My name is Avanti Kumar. While recently digging through an old hard drive of a recently-acquired MacBook (second hand, I’m not made of money!), I came across the backup of a curious blogsite by a Malaysian woman, a tech journalist, who told of her 2008 work trip to attend a conference in Paris. Rose G**** stumbled on some unanswered questions that included the boggling exchange of mobile phone messages as well as an ancient PDA. What especially interested me was mention of the aptly named Parisian cemetery sometimes called the City of the Dead…
Hi! Welcome to my blogsite – www.Rose***26.com
Brief Profile – 23 year old journo for Infotech Asia (ITA). Single, Malaysian gal. English boarding school – Giles St Regis, Kidderminster, England. No pic.
Hobbies – Gadgets and bad good boys
Favourite current quote: “Establish enigmas. Not explanations.”
– the late architect Robert Smithson
ANTIQUE PDA IN THE CITY OF THE DEAD (working title)
-Posted 17th January 2008, Paris, France. 10.27 am.
While being hosted at a mobile telecom tech conference in Paris, I found a curious thing lying in between two stone markers in the city of the dead. No, not an old diary from 1688 or whatever. It was an old PDA. What they used to call a personal digital assistant, before the age of the smartphone. A faded plastic blue Handspring Visor. No worries. Not many one remember this model anymore. It was from 1999. I took it back to my room and cleaned it off with a moist tissue. Its form factor looked like a toy next to my iPhone.
I left it on my bed table and went off for the next session of frenzied excitement – hah hah – with the tech host. They promised ground breaking tech…but that’s another story. For the day job.
My real job is to unearth hidden romance. I am a detective of the heart looking for perfect days gone by. Not a Barbara Cartland. But simple short-haired Rosina Ismail. From Penang, an island off the Malaysian peninsula. Globetrotting Rosina. That’s me. Twice divorced and still only 23…but then this story is not about me. But I won’t apologise for the intrusions –this is my blog lah!
When I got back to my room after 11pm, I checked and confirmed that the Visor did not have any batteries. It needed two double-A batteries. They wouldn’t let me leave the downstairs lounge for ages. One of the German journos (hah hah – that almost rhymes) insisted I tell him what road I grew up in, what school I went to in Penang. He adores Penang, he says, more than once. He loves the makan, food. Then he plied me with mucho vino reddo.
But this is not my cuppa tea, as my Ayah – Dad – used to say when he took me to the Great Eastern Hotel in Penang for an old-fashioned English high tea…back to the story…oh hold on, I gotta go downstairs and do an interview with the CEO woman, and she’s hard to get hold of. Be right back.
OK. City of the Dead – in case you’ve never visited Paris – and if so, lucky you: but anyway the city of the dead is a curious place. It’s a cemetery named after a priest, Pere de la Chaise. He was King Louis IV’s confessor. (Bright readers will have surmised that the marker stones I referred to were tombstones of course.)
The City of the Dead is a flowered, bright place, almost romantic. However, I kept remembering the bones underneath everything. Apparently, it’s full of bones down underneath the grass, jumbled-up bones. Romantic eh? I like a bony romance, said my first bf (boyfriend) in England. Hah hah…
…Well, I was walking up the hill, leaving Gunther panting behind. He insisted on following me everywhere. I’d read there was quite a view from the hilltop.
There was. Is. I could see different parts of the city and the cemetery. Right then I saw Gunther using his mobile phone that had some kind of a laser to highlight my behind. He liked my arse or something. That put paid to the experience atop the hill of the demised.
Anyway, we went to the Starbucks on the ground floor of the hotel afterwards. While I was comparing the décor of this particular outlet with the one I used in KL, someone caught my eye.
Not a guy.
A woman. A real woman as well – not a gal. Tall, slim. She had long black hair, but done in waves. Crazy but her makeup and look reminded me of those old black and whites they showed on English telly on Saturday afternoons. Like she stepped right out of a Bogart movie: classic face, very pale and those eyes. Haunted is the only word to use about her eyes.
And she stared at me. And she stared at the old PDA I was struggling with. Hmmm…Then I look back to the screen and suddenly it powered up. No batteries, remember! Probably some static or something, who knows.
It said – Property of Suzie – on the startup screen in crisp monochrome.
Then the screen went blank, folks. I looked up and she pointed at the PDA in my hands– I was sure of it – and then to herself. Merde! Was she trying to make out it was hers!
The screen had lit up again and this is what I managed to read before it went totally blank:
<I landed in the Rue de ****. I ignored the instruction not to jump when emotionally excited. Therefore I must own up to the responsibility of what happened this day. I intended to jump to 1944, same place, different time. However, the paper said 4 July 1947.
I used my stylus and wrote into the device issued to me only two days ago. The scrape of metal point on plastic: the height of technological advancement as the new century came in, they tell me.
