Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Yet So Far

Despite the dense clouds, the heat of the desert sun baked the the border road, reflecting sharp, white light off the dark, sweaty skin of Mohamed and Dejen’s backs. They were both teenagers, wearing loose-fitting clothes for playing sport. The two boys looked very similar, both with dirt clung to the sweat on their legs, although Dejen was taller with shorter hair, and Mohamed had a smaller nose.
They walked towards home, chatting and laughing together. Under his arm, Mohamed carried a very old, dirty soccerball. Mohamed wished that more of their friends had come out to play with them, but they were much too busy playing games on their computers these days.
  “Tani waxa ay ahayd fan ciyaarta, saaxiibkiisii,” said Dejen, “Laakiin waxaan u malaynayaa in aad tahay mid aad u cajiib ah.”
  “It is not that weird . . .” said Mohamed, with a frown. “Why are you never speaking English, Dejen?”
  “Ingiriisi? This is Somalia, I say in Somali,” says Dejen proudly, thumping his chest.
  “But I want to more practice. It’s hard enough talking at all with her.”
  “Ganaax, sidee codka tan? ‘I’m not your woman. Go with your practice to English girlfriend’.” said Dejen, with a cheeky smirk.
  “She is American, not English.”
  “Maxaad leeyahay?” asked Dejen, confused.
  “Iyadu waa ka soo America,” reiterated Mohamed.
  “Maxay sababta doonaysaan inaad saaxiibad Maraykan ah?” said Dejen, pointing at some of the local girls across the road. They were wearing head-scarves as they walked with their familes back along the road. “Waalidku waxay leeyihiin lacag badan, Mohamed, iiyo waxa aad ka heli kartaa gabar kasta ee aagga aad rabto inaad.”
  “Anigu ma aan qorsheeyo taas,” replied Mohamed, defensively. It was true, it would probably be easier if he was to get married with a local girl, but he didn’t feel about them the way he felt about her.
  “Waa hagaag. Laakiin aniga weli u malaynaysid inaad tahay walaan . . .” said Dejen, derisively.
  “Dhici karta in aan ahay . . .” muttered Mohamed.
They walked around the corner, down the road, when they heard a sound off in the distance. It sounded like a distant woodpecker, but the two boys recognized the sound as gunfire.
  “Waa in aan ka heli guriga, si dhaqso ah.” said Dejen, looking worried as he started to jog home. Mohamed agreed and also started jogging to get home quicker. They were almost at Mohamed’s house, when they saw a dirty truck, speeding down the border road. People were racing out of the way as it sped towards them, firing wildly behind them.
  “OrodDegdeg!” screamed Dejen as they ran for Mohamed’s home. They wouldn’t get to the door in time, and instead hid behind a tall palm tree. The truck sped past, peppering bullets behind them as they drove down the road. The two boys heard, but didn’t see, a second vehicle chasing after it, also firing machine guns. It must have been a glider, as the engine made an electronic buzzing, and they couldn’t hear the sound of tires on the dirt. The cars soon rounded the corner and as the dust settled, Dejen was the first to stand up as they rounded the corner.
  “Waalan DambiilayaashaTani ma aha Sinema Ficil!” he yelled after the trucks as they sped around the corner. Then he turned to his friend and gasped. “ Mohamed! Waxaad waa dhiig!”
Mohamed slowly lifts his arm, to see that the soccer ball has deflated; but sure enough, as it fell away, there was a small spot of red on his hip, that was growing slowly larger as the blood pooled.
  “Tani waa xun . . . Raadi gargaar, Dejen!” Mohamed yelled. Dejen quickly ran into his house to phone for help, and Mohamed leaned on the tree to stand up. His stomach felt warm, but as he stood it felt like someone was stabbing him with a knife, so he instinctively grabbed at his side. The pain wasn’t going away. He looked down at his hand and it was coloured red with blood.
He tried not to panic. He just had to wait here for him to return Dejen would return with a doctor soon. But as he stared at the bloody smears on his fingers, he was horrified. Not at the blood, but something else much more chilling. He quickly turned for his home and limped inside, dripping blood as he slipped out of the sunlight.
