Author: Malcolm Carvalho

Bhumi’s idly slurping her milkshake. She has a playful air about her. Okay, I’ve only met her an hour ago, but this feels great.

I have a simple rule when it comes to dating. Get her to acknowledge three common things between us and it’s a good start thereon. Bhumi and I have already found more than that.

Wait, did I say good start? I miss the old times. Having a conversation here has been a struggle. Damn you, Ginzo.

“So, you go rock climbing to Equilibrium?” she asks.

“About once a month,” I say, trying to sound modest. “If you wish, you can join me on the weekend.”

Ouch, should not have said that. What if Ginzo’s cameras catch on the words? Even if I had spoken softly enough to avoid getting picked. I’ve heard they don’t even need to record the sounds these days. Algorithms can read lips better than humans.

Bhumi smiles. She does not talk much. Just how Ginzo wants it, and perhaps she knows that well. People meet, the system sensors measure the pheromone activity, track pupil dilation, our voice pitch. Add in the app users’ votes and we get a compatibility score.

Come on, this silence is killing.

As if on cue, she says. “I’d like you to come see my play when we perform here.”

“I’d love to.” Isn’t she a godsend? Loves climbing, theater. A touch competitive as that bowling game suggested. But man, don’t I love a challenge?

Silence again. I can understand. Neither of us wants to play the game too boldly. And for what? A better date? Who knows if we will be matched up again?

And there’s the risk of Ginzo barring you from the app if you come across as being too You. That’s what the terms and conditions said. Reign it in, ladies and gentlemen. No loud laughter, no advances, not even a peck on the cheek when you say goodnight. First dates must follow protocol. So must the second and third, if you get that far. Let Ginzo decide.

I look at her, maintaining eye contact. Her pupils dilate; it must be a good sign.

Shush, don’t ruin it. Can’t come across as too enthusiastic. Damn it, I must make my intentions clear, whether Ginzo permits it or not.

“You have lovely eyes,” I mumble. Cheesy.

She smiles. “I thought you’d come up with a better line.”

“Like what?”

She leans forward. “Like how they make you feel?”

My feet kick the table. Not hard enough, fortunately.

“Come on, Rohan. You think you can hide it?”

I fumble with my glass. I cover my lips and mouth the words. ‘Do you think I can say it here?’

She reaches out her hand and squeezes mine. At that moment, she looks so pretty I’m convinced she’s out of my league. How on earth did the app pair us up?

That’s when it sinks in. What have I got to lose? I go for broke. I mock-roll my eyes when she slurps her milkshake again. ‘Strawberry? You didn’t outgrow your teens yet?’

‘Big talk from a guy who’s worn Superman socks.’

Touché. We go back and forth with the banter, none holding back. In between, we talk about our childhood, hers in Mysore, mine in Mumbai.

We’ve only begun let our real versions crack out of our online avatars when the app timer buzzes.

We get off the table, hug each other and click a selfie. Ginzo users will vote soon. Now, how do I hack the app to turn the nays into ayes?