By Suyi Davies
The two of us gathered about Feria and stared at her wrist with shiny eyes.
“Waow,” Indo said and ran her stubby fingers over the rubber band of the brand-new device on Feria’s wrist. “It’s so cute it could orgasm me.”
“It is,” Feria replied with a casual flick of said wrist. “It’s like, everything I’ll ever need.” She twisted her slender light-skinned arm like this and that, showing off the inscriptions written in reflective black on the thick, pink band: Beat the Habit and Nothing is Impossible.
“Nice,” I said. This wasn’t just something, it was the something. “How much?”
Feria shrugged. “Sammy, he got it for me.”
Uzzi sauntered into class then, the usual over-eager smile plastered on his face. We sat in a corner at the back as usual, away from the light of the Teaching Screen that undergraduate classes in Pan-Atlantic Uni, Lagos, now employed. Uzzi wove between rows of buzzing Biz-Admin students dressed in their Friday jeans and tight everythings. He took the empty seat beside me.
“Hey girls!” Uzzi always smelt of too much perfume and hair gel and today, like every other day, he wore derbies under jeans and a tucked-in shirt.
“Feria bought a HaBeat,” Indo announced.
Uzzi’s eyes widened and Feria gave a modest smile that, because I know Feria, was not really modest at all.
“Sammy.” She smiled again. “He says I spend too much time online, so he got it to help.”
“Do you spend too much time online?” Indo asked. Indo was that one person amongst your friends who said or asked things no one dared to say or ask.
Feria shrugged. “Never really thought about it. I guess it’s the HaBeat’s job to tell me now.”
Uzzi leaned in across me, excitement written on his face. “Show us.”
To be fair, it resembled nothing more than a plain rubber wearable. Mummy once referred to it as stinky overpriced rubber because, well yes, it did cost close to the latest Keyless Mac. But she was just a school principal, she couldn’t understand.
Feria pointed to a curved bulging rectangle in the middle of the band, about the size of a small flash drive. “I heard the main thing is like a sort of tiny computer here.”
“Chip,” I corrected. I knew more about tech stuff than all of them put together.
“Chip, yes. Right, Yeji.”
We nodded. And when Feria stared at us like: that’s all there is to it, I offered.
“When it touches your skin, the chip tracks everything. Activity, sleep, behavioural triggers –whatnot. It’s paired by wireless to this HaBeat app that syncs around everything, even your car system. With it, you set goals and milestones for breaking or forming particular habits from, let’s say trying not to spend so much time online, to quitting smoking or keeping your bad driving in check.”
“How na?” Indo said. “How will it know?”
“Oh, it knows,” Feria said. “It’ll tell you once you’re doing it wrong.”
“So, with what, like alarms or something?” Uzzi inquired.
“Well…yeah, for some people,” Feria said and lowered her head. “Mine’s a bit different. It, uhm, it deducts a specific amount from my bank account.”
Mild gasps went around. Uzzi threw his head back and laughed.
“That’s some real shit,” he said. “Debit alerts ‘cause you live on the net?”
“Why would you want to do that?” Indo asked. “What if you like, have a relapse and the thing makes you go bankrupt?”
“I didn’t set it. Sammy did. He says it’s the only way to keep me loyal to the cause.”
“That’s… huh,” I said, at a loss for words. The others, too, creased their brows.
Feria shrugged again. “There are other ways, though. Some people get mild electric shocks, some use alarms, though the alarms are really loud and weird and embarrassing. Some others get rotten messages posted to their socialverse accounts.”
“Waow,” Indo said.
“That’s so… draconian,” I said.
“Englisher,” Indo hissed. “Me, I like it. It’s exactly what I need for my weight.”
I did buy the idea of a habit-breaking wearable, though I didn’t dig shocks or debits. But I knew immediately that Indo was right, and I too, needed the damn thing. If only to save me from my one unbreakable habit.
The HaBeat’s half-price offer on DealDey stood at one-ninety-nine-k before it sold out. I lay in my small bed in my small room in the small Island apartment my parents could barely afford (even with just one child) and stared at my old Xperia screen, trying to convince myself I didn’t need this thing that bad. Besides, what yarn was I going to spin to Daddy about getting me that money, anyway? But my fantasies of the device refused to be quenched, fuelled by both stellar reviews I saw on vidblogs and the #MyHaBeatAndI selfies piling up on the socialverse.
And it didn’t help any when Indo buzzed me:
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Babe
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: I gorrit o
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)> has sent you a photo.
<Yejide>: The yellow one! \O/ Balling!
