The Hologram Wears Concealer
by Inara Enko
When Zara’s mother tries to hug her, her arms close around air.
“I’m just a hologram, remember?” says Zara, or rather the projection of her standing in her childhood home.
“Mashallah,” says her mother, shaking her head as she circles the hologram. Zara’s colleagues are letting her use this experimental technology to make an appearance at her sister’s wedding.
“And you found a very nice sharara, too!”
Zara smiles her thanks, especially pleased with how the embroidered beads seem to catch the ceiling lights of the holoport chamber where she’s standing. Her outfit and makeup are digital, rendered by her dermal implants — the so-called data tattoos that let you project holograms conforming to your body.
But now her mother is scrutinizing her face. Has she caught on that—
“You missed a spot when blending.”
“Ayo, really?” Zara hopes she sounds surprised. As if this ‘mishap’ were not a ruse to suggest she’s wearing physical cosmetics, to throw off her mother from suspecting she has dermal implants. “Where?”
“A little more to your left…” Zara dabs the spot to blend it out. “There!” Her mother steps back. “Byen zoli aster!”
Zara smiles, more from relief than the compliment. She’s had the implants for a whole year now; it’s a chore that she suddenly has to hide them.
“Ey, let’s go! Everyone’s outside.”
These words don’t register until Zara sees her mother heading for the door. “Mami, wait! You need to take the plate.”
“Kwa?” It’s the device that’s projecting her into her parents’ house and transmitting the surroundings there back to her. “Ki ete sa?”
“Look, it’s right here.” She mimes lifting her floor-length skirt, hoping the hologram simulates the folding and rising fabric naturally enough. “See it now, under me? You have to carry that.”
“Ayo.” But her mother bends down, and then Zara’s view tumbles into weird angles as her mother picks up the plate and carries her outside.
The family are doing the nikah ceremony in the garden, in a rented tent under garlands of fairy lights strung from the litchi and mango trees. “Does it look as nice as the Insta photos?” her mother asks.
“Better,” Zara pretends, rather than admit she has most of her relatives muted or blocked on social media. Otherwise her feeds get clogged with invectives against dermal implants. And really, why did the marketing people have to go around calling them tattoos? Now her tech-illiterate parents and relatives think they are tattoos, and consider them forbidden by their religion.
“Ki zess sa,” her mother grumbles, “where am I supposed to put you?”
Plenty of guests have arrived already, the women aglitter in fancy shararas and churidars. Her mother pauses behind a table with plates of samoussas and napolitaines.
“I’m so sad I can’t eat anything!” says Zara with a sigh. “No briyani for me either.”
“Ayo, Zara, why couldn’t you have just come? To ser pe marye! Kifer to’n pa fer pli zefor?”
As her mother goes on scolding her in Morisyen for not attending the wedding in person, Zara looks up at the ceiling of the holoport chamber. The industrial fixtures console her that she’s still at the lab, that she can disconnect if things get too uncomfortable. But Zara wants to be here. And before any “technical problems” kick in, she wants to at least greet her sister Arzina and the groom.
“Could you please just take me to Arzi?” Zara cuts in.
“You want me to carry you in front of everyone?”
“Why is that such a problem?”
Her mother huffs, but she does take Zara onto the stage where the bride and groom are seated. “I’ll be back,” she grumbles, setting down the plate behind their sofa.
The bride squeals. “Zara! But I thought—”
“This is a hologram. I’m still at the lab.”
Instead of being disappointed, Arzina’s eyes light up. “That. Is the coolest thing. Rafiq, look! My sister’s here by hologram!”
Zara greets the groom formally, since she’s never met him before.
He gives the formal response, then matches Arzina’s excitement. “This is amazing, wow!” He and Arzina both come around the sofa for a closer look. “Ey, when this becomes normal in a few years, we’ll get to say we had it already at our wedding!”
Chatting and laughing with them, Zara’s worries melt away. Both for herself, and for her sister. It’s a real delight to welcome this brother-in-law into the family, who was until now a stranger to her.
“I’m so happy you found a way to be here,” says a teary-eyed Arzina. “A way that… worked for you.”
Rafiq retreats to give them some space, but Zara still drops her voice. “Thanks for understanding why I couldn’t get on a plane.”
“I do understand,” says Arzina, “and I’d have understood even if you couldn’t come at all.”
That’s why Zara didn’t want to miss this. Arzina skews traditional in a way she doesn’t, but they get each other. Accept each other.
“Zara?” says an auntie who has come up to greet the couple. “But I thought you couldn’t come?”
“She’s still in America,” says her mother, rejoining them. “Zara’s an engineer over there, ou kone?”
As she carries on, beaming with pride Zara never knew her mother had for her, Zara wonders if she’s been unfair. Maybe she hasn’t given her mother enough credit?
“…and subhanallah, she worked on this hologram herself!”
“Oh, no, actually, I—”
Zara realizes she’d better not correct her.
“Well, I mean, there’s a team.” But not her team. She doesn’t work on holoportation. Zara’s team is working on the next generation of dermal implant “tattoos”, the very technology her family considers forbidden.Maybe one day she’ll get to be open about it, whether her community adjusts or she can just stop caring what they think. But for tonight, for her sister’s sake, she does care, and so she will keep her social concealer on.
Inara Enko uses fiction to wrangle with identity, lived experience, and history. With one side of her family from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, lately she’s been exploring her Mauritian culture through science fiction and assorted -punk genres. You can find out more about her and her writing at: https://retepunk.art