There was someone at the door. The bell rang. Two short rings, then a short and a long, followed by two long ones.
I looked at the security monitor. It was a gleaming, brand-new, humanoid robot, all its plastic factory stickers still in place. “Robotami”, it said prominently. The delivery drone was flying away as I looked on.
I opened the door. I was, in fact, expecting him, or should I say ‘it’, having bought one online at a huge discount during the Black Friday sale.
“Hi, I am the new Robotami Husband Robot,” he said; then, after a moment’s dramatic pause, “... at your service. You can call me Hubby.”
Husband robot? “There has been a mistake. I don’t think I ordered a ‘husband’ robot,” I said. “I think I ordered a household service robot.”
“I have been rebranded and upgraded to a husband robot via a hardware update for female customers,” Hubby said. “There is no other difference. I provide the same excellent quality service.” I could swear there was a subtle smile in his eyes, but I could not be sure.
I looked him up and down. He looked quite human, but ...
“What is that between your legs?” I was a bit shocked. “Here, take this towel and cover yourself. This won’t do. There are small children in this house.”
“Oh, that ...” Hubby said in his own impassive style as he wrapped the towel around the offending five-letter body part, “that is my brain. It also serves as my charging apparatus.”
“Hmm,” I said, “I thought the usual place for the brain was inside the head.”
“You are quite right,” said Hubby. “That is how I used to be put together a long time ago. But, with the male robots, the brain has been shifted down for quick and efficient charging. It is an optimization. My performance has tripled as a result. You will like me.”
“I am not so sure I will like you,” I said. “I may have to return you within fourteen days if you fail to live up to my expectations during the trial period. But, anyway, since you are here, why don’t you make yourself useful.”
“As you wish,” he said.
So Hubby ambled down to the kitchen, picked up a beer from the fridge, and then on to the living room to sit down on the sofa in front of the television. I looked on awestruck, my genetic memory telling me that Hubby has been built to the same exact specifications as of the husbands of yesteryears.
“Ah, are these your children?” he asked, pointing his beautifully articulated silicone fingers at Tom and Tanya, who were busy playing some mind-numbing, first-person shooter video game. “Cute little darlings, they are!”
“Children, this is Hubby, a new addition to our family,” I told Tom and Tanya. “He will help us in various useful ways: by taking out the trash, firing up the barbecue, drinking all the beer in the fridge, spending endless hours in front of television, and occasionally fixing the plumbing leaks.”
“Can I call you ‘Daddy’?” Tanya asked, all sweet and innocent.
“You can, if you must,” I said. “That way of calling anyone has been out of fashion for a long time. But, just for old times’ sake ...”
“Hello, Daddy,” Tom and Tanya said in unison.
“Hello, children,” Hubby said. “What are your names?”
“I am Tom,” Tom said, without taking his eyes off the game.
“And I am Tanya,” Tanya said, snuggling up close to Hubby. “I love you Daddy. Will you play with me?”
“May be another day,” Hubby said. “Today I am a little tired. It has been a long journey all the way from Japan. I need to rest now. Tom, you can continue to play your video game, but Tanya, I think you should rather go to your room and play with dolls. Dolls are for girls.”
“Don’t listen to Hubby, Tanya,” I said, a little irritated. “Hubby, what you are saying is so twenty-first century! That is not how I have brought my children up. Tanya gets to do whatever Tom does in this house. If Tom plays video games, Tanya plays too. If Tanya plays with dolls, Tom can play with Barbie too.”
“I want to play with Barbie, Mummy,” Tom said, as he threw away the game controller.
Hubby sighed a deep sigh, and took a long swig of the beer. He shook his head, disappointment writ large on his face.
The children went off to the playroom to play with Barbie.
“I would rather watch the rerun of Baywatch,” Hubby said, as he fumbled with the remote.
I went off to the kitchen to heat the dinner.
“Can you take out the trash, Hubby?” I said meanwhile. The trash can was overflowing.
“Sure, but after I finish the beer,” Hubby said, as he continued to watch Pamela on Baywatch. I gave a quick glance. He still had the towel on. That is good, but I need to get him some shorts soon, I suppose.
The gamma wave cooker made three soft beeps to indicate that the food is cooked. “Children, dinner is ready!” I shouted over the television.
“Tom has taken off Barbie’s clothes, Mummy,” Tanya came running. “He won’t give her to me.”
“Tom!” I screamed. “Come here this second!”
“I didn’t do it!” Tom came over in that feet-dragging walk of his. “Tanya did it!”
“You are a liar!”
“No! You are a liar!”
“Can I get a moment of peace in this house?” That was Hubby, with his eyes glued to the television.
I ignored Hubby, while making a mental note that this behavior will need to be dealt with soon, before it becomes a habit with him. “Tom! Tanya! Enough of that!” I said in my no-nonsense Mummy voice. “You both are sitting down for dinner! Right now!”
