It all started when I entered ICQ's chat room. It was love at first key-stroke, trust me.
FIRST PLACE IN TWISTED TALES CONTEST BY Arakun the Twisted Raccoon , March 2013
FIRST PLACE in the SEPARATE WORLDS MONTHLY CONTEST, March 2013, by Colin Back on the Ghost Roads
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end; this is no secret to anyone. But as I always like to do things my own way I am going to start my story from the middle. The month of February is nearly at end. Here I sit on a snack bar stool in São Paulo’s biggest bus station. In fifteen minutes I will catch a bus to Rio de Janeiro. My ticket is carefully folded in my pants pocket.
I need to make you understand what my objective is for this trip. At first glance my reasons may be a disappointment to you. There’s nothing strange or weird about it. I am going to meet a very special girl. I’m not sure if I can truthfully tell you that I love her because I have never seen her in person.
Internet Romance, ha, ha. I can almost hear your thoughts. Yes, I met her on the Internet. Few if any can truthfully say they haven’t experienced a virtual romance. After all virtual love is one of the most common things there is today. Even though it’s a love that develops from a fantasy, a virtual world; it is what passes for real love for people like me. It requires an investment of true feelings, I know that, and I am not ashamed of admitting it.
It all started in December of last year when I entered a chat room, just by chance; I was more curious than actively searching for cyber romance. I really don’t know what made me do it, maybe loneliness, maybe not; but I did it on Christmas Eve. The darkness of the room and the brightness of the computer’s screen becomes an open portal to me. I am mesmerized, captured forever by the bright escape from the empty darkness of my room. After many unsuccessful attempts, I am close to giving up, when Amand@ replies.
The funny thing is that I remember exactly what she wrote to me: “Hi. I want to chat with you because I really liked your nick, it’s really charming.” The nickname I chose to use that night was Dream Boy because of a film I once watched. My life changed when Amand@ communicated with me. We chatted for hours and hours in ICQ’s chat room. The complex intimacy of our song together is more than just a bit scary. I have the impression, deep in my soul that we have met before. It seems like I have known her forever. It is love at first key-stroke, trust me.
Her real name is Amanda Maria and she is nineteen years old. I am about to turn twenty-three and that seems just right. By the end of the night I have received her e-mail address and all the other information I could get her to tell me. She was not forthcoming with her address, and phone number. I suppose that makes sense because there is no way to really tell who that stranger on the internet really is. You never know who really is on the other side of a chat room, do you? And there are a lot of things that can’t be transmitted via text or even web-cams; this someone could be a figment of your imagination. Is my brain supplying me with missing information since I am not really looking for a true partner?
Days pass by quickly and our meetings in ICQ became more regular and more... intense. One of my most thrilling moments was when she sent me her picture. This was a crucial moment as I put all of my faith, and fantasy, on the truth willingly revealed by Amand@. Sometimes fantasy is more fun than reality. Well, Amanda didn’t disappoint me; on the contrary, she is beautiful. And I am head over heels in love with her. She is shorter than I am which is perfect to me. She has long, brown hair and deep dark brown eyes. In the picture, she is smiling with her sweet lips just a little bit apart. She looks just like an angel to me. Is she real? Can I be that lucky?
The only thing that troubles me after that is I want to see her reaction to my photograph. I upload it and hold my finger up in the air for luck. I am trembling; my upper lip is moist with nervousness. Will she like me? How silly of me. Of course she will like my picture. She says so and my heart flies like a bird. We are many kilometers apart and yet we are so close. I wish I could swim through the wires and cables, or fly inside the fiber optic nerves of the Internet so I could reach out from the computer’s screen, and touch her but just for a moment, to feel the warmth of her soul.
Our internet virtual romance lasts a couple of months. I know what you are thinking so I'll tell you exactly how I feel. My heart drums in my chest when I see Amand@ coming on-line to chat with me. I feel she is right there next to me! I can feel her next to me. I miss her all the time and ache for her day and night. Strange isn't it that only those who love someone on-line can know of what I am talking.