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Balling ke? It’s my elder bro in UK I obtained sef.
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: He’s been promising me the new Keyless, but I just asked him for a HaBeat instead. :-$
<Yejide>: Nice. 🙂
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: I set mine to electric shock. I think that will work best for me.
<Yejide>: Won’t it be painful?
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Not really. It has shocked me twice already. It’s not that bad.
<Yejide>: Oh? What did you do?
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: I set Early Rising, Workout and Light Breakfast goals.
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: I woke up late and got shocked
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Then I paused during workout and got shocked again, until I continued.
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: So, when are you getting one?
<Yejide>: Lmao! Getting one indeed. You go buy?
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Everyone needs one na. Uzzi got one last week. You know he’s trying to quit his impulse shopping.
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: You’re the only one left.
I paused and stared at that last message, thinking how I did need it, more than anybody in the world knew, but for reasons I couldn’t quite tell her. So I stared at my phone screen some more and typed nothing.
Phones quickly lost the perpetual blue-and-white screens of instant messaging and microblogging apps, quietly replaced by the black-and-grey interface of the HaBeat Social. Complete with charts and dials and instant messaging, this was where HaBeat owners could team up with friends and push the zap button when one of them missed a milestone, making achieving goals more likely.
At Pan-At, everyone had one. They giggled to one another and discussed nothing but milestones and goals for hours, with both real friends and virtual ones. They were joyous, like they had this renewed zeal to achieve, like their lives had just kickstarted.
Not me, of course.
If you know my parents, then you’d know it was moot even trying to explain the HaBeat’s importance to them. It had taken three years of convincing just to get Daddy to see that buying me an eBike made more sense than handing down his old 2016 Cerato. I mean, who got held up in Lagos jams any more when you could go a steady 20 mph on the free bike lanes?
Mummy had even shut off the SmartKitchen program and its accompanying appliances that came with our apartment. I usually turned it on while cooking to surf recipes on the projector, or to run the dishwasher and cooker with gestures. One day, I forgot to turn it off and minutes later Mummy was fuming at the SmartAssistant.
“I said I’ll boil the potatoes as long as I want!”
I giggled, and she turned on me.
“I’ve told you, Yejide: If machines wash your rice, peel your yam and tell you how much pepper to add, what is your role in the cooking? Why not just allow them to also think for you?”
I laughed. “Mummy, it’s not that serious now.”
“Quiet! When you get your own house, let technology do everything there – that’s your business. But if you touch my kitchen again, I’ll slice your fingers.”
How did they say it: you can’t put new wine in old skins? I had to use Plan B.
I had to. I didn’t want to hurt anybody anymore.
The only corridor in our house runs from the living down to the back door. The master bedroom takes up one whole side of the wall and its door is at the end of the corridor – a long way off from my room, which is near the beginning. At night, it gets quite dark down here, as there are no windows and the lights are kept turned off, because they’d filter into everyone’s rooms.
It was in this darkness that I tiptoed, wearing stockings to muffle my footfalls, past the kitchen, past the living, to door of the master bedroom. Soundless. Nothing new. I had done this so many times, it was second nature now. Besides, Daddy was the light sleeper in the house and he was away for work. I knew not to come here when he was around.
The door was open a crack, and I nudged it further and went past the king bed to the wardrobe. The wardrobe door used to creak, until I finally stuffed the hinges with tissue paper. It didn’t creak now as I opened it.
Ancient soul that he was, Daddy still stored cash at home, in a fanny pack on the third-level shelf. Disarranged, so I knew he didn’t count it. I pulled out two five-thousand-naira notes, stuffed the remaining back, and completed my exit as I had entered.
Just a little at a time, I told myself as I walked back to my room. He won’t notice. Just a few more times, then it’ll all be over for good.
My father is a smallish man, all thick and hairy arms weathered by the many different breezes in the many different countries he has visited on business. Some days he reminds me of a small grizzly. When I was little, I used to rub my face in his bushy arms, shrieking in delight when he would chase me about the house and threaten to get me lost in them.
On a hot Saturday afternoon a few days after his return, we went out for the family time out we took whenever he came back from a long trip. It was usually us three but Mummy was absent this time. Only after we parked outside a Yellow Chilli outlet in Victoria Island did I realize this was by design.
I could tell he was distracted, even though he smiled all through the banter on the way over. Daddy always smiled, so that meant nothing. It was his eyes; they were weighed down by a certain kind of sadness.
Our order was delivered, and halfway through my baked yams and grilled fish, he blurted it out.
