Habibi Baby, Are You Listening? – Fawzy Zablah
December 6, 2019
A man and a woman sit in a floating, spherical booth in the middle of the dining room of a pancake house. The woman is doing most of the talking. With a friendly, solemn expression, the man just listens. It is apparent from their demeanor that they are anticipating the arrival of their food.
“I think,” the woman begins, and then pauses as if looking for the right words. “Nobody wants to die alone and if you have the money and you can do something about it, there’s nothing wrong with that. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It’s the thing to do now. People want love, and this is just one of the many ways in our modern society that love has evolved. I truly believe this is part of our evolution. I just don’t think that it’s for me. But I’m totally okay with other people that want to do that. The only thing I don’t like is, of course, that little contribution that I made without being asked. You stole my identity and it was legal and society is fine with that but I’m not.”
The man did not say anything. He looked at her. It seemed like he wanted to say something but instead of speaking, he nodded and then cringed in a kind of friendly grimace like he did not agree but that’s okay.
The woman continued: “But I guess my biggest reason was that I really had a lot of things going on and that’s really why I couldn’t go to the wedding. But despite the bizarre, yet somewhat flattering situation you’ve placed me in, I wish you, and your Robot gal lots of happiness.”
“Her name is Lucia. I know all this seems very weird, and it is, but please use her name when referring to her.”
“Okay, I wish you and Lucia,” she said, making air quotes, “lots of happiness.”
“She’s an A.I. clone and she cost me a lot of money, and she’s a walking tribute to you and I’m sorry. I should have asked you.”
“It’s fine. You covered your bases as far as A.I. Law is concerned. You really thought this through didn’t you?”
“Yes, well, how could I not. She’s worth $4.5 million. I wasn’t going to spend all my money on an A.I. clone of you and not name her after you. I mean, I thought you would be happy. People have huge celebrations when they find out a clone of them will be brought into the world.”
“I’m not most people Habib.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I meant-“
“I thought all those times that you said you were in love with me were because of my quirky personality and fierce individualism and how I reminded you of some old Netflix actress from the late 2000’s.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
The food arrived. Blueberry pancakes for the man and French toast for the woman. The robot server, on hover board, also refilled their coffee.
They ate quietly for the first few minutes, and then casually began to talk about friends they knew, eventually returning to the same topic at the beginning of their breakfast.
“I mean if this clone of my robot thing makes you happy then I’m happy.”
“I gotta tell you,” said the man, sitting back in his booth, extending his right arm. “She’s physically identical to you but, inside, nothing like you. I mean, she’s likable and fun and she might even talk like you and use some of the same cute phrases that made me fall in love with you but she isn’t you. She’s her own person.”
“That’s a relief,” she said, sarcastically. “So she’s got my face, boobs, and ass but none of my annoying traits? Is that how it works? Does she fart?”
The man smiled. “Yes, she farts, and it smells like cumin.”
The woman laughed. “You need to get your money back, you do remember my farts smell like cinnamon? The engineers totally messed up your clone order.”
They smiled at the same time and it was as if the tension from earlier had lifted. His eyes crinkled at the edges watching her animated face recover from the laughter.
He leaned into the booth, grabbing and taking a sip from his coffee mug. He ran his finger on the lips of the mug, like if he was getting ready to say something.
“Is there something else on your mind,” she said.
“Yes, there is.”
“Well, don’t you know it’s rude to keep a lady waiting? What is it?”
“Lucia and I, well, my Lucia and I, would really like to be parents.”
There was silence. She looked at him with the puckered face of a mother getting ready to scold her child in public.
“You want my fucking eggs don’t you? You asshole.”
“I mean it’s a win-win.”
“What do you mean a win-win? You want me to give you eggs so you can have kids with my clone. What kind of shit is that? You are such a shitty person, let me tell you!”
“You’re not going to use them. You told me you didn’t want kids.”
“It doesn’t matter what I said. When I say I don’t want kids it also means I don’t want no fucking clones of me having the kids I might have had.”
“Well these are the kids that you were definitely never going to have with me. Doesn’t ‘Rick the Pilot’ already have kids? How’s it going with Rick now by the way? You haven’t mentioned him. Did he finally leave his wife?”
“You are being such a jerk.”