Mohamed turned on his computer. And as it powered up, he ignored the startup sequence and turned towards his Virtual~Box, a stylistic, white cube attached to a helmet with a set of goggles. It was a simple simulator - a Japanese knock-off of the Sekaiko Virtüu - but it was very cheap, so it had become popular all across Africa and Europe. Mohamed groaned as he picked up the helmet, then sat in the wicker chair beside it. As he did, Dejen ran in, looking anxious.
  “Ambalaas waa soo . . . maxaad samaynaysaa?”
  “Waxaan u baahan yihiin inay arkaan aan jeclahay,” said Mohamed, blood smearing onto the attaching cables as he reached down and activated the Virtual~Box. “Haddii aan u dhintaan . . . waxaan rabaa in aan u leeyahay nabad gelyo.”
  “Tani waa waali!” protested Dejen.
  “Tag sugeeyso ambalaaska ka baxsan!” yelled Mohamed. Dejen looked unsure, then he walked outside to wait for the ambulance, as he was told. The lights on the modem began blinking and a server opened up as the computer synchronized with the simulator and Mohamed logged on.

Loading . . .
In a flash, the blackness disappeared to be replaced by a perfectly square room with black and white checkered walls. Mohamed instinctively grabbed for the pain in his hip, but his wound was missing in the virtual environment. He was bleeding, but his avatar was in perfect health. He looked down at his clean hands. He couldn’t afford biometric scanning software, so he only had a generic, African-American avatar, with very few distinguishing features, just a plain white t-shirt, trousers and running shoes.
  “Start vChat,” said Mohamed, and a thin, clear, glass pipe suddenly appears in the air in front of him, lying horizontal. A blue-tinged liquid begins filling the pipe as the program loads; once the pipe is filled, it vanishes, and a clean, white door appears on the wall in front of him. Mohamed opens it and steps into the chatroom. It had an immaculate, light wooden floor, with a white, textureless table and chairs sitting in the middle. The walls and ceiling were perfectly white and there was a door on the far side of the room, but on the walls there hung portraits and posters for decoration, but they were all advertisements, all bright and animated: “Win $1000$ daily with Virtual Roulette”; “Play n+Hood today, it’s FREE to Download”; “Lonely? Enter MuslimMingles.room Now”; “Want a Degree in Telecommunications? Register Online”. At one time, he had found them disgusting and greedy, but now they reminded him of the time he and Paige wandered around the room, making fun of them, joking and laughing for ages.
Mohamed headed straight for the table. He sat down, and tapped the table twice with his forefinger. Doing so exposed a menu, with a list of people online:
“.:DoqonIlaah404:.” - Ahmed from school ; “超级☆水手~[◕ω◕]” - a friend from China & “newleaf8691” - Paige, she was online.
Mohamed taps her name to send an invitation, then closes the menu, stands up and starts slowly pacing back and forth. He didn’t know how much time he had. Either before Dejen could get some help, or before he bled out much, but he hoped he would have enough time. But even if he did, what would he say?
After a minute, which felt like an hour, the door opened, and in stepped Paige’s avatar. She was beautiful. It looked just like her, with a pale skin; a peppering of freckles under her blue eyes; cute, button nose & dimples, except that her hair was textured purple with neon pink highlights. She was also wearing what looked like a black catsuit, with bright red sleeves, and a gun-belt with a radio and a complicated looking weapon.
  “Jeclahay,” said Mohamed, walking over to her.
  “It’s good to see you, Moh,”said Paige and the two hugged. “You’re not usually online so soon. I was just playing a game with some friends from school.”
  “I am sorry,” said Mohamed, ”I needed to see you.”
  “It’s alright, I missed you too. I love you, pumpkin.”
  “I love you too,”said Mohamed with a smile. He loosens his arms so that he was holding her shoulders, but could look her in the eye. He opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn’t find the words.
  “I don’t know how long I can stay,” said Paige, “I paused the game, the others will be waiting for me. But I was hoping I could see you today. I mean, I loved that poem you wrote. The ‘guzzle’ poem, what did you call it?”
  “Ghazal,” said Mohamed.
