“Lucia, would you please do me the favor of pulling up the curtains,” Gabino Santiago rasped on his bed. “I want to see the outside.” An ordered tangle of sensory cables and tubes connected to a pulsating machine at the corner, which gave readings in numbers, ran all over his body.
“I’ve been expecting to do that as I have been doing for months, old Santiago,” the nurse said. She put his breakfast of oatmeal, glass of milk and a piece of banana on the movable table before him and walked toward the window and pulled the curtain. The weak natural light from outside washed into the room.
“A favor for you, my love,” the nurse said in a tender, teasing tone.
He heard how lovingly the nurse called him ‘my love’, but it did not matter a bit to him. All he wanted was to see the outside. He pushed a button besides the steel railing and his bed adjusted propping him halfway up. He looked beyond the glass window, over the spacious green lawn, at the line of old mango trees that hid by its rich foliage a creek, then past the shrubbery knoll to the jagged outline of the city. Soon the sun would rise over those glass and steel buildings and perennial light crafts zooming in and around the labyrinthine streets of the city.
“Eat your breakfast now, my love.”
He continued staring at the view outside, not hearing anymore what the nurse was saying to him, staring at the horizon until the blue sky turned lighter and lighter and he watched it with wanton pleasure knowing that he was visually feast on something beautiful beyond description was something he would never forget.
He could have done watching the sunrise by closing his still sleepy eyes and mentally switching the nanochip in his brain and recall the same, familiar view. But why settle for something artificial when you can have the natural fresher one, he thought; every sunrise always brings a brand new visual experience, if one is only aware, more marvelous than the previous ones.
He squinted from time to time to absorb the invisible spirit of the view. He knew this occurrence will never be orphaned, relegated to a forgotten memory. He would always remember it the way he had experienced it the first time.
Everybody in the world remembers everything now, he thought, smiling bitterly.
Anyway, the version of his nanochip memory was the still reliable Super MemSoft III that could store fifty more years of experience, if he ever reached that length. His wife had the latest PulseSoft version 6.0 which had a far superior storage capacity with features like capability to tap on its content so one can see her sensory experience and mental objects and mental formations during a specific experience in standard hologram media.
He winced when he thought about the fact.
In split seconds the sub-atomic circuitry in his memory chip calculated that it was almost five decades ago, or to be more precise 48 years, three months, seven days, 16 hours, 24 minutes and 45 seconds since the 27th of December of the year 2252. He was a century-and-a-half years old then, and around the globe during that time China suffered a death toll of two thousand who perished when a meteor hit their controlled colony in Mars; the Philippines signed a ten-year agreement with Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia on a space venture to explore Pluto for mineral mining; an earthquake with 7.5 intensity in the Richter scale hit Brazil that virtually severed the country into half as the ground opened a maw of twelve meters wide and several miles long with half a kilometer deep in the gash.
It was during this time when an inexplicable obsession to recall something in his childhood forced him to consult a memory nanochip specialist.
Dr. Artemio Baltazar, who sat at the other end of the table, shook his head with stoic, industrial coldness in his mien that could be interpreted as lack of interest in Gabino’s trouble.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” the doctor said, leaning on the backrest of his black leather swivel chair as if announcing a terminal verdict on the case.
“Do you mean there’s no way to retrieve it?” Gabino asked, refusing to comprehend what he had just heard.
“The problem is that the experience occurred prior to the implant,” the doctor said rocking gently on his chair, then added, “You must understand that the chip’s function is not to absorb and interpret your pre-implant experience. It just does not work that way.
“There’s still no technology capable of decoding an already imprinted memory in your brain cells. Our science is still too young to pull that kind of thing.”
“There must be a way, somehow.” Gabino mumbled feebly.
“Have you tried the old science of regression? Practitioners of this ancient method are now rare. But I bet you can find one. As they fondly say: The soul remembers.”
Gabino strayed off his sight from the doctor, on toward the wall where wooden plaques of scientific achievements by the doctor hung, and composing mentally the right words to express his sad, frustrated thoughts.
“What I’m trying to recall is of no crucial circumstance to my whole well-being,” Gabino declared.
“Then why the hell are you bugging yourself with it?” Dionisio Santos, his partner in the business of selling semi-conductors, said.
