The State Street Robot Factory
He’s been building up inventory for a while in preparation for the gift-giving season. Phalanxes of pocket robots stand on his bookshelves, his eating counter,
My spirit aches. Reality is severed. I’m trapped in a glass room. Time is water, streaming by. I’m underwater in the current of time, watching time float by. My hand on the room’s thick glass, unable to shatter it, unable to get out. Even if I escape, time will drown me.
Time. Will. Drown. Me. So I slump back. Remain trapped. Watch everything outside evolve. Inside, my age bends and moves and mutilates me, yet I’m frozen, paralyzed in my body, in this glass submarine, as I wait for my subconscious to arrive. To arrive and save me. Hoping, thinking, How did I get here? Will I get out?
I hustle into the elevator to my flat apartment as my phone fires a hellish noise in my handbag. I punch Floor 20 and stare at my reflection in the interior’s mirrors: fright-wide eyes lined with kohl, curly crochet braids, and a tired face screaming for sleep. Situated in the CBD of Gaborone, my three-bed apartment’s located in one of the high-end towers, which is an awful copy-and-paste design of a French building I never remember the name of that a girl like me would’ve never been capable to rent, going for the tune of two million pula, which explains the cliché line of gold-digging men wanting to suck me—but, no thanks, I can get that for free. The building’s parallel to the noisemakers of ongoing roadwork constructions that flank the CBD, tractors pulling in and out of the highway, stamped with the emblem of a Chinese construction company; we don’t build our city, it belongs not to us. A storm of sunset-tinged dust from the roadworks sneezes into the horizon.
My cellphone enters a deafening screeching silence then restarts, squalling. Fuck. I press my fingers against my skull as if to crack it from its anxiety. If I don’t answer, she’ll yap my head off after successfully hunting me down. She turns into a fucking, clingy devil if you ignore her. And the little yellowbone is 4-foot-7, eight inches shy of my height, but she terrifies me when she’s loaded. That mouth of hers. Jesus. Don’t be fooled by those Peruvian weaves, the sweet smiles, the soft voice, and those bikini body shots she takes on some Durban beach. She’s a literal ‘slay’ queen.
So I stare at the caller ID, Larona, and brace myself as I answer, “Ek se ntwana. What it do?”
“What it fucking do?” Her high-pitched voice scratches my nerves. “You fucking made him brain dead.”
“We are not responsible nor liable for any damage or death—”
“Fuck your indemnity clause,” she shouts so that I have to distance my cellphone from my ear. “What the hell am I going to tell the wife?” she asks.
“That he was actually a loyal recluse. He’s not hiding any money. His business deals are legit—”
“Damn it, girl, this was not supposed to happen. If they find out this shit, the wife will be an accomplice, she’ll lose everything.”
“Collateral damage. I’m sure she knew what she was signing on.”
“Fuck.” Some shuffle. “I’m too old to be cleaning up this shit.”
“Doll, twenty-seven ain’t old.”
“One thing I know is it’s too young to end up in prison. Do they still hang people around here?”
“Nah, I think that’s just for murderers.”
“Good, ‘cause even if we get caught, they can’t nail murder on us. I can’t handle hanging. Prison, maybe, I can do.” I hear her tapping something, a nervous tic.
“Dude, chill, we’re hundreds. There’s no trail leading back to us. It’s just a Dreamport fuck up. That’s the founding company’s problem, not ours. I’m sure their PR team’s on it already.”
“Look, the woman just wants to make sure he’s not hiding any money. She’s endured too much for too many decades to be shut up by a divorce proceeding and a le-fourteen mistress.”
“Uh-huh,” I say, staring at the numbers of each floor light up as the elevator passes them. “Like the millions she’s got aren’t ‘milliony’ enough for her because he’s hiding—what?—a few more millions?”
“Rich people problems, man, angazi. Woman was telling me she wants to bag this politician. I asked her, ‘But what about his wife?’ She straight-up said, ‘Just a little speedbump these wifey things.’”
I double over laughing.
She sighs. “You sure there was nothing shady you could find in his memories?”
We access the dreams to access their secrets and memories, the corners of their minds where they hide things.
The elevator doors ding open and I make my way onto the thick carpeted floors of the hallways, catching sight of a young Indian couple sashaying cozily into one of the suites and a Motswana man wearing some fong kong shiny suit dazzling an impressionable woman in a sequined tiny dress in that cheap way g-city guys do by naming every materialistic thing they own. Plus he has the fuckboy haircut.
“I sent you his memories that I was able to download,” I say.
“Ja, got them. I’ve meeting with the widow-to-be. I’m sure she’ll be happy with the evidence we’ve obtained. Anyway, listen.” A long pause. The notorious kind that means she’s set me up for something I won’t like. “A frantic woman’s been calling me non-stop. She’s very desperate, tjatjarag and all. Apologies in advance, but I gave her your physical address.” Ag, a tjatjarag with their notorious too-forward blabber. Great.
