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Laura

Omar Chowdhury
28 March, 2005

He was on the threshold of adolescence, but he had already made up his mind about his future – what he was going to be, was a Computer Engineer. It was all quite settled in his mind.
His father had retired as an ambassador, and was now giving some of his time to running a group of companies which he owned. His hobby was to breed tropical fish. His mother was an accomplished pianist, and John was their only child. The house was always full of the sound of music. Distinguished friends of his father, and sympathetic friends of his mother, came to dine, and later be entertained by his mother’s skill at the keyboard of the Steinway pianoforte in the spacious and elegant drawing room.
He did well at all subjects in his school, but physics and mathematics were the subjects which really held his interest and concentration. Electronics drove his ambition towards the wonders and marvels of Cyber Space! But there was another activity, another passion, which dominated his aesthetic, and creative tastes – the visual arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture . . .
His father had given him a Pentium II computer, with a storage capacity of 8 GB on a hard disc, and ample software. His appetite for more versatility and innovation grew. He was seeking some sort of perfection. But for what? And now in his study-room, on a specially designed table stood a computer model made to give fantastic results, especially in the sphere of graphic composition. He spent endless hours in the hushed room, working out complicated mathematical problems with Lotus, and intricate designs took shape on the monitor screen with Windows, giving full scope to his sometimes wild and colourful exercises. He was careful not to show any printouts to his parents, except drawings and sketches of churches, and colourful landscapes. Perhaps he had inherited a sense of diplomacy from his father, and occasionally showed him pictures of tropical fish! But his parents saw little of John, and were quite content to let the lad lead his own life, while they got on with theirs. So they took scant notice of what their genius son was up to in his secret study-room. He also listened to classical music, and possessed expensive and highly competent equipment for the purpose. So when he wished to drift into the world of sound, he could listen to whichever composer suited his mood : Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky. He was essentially a romantic at heart. His collection of LPs and tapes was enormous!
Neat though he was in all his habits, dressing with style and good taste, looking after his books like a dedicated scholar, magazines and periodicals, dealing mainly with computer matters, littered the carpet of his bedroom. He would sometimes read deep into the early hours, thrilling to the latest news about the development of super computers. They were writing poetry, composing music, and even sketching celebrated persons, who posed, spellbound. These machines had almost become diabolical!
A friend at school had told him an apocryphal joke.
The world’s Biggest Computer Company had invented and produced the Super-Duper Machine: the computer to end all computers – a giant that could tackle any problem, provide any answer. When it was ready for demonstration, distinguished guests, drawn from all the arts and sciences, were invited to test its remarkable powers. Many questions were put, and pat came the answers. Finally a quietly dressed, meek-looking professor of Philosophy, rose and came forward. “I would like to put my question,” he said in a silky voice. When requested to do so, he asked the Computer, “Is there a God?” A longish pause ensued, as the computer pondered the question, and searched for an answer. The answer eventually flashed on the very large monitor screen: “NOW there is!”
The boy was profoundly disturbed by this sacrilege. He had far-fetched and frightening dreams that night. He seemed to travel to the very brink of infinity, passing through galaxies, plunging into and getting out of black holes, kicking planets aside, which impeded his progress. He thought, that if he advanced another inch, he would come face to face with God Himself. He woke up with a sickening start, and found the bed soaked with cold perspiration.
Now John began to display intriguing symptoms, such as talking to himself when alone, becoming careless with his clothes, and keeping more and more to himself. Obsession with the computer grew, and his parents began to wonder. The family doctor was summoned. “All he needs is more fresh air, mixing with his friends, and a tonic, which I shall now prescribe.” But John had no interest in sports, or the open air, his study-room being the centre of his life. All else was automatic negligible humdrum function and behavour.
He lost interest in pursuing mathematical problems, and his attention was focused on graphics - Adobe Illustrator, with the help of which he experimented with painting different head and shoulder studies, sometimes unknowingly inspired by paintings from the romantic period of Art.
He began to draw ugly and grotesque faces. One was the mocking weird face of a witch! He stared hard and long at this compelling visage, and some mysteries urge prompted him to make a wish, which he did, with an eerie feeling of impending danger. There followed many faces of women, one of which somewhat resemble his mother. After this, the faces of the women he painted, became younger, and younger, until, one exciting evening, he achieved what he instantly recognized as his masterpiece! The image was that of an attractive teen-age girl. He was fascinated. He left her on the screen, and went up to his bedroom, and relaxed in a comfortable armchair. He closed his eyes and she was there, firmly fixed in his mind.
For two days he wandered around in a dazed melancholy manner. He walked in Beacon Park, sat on benches under shady trees, and even lolled on the soft grass, dreaming of the girl. In his imagination she walked at his side silently. When he looked at her, she just smiled enigmatically. Once he tried to touch her hand, and Immediately, she disappeared.
He returned to his study-room at last. He booted the computer, depressed the correct keys, and the girl appeared on the monitor screen. Her face had a sad expression. Now the computer began to behave in an odd way. The colour of her complexion changed from natural to a bright red! Then it became blue! He was nonplussed. What on earth was happening? He took hold of the monitor and shook it violently. Her complexion returned to normal, but the face was devoid of any expression, and turned away from him. This was shocking, and he wanted to manhandle the monitor again. Suddenly, she turned her face towards him, and the old smile retuned to her lips. He grinned back at her, and their eyes finally met, and she spoke for the first time. A melodious voice emerged from the loudspeakers. She said: “Hello John. My name’s Laura.”
For a moment he was absolutely stunned. He looked into her hazel eyes and said: “Hello”. She winked at him. Am I going mad, he moaned aloud? He stared at her with disbelief, and suspicion, and fear.
“Of course you’re not going mad, silly, but I’m absolutely nuts about you!”
And thus commenced their many conversations.
After talking for several evenings about all kinds of things, and the follies and the beauties of life, she mischievously asked : “Have you never thought of having a girl friend, like some of your buddies at school?”
“I have no buddies at school. The boys there bore me. But I have often thought that when I grow up I shall get married, like my parents did.”
“But what if you never grow up? Have you ever thought about that?
After a brief silence she said:
“I wish we could have a little music in the room.”
“What would you like to hear?”
“ A Mozart piano concerto would be very nice.”
The C Major, K. 467, filled the room, and they were silent, completely absorbed in the celestial world of Mozart’s magical music.
As the final notes closed the last movement, an uncanny thing happened. The light bulbs began to dim, until the room became very dark. He could however see her face clearly on the screen. What is happening? His mind was gripped by panic, as he saw her image very slowly fade away. He was alone in the unbearable darkness.
He heard her voice, coming from the rear of his chair.
“I’m here now. I have at last escaped from the dreadful confinement of that horrid screen!” He turned round, and the light bulbs glowed brightly again. Of course, the girl was not there!