The weather was something I was not prepared for. I should have brought a fleece jacket – who would have imagined snow on this day in Paris. City of lovers.>
I shook the thing, vigorously. Nothing happened. And then I looked back up and the lady – perhaps her name was Suzie – was gone. And yet no one had walked pass me to get to the door.
As usual, gentle visitors — post your comments but you have to register first!
– 17th January, Paris France. 3.07 pm
Something I don’t understand. This old thing works without batteries.
I’ve fired up this old bit of microchip and plastic and it seems to go on forever. When it chooses to, though. While, I have to recharge my mobile phone slash PDA slash camera slash music and movie player every day…guys, somewhere we have got onto the wrong path with the batteries stuff…this old thing had some kind of ultimate green computing secret locked in it!
Enough of the banter.
I tried to find that lady’s journal on the device. There’s a password. Shit. No – shit isn’t the password. Let me see if I can work out something.
There’s the sodding phone. Gunther. Probably wants to try and grope my arse. (Or would he say ass?)
Thing is, gentle reader, how would this ancient PDA from ten years back still work? Is it something to do with the Frenchie atmosphere – is the air here electrically-charged or what?
—Phone call. It was the PR lady. Gotta get down to the lobby and take the coach to the next enthralling saga of mobile communications and what to expect in the era of green technology or something.
19th January, Paris. Lunch.
With the Handspring hidden away, I walked to where Suzie had been sitting. Don’t know why – it just felt right.
No batteries inside the Visor. I checked. I pressed the power button and waited.
And there it was. A message. From Suzie:
<My dear Rose,
I am writing this on 17th January, Paris, 1942. Yes, the date is correct. Though I wrote it this only two days ago – as far as my perception goes – it will be 66 years and a couple of extra days included. You will understand everything very soon. I am calling upon all your stores of faith.
I am in trouble. You are my sister – don’t ask me to explain. You will know the truth of things, ma Cherie, very soon.
It has been so long – the wait. Now we can join and rescue my Pierre. You have the strength that I lack.
Trust in me: I need you and have waited so long for you.
It must sound terrible for a stranger to ask this of you. But the circumstances that brought us together again should inform you of the mysteries that have always surrounded both our lives.
Disregard the methods and macabre coincidences. They are not important.
What is important is what you and I now do together.
God, you are so fortunate to have lived a life out there. As I did once upon a time.
Prepare yourself: you are to be tested in all ways.
Do not let me down. Do not let yourself down.
All my love,
Thing is: I have a schedule imposed on me so I can’t think or post about this as much as I want.
I have no explanations for any of this. I just report. Its all I do. So don’t ask for stuff I don’t know. I just report the facts, lah. Maybe she’s a time jumper – I don’t know – you’ve seen the movies so you know as much as I do.
I feel like I’m physically stretched across five time zones or something. Merde! I don’t even know if I’m still in the same world I started out in. Have I stepped into some weird SF world when I stepped off the Malaysia Airlines flight at gay paree the other day?
Who is Suzie? She’s keeping me sane. Or should I say what I feel about her is keeping me from jumping out of the window onto the street far far below. You see, those eyes are haunted only because I know her. Somehow. Don’t ask. Maybe she’s a former wife? A current enemy? As much as I open my arms I have to cover my heart and soft parts from this… Suzie.
Gunther grabs arse/ass
-Posted 17th January 2008, Paris, France. 3.22 pm.
This is the time I wish I still wore a traditional dress (to cover my gorgeous long black tresses hah hah). It usually makes men think – for a second or two, at least.
Now, two of my sisters wear extremely tight jeans but covered almost with the traditional top almost-transparent…well, it makes men hesitate. And you only need a few seconds head-start with most of them. Run rings round them – hah hah.
But tundungs work best with guys who live in or visit good old boleh-land (Malaysia = boleh land where anything is possible blah blah).
Gunther is playing at being a tourist today. He’s the type who flies straight in to Langkawi and starts gobbling up all the makan (food, remember). Gunt is an apt name.
I have a chance to post from my mobile as Gunt is heaving his cookies. You see I put my knee where the Sun don’t shine. He won’t make trouble – no one will believe a five foot something little Asian gal cracked up a six foot tall white guy. Heh heh.
Thing is where do these sick putih (whities) get the notion that Divine providence is set up for their genitals to go whither and wherever. Is it in preordained in the nano-matter of the universe? — I don’t think so!
Gunt needs to be killed – thoroughly.
But lets be sensible: first, he needs to teach me about vid- and podcasting. My editor wants me to do a couple (“Don’t just thing you can come back and tap out one big feature. The world’s changing.”)
(Same day, about 2.10pm) A nap.
Seeing as I had a half an hour break, I took a catnap. Weird dream. I somehow got the feeling I had already met this Suzie many times before. Don’t ask me to explain dreams, either.
In the dream, the first time I first met “Suzie” she had a different name. The place was in the spice world. Lovely Hind.
She was bronzed and shining. Sari-clad. Almost looked like that Bollywood star, Ashwarya Rai.
