By David J Hamilton

My hands drew back sharply as if persuaded by some measure of pain. Then for one terrible moment all things seemed to stop. I sat quite still like those fine individuals of stone that decorate our parks and town centres providing an effigy of man for birds to deface. Movement can be a dangerous thing armed with the double-sided sword of consequence. In a crisis (a term that can be aptly applied to this particular case) a policy of inaction should be pursued in order to prevent a worsening of the situation. It was this cowardly and supposedly preventative reasoning which had now left me sitting motionless with only the tools of waiting and staring at my disposal to remedy my predicament. So I waited and stared hard at the very thing responsible for my suffering and it too sat staring equally lifelessly back at me through its single unblinking iris.

Before me sat the Intel Pentium 233 MMX Tower Personal Computer with Intel Pentium 200 MMX, 32Mb RAM, 256K Cache, 24 speed CD-ROM and 2 Mb Video RAM. However despite this very impressive and grand title which I’m sure any Comet salesman worth his salt could readily recite, it is probably best referred to under the name of its species “Computer”. Or perhaps more familiar to others of a more ‘mature disposition’ as those “daft little machines” which corrupt children and lure them from good healthy activities like running, playing and skipping. However to actually capture such a comment you would have to wait for an appropriate break between their ‘favourite’ programs which are shown frequently enough to make such prey illusive. This particular computer or daft little machine had managed to swallow whole the entire body of text, the product of three hours labour, in one sudden chomp. My hands had retired to prevent further damage and deny the beast a dessert. The hard drive now whizzed and whirled as if to suggest some process of digestion.

My waiting had proved fruitless and the computer had failed to voluntarily regurgitate that which it had taken. My stares were equally ineffective and I turned to choosing the only two weapons left available to me in this struggle. To swear or blaspheme and I chose the former. “SHIT”. Unfortunately my inner scream of despair was pushed through my lips by emotion, anger, despair, tiredness and anger. So it came to be that I ended up swearing openly to a collection of wires, metal and plastic. However I did not enjoy the luxury of privacy a study or bedroom could afford. I was located in the bowels of a university building surrounded by a multitude of keyboards and computer screens attended by the odd individual. The room was uninterestingly and unimaginatively designated “Computer Lab 3a”. My brief, yet unwholesome outburst attracted the attention of others. Chairs creaked and heads turned, as I became an entirely unintentional focal point for the room’s inhabitants. Such attention only seems desirable after the consumption of five or six pints of lager. Becoming uncomfortably aware of the stabbing eyes, gazes, stares and looks I moved quickly to end this social torture. Seeking to satisfy their curiosity I tapped the screen, shaked my head slightly and even tutted to demonstrate to my uninvited audience my displeasure with the computer. My acting ability is somewhat lacking, but even without the aid of a rehearsal my performance proved sufficient to satisfy. The looks returned from man to machine and the curtain fell so to speak.

With that unpleasant experience behind me my energies returned to retrieving my work. Somewhere behind the smooth, creamy plastic casing lay my words and with myself clearly failing to meet the challenge another champion was needed to compete. Searching the local vicinity for an ostensibly kind hearted soul to succumb to my begging for assistance found a promising candidate two computers down. A young man whose attire was scruffy and dotted with faint stains which appeared like lakes on an unkempt landscape. His hair seemed to be not so much growing as evolving and his stubbly beard seemed testimony enough that a razor was as much a stranger to this particular individual as soap and shampoo. Despite his appearance his fingers seemed to be floating back and forth across the keyboard, like some conjurer, making fantastic amounts of words just appear on the screen. Personally I had witnessed him attend the printer on two separate occasions without finding the need to punch, kick, bite or scream, returning both times with something actually printed. This was to be my chosen hero and of course he wore spectacles. Though not a true indicator of intelligence or ability it always seems the rule that intellectual success and poor eyesight make odd, but reliable bedfellows.

I glanced back to my infernal computer, unaltered by the brief passing of time. The cursor still flashed at the top of a blank screen and any dust that had accumulated had not proven detectable to the human eye. Due to the clearly superior patience of my opponent action was required. I rose to my feet, though standing up seemed an effort. My body strained under this sudden pressure to perform. Sitting for so long had entailed a penance that was duly paid. I allowed myself a little stretch as a reward for my insignificant endeavour to become vertical. Walking did not present the same degree of challenge as standing and within moments found myself towering over this odious little man. The only vaguely noteworthy incident that occurred during this short journey was experiencing the strange feeling of blood rushing to parts of my legs it had previously been denied. A written description would be difficult and unnecessary as this is a sensation we all suffer from time to time. Particularly as we inevitably become heavier and older.

