Wednesday, 14 February 2018

So Very Close

Paige’s suitcase was packed and sitting beside the balcony door. Her passport sat on top, with her cell phone. She was sitting beside her computer, plugged into her virtual console. The printer on the other side of the room started blinking, then began filling the output tray. A printed ticket with travel time, destination and cost; On top of that slid a printed map & on top of that, a typed out note. It read:
Dear Mom & Dad,
Stay calm, I’m okay, I haven’t run away. I’ve
gone to see Mohamed. He’s in the hospital
because he was shot. I need to go see him.
Don’t worry, I’ll be safe. I’m taking the drone
with me Please whatever you do, don’t panic.
From Paige
Disconnecting herself from the interface, Paige ran over and grabbed the pages, then the bag and everything atop it. She extended the handle, then wheeled the bag behind her as she headed to the kitchen. Finding a stray magnet, she posted the note on the front of the fridge.
Stuffing the other pages in her jeans pockets, she headed over to the white, squat quadrocopter; a flattened cube with lots of slots and components, and round, shiny, metal edges sitting on the end of the bench on its charger.
  “Hoverfly, wake up,” she said. Two little blue eyes on the front of the Rusties™ Hoverfly switched on and glanced around. The propellers started up, whirring softly, and the drone lifted off its charging station and hovered in place.
  “Hoverfly, I need you to chaperone me,” said Paige. The drone tilted forward, as though nodding, a little green light beeped and the drone flew up and hovered a few feet behind her shoulder. Ever since the legalization for automated drones, they had become very popular since they were relatively cheap, especially within the film industry and delivery services; but for families with latchkey kids, it brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘helicopter parent’. Paige headed for the door, with the drone following behind keeping her in its sights. Paige grabbed her vest from the coatrack by the door and headed outside.

From her apartment, she went downstairs, across the street and started heading towards the Long Beach seaport. It wasn’t too far, but it felt like miles as thoughts kept spilling through her head. What if he’s seriously hurt? Will this be the first and last time I see him? Or, what if he’s fine? I’ll get in so much trouble spending my savings if I’m just worrying over nothing. I hope Mom and Dad don’t freak out when they see I’m missing. They can track me on the Hoverfly, so they’ll see I’m okay . . . I am going to be in so much trouble. It’s weird though, I don’t care. I usually care, but it’s not like I have a choice. Moh needs me, and I can’t leave him alone at a time like this.
Paige headed for the seaport and saw several excited people with cameras and bags clustered on the concrete docks around cafes, spilling orange light through the blue dawn, or taking photos of the set of aqualiners that lined the shore; each one looked like a mix between a jet ski and Concorde. Made by Rolls Royce®, the latest update in seaborne travelling was the speed-cruise ship, a jet-boat the size of a cruise liner which was fast enough to hydroplane. It still isn’t as fast as a Boeing 747, but what it lacked in speed it made up for in luxury. Paige wasn’t looking for luxury, though. Due to the war in Africa, Somalia was a no-fly zone, the only ways to get there internationally was to fly to Europe and drive down, or go by sea.
Although her worry made her feel sick to her stomach, Paige was tired and hungry and the liner wouldn’t leave for another 15 minutes. So, she bought a small coffee and a ham ‘n’ cheese croissant from the cafe and stood by the concrete pillars and chains separating the people on the dock from the water’s edge. She watched and waited, her tears stifled. She wasn’t scared anymore, because she had a goal. She was going to see her Mohamed, and she was going to kiss him. It was the promise she had made to herself, and she intended to keep it.

