I See You
I wake when you do. Your alarm clock is mine, the digital bird harmonies that enter your ears are the same ones that enter my own, the loss in quality almost imperceptible as the sound travels through the fibre broadband that runs into my flat. It thrills me to think of this physical connection between us, that there is a wire that starts behind the paint and plaster of my bedroom and travels down into the ground, twisting and turning and emerging many miles away into the fine white interior of your beautiful house. It is a physical connection between us, like a vein or a string of muscle. We are part of the same body.
Of course, I can’t match your routine. I rise when you rise, but I lie on the floor as you perform your morning exercises: the sit-ups, press-ups, ab curls and pec pounders. You grunt and call out encouragements to yourself as you go. You are always pushing your body. If you’re not pushing yourself, you’re holding yourself back, you always say. I have that tattooed on my left forearm. I see the sweat glistening on your abdomen, and if I concentrate I can feel it too. The burn, you call it. The wall. The mountain. I am there, perched on your shoulder, trembling through your ascent.
I shower when you shower. I start on my arms as you do, soaping down each one before moving on to my chest. Your viewer numbers spike at the time, and I can see the likes and comments as they come in. I don’t pay them any attention. I know you know I am here.
Out of the shower and it’s on to the skincare routine. I do my best to keep up. I have the cinnamon and bergamot body oil, the guava and pomegranate face scrub, the moisturiser with the hygroscopic molecules. I can’t afford the peptide serum; one bottle would use up my entire salary from the warehouse, but as I soap my face with the scrub and run the same specialist clay you use through my hair, I feel as if we are one.
When it hits eight I’m out the door, but I keep your feed in the top corner of my Visor. I keep it on all day. The audio cuts if someone needs to tell me something, but most of the time I’m with you right through – hearing what you hear, seeing what you see. I watch you eat breakfast as I’m waiting for the shuttle bus. I can taste the ancient-grain acai berry granola, the avocado on sourdough.
It takes a long time to get into the warehouse. My shift doesn’t start till ten, but I queue for an hour at the security gate. Once I’m in, it’s a twelve-minute buggy ride to my section. I have a forklift to load the packages and take them out. Everyone has a Visor at the warehouse, even the foreman.
I clock off around eight – it’s a ten-hour shift – but it takes me a while to get out of the building. They strip search everyone before they leave – it’s company policy, they have to make sure we’ve haven’t taken anything. I don’t mind, they let me keep my Visor on and I have your feed running full screen while they do it. Usually, you are in the gym at this time, bench-pressing three-hundred pounds or battling through a stage of a virtual Tour de France. You stop now and then to drink one of those cold-pressed juices you’ve been talking about lately, kale and blueberry or beetroot and snowberry. Snowberries have the highest antioxidant count by weight of any berry. I learned that from you. You say something like Time for a power-up before you drink, briefly pausing on the bottle and the company logo. I mouth the words and take a drink myself. Mine’s water, but you have the power to transform it.
By the time I get back, you’re often at home relaxing. Sometimes you’re on the sofa with your latest girl. At the moment it’s some actor from the latest Superman reboot. You move through them quickly, but they’re always actors or models. You switch to your premium rate on these nights, but I always pay the extra. Sometimes I switch to your partner’s feed, to see you as they see you, but not for long. Besides, there is always a mirror nearby. Your bedroom is full of them: you hold the light a prisoner.
Actually, it was a mirror that brought me here. I know how careful you are – and I understand why. The software you use is excellent at blurring out the details – street names, signs – and the way the video drops when you’re approaching or leaving your house is a wise move. You never know who’s out there.
But the software isn’t as clever as you thought. A few days ago, on your early morning jog, you stopped at a corner and checked your hair in that small mirror you carry, the one some dumb commenters call a make-up compact. I could see half a street sign in the reflection.
And that’s how I found your house.
All I had to do was to take that frame, zoom in, and I had the clue I needed. One word: BISHOP.
