It all came crashing down on him, like a ship capsizing, when he couldn’t get a connection to the internet. At first he thought it was some minor hiccup, easily solved by disconnecting and reconnecting, but afterwards he saw the same thing: a little yellow hazard sign by the signal strength icon, indicating Limited Access – which was the operating system’s way of indicating No Goddamn Access Whatsoever. Making a last attempt to load his homepage, his browser confirming – with glee, he thought – that he had no connection, he felt a single droplet of sweat run down his ribs.
He stepped out of Room 1, its cramped interior overcome by the vastness of the web, except tonight. He was living in a flat above a shop (Chinese takeaway?) along with two other people (or was it three?) who he occasionally said ‘hello’ to if he happened to catch them on the landing. The plan was to check the router located in the communal area that functioned as both kitchen and lounge, but the moment he moved to cross the hall, the door to Room 2 swung open.
It was the tenant from Room 2.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Is your internet working?”
“No, pal,” was the answer. “Been trying to get a response for the last two minutes.”
“Same here. What is this?”
“I don’t know. I’m about to check the router.”
“That’s a good idea. I’ll come, too.”
Partnership formed, Tenant 1 and Tenant 2 walked to the kitchen, where the router stood, and with it, something like hope.
It looked normal. A number of green lights proved that it was switched on, and some of them were even flashing, implying that it was trying to do something. Yet the answer remained unclear. Standing vertically on a small wooden table, the unassuming black box suddenly took on an aura of inherent evil, as if it were mocking these two men, insulting their mothers.
“I hate this,” Tenant 2 said.
“Shall we try turning it off and on again?”
“We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Tenant 1 switched it off and the lights disappeared. He switched it back on and the lights reappeared, some solid green, some flashing intermittingly, just as before. Tenant 1 turned to Tenant 2, but found that he was already gone, to check. He went to stand outside Tenant 2’s room, arms folded, head resting against the wall and bad memories surfacing from when he’d stood in a line of nervously chatting students, waiting to collect his exam results, only this time the stakes were sickeningly higher.
The door opened. Tenant 2 stepped out and shook his head, gravely.
“My God,” Tenant 1 said.
“What are we going to do?” Tenant 2 asked.
“I don’t know.” Pause. “I don’t know.”
They returned wordlessly to the kitchen just as the door next to it, Room 3, opened, and a woman emerged.
“Guys, we have a problem,” Tenant 3 said.
It was a joke, a heartless joke, they agreed as they sat on the sofa in the communal area. Their phones had been afflicted with the same disease, both wi-fi and 4G, and consequently Tenant 1 was left in the dark on how many likes his new Facebook profile photo had received since the morning, Tenant 2 had lost the ability to unwind in front of “YouTube and that” after a long day at work, and Tenant 3 was missing out on the hottest new deals on Amazon. This wasn’t just a disruption to their evening routine – it was a violation of fundamental human rights.
An assault on liberty itself.
Tenant 3 wasn’t going to take it sitting down. Sitting down, she called the internet service provider, looking at Tenant 1 and 2 with a stern, determined face as the line began to ring. On the tenth, she hung up, checked the number and tried again, muttering “the chauvinist pigs” under her breath.
This time someone picked up.
“Hello? Yes, I’ve been having a problem with my internet. It’s been like this for several minutes.” And then, repeating a question out loud: “Where do I live?”
Her eyes widened, and she looked at Tenant 1 and 2 with a look approaching desperation. They turned to each other in similar fashion, horrified, scanning the room for something, a sign, a symbol, anything, before Tenant 2 sprung up, grabbed an unopened envelope on the kitchen table and held it two inches from Tenant 3’s face, a trembling finger pointing urgently at the address.
She read it out, then waited. Tenant 1 felt another trickle of sweat inch down him.
Tenant 3 lowered the phone and hung up. Making eye contact with Tenant 1 and 2 was one of the hardest things she’d ever do.
“It’s a network problem. They’re working on it, but for now we have to wait.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Tenant 2 said. He was visibly angry.
Tenant 1 wanted to add something, but the words wouldn’t come – he was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he’d start to cry. But it was Tenant 2, in the end, who cracked first.
“I’m going to kill them,” he said, the words coming out in tortured gasps as he struggled to fight back tears. “I’m going to kill them.”
Tenant 1 put an arm around his shoulders, trying unsuccessfully to console him. Tenant 3 went to her room, returned with a cigarette packet and handed them out – Tenant 1 refused politely, Tenant 2 took one without a word.
They remained in their seats five minutes later, Tenant 2’s eyes red and puffy, Tenant 3’s glassy and vacant, Tenant 1’s closed altogether. When the silence became unbearable, Tenant 3 began to speak.
“When I left the flat today, I felt something. It was like… I don’t know, like everything that had ever happened in my life was leading up to something, something great. And it wasn’t just me. It was everything around me. The sun was out, the air was warm and there was this gorgeous vista ahead of me. The people I saw, parents with children, teenagers going to college, couples walking dogs… even though I didn’t know them, it was like they were a part of me. You know? Like they were a part of my journey.