  “Yes! The ghazal. I thought it was so sweet, and it must have taken ages, so I tried to write you a poem in Somali, I’d love to show you. I don’t know if it will translate properly, but it’s quite short.”
  “You are so lovely,” said Mohamed, with a sigh. “I would love to hear it-”
  “Hurry uuuup,” sparked an annoying voice from the radio at Paige’s hip.
  “We can’t hog the server if we’re not playing,” said another voice.
  “Sorry, I’ve got to be going soon, they’re waiting up on me,” said Paige, turning off the radio. “But I could share the document and hear from you later?”
  “I have to talk to you,” said Mohamed.
  “We will, tonight. I promise,” said Paige, she was turning towards the door. Mohamed felt his chance slipping away.
  “I’ve been shot!” he called. Paige stopped. Slowly, she turned to look his avatar in the eye. “I was shot, today. Dejen has called for help, but the . . . the isbitaalka, the doctor, it is far away.”
  “Oh my god . . . are you serious?!” shrieks Paige.
  “Yes. I will probably be leaving very soon,” said Mohamed.
  “Quit Game!” screams Paige. Instantly, her combat gear flickers out of existence to be replaced by a long, black dress without sleeves, with red cherryblossom-shaped detailing around the hem and up the left leg.
  “Are you alright?”
  “I don’t know. It hurts, and it is bleeding a lot.”
  “Then what are you doing here? You need to get help!”
  “Dejen is getting an ambulance. And I needed to see you, jeclahay.”
  “I am flattered, really. But you shouldn’t be stressing yourself out like this.”
  “The computer will put my body to sleep, I will not bleed so much.”
  “Alright . . .” Paige starts slowly nodding. “I don’t know about this, but if you’re sure, do you want me to do something?”
  “Yes,” said Mohamed, as he walked over to the table. “I want you to listen.”
  “Okay.” Paige walked over to the other side of the table, “What do you want to say?” Mohamed looked her in the eye, and frowned sadly. His avatar could not cry, but she heard his tears in his voice.
  “I want to say goodbye.”
  “What?” Paige said, shaking her head “No.”
  “Paige, please . . .”
  “Are you saying you’re dying?!” she screamed.
  “I don’t know,” said Mohamed. “I might.”
  “So you’re dying.” Paige said, confused.
  “I don’t know.”
  “Then what are you doing?” she asked, flustered.
  “Slow down. I need you to listen.”
  “Okay . . .” Paige’s lip quivered, but she nodded and quietly sits down. Mohamed sits across from her.
  “I love you, Paige. You mean so much to me and I am in love every minute that we spend together. But we are so far apart, and when we are apart I worry that, if something happens, I would not get the chance to tell you. I always fear that, if I was hurt, you would never know why I wasn’t here. And if I died, I would not want you to think that I had left you because I do not love you.”
  “I would never think that . . .” said Paige. Mohamed smiled.
  “But, jeclahay, I am here now because I am hurt badly, and I do not know what the doctor can do. I have heard that many people have died from being shoot.”
  “Shot,” corrected Paige. “Sorry . . .”
  “It’s alright,” said Mohamed with a smile. “I do not know what is going to happen. But just in case, I wanted to let you know that I love you. No matter what happens. And, in case I don’t come back . . .”
Paige sniffles loudly.
 “I’m . . . I’m sorry,” she says, her voice cracking slightly.
 “It’s alright, jeclahay,” said Mohamed, sadly. “I just wanted to say goodbye, in case . . .” he grits his teeth to hold back a sob, “. . . in case I never see you again.”
 “Okay . . .” said Paige. She sounded sad, but she nods quietly.
 “Alright. Well, Paige? I just wanted to say that-” Mohamed clears his throat, “I just wanted to say . . . you are the best thing in my life, ever. I am more happy now that I ever was, and I would cross the Earth - I would travel to literally the other side of the Earth to be with you; because, I love you.”
Paige started crying properly, fully sobbing, and Mohamed walked around the table to rub her shoulders. She stood up and cried into his shoulder
  “I don’t want to say goodbye to you,” she sobbed.