Bending my knees brought my head alongside his, though we faced differing directions. He was occupied with by the activities on his computer screen and I was able to enjoy the view of his right ear that could have benefited from an intimate acquaintance with a cotton bud. I smiled (another unpractised maneuver) and exchanged greeting. “Hey!” He continued to work without acknowledging my presence and typed as feverishly as he had done before my unannounced arrival. Believing this indifference to my salutation to be attributed to the accumulation of earwax alluded to earlier rather than the pursuit of some deliberate policy of isolation I tried again. My three lettered greeting was repeated with greater volume and directed to his right ear. PANIC. For a fleeting moment history repeated itself and silence was my reward for socializing. I began thinking of how this may appear to a third party. To be ignored once is unfortunate, but to be ignored a second time is unforgivable. The fearful notion of being forced by silence to crawl back to my chair ran parallel with imagining the humiliation of being ignored consistently as my attempts to illicit a response became more daring and outrageous. These antics would snowball a following and this minor misunderstanding would metamorphosis into an embarrassing public spectacle. However a response was finally forthcoming if somewhat tardy.

His head slowly turned round seeming reluctant to change direction until his eyes eventually found me, the origin of earlier disruptive sounds. “Yeah!” Was what sprung from his lips, though I have taken a liberty by putting a word to paper, as it was more of a sound. An approximation has been made, but in truth it came out more as a grunt, some underdeveloped, primal form of communication. It was a greeting of sorts and an achievement for the moment. “Hey, I’m having some problems with my computer it’s gone and wiped an essay I need for tomorrow. Could you maybe have a look, I’m hopeless with computers”. On this end bit I laughed slightly to indicate a funny side to my dilemma. He did not laugh; in fact he did nothing, an apparently familiar and comfortable state for this person. There was a pause and a sentence repeated itself in my mind, “oh god I just want to die, die, die, die”. Suddenly he spoke choosing to keep things short and simple, “sure”. This definitely came out more like a word. It would probably take time for him to recover completely from being so immediately unplugged. His humanity return in the fullness of time, but for now some colour seemed to be returning to his cheeks. “I’m just over here” and I waved a hand in the direction of my unattended computer eager to get things moving and achieve some kind of resolution before our youth deserted us. I stood up and he followed my example. He momentarily glanced back to the screen already beginning to miss its cold, empty companionship. Tinged with an element of regret on his side we departed and began the short walk to my troublesome machine with which I did not possess or desire to possess such a relationship.

During the brief journey amusement was found by admiring the scenery. I looked aimlessly from screen to screen taking a moment to spy on my neighbours. One man was typing out e-mails to a distant friend. A woman was keying numbers into a spreadsheet. Another man was downloading porn from the Internet and it was this screen which seemed to hold me for the greatest period of time. Was unaware that computers were capable of such things and further examination of this phenomenon would have to follow at a more appropriate occasion. Upon reaching my destination and considering I had company I was forced to desist my spying and return to the less appealing problem with the computer. I claimed the chair and sat down. My companion knelt down alongside the keyboard. I think I shall name him ‘Scruffy’ in the absence of an alternative and because I grow tired of referring to this character as “him”. Scruffy stared at the screen, grabbed and maneuvered the mouse and asked me a series of questions. “What happened?” “Did you do anything?” “Did you push any keys?” “Are you sure?” Scruffy seemed to come to life in the role of interrogator and it seemed apparent to him that I was to blame entirely or in a large part for the disappearance of my text. A charge I was eager to refute and squirmed under the increasingly intensive scrutiny.

Eventually the questions finished and Scruffy fell into silent thought. The colour in his cheeks seemed to retreat again, which made me doubt of their pervious existence. Maybe there had been no improvement. Scruffy brought his hand to his mouth and began squeezing his bottom lip with his thumb and index finger. Pulling his lip forward to reveal teeth and then pushing it back again to cover them completely. This teasing, teeth flashing performance continued as my champion grappled inwardly with the problem. I sat watching his teeth disappear and reappear for want of an alternative. It became very hypnotic and I was drawn to his mouth, sitting transfixed. Open. Close. Open. Close and open again. The spell was only broken when his hand finally fell away to abandon this fleshy gate. When this happened everything appeared altered, had progressed in my mental absence. Scruffy was looking at me, even talking to me though I was not attempting to understand the words. Looking to the computer screen I found sentences and paragraphs were previously there had been nothing. A couple of clicks with the mouse in the right places and my text had been returned unharmed.

I quickly thanked the man that had reunited me with my words and gave him the greatest gift available to me. I allowed him a speedy return to his computer which he readily accepted and with that we parted company after the usual thank yous and goodbyes. Feelings of relief and joy washed over me and even the hint of a smile would have been discernible to any nosy individual. I took a moment to relish my success, or rather that of my dirty saviour whose name I never bothered to learn and ended up concocting. With that I once again resumed my blasted English essay for tomorrow and thought no more of my previous mishap.

David Hamilton
October 1998

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