I stop at door 67. “What the fuck?”
“She’s not crazy. Just a bit desperate with a dash of mal.”
“A dash of mal is the essential ingredient for a nuclear bomb.”
“What harm could she do?”
“The same kinda harm that we pretty little girls have racked up—enough to make balls squirm.”
“Ugh, gross. Besides you owe me for this brain-dead fuck up I have to clean. Anyway, I just apped you a brief on her.”
My cell buzzes excitedly at the arrival of the brief. I shake my head and hang up. I unlock the door and find the timid, scared-looking woman with a chiskop—a shiny bald head—sitting on my beige sectional couch, hugging a handbag like it’s a pet. Unfortunately for her, the house doesn’t appeal to guests at the moment. Sliding doors open to the balcony, where a couple of guys are having a young party, hooked on hookahs and some stash. A couple’s beside her snogging, probably three hours high, attempting to undress each other. I understand why they’ve chosen this couch, the rest of the rooms are monopolized by threesomes. Except for my bedroom, which’s always locked.
My roommate, an ex of an ex that I both slept with, sidles toward me, donning the famous fuckboy haircut. One night he was crying, saying that I used him for sex when I asked for the rent. Called him out on the message he’d sent his china straight after our coitus telling him that he’d finally bagged me. Guys in this city be good in playing victim.
“Eita,” he says, nodding a hi. “Got a young case on me. Let’s turn up tonight. I’ve invited bo Mike over to tjukutja the night away.” He sways his hips in lieu of the word tjukutja, and let me tell you, this guy is a mean dancer.
“Nope, I don’t want to fuck.”
He clasps his beer tighter. “Technically, I’m your whore.”
“You really don’t bullshit around.”
“Bullshitting’s for lovers.” I stare at his mates. “I’m good, brah. Just gonna pass out.”
“About the rent …” He scratches the back of his neck in the embarrassed way that a guy in this city will never admit to their unfortunate circumstances. “Salary’s a bit delayed.”
I wave him off. “Ja, ja. S’cool, brah. No problem.”
He smiles. Winks at his mates, who chuckle. “A’ight, catch you later.”
The woman stands up. “Kefilwe?” she asks, confirming my name.
“That’s me.” I put my palm up, putting her on pause for whatever baggage she’s about to vomit as I read up on her from the brief Larona sent me:
Client Portia Lesedi: mid-30s, married, female. She’s riddled with the panic that any second now HR will call her from her “embarrassing office cubicle,” terminating her diplomatically due to her sex scandal circulating the internet. The woman’s already losing her hair that she did a big-chop.
Target: a professional catfisher with ten years of experience. She’s one of twenty-three women on his roster. Has about ten avatars, spliced from others’ personalities he shuffles through like worn-out clothes.
Problem: She sexted him. Sent in some nudes. Full of regrets blah blah blah.
On-the-plus side: Her Dreamport had linked with his at one point, which can give us access to him.
“Not to be rude,” I say, looking up at her, “Just grant me access to your Dreamport for three days and I’ll handle everything.”
Her mouth hangs open, incredulous. I suppose she’d scripted a self-pity shem skepsel spiel. Shem skepsel, a poor little creature. But now this little bitch of an actress—me—is refusing to play her role. “But what if he’s already uploaded shots of me … on, like …” she looks away, whispers, “… porn sites or something? Modimo, my children can’t have a mother for a porn star.”
Her fingers nervously wring her handbag.
“Nothing wrong with porn stars,” I say.
She edges back like I’ve insulted her. Larona does say I lack the sense for such things.
“Don’t worry,” I add. “I’ll handle it.”
“What’s your rate—I mean … I don’t have much …”
“Pro bona.” I do it for free, to nail the fuckers, not nail the women with a huge bill.
She sighs, cries. “If you ever need anything …”
I nod, waving aside the comment. I’ve been offered babies before, no lie. “Just give me access.”
“Right, right.” She hustles her cellphone from her handbag, starts tapping manically. I tsk. She should be careful about linking her personal cellphone to her Dreamport, should it get stolen, she’s done for.
In my handbag, my other smartphone vibrates—the one that manipulates my for-official-work Dreamport—with the highlighted slogan and flood of messages I need to wade through: Portia Lesedi DRPRT wants to connect with you. Accept? I accept. A message pops up on my screen: Syncing in process. Please do not switch off your Dreamport during this stage. I’m sure it’s all lit up and green in my bedroom working away, always on auto mode.
I give a good old customer care smile. “Done. I’ll be in touch.”
Anxiety depletes life from her face, and her mouth plops open again. “But how will I know that you obtained everything from him?”
“I’ll be in touch,” I say, hustling her toward the front door.
