‘Mr. Saban to see the doctor.’
The sudden crackling voice over the PA system startled the only person in the waiting room. After some deliberation, the lone man in the room stood up from the uncomfortable plastic bench he had been sitting on for quite some time.
His steps were deliberate – calculated even – as he approached the door. A small placard swung on the handle that said: A.D – Psychotherapist. He breathed in and let out a long sigh, while slowly opening the door to the other side. The room was completely dark at first. The automatic light turned on – a smooth amber light – as the man took a step inside.
‘Hello, Adam. It is nice to see you after such a long time. Please, sit down.’
‘Nice to see you too, Doc. Although,’ Adam responded as he seated himself on the only chair in the room, ‘I didn’t think I’d be back here, well, ever’. The chair was quite comfortable. A recliner made from some soft material.
‘It has been over five years since you last came. I must say, you are dressed quite sharply today, Adam.’
‘I thought I’d mark the occasion since I last came here,’ He chuckled dryly while unwittingly trying to straighten his suit jacket out. ‘Actually, its exactly five years to the day when… When-‘
‘When you and miss Evie divorced?’
‘And have you seen her since-‘
‘No. This isn’t about her, or the kids,’ Adam said sharply, seeming quite uncomfortable in the armchair. He had shifted his unknowing focus onto straightening his trousers. ‘No, this isn’t about them. I came here to talk about something else. I thought you might listen.’
‘Of course Adam. You came here because you thought I might listen. Or maybe that I could help?’
‘Something like that, Doc,’ Adam took a sharp breath, and sat in silence for a moment. ‘See Doc, I’ve been-‘
‘Please, Adam, call me Artie.’
‘Yeah sure… See Artie, I’ve been working hard for the past five years at the same company. The money’s been good, and I’ve had my hands full. I focused on the job, and everything was fine,’ Adam said, while rubbing his hands together. He pulled on a switch on the side of the chair, and a leg-rest popped up from below. As Adam raised his legs, he continued: ‘But I was lonely. I worked all day, every day, and came back home to be alone. I- I wanted someone to talk to. I tried all the dating sites and apps or whatever, but they didn’t work out. I wanted something real – no offence, Doc.’
‘I understand Adam. What is it that you want to tell me? How did you deal with your loneliness?’
For a while Adam sat unresponsive, looking down at his own feet. He seemed pensive, and almost embarrassed for some reason.
‘Uh.. Sorry Doc, it- its just hard to get out. Like I said, I wanted something real – to actually hear another person. So I called… A- a sex hotline. And no, before you say anything, it wasn’t for anything sexual. I just wanted to talk to someone who would listen, and uh, play along. When I called for the first time, the voice on the line said that I could choose who I wanted to call, and started listing all sorts of names. And listen Doc, I didn’t know what or who I was looking for at the time, so I just chose one at random,’ For just a flash – one fleeting moment – Adam smiled, before his face turned sour and contemplative. ‘And the names kept on coming – honestly Doc it was like a damn conveyor belt of names at an assembly line – so I chose one. I pressed all the numbers and then – that someone answered,’ He finished and smiled again – this time blushing just faintly – while looking at his feet again.
‘No need to be embarrassed, Adam. We all need to confide in other people, and seek their comfort. There are many ways to do that.’
Adam raised his head and looked around the room in silence. The room was clean, almost too clean, like a hospital. The chair he was sitting in was the only piece of furniture. Not even paintings or other decorations on the walls, just straight surfaces and ninety-degree angles. The room was tinted slightly orange by the calming amber lighting emanating from the ceiling. Adam looked at the closed door he had walked in through, almost as if he was contemplating escape from this situation.
‘Are you O.K, Adam? We can reschedule if you want-‘
‘No. No, let’s just get this out of the way now,’ Adam sighed with a sad smile and continued, ‘Someone answered my call, said her name was Venus. And yeah, it was obviously a made-up name, but it was exciting nonetheless. Her voice – it was so smooth and calming. The first time I called we talked for two hours. After that I’d call almost every day, immediately when I got home from work. She was perfect, Doc. She listened to me, she knew what to say when I had problems, and she always looked forward to talking to me again,’ Adam finished quietly, and closed his eyes. It seemed like he was re-living everything that had happened before this moment. He stayed that way until he suddenly opened his eyes and stated: ‘I loved her, Doc. It seems so stupid now, but I really loved her. I can’t even count all the hours we talked to each other. I know she was just a voice – some random lady on the other end of a phone, but that didn’t matter then. I loved her.’
‘Love can be experienced in many forms, and yours was entirely natural as well.’
Suddenly Adam interrupted by laughing sarcastically. While shaking his head and laughing, he responded: ‘Yeah, natural. You know Doc, I could just leave it here and say we got somewhere during this session, but hell – I’ll tell you what happened. Venus and I, we’d been talking for almost four months at that point. I was seriously contemplating asking who she really was, and where I could find her. I gathered up courage for days, and when I finally called, the line was dead. I called and called again, but the line was still dead. I was desperate, so I searched online for the company operating the hotline, and called them.’
‘They answered, probably thinking I was some sex-crazed lunatic that couldn’t get his phone-sex-fix soon enough,’ Adam said while laughing sharply – almost viciously – without any smile to his laugh. He was gripping the armchair with his hands, and sweating visibly. ‘They said… They said that – Jesus fucking Christ – the hotline was going through some slight reprogramming. Do you get it now Doc? It wasn’t real. None of it was real. Just an artificial intelligence answering calls and talking to losers like me.’
During his outburst Adam had unwittingly sprung up from the armchair, now standing in the middle of the room. His fists were balled up, and he was breathing heavily, and for a while his breathing was the only sound in the room.
‘Your feelings, Adam. They were real. Your feelings of love and affection were real, to you. Does it matter that your love was not directed towards something – as you say – that was not real?’
During the speech, Adam had slowly walked to the door, with one hand resting on the door handle. He took one last look at the empty room behind him, the armchair as the only furniture – the only real thing in the room – and said:
‘It matters to me.’