She looked somehow familiar. No other word is right but familiar. She has long black hair, pale face even with the impression of living out in the tropics all the while. I think she is French.
In the dream, she looked up at me and returned my gaze – not without any hostility or European chill or anything: just curiosity. Maybe even reflecting back some of my own unspoken warmth.
There is no reason for that warmth: we had no history; or so I thought in that dream moment.
The only thing was the harsh tone when she spoke in the dream. The raw edge in her throat. She just said: Rosina. Nothing else.
She is very lean in the dream, the curves are gone. Her hair is long.
Her eyes changed over the centuries. I mean different colours and shapes but behind all the changes was the one person.
Then, I woke up. My throat was dry and I felt so hungry my stomach hurt.
Well, I had go down and have something sweet. A flambert. So delicate it hardly touched the edges of my mouth. See you soon.
– Posted 20 January, 2008. Paris France. Rue de Henry Langchamps
Next morning, the hotel – Concorde laFayette – was filled with about sixteen coach loads of Japanese tourists, bowing politely to everyone.
The sky had cleared and it was minus three degrees. My ears hurt with the cold. But I was determined so spend a free half hour writing my blog.
One thing I will say about the Frenchies – they respect writing. Of any sorts. Whether crap or genius – they admire the soul that is called upon to “create”.
I sat with my Macbook in a winebar on the hotel side and directly opposite the James Joyce bar. I would never have the temerity to actually go into that bar, not when I all I was writing was my blog post!
Nevertheless, the way the waiter respectfully set down my croissants and cafe au lait while I was tapping out these words, well he thought I may have been at work on The Sun Also Rises III. Heh heh!
Euros are damned expensive to a journo on Malaysian salary, so I waited till the waiter refilled the nibbles – you know, the olives, salted popcorn and that delightful mix of pea- cashew and mustard-flavoured dried peas.
I was looking out in between the Venetian window shades. Naturally, I was inside – it being too cold to be actually out on the pavements in true Parisian-Hemingway style.
And then I saw this shimmering. A kind of shining. Well, it was a light that was formed from millions of tiny white specks. From nowhere.
First, I saw the specks from the corner of my eye – as you do, but when I turned towards it – it didn’t vanish. The specks, as I said, had become a column of light. The waiter was polishing wine glasses at a distance and just nodded to me. He looked straight through the light at me.
My heart started to race, because regular readers will know I get very uppity about this sort of thing; was I having an early heart attack, maybe even a stroke?
The light resolved itself into a female form. I know that because the curves went formed in the right places and such a manner that I’m sure a male looker would have orgasmed at the mere shimmering outlines.
And I am not even male. Not even in the dark.
The figure of light well…it was tall, and the face had clear gaunt cheekbones and long black hair and the deepest eyes – they went inwards forever.
And then the face turned towards me. And she looked at me. Standing quite still. Only a flicker of form.
The eyes were crystal sharp.
She reached out. Wanted to tell me something.
Her mouth opened and shapes into a definite scream.
This is the point I almost blacked out. Things went dark, and a few seconds later I looked up and the light was gone. Only the waiter, polishing a large wine glass.
Somehow, since I landed in Paris, time seems to become a living character, slowing down, speeding up, pausing; it’s like I went to sleep and am waiting to wake up again.
4th July, In the evening. Rue de Henry Longchamps
I drifted along the road. And past the revellers with their olives, wine and Armagnac. The Asian group of journos have joined forces with the East European group. Making our way via the Metro to an old Italian restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe. Lots of bars and then I stopped outside a run down coffee shop with tables out on the pavement in January!
You guessed it.
She was at the bar. Still pale but oddly Asian in her colouring. Yet she was also European. Her cheekbones arched upwards.
Her eyes were soft and dark pools.
I went to the seat next to her.
“What are you thinking of?” I asked. It seemed natural for me to start with this, as if we had been in the middle of a conversation and I’d just returned from the restroom.
She glanced at me and said, “There was a swastika flag on that wall last time I was here.”
I looked at the wall, covered with old framed black and white photographs of
Hollywood actresses who had committed suicide.
“Well some things are the same,” I said. Again, this was unconnected to anything said before. It was that kind of mood I’d entered in ever since the morning blackout.
“Exactly. They were supposed to change,” she said
In what way, I thought.
In ways you never can see, she seemed to say.
Then, I realised we’d just leapt into some kind of telepathic network, a mind meld, the ultimate IT network.
It was then that Suzie changed back into light and just as millions of specks of gleaming white light evaporated, I fainted to the floor. Only for a few minutes, apparently. So said my journo pals who had come back looking for me.
– Posted 20 January, 2008. Paris France. Rue de Henry Langchamps
The organisers took us on an all-day coach tour to see the sights.
Please excuse me while I sound off. I have to be brutal, much of Paris looks like Birmingham, England. (A city we often hung out in during weekends off from my boarding school.) Nothing against Birmingham. The whole city is an organism shaped by plagues and twisted thinking. It doesn’t come anywhere near London in terms of force, culture and sheer beauty.
