I stood in line at my local coffee shop, rehearsing my lines over and over in my head. Black Americano please. Black Americano please. Black Americano please.
It’s an order I’ve made every day for the last two and a half years. An order I’m now making for the 913th time, yet still I can’t help but rehearse for my big line. As the queue died down and I approached the counter, I immediately recognised the barista. Shit. I caught his eye and he immediately snatched away his glance, instead turning his attention to the floor. He didn’t raise his gaze again until I approached the counter. A tall woman, wearing the company’s red shirt, was about to serve me when her phone rang.
She held a finger up to me as I opened my mouth to make my order. How rude! I’ve been practising all morning for this!
“Hello. What is it?... Ok… Hang on, I’m on my way.” She hung the phone up and untied the apron from her waist. “Sorry, emergency. Gotta go.” She said quickly. “Jason, can you serve this man please?... Now please.” She said authoritatively. “Sir, this is Jason, he will serve you today.” She said before crouching through the counter flap and hurrying out of the door.
Dear God No!
“Um, hello sir.” Mumbled Jason nervously. “Wh… What can I get for you?”
“Prat Upemecayo please” DAMMIT!
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Erm, just a cappuccino.” I managed, flustered and embarrassed.
“And what name shall I put on that?” He said, side eyeing me.
I panicked, if people put our names together they might remember who we are, what we did. I searched the room desperately, my eyes wide and my mind racing, I was immediately drawn to the name badge Jason was wearing; Trainee. “Badge….r Train…cey.” I said. “Badger Tracey.”
“Ok.” Jason said with a look of deep concern. He wrote my ‘name’ on the cardboard cup and turned to the machine whilst I waited at the end of the counter to collect my drink.
I sat alone in the corner of the coffee shop, sipping my disgusting cappuccino, when a hand clasped my shoulder. It was Jason.
“Justin, what are you doing here?” He whispered, pulling a chair round and sitting uncomfortably close to me.
“What do you mean, what am I doing here? I come here every day. What are you doing here?” I replied in a hushed fury.
“Well I work here now, so you’re going to have to stop coming here. Sorry.”
“No. No, I can’t do that. This place is part of my routine. You’ll have to quit your job, you must have enough money not to work. I’ve lived off savings from the YouTube royalties alone.”
“Well I blew my lot. Got involved in drugs where I actually doubled my cash selling weed to traffic cops, but then I lost it all when I bought a mansion and a car on Amazon that turned out to be a postcard showing a picture of a mansion and a car. I still have two payments left to make! Now all I have is a bedsit that’s two trains and a bus away from here and 15 years worth of shame and regret.”
“You should always read the descriptions before you bu…”
“Hey, aren’t you those two guys from that video?” A man said who had appeared by the side of the table. He had leaned over in between us, resting his hand on my table.
“Erm, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” I said with an, almost, convincing level of conviction.
“Yeah sure you are!” He said, louder. “You’re Jason and Justin the clon…”
“No, you’re mistaken Sir, I’m afraid. I am, as you can see, named Trainee.” Jason said, pointing to his badge. “And this is my friend, Badger.” He said, turning my cup around so that the name faced our unsolicited guest.
“Ok.” The man said, holding his hands up in appeasement. “My mistake. You sure do look like those two” He backed away from the table and joined his wife in the queue. I could see him whispering to her and pointing over to us as they made their way towards the counter.
“Look, you better get out of here.” Jason said. “It’s only a matter of time until we’re exposed and then what am I going to do? I need this job!” He placed his hand over mine. “Please Justin.”
“Get off me, Jason.” I snarled, pulling my hand away. “I can’t, we can’t. You know that. We found that out the hard way.” I said as I stared into what were essentially my own eyes, the only eyes I’d ever loved. I scrutinised Jason’s face. Remarkable, truly. It had been 15 long years since I had seen that face any place but the mirror and the resemblance was unfathomably similar. I would have had trouble telling us apart if I weren’t occupying one of the bodies being examined.
“Ok, I’ll leave.” I conceded to Jason. “You won’t see me here again.”
