“My hair is not laying the way it used to. It’s not sitting right.”
I looked up, pretending to study his unruly mop of hair. My assumption that common sanity would thwart customers from flocking into this ninety-style establishment was mowed down in the very first hour.
I damped his hair with a spritzing bottle and chose a blade guard.
I recognized my folly the next moment. A bald spot bang in the center of his pate gaped at me. As I worked my way around his head, I ended up carving more patches in assorted sizes and shapes. His scalp speckled with scattered spots of hair reminded me of a neglected lawn in my university. The gardener had called it lawn disease occurring when powdery mildew, beetles, and grubs eat away chunks of grass. In his case, I was the pest that had butchered his thatch.
Every inch of my skin prickled; sweat seeped down my neck. The air in my lungs congealed and clogged my throat, and my heart was pounding in my ears. Will my client file for damages? For all one knew, he would snatch the mirror and smash it over my skull. What had I got myself in?
I held a mirror, keeping my eyes fixed on the fur-laden ground, bracing myself for bitter bickering and a thorough bashing.
A few minutes passed, but none came. I peeked up at my customer’s face. With trembling fingers, I offered him my fedora, but he refused.
“Ahem!” He said half under his breath, “Never mind! It’s just hair; it will grow. Though, I’d say you need more practice.” With that, he nodded, took out some bills from his pocket, placed them on the table, and left.
I fell into a chair and let out a long breath.
What just happened?
I had massacred his hair, hurled it on his pristine white shirt and shiny shoes, but he did not utter a single cuss word. To top it off, he paid me for my blunder, not to mention the additional tip.
How had he reached that higher vibrational frequency–the stage of unconditional acceptance? Although I could not care less for his chopped coiffure, I envied his balanced chakras.
After a sabbatical of eight years, I had returned to a civilized society. In my absence, humanity had revamped itself. This customer was one of my first few encounters with the improved Homo sapiens.
This distinct Neo-Darwinism intrigued and impressed me. I couldn’t wait to discover more.
I woke up drenched in sweat.
The muck of memories filled faster than I could scoop and scrap, so I deflected myself to the research papers.
A deadly pandemic had ravaged humanity, leaving devastation in its wake. Falkland, my hideaway, my secret sanctum for the last few years, secured itself by locking its borders during this period. So, the pathogen had failed to impact me.
According to a publication, ‘The virus and the vaccine left an indelible signature of the viral protein on the human gene and neural pathways. Researchers speculated its long-standing impact on the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, the key areas for mediation of emotions.’
I admired this evolved world—much preferable to the one that compelled me to take to my heels eight years ago.
People’s competence and productivity were unparalleled since individuals were no longer hung by the fickle, fragile filaments of their feelings anymore. Without the skeins of sentiments, the mortal mind gained precision, accuracy, and a continuous unalloyed attention span. The planet basked under a glow akin to spiritual joy — very much what John Lennon envisioned in his brilliant song–Imagine.
But the hidden cracks in this flawless reality soon came to light.
After a few weeks, Tom, my first customer, parked himself in the salon’s swivel chair. “I am getting married,” he said. Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I wish I could perceive an iota of what they celebrate in these antiquated books.”
Upon my prodding, he yanked a paperback from his pocket. I checked the title; it was Harlequin Romance from Mills and Boons.
“My fiancée gave it to me. She wanted to know if I experienced any of that.”
He read a heavily marked section aloud. “His heart missed a beat as a sweet aroma of his paramour wafted through the room. He yearned to feel the softness of her skin and to interlace his fingers in her long hair. They locked eyes. Her smile mirrored his, and he felt an explosion within, a torrent of love. At that moment they experienced, a flaming hunger threatening to consume and shred them both to smithereens.”
He peered back at me with a credulous expression. “I know you are different. Can you do something? I don’t want to be another self-replicating, autonomous machine. I am something more; meant for greater things.”
His words struck a chord.
I recognized that nagging notion; it emanates from a tiny pip in the bottom of your belly. And then it stretches and spreads into every molecule of your being to cast your reality. I knew I was more than a shy, tossed aside kid in the dingy back room of my father’s salon. That belief had guided me through the minefield called childhood and sculpted a barber’s son into a leading research scientist. Too bad I didn’t believe in it anymore.
All this while, the fundamental questions had hounded me. Why had the process of evolution skipped me? Why had I not metamorphosed like the rest of the world?
In Tom’s yearning, I had found my answer, my calling. That was the reason the universe had tucked me away in a fold of time. In Falkland, I was already mapping the locus of different emotions on DNA and learning the intricacies of gene transfer, the transplant of genetic material (DNA or RNA) into a person. I could offer him everything he desired on a platter.
In due course, I harnessed the genes LOV4EVR1/1, LOV143, ILYSM333, and ILU4EVR Met/Met and 4EVRU from my genome. These genes and the neurotransmitters they fired built the biological basis of love. I fashioned the concoction into easily applied, self-absorbable transdermal patches with broad penetration properties. Tom was the first one to receive it. The nanotechnology would ensure that my genetic data interacted with Tom’s genes and permanently altered the cellular environment.
In the following weeks, the beaming faces of Tom and his fiancée confirmed the roaring success of my experiment. Soon a crowd thronged my front door and swamped the salon.
All the recipients smiled and laughed more; most ended up enclosing me in big hugs. My joy expanded every time I handed out the ‘White patches,’ as they popularly came to be known. I burst with pride whenever I saw a bumper sticker or a T-shirt with the words, “Choose love; spread White.” I witnessed many gatherings turning into merry, impromptu parties. Soon it wasn’t unusual to find bonfires in the backyards, around which people danced with mirth and glee. There was an abandon, a distinct joie de vivre quivered in the air. I could see it spilling over from one heart and rippling into another.