So why is it the pretty city for pretty lovers?
Because it never was and it never will be.
Hollywood thoughts created a facade with more substance. Audrey Hepburn had more presence than Paris ever did. Heh heh.
It’s just a another international city full of subdued colours: mostly grey. Underneath the city there may be something interesting there, poking away.
But that’s my thinking today; tomorrow, I may think Paris is the centre of the universe.
And then when I was in my room in the Concorde Lafayette – deep down in the streets below I see that light again. It was so bright it eclipsed all the street and car lights completely.
This time no chances: I rush downstairs. BRB.
OK – ten minutes later – I am back. Should have taken my mobile with me then I could have done a quick update, mah!
Well I got outside and started getting frozen – left my thicker jacket upstairs like a complete bodoh. Now I know why all the men in the lobby were looking – see the idiot foreigner. Going to freeze her bits off.
Outside it was getting dark and there were lights everywhere: all manmade though. What I was looking for was that strange light that moved right down from the sky and walked along the boulevard.
And I saw it two hundred yards away. But this column of light was shaped like some kind of a male. No curves, no Suzie cheekbones.
And though it stopped, when I got closer it blinked out. Not evaporated into a haze of white dots this time.
I have to ask myself – am I going crazy or am do I have some kind tumour in the head? What do you think? Post your comments lah!
– posted 23rd January. 6.54 am
I got the following SMS when I switched on my smartphone.
<Greetings. I see you were looking for me. I cannot be found until I decide. Anyway, a pleasure to meet someone from the East. Reminds me of happy days in the past. Until we meet again I bid you curiosity.>
Now, I searched for message details to see if I could get the number. No luck. It showed “0000”.
Then I thought I would hit reply. I knew it was futile – not logical. I keyed in:
It went through as I knew it would but would it be lost in digit-land? Perhaps that’s the place where the light-people come from?
I rushed through a shower and went down to join the crowd for breakfast.
While stuffing myself full of croissants, I felt my phone vibrate in my bag. I was in the middle of talking to Gunther and flipped open the text message icon. I was so surprised I did what they call a double-take. The screen showed
And you guessed it folks, the number was 0000. Now this got me thinking that whoever the anal-retentive was, he or she was definitely up on the latest mobile hacking procedure. I asked Gunther as he was the hot scribe on this.
Gunter said, “It is easy to set up routing with double zero digit numbers. All you need is…” And he went into five minutes of mobile techno-babble. Since you readers already know, my speciality is business and data centres – and especially, the shakers and the movers – not the geek-speak. The digits are here to serve us and not the other way around. (Though Gunther has said he thinks its the other way round.)
I thought I would SMS back and wondered how to put things to this chap/ess on the other side. This what I wrote back:
<Hi. Where r u? (R=Are/ U=You/My “no”=number)-WHO r u?R u male or fem?>
It was a rushed message as I wanted to post it up via my mobile before I had to get upstairs to my room and ready myself for the group interview. Couldn’t recall whether I had charged up my digital voice recorder.
Also I wanted to be alone when I got the reply. It’s fun having little secrets, isn’t it?
The Day So Far
–posted 8.30 am.
While I was walking with my journo group to lunch, I checked to see if I had a reply. Nothing.
I had received some comments on my last blog postings (from friends in KL – no new readers, worse luck) that asked about the mysterious goings-on. It reminded me of Enid Blyton (yes we still read those books as kids in Malaysia, but that’s a subj. for another posting).
While the mystery of the Handspring and the SMS, lights and whatnot was uppermost, I also had to remember why I was here in gay paree.
From interviews to presentations to exhibitions back to interviews and group meals: not an easy routine but if they pay for you to come out here they expect you to put in a bit of work and show some interest. I did them proud. I did not even pick up my mobile (confession time – I forgot to charge it so it was dead). After a visit to their new data centre out of town near a village, we returned for a soak and a bit of nap to our hotel. While I ran the bath, I put the mobile on charge and powered it up: my PQ (patience quotient) – never high in the first place – had dropped to simian levels.
<I am now what you would definitely call a man. My see is in the old tow of Paris. Incidentally, you must tidy your suitcase better. I expect high standards of a lady from the East. Now I must leave – I have an appointment in Marseilles.>
I sat down and stared at the screen, readers. Until it dimmed and went into powersaver mode. I touched a button and read and reread his message. I checked my suitcases, the carryon and the main blockbuster. Everything was packed away in anally-neat fashion. Merde! as the French swear in books.
The bath water started to run into the overflow and I broke away and forced myself into routine. And as I washed and soaked myself and prepared for go down to the coaches to dinner, the thought that he was in my room looped itself around in my gut. BRB.
