Two to Tango

An unspoken voice from the left says things that will never be said:

“You woke me up at 3AM and said you were leaving. I was groggy and said hasty goodbyes wishing to get back under the sheets. It was a cold night, the day before. I stayed up till the taxi drove you away.

You told me you were upset leaving the city. I wondered then if you cried. We were never too close. We were always cordial; we were non-judgemental about each other. I knew why we could never be thick because it would have ruined it all, don’t you think? Sometimes I look at you and mull over how it would be to know a little more about a person you’ve known for so long.

I don’t know if I really missed you. Maybe the reality that we lived no more in the same city, never really dawned on me. I wish we had known each other a little more. Maybe if I could have predicted your ways, fully understood how one could know exactly what one wants out of life. Do you know I respect you a lot? It is funny because I never could have admitted it to your face.

Sometimes I thought I was just your passing fancy, someone you go to when you needed a night to lay your head or someone to go to because you feel a sense of duty. Every thought stops short when I think why we kept in touch – out of habit, out of inertia, some unwritten code of law?

There are many things I want to tell you. I want to ask for forgiveness for that evening when I was rude to you for no fault of yours. Every time I gather my nerves to bring up that forgotten incident, I wonder if it would reveal a little about how I feel about you. I would feel naked and so raw if that would happen. Once I almost broke down in front of you. I held myself before I became so shameless as to make a spectacle in front of you.

I am scared thinking if this is a thin thread I tread on calling it friendship. It could snap anytime, because those others have snapped and they were thicker.”

An unspoken voice from the right replies silently to those things that will never be said:

“That evening when you were grumpy, I was hurt when you pushed me out of your room. I knew something was troubling you and you would never speak your mind. I knew better to ask, so I thought I’d drop by for a chit-chat. I should have known better.

I am always a little wary of stepping too close to your space; you guard it like a dog, are you aware? You pretend like you are fine with the proximity, but I know you better than that façade. I wonder if you know what you are doing sometimes, but you won’t find me giving you any advice. I know that I can never see things the way you see them.

I have tasted the surfacing belligerence and I’ve backed off soon enough. There’s a wound I never want you to reopen. Not in front of me. I won’t be able hold myself gracefully, you know that. You’ve seen that moment of uncertainty flicker once. Fleetingly. I held back before I let myself show.

When we parted and I had to find a new home, I wondered whether you’d be alone. You said you didn’t know too many people in the city. I was a little worried, then I remembered that I was agonising over trivialities. You’d find company before I say ‘Shakespeare and Company’. You were always like that – a little flighty and then a slight moody. Very unpredictable.

It is amazing how you walk through life waving your arms around showing no care. I don’t know if I want that too. It looks nice on you. I am sure you know what you are doing. I will be here sticking to my nondescript ways. It is a little game we play with each other, never knowing what the other knows and yet never hiding anything from the other. I like this play because it keeps both of us guessing and never knowing and I see that’s how this is going to go on. Never knowing, always wondering.”

There will always be peace between, there will be that peaceful turmoil. Of patience and waiting and expectations.

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A Little Town Called Bangalore

[A break from story-telling and getting as honest as one can.]

Six years ago, when I clambered down a bus that brought me from an industrious town in Tamil Nadu to this city of gardens, it was with a slight trepidation I then confused for excitement that I looked around the busy Madiwala morning. I had come to intern at a company which now cease to exist, possibly eaten up by the newly constructed Namma Metro. I had stayed in Kasturinagar with my sister and her husband while we all waited for life; my sister and her husband waiting for the construction of their house in K.R. Puram, I waited for my appointment letter from an Indian IT giant.

In six months time, I had moved to the prospering Koramangala, knowing fully well that my father had turned down a property deal from a broker ten years back, writing the place off as a dead locality. My aunt who has been residing in Bangalore for the past twenty something years had told my father that the place where he stood was formerly a lake bed. As I slowly discovered the city on foot, rickshaws and buses, I figured the way of Bangalore life, popular cafés and why there was so much angst deep-set within the locals. I saw that idlis and dosas the Sagars serve were differently made from what my palette was so used to in Tamil Nadu. I understood why the city of gardens didn’t have as many garden frequenters as much as it had shopping mall regulars. I also found out why people from the bigger metros came over and complained that this city wasn’t like theirs – because this city just wasn’t like theirs!

