When her eyes got used to the bright light, the harsh reality sank in. One after the other, familiar faces lined up clapping and laughing in an incomprehensible mockery. Faces from the past, school friends especially; friends from the present, many she had never met in person but with whom she chatted online every day.
She couldn’t understand why they were there or why they were clapping. Distorted smiles filled with excessive laughter had her confusing the apparent joy with applause, actual applause.
Perhaps they are celebrating my life, my achievements, my generosity, my friendship.
It was when the champagne rained over her head, messing up her hairdo and making her mascara leak all over her face that she finally accepted that that was no celebration at all.
As she tried to fight her way out of the Café, someone grabbed her arm.
“At your own risk,” said the man. “And nevertheless you came. Don’t you ever learn?”
He was… Oh… She had talked to him over a few weeks. The beginning of a virtual relationship had developed rather quickly, to her joy. She opened up to him completely, shared some of the most inner feelings and fears. She felt reborn with his virtual presence and she knew he felt the same about her.
It lasted a very short period of time. He shied away from her. She didn’t want to go back to mulling over the whys and the hows of the sudden separation. But, yes, that was him, right there in front of her.
“I don’t understand,” she stuttered.
“This is how much I know about you. I had never met you face-to-face and yet I know all this about your life.” He moved his hand in a semi-circle, pointing at the room.
The familiar faces were staring at her.
“But these are my friends…”
“No. They are nothing to you. They are strangers you decided to think of as your friends. They are shadows, nothing but shadows. And I decided to bring those shadows to you.”
The crowd looked at her in silence, a mocking sneer about to explode in a wave of uncontrollable laughter.
“Why?” she asked.
After taking a good look at her, laughing and patting one another’s backs, they exited the Café, happy with the result of this project, as she heard someone call it. And there she stood, alone, once again, in the dark grim Electric Chair Café.
The waiter went back to cleaning wine glasses with that dirty rag. The barman turned to the game on TV.
Sonya was so emotionally drained that she sought comfort in her virtual world of choice. She entered her username and password, and waited. Everything would be ok.