Author: Glenn Leung
Meng hobbled into the room to the sound of books shuffling and light dusting. Sandra’s curls were the first things she noticed, followed by the swing of the duster as she cleaned the bookshelf.
‘No, it’s not right… too rigid.’
This android isn’t Sandra. She has Sandra’s body, voice, hardware, but her name is Jasmine. Like all pseudo-sentient robots, she had chosen her own name. After her mother paid the strange man a lot of money, he had supposedly recovered the data from Sandra’s burned-out processor. But when Meng’s childhood nanny came back to life, she was a different ‘person’. All they got as an explanation were scary words like quantum processor, fidelity, wavefunction and deniability. What was a poor immigrant mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter to do?
“Oh. Good morning, Meng. Your Mom just left to get you more medicine. Try not to walk around too much, ok? ”
Leaning against the door frame and drawing her breath, Meng summoned the energy for a rather strange question.
“Hey Jasmine, have you heard of reincarnation?”
Jasmine put her duster down and turned to look at Meng.
“It’s kind of silly,” said Meng. “After what the doctors said yesterday, I began thinking. Well…what if it’s real, you know? Maybe it’ll be nice. Maybe I’ll be reborn as a healthy person, in a land where I look like the people around me. Maybe…maybe it’ll be like what you went through…you know?”
Jasmine’s laugh was more of a staccato compared to Sandra’s.
“You mean when I changed from Sandra to Jasmine? Silly girl, you will be Meng for a very long time, and that’s great! You may not be able to run or play like the other children, but you are so much smarter than them. Look at all your books! Other nanny-bots tell me their children do not read that much.”
“But the doctors…”
“The doctors are not certain, Meng. I have downloaded the medical report into my memory.”
A tepid web of tension filled the air. Meng felt the borrowed strength drain out of her legs. Sandra would never shut down conversations like this, even with the best intentions. Jasmine noted the disappointed look on Meng’s face.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why my programming didn’t stop me then. I realize you just wanted to talk.”
Meng was not sure if she could carry on this heart-to-heart. She decided to try something else.
“That’s alright. By the way, do you remember the song Sandra used to sing for me when I was little? Can you sing it to me now?”
Jasmine’s head tilted slightly in confusion.
“Meng, as I have explained, I only remember vague things from when I was Sandra. I wouldn’t remember a whole song. Perhaps if the score is written somewhere…then…”
“Sandra never wrote the song down. She said she would remember it with her heart… for me…”
Jasmine walked over to the sulking Meng and looked her in the eye with the best consoling face her programming could muster.
“Meng. I’m sorry, but I’m not Sandra. That’s how it is. But we will get to know each other better, ok? You will grow big and strong, make a lot of friends, and have a good family. You don’t need to become another person for that…”
Jasmine gave Meng her best smile before picking up the duster again. Resigned, Meng retreated to the certainty and comfort of her wheelchair.
‘I hope you’re right…I hope you’re right.’