I was told the real expansion of the city had started in 1956 when they had decided to change the capital of the Mysore state to Bangalore. Some days when my weekends are free, I climb into the first city bus that comes my way, packed with a bottle of water and a day’s pass ticket to roam around the city to places the pass allows me. When I walk down roads in the older parts of the city, I see why it had once been known as the pensioner’s paradise. I can see how pleasant it must have been to live in a quiet town with its salubrious climate. Whenever I pass by the cultural remains of the city, I am at awe seeing the undying spirit of those patrons who try hard to retain parts of the city remain untouched by industries, commerce and housing complexes.

On the day of my induction, I remember thinking that the road that led to the office headquarters was beautiful with the canopy of trees on either side. It was a long, deserted road, notorious for the recurring thieving incidents. I was warned never to leave from work alone after sunset. Today for a quick commute of five kilometers, I take a vexing, dusty ride that lasts almost an hour during the rush hour times. The deserted road I was warned about is dotted with cafés and beautifully themed high-rise apartments and for a good long time I had considered moving to this part of the city till I came to know that the regions that had once been considered the outskirts have become expensive in the few years it had been left to develop.

Bangalore with its changing landscape needed residents who could adapt with its transformation in its pace. However, the city is packed with mainly two types of people – the old residents who hate seeing the city change faster than their lifestyle could and a floating population that is getting frustrated that it can’t change soon enough.

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Merry Commerce!

This is the season of giving and forgiving, fast breaking and feast making, familial reunions and friendships remembered. So I wait in my room for these moments to pass unobtrusively. While people are huddled in bunches in their houses warming themselves and their hearts, the town quietens out, the streets are spared and light is an all-day affair. This time is for you, commerce.

On the eve of the day blessed by many saints, I decide to walk down the road where I am sure to hear giggles and pealing laughter. A long forgotten road ridden with architecturally brilliant houses and boutiques that are not part of any retail chain. I know this solitary day will cost heavily on my pocket. I feel an itching need to quench a thirst for consumerism. So, dressed breezily to provide enough movement for all limbs, my feet make light contact with the tar road. Had I worked off some of the pre-holiday weight, I could have even been hovering.

As I turn round the last block to face the world’s best road, my heart skips beats with manic fervour. No one to stop me from owning the smooth, linen bed sheet that I had set my eyes on sometime back. This might be stupid; I hear my left foot talking. The right foot stamps it to shun such corrosive thoughts.

The street has changed and I can’t say I am entirely pleased. I remembered the many bungalows, outnumbered shops and the canopied trees. What I see are abundant franchises, houses turned to franchises and restaurants that serve more service than food. I can feel heartbeats returning to normalcy.

All hasn’t changed, I comfort myself. Oh, there’s the shop that still sells cream cakes and there’s the house, where the little blue-eyed boy lives. I wave at the blue-eyed boy, who has grown up to take on college and the girls in it. Maybe that isn’t the little blue-eyed boy. Maybe I need to have a sandwich from the music school café that has three tables for their patrons. Maybe I have taken a wrong turn and walked into another lane. Yet I know no one else who knows this road like the back of their hand, other than I. The music school café sandwich will fix my chagrin.

When I reach the building I had known to be the music school, heigh-ho! it is a gymnasium with beefy men standing around drinking watermelon juice through straws. Afraid that my gaping glares might get interpreted as appreciative stares, I quickly shut my mouth and continue walking. The lightness shifts to my head and before I could stop them, my feet walks into a coffee bar that I hate for their inexcusably, feeble coffee. The rest follows in a daze till two cups of coffee enter my blood stream and I breathe again. Hastily, I pay them off, collecting all change so that they don’t mistake it for a tip for their services.

Scrambling out, I decide the purchase of the bed sheet has become the utmost necessity. I briskly walk past the other stores promising discounts and offers of the most unbelievable nature. Ignoring the mongers, eyes determined, lips laid out in a straight line, I reached the linen store in a sprint. I stood on the opposite side of the road facing the store stripped off its sign board and interiors.

