Otherwise the commute is hard going. Harder than hard. The days are long enough. Usually it’s music. Your own music. As far as anything really is your own music these days. But still, you’ve salvaged something: the running order at least, or some sort of unifying theme to your playlist. But not today. It just won’t sync. You glance out through the wrap around to your left as you cruise up to the summit of the slip-road, wary of the stop start traffic in front and behind you, greenery and mauve moors just visible in the late autumn sun, tendrils of mist, smog more likely, snaking above the fields as you descend, not out to the countryside but from one elevated motorway to another that runs beneath it, your slow arc at the roundabout giving you the cover you need to disconnect your device and resort, dejected, to the radio. A hostage to its digital bombardment, anything, anything rather than be left to your own thoughts now, at the end of a day like today.
Presenter: So tell me, how did you know Eleri?
Guest (John): We grew up together, went to the same primary…
Presenter: Were you friends or did you just know of each other?
John: Yeah, we were very very close friends – in fact we grew so thick we were like family, really…
Presenter: Unusual for boy and girl at that age?
John: Yeah, I guess so… It was and it wasn’t, it stemmed from when we were very young, I mean we lived on the same street, we were in the same class, we just grew up knocking around together, you know? When you’re that age you don’t acknowledge the differences as you do, say, when you’re in your teens, you know?
Presenter: So things changed when you grew up and moved to high school?
John: Well, only in the sense that… we used to joke and our families used to joke, when we were little kids, that we were brother and sister, you know? We were never apart. If I was playing football, Eleri would join in, if she was heading up the street in her mam’s high heels, a hundred sizes too big for her, I’d be somehow pushing her doll’s pram behind her, you know, spent a lot of time together, they were more innocent days, you’d be out on the front for a while after tea before bed time. But you get to high school, grow up a bit, get a bit self-conscious of yourself, boys and girls, you know, suddenly you’re seeing all these boundaries, things change…
Presenter: Suddenly you’re filling out those shoes that were once too big?
John: I guess so, you could put it that way. But we were still massively close. I mean all the major events in my life up until I was about sixteen, Eleri was there, you know, and vice versa.
Presenter: Family get-togethers? That sort of thing?
John: Everything, really. Even in sport. I got quite into my football at that point, on the school team and playing for the local team on Saturdays. We’d play in the more prestigious games and she’d be there with my mam and dad, you know, and sometimes her dad and brother… And when she started on stage, we’d be there watching her as well, supporting each other. She was just so easy to talk to, there was never any side to her, you know, she just took things as they came. She was always really diligent with her studies, from an early age she was always streets ahead of me, you know? But it wasn’t like she was locked in her room or anything, leading some reclusive inner life, she was dead open and friendly, involved with a lot of community events – she’d never instigate them but she’d always find time to play a part.
Presenter: Do you ever look back now and think exactly that, John – maybe all along she was playing a part?
(Protracted radio silence)
John: I’ve thought about that, I’ve thought about that a lot, obviously, in the last few months… And it’s just as I said to the authorities really, I mean I’ve no qualms about saying it again because it’s just my honest view, but I never saw her as having any ulterior motives, no parallel life like some of the others have been shown to have recently, there were no subversive tendencies whatsoever so far as I could see and I knew her better than most. I think until she left for university she was exactly the person I thought she was.
Presenter: And that’s when your relationship changed, right? When Eleri went to university? Something happened there that struck some kind of nerve inside her and that was when she started to disappear?
John: I would agree with that, yeah. I mean, we all went our separate ways, everyone in our circle, really – universities, jobs, college… But although Eleri kept in touch, relatively, communication just fell off a cliff.
Presenter: How do you mean?
John: The calls got less and less frequent whether she was calling or I was – she rarely answered. She stopped using Kaistro pretty instantly so no-one knew who was in her House anymore, she did say early on that she’d reported a technical fault with the app but it was never resolved which seems weird, then I heard there had been written warnings sent home to her parents’ place saying that she’d failed to appear on the live-mapping of her halls at night on so many occasions that she was in danger of forfeiting her place on the course…
Presenter: And this was all out of the blue? It must’ve come as quite a shock to you?
John: Yeah, it did, I mean it just didn’t make sense and of course it was hard to find anything out for sure, I didn’t want to to believe the rumours, you know?
Presenter: And then you must’ve been surprised when she started contacting you – how did that come about?
John: Originally it was a simple “hi” in a text from a number that wasn’t in my contacts.
Presenter: And just to be clear for the listeners, knowing it’s illegal to reply to an unknown user you ignored it… but you didn’t alert the authorities, right?
John: That’s right. Looking back it was naive really. I just thought it was some sort of spam or glitch. I know that’s meant to be impossible – the system is supposed to filter all that, but I really didn’t think that much of it to be honest and I’m pretty busy at work, we’d just had Arthur too, I just forgot about it afterwards.
Presenter: But then Eleri activated your phone through a back door probe and suddenly there’s all this communication from your old friend – how did you react?
John: Well, I knew most of what had occurred by that time. She’d been on the news, friends and family had been saying to me – have you seen this stuff about Eleri? She’s cammo, she’s underground etc etc. At first I couldn’t believe it but I don’t know, there was something strange about what was happening to her when she left. I guess it’s easier to see now in retrospect but it’s no easier to understand.
Presenter: And what did you say to her when she told you?
John: I just said, you know, are you okay? Do you know you’re all over the news? I was just really worried about her really.
Presenter: And what did she say?
John: Not surprisingly she didn’t give anything away, just said not to worry, she’d found a way to be herself. We had a long number of exchanges about this, sporadically, over several days. She said she’d used Deletian face paint to thwart recognition from the scanners, I mean I didn’t even know the stuff existed! She had started attending an anonymous rendezvous with a larger community at night, making repeated journeys into the woods – she wouldn’t reveal any locations, obviously. But most of all she was proud of their – she called them uniforms- hand crafted garments, customised to obscure, well … the human form really and help them to avoid detection. It’s hard to take in even now if I’m honest.
Presenter: And that was when you found the authorities breaking down your door, you were arrested and questioned by the police for liaising with a Hidden.
John: I’ve never been so frightened in my life.
Presenter: But they re-traced all the communications and you were released eventually and cleared of any involvement, rather seen as another victim of this irresponsible and dangerous cult? How do you feel now? Eleri died resisting drones on the periphery, I mean you must miss the friend you had for so many years?
John: To be honest, the friend I had for all those years disappeared a long time ago. Every time she went into those woods, hiding from the screens, from the scanners and the trackers… it just ended up that it was her that was lost. By the time this all happened, the Eleri I knew no longer existed.
Where The City Can’t See
19th September 2015