I cringe. Even now this moment bothers me. Before I could change my mind and retreat into familiarity, I set my world-management headband onto the energy box, open the door, and leave my dwelling. More than once, in these few seconds of darkness, I’ve snatched my headband and retreated into the familiarity of the virtual world.
The hallway is lit with red lights, the kind I’m told used to illuminate photo developing darkrooms. If the room was supposed to be dark, then why was there light? One of those last century things I’ll never comprehend.
The transport pod takes off. Before I met Karen through work, I hadn’t ventured into the physical world. With plenty of coaxing, she convinced me to visit her church, where I discovered only people from the virtual world wore all black clothing. Everyone else wore colors, some bright, others muted, but never all black. I felt self-conscious, the outsider from the other world.
“I’ll have to take you shopping,” Karen announced when I pointed this out to her. “We can go to Macy’s next weekend.”
“Who is Macy?”
“What, not who,” Karen chuckled. “It’s a clothing store.”
“We have clothing stores in the virtual world,” I reminded her. “I’ll look there first.”
“Are you sure? It’s fun trying on clothes with a friend.”
“I’ll let you know.” That night I accessed the virtual portal for the Macy’s store Karen mentioned and tried to buy a skirt and blouse. Instead, I found myself inundated with a plethora of choices. Fabrics, cuts, sizes. I choose virtual outfits for my avatar each day, but never worried about whether something would fit or how much to spend. Frustrated, I gave up and agreed to go shopping with Karen.
The pod lands and I find myself in front of an enormous building. Rows of transport pods line the hot asphalt. I plug my com. chip into a remote locator machine in the parking lot and wait for Karen who arrives in seconds. She is wearing a red blouse, blue pants and high heel boots. Seeing her, I feel frumpy.
“Amalie, this is a big step for you today. Buying physical world clothes puts you one step closer to transitioning.”
“I’m not sure I’ll like this,” I mumble as we enter the store.
“Sure, you will. This will be fun.” Karen’s enthusiasm for everything is infectious and I find myself ignoring the crowd of other shoppers and focusing on the racks of garments.
“This color will look perfect on you, Amalie.” Karen holds up a golden shirt with a row of glittery buttons down the front. Seeing the look on my face, she returns it.
I hold up a blouse in navy and one in gray.
“Try some color, please. How about this?” She points to a top in pale violet which I agree to try. Standing in front of the mirror studying myself wearing these new clothes, I begin to feel Karen’s eagerness infuse into me. I choose two blouses, the violet one and one in burgundy, a pair of blue pants, which Karen says are called jeans, and a gray skirt.
Afterwards, we walk through the store and into the mall to a place called the food court. I picture judges in black robes serving food, but keep the thought to myself. Sometimes Karen forgets I’m not from here and my misunderstandings become the source of jokes among her friends.
We order cups of streaming espresso and find a table near a window. Karen announces it is six o’clock. It’s dark outside. I should have kept track of time.
“Amalie, what’s wrong? You haven’t touched your coffee.”
I stammer, “It’s dark outside. I’ve never been outdoors at night.” I blink back the tiny tears pooling in the corners of my eyes.
“There are lots of lights in the parking lot. I’ll walk you to a pod and you’ll be in your dwelling in seconds. You’ll be fine. Trust me.” Karen smiles and gently leads me out of the mall. Outside, stars swathe the dark sky. I stop and crane my head upward.
“Is it always this beautiful?” I whisper.
“It’s much better outside the city where there aren’t as many lights. You can see millions of stars.”
Karen added, “We can go next weekend.”
“Sure,” I murmur as I climb into a pod, still mesmerized by the stars. I can’t wait until next Sunday. Who knew darkness could be this dazzling?
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