Edward just stared at his monitor, like he did every day.
Day in and day out.
He watched people. He watched people getting off of trains and getting on to trains. He watched people entering stores, leaving taxis, and giving one another furtive – or not so furtive – kisses.
He was a technician. He had been properly trained, registered and certified. It was his job to watch people, to notice things out of the ordinary. To track down hunches, draw connections and find the danger and the crime in what he witnessed.
Technically, he was to be mentally divorced from it all. He was supposed to be some zombie following regulations, codes and rules – entirely dispassionate when it came to his subjects. But, of course, it couldn’t work that way. He would have slept through his job. He would have missed things. Or so he told himself.
Fundamentally, his task was to understand people. To watch what they did and draw conclusions. To follow threads and put things together. He couldn’t admit it, it was against department regulations, but he loved watching people. He’d create stories for them. Love stories, or violent dramas or international thrillers. And when they became too real, he’d check to see if there was any truth in them – and if there was, he’d file a report.
At least, that had been the procedure.
He first saw her getting off a train on September 23rd. She was getting off at 9:03am. She was clearly late. He saw her blond hair, her face a mess of anxiety and anticipation, and he decided to follow her. She was tall and ungainly, but her face was elegant, burnished by classic high cheekbones and brown eyes that contained some deep wisdom – or secret. She held some fascination for him.
What was she late for?
She ran through the concourse – she seemed fragile like she was afraid of being broken by the mass of human interaction. But when she did make contact – when somebody else failed to make way for her hurried body – they came away the worse. She barely noticed.
He watched her leave the train station, tucking wisps of her hair away as she stepped into winds gusting down the open streets. She dashed a half-block and then into a non-descript office building.
An office job. He was a little disappointed – he’d been hoping for something a bit more exciting.
He turned his attention elsewhere, feeling that his curiosity had been sated.
But that night, he found himself thinking about her. He couldn’t help it.
He thought about her hair and her face, her anxiety. He imagined her breath and her smile.
The next morning, he found himself watching her again. Again, she got off the train frazzled and busy – at 9:03am. He watched her almost run to her office. But then, he waited. Yes, he watched other things and other people. It was his job. But he kept one eye on a camera fixed to the front of her building. She came out two hours later. She headed up the street, and into a café. They sold sticky buns there.
He knew the place.
The café had signed up for a monitoring program, and so he watched her there – as she waited in line.
She was no longer frazzled. Her features were calm and at peace. She ordered a sticky bun, just as he would’ve. She paid with change, not a card.
It was endearing.
She sat down at a small table and she closed her eyes when she bit into the bun.
He watched her that day. And the next. And the week after.
He wanted to meet her. But it was forbidden. If somebody caught him seeking her out, he’d lose his job – or worse. If she’d been some kind of threat, he could have filed a report and somebody else would have met her. But there was no crime – and no plot to uncover.
He imagined himself with her. He imagined the two of them getting away.
And then he realized, he could ‘bump’ into her. He went to the same sticky bun café, regularly. He just had to be there when she was.
He was just about to take a major risk – requesting a change in his shift hours, when she did it for him. She didn’t get off the train at 9:03am. He was nervous and anxious. Perhaps she’d changed jobs. He found himself joyful was she disembarked at 3:07pm.
He stayed a little later than usual – to see if she’d go to the sticky bun place two hours later.
She did. She showed up at 5:07pm.
He normally got there at 5.
He stopped watching her, so nobody would get suspicious.
It was hard not watching her. He felt a hole in his life.
He let a week pass.
And then, he left work at 5:00pm. Headed for the stick bun place.
He got there at 5:09. And so did she.
He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to start a conversation.
She was already seated at her small table. There were no seats elsewhere. With his eyes, he asked if he could sit and she gestured, “yes.”
He sat, sticky bun in hand, and looked at her. He still didn’t know what to say.
And then she spoke. Her voice was beautiful, soft and clear. It felt like warmth and love. It sounded as if she’d known him for years.
“Are you Edward?” she asked.
He hadn’t expected that.
Alexandra just stared at her monitor, like she did every day. Day in and day out.
She watched people’s purchases. She watched them buy flowers, buy airline tickets or pay for taxis. She watched them tip waiters or get themselves haircuts.
She was supposed to be mentally divorced from it all. But, of course, it couldn’t work that way. Fundamentally, her task was to understand people by how they spent their money. She’d create stories for herself. All part of the job, she told herself.
She first noticed him on September 23rd, buying a sticky bun and a hot chocolate.
She followed him for weeks – imagining she knew him. His purchases were that of a good, confident and strong man.
She wanted to know him. She imagined that she did.
She requested a change in her shift.
It took a week, but she watched the man buy his sticky bun and hot chocolate.
He sat down across from her.
She recognized the scent of his aftershave, the brand of his jacket – even the glasses on his face.
But she wasn’t sure she had the right man.
And so, at 5:10pm, just as he was about to bite into his sticky bun, she asked him.
“Are you Edward?”
It was true love through surveillance.