Hazy view, moist eyes, buckling knees, I reached out and grabbed a passer woman’s arm.

“There used to be a store here… they sold the best of linen… have they shifted… or have they shut…?”

She squeezed my hand. “When was the last time you were here?”

“Maybe a year back.”

“Yes, what you fear has happened. Maybe you need some water.” She reached into her bag and held out a bottle of water.

The world revolving, my legs gave away, I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I felt kindly hands help me up and drag my limp body back to the coffee bar I just came out of. A glass of cold coffee was brought and four out of my five senses regained function. However, the taste buds had been ruined forever.

This has been the worst of my Christmases, I smile. A smile to a grin to a laugh and a bellow. The waitress hurriedly came with the bill and a form to rate their coffee. I paid double the bill and drew a face with dots for eyes and an up-turned arc for a mouth. My unbounded happiness seemed normal. This must be how insanity feels.

Having lost sense of time and reasoning, I figured that the yearning for owning has not yet been curbed. I shook off the draining feeling of the unconquered bed sheet. When I stepped out of the coffee shop, I notice that next door is a store selling make-up products. I gleefully walked in and asked the disinterested lady behind the counter to make me over. She complied whole-heartedly and I saw the mad gleam transferred to her eyes. On other days it would have appalled me, but today was different. She sat me on a high stool, took out multiple brushes, put black muck on my lips that I usually put in my eyes and used a lot of red goo on my face. After half an hour, she showed me the child of Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson in the mirror and called me ‘Gothic’. I thanked her and shook her hands for a good minute while her colleague swiped one of my cards and all that she put on my face was mine in pretty tubes, making me considerably poorer than when I began the day.

As I walked back home, the effect of the deplorable coffee was draining off while my heart gradually fell into my stomach. The piteous day was closing and I pacified myself with the bag from the Frankenstein lady and told myself of the good cheer this day was to spread. When I reached home, I slowly walked to the mirror to look and admire myself once again.

When I fell, I fell with a dull thud, the way they all fall.

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The Midnight Driver

[This post contains more fact than fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely intentional.]

He pushed his rickshaw into the shadows off the street light till his receding back was no more in view.

He told the story of his immoral wife. She stole his father’s money and swindled many others in their neighbourhood and ran off. She left him a pauper with two daughters to marry off. He did not curse her ever. He forgave her atrocities eons ago. She was but a mere thought, possibly a memory that he no longer cared for? He can only think of how he would make ends meet. His daughters were his immediate concern.

That’s why the Nepali girl found refuge in his rickshaw at midnight. She looked as scared as a kitten and his heart went out for her. He told her he had to go home but she begged him to drop her. She said a man from the club was following her and asking her to get into his car. The rich man from the club followed his rickshaw till her house. The auto rickshaw driver screamed out to him, go away or I’ll call the police. He told the Nepali as she handed him two hundred rupees, nakoji, insaniyath ke naam se, and drove away to the man from whom he rents his rickshaw for the evenings.

A few years ago, he had picked a young widow from the road. She was drunk, furious and was screaming at the two men she was with. She scrambled into his rickshaw and slurred out her address. When he turned around to ask the directions, he saw that she had passed out. He tried waking her up in vain. He considered taking her to his house but feared what his neighbours would say when they saw him bring a skimpily clad memsahib to his house in the dead of the night. In the morning, when she regained consciousness, but nowhere near sobriety, she hurled abuses at his daughters accusing them of kidnapping her. When he dropped her off at her house, she cried and hugged him and they remained friends since.

He was a woman’s man, they all told him. Although his daughters were irked by his generous ways, his heart swells when they say they are proud of him. Sometimes, when he runs out of gas, he pushes his vehicle to the sister’s house that is closer to the city than his own. His mind wonders as he lies on the hard bed outside their house. This is where he first met the woman who made his life this. He tells himself to sleep that he does not hate her.

Whether he still longs for that doe-eyed girl…

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A Mirror

“You never had a choice. You were going to muck up your children’s future from the moment you decided to procreate. They are always going to blame you. Whether you made their life easy, difficult or comfortable. Even when you weren’t there, you did them bad. If you did happen to loiter around to see what they’d turn out to be, they’d easily point fingers at you for that too. And you know what? They might not be so wrong, after all.