“I’m the jerk, huh? The idiot that gets friendzoned for twenty years is the jerk. Of course. But let me correct you, I’m the idiot, not the jerk. Or did you already forget what you told me ten years ago when we went on that cruise together? What was it you said, it’s just sex Habibi, but if we both aren’t shacked up by 40 we should get married. Remember that?”
She looked down at the table.
“Actually,” he said, raising his finger. “There is one thing your clone has that you don’t have – she has a heart, she has a fucking heart.”
There were tears coming down her face.
As he watched her cry there was a knot in his chest. He looked down at the table and then her hands, which were ugly and small and didn’t seem to fit the rest of her. His gaze then went up her arms, chest and finally landing at her pretty neck that glowed like a lone white marble column standing in some bright green field in Greece.
“Do you really think this is what I wanted, a clone? I did it because I thought that it would make you love me okay. That you’d finally say to me, ‘Wow, Habib is going to spend a million dollars for a clone of me. That’s how much he adores me. That’s how in love with me he is.’ And maybe, just maybe, you’d say to yourself, ‘so what if my feelings for him are not aligned. At least I have someone that loves me that much, and would do anything for me.’ That’s the reason I did it. Because I thought you would stop me at the last minute, and look at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes and say to me, ‘No need to spend that money Habib, I’m here. You got me. Let’s go for it.’”
He was crying and could not continue.
“But I didn’t,” she said.
“No,” he said, wiping his nose with a napkin. “You did not. My plan failed, and now I’m married to a clone of you.”
She smiled under her teary eyes.
“I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you,” she said softly, looking directly at him. “I’m beginning to realize through many recent disastrous personal events what a horrible person I was to myself and especially to you. I too have a reason that I wanted to meet with you today.”
His heart was pounding now like dancehall drums.
She looked down at the table.
“I’m moving to Titan.”
“I need to start over.”
“Leaving Earth,” he said. “But nobody comes back from Titan.”
“I know that. I’ve given this some serious thought Habib.”
“Are you going with Rick?”
“Rick has nothing to do with this. I gave Rick an ultimatum and he made his decision. I always wanted to go to Titan Habibi. You know that.”
When she called him ‘Habibi’ then he knew she was serious. That word tugged at his heartstrings. She always said Habibi when she wanted something from him. It was his weakness. He found hope in that word. Hope that she would love him back.
“I know, you mentioned Titan a lot. I didn’t think you were serious.”
“It’s time,” she said, with a weepy smile, “I start acting like a responsible adult.”
“Responsible adults go to Titan?”
“Yes, I think so. At least that’s what this responsible adult is going to do.”
“You will always have me, what are you talking about? You cloned me Habibi. I will always be there. And there’s Interstellar Skype. We’ll be able to talk all the time. Please be happy for me Habib.”
“I just think this is just too abrupt. Have you really thought about it? I mean Rick is not the only guy in the galaxy. And my Lucia, I mean, cloned Lucia is not you. She looks like you, but she’s not you. Please don’t.”
“What would you have me do Habib, waste my life on this dying planet? I can’t live here anymore. I need a change. I’ve made too many mistakes. I want a fresh start.”
“We can get married. I’ll divorce your clone. We can start over. I’ll be a good husband. I won’t be annoying, please you can’t do this.”
“You know that’s financially impossible. You will need another million dollars to divorce her and then to deport her to Clone Island, the bureaucracy alone wouldn’t be worth the trouble.”
“Please, please, I’m begging you.”
“Habibi look at me. Don’t cry baby. You’re my best friend and you will always be my best friend. We went through a rough patch but we’re good now. Titan is far, but we’ll talk every day. And anyways, I have a reason now to keep in touch, because…I will want to know…how our kids are doing.”
“Our kids? You’re giving me the eggs?”
“Yes, Habibi, you can have my eggs. I want you to be happy with Lucia. I know those clones are not perfect, but you can make it work. I will want lots of photos of those kids of ours. I want to see them grow; even from Titan we will still be connected.”
He covered his face with his right hand, wiping his eyes.
“Habibi baby, are you listening? You’re getting what you want, and I’m getting what I want.”
He sat back now feeling like he had just officially settled in life. He felt a disturbed relief. He can make this work, he thought to himself. He had to get serious now, he’s about to start a family. It would be a non-traditional family, but a family nonetheless. His dreams, sans true love, were coming true in a way. His dreams of becoming a husband, a provider, a father, it was all about to happen. Let’s be thankful he thought to himself.
“Let’s be thankful,” she said, grabbing his hands across the table.