I login, as ever, soon as I get up in the morning, and scroll down the familiar application window to check how populated my friend list is. I do this every day without exception or purpose, like a dog dusts itself after an severe scuffle in the mud with another. My fingers coil over the mouse with confidence, each one at ease with what is expected of it. The mouse’s incarnation inside the screen transforms the uneven human motion into a more graceful glide.
I see the same familiar faces. Familiar names. People I know, spread across the planet, unified together in this moment by habit and digital codes. They will stay here, throughout the day, always within reach, and yet I may perhaps not offer them a cursory greeting.
And yet, I continue to scroll. A million times a day. Minute after minute. Hour after hour. For what? Hope?
And then some day, I shall find that unfamiliar name. The name that I have been waiting for. The name I have not seen in days. Perhaps months. All this time, I’ll have been glancing perfunctorily at the other names, recognizing but not registering. And then, just as perfunctorily, your name will be sitting there, unassuming in the crowd.
And then I’ll be taken over by that most mystifying of all human traits – hesitation. Should I greet you immediately, desperately? Or should I wait, nonchalant and impassive as any other name on your screen, escaped from notice? I’ll wait. I’ll open a dozen sites, grown bland and uninteresting as canteen food, and sift through them, as if your name on the screen will be watching my every move. Every once in a while, I will steal a glance towards where your name ought to be, satisfying myself that you are still here, intensely proximal. I shall pick out other names in the list and greet them, names I’ve not spoken to in ages. Some of them will return the greeting, some will not. Of those that do, some will strike further conversation; some will simply stare at me out of that screen, through all those 0s and 1s, without a word.
Some days, I will be too late. All at once, you shall disappear, as suddenly as you appeared, from under my watchful eyes. And I shall be heartbroken I waited too long. But then, I will think, if you were only there for these handful of minutes, I could not have had a conversation anyway.
Some days, you will be too late. You shall just float there forever, I know not for what reason, but long enough for my desperation to pump through my heart and into my fingers. And I shall type ‘Good Time of Day’ and press the fatal ‘Return’ key before I can stop myself. I will stare in horror at my foolhardiness, wishing I could turn back Time and not do it. But it will be gone. Like words spoken.
Then shall begin the excruciating wait. Would you respond? Or would you ignore my sudden bursting forth, perhaps with a chuckle, as I do to so many who dare do the same with me? Again, I shall go back to my dozen sites, browsing through them, checking mail, playing games, as if everything were fine. Hell, I would even close the bloody window with your name on it, dismissing you from sight, as if it did not matter whether or not you replied. All the time, desperately hoping, that suddenly, out of nowhere, the window would pop up again, with your lovely written words in it.
Occasionally, it does pop up. An impersonal ‘Hi, how are you?’ to my warm ‘Good Time of Day’. Words that can be spoken anywhere and to anyone and mean nothing. Hollow. But at least, there is a reply. A chance to extend beyond. So I think about what I shall write next. Again, nothing too personal so quickly. Something simple, witty, unique. ‘How’s the city treating you?’ maybe. And then I must wait again. This time, more heartbreakingly than before, for hope is replaced by expectation. For infinite seconds, nothing happens. I implore, with all my might, you, all vestiges of civilized indifference devastated in your ‘Hi, how are you?’. Then slowly, the window flickers. There are those extra words of agony next to your name ‘...is typing’. What will you say? Will you enchant me with a description of your city? Or will you dismiss this question, beseeching you for words, as an innocuous demand upon your time? Or will you start to speak, as you already have, and then simply let it hang, dashing my hopes with ‘...is typing’ for eternity?
Whatever you do, I shall be waiting for you the next time too.