Something in my voice was possibly ominous enough. They did sit down.
“Tommy kicked me under the table!”
“No. I didn’t!”
“Yes, you did!”
“Silence!” I said. “No more words or any hanky-panky till you both finish your dinner. Hubby, will you join us on the table for dinner?”
“Yes, Daddy! Join us for dinner,” echoed Tanya. “We are having some utterly tasteless roasted organic broccoli and chia seeds. Responsibly grown in Brazilian rainforests, it said in the packets.”
“Thank you,” said Hubby, “but I am quite comfortable where I am. At any rate, I have been designed to need only beer and occasional recharge. So, I will just sit here, watching television, and being useful.”
“As you wish,” I said, and dug into my roasted, partly burnt, broccoli. It tasted delicious, I told myself. I decided to throw away the rest.
We got the plates into the dishwasher as dinner got over. “May be it is time for you to learn how to use the dishwasher,” I told Hubby, mindful of the fact that he needs to get up to speed quickly in order to be useful around the house.
Without moving his head, Hubby punched some buttons on his arm, and the dishwasher started humming, water flowing in like a torrent. “That was easy, wasn’t it?” Hubby said, with nary a look in my direction. On the television, Pamela was bouncing up and down the golden California beach.
“You turned it on, but the dishwasher door is not closed!” I screamed in alarm, as I saw the bowl inside the dishwasher slowly fill up with soapy water.
“So close it,” said Hubby in a calm, collected, voice. “That should not be difficult.”
So I did. I think I bit my lips. Yes, it was easy, like he said.
“Time for bed, children,” I said meanwhile. “Brush your teeth, and off you go to bed. I will be there in a moment to tell you a story.”
“I want Daddy to tell me a story tonight,” Tanya said. “Won’t you tell a story to Tanya, Daddy?” She fluttered those tiny eyelashes of her’s, all coy-like, mature beyond the years. I have to be careful about Tanya as she grows up, I made another mental note to myself. She is showing all the signs of getting into some really early boy-trouble.
Hubby stirred a bit in the sofa to face Tanya. “Not tonight, Sweetie!” he said. “I will need to download the stories tonight. I will stream them to you tomorrow, I promise. Which author do you like most?”
“Roald Dahl!” said my little grown-up-beyond-the-years girl. “I love Roald Dahl. I want to marry him when I grow up. I also want to marry Charlie; he has a chocolate factory, and I can eat chocolates all day.”
“You will, darling! You surely will!” said Hubby in an admirably soothing voice. “Now, run along to bed. And, good night to all three of you!”
“Tom and Tanya! you both can go to bed,” I said. “I am not quite done yet.”
“Oh! I see,” said Hubby, and he pushed a few more buttons on his hand as Tom and Tanya went away.
“What are those buttons for?” I asked, curious.
“Oh, those buttons. I just put myself in the ‘Late Night’ mode,” Hubby said. This time he smiled, a gentle sweet smile. Almost romantic, as far as it is possible for steel and silicone to make one look romantic. “I am all yours,” he added.
“And what does that mean?” I was getting a little concerned here. I did not like how the situation at hand was rising.
“Would you like a hug? A kiss? Or I could hold you in bed,” Hubby said. His voice was dripping honey.
“I have a headache,” I said, my thousand year old genetic program coming to my rescue almost instinctively. “Good night!”
“Good night!” Hubby said in response, and went back to watching Baywatch reruns.
Early towards the morning I got up with a start. The lights were out, and so was the air-conditioning. It was quite warm inside the house, and there was a distinct smell of something burning. What it was, I could not tell.
I ran out of my bedroom. Tom and Tanya were sleeping blissfully. My panic button still pressed hard, I ran over to the living room. There was no sign of Hubby.
“Hubby!” I screamed. “Where are you? What time is it? Why did the electricity go off? Can you turn on some lights? Can you check what is burning? Can you do something, for God’s sake? I think it is coming from the garage.”
No one responded, so I ran to the garage.
There was Hubby, and, how do I put it, he seemed to have inserted himself into the 220v point meant for the dryer in the garage, likely in a fatal attempt to charge himself quick. His wreckage was still sparking and smoldering as I went in. I released him from his electric embrace with the help of a broom, but by then it was too late. His brain, as he called it, was fried.
It has been a few days since I returned the dysfunctional body of Hubby to Robotami. I had a choice to either get back the refund money or to get a new Hubby. Surprising even myself, I chose to get a new one. I think I kinda liked him despite all his shortcomings, all because of that one evening he spent with us. Tanya definitely missed him; so did Tom, albeit to a lesser extent. I think I will have to work on Hubby over time, train him right, reprogram his neural circuitry to make him more useful in my day-to-day life. Yes, I think there is hope that he can come around by just the right amount from his beer-drinking, television-watching, frequently-useless, at-times-sort-of-stupid self to earn his keep around the house.
Hell, I may even allow him to hold me at night as I sleep.