“I worked today like I’ve never worked before. Every twitch of my muscles pulsed with purpose. I could feel the sole of my shoes pressing against my feet with every step I took. And it felt so good. I knew then that something beautiful was about to happen. Something life-changing. On my way home, I walked past an electronic shop. I looked through the window, vacantly at first, but then I saw these headphones. These magnificent red-and-white headphones with high-fidelity 5.1 channel sound and one-touch bass boost. I went inside and they told me that the one out front was a display model and they were out of stock, but that I could come back in two weeks. That, or I could order it from their storefront on Amazon and have it delivered by Friday.”
“They said they were even offering 10% off with the voucher code SAVETEN, valid until midnight tonight.”
Another fifteen minutes passed, and they had lost all hope. It seemed assured now: they would lie in bed for an hour, more, staring at the ceiling, unable to move, unable to sleep, unable to breathe, before sheer mental exhaustion forced them into slumber. Then tomorrow morning they would wake as normal, go through the usual morning ritual, brushing teeth, styling hair and heading off to work, all the while knowing that something was missing – that something had been lost.
But it was useless to fight it. Without a word, Tenant 3 got up from the sofa and made her way out of the room – quietly, so as not to disturb the others. But just as she was about to leave, Tenant 1 stopped her.
“I’m hungry,” he said, a casual tone betrayed by fumbling anxiety. “Do you guys want to order something to eat?”
“A night like this and you’re thinking about food,” Tenant 2 said, head in his hands, not moving.
Tenant 3 agreed – she’d lost all appetite for anything that didn’t promise signature noise-cancelling technology. Yet she knew she needed nourishment if she was to survive the night ahead.
“I think we should,” she said finally.
“How about it?” Tenant 1 asked Tenant 2, trying again.
Tenant 2 thought for a moment, raising his head. Then, in either defiance or defeat, he nodded. Tenant 1 looked at Tenant 3, awaiting input.
“Pizza?” she ventured.
“Alright, I’ll just grab my laptop and we’ll place an online order—”
She gasped the moment she reached the last syllable, two hands clamping tight over her mouth as her eyes flicked to Tenant 1 and 2. Tenant 1 looked back at her with a blank expression, and Tenant 2’s head sunk back down into his hands.
Some minutes later, she’d retrieved a pizza leaflet from the pile of junk mail heaped by the side of the front door. They went carefully through it – Tenant 1 decided on a Veggie Voyage, Tenant 2 had chosen the Meatysaurus Rex, and Tenant 3 was going for the Margherita Mayhem.
Tenant 2’s unconscious head was resting against Tenant 1’s shoulder when the doorbell rang. Feeling a pang of guilt for having to rouse him, Tenant 1 shook him gently.
“It’s here,” he said. After a pause, registering with tired resignation the reality of the situation, Tenant 2 nodded. They went downstairs, standing behind Tenant 3 as she paid the delivery man, and then they shuffled back upstairs again. After the first few slices had been consumed in general silence (“It’s good,” Tenant 3 offered with a half-smile), Tenant 1 looked up from his meal.
“I was halfway through 2001,” he said.
After some confusion, they learned that he was talking about a film he’d been streaming yesterday, and it turned out they were all fans – even though Tenant 1 had so far only seen half of it.
“Wait til you get to the end,” Tenant 2 said, nodding vigorously, eyelids lowered confidentially. “It’s a classic.”
The conversation inevitably turned to film, and it turned out they were all fanatics. Tenant 3 even wrote screenplays in her spare time.
“Nothing sold yet, but I’m working on it,” she explained.
Tenant 1 and 2 leaned closer, pizza boxes gripped tightly as they listened to Tenant 3’s pitch – a social drama in which the world had forgotten how to talk.
“It could happen, you know,” she finished, sitting back in her chair, satisfied.
Tenant 1 and 2 looked at each other and nodded. Then Tenant 1 asked if he could read the script.
“Well, of course you can,” she said, thrilled. She went to her room and came back with her laptop.
“It’s not finished yet but—”
And then she saw it: the signal strength icon, five bars, no hazard sign.
“It can’t be,” she whispered, before opening her homepage.
She looked at Tenant 1 and 2. No words needed to be said. There was no mad dash back to their rooms – instead they walked calmly away, respective pizza boxes balanced in one hand as they filed out of the kitchen.
It was over. The evening had been an interesting diversion – with normality restored, they might even have agreed that there had been a certain charm to it – but now it was time to get on with their lives. Tenant 1’s profile photo had 119 likes (and he liked it himself to bump it up to 120), Tenant 2’s favourite video was put on repeat (and he switched the lights off to better immerse himself) and Tenant 3 ordered her headphones in purple and black (along with hair straighteners, a coffee mug and a book titled How To Sell Your First Screenplay). The internet remained stable for the rest of their tenancy and they never ordered pizza again.
Kiran Gellot graduated from the University of Westminster and currently lives and works in Manchester. In addition to writing, she designs illustrations for children’s books. Her other interests involve travelling, filmic collaboration and visiting unpretentious restaurants.