Unspoken Antagonist aka Unan should never be spoken to.
But what shall a brilliant eleven-year-old do on a summer afternoon when his Mom is busy prepping the delicacies to be served at the house party that night? The mere anxiety of meeting the grown people with whom he should politely converse and little people with whom he is expected to play can stifle him and make him feel a kinship with the socially apathetic antagonist hidden in the game behind the monitor.
And converse with him. With a few deft clicks on the mouse and keyboard.
I had figured out how to unlock all the mods and reach him within weeks of getting the game on my birthday; an achievement I have shared with my Mom and my best and only friend at school, Kevin. My Dad feels proud of my straight A’s but nurses a secret ache in his cholesterol-filled heart about me not punching the Chipkoo Sports Kids Champ Bag, also a birthday present, to bits.
The conversation goes typed like this-
Ever feel suffocated? Hidden behind glowing towns with sparkling streets filled with loud characters?
All the time.
Ever feel sad? About players who have it all but still want to defeat you?
All the time.
Ever thought about how to escape from it?
Will you help?
My sister bounces into the room with her friend. Well, I haven’t yet told you about my sister. She is younger than me by five minutes. I’m sure she propelled me out of my mom’s chute early just by her cheery talk about rhythmic contractions. With her garrulous friend, the cheeriness quotient in the room just goes through the roof. Like unbearable heat.
And I press Ctrl+…+ Esc
Unspoken Antagonist steps out of the monitor just as the two girls run out of the room, giggling.
He is nothing like I imagined him to be. And the first thing he does is roar with laughter!!!
One good thing about him is he is audible and visible only to me. Everything else about him is making me regret my decision. He shifts his form like a slinky spring as he squeals,
“Ooh, the delicious aroma from the kitchen! Come let’s hog the goodies.”
“Ah, I hear there’s going to be a party at night. Let’s make a playlist for the dance.”
“Who is that cute girl with your sister? Can you introduce me to her?”
Within half an hour of letting Unspoken Antagonist out I am running out of my limited patience. And losing appetite. I must put an end to this before I am made to dance in the evening. I begin earnestly,
“Listen, Unan, I didn’t free you to force me to change my ways.”
“Am I trying to change your ways?”
“What are your ways? Being a studious computer geek with no social life?”
“Well, you make it sound all negative. I prefer to call myself a curious, tech-savvy, less needy creator.”
“Ha. And you thought I was the same?”
I nod. He laughs. Uproariously.
I do what I am best at. Think. I have let out a monster. I need to deal with him before he gobbles me up. Like always, I swing into my first course of action, guileless talk.
“I should not have freed you. I am afraid I can’t be a good host.”
“Too late, smarty pants. You are my only conduit to living in the non-digital world. I can’t let you go.”
“Listen, I will never be the conduit you want me to be. It will be best if you go back and wait for someone better suited to your personality.”
He glares at me,
“No way. I have waited for years for this day… You have no choice but to change.”
I am doomed. I resort to the last option of our digital bonding.
“I get three lives to save myself, don’t I?”
Unan pauses. He is not completely without honour. Then speaks.
“Okay, kid. You get three lives. If you don’t get even one play to endorse your way of life, you will be my host, forever.”
I gulp. And head to the only person who always gets me right. My Mom.
The lunch is going to be light. Mom has already kept khichdi on the table. Sweat has made her blouse stick to her back. She oscillates between pans, pots, stove, and food processor. Not a good time to ask her questions. But this is an emergency.
“Ma, there’s a project submission due on Monday morning. May I stay in my room in the evening and work on it?”
She stirs the butter chicken on the stove meditatively and explodes,
“Kiran, it’s still Friday. There’s plenty of time to finish it. You can’t be avoiding people all the time. It is very important you learn how to get along with them, especially as you are in middle school already!”
I want to point out to her how trying to get along with people has made her work a part-time job during the week despite having a master’s degree and prep alone for parties during the weekend, leaving little time for herself; but am distracted by Unan’s exultant grunt.
“Poof! there goes your first life. Up in smoke, buddy!”
I head out through the backdoor. I need a moment to catch my breath after the first blow.
We circle back to the living room through the garden. Unan tries to twist my arm to throw a punch at the boxing bag hanging on the porch. He is getting bolder. My stomach lurches but I soldier on.
One of the things I am good at is staring the odds stacked against me in the eye. And visualising the ways to overcome them. An idea rings a bell.
I pick up the receiver of the landline next to the sofa and make a call. Unan peers through the display unit along the wall.
“Hi, this is Kiran. May I speak to Kevin?”
“Just a moment,” Kevin’s mom answers before hollering his name.
“Hey there, What’s up?”
“Kev, I want you to carefully think and answer the question I am about to ask you.”
“Okay, shoot it.”
I know from the statistics of my previous interactions with my best friend, whenever I ask him to carefully think about something and answer, he just rephrases my question into an assertive sentence. This unquestioning acceptance of my intellectual superiority is the glue that holds us together.
“Am I good as I am? Or do you think I should be more outgoing and social?”
Uh oh, that didn’t come out right. Too late.
Kevin assures me in his supportive voice,
“I think you should be more outgoing and social. You are good.”
Unan rolls on the floor and laughs. Then jumps up and down on the couch and belts out,
“Playlist, playlist, let’s make a playlist!”
I’m down to my last life and begin to panic a little. Well, a lot actually.
For the first time, I think maybe I should have made more friends.
I need to be extremely careful now. It’s my last and only chance at freedom.
Making a playlist for children’s dance is more of my sister’s forte. Much as she annoys me, she loves me enough to tide me over my social inadequacies; if only to gloat over it afterwards.
I knock on her door and she shouts back asking to be left alone.
We knock again and get in. She brandishes her freshly painted fingernails at us and spills it is a nude shade and Mom doesn’t need to know.
I want to ask her why bother putting something on that doesn’t show and then hide it, but I have more pressing matters at hand.
“Can you help me make a playlist?”
She raises her eyebrows and her jaw drops.
“What? What’s wrong with you?”
A flicker of hope lights up at the end of a dark tunnel.
“Nothing. I just want to make this evening enjoyable for the little guests.”
She jumps up from her chair. With a look of serious concern in her eyes.
“Are you running a fever or something?”
“No, I am being ordered around by Unspoken Antagonist.”
“First playlist, now a tagonist. What is it, dummy?”
“I made the antagonist escape from the game. Now he wants to make a playlist.”
Her eyes light up. They always do when she is about to pull a prank.
“Okay, I’ll help you make a playlist. But you have to show me how you made this tagonist escape from the game.”
“It’s an antagonist! Don’t you believe me?”
“Nah. I don’t think there is anything called a tagonist.”
Unan’s face grows red. I look into his eyes. He nods in agreement.
The three of us head to my PC. He climbs through the open port.
I press Ctrl+…+num lock. He is back behind the monitor.
Who is there?
The cursor moves forward with the words,
Your lonely Unspoken Antagonist.
Before I can type anything else, my sister presses the power button. The PC shuts down.