The elevator took forever to arrive. Jonathan felt worse with every passing minute, like he’d been run over by a truck. He leant into the wall, granting his tired body some support. He closed his eyes, unable to focus because of the headache that again spread to his temples and the nape of his neck. Champagne couldn’t do this. And he was used to drinking a lot more before he felt this bad. He reached out to summon the elevator again.

“Hello?” The soft voice came from the elevator car. “Are you joining me? We’ll be in time for the opening.”

His hand froze halfway the elevator button. For a moment it seemed like he couldn’t breathe anymore. He hadn’t noticed the elevator’s arrival or the doors sliding open. He swallowed back the bile, while he gaped at the woman holding the doors open.

“Are you joining me?” she repeated, her voice the spitting image of his ex’s voice, low and throaty.

“I—Yes—I…” he said, but he didn’t move, couldn’t move. Anna’s voice but in English, an alto laced with an atypical falsetto that seemed to give every word a hint of irony. He hated that voice. He longed for that voice. The last time he’d heard it was the day she left. He had yelled at her that he had been framed, that she had no right to throw his life out on the fucking street, that she made him look like a lier, a fraud. She had just jeered at him and had told him in that rousing voice that he was a gutless wimp, too cowardly to admit he’d plagiarized, an opportunist who blamed the entire world for his own shortcomings, and then she had turned and walked out. Two days later, when he was out drinking himself into a stupor, she had stripped the apartment from whatever she thought was hers. Talk about gutless wimps. About cowards.

“Are you okay?” The woman was less tall and somewhat plumper than Anna. Her palm felt soothingly cool when she put it on his forearm. “Cold feet?”

Jonathan wanted to shake his head, wave her and the elevator away. He wanted to breathe. He wanted to forget that voice, but all he could do was step into the elevator car, like a junkie looking for a fix. The door closed as silently as it had opened. With a little jolt the car started moving down. Jonathan wiped his hands on his jeans.

“What a relief to find someone without a smartphone or laptop,” Anna’s English voice said. “I am so tired of the lack of interest in human contact, like there’s only a virtual world, one made of binary code and nothing else. Aren’t you?”

He looked up, speechless because of her voice, because of his hangover, because of the bizarre circumstances that had brought him here. Looking at her gave him some relief, like she was a life-line he could hold on to. She wasn’t Anna. She wasn’t even Dutch. She didn’t know him. Or his story. She had no idea of his shameful past. Jonathan attempted a smile.

The woman who wasn’t Anna smiled back and when he didn’t try to answer her question, she went on, paying no attention to his obvious unease. “I know it’s our future. I know we live well off it, that virtual world. But still.” She laughed and winked.

The laugh ran a shiver through his gut. Jonathan shook his head again, but the mist in his head didn’t lift. “I…” He searched for words. I don’t know what you are talking about, he wanted to say, but instead of words bile burned passed his vocal chords. He swallowed and glanced at her badge, but she had folded her hand around it. Why did she think he was one of them? He could be anyone, just a random guest at the hotel. He didn’t carry a laptop or a smartphone, as she so aptly had noticed. Nothing indicated that he was part of the conference. He stared past her into the golden elevator wall and it took him a full minute before the logo on his T-shirt penetrated his cotton-balled skull. He opened his mouth to apologize for this stupidity, his rudeness and thickness, but the elevator beat him to it. It stopped and the doors slid open.


digital data flow through optical wire