Before It’s Too Late

Yicheng Teng

When she opens the door to the antique shop, a little bell rings to alert the owner that a customer has entered. There is very little lighting inside, and not a single other customer. In fact, to the woman who has just entered, it appears to be closed.

A short old man with wrinkles all over his face slowly moves into her line of sight from the back of the shop, holding onto something strange, and smiles: “Hello Ma’m, nice to see you.” He looks at her like he has known she would come, as if he already knew her. 

The woman holds a leaflet in her hand and tries to put aside her feelings of unease while she is with this man. “I was just walking by on my way home and I found this advertisement on the ground outside of your shop. It says that you can help children who have lost themselves in the journey of life.”

His smile gets bigger. “I know. I have just the right thing for you, the boy’s mother.” 

She holds her hand out as he gives her a box, no longer than 30 centimeters in width made of cardboard with duct tape holding it together. 

“Try this.”

***

“Kevin! Do your homework now!” shouts his Mom in an unpleasant tone. 

“Let me finish this last game!” Kevin screams back. 

She becomes annoyed, anxious, and angry. She thinks for a moment that she should turn the power supply off of that piece of useless junk, the computer, but she gives up. She recalls what happened last time she did that, and doesn’t want that to happen again, so she leaves it. When she comes back 30 minutes later, he is still playing, and it is obvious that he had even started a new game. She is not surprised, but she is angry, of course. She enters his room, disturbing his concentration, and her voice sounds like boiling water.

“If I come next time and you are still playing, don’t blame me if I do something crazy.” 

This time, it’s Kevin’s turn to recall something unpleasant. 

***

His name is Kevin, and he is a student at Hillside Highschool in Boston. Although his grades are not great, he is very popular in his class. The reason why is simple: he is considered handsome by all the girls. Besides that, he is also smart. But according to his teachers, he does not apply himself enough. They often say to their “smart” student, “Your grades would be so much better if you used 30% of your free time to study.” 

He never listened.

***

“Study is useless! No one needs to learn about math, chemistry, and physics in order to work in front of computers!” Kevin responds. Then, looking back, he waits to see his mother’s angry face. However, just for this time, she has less anger on her face than one of thoughtful concentration. 

After a moment’s pause, “Kevin, look at this when you have time. I hope it can help you.”

She slowly steps into his room, and closer to where he is sitting. He looks back at her, annoyed at the interruption again but also curious by what she holds in her hand. His mother passes him the object.

“What’s this thing made of, metal? A pair of thick glasses? Is it a helmet?” He moves the object around in his hands, turning it over and over., “It is not light! What should I do with it?”

“Just put it on your eyes, lay down, and get ready.”

Kevin is suspicious. He thinks to himself, whilst still looking at the device in his hands, “It must be something boring. Last time, she made me watch lessons; this time must be something similar. Unless this has anything to do with my dreams of becoming a great professional player of games, I’m not interested.

His mother could sense that he might not agree to try it, and so she says just before closing the door behind her, “They said anyone who loves computers will love that thing. It was basically made for you.”

***

The device is not hard to use. The only thing he needs to do is to turn on the power on and put it over his eyes. It’s not his game, of course, but it’s technology, and it certainly looks interesting. And if his mother doesn’t mind him playing with this instead of doing his homework…  

He turns it on. 

The first thing he sees in front of him is a screen. At first, nothing special strikes him about the screen; it is just like watching a movie. But after five minutes, his mind begins to change. Indeed, it is still like watching a movie, but, it is a movie about him. And he is much older!

Several short clips begin to flash in front of him. 

In the first clip, Kevin wears a shit that reads: “DL Rocket” on it and he is competing professionally. He seems happy, and so Kevin begins to enjoy this. He sees fame, wealth, and most importantly, all the results of a successful career playing games. Everything looks perfect, but it doesn’t last long. In the next clip, just 5 years later, his team begins to lose the championships and the critics come suddenly and fully! In the next clip, he sees and hears scandals related to him. Some believe he is too old to be a professional player; some believe that he doesn’t cooperate with his teammates, some even think that they are playing a “fake competition” to gain money and that the whole thing is rigged. Even his fans turn on him, and negative comments abound.  In the next clip, he sees himself retired at the age of 29. He walks down an empty street on his own without a destination. He looks lonely and he looks rejected. Finally, he enters a bar. 

“That’s not me! No! This can not be my future!” He almost shouts. However, this new paranoia becomes uncontrollable. He doesn’t want to believe it, but somehow he feels, deep down, that what he just saw is very possible. 

Whilst he begins to reflect, the screen starts blinking in response. The image of him drinking relentlessly in a bar is replaced for just one quick moment with a shot of him working in an office. He wears a tie, a white shirt, and a belt, and sits in front of a computer. He sees sunlight piercing through the window of the office and his face shifts into an almost sad smile. 

Suddenly, Kevin, for the first time in his short life, begins to fear his future. He knows that he can become a good gamer, of course, but what will he do after he retires? Go back to university to study? Find a new job? Or become the coach of the team, or even be a network host about games? He never thought about that. And this is not the only thing that he is afraid of. What if he does study hard and becomes a worker who works in front of computers? That’s also not the right work for him.

As he panics, the screen begins to blink again. But this time, it blinks once…twice…three times…four times… faster and faster. Every time the screen blinks, Kevin sees himself. He sees himself as a waiter in a restaurant; he sees himself as a pilot flying a plane; he sees himself as a singer performing in front of thousands of people; he sees himself as a police officer saying hello to people he meets every morning; he sees himself as a lawyer who is fighting for human rights; he sees himself as an astronaut who NASA is proud of; and he sees himself still as a good gamer but not a professional, not someone consumed by that life, and he is still happy.

“Right,” Kevin says to himself as he pulls the contraption away from his face. “No one in the world says that a person can’t have a great job while they still love to play games.”

At this point, Kevin seemed to see why his mother was so keen on him completing his homework. Without it, how could he be any of these things that his future had predicted? His mindset shifts. He could still play games online, but he needed to balance his fun with his work. 

He put the computer aside and takes out his class notebook, opening it up to his homework. He isn’t a completely different person by any means, but he is at least a little changed. And as he turns the little light above his desk on, he does not hear his mother quietly closing the door to his room behind her, a huge smile of relief on her face as she leaves her son to it.

About haringeyunchained

Haringey Unchained is a collective of students aiming to show case the creative talent of Haringey Sixth Form College in Tottenham, London. We think that through the promotion of our creative thoughts, we can educate our community, bringing to the foreground the critical and creative consciousness of a vibrant school in a deprived part of London. We are endeavouring to provide this blog as a platform for our community, giving the space to those whose work otherwise might not be seen or read. Being that the cuffs are off, we are able to express through our photography, art, short fiction and poetry, what’s really on our minds. We are free.

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