After three months Amanda still refuses to give me her address and phone number. I tell her how disappointed I am. She gets quiet. I get angry. I say she might be married or older. Amanda says nothing. In frustration I even insinuate that she might be a man. She makes fun of me. I tell her that I need proof of her internet identity. Amanda says that such a thing does not exist. I explode. I tell her to forget about me and never to get in touch again. She does not so I suffer. I can't stop thinking about her all day. I imagine her chatting with other men in ICQ. I guess I did not suffer alone because she sent me a message twelve hours later. "Forgive me - I love you." I scream with happiness, I tell her how much I love her too.
We come to terms and start chatting again for hours on ICQ. What do you talk about with someone you love? In our case we opened our innermost souls to each other in our writing. It is easier to be candid on ICQ than in person. I find myself sharing my innermost feelings, even those from the darkest places of my heart. The web allows the power of love to go beyond cyberspace, the universe, and float through other galaxies. Nothing has ever made me more serene than being together in ICQ.
But I come to a critical moment in my life; my feelings are too intense to settle for ICQ only. I can’t bear it anymore; I want so much more. I want answers to my empirical and spiritual questions. I want her to sooth my fears. Is online dating different than conventional offline dating? Is it better? And, could the magic forces of the Web really create good love matches? If not, what is happening to me? Am I bewitched? I want to meet her, and feel her in my arms. Our virtual meetings are intense but it isn’t enough for me. I want to kiss her lips, look into her eyes and find my answers. Eyes are the reflection of the soul, right?
I decide to investigate; to get help. I have a friend who knows how to hack computers, and get people’s personal information. I am concerned about Pedro invading Amanda Maria’s computer but I am truly desperate. I finally get the information I want; actually Pedro did. I don’t have the slightest idea how he does it but he gives me the valuable information such as her address and phone number. The paper in my hand is more valuable to me than gold. Yes, the very few things she told me about her were true; she lives in a house in Rio de Janeiro.
The next few days are pure dilemma. Should I call her and reveal my underhanded methods? I want to hear her voice so much. When the blood in my veins feels like fire; burning inside my body is that… love? Is it worth the risk of losing her? Is this why they say that when you are in love… you suffer, and feel pain? You see, I must make a decision. All I have is that piece of paper with her information. I have to see her. I have no choice.
So I decide to travel to Rio de Janeiro and meet her in person, no substitutes can replace what I know awaits me, if this adventure works out. I know I risk everything by following my plan. I leave my house at 7 p.m. I tell Amanda Maria that I am going to visit a family member and stay overnight, so she wouldn’t be concerned by not seeing me on ICQ.The bus leaves at 8 p.m. I will arrive in Rio de Janeiro early in the morning on the next day. Are the forces with me on this quest for true love?
I arrive in Rio de Janeiro the next day. When the bus finally stops, I must confess that my legs are like two stones, stuck in the bus exactly like two blocks of cement. I have come this far and come what may I will confront my Amanda. I am ready to drop to my knees and ask her if she would consider spending the rest of her life with me. It was then that I admitted to myself that even though I am about to see my Amanda, things might not go just as I wish.
It is a surreal moment for me. When I leave the bus the driver looks at me and asks if I am all right; my hands are trembling. I am soaked with cold sweat. What will happen? I can only think about her. What will she say? Will she forgive my underhanded methods? Will she still love me, in person? I need to relax, swallow my nervousness. The first impression was so important. I need to relax and cool down.
I find a cab driver and I give him the address. Suddenly, all my fear turns into excitement. I am going to meet her! It will be wonderful, I know it! It takes the driver 55 minutes to reach my destination. The cost is 100 Reais but if the driver had charged me more, I wouldn’t care. I only want to reach her house and ring the doorbell.
Before the taxi driver disappears around the corner I have already rung the bell. My heart is thumping so hard in my chest that I can’t breathe! I am near exploding. The house stands behind a big, beautiful rose garden. Even though the lawn is covered with dry leaves and it looks a bit abandoned, I know that someone lives here. I can feel it… in my bones. How awkward is an explosion of happiness even if it's but a moment. I am about to cry… but men don’t cry, right?
Somebody opens the front door. Is it Amanda Maria? No, it is a woman, and she seems to be forty years old.
“What do you want?” She asks me from behind the door.
My voice sticks in my throat. The only thing I manage is a coarse whisper. “Is Amanda home?” I murmured.
