M. had never been particularly interested in things. As a child, he was extraordinarily average, winning lots of participation certificates but never any medals. None of his teachers remembered him and the only reason he was part of friend groups was because he’d lived in the same city his whole life.
Now 22, he had finished his undergraduate degree, landed a job which was just barely related to his qualifications, and worked a standard nine-to-five Monday-to-Friday shift in an office which looked like it had a cool grey tint on everything. His weekend plans were standard: some chores, a walk in the park, scrolling endlessly on social media, trying out a video game, or binge-watching something. He had weekly drinks at happy hours with colleagues or a group of friends—never one-on-one, no one would be able to stand that—and had never been in a relationship which lasted longer than six months. He was the kind of person with whom almost every conversation felt like small talk.
M. also maintained an amicable relationship with his parents, who now received a proportional portion of his salary for household expenses. His older sister K. hadn’t moved back in after college, and his younger sister E. was approachable enough, despite her sometimes angsty-teenager tantrums. The last time an argument took place in this household was when K. came home for a long weekend and got into a fight with E. about… well, M. couldn’t remember. Out of sight, out of mind, that’s what he would always say.
And the thing about M. was that he was perfectly content with doing the bare minimum to count as a human being. He enjoyed routine and didn’t mind his lack of ambition or unexceptional relationships. He had no expectations from life, and life had never disappointed him. He didn’t feel any boredom, but he also never felt any excitement. Time went on, things kept happening, and everything was always… perfectly satisfactory.
M. was on the bus back home after work on a Thursday evening. The highlight of his day so far had been his co-worker John’s birthday cake during lunch hour: vanilla sponge, chocolate buttercream, and a caramel drizzle. M., being something of a connoisseur in budget goods and services, could have taken a good guess at which supermarket chain’s bakery this came from. Still, a cake’s a cake and a party’s a party.
The commute was over thirty minutes long and quite tedious, involving two types of public transport. M. didn’t mind; he could catch up on the week’s top songs or listen to some true crime podcasts while staring out at the same view as always—buildings, buildings, and the occasional construction site—highlighted with the sharp orange of sunset.
M. switched his attention to his phone, flicking back and forth between six different apps before settling on Instagram. It was filled with the usual drawl: “accidental” candids, a healthy amount of Facetuning, posts tagged #wanderlust from vacations taken years ago, long and/or sentimental captions, and lots of memes. But M. liked this unremarkable variety, the comfort of the same content by different people. It was good enough for him to live vicariously through everyone’s best, most curated version of themselves. Why bother doing things if everyone else was already doing them? He was never going to be set apart from the crowd, anyway.
Within two minutes of scrolling, a sponsored post caught his eye. M. initially assumed that this was a trailer for a new fantasy adventure on Netflix or something, but two things were especially intriguing. First, the original poster was not a recognisable brand-name streaming service. Second, the caption was a cliché sales pitch.
INDIVIDUAL HUMAN FLIGHT IS FINALLY POSSIBLE! With Pinion, YOU can grow wings in 7-14 days! Beta testers have loved the results! Link in bio!
M. paid more attention to the video in this post. An attractive young woman in a red dress took a large pill, and then the camera panned around her a few times, going so fast that it turned into a blurred animation. It ended on the same woman smiling widely at the camera, hands akimbo. M. discovered that her red dress was backless when she turned around to show off a pair of wings sprouting from between her shoulder blades. Then the ad looped.
M. watched it two more times. He went through the comments, which were mostly filled with emojis or tagged friends or some variation of “omg I want that!”. Yielding to his curiosity, he checked out the page: 45 posts, 329k followers, 111 following.
Most of their posts followed a similar template, with videos of some very attractive individuals going from regular to winged. Other posts featured snippets of people flying, and some just paraded their new, ornately decorated appendages in fashionable photos. It was hard to look away from the profile with its carefully designed grid pattern. What the hell, M. thought, and hit the follow button.
Clicking the link in the bio, he was taken through some pages of information about how the pill worked, reviews from users, lots of interactive infographics and a three-step plan to flight:
Step 1: Take the pill.
Step 2: Wait 7-14 days for your wings to grow.
Step 3: Fly!*
*Learning to fly may be subject to personal risk. You are not eligible for any compensation in case of side-effects, injury, or mistake by the company. Please take all your problems to a general physician, a psychiatrist, or a friend.
M. went to their store page and immediately snorted to himself. Why did companies bother to cross out one obscene price only to replace it with another, and then dare to call it a “discount”? They hadn’t even changed the number of digits! Not that surprising, really, but M. still felt a little disgusted at this, even a little disappointed, knowing it was something he could never afford.
He shook himself out of the thought. There was no point ruminating on these things, he told himself. They simply weren’t meant to be.
A new remix of an old song had taken over his earbuds. M.’s mind was quick to wander elsewhere as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, watching the sky’s colour change to a rancid mixture of dark purple and orange and grey thanks to all the light pollution. He considered his weekend plans to get together with a couple of college friends. He thought about the presentation next week and which shirt to wear. He wondered if he’d see that cute girl from the park again. He even thought about what he could buy his mom for her birthday.
But something had changed. An image kept gnawing at the back of his mind. What would he look like with the wings? How high could he fly? How would his family and friends react? And would that girl at the park finally notice him?
They were all he could see for the next couple of days. #PinionPizzazz was trending on Twitter, and clips from the official release were showing up on his YouTube recommendations. Even primetime news was “excited about this new development”. By the end of that weekend, M. was sure the whole world knew about the wings, and he was also sure that everybody wanted them. Who wouldn’t?
