'Hi there,' she typed into her keyboard, 'how are you?'
'Is that you?' came the reply a few minutes later. She had almost stopped looking for it it had taken that long.
'Yes,' she replied. 'Why'd you take so long?'
'I couldn't work out how to answer you.' This time the reply came much more quickly, it took about thirty seconds.
'You just click on it,' she wrote, and then pressed enter.
'Obviously,' wrote the other one, 'I've figured that out now. Can't we use Skype? I hate typing.'
'I don't like Skype,' she said, and then she typed it. 'I don't know what it is.'
'Well I can't do this,' came the slow reply, 'it takes me ages.'
'Have you tried voice recognition software?' she asked.
'What the hell's that?'
'You talk into a microphone, and then it types it for you.'
'I'm going to send you a recording,' said the man on the other side of the world, 'I hate this typing. In the meantime sign up for Skype. Just Google it. It's simple. I'm old and I've got it. You're young. What's wrong with you?'
She stared at the words that had appeared. 'Whats wrong with you?' She read them again. She shook her head. It was strange speaking to her father in this way. They'd never spoken much. Now that she'd gotten a 3G card they could speak as much as they liked. It was potentially a problem.
'Alright,' she typed finally, 'I'll look into it.'
She stood up from the small table in the flat and walked across to the big window. She had windows stretching all across the front of her flat. She looked out at the City sprawled below and moving away from her. It climbed away, up into other buildings taller than her own. She opened the window. Outside air came falling in immediately. It smelt bad. It smelt like something had died. Some animal in a drain probably. She closed the window and then turned and walked over to the couch. She pulled her jacket out from under one of her cats lying on top of it. He was on his feet instantly, frozen for a second before arching his back and mouth and tongue. He yawned before padding away. She went out.
When she came back there was an email waiting. It was from her father.
'I sent you a voice file,' it said.
She scrolled down to the attachment. She told it to download to her desktop. She went to her desktop and saw it there. It was named 'Hello'. She right-clicked on it, she chose Quicktime to open it. It opened. She put her earphones on her head and clicked 'play'.
'Hi there,' said the voice in the earphones. The sound was full and real, rich, as if she was in the same place as the voice. She could hear traffic behind the voice, she could hear footfalls as the voice talked, and breathing, she could hear that the man was walking as he recorded the message.
'I'm glad you've got internet now,' said the man's voice. He was speaking slowly and hesitantly, as if composing his words. 'We used to hunt rabbits, myself and my friends. After school we would take our pellet guns and go out into the bush, which was right outside our houses. We would have beaters and shooters. The beaters would go to one end of a field of tall grass and make a noise and walk through the field. The shooters would stay on the other end of the field, their pellet guns ready. Eventually a rabbit would come jumping out of the grass and we would shoot it. Whoever had a gun. We rode bicycles in those days. We'd ride to school together and then ride home together. We had gangs too. We would find caves or trees or big rocks, anything defendable and make them our headquarters. Then we would fight each other. Although we did more talking than fighting. We would plan and strategise our little war, and maybe, maybe end up playing a pretend gun-fight, but mainly we loved to plan it. It was the intrigue and the running in the open air that filled us. Those days were fun. It was almost always hot there. Not too far from the equator.'
The voice paused. She listened as the man breathed and walked, as traffic bustled in the background.
'I want t...'
She took the earphones off of her head and put them down on the table in front of her, just next to the computer. She looked at the indicator on the Quicktime skin moving, showing how much of the voice file was gone and still left to be played as it played. She watched it until it ended, and then she closed it. She clicked on the icon of the file and then pressed delete. It disappeared. She went to her recycle bin, right clicked on it and chose 'empty bin.' With a rustle it was gone. She moved her mouse cursor down to the task bar and clicked on the orange browser icon. The screen opened on her email page. She moved the cursor up to the top of the page and clicked on 'bookmarks.' A list dropped down. She scrolled down and clicked on her favorite. She got lost in the images that swirled out to surround her, to take her away. There were many, many faces. All looking right at her. All their eyes seeming as if they could see her. She allowed herself to pretend.
He was walking in a jungle. The light around him was dense green, sometimes dappled on rock or plant beside him. He was following a path. A well walked one. He could hear the sound of water in front of him. He quickened his pace. The water was where he was going. He was anxious to get there. He had mis-timed his walk a little. He knew that he'd have to hurry later or be caught in the dark. There was no danger to it, only inconvenience. He'd get lost and end up wandering in the jungle in the dark. Once before he'd wandered for most of the night, finally finding his car on the road where he'd left it at three in the morning, after starting his walk at four in the afternoon. Before finding the car he'd found a petrol station. He wanted to buy a coke but realised he'd not brought any change with him, unusually because normally he did. He didn't want to ask the little Chinese man for water, he didn't feel comfortable. Different language. Different way. Now he tried to time his walks much better, and he always carried some change in a little bag tied to the inside of his pocket.