She pauses on the threshold. “I know this sounds stupid, being married and all, but I really did love him, as fake as he was.” Teary-eyed, she stares at me like I’m capable of giving hugs. So I pat her on the shoulder to conclude the conversation and she stares at me in the same disappointed way that my mother’s eyes throw daggers at me because I refuse to suck our culture’s patriarchal dick every time I decline to service the men at any of our traditional family events.
Just as the door shuts, my Dreamport’s smartphone starts humming, heating up; once the little fucker senses a couple of friends within my vicinity because of their nearby devices it’s horny for attention, thinks: potential customers! Its audio beacons that allow cross-communication between devices want to not only share what I bought and where, but wants to advertise shit you don’t need but manipulates you into needing. Its ad pours out of my device’s screen and fills the living room catching the young party out on the balcony. And as part of the discounted purchase I made on my Dreamport I have to let it play out to an old memory, which makes the job easier for the store. A whole six years of this nonsense and I’ll be good, free of ads.
The ad’s disembodied male voice starts its line of gab. “We interrupt your day to bring you a once-in-a-lifetime deal!”
Cue-in the recorded memory of the day of my purchase as the guys lean back on their camp chairs, glugging their beers, watching the memory-ad as I, too, watch myself in the visuals, third person:
“Feeling lonely, bored, or uninspired?” the voice continues. “Dreamport allows consumers to manufacture their dreams into a new reality where anyone anywhere in the world can join, subscribe, and interact with each user’s Dreamport or even link one another’s into a network, a community. Create your own universe, events, games, or lover’s network.” The slogan expands out into the screen: “Dreamport: the new way to be social. Purchase with a once-off lifetime fee prior to our upgrade date that will have new users subscribing for a monthly fee. Your mind is the new web …”
Kefilwe gets bored and signs up. Wonders why it needs WiFi. Doesn’t matter, as long as its source of power is not electricity but her, somehow. At least, it’s not outfitted with cords and connection ports, just buttons and LED lights. Instead, she’s meant to embed two thumb-sized circular plates to her temples that will somehow connect her mind to the device, an interface of some sort or something like that, the sales representative mentioned, as she stared at his tight belt strangling his beer belly.
His grubby fingers fingered his buzzcut as he spoke. “It’s a wireless connection to you. The real you.”
“Right,” she mused as they stood in one of the aisles of the electronics store, towering with shelves stocked with printers.
“The ‘you’ hidden within this shell of a body,” he emphasized. “But drink at least two glasses of water before use. And make sure you only use it when you go to sleep—not when you’re awake, driving, or utilizing machinery.”
She stroked the glossy knee-high box of the Dreamport as she listened to him.
“Crimes in dreams are legal.” Then he gestured with his hands in a casual manner. “It’s still a bit of unregulated territory so you can get away with anything, provided it endangers no one outside.”
She just stared, slow on the uptake.
He sighed. “If you get your dreams and our reality mixed up, there are obviously consequences to what you do in this world and not the Dreamport’s one, which is why you can’t use it when you’re awake.” Appearing uncomfortable, he wiped at the sweat forming on his forehead with a checkered handkerchief he’d procured from his chino pants’ back pocket. Then he leaned in, whispering, “So make sure, if you, like, say, commit murder or I don’t know, rape someone, that it happens in the Dreamport’s world.”
She gasped. Stumbled back like he’d clocked her. Eyes widened by shock.
“What. The. Fuck?”
He shrugged. “I know. Crazy people out there. Not that I believe in that. But that’s the most common question we get in our FAQ, just wanted to get that out of the way in case you were keen.”
“In murdering or raping someone? What the fuck you think I am?”
“I wasn’t insinuating that you are that type,” he added. “I’m just listing out the pros of using our machine.” He sighed. “Once you’ve finished a sleep session, waking up automatically deactivates it. Remove the Dreamport’s connective plates and place them in a dry area away from direct sunlight, otherwise, they’ll become defective.”
“How do I sign out without waking up?” she asked.
He swallowed like he was praying she wouldn’t ask that question. A nervous laugh escaped his mouth. He wiped at the sweat pooling in his deep-set eyelids. “Why would you want to wake up?” He smiled, evading it successfully. “This is heaven for a couple of bucks. Most users have connected themselves permanently and receive high commissions by allowing us to rent out their bodies, which tackles that atrophy mayhem. We consider them as our ambassadors. You can be one too. For that, you get this at a 50 percent discount.”
“Uh, no thanks.”
His tablet glowed and he looked down at it with a satisfied grin. “Ah, I’ve just received your medical assessment by one of our doctors. You’re in the clear. No allergies. And you’re compatible with our merchandise.” He looked up at her. “The Dreamport releases a medicated mist to synchronize you to its system. Has some sedative qualities that assists with your sleep sessions. Don’t worry, it works in the way of safety assurance of emetic drugs—the safety ejection is triggered if you’ve surpassed your stipulated duration time. It won’t affect you during the day. Now.” He stared at the tablet, finger at the dip in his chin, musing. “Make sure you’ve already vetted anyone you want to invite into your Dreamport. They typically carry a green dot next to their username. Vetting means we’ve also done a background check, such as prior criminal activities, domestic violence, sex offenders, pedophiles, et cetera. We allow in every type of user, even non-vetted ones. The verified ones are like prime real estate, meaning they’re high on the trust hierarchy, and they have access to more benefits, making them more powerful.” He leaned in secretively. “You kind of have to sign away a lot of your privacy to opt-in to that scheme. Would you like us to vet you?”
