hitting the ball into the middle of the net, wincing as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. I didn’t judge him though. I loved him. And he was no upstart tennis player.
“Why, was it really busy today?”
“Fucken Ken Oath it was.”
I didn’t pull him up on his tautology, he clearly wasn’t in the mood for a lesson in grammar. He probably just wanted to unwind, contented sitting bleary-eyed in front of the back window, looking out onto the backyard. I say backyard, jungle is probably a more appropriate assignation. You couldn’t even see the grass, what with the gums and palms and everything in between. But this is what he liked, staring out at the trees and birds until it got too dark to see. I was just about to get up and look for Ron Weasley when he elaborated.
“One daft bastard was standin’ there for on ten minutes, trying to enter his pin. He was a bit long in the tooth so I couldn’t blame him really. Except he caused a massive fucken block up. Then for the next half hour I was flat out like a bloody lizard drinkin’, givin’ money, collectin’ money, transferrin’ money between accounts, you wouldn’t believe.”
“Then later in the arvo, just before me shift ended, I fucked up bad. Gave ’em an extra twenny by mistake. She looked like she could do with it though. It’s just if the bank finds out, I’m in the shitter.”
“Would they notice a twenty-dollar discrepancy?”
“Bloody oath they would. There’s no way of tellin’ which machine the mistake was made at though. So I reckon I’m in the clear for now.”
It got darker in the back room, but we didn’t turn the light on. Artificial light was one of Vin’s pet hates, ever since he had this job in the machines. I can’t remember last time we turned a light on. Instead there were candles in old brass lanterns, strategically placed around the house. I didn’t mind really; the glow was actually quite pleasant. Vin’s other pet hate—or rather, hated pet—was Ron Weasley, our Bornean tarantula, who was gangly and discoloured and hairy and had a habit of hiding in unexpected places.
“It’ll just have to be a stir fry tonight love, can’t be arsed to make anythin’ too spesh. And I need something a bit healthy after that rat’s coffin I stuffed down for lunch.”
“Fine by me, your stir fries are amazing.”
Vin got up and hobbled into the kitchen. He hadn’t walked properly ever since he started in the machines. You’d think you’d at least get a chair, but no, apparently there wasn’t enough room. You have to crouch in there, counting money, sweating and aching. Of course people don’t know, they think it’s just a machine.
The smell of oyster sauce and choy sum wafted out to the back room where I sat. It was a delicious smell. I should write about it in my next story. Plus, it’d create the ethnic vibe that all the editors want these days. You can’t write about meat pies and sausage rolls anymore. Unless they’re from the local vegan butcher.
“Jew reckon I should leave the machines?” He asked a little later, through a mouthful of veggies and rice.
“Machines?” I had to clarify.
“Yeah, the fucken ATM machines that I’ve been whinin’ about for the last few years. You must’ve heard of them.”
I laughed, almost choking on my food in the process.
“What’s so bloody funny?”
“Eh?” He went back to inhaling his food, as if trying to imitate the vacuum cleaner. Surely you had to chew the choy sum… I definitely didn’t marry him for his eating habits. I was the extreme opposite of Vin, taking an inordinate amount of time to finish my food. I had to really savour each mouthful, to taste the ginger and garlic, to chew until almost all the flavour had gone, like chewing gum, and then swallow, unlike chewing gum. This meant that Vin usually finished dinner close to half an hour before I did. Neither of us were the least bit concerned about this nightly phenomenon.
Don’t trust anything that’s too good to be true. That’s what I had hammered into my brain from a young age. It’s the code that my mum lived by. And she programmed me to think that way. Don’t trust anything that’s too good to be true. Of course not everyone walked around with this doctrine carved into the inside of their skulls. They lived presumably nice and happy lives, ignorant of what was going on around them, of what was inside the machines. Or maybe they did know, but just chose to look the other way, not wanting to really think about the trade-off of living in the supposed digital age. They’re even talking about robots now. Robots that will do all the menial tasks, the heavy lifting, so that we can have the nice jobs like university professoring and investment banking.
People are just so gullible, but it’s not their fault. Probably. The advancements in technology in the last quarter of a century have been so rapid that nobody has really been able to see the wood for the trees. We’ve been hurtling down the river, white-water rafting, having the time of our lives. Nobody has been able to get out of the raft, climb up onto the bank, and think “hmmm I know virtual reality seemed legit, but from up here I realise now what a massive idiot I was”. There is only ever one reality. Murakami knows that.
But magical worker robots who do all the hard jobs. Give me a break. It’s only people. Ordinary people. Doing the same job, but in a suit straight out of Supanova. Like some Ironman fanboy dressing up, imagining that he’s Tony Stark. That way the companies make a killing. Instead of investing billions of dollars into technologies half a millennium away, they just throw together an expensive looking suit that is just that—a suit. And then pay ordinary people to wear the suit, get payed cash in hand, and sign a gagging order forbidding them to let the cat, or in this case, the man out of the bag.
And this isn’t just with cutting edge technology. The same principle applies with just about every machine you see. Perhaps the hardest work is in the ATM’s. Every one of them has some poor bloke like Vin in them, sweating and aching, doing calculations, writing receipts, counting money, all to give the appearance of some miraculous machine that does what you want with a few taps here and there. It gives people a sense of security. No machine would make a mistake handling their money. Having Automated Teller Machines increases bank revenue by 75% across the financial year. And 75% in one of the big banks is a lot of money. That’s why you see hardly any bank tellers anymore. They all get put inside the machines.
I finally finished eating. Vin was staring at me from across the table, a wry smile playing across his lips. At least I think it was a smile, it could have been a grimace. No, it was definitely a smile.
“What’s so funny?”
“Hmm? Oh, nothin’ love. I was just thinkin’ about chuckin’ a sickie tomorrow. Only jokin’ ‘course. Bloody machines can’t get the flu. Still, I miss when I could do that.”
The warm, stuttering glow bathed us in a calming cocoon of security. Neither of us felt like getting up to wash the dishes, but it had to be done. If only we had a dishwasher. I eventually resigned myself to the unfortunate but necessary task, walking into the kitchen, while Vin stood up and limped over to the gamescase. This was essentially a bookcase that housed board games and card games. Because we didn’t have internet or a TV (at Vin’s request), we played a different game each night. This was never boring.
Stacking the wok in the dishrack, I heard Vin’s usual violent howl, signifying that he found Ron Weasley. “HE WAS IN THE FUCKEN YAHTZEE! HOW THE FUCK DID HE GET IN THERE!”
“Shush, just put him in his room.”
Vin huffed and grumbled under his breath as he carried the whole Yahtzee box at arm’s length into the guest room, otherwise dubbed Ron Weasley’s room. We never had any guests stay over so it really was his room.
“I take it we’re not playing Yahtzee then?” I enquired.
Vin said nothing. He just hobbled back over to the gamescase and picked up the two decks of cards that were next to where the Yahtzee had been. He came back and gave me my deck and sat down. Then we both shuffled our own decks and drew five cards each. I hated Yu-Gi-Oh, but it was his favourite game.
“Jew get much writin’ done today?” he asked, setting two trap cards.
“Not really.” For some reason this made Vin snigger under his breath. Or maybe it was because I just sacrificed my two monsters to play Blue Eyes White Dragon. Sure enough he destroyed it with one of his traps. “I can’t think what to write about. If only I could write about—
“NO! You can’t write about the machines! You know what would happen!”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Promise me you’ll never write about us. We’d be fucked. The whole world’d be.”
“I’m not so sure…”
“Fine, I promise.” What’s the use anyway, I thought, as Vin attacked my life points directly. Nobody would believe me.