The Pain of Inhumanity
"She will have a filet with steamed vegetables on the side. I'll have the New York steak with a sweet potato."
"How would you like your steaks done, Sir?"
"Medium for her. Meduim rare for me."
I was sitting in a restaurant with Nick - my boss by day, my close friend by night. I didn't really feel like going out that late in the day, but Nick had insisted that we go out for dinner. There's something I need to tell you, he mentioned to me with a sly flicker in his eyes.
Nick was a middle-aged guy of an average build and far from being good-looking. His hair was a strange dusty-grayish color; his black eyes were small and beady, always darting from place to place, never looking straight at you; and his moustache, which he refused to shave, bristled strangely, not unlike some animal's whiskers. That didn't matter to me; the man was my boss, and, all things kept professional, appearances were irrelevant. Nick had hired me for my first programming job, for which I was earnestly grateful. Trying to master my new profession, I habitually stayed late after work, reading manuals and trying to perfect my code. Nick, who also liked working late, soon was stopping by my desk almost every evening for a chat. I learned that Nick was an immigrant, just like me; he had been in the country five years. For some reason Nick refused to say what country he was from.
"I'd rather not talk about it", he'd say briskly and change the subject.
Nick mentioned a wife and five kids, but, as with his home country, didn't like to talk about them much. We had hoped to see them at the company's annual summer picnic, but Nick showed up alone.
One evening, Nick made an unexpected offer to me.
"How would you like for the two of us to be friends?" he asked. "We could go out once or twice a week. I could show you America - I know you're still new to the country."
Thus our friendship began. Nick took me to places I had never seen yet in my life - from fast food joints and malls to upscale restaurants and concert halls. We talked about everything, and found that we had a lot in common. We liked the same authors, the same movies, the same music. The bonding was instant. We could hardly contain our happiness at finding each other.
A month or two after we started going out in this way, Nick suddenly propositioned me. He wanted, he said, to be more than friends. I was taken aback. Nick was married, and so was I; and what, I asked him, could be more than friends anyway? Fuck buddies are a dime a dozen; a true friend may only come along once in your lifetime.
Nick said nothing, but, a week later, he started going out with another girl from our department. He still kept his dates with me; he just added to his schedule. My day to go out with Nick was Wednesday; the new girl, he saw on Mondays. During our Wednesday dates, he'd tell me about the hot, steamy sex they'd had two days before, making faces and sounds to help me get the whole picture. Apparently, it still wasn't enough, because, shortly after that, Nick approached yet another girl we worked with, asking if she wouldn't mind going out with him on Tuesdays. Before we knew it, Nick's whole week was booked and he was seeing five women, all of them his subordinates. This struck me as strange, but I didn't want to lose a friend, so I never said a word to him about it.
And now, I was sitting by the fireplace in a cozy restaurant, wondering what it was that this extravagant man was so eager to tell me. Our food arrived. Nick vigorously dug into his steak. I nibbled at my steamed vegetables and waited. Despite Nick's appetite, one could tell something was bothering him, chewing and gnawing at his soul.
"What if none of us were married? What if we were both young? Would you have married me then?" he pondered all of a sudden.
"We'd probably be friends, Nick." I felt uncomfortable under his shifty, beady gaze. "Don't you like being friends? A marriage is a business. I want a soul mate, not a business partner."
"But how deep is our friendship, really?" Nick shot back at me. "Would you sacrifice your life for me? Would I sacrifice my life for you? I don't know!" - he was visibly upset.
"Goodness gracious, Nick, what's with you today? Are you all right?" I was starting to feel worried.
For the first time, Nick looked me straight in the eyes.
"Goldie, there's something I need to tell you. I am not human."
A piece of steak fell off my fork and slipped off the table to the floor.
"I. AM. NOT. HUMAN."
Oh no, he's gone crazy, I thought in terror. That would explain the five women. What do I do now? Oh no, he's holding a steak knife.
I started inching away from the table, but Nick resumed talking.
"No, don't leave, please don't. Listen to me. It's all true, I promise.
"I was born a small and furry animal that was kept as a pet. My first owners took good care of me for several years, but then they had to give me away. My second owners were very happy with me at first, but then they got this abominable dog that made my life hell. God, how I hate dogs! Their scary teeth, their stinky breath!