***
He was lying on his bed. His anxious parents stood together, looking down at the pale and drawn face of their son. The family doctor was there too. The boy was running a temperature, and he was tossing and turning uneasily. John could only faintly whisper: “I have lost Laura. I have lost Laura. Forever.”
A few weeks passed, with his condition improving a little, and then sliding into depression and delirium. A psychiatrist was called in by the family doctor.
The Shrink asked a lot of questions, as his profession demanded. John’s parents, filled with grief, were far too sensible to succumb to despair, and pulled themselves together.
John’s mother spoke. “Laura? John has been repeating that name again and again, insisting that she is lost forever. We just cannot understand it. She seems to me to be the main cause of his sad condition. Or at any rate the most significant.”
“You assure me, madam, that to your certain knowledge, John has no girl friends.”
“I have tried to convey to you, Doctor Blum, that John does not have much of an outside life. His computer was the centre of his being! He did not communicate much, even with us, unless he had to. He led a very private life, if you see what I mean.”
Dr Samuel Blum leaned back in his chair. “This is a very confusing and unusual case. Very little data to go on, very little. I think I have reached a point beyond which I feel I cannot proceed any further. The only possible answer is that he ‘met’ a girl in what they call a ‘chat room’ in this strange cyber space, who said her name was Laura, and he has not been able to forget this imaginary creature. When he shut down his computer, the chat room must have become empty, and so, of course he believes he has lost this – Laura – forever!”
The family doctor sighed and asked: “Doctor Blum, tell us if there is any hope?”
Dr Blum smiled. “I am a little old fashioned. You see, I am a Freudian. These days psychiatrists come out with amazing theories. However, I think he will have to be taken to an institution, where they will be better able to solve this strange puzzle.”
John’s father accompanied Dr Blum and the family doctor to the front door, and wished them Goodbye. It was just after five in the afternoon.
Upstairs, when he entered john’s bedroom, he found the boy sitting up in bed and exclaiming in a loud voice : “I’m absolutely starving. Father, please get me something to eat.” Whatever was available in the pantry was made into sandwiches : chicken, cheese, ham and pickles, the lot. And several cups of steaming coffee.
It was six-thirty, and John’s parents were sitting in the bedroom, watching their son devour a bar of nut candy. Their faces radiated joy, at the sight of their son, relaxed, and with his usual charming smile, behaving as though nothing at all had happened!
“Mum, I can’t wait to go down to my computer, I feel completely great!”
There was a knock at the door, and Bentley the butler entered.
“There is a young person downstairs, who insists on seeing you, madam. I have put her in the library.”
John’s mother rose, bewildered, and left the room, accompanied by Bentley.
She entered the library a little nervously, and a teenage girl, with chestnut hair and hazel eyes, rose and advanced towards her with a bewitching smile.
“How is John? I’ve been so worried the past few weeks! Is he all right?”
Yes, John has made a remarkable recovery – today. But now tell me, my dear, who are you?”
“My name is Laura.”

The End






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