The Night We Met
The Night We Met9 mins 214 9 mins 214
The road was bare and so was the sky. The twinkling stars in the vast alluring space mirrored to nothingness, except for one, me. I had taken a road tonight that I didn’t recognize. I had been upset the entire day and I hadn’t returned home yet. The financial issues were eminently disconcerting. My father’s health had been deteriorating ever since he was diagnosed with dementia and now, I was jobless. A simple careless mistake had led me to my doom, and I didn’t even care if this road was my last journey on this cursed planet. My phone buzzed in my pocket, I answered and pitched it against my ear.
“Arun, I hope you are doing fine.”
I recognized the voice, it was indeed ‘The prankster’. It started a few weeks ago; someone called me from an unknown number and talked to me about serial killer documentaries. The person was using a voice changer so there was no way to tell who it was. The call was cut after a few minutes. I ignored it assuming it was one of my friends pulling a prank on me. Since then the person had called me twice and presently this was the third call. He mostly talked about murders and torture. I always recorded these and laughed at them in my idle time. The calls were fairly amusing in their details and almost hilarious in some instances. In the hopes of introducing some humour to my rather sombre day, I kept the call going.
“Have I ever told you about a real incident?” the prankster continued.
I was still walking, oblivious of my surroundings. “I don’t think you have.”
“This was a couple of years ago. I had been stalking a guy for quite some time. One day, when he was absent from his home, I called him and told him to do certain things but he refused. So, I went ahead and described his entire house. His parents were cheerfully watching television and his little sister was playing around with a Barbie doll. The guy was obviously shaken but he tried to act smart. He called it a bluff and refused still and then he cut the call. A grave mistake he made, a grave mistake indeed because that night he returned home to a bloodbath.”
I tried hard to contain my smile. The prankster’s tone was bemusing. He was always so serious but today he was being dramatic.
“Well, that went terribly for that poor guy!” I exclaimed.
There was silence on the other side, just heavy breathing. The prankster did this often to prove a point.
“By the way, what did you ask him to do?”
“You are about to find out.”
I paid no attention to the sudden change in his voice, it should have been my first hint, but I was too done with my day to take anything seriously.
“Guess where I am at, Arun.”
“How could I? You could be anywhere on this goddamn planet!”
There was silence again, just heavy breathing.
“What? Where are you? Are you going to tell me?”
“I am, at the moment, right in front of your house.”
“I can see the petite little balcony you have arranged, I’m sure it must seem beautiful in broad daylight.”
I chuckled, “I see now why the boy was shaken. You sure do your research.”
“Eh, who is that? I see a woman---I’m guessing that’s your mother. She grabbed a phone—oh, she is calling someone—”
The prankster had not even finished when my phone buzzed. I looked at the screen and my heart skipped a beat. It was my mother calling. I snapped into reality, my breathing was uneven, the entire story he had recited came back to haunt me. I wanted to pick up the call and tell her to go back inside and lock the doors---
“You know the drill, don’t cut this call or put it on hold, else I will have to enter,” he spoke dourly. I reluctantly put the phone back against my ear, turned around and strode back the way I came.
“What do you want?” I asked him.
“Well, for instance, I want you to stop walking.”
I froze. How did he know?
“Good, now I want you to describe your surroundings to me.”
I glanced around; there was no one in sight. While talking I hadn’t even realised how I ended up here. The road I was walking on still ran broad but there was an intersection on my right which I had left behind and was facing right now. I saw a girl emerge out of that road and turn left, away from me.
“Do you see anyone?”
“There is—there is a girl”
“Oh, is there now? Where is she headed, towards you or away from you?”
“Away from me.”
“Well, the story of your life. Follow her!”
“Follow the girl.”
“Listen, I can’t just creep on a girl like that, I don’t do those sorts of things!”
“Do I hear a no?”
I fell silent. My heart was palpitating. I didn’t know where this was headed and nor did I want to. But I was far less adventurous to put up against him.
“Good, go ahead.”
But when I looked back up, I almost couldn’t see the girl because she wasn’t alone anymore. There was another man walking behind her. He had a grey flannel shirt and blue jeans on. I froze in a moment of contemplation. Should I tell him about the man? Will he know if I choose not to? Can he really see me or was he just guesstimating? If there was any hope for me in this circumstance, I would not give it up that easily. I chose not to tell him.
I started walking, but I kept my distance. I didn’t want them to be aware of me yet.
