A Fish in a Coffee Mug

She sipped her coffee again and the mug went blank. Null. Surprised and anxious, she stared at the mug’s electronic display surface for few seconds. Then, she tapped it with one of her fingers three times.

Sitting at the other side of the table, I glanced at the reflection of the mug on her glasses and didn’t see any message being displayed.

Since we bought a real time ranking mug for our home my grandma drinks hot coffee, chocolate, and herbal infusions more often. She really enjoys holding the mug, and carrying it around the house. Of course, she also loves reading the messages that appear on the mug’s electronic display. Using a 7-segment LED neon blue font, the mug shows her the latest updates on the grandparents social rankings of our town. In the past year she has been among the first 100.  She is very proud of that achievement.

Having position #1 displayed on her mug, however, became grandma’s obsession once she experienced it last month. She has tried hard to improve her score so the precious #1 appears again on the electronic display. From cooking favorite dishes to knitting clothes, to posting messages on the social media profiles of the grandchildren who live abroad, abuelita keeps trying activities that allow her to earn points and climb ranking positions. The #1 message, however, has been elusive and that has made her upset. Even worst, it has made her anxious.

I purchased a pirate chip for automated mugs in the black market bazaar in order to please my grandma. The ranking algorithm that the mug industry created is opaque, obscure, a black box. I believe it has a bias to certain kind of cultural practices, including the language grandparents use, the food they consume, and the holograms they watch at home. No matter how much effort abuelita made during the first year of using the mug, she was not able to improve her ranking in more than 10 positions. Once I installed the chip inside the ear of the mug, she climbed positions fast and got among the first 100 grandparents from our town.

The pirate chip functioned well during the first week. It was a wonderful hack! The mug’s electronic display showed better ranking positions for my grandma everyday until she reached #1. After that, something went wrong. Her position in the ranking started to change randomly. Although she still appears among the first 100 grandparents, she has not been able to achieve #1 one again.

Mijo, I think this mug ran out of batteries. It is not displaying my ranking for today. Could you take a look at it?
– Yes abuelita, let me take a closer look.
Un momento. I will take another sip of coffee. There is still café en la taza and it is better to finish it all.

She took a slow sip of coffee and then handled me the mug. I examined the mug’s ear. The chip seemed to be in place in the interior of the handle but its circuit was covered with crusty traces of coffee. “We need to wash the mug before we remove the lithium battery.” I told her.

– No Mijo, don’t wash it yet. You know what, please pass me the mug. I just remembered something.

She extended her right hand and gently touched my arm. I put the mug on the middle of the table and she grabbed it.

“I have not looked a the interior of this mugs in a while.” She said while holding the mug with her left hand. She swirled it carefully, and turned it upside down.

– I remember my mother used to read el café when she had meetings with her comadres at home. Have you heard about that?
– Not really abuelita, never heard about that kind of reading. Lectura del café?

She examined the interior of the mug. Dark brown residual coffee grounds covered the surface. At the bottom, a thick and muddy coffee reminder was still wet. The residual coffee grounds formed a shape, a pattern. She swirled the mug. Gazed at its interior again. Then she smiled.

Si mijo, reading the taza de café. It used to be a thing our ancestors made, a sort of foretelling ritual. I remember my mother did it with her friends. They did it for getting mutual advice. Give me un momento, I just need to interpret the the shape that the cuncho de café is forming inside the mug.

Staring at the pattern of coffee grounds in the interior surface of the mug she recognized a shape, the silhouette of a fish, perhaps a whale.

– You know what, I do not think this mug needs a new battery, mijo. Do not even worry about changing it. I would like to use it without that glowy ranking display.

“That’s ok abuelita.” I told her. “Just let me know whenever you would like to have the real time ranking display on again and I would help you bringing it back.”

Claro mijo, I will let you know.

Hugging the mug with her both hands, she stared at the interior surface. With a calm voice, she told me, “I see there is a fish in this taza de café. It looks like a big fish, a ballena.” Looking at me over the top of the glasses, she added, “If I remember well, mijo, that means wisdom.”

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