"Since the two of us clearly could not live under the same roof, my owners had to choose. They chose the dog, of course, the traitors. I was sent to a home for abandoned animals like me. I stayed there for a few months, then my current owner came and picked me up. He treated me very well, better than anyone else before him. He even had a female for me. We soon mated and had five beautiful furry children.
"However, I soon found out what lay behind my new owner's kindness. He was a scientist, and needed us for his experiments. I was the one he chose to test a microchip that, when implanted in an animal's brain, turned it into a human for a period of five years. I went to bed a chinchilla, and woke up a human that you see before you.
"I had to go and make my living in the human world, as my owner could not support me; besides, he was afraid of rumors that would start if neighbors saw him living with another man. My second owners were programmers, so I had learned some of the trade when I lived with them. My current owner helped me write a resume and gave me a good reference. I took his last name and kept my first name, Nick. Very soon, I was offered a position in our company, and, within a year, promoted to IT manager. I was enjoying a great career and bringing home good money. That, however, was not what I had dreamed of when I first became a human.
"Human women. That was what I desired, ever since my chinchilla days with my old owners. I'd hump them and nibble on them, but it just never felt right. I used to lie in my chinchilla bed in the middle of the day, unable to fall asleep, thinking, If only I could be a human, just for one day. Oh, the women I would have! oh, the things I would do to them!
"I made it all happen. First you, then the other women in the office - I have five, and no two are the same. But now my time is up. It's been five years; the microchip's effect will expire tomorrow, and it cannot be used on me again, or else it'll blow my brain to pieces..."
His voice trailed off, as suddenly as his story began. His eyes glistened with tears; his whiskers bristled. He really did look like a rodent, I realized. Instantly, I believed every word of his story.
I tried to think of something comforting to say, but couldn't. What do you say to a man who's to become a chinchilla tomorrow? How do you comfort a chinchilla in distress? Silently, we stood up. Nick dropped a few twenties on the table, and we walked out, trying not to look at each other. In dead silence, we both got into Nick's car. He turned and looked at me. Before we could put our thoughts into words, we were making out in the front seats of Nick's car like we had never made out before. Like our whole lives depended on it.
Next day at work, we all received an email from the CEO. "With great sadness we announce", it read, "that our IT director, Nicholas Feynsteyn, is no longer with the company. He had to resign immediately due to personal circumstances. Nicholas was an outstanding employee and will be missed by all."
It seemed that everyone was looking at us, the five women from Nick's department. We in turn avoided looking at each other, or at anyone else for that matter. The youngest of the girls was sniffling and her eyes were red, as if from crying.
A week later, I got a business card in the mail. "Please call", was written on the card in blue ink. I dialed a local number.
"Jeff Feynsteyn speaking", answered a voice on the other end.
I decided I'd hazard a guess.
"Good evening, Mr. Feynsteyn, are you Nick's owner by any chance?"
"Nicky's owner? Why yes, I am!" - the voice sounded a lot friendlier now. - "Did you get my card in the mail? This is Goldie, right?"
"Yes I did, thank you."
"Well, you know the address, then. Come on over. What? Oh, any time really. I'm home all day."
I suddenly missed Nick so much it hurt.
"Can I come right now, Mr. Feynsteyn?"
"Sure. You need directions to my place?"
It turned out that Mr. Feynsteyn lived all the way on the West Side. It was late evening when I finally pulled into his driveway.
"Come in, come in", the huge man boomed, "your friend is in the basement, waiting for you. Here, give him this raisin, he'll like that."
The basement was large and full of cages. Dozens of chinchillas stared at me, but I knew the one I was looking for right away. He was the only one with that infinitely sad look in his beady eyes. I walked to his cage; he ran towards the door to greet me.
"Hi, Nick, how's it going? Wanna raisin?"
My friend greedily grabbed the raisin out of my outstretched hand and started nibbling on it, his whiskers moving up and down. It was hard to believe that, a little over a week ago, my paycheck depended on this tiny, furry creature. And yet, it was so easy to see my boss and close friend in this fur-covered face. The likeness, incredibly, was still there.
I scratched Nicky under his chin and behind his long, transparent ears, thinking about the finality of human life. One day it will end for all of us just as it ended for Nicky. Our time is running out, just like his was. It would probably do us a world of good, I thought, to live as if each day was our last. Just like Nicky did. Of course, that resulted in him dating five women at once. So maybe, we're better off living as if we have infinity in front of us, and not thinking about the day our lives will end.
I wish I could ask Nick for advice.