Meriko pressed against the wall, hiding ever deeper in the shadows. One never knew what lurked in the streets of the city anymore. Since the change, things had been difficult. According to the internet, society was crumbling.
Of course, the web had always declared that.
The darkness in the alley emphasized the scarcity of electricity even though the grid was back up. Meriko’s own scant ration of wattage was reserved for her computer—her lifeline, her source of income and her only reliable link to the life she once had.
She knew things were still bad but had no idea how widespread the problems were. She hadn’t witnessed any violence outside her windows in weeks, but still, emails from her fellow employees at GiantSoft were rife with rumors of murder and worse, and now she went out only when she had no other choice. She wasn’t completely out of touch—she still had interactions with friends through emails and social media. Even if they never saw each other, the network of workers did have a kind of camaraderie.
It was just…she had found a solitary existence more difficult to endure than she had initially believed it would be.
Normally, she had everything delivered to her: food, clothing, everything. She never had to leave home. However, her self-imposed solitude had at last driven her out of her flat; loneliness and the handsome face of a young man viewed from her window.
She emerged into the alley behind her building. The cool, damp air held a musty scent of mold and garbage mingled with other even less desirable odors, but she didn’t notice them, her senses open to other, worse things. However, she didn’t sense the evil miasma of nightwalkers in the area. Nevertheless, she cleared her mind of any thoughts that might draw attention to her and quickly crossed the alley to the Double Joy restaurant, melting into the shadows. After a moment’s indecision, she entered the café through the backdoor.
Boldly walking as if she had simply been to the restroom, she sat on the only empty stool at the counter and ordered yaki-soba and bubble tea, adding a tip as she paid the bill. Sipping her drink, she waited for her meal. Even if nothing came of her plan, it was good to be around real people, hearing real voices instead of virtual conversations through the social interface. She had a flat full of cat statues to keep her company, but they only underscored her isolation, their marble features forever perfect and unchanging.
Meriko could barely tolerate the aromas of the restaurant, the scents of food mingled with the odors of others like her, people so desperate to escape their solitary lives that they would brave the shadowed streets just to dine in a sweltering café with strangers.
“How can you see with those dark glasses, girlie?” said the drunk next to her, with a leer. The smell of stale beer made her ill, and reflexively, she leaned away from him.
“Oh, you know,” she said noncommittally. “It’s the fashion, so….”
“Hey there! Don’t be bothering the other customers,” the man behind the counter warned the drunk. “If you bother her again, you’re out of here.”
“I’m behaving, don’t worry,” the drunk mumbled, and after a few moments, he staggered out the front door into the night. As he left, fresh air came in, but it was quickly cut off by the slamming of the door.
“I hate drunks,” the man behind the counter said. “They can eat elsewhere. I don’t need their money.” He busied himself with cleaning the counter and the soda machine.
Meriko pushed her food around the plate and stared through the service window at the young cook in the back. He was why she came here, despite the danger in doing so.
Tonight she had come in close to closing time, and soon she was the only customer there. So she had timed it right.
She’d watched him come and go every night since he had started working there, observing him from the window of her flat. The restaurant was just across the alley from her building, so much of her view was taken up by the alley and the back of this restaurant.
“May I have a box to take my leftovers home in?” The man behind the counter brought her a box. “Have a nice evening,” she said, as she walked out the front door. She was so lonely. Maybe tonight she would find a friend. Other people had companions in their lives. Maybe this was the night for Meriko.
Ten minutes after closing the restaurant, the cook, a young man named Kai, walked down the dark city street to his bus stop. Usually he was the only one there, but tonight a girl was there, and a to-go box from his restaurant sat on the bench beside her. She’d been in the café earlier, and he’d seen her carrying a to-go box as she left. He’d noticed her because she was wearing dark glasses.
“Hello,” he said cheerfully. “Did I see you tonight in my restaurant? Well, it’s not mine, but I work there.” His smile was unforced and honest, elevating his face from handsome to beautiful.
“Yes,” she said, smiling. “I go there often, but tonight I was later than usual. They were almost closed.”
“I only work the late shift, so that’s why I haven’t seen you before,” he said as he sat on the bench and checked his phone to see the time. “My name is Kai. What’s yours?”
“Meriko,” she answered, feeling happy for the first time in weeks. He was so handsome!
They sat talking for five or so minutes. Finally he asked, “Why do you wear dark glasses in the night? You wore them inside our restaurant. I heard you tell the drunk that it was the fashion, but…well, maybe I am not up on the current trends or something.”
“Ah…it’s a genetic condition. My eyes are extremely sensitive to the light,” she told him. “Do you have any hobbies?” she asked, trying to distract him.
“Oh, so it’s painful to go without them,” he said, as if he understood. “So are you a vampire or something?” he joked. “That would be a hoot, me hanging out with a vampire.”
“No,” she laughed. “I’m not a vampire! I am just a girl, just a regular girl. Hobbies…I like collecting old Pokémon cards from before the change. Do you collect anything?”
“So let me see your eyes then, Meriko, who is just a regular girl,” he said, leaning forward to take them off her.
“No! Don’t do that,” she said.
But it was too late.
Meriko looked at the statue of the handsome young man sitting on a bus bench, holding a pair of dark sunglasses. The lights of the approaching bus turned the corner as it made its way to her stop, but Meriko had already fled into the darkness, crying.
“Why do they always want to see my eyes? Why can’t they ever just want to talk?” Still sobbing, she crept through the shadows to her home.
Statues. Meriko’s life was full of statues.
Meriko’s Eyes © 2015 Connie J. Jasperson, all rights reserved
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff