“What’s with the shades?” I ask Tuoz as he walks towards me across the row of still empty seats, his eyes concealed by large, thick sunglasses I’ve never seen him wear before. “It’s not even sunny out,” I add.
Sitting down in the seat beside mine, Tuoz tells me, “Oh, these glasses help me develop my empathic capacity.”
“Here, try them on,” he says, taking off the glasses.
He hands them to me. I put them on, first surprised that they don’t darken the scene before me, then stunned that through them Tuoz looks like me. Just his head. His clothes remain unchanged.
“Isn’t that intense?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I marvel, my gaze wandering about the theatre.
Each person now looks like someone important in Tuoz’s life, as if we are surrounded by their doppelgangers. Many I recognize. The girl seated to my left becomes a petite version of Yuuka, the usher Tuoz’s father but taller, smiling as he greets three entering attendees: elegantly dressed renditions of a very slender Jozine, a broad-shouldered Ruod and someone I don’t know—perhaps one of Tuoz’s cousins or colleagues. Even though I can only see the backs of their heads, the people sitting in the row before us have been convincingly transformed. The woman seated directly in front of me has Kanako’s long, shiny black hair. The head of the man seated to her right has the shape of Xondar’s head along with his latest haircut and ears.
“Here, check this out,” Tuoz says, handing me a magazine he’s brought with him.
I flip through the colorful pages, glancing at photos of people altered by the glasses to appear like someone Tuoz is close to or even Tuoz himself. It looks as if Tuoz is signing new legislation into law, Kanako has pioneered methods for rarefying angst, Tuoz’s mother is starring in a new movie and I am facing allegations of discriminationism.
“You know how I’m interpersonally myopic,” Tuoz says. “These glasses will allow me to see myself and people I care about in other people until I can do it for myself.”
“So they’re calibrated specifically for you, right? Which is why I see people in your life and not mine?”
“Cool,” I say, taking off the glasses. “So are you going to watch the play with these?” I ask, handing them back to Tuoz.
“Yeah,” he replies, putting the glasses on.
“Wow,” I murmur, taken aback by his answer. “That might be really. . . intense.”
“Yeah, I am a little worried about that, to be honest. It could be very emotionally stressful. But I think I need to do this, to really know how far I can take my empathy.”
“That’s hardcore, man. I actually don’t want to see myself and people I know in some of the characters in this story.”
“Yes, but sometimes you can’t help it, sometimes you can’t stop yourself, right? It’s hard for me to even start most of the time.”
But I know that a lot of times, I do stop myself.