In the coaches, they took all the international journos to a restaurant in a museum at the foot of the Eiffel. On the other side of the river. The laser beams playing on the tower lighted up the Seine. The oohs and aahs of the journos, snapping photos and videos on their mobiles. I kept bumping into them and did not take much notice of the chilly night.
The dinner was on the top floor and roof of an arts museum. All the foreign media were hosted – around 200 people. I went out onto the roof, where people were queuing to have their picture taken against the backdrop of the Eiffel and the glittering Seine.
Not feeling particularly hungry, readers. And then in the music, the noise and crowd – I felt the mobile vibrate in my hand.
From my good friend 0000.
The table was small and in darkness. Then there was a flash, a cone of light. Again, only I could see it light up the table for a few moments, shape itself into a very tall man, and the darkness returned.
I could see the large figure sitting there in sharp silhouette. The crowd was behind me, so I felt safe. Someone bumped into me, his breath visible in the cold air. He mumbled an apology in some east European tongue, but I took no notice. Focus was all on the table. It was dramatic to me if no one else.
A hand reached out and gestured towards the empty chair on his right.
Again, I hesitated only a second, because you see I was in the middle of a group of two hundred.
As I sat down, I could feel myself entering some kind of mood I can describe as weird. Like being drugged or half asleep.
Perhaps it was the day catching up on me. As regular readers know, I go into my journo role and try and tag and catalogue all impressions. I even take note of my subject’s eye movements, body language and all that NLP crap.
But it was too dark to see his eyes or any other features. He seemed to be dressed in some kind of dark shapeless material. Yet, he blended into the crowd: hip, cool and solidly-into-the-party, yeah-man.
“So you’re Mr. 0000?” I always start off with a question, like any earnest journo.
The only impression I received was sound. His voice was calm, quiet and yet had a strange penetrating force. I could almost hear the spittle in his mouth and the rhythm of his deep breath: “Ah – you mean my little mobile postbox. Miss Rosina. Or should I address as you as Cik Rosina. Tres jolie. Or in Malay – cantik. ”
Was his hair long, black and slicked back to the small of his nape? I was peering in the darkness – damn I need new contact lenses. “Thank you.”
Now what should be the next question, readers?
“Perhaps it is better you don’t ask the usual questions. I am not in the mood to go into the whys and wherefores this evening. It is a time to relax. Get to know each other. We have much fun ahead of us.”
Blunt pick up. Hold your horses, monsieur, I thought.
“Well there is so little time left in the world – for some people.”
I told you something was wrong with my mood – I felt drugged. Only then did I realise I had not spoken out my thoughts. Was I imagining all this? I thought the following: Who the **** are you and what do you want with me?
“No need to lapse into profanity – remember you are a lady from the mysterious East. Don’t throw away all the charms: allow men to retain some illusions of the past.” Merde! I thought. And quickly: “Sorry. Don’t usually sound of like that. Except I didn’t…Isn’t it rude to pick up on what people think?”
And what was that about time being short for some people? Did he mean me?
“Yes. I have certain intuitions from time to time about people I have just met. A flash of the future – if you like. I would not want to alarm you with details, save to say: enjoy every moment of life. It is the only permitted joy, ma cherie,” he said.
Again, readers – I was not myself. I stayed quiet. Somehow my brain did not engage my mouth. I seemed to have slowed right down into some kind of state deeper and slow than sleep.
“Let me get you some hors d’oeuvres,” and he got up and left.
He seemed to be more than six feet tall, maybe even seven – an extremely lean figure, a hard black shadow against the light from inside the large hall. He went into the room and motioned to a waiter. I looked away to my watch and saw it was 11.35 pm. Looked back to the dining hall: he was gone.
Mr. 0000 Returns
– 24 January. 7.15am. Dawn. Bright. Damned cold.
Breakfast. Petit dejeuner. (Malaysians love eating.) Thought I’d post some thoughts. But then like I said in yesterday’s posting – I seemed to have slowed down into some other world. I can’ even remember getting back into the coach, or what I said, or who I sat next to, never mind getting into bed.
I woke up and the TV was on and it was the movie channel. Dubbed in French. Seemed to be Diehard 12 or something. Bruce Willis was now practically botak – bald.
But I could not recall Mr. 0000’s face. And then I remembered he’d picked up all my thoughts. Oh my God. What is he?
Then I saw the SMS:
A thousand apologies that I had to leave your fair company, mademoiselle Rosina. You are beauty itself. I will send you an interesting game. Watch out your e-mail account later today. Hugs from an admirer of your moment
(2.26 pm) Bit of snow. Didn’t settle on ground though – damn!
There are two media rooms. One in the hotel. The other in the adjoining exhibition complex where most of the activities were located.
My laptop locked into the free WiFi access for journos and I went to my work mail.
Nothing there but thousands of press releases sent by PR agents about their ICT clients.
I had put together all my personal accounts, merged them into one. I won’t give out here, readers, ‘coz you know all
these nasty bots will trawl through and start sending me thousands of spam mails.
