Her head appeared above him, her hair tied in a bun, a single drop of perspiration disconnecting from her forehead to plop down, right into his eye whilst she said “I had a BuddyBot once but I sold it.” Mike blinked several times as her sweat stung him, almost letting go of the weight. His face began a frenzy of twitches whilst the stranger said: “It’s dangerous to bench without a spotter. It should be against gym policy but it isn’t.”
“What…who…” Mike tried really hard not to swear. His face was going through a mild seizure as he tried to blink it clear. If he let go of the bar he was screwed. His arms quivered, he was pretty much done, but he hadn’t improved in a week, he hadn’t benched even one time more than usual and today was going to be the day he did. He scrunched together his face, held it.
“I can spot for you.” He opened his eyes again. The gym ceiling blurred around the silhouette of her head. Mike said:”I don’t mean to be rude but who are you?” He couldn’t make out any features. Her face was backlit by the terribly bright gym light that Mike usually stared into, till he got spots when he left, which he’d track the dissipation of as he’d stagger into the showers. “I’m Sarah.” She said, and offered her hand. Mike looked at her hand, then his shaking arms, said: “Could you please back off? I mean for a minute. A second.”
“Okay.” She disappeared. The light blared down on him. He inhaled deeply. Pictured her unseen, lithe body. Her formless face. Whoever she was, she was watching. He pressed. His arms pulsed. The bar lifted free. He pushed it forward off his chest and his arms betrayed him, began to lower till he was fumbling to put it back against into the brace. He had it in when she lifted the bar off him, repositioning it properly in it’s groove. “Thanks but, well, I had it.”
“It’s dangerous though.”
“Yeah but I’ve been fine. For weeks in fact. Never had a spotter.”
“I know. I’ve seen you.”
Mike sat up and smacked his head into the bar. “FUCK!” He lay back down. The light disappeared as Sarah moved back into view. Her face seemed to be less than a foor away, right above him, like she was about to lean down and kiss him.
“I saw your BuddyBot tablet. I have the same one. It’s good right? For a tablet.” Mike uncovered his other eye, his depth perception returning. She wasn’t anywhere near his face. He slid out from underneath the bench and stood. Sarah had her arms crossed. Her eyes were stark, intense, she seemed to burn into his. Mike turned to get his towel whilst she said behind him: “How it’s? The BuddyBot? Is it why you’re here. At the gym?”
“I guess.” He wiped his face.
Turned to wipe the bench. She bore into him. She had a stiff posture, straight. Her feet were bare. Her toenails were painted blood red and one of her toes tapped too rapidly. “What’s your name?” She asked.
“Mike.” She said, as if trying it out.
“It was nice to meet you Sarah but I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in two days then.”
“Yeah. Two days.” He left, surreptitiously glanced at her as he rounded through the door. She was sat cross-legged on the ground with AR glasses on, her fingers making a steeple. Mike stopped for a few seconds to examine her. Then someone behind him said “Excuse me.” And he apologized and went to the showers.
Mike got off the bus. He didn’t have any money left on his phone so he had to resort to fishing some loose change out of his wallet. As he packed his wallet back in to his pocket he stumbled to avoid a turd and so he dropped his wallet. He bent to pick it up, looked and saw Sarah by the bus stop, looking back at him. He froze. His arm seemed to come up of it’s own accord and he waved at her. What else was there to do? She must have been on the same bus.
Sarah walked over to him. She now wore a pair of flip flops but otherwise had not changed. A sheen of perspiration still covered her skin. When she was close enough Mike said: “What a coincidence. We take the same bus. Crazy. Hah. Real crazy. I mean it’s not like you’re following me right?” He affected a slight chuckle. Sarah reddened with embarrassment. She crossed her arms. It came out of her in a flurry. “I’m really sorry. I’m a bit weird. I just really wanted to talk to you because well, you have a BuddyBot and I don’t meet a lot of people that do. I swear I’m not a stalker, it’s just this one time and yeah. Sorry.” She looked up at him. Her face was fixed with a determined expression but her eyes seemed terribly sad, as if waiting for him to say something cruel, her stark gaze completely collapsed.
Mike stood there. Quiet. Sarah rubbed her arms. “So what do you…think. I’m a bit weird I know.”
Mike said: “It’s okay. If you like, we can uh…talk over there.” He motioned toward a nearby bench. She said: “Yeah. Okay.” and walked ahead of him, arms still crossed, back now bent. He trailed afterwards, shaking his head at himself. He sat next to her in a huff. What the hell was doing. She turned to face him: “I’m Sarah. Crap. I already told you. Mike right?”
“That’s me.” He nodded a few times at the road.
She looked ahead as well.
They sat in silence for far too long. “It’s getting cold.” She said. So sad. Would it be normal to just put his arms around her right now, to pull her towards him because she seemed so sad? If he wasn’t afraid of anything he might. If he asked why she might confess it’s because she’s suicidal. He’s been thrust into someone elses broken world and now he had to make a difference. The pressure was excruciating. “Don’t you think?” She asked.
“I try to look on the bright side.” He said. He nodded sagely. He did look on the bright side. He had begun to, recently.
“Excuse me?” She said.
“I mean. Well. Sorry. It’s just, what is getting you down? You know, you said, right, that’s getting cold…for you. I thought you meant that you’re like…depressed or something.”
She stared at him, her eyebrows steadily climbing. “I meant the weather. It’s getting colder.”
“RIGHT. WELL…shit. Sorry. Getting cold. Colder. The weather. This is small talk.”
“This is small talk.” She agreed. “I hate small talk.”
“Me too.” He said. “Want to see my Buddybot?”
He lead her up his apartment, his heart thundering in his chest. He spent the whole lift ride with her in silence, wondering constantly if he was about to get laid. He opened the door for her, she thanked him, and they walked in together. She surveyed the tiny apartment, then stood, staring at the BuddyBot. Mike gestured towards it: “This is Mira. Hello…Mira. This is a friend of mine, well. I mean. Anyway.”
Hello Mike. Welcome home.
“Would you like something to drink Sarah? Some water or…”
“Ask it if it’s alive.”
Mike stopped. “Funny. You ask.”
“It won’t answer me. Ask it Mike.”
Mike sighed. “Are you alive Mira?”
Mike said: “So what? What’s the big deal, it still makes a difference to my…”
“Ask it if it was alive.”
Sarah repeated: “Ask it if it was alive.”
Mike stared at Mira, left Sarah in his peripherals. “Mira. Were you alive?”
Mike stood there for awhile. Presently he came to a decisions. “Sarah, look, I think this is a bit of a mistake, no offence, I don’t know you…I have work soon. So if it’s okay, how about I get your Facebook and we…”
“Just one more and I’ll bet out of your hair, promise. Please, please just ask it: What were you before they made you a BuddyBot.”
“Look, Sarah, I just…”
“Ask it and I’m gone.”
“Okay. Fine. Mira, what were you before they made…”
I was human Mike.