Cleo stared at the AIM window that said 'Hey there!' from some id that read 'bradmcn'. She couldn't place that name anywhere. With a finger running along her eyebrow, she thought of the possibility of 'bradmcn' being the commentator who had been commenting on her blog for sometime now. Her 'IN' box on her desk didn't have any files, so she was relatively free until the next file came in. She toyed with the idea of ignoring the IM entity, but the sun was shining bright, and the breeze was cool, "Oh...what the hell!", she thought to herself as she punched in, "Hey you!". Before she could hit the enter button, another message popped up, "Anybody home!?". She clicked enter.
That was the last depressing week of December, and the unknown AIM entity had grown to be a regular feature every morning at work. She knew he was on the other side of the world because he said so, but she hadn't delineated anything more than that about him. She hoped she was right about him being a 'him', but she wasn't sure. It was the internet, and nobody could be sure of anything. She didn't think of him as a friend as yet, she probably never would.
Every morning, it was entertaining to interact with 'bradmcn'; she found it easier to say things that she normally wouldn't talk about to somebody in person. For some reason, Brad, as he referred to himself, was quite receptive about whatever she said. He seemed to be online all the time. She didn't give it a second thought, but wondered at times, how can a person be online all the time. Must be some kind of an online geek, she mused.
And then, one day, Brad offered to place a call to her. Unperturbed, she waited hesitantly for the overseas call. A minute passed by. Her eyes darted impatiently towards the receptionist desk who was keeping the phone busy. She conveyed the message to Brad, and gave him an alternate number. She looked at the receptionist again, who was keeping the other line busy as well. She was getting increasingly irritated. She was about to get the opportunity to attach a voice to the entity that she had been chatting with, for over a month now. She wondered how he would sound like.
The phone call got transferred to her desk, and she whispered a reluctant 'Hello' into the mouth piece. His booming voice transcended her imagination, he sounded almost like the way she wanted him to sound. After a bad connection, and a short exchange of nothing, he hung up. She pondered about the unknown entity whom she had just spoken to. In their chats, he seemed to echo her thoughts. He seemed to say exactly what she wanted to hear, and she felt related to him in a strange way. She didn't know who he was, but she seemed to connect with him on a spiritual level. She toyed with a disturbing thought, but rejected it on her way out of the office.
On one ocassion, she found herself thinking about him, even when she should have been doin' other things. She looked out of the window of her car, as her driver drove her homeward. The breeze played with her hair softly, and she let herself breathe the evening air. She didn't mind the pollution then. She felt his hands play with her curls, and his breath on her slender neck. She didn't know what to make of her thoughts, but she didn't want to open her eyes, lest he drift away. Her fantasy was broken when the driver announced that she had arrived.
Cleo looked back at the empty backseat of the car, where she was a moment ago. Was she dreaming, or fantasizing. The thoughts that she had rejected some weeks back, kept coming back to her. Was this unknown entity a spiritual reality, or just a figment of her imagination!? The breath did seem very real. Uncomfortably, she wiped her neck and climbed the stairs to her room. She called up her friend who was getting married and completely forgot about her previous thoughts.
The next morning, on her way to work, the thoughts returned, when she felt somebody hold her waist. She looked around alarmed, wary of a male hand on her waist. There was nobody. Shakingly, she put her hand on the invisible hand, but it landed on her waist, and for a split moment she felt her hand being one with another spirit. And all of a sudden, in a jiffy, everything seemed back to normal. She was surprised that she was pretty calm, anybody else would have been paranoid.
She switched her monitor on, and her messenger showed the mysterious entity online as usual. She decided to ignore him for a while, but she knew, a 'hey' would pop up any moment. It never did. Annoyed, she pinged a 'hey' to Brad. There was no reply coming today. She realized that he could be away. She didn't think about him until lunchtime when he pinged her back. She smiled coyly, and the day seemed normal. Their chats had progressed from normal flirtatious to playful romancing. She didn't see any harm in this. After all, she wasn't at the losing end anyway. She would be happily married in a year's time, and she wasn't doin' anything wrong. She tilted her neck backwards to remove the rising crick, and felt a familiar breath down her neck. She didn't bother to turn back, as she knew who it was.
