One summer afternoon someone texted me from a strange number: “How are you doing?” Since I’d lost my previous phone and hadn’t restored all my contacts yet, I thought it was probably one of my friends. I responded that everything was fine, to which I received a few more polite messages. I had no idea whom I was texting, but I didn’t see anything inappropriate about this straightforward exchange of niceties.
A few days later, this someone texted me again. They asked if I’d read anything interesting recently. Of course, I answered straight away. They were intrigued, asked me a few extra questions and we had a nice chat. I still didn’t know who it was. I was curious, but the conversation had already gone too far, and by that point I could hardly ask whom I was actually talking with.
Soon, these text exchanges with a stranger became one of my favourites pastimes. They were infrequent, but always interesting. This person, whoever they were, was definitely a good listener. When asking questions, they were perceptive but never nosy. They were rather knowledgeable, but never tried to patronize me. They lacked a little sense of humour, but it didn’t bother me. I also came to terms with the fact that I didn’t really know who they were. I even started to enjoy it. I called them 503, because of the first three digits of their mobile phone number. In my head, they were more female than male, around 40 years old. That’s it. Sometimes it seemed to me that the texts revealed some more specific qualities of this person, but as soon as I managed to get a grasp of them, I’d receive a text that contradicted my suppositions.
After a particularly interesting exchange, I’d often put my mobile down and ponder the unusual nature of our relationship. My imagination suggested various scenarios. For example: 503 dies and I get a text from their spouse saying that texting me was 503’s greatest joy. They refer to me by some random last name, but they get my first name right so I realize immediately that there’s been a mistake, and that – in a sense – it’s been for the better.
Or, conversely, I’d imagine that it was me who dies and 503 sends further texts that go unanswered. Eventually, wanting to clarify the matter, they go to see the friend they mistook me for (because in this version of events there’s also an element of misunderstanding) and as a result, their waning friendship is revived.
My cerebral cortex invented many such sentimental scenarios. They were generally quite morbid and exalted. But things soon changed their course. One day, a nice lady called me about a new mobile phone contract. We quickly came to a deal. The nice lady was very pleased.
“Do you want to keep the Best Mate package on your plan?” she asked at the end. “I see that you use it often.”
It took me a moment to realize what she was saying, but soon the entire truth about 503 transpired in all its cruel simplicity.
“Artificial intelligence?” I mumbled.
“Oh, of course not!” the nice lady rushed to explain. “Just some arts and humanities graduates. They are better and cheaper. If you enjoy this service, then I suggest you get the premium option, they’ll text you more frequently.”
I agreed. Now they really do text me more often, but from a 507 number. I never text back. I miss 503.
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel
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