“That sounds expensive. Paying with my privacy, I mean.”
“Well, procuring safety is expensive.”
“What of my privacy will I be losing?”
“Same as when you host your body, for security purposes of course, in case we may need to take motor control of your body.”
Ahhh, like the Guest & Host app.
“You won’t be losing anything. We value your privacy. You’ll be gaining high security. You’ll know you’re in safe hands if you’re interacting with a vetted person as opposed to someone who isn’t,” he continued. “In the Dreamport world, you’re typically able to differentiate vetted users from unverified users by their crystal-clear avatar, which stands for transparency. The blurry images of unverified users are a constant reminder that you may be dealing with a duplicitous person …”
The memory-ad’s colorful world petered out from the living room as the guys lost focus and started dancing on the balcony, the beat of the bass drawing high into the night …
“I don’t care if people call me a slut, prostitute, or a sinner,” I say, lying on my bed, leg crossed against my thigh. “Insults don’t pay for survival, surviving does.” My phone buzzes. “Chommie, hold up. Just got a text on my Dreamport’s phone. Listen, I’ll call you back, soon-soon.”
I can feel Larona’s eye roll over the phone. “You’re still on that shit-tourism Guest & Host app aren’t you? Man, what a way to waste your Dreamport points. You realize those Guests are only exploiting you, right? No need to be a sellout, man.”
“Girl, I’m en vogue. If I’m exploited, I might as well gain from these exploits. Call me a sellout, but I don’t care as long as it pays this big,” I say.
“Ijo, sharpo mma,” she says in lieu of a goodbye, but I cling to the call because her goodbyes are never the final word. “But please get me that asshole’s number, I really want to fuck him over.”
I cough-laugh out my wine, staining my bedspread with blood-red drops.
“What? I’m bored!” she says, laughing. “If he has a girlfriend, then I’ll take whoever is the easiest between them.”
“Right. Man, I gotta go. Talk soon.”
My Dreamport’s smartphone lights up again, and I get that lighthearted, cheerful feeling that my bank account is about to be happy. I access it with a fingerprint scan and slide past the welcome page’s offer: Host your body today and get 100 points for your first three services … Destination: Cape Town, London, Thailand, Morocco, New York … cultural experience … and more! Sign up today! I scroll through the flood of messages.
Not even a hello. Only interested in my age, sex, and location—identifiers that will determine if I’m worth the pursuit. I dip out, unsatisfied at the type of Guests interested in my services, especially non-vetted ones. Anyway, age is nothing but how young you look. Tweaked mine down by four years, which puts me at the most sought-for 22-26 age group, besides that of ethnicity and location if one were to cherry-pick.
I check the next message.
Sad&Lonely: Feeling lonely, just looking for a fake date, fake relationship, but must feel real. Period: 6 months, occasionally once a week. Requests: be goofy and loving, tell me you love me each time. Send me cute pictures. Ask me how my day is. Not looking for sex tbh.
I swipe reject and scroll down to my repeat subscriber.
Tsholofelo: Eita, I’m back! I told some chick that I’m a chick, so I’m looking for a female host. You’re gonna need to change your age to 29. Nothing kinky, just casual coffee date. S/O female, 27, resides in Moshupa. 1 hour max, keep the meter running if it’s all good. Otherwise, automate your Dreamport to rescind the deal if it’s not the real makoya, will pay double. You know the drill.
The real makoya. Is anything ever the real deal online? S/O. A significant other I’m not interested in pursuing.
Me: Sorry, china, I’ve an engagement. Raincheck.
Tsholofelo: Wtf? Didn’t you say you were eyeing some offshore property? Sounds like you’re a few hundred thousand bucks short.
Me: I’ve jobs lined up that will close that financial gap.
Tsholofelo: I knew you’d one day blow and be too big for folk like us. What job is it anyway?
I bluetick him as I scroll to the big job I’ve been waiting for.
I read the double pre-authorization messages. A potential guest wants to connect with your Host services. View? I thumb the view button. Ian & Sue Briar want to send you a message. Hit accept or reject. I hit accept. Jesus, want my lung too just to access this?
I read the title of the message first and squirm: NEW GUEST LOOKING FOR A WILD AFRICAN EXPERIENCE. Oh dear God of mine, let me adjust my no-judgement settings. Good thing is they’re vetted, so they’re completely safe. I take a deep breath and lean against my headboard. When I open the message, the long paragraph sends me reeling; they’re located somewhere in the UK and are using the site’s typical request format.
