Cyber Strangers – Pearl Matsebula

Apho stood under the refreshing shade of a Jacaranda tree next to a busy road opposite a shopping complex. She adjusted her pencil skirt, pulled her red cardigan closer, carefully wiped the perspiration on her forehead and powdered her face. Today would be her first time meeting him after two weeks of cyber dating. Prior their collide she would have mocked anyone who considered it, even worse, mocked them for agreeing to meet up with the supposed known stranger. But there she was, desperately waiting for a stranger she claimed to love. All the horrific stories she’d heard about cyber hook-ups cut her ‘safety first’ mantra and threw it out the window. I feel like I’ve known him my entire life, she infatuatedly cried out to her friend. A week later, he’d sent her countless flowers, hugs and kiss memes and his picture… A dream come true!

Her heart leaped when she saw a male figure appear from a distance. She swallowed hard. No! She sighed and released the tight grip on her bag, then quickly checked her phone to have one look at how he really looked. “You better not stand me up!” she gritted her teeth. “Hey!” She swiftly turned to the direction of the voice. And there he was. The special one. The one she declared ‘the one’ three weeks ago. “Hey!” it jumped right back at his, sounding longer than it’s supposed to. Before she could conceive or sustain a thought they hugged, and their legs fell in sync as they headed to his place. Who was this tiny short guy that had her boyfriend’s features him? Did this short one cut and paste her boyfriend’s face to his? When she snapped out of her unbearable disappointment, she found herself in a yard with grass as long as the wilderness’, tip toeing on a pool of stale water from a dripping pipe and ducking a rusted steel rod that balanced the kitchen’s door frame. ‘Run!’ her instincts screamed but not enough to turn her around. This edited version of her boyfriend owed her some answers and she was going to get them, she vowed. All along she’d been chatting with – dating – him? Her mind couldn’t accept the dupery. She instantly nullified every good thing she thought and felt about him. But decided to tag along for politeness ’sake. An hour was all she would stay, she concluded.

When she stepped in the supposed neglected house, her eyebrows lifted at the neat kitchen; granite counter, ceramic flooring… She reserved her compliment and followed the lead down the hallway, entered the room he

disappeared in to and left the door slightly opened. Welcomed by two beds, a flat screen TV, fridge and some stylish ornaments, she carefully sat on a black couch by the window. It was quite lovely, she admitted reluctantly, and stole an impressed gander at him as he moved a bean bag next to the couch.

He threw himself on it, and the entire room seemed focused on them. Even the crickets were silent. “How are you love?” he asked calmly. Love? The way he said it evoked a warmness in her. The only reason I’m still here is not to openly hurt your feelings, she thought. “I’m OK, how are you?” she tried to hide her disappointment. He stared at her. His stare was luring. She felt drawn in by it. “I asked how you are?” she broke the moment to cool her burning face. His calm demeanour unsettled her. She couldn’t read his thoughts, and it seems they had suddenly exchanged states. She was the one to be calm as she already decided how this whole matter would end. But there he was, relaxed, gauging her. “I’m tired,” he yawned. What? She felt her make-up melt! How dare he be tired on such a big day? She hardly got any sleep last night preparing for today, this moment. Who the hell did he think he was in some silly Bad Boy shorts and a worn out wrinkled t-shirt that looked like he just grabbed and put on when she notified him of her arrival? While she nursed a stomach cramp from the tight Spandex tights she was wearing, trying to look good for him? She fumed. “Why?” The words slipped sweetly out of her mouth. She wanted to punch herself. Anyway she didn’t care about him anymore, so why was she worried of what he thought of her? The only reason she decided to stay was to spare his feelings, nothing more. Her revived ego straightened her posture and quickly shifted her attention to the knock at the door. She grabbed her phone while he answered the door, “Fifty two more minutes, great!” she tossed her phone on the couch and ridiculed herself for thinking this was going to work out. “I’m just gonna help the landlord with something, give me 5 ok?” he said from the door “Ok,” she nodded disinterested. Then he unexpectedly walked over to the couch; kissed her forehead and stroked her leg. Her senses froze. She felt consumed by a wave of heat as she watched him disappear behind the door. She helplessly blushed as she could still feel where his lips had rested, their softness lingered on her senses. His touch raised the little hairs on her leg. The sensations she felt

between those three seconds caused her to flop on the couch. And the tight knots in her stomach detangled, she giggled in disbelief. Sometime later he returned and sat next to her, on the couch. “You good?” he asked and relaxed like they’d done this before. “Mmhh,” she nodded. While her mind counted down the minutes and her heart nursed a sudden clandestine feeling of great affection towards him, he got up to get something from his bedside drawer, then sat even closer to her. She quickly grabbed her bag and fiddled in it to calm her pounding heart. Her hour was up, but she felt cemented by the way he looked at her. “Nice bag,” he grabbed and placed it behind him. She was caught between the pleasure of the compliment and the uncertainty of what seemed seconds away from happening. The march between the count down in her mind and the warm feeling in her heart was instantly disqualified when his soft lips rested on hers. She pulled back and opened her eyes, and there he was, the guy she’d been dreaming about for the past three weeks.

Moments later, she stroked his head which was gently pressed to her stomach. He opened his eyes and caught her staring at him; he dipped her head and kissed her. With his eyes closed, he shook his head and tried to supress his smile. His reaction melted her heart. Somewhere between the talking and lip locking, he took off his t-shirt and placed it on his crotch. After every interval of the lip locking he’d adjust it, she didn’t understand. She went for a wee and thought about everything that had just happened, she smiled to herself on the mirror as she washed her hands then headed back to the room where he found him staring at the door as if waiting for her. She leaned on the wall with her foot against it, crocked her head then returned the stare, “What?” she walked towards him. “Thanks for coming.” He said sincerely. She collapsed on the couch from her melting heart and kissed him. He reached for his t-shirt, again.

