A friend of mine showed me how to use Google Maps. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It lets you use satellite images to look at locations all over the world. A few years ago, I was in a car accident. Since then, I really don’t leave the house that often. It’s difficult, and the idea of a seeing a car drive by me makes me feel lightheaded. I was fascinated by the fact that I could see all over the world, almost like being there. I could virtually walk down the streets, and it almost felt like I was really there.
I became instantly hooked. It gave me a real eye on the world. I could go to almost any major city, and I did. I’d seen streets in China, Japan, Germany, and England... so many places. I’d even gone to tourist attractions like the Great Barrier Reef and Dracula’s castle.
My favorite was to go to random places in major cities and see how many people and animals I could find. The faces of the people were always blurred to protect their privacy, but it was still enjoyable to see them out there, enjoying their life, walking like it was no big deal.
“She must have good taste,” I laughed.
I zoomed in closer and noticed the grey bag she carried on a grey and purple shoulder strap. She was walking in a relaxed manner, one hand trailing the wall beside her. I bet if I could have seen her face, I would see that she was smiling. I began to feel a little sad. I let my hands fall onto the arms of my wheelchair and looked at her for a minute more. I wished that I could be there, walking so carefree with her. That wouldn’t happen though, until I died. I was stuck in this chair. I sighed and zoomed out of Tokyo. Enough of this for tonight. I turned off the computer and went to bed.
I got up early and decided to look around Paris. Paris was always fun. I liked the look of the city, with all of the old, beautiful buildings and so many people to watch. I randomly zoomed to an area and saw a street, lined with old brick buildings, a few small shops, and an old tan brick church. Ahead was an intersection, and dozens of people walked by. A balding businessman walked quickly past, looking back at an old woman, hair covered with a scarf, carrying a large purse. A curvy woman in black pants that were too tight stared into a store window, and two women led a group of small children around a corner.
I spun the view around a few more times, and then saw something peculiar. Sitting on the bench at the bus stop, were two people. One of them was a young woman with her feet stuck in front of her in a relaxed manner. She was wearing a pair of red sneakers, like my own. I was startled for a moment; as I noticed the black pants, white t-shirt, and black hooded jacket. Her dark brown hair was tied loosely behind her head. A grey bag sat on the bench beside her, the shoulder strap hooked over her shoulder.
“This is crazy,” I thought. “It can’t possibly be the same woman. This is a different country, different continent even. How could it be her?”
This was stupid. It wasn’t as if these were live photographs. They were taken ahead of time and then stored. It’s not like she was in two places at once. She could just be a traveler. Besides, without seeing her face, it was impossible to tell it was the same person. Brown hair was probably the most common hair color in the world. Those red sneakers were something I purchased online. I’m sure a million other people did too. I shook my head and went to fix some lunch.
When I got back online, I decided to look at Berlin. I picked a random street, as usual. It looked pretty empty. There were brick buildings lining the streets, looking more like factories than anything else. There were also empty lots, full of long grass and piled gravel. There wasn’t much to see at all, really. There was a line of motorbikes and a car with two German flags sticking up from it. After more searching, I found one kid. He looked like he was dressed for school, a jacket thrown over his bag. He was intently looking at some kind of mobile device. I was disappointed. I started to leave, but then I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I turned the view, and there they were. Those damned red sneakers.
She was standing on a street corner, next to some kind of signpost. She had a hand on the post, looking down the street, as if waiting to cross the street. I stared, in shock. How could she be there too? Even if she was traveling, there’s no way I would find her every time. Even finding her in Paris would have been one heck of a coincidence, but this? This was crazy. Was this some kind of joke? Had Google decided to play a prank on its users that used their product so much? It would have been a great joke...
I did a quick search, looking for a note about a woman that shows up like Waldo. There was nothing. I looked through articles on strange things you can see on Google Maps, but none of them mentioned the woman that travels the world with you. This was crazy. Had my self-imposed isolation driven me mad? Had I become so lonely that I created a hallucination for myself?