Ian & Sue Briar
We’re looking to travel to Africa, explore the savanna, wild animals, etc. We want a high-end Black female host. (We’ve seen some poor-looking ones online. We really want someone who’s fashionable with impeccable taste.)
Body type: fit and sexy and very Black.
Location: Okavango, Maldives, Mozambique, Cape Town. Flight and all expenses paid for a four-day trip.
Specifications: We request the Host have no restrictions; all bare. Needed ASAP.
About us: We’ve been married for thirty-five years. Mid-60s, looking for a youthful adventure as we can’t physically travel due to health issues.
S/O: Male host obtained. He’s medium-rare, 27, Zambian, and already vetted for diseases so he’s 100% clean.
Remarks: We see that you update your health docs on the regular. Thank you for this, you wouldn’t imagine the other Hosts who don’t recognize the need for this—your customer service is on a par with the best!
Rate: We’re paying in euro, so don’t overcharge given the lower power of your currency. Of course, we’ll pay thrice your highest baseline commission. And we tip very well!
On-the-menu: Female host must know at least four African languages (our grandchild’s father is Zambian, so preferably that, we’re hungry for new cultures). Musts: Natural hair (sorry we have a thing against chemicals, we’re very organic, sustainable people). Vegan (we know you people have a thing for killing animals, so none of that during our experience).
Lastly, we prefer a Host who’s not in a relationship due to a past traumatizing kerfuffle. If you are in one, tell us now and don’t waste our time. We’re not keen on those jealousy hoo-hahs.
Housekeeping details: We normally trial-run our Hosts, but you came highly recommended—we highly trust our source. We’ve hired two Hosts to surveil and exercise our bodies during our time away. Our family is preparing a special cozy family-only engagement at our estate for our granddaughter, and we’d like to arrive the night before so we’re well-rested for the event.
I set the Dreamport’s smartphone aside. Exhale. What the fuck does very Black even mean? I roll my eyes at the insulting “no diseases” part and the inability to decipher their son-in-law’s Zambian dialect. The S/O is medium-rare, meaning he’s not thoroughly S&M-cooked (lol, I know) and has no experience in non-vanilla sexual requests but is willing to try. They must have liked something about him to choose him. I’m medium-well if you were interested. I don’t have time for niceties and back-and-forth conversations, I’m not a therapist, this is a simple Host transaction. I’ve earned enough stars and money to get away with this. Assuming they’ve read my non-negotiable safety policy, I forward it to them for signing with a prompt to make the 50 percent deposit. They remark with an elated emoji with the words: Our source did tell us you’re a straight shooter. I’ll be sending you the connection link in a couple of hours. Upgrade fees already paid.
The house party dies around two a.m. as I’m making preparations to travel to Okavango, packing and the lot, so that at ten a.m. my body’s well-rested for the flight. And I code in instructions for my body’s interim-Host’s routine for tomorrow’s schedule before Sue’s arrival into my body. As a Guest, when Sue’s settled in my body, I’ll be online in the Dreamport’s world remedying Portia’s problems whilst my body’s earning my keep.
My Dreamport’s smartphone lights up: Susan Briar is requesting permission for the following for four days. When the four-day trip expires at seven p.m., Susan Briar will be immediately ejected. I accept and my Dreamport lights green at the connection. A digitized version of my body rotates below the permission request. Susan Briar’s Dreamport wants access to your body via your Dreamport. Allow or Reject. I hit accept. I sigh at the next stage. To personalize Susan Briar’s experience please permit access to the following:
Eyes: Grants the user visual perception and for capturing data. Data is stored in our cloud servers and deleted after 30 days. We value your privacy. Data may be shared with third parties to enhance and optimize your experience. Permitting this also grants Susan Briar access and control of your internal and external organs.
Voice: Allows the Guest to use your voice.
Reproductive Organs: Allows the Guest to manage and participate in sexual activities whilst adhering to your house rules. Note: permitting this denies the Guest procreation rights as set in your house rules.
Mind: Allows the users to store a portion of their memories during their stay to be returned to them as a video souvenir. Permitting this denies the Guest access to your mind-data and any other relevant personal belongings.
Identity: Allows the Guest to exploit your identity as per the house rules. Permitting this disassociates your identity and personal information with the Guest’s actions during the four-day stay. Disables Guests from gaining access to personal property and finances and offers protection against identity theft. Ensures that Hosts aren’t liable for criminal actions conducted by the Guest during their stay.
I take thirty minutes going through the permission list, making sure nothing’s changed since the last time. And it’s not like any of these points are negotiable. I have to accept everything. If I reject anything, I can’t use the Guest & Host app, which means there is no deal, and I don’t get to make my big bucks.
I read the note at the end of the list: The Guest will be immediately evacuated from your body if they go against your house rules as per the ones you’ve submitted. We strongly advise you regularly update them.
