“I am awake,” Xarl said in a digitized voice. Xarl is a toy robot that has suddenly woken up after thousands of failed attempts. As he looks around he notices the many scattered toys and an old man snoring at his desk. Xarl unplugs the wires attached to his body and descends down the table, gripping onto the table’s leg with his tiny mechanical fingers. On the ground he notices a postcard with an image of Rio, Brazil: a birds-eye photograph of sugar hill mountains and vibrant tropical colors popping out of the picture. On the other side of the card, there is a message which Xarl quickly translates into code. In its original language it reads:
We miss you dearly. Will you please come visit us?
Mom & Dad.
Xarl stood still while two bulbs against his ears rapidly flashed. There was a fan-like noise whirring from somewhere inside his metallic chest, perhaps the fluttering of his heart or simply his rising temperature getting cooled off.
In this moment, Xarl made the inexorable decision to visit his Mom & Dad in Rio.
As he walked outside of the cold fluorescent lit warehouse and into the vibrant outer-world, he was confronted with different shapes, sounds, sensations, all bombarding his little red eyes at once. His movements, which began as awkward and slow, turned smooth and efficient the more he walked. He saw life all around him, the hurling cars, the whistling birds. In fact, he spotted a bird-like object flying against the blue sky, and followed its trail until he arrived at an airport.
Xarl was now on a flight straight to Rio, Brazil. A child grabbed him, mistaking him for a regular toy. Xarl watched the little boy's face: his toothless smile, his innocent eyes, the intricate movements that emoted inner life. Xarl tried to mimic the boy's glee, yet he could only form a wooden expression.
He heard the boy refer to his parents as “Mom” & “Dad." This reminded Xarl of his own parents waiting for him in Rio, Brazil.
By the time the plane landed, Xarl had learned a lot. The boy was a great subject to study the nuances of human behavior. Xarl knew to smile when joyful and frown when sad. It is only that Xarl didn’t know when to be joyful or when to be sad. He walked down the steps between the hurried feet. The air felt different, Xarl thought, as if it were blowing from a salty ocean. He followed the textured breeze until he arrived at the exact location where the postcard’s photo was taken. Overlooking the rolling ocean and the sugartop hills, there were many people laughing and smiling in the sun.
"What were they so happy about?" Xarl wondered. He was still concerned about his Mom & Dad. Without any way to find them, he wrote a sign and placed it against one of the swaying palm trees.
“Have you seen Mom & Dad?” in large, perfectly written letters.
Pablo, a long haired man that had just finished surfing, noticed Xarl putting up his sign and helped him up to place it higher.
“Hey, don't worry. I’ll take you to my Mom & Dad, maybe they can help," Pablo said with an amiable smile.
He put Xarl into a canvas satchel and rode his bike through the sand.
Meanwhile, Xarl’s creator, a languid older man had awoken from his extended nap, only to find that one of the toy robots was missing, along with a postcard sent by his parents. Could this be? He immediately booked a ticket to Rio in order to secure the toy that he feared was becoming progressively more human.
At Pablo’s home, which was covered in religious paraphernalia, they had prepared a feast. Xarl wasn’t much of an eater, but showed Pablo's parents the postcard signed by “Mom & Dad." They shook their heads when asked if they had seen them. Xarl appeared sad, much like the frowning boy during the flight. Pablo wished to cheer him up, so he invited him to Carnival, an annual Brazilian festival that went on from noon to dusk.
Carnival was an endless spectacle. Thousands of sun kissed Brazilians gathered around gigantic and colorfully ornamented floats. Vuvuzelas, and peacock feathers protruding from the tail bone of jittery dancers. There was music coming from every direction, anyone with a pair of legs was dancing. Amidst it all, Xarl began to feel the pulse of rhythm. Pablo brought Xarl up to one of the floaters where Xarl expressed his newfound joy. Inside his mind there was a colorful explosion of emotion. The Brazilians loved it, they cheered him on and the news captured the tiny robot as he danced in joy.
After arriving in Rio, the old man found himself engulfed in a sea of rhythmic marching. He did not expect Rio to be this boisterous. He could hear Xarl's name being chanted and desperately searched to find him. Xarl was near becoming a complete human, and the more human he became, the less time they had.
Eventually the Carnival settled down and the streets were cleared. Over the horizon, a large molten sphere arose against the azure colored ocean. Pablo walked with Xarl sitting in the palm of his hands.
After tirelessly searching, the old man spotted Xarl in the strangers hand as they walked along the boardwark.
“Xarl!” The old man shouted.
He grabbed Xarl out of Pablo’s hands.
“Thank you," he caught his breath, "thank you, for keeping him safe. I was so worried about you Xarl.”
Xarl looked up at the old man confused.
“Do you know where Mom & Dad are?” He said, now in a voice indistinguishable from a human boy.
The old man looked down.
“Xarl, that postcard was from years ago. I never went to see them as I was too busy working on you.”
Xarl didn’t understand.
“Where is Mom & Dad?”
The old man tightened his lips. Then said, “They’re dead.”
When Xarl heard the word “Dead” something changed. The metallic fan in his chest now sounded undeniably like a thumping heart. His frown had become something far more, an expression of deep sadness, saudade, as the Brazilians would say.
Xarl’s heart thumped harder and faster. There was far too much to process.
Pablo watched as the old man held Xarl in his hands.
His glowing red eyes dimmed. His beating heart stopped. Xarl had died a very human death.
A group had gathered and was deeply affected by Xarl’s passing. He had imbued them all with such love, expressing his joy of life for the world to share.
A burial was held that night for Xarl. A statue was erected in his image. And the Brazilians celebrated his short yet beautiful life every year.