I searched online for a long time to find the right place, looking over the whole country for street names that matched. There were lots of variations – Bishop Street, Bishopsgate, Bishop’s Lane, Bishop Road – but only one, in Hampstead, that was the right fit.
Bishop’s Avenue. When I looked on Street View I could see the corner where you paused that morning.
Finding your house was trickier. From the corner you stopped at I knew it had taken you one minute and fifty-six seconds to get through your front door. So you had to be close to home. Given how big the houses are in that neighbourhood and the distances between them, that narrowed it down to a handful of properties. The final piece of the puzzle, though, was which one?
I’d really hate to have broken into the wrong place.
Street View wasn’t giving me much insight, what with the huge driveways and high walls, so I switched to satellite view. I remembered the pool party you’d hosted last year, when you were upset because you had invited David Beckham and he hadn’t come, and then it was easy.
You’re the only one around there with a twenty-five metre swimming pool.
I waited a few nights. I knew you wouldn’t just let me in if I turned up at your gate. And I didn’t want to scare you by sneaking in while you were there. Then, earlier tonight, you went out to the gala dinner for that cancer charity you support, so I knew I had a few hours to play with. That tuxedo was made for you, by the way; it’s no wonder there’s talk of you as the next Bond, even if it is mostly you doing the talking.
It was easy enough to get over the wall. I had a mini step-ladder in the boot and a tarpaulin to throw over the razor wire. I ignored the warning about the dogs. I know you only have a chihuahua called Luigi, and I knew he’d be locked up inside. The pool was all lit up, and there were spotlights around the edge of the building. But I kept to the shadows, creeping along the path towards the darkest spot I could find along the side of the house. I could see you were getting ready to leave the gala. The hall you were in was emptying out, the black-suited waiting staff stealing through the crowds to collect the glasses and plates. You were standing near the entrance adjusting your cufflinks – Leroi & Etude, you’ve been talking about them a lot recently.
But even if you had left immediately, you were still an hour away. I had time. Of course, I’d given a lot of thought about how I’d get in to your house. I didn’t want to break anything or cause you any unnecessary pain or difficulty, but in the end smashing the kitchen window was my only option. There was always the risk of the alarm, I know you have one but you don’t always set it. Besides, I knew the security company would call you even if the thing went off. They’d call you and I’d see you answer it on my Visor. There’d be time to back out.
I’m so glad I didn’t have to.
You look shocked, but you really shouldn’t be. I know it seems like I’m a stranger, but it isn’t so. I know you intimately. I know you have a mole on the inside of your left thigh that you are worried about; I can tell by how often you look at it. I know your favourite place is your chalet in the Dolomites; I can feel the crisp freshness to the air whenever you visit, can tell how it inspires your soul. I know you believe in love despite your reputation as a player; I can tell from how often you look at that slideshow of pictures of you and Meghan Vow on Miami Beach, the one in the e-photo frame from that new Korean manufacturer.
Three million people subscribe to your feed, but no-one sees you like I do. How many of your other followers watch the blackness before your eyes when you’re in bed at night?
I’ve watched every moment I could since you started broadcasting, back when you were just some fitness instructor living in a shared house in Notting Hill. And look how far you’ve come! I’ve watched you in the bath, on the treadmill at the gym, eating dinner at your favourite restaurant, sitting on the toilet and reading the book of poems you keep there with a pen to underline your favourite parts.
I’ve backed you every step, been inside your head, your most devoted follower, a spirit on your shoulder, willing you on. I’m part of you; your memories are my memories; your mind is my own.
I’ve seen everything of you, and now you can see me. And I can see you, seeing me. Have you checked your viewing figures? Half the country’s watching us right now. Don’t look so pained, step into the room and close the door.
The world is at home tonight, watching other people’s lives unfold on magic screens perched on the bridges of their noses. And whether they choose to watch it through my eyes or yours, they’re all going to see what happens next.