David Broughton stared dejectedly at the wheelchair beside his bed, the stainless metal tubes and drab canvas, the multi-spoke wheels
provided the symbol of his destroyed life and had been his constant companion since the fall. Two years to the day, he thought. It was his
anniversary, the anniversary of the day his former life of youthful activity and adventure had dramatically halted as the ground beneath his
feet had crumbled to dust, and gravity had crushed his spine on the merciless rocks below.
“Irreparable,” that's what the specialists had told him as he lay immobile in his hospital bed, “But buck up, chap. Your life isn't over.”
Of course they hadn't been that blunt, but the message had been clear, and it could have been much worse, since the damage was low on his
spine and he still had full mobility in his arms.
The specialist displayed professional sympathy, an air of practicality that he obviously showed all of his patients. It can't be easy to
give bad news over and over again, the thought had drifted into his mind but all that Dave could feel was a degree of irrational bitterness
toward the man. He didn't look fit or active, his paunch clearly showing beneath the white coat. I bet he's never hiked or exercised in his
entire life. Yet athletic David Broughton lay useless, active and sporting David had been cut off in his prime.
He had shaken his head as he stared at the two useless lumps of meat and bone that had once been the vehicle for his adventuring…running,
hiking, swimming, climbing, now distant memories and regret.
Clasping the armrests he dragged the chair into position and heaved his upper body onto the canvas seat as his wasted legs followed. As he
had lost the muscle below his waist his arms and chest had bulked as they took on the responsibility for his daily mobility. From the waist
up he felt like a modern day Goliath or Hercules, but from the waist down, well from the waist down… he simply didn't exist.
After the fall he had sunk deep into the pits of despair. His friends had been supportive but he couldn't escape their looks of pity and
embarrassment. He hadn't needed their pity, since he was wallowing in a mire of his own, and gradually his morose attitude and frequent
black depressions drove them away. He became reclusive and shut out the able-bodied world. He had only been a social drinker before the
fall; his body was a temple and he kept his temple in perfect condition. He would never dream of defiling it with excessive alcohol, but his
temple's foundations had crumbled, so he built a new religion around a bottle. The fiery brown whisky had welcomed him to its bosom and
wrapped him in the warm embrace of oblivion, of forgetfulness, of denial.
His salvation had come when he awoke to find himself sprawled on the cold tiles of his kitchen floor surrounded by a pool of whisky from the
empty bottle in his hand and a sickly stew of his own vomit. For the first time in months he gazed into his own deep blue eyes in the
specially lowered mirror in his bathroom. The dark purple pits told their own story and the vomit matted beard spoke directly to his
“Dear God, what have I become?” he whispered to his haunted reflection. He glanced down at his fingers, black filth encrusted beneath the
long and yellowing nails. His clothes were filthy and unwashed and the strong and nauseating odour reminding him his body was equally devoid
of the benefits of soap and water… and deodorant!
He trembled as he ran scorching water into the bath but it wasn't the effects of the alcohol leaving his body. The trembling originated from
the deep feeling of disgust at what he had allowed himself to become. Cracking the metal perforated seal on the cap of the last of the
spirits, he raised the full bottle to his reflection in the mirror before pouring the golden brown contents into the toilet. “Never again,”
was his silent toast.
He plugged in his hair clippers and attacked the matted growth that ran rampant and unchecked around his face. He didn't restrict his
attentions to the beard alone, and soon his long greasy hair joined the matted beard on the bathroom floor.
Dave soaked and scrubbed as he had never scrubbed before, his fair skin glowing red from the heat and his almost manic desire to remove all
traces of his former bestial condition. Horrified by the ring of scum rapidly forming around the water line, he re-ran a tub full of fresh
clean water. Steam rising from his naked body, he studied his fresh reflection. Better, he thought. His sunken eyes stared back at him
filled with sorrow and self-pity, but now there was a glint of hope mixed in with the despair.
“My life begins again… today,” he told himself.
He wheeled himself to the computer, feeling withdrawn. The able-bodied world outside his small bungalow still reminded him of how much he
had lost, so he built his own reality within the four solid walls. The internet brought the outside world to him in manageable doses. He
could exclude the painful visions of walking and running and jumping, selecting only that fit for his narrow view of life. Home deliveries
had saved him the arduous task of shopping. With a click he could have his weekly needs delivered to his doorstep, now no longer a step but
a ramp supplied by the local council. He didn't need to face the embarrassment of public transport and yet more steps. He had grown to hate
them, since even low steps may as well have been the Great Wall of China to his eyes. They spelt a solicitation from strangers. “Excuse me,
would you mind helping me up this step?” He hated to be dependent on the kindness of others, and so the internet had given him a degree of
independence. It also gave him his livelihood. His old job had disappeared, since during his Johnny Walker days he had constantly ignored
the calls from work. Gradually they had given up trying to contact him but he hadn't cared, he knew he would never return.
He stared at the screen, and the jumble of code that promised him income. He had taken an online course in application programming shortly
after raising his head above the filth and depression that fateful day thirteen months before. To his surprise he had found it easy and was
soon writing simple codes. To his even greater surprise his applications started to sell, and sell quickly. He had found a niche for
himself, a steady income that didn't require legs, only nimble fingers and an equally nimble mind, the only things he had left!
Morning faded into memory and, glancing at the time he realised he had been chasing shadows for hours. He rubbed his tired eyes, as the
lines of code blurred and writhed like snakes.
That's enough for today, he decided, he could hunt for the elusive glitch tomorrow with a fresh eye and perspective. It was his most
complicated project to date and promised him a significant boost to his income if he could only find the elusive gremlin that spitefully
created a crash from time to time. He reduced the window and opened his chat.