Maybe you passed on some of your fears. Maybe you did them some good. Maybe they never turned out to be what you wanted them to be but that too is because of you. You drew up the expectations and decided to play god; who they should be, who they shouldn’t. If they’ve disappointed you, that’s your problem.

And then again maybe you let them free, asking them to lead their own lives, while you lead yours. Well, that’s not so right, is it? You never guided them, never cared enough, never loved enough, never appreciated enough, never there! Whatever you did, it was so wrong. You are the reason they trusted so much in life… or not! You probably never realised that you could shape a human’s life so much. You probably never realised the powers vested in you. You probably never realised that you hit the dead-end even before you begun.

Didn’t you blame your parents for what they did to you? Didn’t you swear that your child will never go through what you did? Don’t you see a spitting resemblance of their rebellion with yours? Don’t you get scared when you see yourself screaming back at you saying you are so unfair?

You have no choice. It was your decision to be a parent, wasn’t it?”

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A Patriot

I am a citizen of India who has never once voted. I’ve never wanted to vote because no promises were ever realised. It took me six months to get a voter’s id application processed, only to come back with a rejection because I could not prove I resided where I did.

I am not a fan of cricket. Much less after the match fixing incident of the year 2000. I was amused when India won the World Cup this year, but I was not out on the streets cheering for the country. It did not mean much to me. I did not play. This wasn’t going to change my life.

I was not born in this country. I did not spend a childhood here. My heart doesn’t swell up with emotions when people look up to the tricolour and say with faux pride ‘I am a proud Indian’. Like they had a choice. They look at me accusingly for not standing up in awe and attention while the national anthem is playing… in a mobile phone. I wonder what they did to be filled with such pride. I want to tap on their shoulders and say “Do you really think India is as proud of you? Personify India and she’d probably want to keep miles and miles between the two of you.”

I, like millions of children, grew up hoping to be a superman readying to fight injustice by ripping off clothes.

I am no racist. I hate stereotypes. Sometimes when I catch myself treading on those grounds I remember those times I seethed with anger for having been categorised for hailing from a place of coconut trees and banana chips. This country is filled to the brim with polymorphism. I am going to sit on this pedestal a few feet higher from where the others are and proclaim that racism is for the uneducated (no references made to that what they do in schools).

I do not hate the Pakistanis. I’ve heard touching stories of lives of many. I’ve had classmates who were nice people from Pakistan. An Indian who cycled all the way from Bangalore to Lahore once told me they were just like any other human. They had dreams, they had intelligence and they were sensitive to others’ religions. To top it all, they were oppressed by the leaders of their country as we are. Of course, in varying intensities. If I didn’t know better, I’d have called them my siblings. Except they are Pakistanis. Just because a certain people-constituted body from this piece of land dictates that they are not one of us. Just because they chose not to be a part of this constitution and subsequently put a border where they wanted us out. Do you see how we grew up on games as such?

I pay heed to this country’s distorted laws because my ancestors were custodians of this land. They never bought it, somehow they managed to claim it. Then they fought with their lives to keep it. Now I pay the price for it. If I don’t consider myself a citizen of this country no other country would adopt me for free. So I prefer to stay put. Hell, I could pay taxes and no one would ever kick me out. This is the fine trap I lately found myself in.

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Contention

As Ben sat sipping coffee by the French window, he realised he’d always wanted this. He was at a juncture in life where his expectations and what his life held, caught up with each other. Finally.

He evaluated his life from his house in the suburb. He liked it.

While he sat content for those few moments, a wandering thought held him. He hadn’t struck off everything from his bucket list yet. He just had what he wanted that particular phase in life. He always dreamt of this day… when he’d be content for everything he had around him. He didn’t want to know that this was the last time he’d ever feel triumphant. He never realised his dreams. He never found them. He ventured so many things trying to fix that piece of jigsaw puzzle. It irked him that piece was still lying around not finding its place. He felt a familiar anger seething at the thought of lost dreams. He could feel his teeth grinding and his muscles going rigid.

Breathe in, breathe out, his shrink had told him.