When she boarded the boat, it was surprisingly easy. She thought that the people at reception would be suspicious of a sixteen year old travelling alone. But thanks to the chaperone drone, everyone let her straight through, barely batting an eye. She headed on-board the aqualiner, named Silver Goddess, and headed up the stairs to the flush deck, and headed to the aft theatre. She was one of the first on-board, so she sat in a velvet seat near the back of the room.
  “Hoverfly, I need to put you away,” Paige said to the drone, and she held out a hand. The drone blinked its blue eyes, then flew to her hand. The helicopter blades spun down, then the extended propeller arms folded in and collapsed within the body of the drone, leaving just a little white box in her hand, about the size of a whitebread sandwich. “I’ll be okay, don’t worry. I just don’t want you to fly into a wall from the momentum.”
The drone beeped, then went on standby, She tucked the drone into her bag, then stowed the bag under her seat.
The ship was boarded efficiently, and soon the entire group of passengers was aboard and people filled the theatre, chatting excitedly amongst themselves. The ship’s MC stood on the stage and introduced himself, giving the safety demonstration, but Paige was uninterested. She’d been aboard an aqualiner before, so she merely did up her seatbelt and waited. She felt the ship begin to move as the MC gave his presentation. After 20 minutes, the audience applauded and he left the stage to sit down and do up his seatbelt as well. Everyone was strapped in and waited. There was an announcement from the captain over the PA system, he gave a brief weather report, wished everyone a safe trip and warned everyone that they were about to accelerate and that they should be seated with a belt on.
Then, after a few seconds, Paige felt the jolt of the ship’s jet engines, then severe turbulence of the whole boat getting up to speed. It lasted for two minutes before the boat successfully managed to aquaplane and everything smoothed out once more. The captain announced that they could remove their seatbelts, and wished them a good day. Paige merely headed straight for the lido deck. The top deck was surrounded by a bar, a stage and several deck chairs as well as a pool in the middle. Because of the speed of the ship, the top deck was surrounded by a sleek, glass dome to protect from wind shear, but the view was beautiful nonetheless. The ocean whipping past like rolling, blue fields and the seaport behind them slipping into the horizon. It was so dark in the early morning, and although it was peaceful and beautiful, all it did was remind Paige of how far away her boyfriend was. It was early afternoon in Somalia, and she probably wouldn’t arrive for a whole day. She hoped that Mohamed would be okay. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a piece of paper. It was covered in scribbles and crossed out words, but it had two lines of poetry which weren’t scribbled out, written in Somali. She had written it for Mohamed, and last time they spoke, she wanted to read it to him. He loved her so much; he had put most of his effort into speaking English, just to speak with her. At the very least, she wanted to return the favour by trying to learn some Somali:
  Labada Waxaan aad u fog, oo weli laga dareemayo si dhow;
  Bishii riyadeeyda, adduunka inagu dhexeeya kuma jiro
Even if it was a terrible translation, she still wanted to read it to him. The last time they spoke, he said he wanted to read it, but then he’d had to go to the hospital. She put the poem back in her pocket and went to lay down on one of the deck chairs by the pool.
She opened her bag and took out the Hoverfly drone once more.
  “Wake up, Hoverfly,” she said, holding it out in her hand. The drone extended its arms once more and, whirring softly, flew up in the air to keep an eye on her. Then Paige laid back, and looked up at the sky, wondering whether or not Moh would be alright when she finally found him. But it was so late, she’d been up all night playing a v-game with her friends, she hadn’t slept. Then this had happened, she hadn’t been able to sleep, but now she felt so tired. Her eyes started to close . . .

Paige opened her eyes to the sound of her ringing phone. She rubbed her eyes, and felt her face, stinging red from the heat of the sun. She was sweaty from her jacket and threw it off herself, then rummaged through it before she found the phone. She read the screen: ✆ HOME
Paige hesitated. It was her parents. She didn’t want to answer the phone, unsure what they were going to say, she might be in trouble. But, she’d probably be in worse trouble if she didn’t answer the phone. She tapped “answer”.
  “Hello?” she said.
  “Paige?” said her father. “Paige, where are you right now?
  “I’m on a cruise liner,” she replied, rubbing her eyes, “did you read the note I left?”
  “We read it, what does this mean? You’re headed for Africa?
  “Yes, I’m heading to Somalia. I’ll be back soon enough, I promise.”
Her Dad didn’t respond for a moment, but she heard a crackle in the speaker as he sighed.
  “Paige, we want you to come home. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is in Africa?” asked her Dad.
  “I’ve got Hoverfly with me,” I said. “And it’s not like I can turn the liner around. I’ll be at the port in less than a day, and the return trip isn’t for two days. I’ll go to the hospital to see him in that time.”
There was another pause. Then she heard her mother’s voice.
  “What were you thinking, Paige? You leave in the middle of the night; you take a suitcase and run off to a warzone?! how can we even pay for this?
  “I used my savings, but I can make it back, I promise. Mom, I’m sorry, but I have to go. I have to make sure Mohamed is okay. I’ll be back in a few days, I promise. I love you.”
Paige hung up the phone. She felt ashamed, but trapped. She didn’t feel like she had any other choice, she had to go, she had to find him and make sure he was okay. She stared at her phone, anxiously, but her parents didn’t call back. Perhaps they knew they couldn’t talk her out of it, or they knew it was pointless, since she couldn’t turn the boat around, or perhaps she’d convinced them, but that was unlikely.

