Gyula felt his throat. He opened and closed his mouth. He spoke to himself. His voice sounded loud in the quiet of his bedroom.
The agent at Language Sales told him to go home and practice speaking out loud. He told Gyula he would need to see him for at least three sessions, and then he would have a useable imprint.
Gyula moved his hand around his throat. He swallowed and felt his skin move with the quiet action of the muscles beneath.
Gyula got on the bus after the first session. Languages Sales was in the fifth district. It would take the bus at least an hour to bring Gyula to his home in the eighth district where most of the other Roma citizens lived. Gyula’s throat felt tired. He had spoken for almost five hours.
To make it easier for Gyula to come up with things to say, the agent asked him questions.
Before you came to Budapest where did you live? Transylvania.
Why did you move here? For work.
What do you do? Until last month I was a construction worker. But now there are so many workers they didn’t need me anymore.
What will you do next? My fiancé and I would like to get married. I am a carpenter. Perhaps we will move to a smaller city in the east, and I can find work there.
Will you be able to work after the procedure? It’s physical work. No need for speaking. I should be fine.
After the second session ended, Gyula asked the agent, what happens on the other floors of the sales building?
Would you like to see?
The agent took him upstairs. The first floor was filled with computers. This is where the voices are processed, the agent said.
The second floor was filled with desks and agents on telephones. Gyula could hear the one-sided conversations.
Hello, you’ve reached sales at Language Sales. How may I direct your call?
The Standard European package? 1000. Yes, you will receive French, German, and Spanish fluency. There are additional costs for each added language. 200 for Romanian. 300 for Slavic variations. Hungarian? 800.
Boutique services are extra. 500 for Hungarian with dialect. Yes, sir. We guarantee fluency. Yes, the new voice will work with all voice-activated software systems. Your new voice will be the only voice of its kind. No redundancies.
That phrase stood out to him. “No redundancies.” He heard it repeated up and down the sales floor. Yes, sir. Yours will be the only voice of its kind. Don’t worry. No redundancies.
The agent brought Gyula back to the first floor. At the desk Gyula signed his name on several pieces of paper. The agent gave him a final piece. Gyula looked at it.
We can’t do the third session until you sign.
Gyula sat for a few minutes. Then he signed.
After the third session the agent brought Gyula to the sub-level of the building. Many of the other donors were also there. Nurses were taking blood samples and writing on charts.
A nurse brought Gyula to an empty bed. After checking him over she wrote on his chart and asked him to sign.
Will it hurt, Gyula said?
Not at all. You will be asleep.
Return to the agent upstairs and you will receive your credits.
Gyula sat on the bed. He could hear the conversations all around him as the nurses talked to the other donors. He heard many languages, some he recognized. Polish. Arabic. Turkish. Nobody else seemed nervous. He lay back on the bed. The nurse gave him a shot and he fell asleep.
When he woke up, the room was silent. He could hear people standing up and moving to the exit. The nurse helped him stand. Then she held up a label for him to see and pinned it to his shirt. She gestured toward the exit.
As he walked to the elevator he passed a mirror. He stopped and looked at himself. He looked the same. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. The nurse was right. It hadn’t hurt.
The elevator brought him upstairs. He saw the window for credits. He walked up to the window. The agent looked up at him. Gyula pointed to his throat and shrugged. The agent nodded, glancing at Gyula’s label. A few pieces of paper were signed and stamped and then the agent handed Gyula an envelope with his credits.
Gyula walked out of the building into his new silent world.