Artwork by Shaunna Henshall
Artwork by Shaunna Henshall

SHE NEEDS TO pay her train fine in the next three days otherwise it will jump another forty euros. She’s cross-legged on the living-room couch, a German/English dictionary in one hand, struggling to work out how to actually pay the fine; the two slips of paper that the beefy inspectors left her are full of menacing German compound nouns she doesn’t understand: Zahlungsaufforderung, Überweisungsauftrag, Beförderungsbedingungen.

As she flails the papers about, her housemate James shows her the new Google Translate app; he hovers her iPhone over the page and it visually translates the words, transforming the German into clunky ALL-CAPS English. The words keep shifting, shimmering, translating and un-translating the instructions. She unscrambles the address of the office where she has to pay her fine and, with this small victory, takes a beer from the fridge.

She tests out the Google Translate app everywhere, deciphering the signs and words written throughout the apartment. It’s addictive. It feels like walking around wearing night-vision goggles. She de-codes all the settings on the washing machine and finally learns what that weird symbol with the snowflake means.

Watching her explorations, James takes her iPhone and holds it to the top of his throat.

‘One day we’ll press these onto our voice-box and speak and whatever language we want will come out,’ he says, ‘maybe even dolphin.’ He throws back the phone and disappears to his room.