“How further behind are you?” the prankster asked.
“I can’t run, she’ll hear me!”
Silence with heavy breathing.
“Gosh! I am trying!”
All three of us were walking in a straight line. The girl followed by the man in the blue jeans, followed by me. What I feared the most in this scenario was that the man in the blue jeans might turn corners or maybe stop for a while and then I’ll have to move in closer to the girl. But thankfully that hadn’t happened yet.
“What is it that I am doing exactly?”
“You will know once you are close enough.”
The man in the blue jeans was still behind the girl, closing in. I felt something was not right about it. There was some tension between them; he wasn’t crossing her for some reason, just keeping pace and then in a moment of epiphany, I knew. He was pursuing the girl. At that moment, on that street, there were two perpetrators, two victims and two witnesses all cheek by jowl. My heart was racing. I didn’t know what to do anymore.
I didn’t reply.
“I am fairly close,” I whispered, “I can’t talk anymore, I will give myself away!”
“Not a problem, go ahead and grab her hand.”
“What?” my voice was strained.
“You heard it.”
“What the hell? What do you want from me?”
“I think I just told you.”
I said nothing. A few seconds later I heard my doorbell ring.
“No, wait, please!” I shivered.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There are two ways things could go tonight, I could protect the girl by confronting the man in the blue jeans or I could save my family by abusing her. If I grabbed the girl, the man following her would be a witness to harassment. There would be no coming back from this. But I had no choice. I took a deep breath and braced myself and then, the girl turned to her right and stepped into an alleyway. I stopped in my tracks, the man in the blue jeans didn’t. I had a weird feeling in my stomach, I knew what was impending and I was helpless.
“Are you having second thoughts?”
“She stepped into an alley.”
“She just abruptly turned and stepped into an alley; I couldn’t approach her.”
“Go in right now; you have sixty seconds; did you hear me?”
I swallowed, nodded to myself. This had to be done. I turned and strode in. The alley was occasionally lit, I was almost running; the path at the end branched off two ways. I didn’t know which one to take. I looked in either direction, it was quiet. I stepped right. I walked for a few metres before I came across a lump on the ground, it was sprawled, motionless. I dipped down and took a closer look. It was the man in the blue jeans. My heart was beating so hard; I couldn’t hear anything else at that moment. My eyes gradually adjusted to the dark and I saw he was lying in a pool of blood. There were holes in his neck through which blood was silently sputtering out. Mouth agape I stared at his dead body. I could barely breathe.
“Are you pursuing me?”
I jumped and turned around sharply. My phone fell out of my hands in shock. The girl stood in front of me, her face had smears of blood all over it. She was glaring at me with bloodshot eyes.
“No—no, please, don’t kill me. I—I didn’t want to, I—didn’t---”
I was whimpering, my voice was barely audible.
Her face softened a bit at my outbreak.
“I am not a murderer. He tried to force me, so I jabbed my pen at him, I didn’t know he would die!” Her voice broke. “He was ogling me at the park, so I decided to walk back home but he started following me. I thought of taking a shortcut, but he pounced on me. I had my pen clasped in my hands. What was I supposed to do?”
She glanced at her hands, tears forming in her eyes, they were blood red. I looked at her. There was genuine pain and shock there. She wiped her tears off and stared at me.
“Why are you here?”
And that’s when I recalled, my phone had been on the entire time. I grabbed it and checked but the call had been hung up. I had no idea how much he had heard.
“We need to go!” I said urgently.
“Please! We need to leave this place right now!”
I felt responsible. I was responsible. She did what she had to do because I was being a coward who couldn’t stop a crime even when I knew about it, and now I had brought more trouble on her because of whatever was heard on the phone. And all that just because I received a threat from some random caller which might not even be genuine. That call ended up being cut anyway. I had done a mistake and I had to make it right. After everything that had gone wrong today, this one had to be right.
I looked her in the eye, “Please trust me, we must leave; now!”
She gazed at me for a long moment, and then she nodded.
We walked out of the alley, side by side. Above, the twinkling stars in the vast alluring space mirrored to nothingness but two, her and me.
Atharva closed the diary.
“But papa, did you ever find out who the prankster was?”
Arun smiled, “After that night I never heard from him again and I couldn’t care less. No one ever knew about your mother’s secret, I preserved it all my life and that day, despite everything you read, is still by far, the best day of my life.”