Leaving the Berlin image on my screen, I sent a text message to a friend, asking him to look at the locations. I asked him if he saw the same woman. Then I waited, hands sweating, heart thumping in my chest. I jumped when my phone beeped with a return text message, ten minutes later.
The text read, “I see the lady you’re talking about in Berlin. I didn’t see her in Paris or Tokyo. Is this some kind of game, or what? Are you okay?”
I didn’t respond, instead returning to the locations in Tokyo and Paris. There she was. She was there, but it was different. She no longer sat on the bus-stop bench, in Paris. She was standing in front of it, looking for something in her bag. In Tokyo, she was blocks away, squatting down to pet that calico cat. I shivered. Who was she? What was happening?
I switched the map to Brussels. It was another city street. It was lined with old looking buildings, with shops on the ground level, and what I guessed was apartments above. I quickly scanned the streets. They were empty, other than a stocky woman in a bright blue sweater. I did a second sweep. She wasn’t there. I sighed in relief. I couldn’t believe I was getting so worked up about this.
It was nothing but a coinci— I stopped, my eyes frozen on the screen. There was a building at the point of a fork in the road, white with a black-ironwork-framed balcony jutting from the second floor. I hadn’t seen her, as I had been looking at the sidewalks. There she stood, standing on the balcony, her head tilted in the direction of the camera, almost like she was coyly looking toward me. My breath caught in my throat.
I switched to Sydney. She was leaning against the wall, inside the doorway of a bright blue Carricks Pharmacy building. London showed her getting ready to step onto a red double-decker bus, her head turned to look over her shoulder. She was everywhere I looked. She stood on a brick sidewalk on a bridge in Venice, she walked across a yellow barred crosswalk in Zurich; and in Hong Kong, and she stood between a Wing Lung Bank and a McDonald’s adjusting the strap on her bag. In each picture, she came closer and closer to looking directly at me with her blurred out face.
My heart felt like a terrified bird, slamming around inside my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t call the police. Should I send screenshots to Google?
I clenched my fists tightly and closed my eyes. Who was she? Was she following me? Was I following her? I wish I could see the expression on her face, know what she saw when she looked back at me. I wanted to get out of the chair and run. Why is it that the only thing that made me feel free again, was the thing that made me feel even more trapped? I had to know.
I typed in the name of my town and zoomed into a random street. It was a couple of miles from my house; the gates to the city park were shown in the clarity of daylight, despite it being night here. There she was. There... There she was. She was only a few miles from my house, standing under the ironwork arch that stated the name of the park. She looked directly at the camera, directly at me. I felt like I might throw up. She was near me, and she was watching me. She was coming for me. What did she want?
I typed in the name of the apartment complex where I live. I could see the outside of the building. The parking lot was full of cars, and there were a few blurred out children on the playground. I searched everywhere for her. She wasn’t in the parking lot or on the sidewalks, not hiding between the buildings or standing in the playground. I even scanned each of the cars, behind the bushes, and each of the blurred windows. She wasn’t there. I curled tightly around myself and lay my head down on the desk.
This place was safe. I didn’t leave the apartment anyway. I would never use Google Maps again. I would never see her again. She could stay at the park for all I cared. I smiled to myself and was surprised to find a tear slipping down my face.
“I’m safe,” I said to myself in a whisper. It felt good to hear it out loud. “I’m safe.”
As I said it, there was a knock at the door. A chill ran down my spine. I had a camera hooked to my computer that showed who was at the front door, which made it easier for me, with my mobility issues. I slowly reached for the control to show myself who was outside, but my hand trembled furiously. As I touched the control, I realized my mistake. The last of Google’s images that I’d seen had only shown the outside of the building. Just the outside.
I looked at the screen and saw a woman in a white t-shirt, black pants, black hooded jacket; and carrying a grey bag with a purple and grey striped shoulder strap. Of course, there were those red sneakers. She looked directly at the camera, her face still a complete blur. As I tried to stifle a scream, she raised a hand and knocked loudly on my front door.