Shrugging his shoulders, this was meant to be, he said out aloud to his empty room; his mug acknowledged it. The mug told him to put it all down to a funny thing called destiny. He did, and he quickly curbed any further disbelief. He was back to that happy lull. It comes easier these days.

He broke out of his reverie and thought whether that was all he wanted in life. To be content? Did he aim too low? Maybe not. Maybe that puzzle piece was not a part of this set. Maybe all that successes in life one had to attain was just a lot of baloney. He giggled as he considered that illusion. It sure was absurd to measure success with liabilities.

Before Ben left home the next morning he wrote off this house he liked to his nephew. He had sold off his old Beetle a week back and had bought a sturdy bicycle for himself. It was decided that was all he needed where he was going.

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From Downright Dirty to Casual Clean in 15 minutes or so

You have surprise guests dropping by in an hours’ time on a mad mid-weekday and your house is anything but presentable. However messy your house is, it is possible to fix it in a short span of time, say fifteen to twenty minutes. Or at least partly. All depending on the intensity of the messed life one leads.

1. From the floor to the storage cupboards

The first thing to be settled is the floor. Surprisingly the first thing you notice in a house is the floor. So as soon as the floor is steered clear of big and small items; it has the appearance of Zen and you are ready to begin your task.

2. Make the beds

Let the beds be made, cushions be arranged and furniture be straightened. This helps in giving the impression of order. A sense of alignment.

3. Get rid of that nasty smell

There can be mostly one reason for a stench in the house: Food. Get that garbage out before you need to give it off to the nearest animal lab! And a light room freshener would be helpful after you’ve left the doors and windows open long enough to aerate the house off the stench.

TIP: If despite the trash in its place, the smell seems to not go off, check your laundry and your toilets for any odd smells.

4. Everything in its place…

…Or everything within the limits of the vision in its place. Those piled up clothes, books, magazines, toys, used plates all have to out of the line of vision and placed in its place. Clothes either folded or hung in the wardrobes. Books and magazine stacked neatly in the shelves. You get the drift. And if you find yourself running out of time, dump them into a box and push it under your bed or into a corner or under rugs. As long as it is not in the way.

5. Sweep. Wipe. Mop. Vacuum. Dust

Finally run your weapon – broom, mop, duster, vacuum cleaner or all – around the house. Don’t dabble too long at one spot now. Just a quick run through the entire house would be enough.

After you settle down, take a look around and fix any stray items. Pat yourself for the good job. Smear a lazy smile on your face. Now we don’t want your guests to know how messed your house is.

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After all, humans

“It would be more interesting to learn from children, than try to teach them how to behave, how to live and how to function.”

~ U.G.Krishnamurti

Teach them the ways of heaven
Show them the path you took
Watch what they take
Never judging what they take
Never prophesying ill
Never critisising what you don’t understand
Not asking them to drop what they did
Nor edging them to pick what they didn’t
They are after all, like you
They are after all, human.

Sometimes you need to hurt yourself to learn.

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They said ‘Logic’ and died

Yesterday I put my foot down on many toes and proclaimed loud and clear: “Oh, c’mon you guys. There ain’t any thing as morality for you. Atheism and morality can not go hand in hand.” A plethora of rubbish flew towards my general direction while I ducked under my coffee table. How I managed to squeeze under it is a mystery – one the Darwinians are baffled with. Evolution can’t explain it.

Wincing from the awkward position I told my friends around the table in a squeaky voice, “Your claims of principles fall flat when you come out of the closet,” I popped my head between two of the thick ornate legs of the wooden furniture.

A cushion landed on my head and I retreated quickly to my abode fearing heavier flying objects. “The morality for atheists is not governed by any established system”.

Aren’t you redefining morality then? What is good and which ones evil can’t go with your absence… in belief of the presence of the err… You-Know-Who” looked around and sceptical eyes glared.

Your definition of morality is flawed” boomed my most opinionated friend. The earth below me shook. I nodded absently. A yogic position during a tremor was never my favourite. “Our principles of morality are based on empathy or sensitivity towards fellow beings.” While he went on and on about universal law and humanism, I saw that his audience were getting drunk on his catharsis. I sneaked from under the table noting to self: Set big chunk of salary aside to attend Harry Houdini Escapology Workshop next month.