  “I don’t either,” he said, solemnly, “I want to live. But just in case, I want it to be pleasant.”
Paige was calming down but she whispered.
  “I won’t say goodbye, though. I can’t . . . couldn’t we just say ‘see you later’?”
Mohamed slowly nodded.
  “Okay. If that’s what you want.”
Paige looked up into his eyes.
  “Moh . . . my Mohamed. I love you, unconditionally. As far as I’m concerned, you are here with me, here,” she places her hand over her chest with one hand. “No matter how far away you are, you’re always with me. Despite what people tell me, I have no regrets about having a long-distance boyfriend . . . except for the things we haven’t done yet,” she started to tear up, so she closed her eyes, shook her head, then continued. “I want you to get better and I want you to come back here with me, because I will miss you every second that you’re gone.”
  “I will miss you too,” said Mohamed. “And, if I can, I will come back as soon as I can.”
  “You’d better,” said Paige. “Because I don’t want you to go . . . we haven’t even had our first date yet; our first kiss . . .”
Mohamed looked down into her eyes, and she looked up into his. He leaned in close, and closed his eyes. But as their lips came within inches of each other, a loud, electronic horn blared, and the two teleported to opposite sides of the room. As they regained their bearings, they saw that a virtual window of glass had appeared in the middle of the room, with red words reading:
Underaged Intimacy Filter -sexual contact between minors is not allowed.
Your room has been locked for:
Underneath, there was an animated, digital timer, counting down from five minutes.
Page ran up to the glass, as did Mohamed. She banged against it with her fists, but it was useless, the virtual glass wasn’t subject to physics.
  “I love you, pumpkin!” she yelled.
  “I love you too, jeclahay,” he said.
Paige kissed the fingers of her right hand and pressed it against the glass. Mohamed did the same, pressing his own fingers onto the glass opposite her fingertips.
  “If I don’t see you again . . .” suddenly, Mohamed stopped and looked around. “Hold on.” He pressed his hands to his head, then disappeared for a second, replaced with the words “d3mb1Hab0n has left the chatroom” floating in mid-air.
  “Moh? Are you there!” Paige screamed. The floating words disappeared, to be replaced by Mohamed’s avatar again.
  “Dejen is coming, I have to go.”
  “Alright. Well, you go and you get better, do you hear me? I’ll be waiting for you.”
  “Okay. But if I don’t come back . . . I want you to be happy.”
  “I want to be happy with you!” she cried.
  “I do too . . . I hope I see you again, jeclahay. I love you.”
  “I love-” she said. Suddenly, his avatar disappeared, replaced with the words “d3mb1Hab0n has Gone Offline”, they hovered in the air for a moment before fading away. “you too . . .”
As she started at the empty room, he lip quivered and she closed her eyes.
  “Shut down!” she screamed, closing her eyes.
Shutting Down . . .

Paige sat up in the simulator, as the visor and controls receded, and she wiped her eyes. There were tears streaked all down her face and neck, hidden in the night’s darkness. It was almost midnight on her side of the world. She sniffled as she stood up and walked over to the desk beside the Sekaiko Virtüu‘s physical, user interface and grabbed her mobile phone. She unlocked the keypad, the screen lighting up her wetted face, but before she could open up her contacts list she realized that it was pointless. There was no one that she could call. She didn’t have his number, but even if she could find his number, no one able to answer could speak English. She dropped the phone on the desk and walked towards the balcony.
She felt so trapped, so helpless, she needed fresh air; so, after sliding open the balcony door, she walked out onto the dark terrace. The wind stirred her long, red hair as she looked out at the Long Beach seaport under the star-speckled sky and said to herself.
  “He’s coming back . . . I know he’s coming back.” but as she spoke, fresh tears fell down her cheeks and knelt down and wept.
As she did, she whispered his name, crying lovelorn tears for a boy that’d she’d never met; she was the picture of misery. After a few minutes, she stood up and looked out at the ocean, Eyes red and tears dried into salty lines on her face.
  “I’ll find you!” she screamed at the sea. “And I’m going to kiss you, even if I have to come all the way over there, myself . . .”

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