“Because nobody longer remembers what it was, that’s why.”
“I don’t get the importance of remembering whatever it was, kumpadre.”
Gabino went for his strong beer and took straight gulps of it; his gullet feeling the bittersweet coldness ran inside. Flustered more to construct an intelligible philosophy behind his concern than the effect of the alcohol, he wiped his mouth by the back of his hand and found solace in lighting a cigarette.
Taking a drag and exhaling the smoke by which his mind could make out the shape of the mythological dragons, extinct elephants and lions to form finally as a cloud of forgetfulness in the air, he leaned his arms on the table and said:
“Say, what if a year or ten from now, I tell you that I don’t remember that I mentioned something like this to you?”
“It can’t happen. We remember everything now, Gabs.”
“No. Forget about the chips in our brains. Just for the sake of debating on the issue.”
“You’re acting stupid,” Dionisio said. “Just enjoy your drink and the show.”
“No, just follow my line of reasoning.”
“Okay, okay. If you insist.”
“So, a year or more into the future, I say to you that I never mentioned something to you about forgetting something and that this drinking session never took place.”
“What would be your reaction to it?”
“Probably, I’d be baffled at your failure to remember it.”
“That’s right,” Gabino said and taking another gulp for his strong beer and added, “And what if you enjoyed this night, met a girl here that you liked and cherished it.”
“Then I say to you in a year or more that I don’t remember that you met a girl here, never.”
“What would be my reaction then? Probably, I’d be frustrated.”
“That’s it. Because you’re the only one who remembers it.”
“So what, at least I still remember it.”
“But it comes to a point when you just forget everything about it also. And you sense that there is something that you just have forgotten.”
“You’re twisting my brain, Gabs,” Dionisio said. “Let’s stop this thinking too much.”
“That’s what happened to me. They are the first to forget. Now, even I can no longer remember what it was,” Gabino said.
“If nobody remembers it including you, what is there to worry about?” Dionisio said, his nostrils flaring to put logic into it and added with the wisdom of a practical man, “Nobody’s bank account will lose money over that.”
“I just feel the obligation to remember what it was.”
“Nonsense. Just enjoy the show,” Dionisio said and trained his eyes on the stage and nudging lightly Gabino’s elbow, “Hey, Gabs. That girl in the middle sure has nice tits.”
Gabino looked at the girls performing on the stage and took another gulp of his beer and thought, isn’t this obligation to remember that proved to be the push for the successful international law on compulsory implantation of nanochip memory in every human brain? When science discovered the elixir of youth of man by tweaking his human genome – the progress of aging relegated to history and extended the lifespan of man by more than three fold – man now has to face another challenge: the capacity for vivid recollection of his longer life, of his remote past. His natural ability for this task is doubtful, if not impossible. A century of a lifetime is a heavy burden for the natural memory to bear. What more two centuries? To clearly remember a century of one’s lifetime makes one a saint, he thought. Two centuries, with certainty, will send him to the madhouse. Yes, to the madhouse, and to this Gabino slightly wanted to smile at his new found wisdom. To the madhouse, he repeated to himself. Straight to the madhouse.
“You think too much, Gabs.”
“So what’s wrong with thinking too much?” Gabino said and guzzled the content of his can of beer, freeing his hold of the other end of the morning broadsheet that limped over his lap.
“I didn’t say it’s wrong. Just occupy yourself with other important things,” Adriana said as she unhooked her bra in front of the cabinet dresser, the blue hologram light of the television, which showed the late evening news, an unstable flickering blue sheen on the skin of her back.
“What do you suggest as other important things I should occupy myself then?”
“I don’t know. Just stop burdening yourself with it too much.”
“You’re saying that because it doesn’t and will never be of your concern.”
“So, it’s my fault now, eh,” she said, now wrapped already in satin lingerie.
He ignored what she said and continued reading the morning paper.
She walked around to the other side of the bed and lay beside him, picking her electronic book on the night table.
“Can we turn off the TV, hon?”
“You’re reading the papers.”
“Then I’m listening.”
“Old man,” she mumbled and shrugged.
He heard that. Old man, he repeated to himself. He furtively stared at her. Her face showed a twenty-something woman at her golden age. He knew also that he looked as a mid-twenty young man, able and brimming with energy of a youth. And nobody could tell that he was a century older than her. He kept staring at her and found the contour of her face perfect and that she was damn so beautiful.