Chat had become another welcome aspect of his new housebound reality. He had friends now who didn't pity him, because they didn't have to
look past the disability and the chair before finding the real Dave. He could be whoever he wanted. In his mind and on the screen he could
“Where shall I go today?” he mused as a world map opened on his monitor. “Africa.” He smiled as exotic images filled his mind: flat topped
acacia trees framed upon wide savannah studded with herds of elephant and zebra, round mud houses with grass thatched roofs and colourful
native women. He grinned as he looked at the continent, and a beaded topless image flickered back into his mind. “Masai.” He pictured a tall
and dark warrior complete with spear beside the semi-nude beauty. “I think today I will travel to…” he paused. “Kenya.”
“Start from the beginning,” he told himself as he clicked 'A' on the list of online members. The screen swiftly populated. “Aaron, Abel…”
the list continued. He shook his head, the image of the black skinned and bare breasted woman bedecked with tribal beads hovering in his
imagination. “No, I want to chat with her today.” he decided.
“Ajabu.” he hovered over her profile link. “No photo,” he noticed and moved on.
“Akinyi.” A beautiful dark skinned girl looked back at him from the small icon image. Rapidly he clicked her profile and the image swiftly
“Wow,” was all he could say as he imagined her topless, complete with full tribal regalia. The little dot beside her smiling face glowed a
bright green. She's online now. He smiled as he scrolled down the screen to a small text box. “Send Akinyi a message,” it dared him.
They had chatted for over two hours, and as she had reluctantly taken her leave he chided himself for his earlier imaginings. She’s nice. He
studied her photo again. She was much more than nice, she was beautiful and intelligent and witty. He had started the conversation with
nothing more in mind than a little distraction, a way to relax away from the troublesome code, but after the first fifteen minutes he had
started to pay more attention to her. She had a wonderful mind, so unlike the pointless bimbos he normally chatted with, and his curiosity
grew by the minute, a curiosity tempered with a growing respect. He threw away his usual repertoire of innuendo and double entendre and
concentrated on her written word. She stimulated his mind and he began to develop an overwhelming desire to know more about her. He felt
deflated as her activity icon blinked to grey. Dave closed the list. He didn't want to explore the delights of Kenya any further because he
knew he wouldn't find better. “Until tomorrow, Akinyi,” he whispered as he logged out.
She was online waiting as he connected the following day, and they picked up their conversation as if there had been no nocturnal pause. She
asked him questions about himself and he answered as honestly as he was able. With a renewed resentment he slapped the rubber tyre so close
to his useless leg. I will tell her soon, he promised himself.
The photograph he attached had been taken only weeks before his accident by his ex-girlfriend. He could smile about her now. How quickly she
“Don't worry, baby, I'm here for you. We can get through this together.” She had sat by his hospital bed holding his hand. Her words had
sounded sincere but he caught the deception in her eyes. That had been the last time he had seen her. He hadn't resented her. He wondered
how he would have reacted if their roles had been reversed. Probably a similar outcome, he decided. That was history, this was the present
and his heart sank as he clicked send.
This was a far greater deception. Why didn't he have the spine to reveal the truth to his beautiful new African friend? Would she disappear
like his ex? He knew deep inside she wouldn't. He had no picture of his damaged state, but that was no excuse. Better to send nothing than
send a huge and detailed hi-resolution lie!
He doubled his shame as he expertly hacked her email account in the early hours of the morning a few weeks later. He deluded himself with
the conviction that he just wanted to take a quick peek to make sure she wasn't sending hundreds of messages to other guys, but his
conscience told him he was breaching not only her privacy but also her trust. Nonetheless, the demons inside him drove him on. He found
nothing more than a few innocent messages to a woman in America and a few quick replies to assorted friends. With a heavy heart he signed
her out and wheeled the crushing weight of deserved guilt and shame to his small and empty bed.
His breakfast was more lonely and depressing than he could ever have imagined possible. His conscience had beaten him thoroughly as he
slept, and he deserved the punishment. He knew she was a real person because he spoke to her regularly by phone and she was such a genuine
friend. Why was he so paranoid about her? His insecurity pictured her chatting to hundreds of men, so nice to all of them and caring for
none. Was he one of the hundreds who he imagined all cared about her as deeply as he did? Was she playing games? Receiving their heartfelt
affection and cruelly laughing as she added more conquests to her collection? Of course not. He knew her so well and his early hours
invasion had only confirmed to him what an idiot he was.
How can I do such a thing to the woman I love? He stopped chewing the dry toast as the reality of his thought sank in. He did love her, he
knew it in his heart but it was the first time he had consciously admitted it. “I love her,” he admitted again and his shame and guilt
He felt his worst fears confirmed as they chatted later that morning. She had grown quiet and distant. She knows what I did. He felt it in
“Are you OK?” he typed. Better to accept the responsibility for his actions rather than prolong the uncomfortable silence. “You seem either
very busy or distracted.” He awaited her scathing reply with a sinking heart.
“Sorry Dave,” she replied, “I've just got some stress at the moment, but I'm fine.”
“What stress?” he replied feeling a gleam of hope. Maybe she hadn't discovered his prying. “Anything I can do to help?”
He held his breath as the message floated over the chat window “akinyilakegirl is typing.”
“Please let everything between us be OK,” he prayed.
“I've got a problem with my rent. I hate to ask, but can you help me with a little loan, just until I get things sorted out?”
Dave's heart and spirits soared, “Oh thank you, God!” He clasped his hands and looked to the heavens.
Controlling himself he typed, “How much?” He didn't care what it would cost. He had been reprieved and that was priceless!