The safety rules avoid the off-chance of finding my body decapitated upon my return. A very expensive insurance I paid that some Hosts overlook at a very severe consequence; one Host found one of their limbs missing, and another’s kidney was stolen, no lie.
Finally, after that tedious process of accepting everything, the final message appears: ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO GRANT POSSESSION OF YOUR BODY TO SUSAN BRIAR?
A tiny tremor of an internal voice sends warning signals, not in the form of words, but a shiver down my spine and sweat speckles my forehead. Every single time this message comes on I get nauseous and scared. I’ve always 100 percent fulfilled the Host service with the safe return of my body. And it always fucks my mind over how quickly foreigners can obtain possession of our bodies faster than we can obtain a visa to another African state or body. But like I said, if I’m exploited, I might as well gain from these exploits. So I hit accept.
Ten minutes later, Sue apps me.
Ian & Sue: The site was a bit of a finicky process, but we managed to action the deposit. That concludes today’s business.
Me: I hope you enjoy your stay.
At three a.m., my already-vetted, already-obtained medium-rare S/O Tepwanji messages me.
Tepwanji: Ian and Sue will only be available around lunchtime. We could do a reconnaissance of the place, chat at the bar, ride a mokoro …
Me: Don’t take this personally, but this is business. I’ll do my stuff, you’ll do yours.
Tepwanji: Oh, ok. No problem. I just thought since we’re going to get intimate and all …
Me: Whatever happens when I’m not in my body stays outside my mind.
Tepwanji: Wait, your mind doesn’t capture these moments? Attack you with them occasionally?
Me: When I leave my body, I leave it, it’s no longer mine. Y’all stay clinging to it. How you expect to be fine after that?
Tepwanji: Well, uh, thanks for the tip. So where will you mind-vacate whilst they’re using your body?
Damn, they got a tjatjarag S/O. I’m not getting paid for this. So I bluetick him.
The Dreamport, a sleek motherfucker. White, portable, measures 15 x 9 x 20 inches (LxWxH), roughly 6,000 grams. Voice and mind-controlled. Its power source is my body. Dreamports are vampiric, sucking data, battery, and spiritual bandwidth. It sits by my bedside with a timer set to eject the Guest at the appropriate time. A Xhosa friend recommended the ubulawu plant, and I’ve no fucking clue to its equivalent Setswana name. She’d advised it’s best to consume it like tea when using the Dreamport, for security purposes and agency. Gives the sessions potency. The first time I used it, it materialized a kill switch in my Dreamport sessions, nothing I ever intend to put my body through.
I lie on my bed with the Dreamport’s connection plates affixed to my forehead and the LED light turns from red to mauve. Slowly, the tea relaxes my body into a deep sleep serenaded by the Dreamport’s self-selected track.
I wake up in a dark, cuboid room, the interchange between both worlds, encased in a lucid husk with a tinge of warm light bleeding through its skin, like sunlight seeping into closed eyelids. Permits easy transport. It has two doors, one leading back to my body, titled: Kefilwe Kgosi, my name—the door, gilt-edged with the dust of sleep. The other door leads to Portia’s Dreamworld and alternatively her catfishing boyfriend’s dream-mind. Two doors separated by a chamber space, like a mantrap security door. Other users just want to slip smack-dab into the mosh pit of their nightmares or the syrupy quality of a dream. I’m still in-between sleep and lucid-feeling. Sometimes I choose to sit in this nothingness space, a feeling of emptiness, no remark, no ripple of emotions. They say you stay in here too long and you forget being human; some have eroded themselves into dust here, manifested daggers, all sorts of weapons to make the killing easier, whilst their bodies lay comatose, dripping and evaporating life into the atmosphere. The insurers would come with their policies, proffer out the payouts, and take what belongs to them: the body, written off, but still recyclable, still worthy to earn them paybacks.
Outside the cube, planted on its façade is the kill switch. A hand-sized black rectangular lever. If I’m ever compromised, all I’d need to do is pull it down. There’s a reason it’s not inside the cube—the cube is a metaphor for safety. The only reason you’d end outside the cube is because someone has stolen access to your body. “If you ever use the kill switch, your body will instantly be paralyzed, trapping whoever’s in there,” my Xhosa comrade offered. “That means no one goes in or out of your body. Bad news is you can never return to your body.”
I shiver at the thought of that. I look back at my name-door that will lead me back to myself, and I know behind it is the pillowy dark ether I will float into as the waters tide me into my body. I always wondered why these doors were labeled in our names as if we didn’t know ourselves or the path back to ourselves. Maybe we don’t really know who we truly are.
The air is thickening with sleep, making it slower to wade through to Portia’s door. A fraction of concentration and I manipulate my limbs and arms dream-wise. I stretch out my arms, grip through the air-thick fabric, and drag my feet through this viscosity until, finally, I reach the cold sharpness of Portia’s doorknob. Drag it open into blinding light.