Like the Dalai-Lama, I had pioneered a Love-renaissance, selflessly sprinkling love on the hollow, held-back hearts; and changing the world one person at a time. I was on cloud nine to have finally fulfilled my destiny. It was the purpose of my life, the reason I didn’t cease to exist up to this day.
You know the adage, “If everything is going great, you’re obviously overlooking something.” I don’t recall who said it, but it couldn’t be more accurate in my case.
Any self-respecting neuroscientist worth his salt knows that the neural circuits responsible for physical demonstrations of love are the same that cause grief, grievance, doubt, and disgust. Though, the emotions may appear to be in conflict.
In my haste to spearhead a revolution, the dictum had slipped off my mind.
Have you ever held a glass prism against the white light? When you rotate and move the prism, you can observe the white light dispersing into seven different colors–the rainbow’s hues. Likewise, my white transdermal patches, depending on the recipient’s physical and social environment, presented the emotional continuum’s entire range.
The state of affairs hit home when one day Tom came for a haircut. There were bags under his eyes, fine lines and wrinkles laced his gaunt face. He had dropped several pounds and seemed to have not slept well for days.
“I don’t know what to do. My wife doesn’t love me anymore. My blood boils whenever she whiles away hours with those scoundrels, like my neighbor. I can’t take this crap anymore. I just want to kill myself and finish it all.” He said, running his fingers through his bedraggled hair.
I knew what it was like to want to die.
I recognized the forlornness, the soul-stifling sadness too well. The colossal burden weighed upon me every single waking minute. Tom was heading towards the inferno, and I had the power to save him. I could not allow him to get squashed under the anomaly of his mind.
Without another thought, I offered him the black patch. To my surprise, he accepted it with impetuous eagerness.
When he returned the next time, it relieved me to notice the fragments of his old- assured- self cropping up again. For the next few months, as the white patch’s demand soared, the need for black patches surfaced on the sidelines. I dished out both with open arms.
Have you ever hurled a stone into the calm water of a lake? Have you noticed how it first creates a wave crest? The single wave soon multiplies into a series of concentric ripples as it moves outward–giving rise to a wave train. The black patch soon revealed itself as the stone that set off a succession of events.
The media reports like–‘husband stabbed wife and lover to death, acid-attack over unrequited passion, jealous teen dismembered classmate,’ started making rounds. Sometimes the unsettling stories appeared right next to the marriage and engagement announcements in the newspaper.
Of course, the black patches were not working up to snuff.
One reason was the crux that formed the black patch.
I had a ton of hair clippings from the pre-patch people; before contaminating them with my genome. After mapping and harnessing the virus affected gene splinter that doused emotional surge, I had fabricated them into black patches. The patches could act with varying success because of the differing extent of viral protein in people’s bodies.
To cut a long story short, a full chromatic spectrum unfolded in front of my eyes. There were many white-doped individuals who were deeply, madly in love. An army of non-doped who neither understood nor believed in love, hordes of black-drugged people dubbing love as the root cause of all evil. Not to mention the hundred and fifty shades of gray and the motley of emotions dispersing from the white junkies.
The commotion of colors–a potpourri of feelings burst into people’s beings, tinting their thoughts, clouding their decisions.
The penny-plain gene had thrown the entire human species for a loop. Like Frankenstein, I had created a monster, and now it was way beyond my control.
The past inched closer. Immense waves, mammoth and merciless, broke into my conscious, hauling memories buried deep in the bottom of my soul.
An image flitted across; my dead drunk father kicking a distraught five-year-old me with enough force to knock me out. My silent sobs echoing against the walls of a narrow bedroom, lit by a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Binge drinking and dabbles with prescription drugs that could neither salve the sting of self-disgust nor block the stabs of low self-esteem. And if that wasn’t enough, a public nervous-breakdown at the international conference during an award receiving ceremony. Flashes from the past floated in front of my eyes. My body rattling and hundreds of eyes standing witness to my terrifying, tearing trauma as I wet and soiled myself. Millions ogling as a geeky, unheard-of professor from the other side of the world came apart on a widely shared YouTube video. The cut and run to the vast loneliness of the remote Falkland Islands.
Oh! Every speck at the bedrock of my existence was flawed.
The overwhelming tidal waves from the past thrashed me and left blazing bitter imprints upon the grain of my present for the last eight years. The rancorous recollections had held me in clutches for far too long.
Back into the present moment, I steeled myself for the eddy of the emotion to churn me into dust. But… nothing happened.
A smile sneaked on my face. But wait, I had to be sure. I scrolled down to the YouTube video stowed away in my phone’s gallery and flicked it on. . A sublime silence surrounded me. I would land in Falkland in a few hours.
I stroked the black patch on my arm and looked outside the airplane window. The ochre shadows of the sun sprawled over the sparkling silvery clouds. At last, I could shut the pandemonium inside my head. I had transformed into a black hole, blotting out staggering noise of sentiments. If a sensation ventured too close—be it resentment, rejection, or regret—would be compressed and quashed into nothingness.
Once and for all, I was free to soar to the pinnacle of my scientific and analytical intellect.
If I were to come clean and confess, the possibility of a black patch was the only lure that had pulled me back from Falkland all those months ago. The aftermath that ensued was not part of my design. I was but a speck of the universe trying to make my way through.
If you are one of those who hold me accountable for dismantling the utopian design and flinging the world back to the dark ages, then here is something for you to mull over.
“The Universe knows the perfect timing for all those things you want and will find, through the crack of least resistance, the best way to deliver it to you”- Esther Hicks, an American inspirational speaker and author.
“We, like waves and like all objects, are a flux of events; we are processes, for a brief time monotonous.”-Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist.
“Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.”- Henry Brooks Adams, an American historian.
Photo credits- Harry-Quan- Unsplash