This story is by Refiloe and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Sirius, what is the next event on the calendar?”
“You have a psychology test scheduled to begin in thirty minutes.”
Atlas nodded twice to initiate Sirius’ rest mode and then began preparing himself for the test ahead.
Since leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, most of Atlas’ days began quite the same. He would float out of his sleeping bag located in the cabin and navigate himself through to the craft’s food quarters. One of Atlas’ favorite things to do on the mission was to decide what to eat. He did not have much to choose from, however he thoroughly enjoyed the nature of being responsible for a decision made. It was one of the few things that remained during his mission that set him apart from Sirius, that and his memories which seemed to all fade away with time- all but one.
That day, Atlas picked a serving of roasted dates that he paired with a zip-pack of grape juice. Although grape juice was not his favorite drink, it was the drink he chose to have and that alone was satisfying enough.
“Atlas, it is time for your test. Are you ready?”
“I guess I am. Wait. Sirius remind me again what I will be tested on.”
“A great component of the human lived experience is the ability to recognize and reciprocate emotions to the human’s self and/or another. In this test, you will be expected to describe the appropriate responses to each of the three images that I will display on the projector. Failure to do produce satisfactory responses will result in a demotion of your human status. You may begin.”
Atlas had not even caught himself when the first picture appeared. His eyes widened as he analyzed the picture – pixel by pixel. He leaned back and with a deep breath gave a bold attempt to the task before him. The image had captured the uncontained, tearful joy of a relieved grandmother whose granddaughter had been released from the brutal captivity of Boko Haram. Atlas noted how inclined and towards the center the eyebrows of the elderly woman were. He added that he thought it was rather curious that the elderly woman would lock her arms around the little girl. Atlas thought that was intriguingly curious.
“I have noted your response. Here is you next image.”
“Wait Sirius how did I do?” but Sirius had already set up the next image. Atlas (now breathing lighter and faster than before) stared with more intensity at the next image- hoping to give it a more impressive response than his previous attempt.
‘A capture moment’, the image might as well have been named. The pixels of the image had collaborated in catching an uninterrupted stare in his eyes as e beheld the beauty in hers. A fine mustache locked down into his goatee where her fingers had come to rest. The pixels continued to reveal a pale hand that guided the line to her face, which was covered mostly by her shoulder-length brown twirls. All that was apparent from her was the undivided attention her whole disposition had given him.
Atlas’ eyes gave him away as he stared bewildered and frightened at the nearing prospect of possibly failing his psychology test. Atlas put his hand under his lower lip and stared. He stared so deeply into the image that the image began to disappear. Soon his surroundings had altogether faded and he found himself inside his last vivid memory- a childhood memory. It was a most ordinary day in fall. Some leaves were having cue whilst the others had already bowed right down to the ground. Atlas had been running through the leaves hoping to ruffle them up for an encore performance that never did happen.
The kitchen door flung open and out flew screams of deep anguish and concentrated aggression. Atlas’ body froze in paralyses as his fears seemed to come alive. Half-ironed t-shirts, stained trousers and unzipped cases slid down the stairs, escaping the horror that only cheated ex-lovers could conjure.
That was the last time Atlas would ever see his mother or hear his father speak soberly again. This was a memory Atlas had shared with no-one. If ever he could, he would have kept it from himself too but the memory was his only solace at times when he needed to be reminded of a life that was deeper than just the logical…a life that was psychological.
Atlas continued to stare blindly at the second image of the test until his gaze was broken by the flickering of lo’s reflected light that shone into the craft. The light restored his surroundings and before he knew it, the image was in focus once more.
“Will you attempt this image?”
“Sirius, I’m afraid I don’t know what to say about this image.”
“Atlas, you are obligated to give a response too each image displayed.”
Atlas bit his lower lip thinking immensely on how to respond to the image. His leg began to shake s the probability of the demotion of his human status drew nearer and nearer with every passing silent second.
“I see a man and a woman who are…they are…he is…
Sirius, I see a man who is…I don’t know.
I actually don’t know!”
This was Atlas’ first time expressing deep emotion since his memory.
“I simply don’t know what to say Sirius, I’ve never seen such a look nor has anyone ever looked at me so undividedly. Can you tell me what I am supposed to say?”
“That may be beyond my abilities at the moment.”
Atlas’ shaking leg slowed down to a stop. Everything within him seemed to slow down as he narrowed himself to Sirius’ commentary.
“In the event of a test of three images, the third image is to be treated as a tie-breaker between the first two images should they be opposing response. Atlas, in the first image you failed to describe the appropriate emotional response of reciprocated joy between the grandmother and the granddaughter nor did you describe any recognition of the emotion of joy in your response.
In the second…”
Atlas averted his eyes from the projector. He could take no more of the deprivation the image seemed to expose in him nor could he stomach the depth of the conclusion Sirius was about to make concerning his level of humanity. In the back of his mind, Atlas knew that if were to be different form Sirius, he would have to embrace the fullness of a human experience- which meant he would have to engage with his emotions. He would have to allow himself to feel but knowing that no-one would be there to help him through his feelings, he feared attempting tat journey on his own- lest he catch himself failing and disappointing the only person he could ever depend on to be there for him.
So, Atlas compensated. He compensated with his obsession for choice, for las long as he had choice, he could still hold onto the assurance of living some level of human experience, and that would be enough for Atlas.
It always was.