“And will be beautiful for a very long time and never will she forget anything,” he said to himself.
“What?” she suddenly turned to him.
Gabino snapped out of his introspection, surprised that she noticed his stare.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Okay.” She put down the electronic book on the bedside table and looked straight in his eyes. “Tell me about it.”
“About what you are thinking,” she said. “I know you want to say something to me. But don’t talk any crap this time okay.”
“All I think is crap,” he said.
She snatched a deep breath, saying nothing for some seconds and then said, still looking at him:
“Okay, then tell me about this crap you are thinking.”
“You don’t want to hear anything of this crap. You want me to think about other important things, remember?”
“Let’s forget I said that,” she said. “I want to listen to this crap you are thinking.”
Gabino vacillated for a while, but finding an outlet for his thought said:
“Then they were the ones who forget. Now, even I cannot remember what it was.”
“That’s normal to happen in your generation: to forget.”
“But I’m obliged to remember it. To prove that it happened. That it transpired and it was real,” Gabino said. “When nobody remembers it, it is not true. It never happened.”
She looked at his eyes and put her hand on his then she held his cheeks with both hands.
“Hon, don’t strain yourself too much thinking about it.”
Dr. Arturo Villanueva entered the room without announcement. Though his presence was felt the moment he strode towards the bed where Gabino lay. The doctor’s white robe impressed in everyone in the room a sort of an apparition of salvation.
“How are you, Mr. Santiago?”
“I’m fine,” Gabino forced a polite weak smile at the doctor.
The doctor glanced at the machines beside the bed, reading the numbers and everything and then turned again toward Gabino on the bed.
“Is his condition getting well?” Adriana asked sitting by the bed.
The doctor kept his silence as if not hearing any word from her, going on reading the diagnosis in his electronic notebook. He remained mulling in silence, paying a look at his notebook then giving Gabino a gaze from time to time. Finally, he said:
“Can I talk to you outside, Mrs. Santiago.”
Gabino followed with his squinting eyes the two who proceeded toward the door and stepped outside, crossing path with the nurse who entered the room with her tray of medicines.
“How are you, my love,” the nurse greeted Gabino.
“I feel rotten, Lucia,” Gabino whispered on his bed.
“Take your medicine then and you will feel great,” the nurse said.
“How long do I still have to stay in this hospital, Lucia?”
“As far as the doctor says so,” the nurse said handing to him an array of pills and tablets and added, ”Why, you no longer want to see me, my love?”
“I miss the outside.”
“Just follow the instructions of the doctor and your wish will be granted soon.”
“Okay,” Gabino grumbled and took the medicine into his mouth and pushed them down with a glass of water the nurse had handed to him.
“Good,” the nurse said to him smiling. “Bye for now, my love, as I have to attend to my other loves.”
“Bye my love,” Gabino said feeling fine playing with the nurse.
Adriana returned to the room alone, pushing her hanky inside the pocket of her blouse. She walked toward Gabino and planted on his forehead a tender kiss.
“What did the doctor say to you?”
“Nothing. It’s about the bills.”
“You’re not being true to me,” Gabino said.
“What do you mean?”
“I know you are lying. Did he say I’m dying.”
“Stop it, hon. He said nothing but the bills.”
“I don’t care if I’m dying.”
“Probably it’s my time.”
“Oh, please stop that nonsense.”
“Okay, I’ll stop then.”
“Do you want to take a rest?”
“I can’t sleep when I know I no longer remember it. Nobody remembers it anymore and I keep that awareness to my grave.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nobody remembers. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Are we getting into this conversation again? I thought you have forgotten about it already.”
“With a chip in my head I cannot forget that I can’t remember and nobody remembers. That an experience and what had ensued never really existed, never real, when nobody no longer remembers it.
“And I will take that to my grave.”
Adriana gazed at Gabino and said:
“There are experiences meant nobody to remember.”
“Don’t be a sad fool.”
“I’m just am.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Maybe,” he said drawing near toward her to plant a kiss on her lips.
“Tomorrow, watch the sunrise again. I’m sure nobody will forget how it is like.”
“Yes, yes. What a good idea.”