A plaza, midway between three glinting skyscrapers. Most of them act as a safe for Portia’s memories and secrets. One of them a doorway that will allow me to riffle through her ex-boyfriend’s data to extract what he has on her before he ultimately uploads it or blackmails her. I find myself standing in a line that will lead into one of her buildings. But the line crawls forward slowly as the guards assess each individual.
Time is a knee-backward being. Rain drips back to the sky, a blue-stirred canvass broken up by speeding clouds. Standing in the paved courtyard preceding the building, I eye the skies, anxious and trying to resuscitate my courage. I only have about three days, which here can last three seconds or weeks, depending on the worldbuilders of this world. It’s not my Dreamport so it’s not oriented around my activities. Anything redundant, it speeds up to the next plot point, and that could happen anytime. Finally, the man before me in line is processed by the guards, proffers an irritated sigh as he picks up his luggage, enters the building. I shuffle forward to be scanned, useless theatrics in this reality. I’m already logged in, authorized, but this double verification is necessary for the worldbuilders, the investors, and owners for consumers who backtrack, armored with lawyers, spitting lawsuits and counter-sues. This is a safety measure for them and their profits. The clock standing over the plaza shows me the time in the real world. I gasp. About seven hours have passed, meaning Susan’s in my body already. I’ve been in line for seven hours? No, I shouldn’t worry.
“Mma,” the guard says. Face blurred, of course he’s not vetted.
“Hang on, I have them somewhere,” I say, patting my million pockets.
Liars, fucking liars. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for other users’ property misusing people’s data, which means it’s the worldbuilder’s property now. The wind stirs into my lungs. I gasp. A Fela Kuti song blows the wind eastward. The sun should be high, warding toward the west, but it’s slowly slipping away from the sky. Seismic vibrations roar beneath the soles of my shoes and I know I’m done for. Something’s wrong. My subconscious is trying to extract me. But why? If it does, it’ll jeopardize everything and probably destroy our access and connection to Portia’s ex. Don’t panic or else it’ll make it worse. Worse is me being lost in here forever.
I inhale, exhale. Not that I need to breathe in here. It’s all for theatrics. But I hope the meditative ritual will relax my rising panic. Something’s wrong. And my mind knows that. Will throw me out into a different environment that feels safe. A different reality. My panic ensues; the three towers, ground, and sky bicker with the surrounding air in a dizzying fashion into a mutated explosion that ensnares me into a new reality.
I wake to find myself standing at the bus stop. I’m a heartbeat away from a cataclysmic mental breakdown. Must gain control of the situation. I quickly absorb the surrounding noise of hooting combis. A blurry beggar, ‘fro dusty, clothes baggy, stakes out his hand in my personal space, shaking it for coins. I pat my pockets again. Shake my head.
The beggar spits at me, mutters, “Fotseke.” A literal fuck you. A derogative targeted toward dogs to chase them away. I burn with anger. He raises his hand as if to strike me. He’s blurry, which means he ain’t prime, that means he’s a slave to the physics of all worlds, so I bedazzle him by ducking in the way of a heavyweight’s dance, dodging a right hook. He sways, realizing the stunning value of gravity, even in this world, because he’s unlike the prime people, who are indispensable, untouched by such physics.
I backtrack, to step back into the interchange. Scream “Home. Take me home now.” Even the words don’t trigger me back to the Dreamport’s interchange. Something’s wrong.
A skinny condai, a combi conductor for a Tlokweng Route 5 combi hollers, “Mabebeza, vatsay? Mainmall, UB?”
I hate it when strangers call me babes. And I ain’t heading anyway to the old central business district or the University of Botswana. I need to get back to my body. I feel like my subconscious is about to attack me, so I shake my head, speed-walk past him, hands deep in my windbreaker. Combis rumble, spitting smoke. A man frog-marches an old woman, bickering where’s she going, shouting, “Climb this one, sisi.” Birds flicker to the sky, picking it apart with their beaks, sending bits of clouds flailing to the ground like hail. Something’s wrong. “Home,” I shout. Nothing.
Catching Portia’s catfisher is the least of my worries when I’m halfway to losing my body. Provided I solve my little fuck up, there’s still the off chance of dealing with Portia’s problem later. Should anything happen, Larona will step in.
Something not’s hundreds; something’s off. I need to see what Susan’s doing with my body. So I grab a passer-by and stab my arm into their chest and scream “Home!” The reset button, and the world tailspins into darkness, stripping me from this reality.
I drop through the cuboid’s ceiling onto its cold floor in the dark-frothed interchange’s environment. I get up, slap my hand against the walls adjacent to my name-door to view the visuals of Susan’s activity. “We apologize, but you do not have the authorization to access this identity,” a bodiless male voice says.
“This is my body!” I shout. “What the hell do you mean I don’t have the authority?”
