Previously…LIFE IN THE SHADOWS
They stared at each other, wide-eyed and smiling awkwardly as they approached each other in an uncomfortable hug.
“Hey, Damian,” Emma started.
“Hi – hi Emma,” he replied, scratching his head.
“Um, what brings you around here?” she asked him. He fumbled with the words a bit, but finally disclosed half a truth.
“I was walking with some guys I met on Boulevard, and when we parted ways I decided to explore a bit. At least I finally know where Bliss Street is.”
“And what were you doing on Boulevard?”
“Curiosity I guess. I’ve never been here.”
No, not even once. Now I have a story to tell.”
“What were you doing on Bliss Street?” he asked her, craning forward and squinting at her.
“Um,” she began nervously, “I was seeing a friend of mine.”
“She lives here?”
“Well, she’s not really a friend…more like a mentor, or helper. I normally come to her when I need specific issues. Yes, yes she lives around here,” she explained, facing down and kicking the dirt.
“Ah, I see,” Damian said, not wanting to press the point further.
“So, did you get the help you wanted?” he asked her, watching her blink rapidly as she stammered.
“I – I think. I’m – I’m not sure anymore.”
“You’re not sure whether she helped you?”
“I mean, I hope she’ll help me. I really need it.”
“Um, okay,” he said. They continued eyeing each other nervously before Emma broke the silence.
“So will you stay longer, or…”
“Ha! I’m heading home to my bed!” he said while cackling.
“Yeah, me too. I’m exhausted. Which way are you headed?”
“Ah, me too. Where exactly?”
Cool. Can I drop you at TRM then?
“Sure…” he started, his voice trailing off when his eyes caught an elderly man walking out of one of the buildings with a burly man in one hand and a skinny lady in the other. his tall, lanky figure was comical in comparison to the short people next to him, but it wasn’t until the flickering light showed his face that Damian finally realized who he was.
‘We should get going,” Emma said, shaking him out of his stupor. He looked at the man for a few seconds before he was pulled to Emma’s car.
“Get in,” she instructed. He stared at the man for a few seconds, catching a glimpse of another elderly woman hunched over a cane follow him.
‘Jessie?’ he said to himself as he got in. Before he had a chance to put two and two together, Emma backed into the street, nearly knocking a few ladies down and driving away amidst their screaming at her. She slowed down as she turned left onto Boulevard, careful not to hit the revelers in fear of retaliation, but as soon as they were clear, she screeched onto the main highway, the surrounding cars nothing but blurry dots of light on her windscreen.
“Wow,” he started, his hand gripping the door firmly, “Are you ever late for any appointment?”
“Ha! Can’t handle a bit of speed?” she laughed, swerving across lanes, expertly avoiding and passing cars as if they were stationary.
“I can when I’m alone,” he said, still wondering how she’d never been in any accident yet.
“My brothers played the likes of Forza, Need For Speed and Gran Turismo a lot. I guess i learnt a lot from them,” she went on, her foot heavy on the pedal.
“I can see that,” he said, grimacing as she approached a lorry at high speeds. She changed to the left lane, meeting another lorry, before she accelerated and passed both in the gap between the two vehicles.
“Oh my God,” he said.
“Wooooo!” She cheered as they went on. Just then, her phone rang. She picked it up and her face changed immediately.
“Um, ok,” she said as she hang up, “Damian. Is it ok if i leave you somewhere here? Something urgent has come up.”
“At this time? What could be that important?”
“Family stuff. I really have to go,” she said, slowing down at the next stage for him to alight.
“Um, okay I guess. I wish you’d have told me earlier…”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t expect it…”
“I know. I’m just saying…”
“Could you maybe hurry it up? I really have to go,” she said, fidgeting with the steering wheel
“Ok, bye,” he bade her as he stepped out. She sped off just as he closed the door, almost taking his fingers with her.
“What the hell?” he asked himself. Luckily for him, there was an incoming bus with a few seats remaining. He had to fight for one with the crowded stage, but he managed to squeeze his way in and take a seat; his favourite was the third from the back, at the window. He liked the window seats: looking into the orange lit highway, immersed in his thoughts. Especially of the events he had experienced earlier. Meeting a lady of the evening, albeit more refined than the blatant ones he met later, the magical woman in the club that he promised to see in the coming future, and more recently of the man he saw earlier.