He came to a clearing and in the middle a pool fed by a waterfall cascading into it. This was the spot. He took off his shirt and put it on a bench that had been put there. He got into the pool. It was very cold but refreshing. He felt his hot body cooling immediately. He held his cell phone in his right hand above the water. He nestled in the soft sand at the bottom of the pool and leaned back against its bank. He unlocked his phone and chose and then pressed 'Menu'. In that screen he pressed right and clicked 'Media'. He scrolled down, past 'Video', 'Music Player', 'Media Player' and 'Radio' until he hit 'Recorder.' He clicked on it and began to speak to his daughter. He told her about his thoughts, hoping that that would be a start. As he spoke he let the memories wash over him as the water in which he sat. He told her what it was like, and that he loved her.
'Why you walking here?' said the man, suddenly coming at her from the graffitied wall. She hadn't seen him. She tried to stand straight, to stop swaying. She locked down and watched him coming at her, her heart pounding.
'What you want?' he said, sneering.
'Nothing,' she said, looking straight back at him, 'I can walk where I like.'
'You gonna get yourself into trouble,' he said, looking her body up and down.
'I walk wherever I like,' she said, 'I like it here.'
He came closer to her. He stank. Tattoos snaked up his throat and across his face. Crude childrens drawings, cocks and tits and a long scar across his throat.
'You want to be like me?' he said, two teeth in his mouth gone.
'No,' she said. Then she laughed, she couldn't help it.
'Then why you fucking walking here?' said the man, smiling at her laughing, looking at her like shes meat.
'Nothing,' she said, 'I'm just walking.'
'You looking for trouble?' he said, looking down at her, his eyes piercing her, real eyes. 'I know you. You come here looking for trouble. You think you want it.'
The man looked around him, his eyes swiveling in his head, up the alley stretching to the street, down the alley stretching to the street. He took another step towards her.
'I live here,' he said, 'this is my house. Find your own fucking house.' He walked straight at her, slamming into her with his shoulder as he passed, knocking her back. He turned as he was walking away.
'You should fuck off home,' he said, 'before you get what you want.' He took his right hand and held his balls and dick through his pants, showing her his teeth as he did so. Then he turned and carried on walking.
She stood quietly, her vision blurring. She looked at the graffiti on the wall. Layers and layers of paint, picture smeared across picture, name on name of someone written on the wall. All blurring and doubling, one floating across the other. She started walking, weaving her way along. The end of the alley got nearer, light and people bustling, a moving City out there.
When she arrived home the two cats came swirling about her legs. They followed her as she moved through the room, jumping up onto the furniture as she passed, rubbing against her. She fell down in front of her computer and opened her mail. He was there. A new one. A new paper clip icon attached to a subject line that read 'Hello'. She clicked it, downloaded it, opened it with Quicktime, and then played it. She watched it play. She didn't listen to a word of it, she just watched the indicator move slowly along its length. From beginning to end. It was seven minutes and forty-six seconds long. She watched the whole thing run to its end, and then she deleted it. She clicked on Word, opened a blank document page and began to punch at her keyboard. Letters became words while she listened to live streaming music of a concert somewhere else. The people there were cheering and the notes kept repeating themselves, folding one over the other over and over, changing then ending then voices saying thank you. She punched, she made words, when she finished she put her finger on her mouse and then highlighted everything she had written, and then she deleted it. She went to her Bookmarks and clicked on the one she liked.
She is staring at the screen. From the screen a face is staring back. The face looks at her, it makes sounds of pleasure, it invites her to feel as it does. The face tells her, by its eyes and then by the way its body moves that it feels fine. But it lies. Its eyes are desperate. She ignores this. Instead she smiles like the face does, she looks right back. She touches herself. She strokes her long body. Her throat and breasts, her stomach and thighs. She puts her fingers inside her. She moans in her mind. In her mind she talks to the face on the screen from somewhere else in the world. She finishes. She lies alone. She looks out the windows at the darkness and the lights beyond. Orange and white lights, so many other lights of flats and lives just like hers, she thinks. She sighs. In the air she can still smell that faint smell, that something dead, nearly gone. One of her cats comes to sit next to her. He plonks himself down purring and putting his whole body against hers. He is wonderfully soft. He turns his head around and looks at her, purring, then he rubs his cheek and head against her side.
'I'm sitting in a pool in the jungle' he says. 'Its great. Its fed by a waterfall about three metres high. The water's cold but it's so hot here that its refreshing. The sand I'm sitting on is soft. I've been thinking about you.'
Its morning. She is outside. The colors are full. Dappled green, sunlight, mountains rising and sky rearing up and over the block of flats and the others around it. She is at the bins in the courtyard. Its covered with ivy and other growing plants, other twigs, leaves, flowers and scents. The bin is open and she is throwing her packet of rubbish into its maw. It swings from her hand, hangs, then lands with a clatter inside. The sound of broken glass. She is wearing shorts this morning. Her long legs are bare in the morning sun. She has running shoes on, low socks. She pulls the lid of the bin, smashes it closed then turns and walks toward the gate of the courtyard, her hair swishing behind her. To her right is a flight of stairs going further down to the lowest place in the block of flats. She stops and looks down them. The stairs are white but stained by years of soil and plants growing up and around. Down there its dark. The stairs lead down to a passage, the passage leads into the bottom of the building.