Silence. If I open the door, I’ll be thrown back into my body, which will eject Susan and I’ll be charged a huge fine for canceling this deal. Fuck this deal. I grab the doorknob, twist it to open, only it won’t yield. The door burns my hand and I yank my arm back, flicking the pain away. The door slides away from my grasp and the air drags me back.
The room shakes, vibrates, begins moving downward at a sickening speed. I press myself against the walls, suffocated by vertigo. The cube shuttles downward, like an elevator severed from its cables, and crashes into the ocean of time, throwing me back and forth against its walls, until I’m on my knees and hands, panicking and crying for stability. I watch the walls become translucent as the cube drowns, falling deeper into this slow time.
My spirit aches, screams. Reality is severed. I’m trapped in a glass room, banging my fists against it. Time is water. I’m underwater in the current of time, watching time float by. My hand on the room’s thick glass, unable to shatter it. They set me up. These old bastards set me up, to steal my time, my life so they live longer. It’s a guarantee that once their travel time expires, the Guests are ejected from the Host’s bodies, transported back into their bodies. There’s no test to decipher if it’s the real me in my body.
Maybe I should’ve found out who their source was that recommended me. One of my previous clients? Did they know the Briars’ intention with my body? What were they going to do with their original bodies? Dispose of them once their hosts’ time expired? An insurance investigation would ensue to figure out where the fuck they’re at. I may be the highest-paid host on the app, but my funds are certainly below their standards. What is their plan? Take hostage of our black bodies, migrate to the UK? Is their family also in on it? Waiting for their return, to welcome them back into the family with official access to their resources. No, no, no. Do they think I would give my body up with no insurance should I lose it? With no fight at all?
I must shut down my own body.
The ubulawu plant enhanced my dream session such that I gained a connection to their bloodline the minute Susan entered my body. Now I have access to their whole family, and I won’t waste any minute of that power. I’ve researched them well. Using the key of their bloodline to traverse down their lineage, I will find their youngest beneficiary, a twenty-four-year-old man.
The ocean of time outside this glass submarine is only the channel, the bloody riverine that will guide me to the name-doors that belong to each of their family members. And I get to choose anyone I want. The youngest stipulated to receive the highest portion of their estate and shares.
I only have a few seconds before this blood-time will drown me.
I kick my feet against the glass walls, telling myself this is not real. This prison is only a construct of my imagination, and I will it to break. It shatters and time-water streams in with force. First, the kill switch, a failsafe. They’ll remain paralyzed for years, unable to speak or move or leave. I don’t feel sorry for thieves and murderers who break into a house and only get what they came to deliver to innocents. Serves them right. But if I return in one of their bodies, their family might interrogate me to confirm my identity. That’s if they’re in on it.
I’ll take my chances. I press my palm against the kill switch lever. Pause, heartbroken, shaken. My heart sinks into my stomach at what I’m about to do to the home I was born in and lived in for over twenty years. A betrayal. An abuse. My poor body. I am so sorry. I hate them so much for forcing me into this position. They deserve this. I drag the lever down. An explosion of darkness above. The cube shatters, sinks downward. Its force throws me outward.
I swim upward where several sets of doors float, and I swim my way toward the door titled Jeremy Briar, which shows me a view of his surroundings: he’s in the guest toilet, washing his hands, running his tongue along his white teeth, chestnut hair cropped to the skull. I swim further, faster, out of breath, out of sleep, and reach the cold sharpness of his door. I cling my fingers and feet to its gilt-edge of sleep as I drag-force it open, my teeth gnashing against each other.
The old couple chose to possess us, now they will be prisoners in our black bodies. We are no longer the possessed, we are the possessor of what drowned us.
The door sweeps open and a torrent of the owner’s spirit gets sucked out as I force my way in and shut the door as their spirit dissolves into my past.
I wake up into a bleached, muscled, Botoxed body with its two blue teary eyes staring back at me. In the mirror. And I stumble back. Terrorized by them. Wish my eyes back to brown, back to me, back to Black. I breathe. Relax. I can always find a Black body after this. I smile at my reflection, use my new bass voice, practice it: “Good evening, ladies and gentleman, welcome aboard Flight ‘About time I have me some fun of that non-stop service of cis white male privilege.’ Cruising at an altitude of ‘fuck you’ feet. Flight time will be however the fuck long I want.” Harsh laughter trickles from my mouth. I lean against the marble sink. For a powerful goal, this white body is only a temporary stay … and I will enjoy my stay.
He’s been building up inventory for a while in preparation for the gift-giving season. Phalanxes of pocket robots stand on his bookshelves, his eating counter,
I feel the tack prick harder than it did this morning, because with T there was something abyss-like that might have swallowed me, had he
“I’m Fiona,” I say, holding out a hand. When she shrinks away, I back off. Some people who come to me don’t want to be
We’re just two ordinary girls in a city bludgeoned by its state, modernity submerged in technology stabbing the stars with pollution and nonsensical dreams.