By Rafeeat Aliyu

“Mama Anuli, your eye is missing.” The child looked up at her.

In answer, Anuli held the child closer and was rewarded with quiet. She moved steadily towards the door, as quiet as her heavy feet would let her. Her vision was now impaired and the virus within her seemed to have affected her software, but Anuli was closer to her goal than she would have ever been if she had not sold her precious eye.

“Don’t worry about that, baby,” Anuli’s pre-programmed voice was as calm as the day she was activated.

Something landed on her head and shattered to several pieces, but it barely affected Anuli’s grip on the child. Even the piece of cloth wrapped around her head remained undisturbed. Anuli spun to find Yinka glaring at her, her slight form shaking in fear. Grabbing her by the throat, Anuli slammed her into the wall.

“Did you contact the CSN?” The thought of the network latching onto her raised Anuli’s anxiety levels but her tone was calm, as always.

“Please spare my daughter…” Yinka began.

Anuli slammed her into the wall again, it was alien to her nurturing program but she had seen it in a movie once. She repeated the question, the child stayed snuggled in her other arm.

She watched as Yinka shut her eyes and struggled to swallow, her fear evident. There were tears streaming down her face as she shook her head. Her answer did not matter to Anuli, however; the robot had stopped trusting her.

“I only reported you after your last visit,” Yinka’s tone was conciliatory. “I promise.”

That was the reason the CSN had tried to reformat her system, and it confirmed her earlier suspicion. It was a testament to the kind of power people like Yinka had: they could abuse their children and still have the system on their side.

“I am begging you, Aunty Anuli,” Yinka appealed to her. “You know me, you spent months with me after I gave birth. We raised Awele together. I would never abuse my child.”

More lies. Anuli had heard them all before.

“Awele is exhibiting abnormal signs for her age; her behavioural patterns are irregular.” There was a smile stretching her face even though Anuli’s anxiety levels had reached a panic state. “The wounds I have noticed on her body…”

Gears shifted as Anuli inclined her head and studied the child with her good eye. Any other child would be crying seeing their mother in such distress, but Awele simply stared at the woman pinned to the wall with blank eyes.

Upon observing this, Anuli’s anxiety levels skyrocketed into the red zone. Her freshly-hacked system struggled to contain the spike, but Anuli’s hands tightened around Yinka’s soft neck and when she spoke her words were slurred.

Debug by Rafeeat Aliyu illustration

“You are not supposed to treat a child in that manner.” It sounded as though she was speaking from underwater.

“Please…” Yinka gasped, her eyelids fluttered open and shut revealing the whites of her eyes.

As part of the OmuGwo line, Anuli was crafted and programmed to help mothers cope with the birth of their children. She was equipped to cook centuries-old dishes, to bathe babies, to inoculate toddlers and register children on the CSN. The Anuli range of carers were especially composed and serene, they appeared as sweet middle-aged women whose only emotional reactions were smiles or a slight wrinkling of her brows to denote displeasure.

Hands crafted from synthetic bones and layered with silicon-based faux flesh were much better at handling scorching hot towels and pressing them against pliant stomachs rounded in memory of the weight they once carried. Those hands now held Anuli’s employer up against the unyielding wall until Yinka grew eerily still. When Anuli withdrew her hand, the woman crumbled to the floor.

“Mama Yinka…sleeping.” Awele’s tinny voice rang out.

“Yes baby, Mama Yinka is asleep.” Anuli affirmed. Her system would not compute any other explanation. It did not matter either way, Anuli had what she came for. She continued until she was outside the Ejiofor-Ogunlade home.

With the scorching sun warming the nano-receptors on her skin, Anuli felt her anxiety levels steadily drop. Undoubtedly the CSN would be after her, they must have sent her log to the retrieval unit once Anuli went offline. The virus now rooted in her system might be the end of her yet, but with Awele in her arms her levels of bliss and love took a leap. There would be no more manipulating her emotions remotely, no more cover-ups.

Soon the scars that dotted Awele’s tiny body would heal, and so would her spirit.

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