He’d gotten himself into real trouble chatting on the Internet, doubling up on his lies and trying to convince the girls that he was more of a man than he actually was. Alfred was a toothless seventy-five year old with a golden voice. He sounded thirty years younger than he actually was. Pretending he was an artist, most of the women he met online thought he was some kind of creative genius. “I’m working on a painting that I’m donating to a hospital,” he told one Chinese eighteen year old girl. “I’m working on a picture for the local council,” he explained to another gullible girl. They were all Asian. He liked Asians. There was something about Asian women that really turned him on. Yes, Alfred was a toothless seventy-five year old with the golden voice and he knew how to use it.
Charming birds out of the tree. Had them feeding out of his hand. But it was all online and none of it was meaningful or true, so it could never lead anywhere and never gave him any real satisfaction. In fact over time it did the opposite. He began to realise that he was fooling himself as well as others, wasting his own time and throwing away what little life he had left. Down the sewers of the Internet. For the past fifteen years he had let his life slip away whilst living a lie online. That’s the power of the Internet. It cuts across all barriers and all ages. You could be a quadriplegic and persuade people you were an athlete and they would never know. But what’s the point. You live a life of deception. There is no validity nor correctness, just fantasy and dreams.
But what would Alfred do if he didn’t have the Internet to entertain him? He had no life. He had no friends. The Internet gave him access to a community the size of which he could never have conceived. It gave him access to people of all cultures and creeds, girls and boys, women and men across the globe. Perhaps they were all sad people like him? Perhaps nobody was real?
Some time ago he was caught up in a whirlwind romance. It inevitably collapsed when he refused to meet a girl he had fallen in love with. How could he meet her? He wasn’t the man she thought he was. Juliet was only twenty-seven. Alfred had told her he was in his early forties. She thought he was an artist extraordinaire, a glamorous and intelligent man who was adored by his community. She was a Chinese student, a charming girl looking for a suitable man to marry. They exchanged photographs. She was very pretty, just as he imagined she’d be. He sent pictures of himself taken over thirty years ago. He was once a handsome man with thick hair and strong teeth. She fell for him big time. She was madly in love and so was he.
They chatted over the Internet for hours on end, sometimes two or three times a day. How many times had she begged him to come to China? So many she had lost count. Every day Juliet told him how deeply in love she was. She meant it. He was her life. Alfred could hear her voice break and could feel the tears running down her cheeks as she described the fathomless depths of devotion and love she felt. He felt the same way, exactly, but he was a seventy-five year old toothless man living a lie, a fantasy which had spiralled out of control.
How Alfred wished things were different. How he wished he was younger. How he wished he could run into her arms, sweep her off her feet, bring her back to England and spend the rest of his life with her.
One day she decided to move from Beijing and take up a teaching post in another city. She never gave Alfred any warning that she was leaving. He didn’t know until the last moment. Juliet came on line and said she was waiting for a bus to transport her away from Beijing. She would keep in touch but he wouldn’t hear from her for a while. She’d be very busy and needed to get settled in to her new teaching post before she had time to email.
Alfred was shocked, broken hearted. He came away from the instant messaging program in a state of panic. The fantasy world that he lived in had a terrifying emotional reality. He felt the vacuum of her absence sucking the air from his lungs, siphoning his life away. His world imploded. He sat and sobbed. He fretted. He could think of nothing else but his beloved Juliet. And now she was gone. Gone forever.
Over the following months he had a couple of emails from her and then the communication ceased. Alfred tried to find somebody else online, another love, but nobody came close to his darling Juliet. He would never fall in love like that again. She was his life but his life was a lie, an Internet fantasy. Alfred was a seventy-five year old toothless man with a golden voice who lived in a fictional universe of whims and dreams.