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A Normal World

A curious elderly man enters social media only to find many surprises awaiting him.

Mr. Max Madison was sixty-one years when he had that vicious thought. He wanted to open an account on social media. He had heard so many people talking about the internet and using words like ‘cyber’ and ‘selfie’. They were talking about a completely different world. In their world, story and status meant the same thing!

“He posted a status,” they would cry out in joy. How can one post his status?

When his grandson posted a story, Max urged to let him see. But it was some random images going from one after the other. There was no story at all.

“You call this a story?” Max asked. “In our times, we call this a slideshow.

“Oh, Grandpa, you can’t understand these things. It’s social media.” His grandson replied coldly. And Max remained just as clueless as before.

Max always liked challenges. He was a fighter. He had fought numerous wars for his country. A severe wound on his leg made him retreat from the battlefield. But he was always ready for a fight—be his age sixteen or sixty. So he took up his challenge—to meet this virtual world.

There is one more thing. Ever since he retreated from the field, he had a boring life. He would watch television every now and then when there is a game. He would listen to the crappy songs on the radio. He liked small kids, but he is not popular among the kids. Grandpa Max’s war stories of guns and injuries were not interesting. They all had the same elements, same themes. A lot of people die. A few people survive. Boring!

When the kids no longer wanted his stories, he took refuge in the world of books. Not just fiction, he wanted to learn about the world as well. He understood science and commerce through books. The books taught him many languages too. He would hop from one subject to other through the valley of books. But he could never understand technology—couldn’t understand the e-world. He wanted desperately to learn the e-world. Now’s the time.

His grandson Ralph became his tutor. They are in front of the old desktop computer now. Ralph typed the name and details for his account.

“What password do you want, grandpa?” Ralph asked.

“Mmm,” Max thought for a minute. “123.”

“That’s too short and simple,” Ralph smiled. “We need a complex one for safety purposes. Alright, I will make one.”

Max12345#,” Ralph chirped. “That will do.”

“So it’s not a safe world like ours,” Max thought. “It’s unlike what I heard—that it provided a safe personal space to express.”

“You need a good username too,” Ralph looked at him eagerly. “How about @coolpops?”

Max laughed. “Can’t I be @warhero or something?”

“It’s not a striking name,” Ralph shook his head. “You need a cool name for this cool world.”

“Cool or uncool. Whatever you wish, kid!”

Max really wanted to be @warhero. But he needed to adapt to this world. He needed to be @coolpops.

“I have been meaning to ask you this. What’s that spearhead thing?” Max asked curiously.

“It’s a cursor.” Ralph proceeded to introduce him to the tools for that new world. The ‘settings’ icon reminded him of the gears in a tank. The ‘Explore’ icon was a compass, which he was very familiar with. The red circles around the people’s images appeared like a bull’s eye for target practice. There were many icons that he memorized as army medals and badges.

In the end, Ralph taught him how to post a photo.

“I want to post my wartime stories first,” Max argued.

“Usually, everyone posts their selfie or photo as their first post,” Ralph pointed out.

“Okay. I’m not breaking the tradition then,” Max agreed.

Ralph took the photo by the trending filter tool in his phone. Ralph chuckled as he saw the photo. He looked younger and more fair. But he had an awkward smile on his face. It’s not unusual. He always had an awkward face in photos, even in his wedding photo.

Max uploaded the photo with a simple caption, ‘Just a normal man on a normal day’. Then his finger hit the button ‘Post’. Max was eager to see the reactions. But it was lunchtime. So he left it to go for lunch.

Quickly finishing lunch, Max rushed to the computer. Many people have already reacted to his post within this short time. To his utter dismay, most of them were hate reactions.

He was taken aback when he scrolled down to see the comments.

“How dare he call himself ‘normal’, like it’s some supreme position?” one commented.

“You have no right to define what is normal!” shouted another one.

“Who the hell he think he is! He is offending all the ‘abnormal’ people!” Another one expressed their deep concern.

