By Kala Séraphin
From the outside, the building looked quiet and uninviting. Large, tinted windows covering the facade spoke of secrets known only to the brave ones who dared to breach the entrance. Vera was such a brave soul. By the lazy shuffle of her walk, one could easily mistake her for a fool blindly entering a dragon’s den in search of some warmth. She entered the establishment and had to stop at the entrance. Blinding lights greeted her, making her blink hard and her eyes fill with tears. Once adjusted to the neon lights, Vera was greeted by a large computer screen with pictures of various drinks they offered. Hot coffee in a glass mug, teas of all kinds served in animal shaped teapots and sweet concoctions with whipped cream to tantalize people with sugar cravings all danced on the screen.
Vera, shoulders hunched and hood covering her head, went to line up behind a short procession of people just as eager as she was to hide their identity. She kept her eyes down cast, shifting her weight from her left foot to her right; unable to remain still. Her batteries were running low and she was eager to recharge them and to be reconnected.
Finally her turn came up. Vera quickly chose the most sugar filled drink and pressed the button to order it. As her order was being processed, the screen went dark and she had a glimpse of herself. Bloodshot eyes looked back at her with desperation. Dark circles gave away her sleepless nights. Vera was stunned to see how shrunken her face had gotten. Sharp cheek bones and ashen skin complimented her tired eyes. It gave Vera a moment to wonder when she last had a proper meal.
It was a brief moment of sobriety that quickly dissolved once her drink arrived. She found a seat in a dark corner and took out her Life-Line and plugged it in a charger that was built in the table. A sigh of relief escaped her chapped lips as she began to look if there were any messages that waited her attention. She lost herself in a cyber world of pictures, games and media created to distract people, offer them comfort and short lived pleasure. Vera’s eyes never left the small screen, not even when she would sip her drink.
All her moves were carefully practiced. This evening was no different than others, yet at one point, her grip on her mug slipped. The hot drink spilled all over her Life-Line and the mug cracked the screen. Vera cursed loudly and tried to save the device. It was to no avail. The broken screen would not light up again.
“No, no, no, no…” She muttered, trying to shake it back to life. By then, tears started to fill her eyes.
Her hands began to shake as she wondered about all the activities she was missing. Vera felt brutally cut off from the world. She dropped her head on the table, her hair soaking in the spilled drink. She began to cry, letting the tears mix in with the sweet milk.
A few of the other patrons glanced in her direction. They pitied her with glossy, tired eyes but none dared to put down their Life-Line to go offer any help. A moment passed and they were back in their own digital space, trying to connect to a world they could never quite grasp.
Vera lifted her head, slowly, as if her life were slowly draining from her being. She was intrigued to see a dark man sitting across from her with a serene smile. He had a gray beard streaked with black; yet his eyes were youthful and sparkling with life. Vera felt hypnotized by the man’s presence. She had only witnessed such peaceful presence in videos. He kindly offered her tissues to clean the mess that had spread over her face, hair and arms.
As she mopped up the wasted drink, Vera studied the man. He was large in stature with a round belly. His hands were dried, cracked and covered in calluses. He held himself straight, his shoulders back and his chin lifted with confidence. It was a very strong posture. What surprised Vera the most from her observation was that he wasn’t holding a Life-Line.
“Thank you,” she finally said; her voice raw from not being used.
The man’s smile grew with ease.
“My pleasure. You look distressed. Is something the matter?” His voice was deep and soothing.
Vera looked down at her Life-Line, cracks covering the screen and spreading like intertwined veins. It lay in a puddle of dark liquid, useless. The man followed her gaze and slowly nodded.
“Ah, I see. How fortunate for you. The powers that be have given you a chance to free yourself.” He said, flashing Vera a bright smile.
Her eyes grew wide in disbelief at his point of view. She felt far from free. On the contrary, she felt trapped in a bubble, cut off from all of existence. She didn’t know what her friends were doing or what videos were being circulated. The opportunity to compare the weather with different countries was taken away. Vera could not make her presence seen and so she feared people would forget her.
“I’m not free! I can’t do anything. I’m stuck, unable to contact the outside world.” She heatedly exclaimed.
The man, still smiling, picked up the device, looking at it in different angles. He then placed it back on the table and dropped his heavy fist on the already broken screen. He innocently looked inside at the wires and broken glass.
“I don’t see any of your friends in here,” he declared.
Vera started to cry again. She knew she couldn’t afford another Life-Line. Her world crumbled with the broken device.
“So, go out and make real friends. The kind of friends who can wipe away your tears when you cry.” Said the man, leaning back in the chair.
“I…” Her voice was caught and the words dissolved on her tongue. She didn’t know what to say or do. The concept of actually meeting people was strange to Vera. She wondered where to start without a Life-Line.
“The first step is always the hardest. What you need, besides a hot shower and a good meal, is a walk in the sun. You remember the sun, right?” He asked, his voice taking on a more nurturing tone.
All she could do was nod. It was enough for the man. He stood up and took her hand. Like a child, Vera followed him until they reached the doors. Beyond, the sky had a grey tone and the horizon began to take on pink hues. Fear spread through Vera’s body, making her feel heavy and unable to take another step.
“I can’t…” She whispered, uncertain what it was that she was so afraid of.
With patience and understanding, the man nodded, looking at the skies’ changing colours.
“The choice is yours, whether you acknowledge it or not.” He said.
“Why me? Of all the people here, why are you helping me?” She nervously asked.
The man let go of her hand and took Vera by her shoulders. His grip was strong and reassured her. His eyes looked into hers, radiating kindness.
“You wanted me to help you. It may be a small part of you, buried under all the senseless stimulations you’ve exposed yourself to.”
His words rang true for her. Vera looked over his shoulder at the rising sun. Something about the colours stirred a different feeling in her heart. This was more vivid than all the sun rise pictures she had seen before. A weak smile tried to creep up her face.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, taking a step towards the door. After a deep breath, she decided to go out the door. The cold air brought chills all over her body. The discomfort reminded her of her body and the sensation was amazing. Vera was happy to be outdoors and witnessing the dawn of a new day. All it took was a slip of her hand and her whole world had changed.
“I did ask for something different. I just didn’t imagine this is where it would take me.” She revealed, looking back at the man.
They walked down the empty streets, enjoying the calm morning. Soon, cars were seen on the roads and people, still sleepy and exhausted, made their way to their jobs or appointments. It amazed Vera to see them all mindlessly walking around, looking at their Life-Lines. No one acknowledged anyone else or stopped to let someone else go by. Everyone staid safely in their bubbles, feeling empowered by the information they gained through their devices.
“This is terrible! What kind of world are we living in! I mean, someone has to be controlling these machines and making people mindless!” Exclaimed Vera as she stopped and stared.
She wanted to invade their personal space and force them to see her, another living, human being. She thought that if she could break their Life-Lines, as it happened with her, they would see the truth.
“Remember, it’s all about choice. If you go and harass them, taking away the tool that is poisoning their minds, you’re not giving them a choice. What’s likely to happen is that they’ll resist any other views and be more entangled in their artificial worlds.” The man explained.
“So, what can I do?” Vera asked, feeling defeated by the reality of his words.
“Lead by example and keep offering choices but never make a decision for someone else. Show them a land much like yours and mine.”
Vera looked around, feeling sorry for all the people who missed the sunrise. She watched as young students walked to school, their eyes on their Life-Lines, unaware of their surroundings or themselves.
She took a deep breath, enjoying the cool air as it filled her lungs. She loved this new awareness. Something inside her was starting to wake up. Vera wanted to share this human experience with others and was determined to make people aware of their choices.