He sat with a look on his face that I recognised from my own glossary of expressions, perturbation. I stood to leave when he grabbed my arm and pulled me back to my chair.
“No, Justin. Don’t go. I don’t want to live like this anymore, I want you to be in my life. Let’s put the past behind us, forget about that cruel prank and move forwards. Perhaps now, 15 years on, society will be more accepting.”
“I think you’re forgetting what society did to us. Here, let me refresh your memory.” I said, pulling my phone from my pocket. I pressed the YouTube icon on my home screen and flicked to most watched, there we were, top of the list, 5 billion hits. 5 billion.
We watched the screen together as the announcement was made to the world. The world’s first human clone experiment is a huge success reads the banner scrolling the bottom of the page and then the curtain raises and fireworks explode around us. We look around the stadium at the public who gasp in amazement as we are revealed, two identical humans alone at the centre of a huge stage, holding hands. We are handed a microphone each and asked how it feels to be the first human Dolly. I make some joke about not knowing which one of me I am and the crowd laugh politely, then Jason raises his mic to his face and begins.
“In all seriousness though, thank you for gathering here to witness this. You know, it’s strange, we know that we are cloned but each of us has separate memories from before The Event, like we each lived a whole separate past life and, though we are exactly the same, that kind of makes us different, you know. Justin takes one sugar in his tea, I think sugar in tea is for children. Justin eats every last scrap of a pear, stalk and all, whilst I, well, I’m not a psychopath. Justin is an Android man and I, of course, am Apple. It’s these subtle but fundamental differences that have caused me to fall in love with Justin during the time we have spent together and I know that Justin feels exactly the same as I do.”
“I do.” I say with tears in my eyes and I turn towards Jason and we embrace, he begins to kiss me but there is a deep unease in the crowd. You can feel how uncomfortable they are without having to be there, the wonderful medium of video has forever captured how uncomfortable everybody was.
The lead of the project runs onto the stage and pulls us apart. “No no no, what are you doing?! It’s a prank boys, it’s a prank!! You are not clones at all. Eugh, that was disgusting.” He said with a physical quiver of his body. “We have been monitoring the two of you for some time and we’ve finally brought you together because here on Family Finders we…” He holds the microphone out to the crowd who chant back at him FIND EM SO YOU CAN KEEP EM! “You’re long lost twin brothers, not clones, it was just part of the show. We made you believe that your memories were faked and that we had just brought you out of our vats as the world’s first successful cloning trial. As soon as you laid eyes on each other you bought into it.”
“Why would you… I can’t…” Jason stammered, the colour drained from his face before he vomited onto the stage floor. Watching the video, I can see the moment that the reality of our situation hit me and I immediately burst into tears. The discomfort in the crowd had turned to raucous laughter and as I surveyed the world around me all I could see where the lights of camera phones recording our plight. The laughter, the mocking faces, the shame surrounded us on that stage and it felt as though there was no way out. I looked over to Jason who, in the midst of our shared trauma, had clearly lost control of his bladder. Another difference between us I guess, I don’t have the urine sack of an 8 year old.
I looked up from the phone at Jason who was clearly undergoing some sort of re-traumatisation. “I’m leaving.” I said. “I won’t be coming back here. Goodbye, Justin.”
I stood to leave and when I turned to walk across the shop floor I was greeted by the face of a teenager stood in the middle of the shop. His eyes darted from me to Jason, from Jason to I, and his face lit up as the realisation poked him in the eyes. He pointed straight at us. “Look, it’s the Banging Brothers!!” He shouted. The shop turned every pair of it’s eyes towards us. Within seconds, eyes had been replaced by screens, every camera lens in the building was trained towards us. The insults started first – Snogging Siblings, Bromancers, The Fraternal Fuckers – Then the aggressive laughter began, surrounding us, trapping us. I looked over to Jason who sat with his hands over his ears, staring straight down onto the formica table top.
I felt my eyes begin to sting, then I felt the tears running down my cheeks, and finally the salty taste on the corners of my mouth. Then, the pungent smell of urine.