Author: Alzo David-West

The Man walked into the empty room. He sat down on a chair.

“Why do you want to change?” the Voice asked.

“Because I’m tired,” the Man said, “because I’m tired, and I’m broken.”

“Please explain your reason,” the Voice required.

“Yes. You see, all my life, I’ve tried to be a good, honest, hardworking person, but all I’ve ever gotten for it is a lot of suffering. It doesn’t matter what I do or think. There’s so much in the world I can’t control. There’s so much that’s impossible to control, and good doesn’t always return good. You can be kind, polite, and respectful, yet people will still talk behind your back. People will spite you, envy you, hate you, and want to destroy you, and it makes no difference how much you try to satisfy anyone. I used to be able to ignore it, but after my wife died in childbirth, and when I had to commute three hours underground into the City for work, everything got much worse. All those shambling strangers like shadows in a cage—indifferent, uncaring, shifting. You cough, and someone moves away as if you have a disease. You sit next to someone, and the person jumps away. Those are the things that made it very hard, that made it very painful, in the tunnels, on the trains, in the cage. It was very difficult. It was so difficult when my wife died. I lost my ability to trust anyone. There was a neighbor—an old housewife with a husband, a professor of childhood education, and a son, an apathetic postal worker—who offered to help, and she watched the baby for the length of the day until evening, when I came back from work, maybe for a week. But then she said I couldn’t be depending on people. The words were so painful because when she first offered to help, she told me that since my wife had been her friend, I was her friend, too. After she said what she said, I visited her the next afternoon to get the baby, and I gave her a small gift bag of chocolates, and I told her her chore was finished. It wasn’t easy for me to take care of the small child alone. And when I couldn’t work anymore, the Monitors came and took my beautiful little girl away. Sometimes now, I wish it was a dream, a bad dream, but it happened, and it can’t be any other way. I—I’ve wandered off from my main reason,” the Man said.

“All reasons are germane,” the Voice replied.

“But there are so many reasons. There are so many things in my mind, so many things that go back and forth from now and before that, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know, so it all comes out aimlessly and incoherently. I—,” the Man paused. “I’m tired. I’m so tired. Too many things have happened and accumulated, and I’m alone. A long time ago, I wanted to like people, and I wanted to be liked, too. I didn’t want anyone to misunderstand, but everyone goes about things in their own frame of mind, and everyone has their own way of seeing things, so no one can really understand, and you can’t understand yourself. I want to change because I don’t want to feel the hurt anymore. I don’t want this awful, terrible pain in my heart. I don’t want to have to worry about what the others think and say—the slights, the insults, the cruel things; yet I still want to be useful and needed. That is why. That is why I want to be … a computer … a mechanical, processing, insensate computer. I won’t have to take the hurt anymore.” The Man was silent.

“You qualify for the change,” the Voice confirmed.

And the Man, who sat down on the chair in the empty room, changed.