And there was a mail (sent at 2.01pm) from Mr. 0000 (yes he used that as his e-mail add.) The header just showed:
The body of the text had a hyperlinked pair of words, bold and underlined:
Well, no one clicks blindly on links anymore. I waved my pointer over it and tried to read the IP address in the bottom row. And there was just the usual group of IP numbers.
Well, what the heck. You only live once. I clicked.
Had to wait until coffee break to tell you guys that the click downloaded a game of some kind. City of the Dead. What a coincidence – not!
But you’re gonna have to wait till late tonight – gotta rush!
Can’t be that mean to my loyal fans. I have five minutes for an update while I wait for the bath:
The splash screen was pure black (hah hah no surprises there) And then what seemed (first glance was on the mobile and not the laptop, that’s for later) like a spinning tombstone – music, actually lovely classical music – and the title. Mixed to a male voice that was too soft to hear in that noisy place (media room).
OK – gotta get ready for the evening do.
OK – am back and somewhat the worse for wear and ready for bed.
Before I do I have to get out the laptop and get onto the net. While I go through it I’ll jot down some notes so you can help me get under the skin of things.
You see though it was cold outside, it was cosy and warm in the room. Yet as I went further into the “game” – I literally felt myself go cold.
It was a tame situation for a game really. No cosmic wars and high-tech robots and shoot-em-ups. Not even a gothic find-the-great-secret-artifact-to-save-the-world scenario; it was a quiet game in the dark in the cemetery called City of the Dead.
You arrive with a partner. Your soul mate. And within minutes there’s a strange light. And of course being a game and the fact that you’re sitting safe in the real world in a hotel room, you are foolhardy.
You click where you should not, opening doors that should be left shut. It is the sound of a strong mind to ask the right questions. But I think I lacked the strength to know when to shut up.
Characters would pop in – and Mr. 0000 – or whoever put this together – knew how to use the latest tools: they were so solid and the voices coming through my earphones so alive that my skin began to develop goose-bumps all over.
I glanced at the little time box at the bottom-right of my screen and it was already 3.35am but I could not stop. I was halfway through the story, so to speak.
The light in the game became a woman: dark, beautiful and haunted – she could have stepped right outside the pages of the best old gothic romances. It was the same woman I had seen in the Starbucks downstairs on my first day.
Yet, she was a character running around in the 1940s in an old Parisian cemetery. Her name in the game was Suzie.
She was chasing after her lover – who had been taken for interrogation. Your job as her best friend was to help her solve the clues as to where he was and then get him out. Simple story for simple black and white times, I guess.
I had got to the point when we – Suzie and I – scrambling up through rocks to an old chateaux on a hill – the Gestapo HQ – when I jumped up in fright: my mobile said I had an SMS.
Mr. 0000 played games in the real world and in the game world, I muttered. I was in too deep, readers. I wanted to back out but I don’t think I would have succeeded. I knew deep down that Mr. 0000 liked to have things his own way. I was single, and my mum and ayah had five other kids: only I would miss me.
Morbid eh. Not my usual self, readers. It took just a few days and a couple of weird things to take me into a part of myself I had always suppressed.
And then someone else came into the game scenario. Suzie said he was a friend but he looked positively too good to be true. Captain America. Six foot two. Lean chiselled jaws, straight back and broad wide grin that showed remarkably fine gleaming white teeth. I didn’t trust him an inch. Even if he had been dressed with a cape and flew down to us.
Roland, is what I am called.
Roland apparently knew a secret passage right into the HQ: Enid Blyton couldn’t do any worse. Suzie – her frightened eyes haunted me – gripped my arm (and I don’t know how the game was doing it: only visuals and sound, not even smellographics).
Please, she said.
It was her look that did it.
And I’m now so exhausted I’m going to pull out the earplugs, forget whether the laptop is switched off or not, and fall into bed.
Games, Yesterday and Today
– 25 January. 6.12 am. Pitch black and cold.
I had to post this bit before I get washed up for the day: I hardly dream. And when I do I tend to remember it in living colour and sound.
Its about Suzie. I feel like her sister. She is in a cell. It must be the old châteaux – I can’t think if can be anywhere else. I hardly recognise her: she is so battered, her eyes puffed up, bruises everywhere, she can hardly move.
I feel like I share her agony, so close do I feel to her. She looks close to death.
This is the point he came. Roland. Just as I was about to give up and die, she whispered.
“How did he save you?” (It was madness: I didn’t know if I was talking to Suzie back then in the 1940s or whether it was some created figment from the game.)
He has some kind of a touch. Let him touch you when the time comes. For my sake along.
She raised up her arms and I hugged her.
And then right behind me, stood Roland. He was tall and he laughed with good humour and he too wanted to hug me — (let him touch you – but when the time comes)
but right then I woke up here high above the city.
I can’t keep away from the game. We’re at the spot when Roland has taken us through a tunnel – a disused stream, he said – and we are right under the old chateaux. We can even hear them move, scrape tables. We are in some part of a maze of cellars.