They were all the buzz during lunch hour on Monday.
“They’re going to need to start making bigger doors,” John said, chuckling. “Or else we’ll need to start crab-walking into meetings!”
M. didn’t think John was funny.
“Did you hear Victoria’s Secret is partnering with the Pinion folks for the runway angels?” Miriam asked the group.
“Sounds just like models to get more body modifications,” Raj replied, rolling his eyes.
“Please, you wish you’d be able to get within a hundred feet of them.”
“Oh for sure, I’d take a bullet in the kneecap to be in the same room as a Victoria’s Secret model, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is just another cosmetic thing. Like butt implants, or nose jobs.”
“Butt implants and nose jobs don’t give you the ability to fly, idiot.”
“Back me up, M.”
M. shrugged. “I’d like to have the wings.”
Raj rolled his eyes. “Obviously. So would I.”
“So what’s your point?” Miriam asked, raising one eyebrow in one amusement.
“I’m saying that models don’t need to get even prettier. When does the plastic surgery end? After they’ve beautified their internal organs?”
M. wondered sometimes if he needed plastic surgery. Sure, his nose could be a bit pointier and his jawline wasn’t chiselled sharp, but he was handsome enough in a boyish sort of way. Maybe his ears were too big, but the advantage of having curly hair was that it hid these ugly features.
During dinner, M. discovered even E.’s school was also buzzing with talk about the wings.
“Natasha says her cousin’s taken the pill,” E. announced. “But I call rubbish. Natasha’s always making up stuff so the popular girls will talk to her more, but her problem is the chronic acne, and that no one likes her.”
“Aren’t you a bit too old for such petty gossip?” their mum chided gently.
“It’s the final year of school. These are the toxic memories I will cherish forever before blossoming into a sophisticated college student,” E. said, waving her hand with an air of importance. “Just let me have it till then?”
M.’s was a fairly standard household, and his parents had created at least two fully functional members of society. His mum was a middle school teacher, which explained why she hoped her daughter would be a bit more mature. She was often disappointed, but never to the extent of getting angry. M.’s dad was an accountant without a passion for numbers, but a real knack for them. It was easy for him to break things down into profit and loss tables, expenditure versus revenue, budgets and financial reports, numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Easy to follow, even easier to talk about—anything, really, to avoid… feelings.
“What do you think, M.?” E. asked.
“About Natasha’s cousin. You went to school with her? Sameera? Or was she in K.’s year?”
M. thought for a moment, trying to remember. “Oh, yeah. I mean… it’s not impossible. I heard she hooked up with —”
“Right, sorry. I heard she started dating a rich college professor.”
“Probably not rich enough to afford the wings, unless he’s also investing in stocks or cryptocurrency.”
“Educators don’t get paid enough,” their mother reminded them. “Regardless of the level they’re teaching at.”
“I still think Natasha’s a liar,” E. said dismissively.
As M. lay in bed that night with his lights off and phone on minimum brightness, he checked Sameera’s Facebook profile. To his disappointment, her last post was from six months ago. He sighed to himself and turned off the screen, staring at the ceiling while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. If nothing else, he would have liked to at least claim that he knew someone with wings. “Oh, actually,” he would say at an office party or college get-together or family gathering, “I know someone who took the pill. Yeah, an old classmate of mine.” And then, like it was no big deal, he would add, “She says they’re not that great. A bit of a pain, really.”
* * *
Everywhere M. looked, he saw the wings.
It had been a month since the official launch of Pinion, and people had started coming forth with their glorious transformations. BioLogique, the pharmaceutical company which owned Pinion, was even launching an exclusive wing make-up line with Sephora and dress shirt line with Calvin Klein. Late night talk show hosts had winged celebrity specials. Pop sensation Enigma announced her concert tour dates on her very half-clothed but winged body. YouTuber JoJo Connor’s vlog of flying down from the top of the Empire State Building had broken all records for the most viewed video on the internet. And yes, it was in M.’s favourites playlist.
So when Biologique announced on Friday that they were holding a once-in-a-lifetime lottery giveaway, M. almost couldn’t believe it. This, he realised, is what a thumping heart feels like. Despite being in the middle of a busy day at work, he found himself on the Pinion website, reading through the rules, eligibility criteria and FAQ.
It was an international competition. There would be three winners and all of them would be flown to the Pinion headquarters. Each winner would get the pill, assisted care during the transformation, and be inducted into the Pinion Pizzazz club. (M. looked it up. It was just a collective for people who had wings.) To enter, all he had to do was fill out a questionnaire. The lottery closed in three days. The winners would be contacted the following weekend.
Easy, M. thought, and bookmarked the webpage.
Settling down in front of his laptop the next day with a tall glass of iced coffee, he spent six hours making sure he got every detail in correctly. Sure, the form was invasive, asking for all his demographics and address and ID proofs and social media handles and medical history and likes and dislikes and a photo of himself, but M. didn’t mind. This really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone who could never actually buy Pinion. If all they were asking of him was personal information—which, M. sincerely believed, wasn’t worth anything anyway—then he was more than ready to divulge.
His mouse hovered on the final page for quite a while. He tapped his foot. He chewed his nails. He drank more coffee. He asked E. to cross-check it. He stared out his window. He even considered reading the terms and conditions.
“Just send it already!” E. said.
“Fine!” And he hit the submit button.