He spoke of human happiness and personal ethics and paramount good and developing the supreme race and the disappearance of ordinary. I cringed at the thought of the extinction of my clan. I shook my sleeping limbs awake and they pierced into my flesh. Walking on needles and pins, I reached the kitchen, placed glasses on a tray and poured drinks into each. Get ‘em scums drunk on their favourite subject. Logic and rationale.

Taking the subject where I had left, I stated, “So according to the interpretations of feelings I can decide my ethics? I interpret that lying about my age will not harm any human. So I can not be penalised for being a liar?

Unless it is to fake a passport.” Giggles from the audience at the lame joke attempt.

I asked the rush of counter-arguments to step aside. I told the rush, “We are driving to the infamous absence-in-empathy theory. This flawed argument can be set aside, for the time being.” I handed over the dangerous intoxicating liquid to each unsuspecting fool before I continued.

Same goes for stealing. I can be Robin Hood and shouldn’t be tried for that. I can marry and yet be with many. Humans are not monogamous as a rule. I can cheat on my spouse if I am helping a widower with some thrills.

What baloney are you going on about?

I am a psychopath. I am morally challenged because I can not empathise. I can think, speak, read, write and calculate but I don’t feel for anyone except myself. Would you term me amoral or insane just because my degree of selfishness is far greater than anything you can ever comprehend?

Your points hold no water. We can not draw parallels for these.

We can not because your logic fails to explain. You can try but you shall fail impeccably. I call it a clean failure. Nothing messy. I like clean failures. You never need to clean up.” I had their attention. “Do you believe that you can eradicate immorality? Has the world ever been driven by rationale? Humans are always guided by what they feel against what they know is right and logical and you know that was why the theology came by to set laws based on these. It’s always emotions that win the day, not your intelligence. Logic can’t explain the way you are different from me or why the sun rises from the west.

East. The direction of the sun rise can not be changed,” said a scientologist. “What is the east that you call it so? The direction where the sun rises is east. So tomorrow if the sun rises from the west, do you call west east?” I laughed. I could see they were all visibly disturbed.

The sun would not do that,” said the scientologist meekly, “that would mean the end of the world.

And how will you know if it did not already? How will you know that the Milky Way hasn’t turned upside down sometime in the past? What will you base the up or down in a void expanse? What is the up or the down? Is there an up and down? What are directions? Can you know it? Can you a twit of a human sitting here tell what is happening out there with your wonderful calculations and measurements? Don’t you see, you fools, how your supposed facts are based on assumptions to begin with.

I noticed that the glasses were empty. Time now to really turn their world upside down.

And what do you base your calculations on? Logic?” They all started and sat up alert. I had to tread stealthily. One wrong move and I knew they’d shoot me down. “You base your reasoning from the education that you know is flawed. They teach you what they want you to know. And even when you believe you’ve grown out of the fallacy that was taught to you, you would refuse to accept that two and two will never make anything other than a measly five!

I webbed them in their own muddle of logic. They looked at each other trying to fix my distorted rational. Some even calculated two and two on their fingers. Their drunken stupor didn’t help because the poison slowly took effect. Their eyes were glazed and their breathing went shallow.

Let’s take it slowly” Oh, the irony! I meant the toxin. “Maybe we should begin from what is the ideal moral person? Do you have those benchmarks? Is this codified? Who will make an eternal moral code book to mark the boundaries? When do you know you’ve gone too far? Who’ll decide what had pushed it too much? Use your logic to explain your morality to me!” I laughed again. I shivered myself when I heard the echo.

They died listening to me. At midnight I threw them out of the window and watched the felling of bodies. It was a clean death. Nothing needed to be cleaned up. I suppose the fishes took care of that.

Last night I slept with a clear conscience. I felt no guilt in eliminating a part of the rational race. I cleared the world of some of these logical thinkers. Tomorrow I’ll build a kingdom of people who think less and do more. Do what they want, what they feel like. Won’t question much. Won’t think too much. Ordinary people. As ordinary as you and me. Mediocre. None too intelligent, none too smart, none too strong, none too beautiful. Very very normal.

Am I unethical? My dead friends won’t think so.

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