Roland is behind us and waiting for us to read out a clue.
At this point I have to go down and enter the real world of work. I have already missed breakfast with this game – but am too stressed up to feel hungry.
How come I have received no comments. Gerard? Amita? You usually come in with truckloads of cheeky – and sometimes helpful – stuff. Are you still here? Or is it me? Have I left the planet?
This Flight Tonight
– 26 January 5.40 am. As usual: looks dark cold and clear down below.
Its the last morning that I got up and looked down into the streets below. (Funny how they put up this tall tower of a hotel standing lone over all the hold Parisian buildings. But I think I might have mentioned that in an earlier posting.)
Flight on Malaysia Airlines, scheduled 8.30 pm, local time. Thirteen hours later I’ll be getting off in the tropical morning at KLIA. (Not just being Malaysian, but not many airports are pretty as KLIA.)
My travel documents sit by my Macbook as I resume the game. There is a morning event – a tour round some of the sponsoring company’s partner exhibits but laid-back stuff.
Thing is – and its embarrassing to admit, guys – but I crashed the programme. In the wee hours, I went crazy pressing all sorts of buttons and the thing stalled.
Laptop boots up without a problem. Game does not get past the black splash screen. Have I somehow lost the plot? This is when I need to pick up my mobile and call the support hotline – only now did I realise that there was no small print. No hard copy. No manufacturer details.
Then I remember Mr. 0000. I click out a quick message, taking care to spell everything out:
<Help. Game crashed. How do I proceed? Thanks.>
And then I waited.
OK its half an hour later and I have to go down now and do my job. No reply.
(7.38am) In middle of ma petit dejeuner
I got a reply – just five minutes ago and am rushing back upstairs – rushing away from my breakfast – to my room. Need to wait till I get out of the lift before I can post this. Reply from Mr. 0000:
<Apologies. Had a little incident in the Americas to sort out. Return to your room. Solution already in place. Enjoy your last day.>
Well – that’s the way support should be. The little human touch: He even remembered I’m leaving for home tonight.
(9.10am) Washed and somewhat guilty
Hi again. Yes, washed dressed am I but guilty. I should be downstairs but I’m on the laptop, I have sms’d to the PR coordinator for the AsiaPac journos:
<Rushing through story on yesterday’s activities. Sorry will not be able to join for final agenda. Rosina>
A little guilty only as Francine messaged back within minutes and said:
Now I have until 4.00 to pack, check out and get on the taxi to the airport.
You, see things have progressed, guys.
What happened is this: Roland, Suzie and I came up in the chateaux.
We found her soul mate. In the East Wing, said Roland. But east, west north blah blah means nothing to me: we don’t trust roadsigns and maps at home bear no relationship with the Malaysian roads.
We’d run through three groups of Nazis. Roland dispatched four guards with something that looked like a double-sided hatchet.
The game had nicely romanticised most things but then like all good online games there had been a lot of gore. Exploding head, brains spattering the walls and one eye even somehow went straight down the back of my top Felt like a greased-up lychee and I yelled and shook it out the back of my shirt.
I could not even look down on the floor to see it. My focus at that point had been on a wet patch down the rump of my jeans and dark humorous time-of-the-month thought that any stain there could be explained away.
Now, I’ve come up and out for air. (I can come out and take a breather in the so-called real world but would do Roland and Suzie do for respite?)
You see, readers, Suzie had gone in. Roland and I stood back. It was plain the figure slumped in the corner of the cell looked half-dead. A candidate for the city of the dead. I found I could not bear to see her face the truth.
(12.20) So many things untold
I have to confess right now: I’ve left out a lot of things from the game. So many adventures. But if you’ve played these games before – and most who read this blogsite would have done – you’ll have an idea of what we went through.
Some of the things were not human. In the game, you could exaggerate the enemy and show them as they truly are. Like in stories, you need to hint and show only certain things: imagination and implication can feel the rest of the truth.
To be brutally frank, I would rather wipe from my mind and heart most of what happened in the game and in Paris up till now.
Actually I have to do something. Wait.
(12.38) Impulse action
You guessed what I just did, didn’t you? Yup, I removed the game, wiped it clean. Also deleted all the text messages from Mr. 0000.
That’s easy to do with things digital. But then Gunther says once created there will always be a copy somewhere – “digits never die” is one of his mottoes that he’s had printed up on t-shirts.
So I guess my impulse to cut away from dark games and return to reality may not be as easy as I would’ve liked. Any comments? More to the point – any solutions – come on now, I need some escape plans. Things were getting way too complicated before I even downloaded the poxy game.
I realise that now. Too late – I hope to God not.
Hold – the SMS tone just went.
Merde! Its from him:
And straightaway I send this reply:
<Sorry. Its been educational but time to go home. Have wiped all links, program and everything>
When the SMS alert tone sounded, I had the sinking feeling even before I read this:
I’ve spend the last half hour pacing back and forth in my room. Can’t bear to look at the laptop. Poor thing has never been so neglected.