Paige spent the rest of the cruise wandering around the ship, taking lots of photos on her phone. She even managed to watch some of the theatre shows and observed some of the on-board activities; as she got closer and closer to Mohamed, the tight knot in her stomach felt like it was beginning to loosen and it felt okay to enjoy herself. No matter what, things would be better when she could finally see him, and hear his voice. And she looked forward to telling him what it was like on an aqualiner and showing him all of her photos, since he’d never been on one before. On the night before their arrival, there was a party on the lido deck. Paige didn’t want to dance, but she had a mocktail and sat by the pool, with Hoverfly nearby, listening to the music. Some of the young boys asked her to dance, and she couldn’t help but smile when she refused, saying that she already had a boyfriend.
After the party, Paige had trouble sleeping, she was too excited, so she walked around the promenade deck and looked at the night sky. It was like an infinite black, stretching onto the horizon, as though ship were speeding through shadow, but above her the stars shone brighter than she’d ever seen from her apartment window. She watched the water flying past, and couldn’t wait to see Mohamed’s homeland.

Mohamed woke up feeling a soft ache in his side. Although dulled by anaesthetic, he could still feel a warm pain through the numbness. He could hear a soft buzzing sound. He opened his eyes, and when he saw the white ceiling, he quickly remembered that he was in the hospital. Taking a deep breath, he stretched his back and rolled onto his side to get more comfortable, but then he saw her. She was sitting at his bedside in a plastic chair. She smiled when he looked at her, and it took him a moment to recognize her. So used to her avatar with the pink and purple hair and the cherryblossom dress, he was surprised to see her beautiful red hair, and wearing jeans with a light blue, long-sleeved shirt.
  “Jeclahay?” he said.
  “Mohamed,” she said, scooting her chair closer. “Hey, it’s good to see you’re awake.”
  “Come here,” he said, and he coaxed her forward with a gesture of his hand. She leant down and he raised a hand, he touched her cheek. It was colder than he expected, but soft, smooth and most importantly real. “What are you doing?”
  “I had to see you,” she said. “I didn’t know what had happened to you. And when you said goodbye. When you left for the hospital, I realized just how precious our time is, and just how much we would miss out on if one of us were lost. So, no matter what happened with you, I decided to come here, and kiss you. To make sure that we wouldn’t miss out.”
  “Then, please,” said Mohamed, “Don’t wait any longer.”
Paige bent down and pressed her lips to his. Mohamed ran his fingers through her fiery hair as he finally kissed her for the first time.
When they finally parted, there were tears in Mohamed’s eyes.
  “Thank you,” he said. “I love you, Jeclahay.”
  “I love you too, pumpkin,” she said. And she took his hand to hold it in hers.
  “Did they tell you, though?” he said.
  “Hmm? Tell me what?”
  “I’m fine,” he said. He wriggled back to sit up on his pillow, and lifted his shirt with his other hand to show the bandage on his hip. “I need to stay, to rest. I was shot kidney, it was . . . cudurka. Hurt bad, broken up. They took it out.”
  “Did it hurt?”
  “No, not so bad.”
  “Oh, that reminds me,” said Paige. “I wrote you a poem. I wanted to share it with you.”
  “A poem?” he said.
  “Yes, promise you won’t laugh, the translation might be a bit bad,” she said, taking the note out of her pocket.
  “Never at you,” he said.
Paige cleared her throat, feeling a little nervous:
“Labada Waxaan aad u fog, oo weli laga dareemayo si dhow;
Bishii riyadeeyda, adduunka inagu dhexeeya kuma jiro.”
  “We both so far, yet we feel so very close;” Mohamed translated, with a smile. ”In my dreams, there’s no world between us.”
  “I hope it’s not dorky,” she said.
  “It’s not dorky,” he said. “It’s beautiful . . . like you.”
  “Aww . . .” Paige swooned.
After a moment, he glanced up in the air and frowned. “What is that?”
  “Oh, that’s Hoverfly,” said Paige. “He’s my chaperone drone. Just keeping an eye on me to make sure I don’t get into trouble.”
  “It’s watching us?” he said.
  “Yeah, don’t worry. It’s cute and clever, but it’s just a robot.”
  “Okay. Could it go away? So we can have privacy. I don’t want any more technology pulling us apart.”
  “It won’t,” said Paige. “But if you want . . . Hoverfly, Sleep.”
The robot flew down to the foot of the bed, switched off with a beep and folded up its propellers. Paige picked it up and put it in the bag under her chair. Before she sat down, Mohamed spoke.
  “No don’t sit,” said Mohamed, shuffling over in the bed and patting the sheet beside him. “Come, join me.”
  “The chairs are not comfortable, come on,” he said.
With a smirk, Paige climbed onto the bed beside him. As she settled in, Mohamed took her hand in his.
  “I have to tell you,” Paige said softly, so only he could hear, “I do have to go home in a few days, when the boat leaves.”
  “I don’t mind,” he said. “This, now, is as close as I feel to you. Always. So very close.”
  “Yet, so far,” said Paige.
  “It is good to finally kiss you,” said Mohamed.
  “We can do more if you want,” said Paige. “How long do you have to stay in the hospital?”
  “They should let me go home today.”
  “Then we can have our first date,” said Paige, excitedly.
  “So long as it’s safe,” said Mohamed, with a frown. “I wouldn’t want you to get shot.”
  “It’s okay, I thought of that,” said Paige. “When I got directions to the hospital, I asked one of the staff on the ship about coming aboard. They said that they can give you a visitor’s pass. You have to leave before we disembark, but we can visit a restaurant or cafe on the ship, so long as it’s not the buffet.”
  “That would be perfect,” said Mohamed. “I’ve never been on a ship before.”
  “Oh, right!” says Paige, taking her phone out of her pocket. “I wanted to show you my trip.”
She took the phone out of her pocket and opened up her photo album, then began showing it to Mohamed, with commentary on each image as to what she had done. She nestled her head on his shoulder and leaned towards her so he could see each picture . . . and the two of them couldn’t have been happier in that moment.