All these comments got thousands of likes. But his post only 35 reactions in total. This was utterly a new experience for Max. He had never encountered such personalities in his life. They didn’t make any sense. Seemed like Max was on a totally different planet. And the natives were pouring showers of curses at this foreign visitor.

Now Max saw what Ralph told him during lunch a while ago.

“Sometimes, people don’t make any sense there. Better shrug them off.”

At that time, Max had smirked them off. Well, he had seen so many grenades thrown aimlessly at him. If he can survive those stupid throws at the war front, then some stupidity in this world is a piece of cake!

And he was wrong. This is way beyond normal stupidity.

Max realized that he was facing a different kind of species. But Max is a fighter. He can’t shrug them off unnoticed. In order to explore this world, he needed to communicate with these beings. (Poor thing!)

He replied, “I was just saying that I’m a normal man.”

“Who knows what is and isn’t normal?” came the reply.

“Don’t everyone know what a normal thing is?” Max shot back.

“NO! Who defined what normal is?”

“The English Dictionary!” Max replied, trying to ease the mood. It’s a funny reply, but not for them. And the situation is much worse than he ever guessed.

“Do you believe this old shit? He is joking over this serious issue!” It started with this sentence, and a flood of trendy curses followed.

“I said I am an ordinary man!” Max tried to hold on among them.

“Ordinary and normal don’t mean the same, you old fool!” Even small kids cursed at him like they had seen the devil. Maybe the English dictionary is different in this world! This species had its own dictionary. He wondered what normal means in that dictionary. Well, it won’t be a very different dictionary because he could understand most of those curses.

He needed to adapt. So he commenced a different approach. He edited the caption and posted the same picture again. It read-

‘Just a man on an ordinary day.’

The comment soon flooded in a matter of seconds. This time, they needed to know who told him what is ordinary and what isn’t. In fact, he was offending all the other 363 days by calling this ordinary!

Like before, Max scrolled down to see if anyone ever supported him. His eyes caught one.

“Leave him alone. He is an old man—” Max smiled, but not for long. “—an old fool dwelling in the 60s. Don’t expect him to know what ordinary is as of today.”

Enough of this craziness! Max didn’t want to hear these comments anymore. He decided to go on mute to communicate with these beings.

This time, he posted the photo without a caption.

With his clasped hands on his face and his elbow on the table, Max waited eagerly for their reaction. They were silent. Max took a sigh—no response is better than any response for him now.

Then a hate comment appeared under his post. It has started.

“Do you really think you can escape those previous offenses by posting a blank caption?”

“Apologise, you old fool! #justice_for_abnormal.”

A tsunami of hashtags and derogatory comments hit him. He stood helpless and alone in that disaster. He was a baby trying desperately to stand up. But he couldn’t.

Just then, he saw a familiar face among the ones who were giving him hell. Max looked up his profile. It was indeed him—Sam, his neighbor. The same Sam who greeted him and laughed with him nicely that morning. Why is he cursing Max now?

Max went to have a private chat with Sam through the same platform. At least he would understand and help him out of this misery. But Max was in for a surprise. This Sam didn’t understand him. He replied to Max like an alien, just like everyone else. This version of Sam was utterly different—no longer that sweet Sam who invited him for dinner. He was @theSlayerSam, the savage who spitted out toxicity and rode along with the general tide of the arguments. He couldn’t be questioned. He gives only answers—to everything under the sun.

And poor Max hoped to post his wartime stories of bloodshed among these species! Max stared at the screen as each new comment popped up with new words across various languages. He didn’t notice Ralph coming to the room.

Ralph laughed and said, “No worries. A simple trick would do.” Then he took hold of the mouse.

“Just go to Settings, hit ‘Log Out’. Vola!” Ralph did as he spoke. Max grasped a bottle of water and finished it in one go. He needed it. He had fought the most brutal war in his life. And lost it—because he couldn’t understand what he was indeed fighting! Somehow, he felt excited. He had seen a new reality, a new world—a world of strange personalities and definitions.

That evening, Max ordered a book online. As soon as the book arrived, he leaned back in his armchair and began reading.

Ralph saw the book and burst into laughter. Its title ran,

‘How to be normal in social media?’

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