“I know you’ve been taking my money.”
The fish on my fork jumped back to the plate, splattering onion sauce on my pastel blue blouse. I looked down at it and kept my eyes there, too ashamed to bring them back up to face him.
“I’ve known for a while that pinches go missing every then and now. There’re only three of us in the house, and of course it wasn’t your mother. I just didn’t want to believe it was you.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but only the smell of onions and shame came out. A ball formed in my throat and a lone tear jiggled down my left cheek.
Daddy saw it and reached across the table for my hand. I flinched, then slowly withdrew it and folded my arms. I didn’t want him to touch me; I was too dirty.
“I don’t love you any less, Yeji. You’re still my one cherished thing in this life. I’ll not stop loving you because of a few thousand naira.” He shook his head. “But this kind of habit, it can get you in big trouble. If you get caught by someone else…”
He dropped off, leaving me to imagine the consequences. As if I hadn’t imagined them a million times over myself. I had never stolen from anyone else besides him, but I couldn’t even find the voice to tell him that. I just stared down at the circles of oil widening on my blouse and let the lone tear run.
My father came around the table to my side and wrapped his small grizzly arms about my neck. I couldn’t say a word, fighting back tears. He held me the way he had when I was little, his prickly arm hair tickling my cheeks and the insides of my neck, so that I felt like his little girl once again.
“Just ask me for anything,” he said, rubbing my shoulder. “Anything. If you really need it, I’ll give you. But please, please, I beg you. Please don’t steal from me – or anyone – again. Ever.”
It was too much. I began to cry.
I cried for a long time and he held me, rocking me gently and giving reassuring smiles to onlookers in the restaurant. When I had exhausted all my tears, he took me by the hand and we went home.
I had never felt lighter than I did leaving Yellow Chilli that Saturday evening, and with that came the understanding that I never needed a HaBeat for anything in the first place.
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Where’re you?
<Yejide>: Parking my bike. The others?
<:-* Indo-Nesia B-)>: Yuhp. They here.
Feria and Uzzi were seated with Indo at an outdoor Johnny Rockets stand when I got into Royals, the little mall on the only major intersection in our neighbourhood, far east off Lekki-Epe. They chatted in quick speech, and as I came closer, I realized they were talking about milestones and goals – as usual. They all had their HaBeats on: Indo’s yellow, Feria’s pink and Uzzi’s ankara all standing out on their African skin. Funny how it made them blend in more than stand out, seeing as almost everyone else in the mall was wearing one. It was I, whose wrist was adorned by a locally-made Asante bracelet, who stood out like a rose in a desert.
Uzzi saw me first and shrieked as usual. I smiled and shrugged as I sat at the table. Indo stared at my wrist with a quizzical look, then leaned in towards me. The diner chair creaked as she did. She seemed to have gotten bigger since the last time I saw her.
“Thought you said you were going to, ehm, ‘buy’ it somehow?” She whispered.
I smiled. “Nah.”
She lifted her eyebrows, and Uzzi saw.
“What?” he asked, looking from Indo to me and back.
“Yeji says she doesn’t need a HaBeat,” Indo said.
Remind me to kill Indo one day for her leaking mouth?
Uzzi adopted the same quizzical look. “How na? It’s like WiFi. Everybody needs it.”
I shook my head. “It’s my problem. I’ll fix it.”
“What d’you mean?” This was one of the rare times Uzzi grew serious. “Babe, the days of relying on our human selves to fix things are gone. This is a computer. It’s a hundred percent assurance that you’re becoming a better person.”
I smiled and said nothing.
Uzzi tapped Feria like: Look, you’re missing loads of crazy. Feria, who hadn’t so much as glanced up from the phone she was furiously tap-tap-tapping on, didn’t even flinch. There might as well have been a hurricane and at she wouldn’t have looked up.
“But don’t you feel…odd?” Indo asked.
I shrugged. “Why?”
Uzzi and Indo glanced at one another, then looked back at me the way you would look at someone who didn’t know they were stupid.
“Okay o,” Uzzi said and rose. “Na you know. Me, I’m hungry. Let’s do KFC. Feria’s paying.”
He bent and picked up – I counted two, three, four – Paul Smith bags stuffed with shirts, shoes and collectibles, and he went in the direction of the swing doors. Indo rose and went too, huffing and puffing with each step, beckoning to me to come along. Feria followed, her head downward, eyes fixed on her phone and fingers doing spider combos on its screen.
I lingered for a beat, watching the three of them go into the crowd of HaBeats. Then I stood and followed, smiling to myself all over again.