‘Everyone comes to Bliss Street,’ Fiona reminded him in his mind. Everyone. Could she have been telling the truth? And what about Jessie? What was she doing with him?
“Everyone comes to Bliss Street. But why is she there?” he asked himself, “mm, I’ll talk to Patricia tomorrow about it. Anyway, What’s on the news?” he asked himself, opening the Trend, an online social world complete with tailor-made avatars for anyone to ‘live’ in.
He held the phone in front of his face, watched the green line travel down the screen followed by the prompt that said “Welcome Damian”. It then took his suited avatar to a street, where he walked past his ‘neighbours’ as they were called, each one shaking their bob-shaped heads when he stopped to ask “What’s new?”
Just then, his friend’s avatar ran up to him, a text bubble showing up above his head saying “There’s a trend! Come see!” His interest fully piqued, he directed his avatar to follow him along the street to “The Square”, where the latest topics were discussed by their “trendsetters” as they sat around them like children being addressed by an elder in the village.
On a raised platform sat 4 avatar women: a braided lady in a purple dress, one with a red head-wrap and a matching pant suit and two similar ones wearing yellow hijabs.
“Hey guys,” the one in purple spoke with text bubbles.
“Hello,” everyone greeted, him included.
“So today,” she went on, “we have a bit of a hot topic: the past. Does it matter in a relationship?”
“Of course it doesn’t!” the one in the head dress said as she stood up.
“Why?” The twins asked her.
“Because it will only bring problems for the two of you. No man can handle the fact that his girl had other guys, probably even better guys than him. but that shouldn’t matter because she’s with you now. What matters is the time you spend in the now, not that spent wondering ‘what if’. Isn’t that right?”
“I agree. Any man who asks his girl about her past is just insecure,” the lady in purple went on.
“But what if it’s the lady asking about the guy? Is it insecurity?” The twins asked.
“If it’s a woman asking, then it is just assurance. We need to know what we’re getting ourselves into. Besides, it feels right for us. And what do we always say?”
“If it feels right for her, then it should be true for him,” the avatars said with the text bubbles, save for him. The lady in the head dress picked up on this and stood up, pointing to him.
“You don’t agree with this?”
He was caught off-guard a bit, so he quickly typed his response.
“Sorry, this is my first time here. I’m not sure what to do.”
The lady avatars looked at each other, then all at him.
“Welcome. Now as I asked before, you don’t agree with this?”
He placed his phone down, staring outside for a while before he decided to say it as it is.
“Don’t you think that it’s unfair to the guy? Shouldn’t he also have a right to know who she is before he commits to her? What if she wasn’t what he thought he was either?”
The other avatars looked at him, then at each other, after which they looked at the four women, who were all standing, eyeing him.
“It doesn’t feel right for her to have him asking around. He is lucky to have her, and he should be lucky to have her choose him. Isn’t that right, my people?” The one in the head wrap said, his phone vibrating as the others tapped their feet in agreement.
“Remember, a real man is the one who takes her as she is, not as he wants her to be. Unless, you’re not a real man?”
“A real man is the one who doesn’t doubt, because it isn’t his place to know what doesn’t concern him. Unless you’re not a real man?”
“I am,” he typed, eager to see where this discussion was headed.
“Then you shouldn’t bother. If it doesn’t feel right to her, it isn’t right for him.”
“Okay,” he typed as his avatar sat down, but not before the twins said in unison:
“You won’t throw away something good because of a few miles on the gauge, will you?”
“It isn’t right for you, and it won’t feel right for her either. Unless, you want to do the wrong thing?” The screen cut to the twins’ doll-like stare, their heads bobbing slightly as their black eyes blinked, waiting for an answer from him.
“No, I guess I won’t,” he typed, a vibration following his agreement.
“And that’s what we have today on The Trend. Tomorrow, we’ll ask another question: is it cheating if you know the other person? Could we call it sharing?”
He quickly logged out as the bus stopped at his stage. Throughout the short walk past the now closed stalls, through the potholed road and finally to the entrance of his apartment block, the only certain thought he had on repeat in his mind was:
‘I’ve heard that before.’