'Hello,' says a voice behind her. She jumps and turns. It's another young woman. She has seen her around. She knows she lives here. She has dark hair. It flows around her face, curling and tumbling. She is also fresh, warm and awake this morning.
'Did you hear?' says the new one.
'No,' says our one.
'Nora,' says the woman, 'she's dead.'
'Who's Nora?' asks our one.
'You know, the cleaning lady. The one that lives down there.'
The woman points down the stairs to the passage below, to the dark doorway underneath the building. 'She's dead,' she continues, 'thats what was smelling so badly. It was Nora!'
Our girl looks down the stairs.
'Oh,' she says.
'Its terrible! You know, I thought it was a rat. I kept thinking that there must be a dead rat in one of the drains.'
'I thought the same,' says our girl.
'For a few days I said that they should get the rat out of the drain.'
'I had no idea. I also thought it was a rat,' says our girl.
'Would have to have been a big rat!' The other tenant laughed, but her face quickly dropped, quickly quietened.
'Oh,' said our girl, 'she was alone.'
Both of them looked down the stairs again. There was soil there, threaded through with roots and all manner of growing and dirt.
'Number three's garage,' said the other one, 'when they opened it the smell was so bad. I smelt it from my flat. It came straight up. It was really bad.'
'She was always shuffling,' said the other girl, 'you know what I mean? I swear I'd see her at least once a day. Always shuffling. She'd be shuffling towards me or away from me, right in front of me or just going round the corner. I used to hate getting caught behind her on the stairs. She was so slow.'
'She was old,' said our girl.
'That dress,' said the other one, 'I don't think she ever changed that dress. Weird dress too.' She shook her head, her dark, showered and gelled and teased hair tumbling about her face as she did. 'She must have been there for a week.'
'You okay?' said the girl suddenly, looking at our girl, 'you alright?'
'She must have been alone,' said our girl.
'She was,' said the other one, 'no one even knew she was dead.'
'Once, when you were young,' he said, ' I took you walking in the mountain. The little mountain close to your house. We found an old gutted house up there. It was such a surprise for both of us. Neither of us expected to find it. It just jumped out at us from around the bend. We walked in it and guessed what the house must have been like. I mean we tried to work out what was the study and what was the bathroom by the holes and marks in the walls. We found a wall that had been written on by other people that had visited there. I had a look at the dates next to some of the names. Some were from fifty years before. Bob. John. Michelle. Salie. Jemina. All sorts of names. I wrote our names. Your name and my name and I put a date next to it. You remember? They should still be there. I doubt that place has changed.'
She pressed the phones to her head, she pushed them hard, tight, the sound flowing from them covering her brain with its waves, covering her, filling all the space her mind could hold. The water falling, the man breathing and talking, the long lost man who she didn't know but wanted to. The man who filled her thoughts, who walked in her dreams, who could wipe all the faces with his own. She listened to him talking.
'I've...' he said. She listened.
'I've...' he said. She listened. She didn't breathe. She listened. Holding the hard plastic of the phones in her hands, clutching them without meaning to, listening to the world that was inside them.
The waterfall cascaded. She could hear it. She could hear the birds, the trees listening to what she was listening to. She heard him sigh, his breath in the falling water.
'Long ago,' he said, 'I used to walk. On a long dusty road. The sun would shine down on me. Hot. It was a long way to the shade. I was young then. My body was young, it was different to what it is now. Much less worn. It was young and supple. I was young. I would walk. The sun would beat. It would actually beat. Its heat would come in waves and I would be walking. I would be tired and walking, scowling and walking on and on, wanting to get home to where it was cool. When I got there I would read. We didn't have a TV. My body was young. Like yours. Yours is young. You have years ahead of you. A whole life to go. I'm close to the end of mine. Well, closer. I'm slowing down. You're just getting going. Don't waste it. I wanted to be real for you. I wanted to be interesting to you. I didn't want to be some boring, predictable thing. I missed you. You'll find out. I missed you. I thought about you. I sent you my thoughts. You were far away. I was far away. Its only air, only distance. It has nothing to do with what has happened. With what I am. I am the same. I'm sorry we've missed each other. I've missed you. I'm sorry.
The sound stopped. The world in her earphones went dead. She took them off of her head. She sat in her flat. The sun was going down then, the City outside was bathed orange, the glass of its buildings blooming with the last, deep, long angles of the sun.
Underneath the building the woman's room was empty. Her things had been taken away. There was just a bed there now. The air was clean. They had come down to investigate when the smell got too bad, following the trail to where the smell was thickest. Breaking the door with bar and shoulder, finding her lying there, Nora, in her empty room, wearing her dress.
Dad. I want to talk to you,' she wrote.
'I'm here,' he replied.
'This women died in my block of flats. She was the cleaner. She lived underneath the building.'
There was no answer.
'She died alone. She was old. I never spoke to her. She was alone. What if you die?'
'I made a will. You get all my money.'
She thought about that.
'It doesn't matter to me at all. Not even a little bit. I don't know who you are.'
'What can I tell you?' he said.
'I'm downloading Skype,' she said, 'I'd like to talk'.
'I'm here,' he said, 'just call. I'll wait.'