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The black on white letters appear in front of me on my screen. I have just signed on for the latest in a long list of popular on-line games. Sophia, my friend, has been playing it since last weekend and she is totally hooked on it. This is one of the reasons I decided to sign up as well.
The most important reason though is that the summer holidays are looming ahead of me. Five long, long weeks of absolutely nothing to do. There will be no summer camps for me this year. Early every weekday morning, while I am still curled up in my bed, with Salem, my big, fat, black cat huddled too close in the curl of my legs, I will hear my mum and dad leave for work. Then an utter silence will fill the house and long, lonely hours will stretch ahead of me until I hear my mum’s key turn in the lock again.
As I roll over, Salem makes an unhappy sound. “Move then, silly cat. Give me some space.”
He nuzzles closer to me.
I click on the button on my screen. The one that says: Create your virtual self.
A million different choices load onto my screen.
First, I must choose my skin colour—white, then my eye colour—brown, my hair colour—brown, the curve of my eyebrows, the shape of my eyes and the roundness of my chin.
Then the choices move to the rest of my body. The length of my legs, the shape of my feet, dainty or knobbly fingers, and lastly whether I want to be really skinny, skinny, cuddly, or really cuddly. Obviously, I choose skinny.
The screen asks me: Would you like to review your image?
I click: Yes.
The virtual me appears in front of a floor to ceiling mirror and then starts to rotate in a slow clockwise circle.
I decide I do not like my hair that mousy shade of muddy brown, so I click into the options again and change it to long, blonde flowing locks. I save my choice and then do another critical review of myself in the mirror before I decide I am happy with what I see on the screen in front of me. I look perfect.
Then comes the fun part. Shopping for clothes. The choices are daunting, but eventually I find the perfect outfit.
After I approve the way I want to look, I must choose my personality. There are twelve choices and they are all linked to the different astrological birth signs. I choose one which is the complete opposite of me. I am an Aries, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a Pisces.
Then I must choose my goals and aspirations. I click: Surprise me. Sadly, I do not have any goals and aspirations. Not right now. Not today. I choose my family and social structure. I decide to keep this simple and only choose a mum and a dad. The way things are.
Lastly, I get to choose where I want to live and seeing as I am stuck at home with no beach holidays in my foreseeable future, I decide a casual lifestyle in a trailer sounds like an exciting choice.
I have worked through all my options and I press the button: Start Game. The screen warns me: Are you sure? Options cannot be changed.
I click: I am sure. Take me to my new life.
There was nothing special about the night Hannah was born. It was a normal night, maybe a little windier than usual, and it was one out of three hundred and sixty-five days that year.
The alignment of the stars on that star-studded evening determined her destiny and her future. The configuration of the planets in relation to each other decided her fortune and her fate. It was already decided what her life pursuits and her secret desires would be.
When Hannah was a little girl, she believed people could get what they wished for if they wished hard enough and long enough and were good enough, and although she was fifteen now and she had long ago stopped believing in fairy tales, she never stopped believing there was something magical in the world around her. Somewhere, there was somebody or something watching over her, keeping her safe, considering her wishes, her dreams, her ambitions, and her hopes, and sometimes, only sometimes, if she were deserving, her prayers would be answered.
Her dad taught her this. Her dad told her when she was still a little girl and they went for their long walks together, without her mum, there were angels and angels would do anything and everything to get people to believe. He said although people stopped hoping as they got older, sometimes they still made a wish when they blew out their birthday candles or made a wish on a shooting star, and sometimes they really believed the wish would come true.
Hannah had a lot of wishes. Firstly, she wished they did not live in the trailer, but that they lived in a real house. Not a house on wheels, but a house built with bricks and a solid foundation, with a garden and a huge oak tree in the back garden, with a swing hanging from one of its branches. A house that would be solid and stand firm in any storm, even the strongest winds which sometimes rocked their trailer and made her feel scared when she was trying to fall asleep alone in her bed.
Secondly, she wished her mum were happier and would spend more time with her. Hannah had a back-of-the-mind suspicion her mum never really wanted children and that is why Hannah was sometimes, most of the times, referred to as the ‘surprise’ baby by her mother, when Hannah overheard her speaking to her friends.
Her mum worked as a waitress and she complained every day how unhappy she was. Hannah thought her mum was very pretty and sometimes, when her mum was in a good mood, she would tell Hannah, she looked just like her when she was a little girl. Hannah had the same small facial features, her hair was blonde, and she had eyes the colour of melted milk chocolate.
Her dad was six feet tall and weighed nearly two hundred pounds, all muscle from working at construction sites for so many years. Although some days, Hannah would see him grimace when he moved after he came home from work, or she would see him stretch his sore muscles, he never uttered a word of complaint.
She used to sit for hours, staring out of the dust streaked window waiting to see him walking up the rutted, overgrown pathway to their trailer. Hannah would then start running toward him and when she reached him he would drop his lunch bucket to the ground as he scooped her up with his tired strong arms, and he would lift her with ease up into the air so she looked down onto his happy smiling face. Now that she was older, she still ran to him, but he no longer lifted her into the air, now he twirled her around.
Most of the times when her dad got home from work, her mum would not be home yet, and sometimes her mum would only stumble up the steps into the trailer long after dinner.
Her dad did most of the cooking and early in the mornings he would pack lunch for himself and Hannah, because her mum would still be fast asleep, but he never complained when her mum was not at home or still sleeping, and sometimes he would tell Hannah sympathetically that he and her mum got married too young. He never said what Hannah always suspected about her mum not wanting children, but he did not have to, because Hannah knew. Her mum was not like other mothers. Her mum did not care about her at all and sometimes Hannah thought if she had to disappear one day, her mum would not even notice or she would be so relieved, she would not even bother to come looking for her.
Hannah always asked, “Even if you were young, you must have been in love?”
Her dad would always smile the same smile when he replied, “We were, but we didn’t listen to our parents and we just ran off and eloped without thinking about the future. Your mum soon felt as if she had missed out on things and working long hours at the diner does not really help to make her feel better.” He would then always nudge Hannah playfully on the shoulder, before he continued, “And that is why we should let her have her freedom so she does not feel trapped by all of our love for her.”
Hannah frowned. “How can love trap someone?”
His soft green eyes would get a faraway glint and he would say, “When you love someone as much as we love her, you want that person around all the time, but having that person around all the time might make them feel as if they are in a cage. Sometimes you are afraid to let something you love go, even though you know letting them go will make them happier.”
“Why does she not love us as much as we love her?”
“She does, in her own way. Now eat your dinner before it gets completely cold.”
They would then change the subject and talk mostly about what she had done at school that day.Copyright © Lynette Ferreira (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.