The End

1 comment:

  1. For those of you that are confused . . .
    Four Years Ago, I wrote a somewhat dark, experimental, sci-fi/romance story about a long-distance relationship using Virtual Reality, called "Yet So Far", you can read it here:

    I was - and still am - quite fond of it, but my girlfriend at the time found it troubling. I liked the dark ambiguity of the ending "Does he live? Does he die?", because I had based the story on my own fears of what would happen if one of us was hurt, in our long-distance relationship. How would they ever know? Could I tell her? What would I say? The ambiguity represented, to the reader, my fears of not knowing, if I died, whether she would learn the truth.
    However, my girlfriend at the time found it upsetting to think about, because to turn the metaphor literal, it was like separating us forever. She didn't need to feel the ambiguity, she already had that, so the story just made her upset.

    So, just for my girlfriend, I wrote a sequel to the story where not only does he survive, but they finally do meet in person and kiss, as she had promised. I recognize that for 90% of people who "get" the story, this ruins the entire point. There's no ambiguity, no drama, no suspense.
    However, this is a lesson in two very specific things. Firstly, writing for an audience - this was a written with one person in mind, who needed some cheering up; so, even though it totally defeats the point of the story, I still wrote a canonical ending where it was made happy (even if I did hide it from every other reader).
    Secondly, that's what Valentine's Day is about. Making your partner happy because you _want_ to. Because, even if it's wrong for everyone else, it's right for you two. That's what matters. Unfortunately, that girlfriend is now my ex', but with her permission, this Valentine's Day, I want to pay it forward by giving this gift to you.
    It's a little odd, but, maybe someone will love it . . .


Feel free to make suggestions, ask questions & comment . . .
I would love to read your words.