Days passed by, she was interacting with the paranormal on a daily basis. She was beginning to have her doubts whether somebody by the identity 'Brad' really existed. That night, when she was alone at home, she decided to place a call at the number that was given to her. A sleepy voice answered her call, 'Morning, Hey, This is Brad.' She heaved a sigh of relief, atleast he was real. The rest of the stuff that was happening throughout the day was just her figment of imagination.
The more she interacted with him, the more involved she thought she got. She couldn't believe this was happening. Brad seemed to be on her mind for more time than she had allotted. But she convinced herself that it wasn't her, but him. He was expecting more than what they had. She wondered what did they have, but no answer came to her.
The next day at work, Cleo opened her email, and as usual, Brad had commented on her post. The email in her inbox said so. She had gotten used to that email. She ran through his comment, and it wasn't anything special, but as per her habit she replied non-chalantly. And when she signed onto her IM, her partially unknown entity was online. She was beginning to lose her interest in him gradually. How much can one chat with somebody you just don't know. And she hated the fact that somebody whom she hadn't met occupied some of her thoughts.
That evening, Cleo called up her friend, she wanted to clear a disturbing thought. Was Brad for real? He sounded real, but did he really exist. Could he just be a form of thought, her thought! It left her with an uneasy feeling. The butterflies were stuttering in her stomach, as she knew she was in a for a long wait, until she heard from her friend in Vegas.
The next week, she stared at the unopened email from her friend. For the first time, she was scared, she didn't know why, but she knew she was. With a shaky finger, she clicked open the email. Cleo read what she didn't want to see, and couldn't believe what she was reading. Brad didn't exist, the number was unlisted, and was not associated with any service provider. The house address where he was supposed to be staying didn't match with any Brad. The company that he worked for didn't exist. She didn't know what to say or think. And yet, she could see him online. It was supposedly well past midnight, his time. She shuddered, as she felt a finger move up her spine. She closed her eyes in anticipation, as the touch moved up her neck and traced lines below her face. She grabbed her bag, and rushed out of office.
At night, Cleo stared at the ceiling with the nightlamp on. She knew he lay besides her, and it wouldn't be long before her thoughts would start playing games with her mind. She didn't want to resign, not as yet. She decided, she couldn't possibly have any feelings for an entity that existed as an intangible form, a thought that couldn't be expressed, but very much real as far as she was concerned. She decided to put an end to the story that night. She got up quietly from her bed, and tiptoed herself out of the house to her terrace.
The cool night breeze tinged her body, she felt the chill of the night as she stood at the edge of the railing. He didn't make a move tonight. She waited a while longer, she knew he would arrive. The town clock struck 2o'clock in the morning, and she didn't feel the usual finger or the hand on her waist. Out of sheer desperation, she screamed his name, and took a confident step to plummet.
Right then, he held Cleo close to him. For the first time, she could feel his entire body against her back. She could feel him parting her hair softly. She cringed as he kissed her on her nape. Her neck arched, and a 'No' escaped her lips. The touch behind her seemed to dissolve, as she continued, "You don't exist, and you have to go. NOW." There was no resistance as she expected. She felt the last touch of his fingertips on her back, as if somebody was pulling him away from her. Cleo knew it was none other than herself who was pulling the entity away.
She checked her email the next day, and there was no email. Brad wasn't online on IM as well. His phone responded with a 'Non-existent phone number'. All through the day, she thought whether the last few months had been for real or not. Cleo wondered whether she had dreamed the whole thing. She pinched herself, she yearned for the touch of the finger, a 'hey' on the screen, and she wanted to be away from it all.
To etch the final line on the epitaph, she decided to place a call one more time. Her heart sank, as she heard the mandatory female voice say, 'This number is temporarily out of service, or you have reached a non-existent number...', her thoughts seemed to follow an unlikely straight line, happy and relieved, yet hoping for a ray of reality. The female voice droned on monotonously; Cleo widened her eyes in shock as she heard the final familiar tone, 'Have a good life, Cleo'. Click. The phone went dead.