This is like worse than the feelings I have before I have to write a whopper of a feature that is hard against a deadline. Stressed is not the right word. I can hardly sit still. I can’t even stand still,
This time, I have to keep going to the bathroom – only nothing ever happens – I come out as I went in with gurgling belly.
Movies on TV, ordering and eating room service, packing, nothing seems to slow down my heart beat.
Friends: its normal to feel anxious and stress at times, so I believe. My pop always said Life is Tough and one needs to Get Up Early and Fight the Good Fight. My mother had nothing to say on these things.
Now I felt I was in some kind of dark place. A tunnel that led one way only.
(2.35) Lest I forget…
Sorry I had to call you in the middle of your drive home, Amita. I had to talk to someone at home even if it is rush hour there. I’ll try to do as you suggest. Breathe. Focus on final packing – the carry-on bag with my laptop packed away. And for the first time I did not feel like powering it up. Somehow I knew City of the Dead game would be back there and I’d be in that chateaux in the middle of the night in some alternate 1942 in France.
You see I did a search yesterday – I forgot to tell you: the City of the Dead is of course a real cemetery. But I could not find the *** chateaux (and I’m again putting asterixes in place of the real name in case someone decides to sue me sometime). Roland spelled it out for me just before we went into the tunnel. Suzie confirmed it at the time.
I can’t find it in my online searches and the maps – it is supposed to be about 80 kilometers to the south-east of Paris near a town called *****.
Am SMS’ing the real names to Amita and two others…just in case.
Now I have to sign off. Feel so heavy and sleepy. Will continue to post while on the move- on the way to the airport- and when I land and all the way back until I am safe in my condo in Mont’Kiara in KL. Only 18 hours to go until I am back on safe ground.
(6.35pm) AirportGosh. Sorry, Hope no one’s worried out of their minds. I fell asleep. No dreams, thank God. Then the alarm on my mobile woke me up and its been rush all the way until now. Powered up my mobile but only now just switched on.
Got through check-in, past two layers of security and am now in the waiting area before boarding, Must say the MAS plane – a 747-300 – looks like a welcome touch of home. Can’t wait to get on board.
Great to see the cabin crew and hear Bahasa Melayu again. I take back all my criticisms over the years about Malay: it may be a conglomeration of different languages but it feels as comforting to me right now as Nescafe tarik and roti canai in some hawker stall in KL. Blogging safely from my BlackBerry: making my little mark in the digital world. My bid to be remembered for just a few moments.
(7.45) Aisle seat, Row 12 C
Final posting; the next one will be when I’m in the taxi from KLIA and enroute to Mont’Kiara.
Got a decent row – 12 – up front and an aisle seat. Am going to stretch out. My seat faces the bulk between business class and economy so I have the screen that you have to pull up and fold out from the arm rest.
I did just that and got padding the touch screen to go through the movies, music and game channels. I ignore the games channels – you might be surprised to learn if you’re new to my blog site.
Am praying for the plane to take off on time: my stomach is getting tied up in knots again. I keep expecting Roland or
Mr. 0000 (maybe they’re the same person) to sit right next to me. Seats A & B are unoccupied.
The selfish part of me squeaks up – a little voice inside – and hopes no one sits in those seats. I can stretch out and take up the whole row.
(8.05pm) A slight delay
The captain just announced a fifteen minute delay while they wait for three more in front to take off. The cabin crew are serving some snacks. The one looking after my section – smartly dressed including a dark MAS green jacket – is Zul. He is taking special care of me. He has a moustache and big shining eyes; I think he’s going to make a pass at me at some point. Anything to take my mind off things.
Switched my BlackBerry back on to do this final posting before the take off. Guess what – got a message from Mr. 0000.
I have nothing to say. What does he mean. Eternal. Replacement. Suzie is the one to trust surely. My sister. Or was she just looking for someone to take her place so that she could escape herself. Is this what I have to do? A million questions go through my head. Will make sure Zul keeps an eye on me. Will call him over and ask him to do just that. Just in case..
See you soon. Bye – logging off.
…And that was the last post I could find online from Rose G****. Perhaps she was absorbed into the game, perhaps sucked in to another world?
I tried to follow up her final moments on that flight. The attendant Zulfikar A*** did talk to me. He said he filed a missing persons report both with his supervisor and the police. Zul swore to me that Rosina – and I printed out her profile picture from her blogsite to show him – was the person who boarded at CDG (Charles De Gaulle airport). But he noticed that the lady who occupied seat 12C — just two hours before landing at KLIA — was a much taller white lady. He did say though that they both seemed shared the same pale face and haunted eyes.
If you come across any new postings by Rosina, please write to me. This is very much a rough draft and so I really would like to hear how she is faring in the City of the Dead.
(c) Avanti Kumar 2010