A few hours later they were cuddled on the couch talking and laughing about their phone conversations. The moment was perfect, even her stomach’s constant demands were well behaved. He pulled her closer, and then his roommate budged in; threw his bag on his bed and headed straight to the couch to make his acquaintance. “You must be Apho, I’ve heard so much about you.” he shot her a smile and

stole a guyish glance at him. She fought the urge to ask, ‘really?’ but her excitement overpowered her words. He’s been telling his friend about me, she blushed. When he got up to switch on the lights it was her cue to leave. She put on her shoes and straightened her skirt. A lump on her throat settled when reality hit and she saw him for what he really was. Short. Too short. It had always been a deal breaker for her. She should have left four hours ago, the bold digits on her phone awoken her as she waved his friend goodbye. Disappointment felt eagerly ready to usher her out; as she ducked the rusted steel rod on the kitchen door frame that scratched her bag, emphasised its presence as she slipped on the stale water, and it waved her goodbye through the long grass. By the time they’d reached the gate, every wonderful moment they had back in the house she now regarded illicit, and she hoped to forget it. A taxi approached and she immediately alerted a stop. “Bye then,” she got in and avoided his eyes. “Halla when you get home,” he closed the door behind her. She couldn’t bear to look in his eyes to answer the question his luring stare imposed. She gave him one last quick look and sunk in her seat as the taxi drove off.

Later that night, she alerted him of her safety then switched off her phone. The battle between her mind and heart was too overwhelming. Her friend’s response to the situation was a laugh and a ‘follow your heart’ cliché. A few days passed, neither of them said anything to each other. It stung her heart. Anyway she was right about the whole situation, she convinced herself it was never going to work. A week later when she finally accepted that whatever was happening between them was over; she was frozen by his text when he asked to see her, saying they needed to talk. She instantly became a cocktail of emotions.

The dirty yard she looked with disdain on her first day didn’t matter anymore as she tip toed on the stale water and ducked the steel rod. She fixed herself at the door then knocked. Her stomach felt light when their eyes met. They exchanged greetings and she ran over to the couch. He followed suit and placed his arm around her, then stared at her. She pursed her lips then looked away. He gave a soft laugh and walked over to the fridge. “Sorry I offered you little the last time you were here.” He put a platter of mixed fruits; chips and a glass of juice on the little table next to her, grabbed a beer for himself then sat on the edge of the couch, far from her. While she nursed her fruits, he savoured his beer, then placed his feet on the couch and rested them on her thighs. Her heart softened and she

cowardly stroked them. He laughed softly behind his beer. “What?” she asked. “What makes you think I’m into tall girls?” he flirted. Her appetite seized. A healthy self-esteem and a thread of compliments backed up her belief that she was beautiful, but all seemed like a lie in that single moment. “What makes you think I’m into short guys?” she hit back with an attitude. “You’re the one who came over.” “You’re the one who asked me over.” “So you do everything people ask you to do?” he placed his hand behind his head and downed a sip. “Of course not!” she stared ridiculously at him and squashed the grape in her mouth. “Why are you here then?” he clenched his jaw. Like a fool who confidently claimed what wasn’t theirs, then watched it taken away, she accepted defeat. “Come here,” he placed his beer down. She fought the urge to oblige. “Come here,” he said softly and opened his arms. Failing to resist his affection, she flopped in his arms. “I hate you,” she said indignantly. He laughed then kissed her forehead.

“That was to score me points,” he laughed on the other the line later that night. “So you hadn’t told him about me?” she coiled a strand of hair around her finger. “Your perfume is all over my couch babe, wish you were here,” he cried out. She lay helplessly on her bed.

They grew inseparable as the weeks went by. He’d stuff everything in his wardrobe and behind the couch to make sure everything was in place when she arrived. And also cook for her. At times she’d borrow money from her friend to hire movies and buy his favourite chicken. He’d dodge work and she’d bunk college to spend the entire day together. But the good times would vanish when they stepped outside together. The one time they took a walk to the complex to get milk, a wall suddenly appeared between them. He seemed ok, but she couldn’t handle it. His height really affected her. As much as her reasoning knew better, she couldn’t practice it. They’d leave the house all lovey-dovey and return as strangers. And it would take a while to rekindle the spark.

He knew this was an issue for her but he thought she’d gotten over it. The last time they were together in public she was so tense, he ended up ignoring her. When she had to go home he stood further from her and immediately walked away as soon as a taxi stopped. No goodbye, nothing. Their chats grew cold and they simply stopped talking. One night she had an epiphany regarding the situation during one of her chats with her friend. She got up the following morning energized. She put on her best outfit, went to get his favourite chicken and headed to his place. When he opened the door he seemed like he’d been expecting her. He gave her a cold hi. She stood awkwardly in the middle of the room with the chicken in her hand and watched him put on his t-shirt while he acted oblivious to her, and the chicken. “I’m heading out so…” he said unapologetically. Her heart sank in disbelief. “Uh ok I’ll just… I’ll see you,” she faked a smile and hurried out. Her cracked heart led her further down the street to escape the humiliation. She looked back and saw him walk out the opposite direction. Immediately after she got home her phone beeped: ‘You’ll know where to find me once you’ve made up your mind’. Her heart overpowered her ego as she put on her shoes and hurried back to his place. Her knees weakened when their eyes met. Without saying a word to her, he grabbed the chicken. Then hand-in-hand they headed to the park.

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

 

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