The woman can’t hear me well. I don’t blame her. “What do you want?” She insists, this time she comes out of the door. She is tall and slim and very upset.
I just stand there, looking at her, whispering Amanda’s name into the warm morning breeze. Her name becomes little pieces of clouds, letters floating up into the blue sky. They spell Amanda. Amanda. Amanda.
The woman crosses the garden and walks towards the little gate, where I stand. She senses something isn’t right, though.
“How can I help you, young man? What do you want?” She insists. Her eyes are so blue but filled with sadness.
“I want to know if this is Amanda’s house,” I finally manage to express myself in a way that can be understood.
The woman looks at me and her eyes fill with tears. She just stands there, crying, and staring at me.
“Are you all right?” I asked, concerned, with no idea what to do.
The woman continues to cry, her blue eyes are swimming in tears that stream down her face. My heart sinks. I want to die right there and then. She turns her head and looks at one of the house’s windows, then looks again at me, and cries more.
A man comes out of the door and runs to her, and hugs her dearly.
“What happened, Miriam? Why are you crying this way?” He asks her as desperate for answers as I am. Then he looks at me, puzzled.
“What happened? What did you do to her?” He asks angrily. He hugs Miriam close to him, obviously very concerned.
“I am so sorry sir, please forgive me for anything I did or didn’t do but I only asked her if this is Amanda’s house.”
“Wh---what?” He looks at me in disbelief the same way Miriam had. His eyes popped out. He is really angry. I am totally confused and sorry for disturbing them that way.
“I guess I am wrong. I guess this is the wrong house, and I am so sorry for disturbing both of you so early in the morning in the way I did.”
“Not exactly,” The man answers; “This is Amanda’s house.” He looks deep into my eyes. He is barely keeping his tears from rolling down his face.
“Is she home?” I ask, my heart jumping in my chest.
“No. Amanda died six months ago, my boy. Yes, she died six months ago in a car accident when she was coming home from College.” He was whispering now. I didn’t know what to say, petrified on the sidewalk; completely overwhelmed.
“You must be joking, right?” It's the only thing I can say.
“Joking? No, never. Who do you think you are to say such nonsense?” He blushes, angrily, yet his eyes are full of tears.
“I---I am sorry, please forgive me, but this can’t be true. Please, listen. You see, for the last three months Amanda and I have been chatting on-line in ICQ, daily. She can’t be dead, sir! We are in love. I chatted with her yesterday afternoon! She can’t be dead.” I am nearly crying, and trying to stand still.
He just stands there and looks at me. Miriam looks at me too, crying softly, then she looks at Armando and whispered something in his ear. “Ask him his name, Armando. What is his name?”
“Wh---what is your name, young man?” He asks, hesitating, unsure.
“It’s Juliano.” I replied.
When I say my name they freeze to the ground. The warm air becomes cold around us and I swear I feel a hand caress my face, I swear it. It is a hand oh so soft and so full of love but it is as cold as ice could ever be.
“Ju---Juliano?” They both ask in surprise; shocked.
“Yes. Wh---what’s the problem?”
The woman stops crying and opens the gate for me. The man holds my arm and guides me through the lovely garden and into the white house.
“Please, do not be afraid. There is something that you need to see, I’m sure.” Armando said.
Miriam gently holds my other hand and takes me into one of the bedrooms. It is Amanda’s room. I know it; I sense it in every fiber of my being. The lights are off in the room but there is a dim light that comes through the sheer curtains, illuminating her untouched desk, full of untouched memories.
“Look… there. See it?” Miriam says, her trembling finger pointing at the light brown wood desk, full of notebooks, her computer, an agenda, pencils, magazines, and many unread books.
I look but I see nothing. You see, I am confused, and troubled. I am in my sweetheart’s room, the place where she chats with me in ICQ for hours, there is the computer where she key-stroked her thoughts, wishes and dreams to me, the room where she lived, breathed, slept, and existed.
“Look… now! ” They both say once more, pointing at the computer’s screen, troubled, stepping back. “It… suddenly appeared there less than three months ago… but we never touched that computer after she died; Never; ever.”
I look again. And then I see it. A name runs across the computer’s screen, slowly, from right to left, each letter highlighted in a different color, and appearing every five seconds. It reads: ‘Juliano.’ I break down in tears.