She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood-stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf.
It hadn’t been long since she had come, ordered her drink, and cautiously taken the seat next to the window at the Starbucks.
“Why isn’t Aman here yet?” she wondered.
Just then as if answering her thoughts her phone rang, breaking the silence.
She hurriedly grabbed her phone, the screen showed the caller’s identity. It was Aman.
“Aisha, come out right now”, he said.
Aisha could sense the urgency in his tone. She gathered her belongings, carefully took the wrapped knife, and dumped it in her handbag without exposing it.
Aman was waiting in his car. He started the engine and drove off as soon as Aisha got in. In all the years that Aisha had known him, she had never seen him so tense and unnerved.
She could clearly remember the day they had met for the first time. It was at the same Starbucks. Aisha was a grad student then and had come there to relax with her friends and Aman used to draw caricatures of the people who visited. Aman often said that it was love at first sight. Life had been bliss ever since. Everything had been so perfect, and they were to be married in a couple of months. Why did things have to take such an ugly turn?
It had all started a couple of months back. Aman used to drop her home every day, but one day he was running a bit late and so Aisha had to walk home. She was almost nearing her home when she realized that someone had been following her all along. She turned around, but couldn’t find anyone. A bit perturbed she had gone home and narrated the incident to her mother.
Sareena, Aisha’s mother never really paid attention to her daughter. And as usual, had just nodded her head and continued reading the latest edition of Filmfare. Later in the evening, Aman had called to check on her and Aisha discussed the incident with him. He laughed it off and asked her to keep her imagination at bay. The next couple of days had passed off peacefully as Aman was always with her.
A week later Aisha had gone to a shop nearby and was walking back home when she felt the eerie presence again. This time she was quick to turn back only to see a man hurrying away.
At first, Aisha had dismissed it as a coincidence, but for the next few days, she observed that a shadow constantly followed her. She could sense him hiding in the alleys, watching her as she arrived home. She had tried mentioning it to Aman, but it was as if her words wouldn’t penetrate his ears.
Mustering all her courage Aisha had even tried chasing the guy. It had to be a guy she had concluded, “How else could he run so fast?”
Her mind was in chaos, old fears had started haunting her. As a child she had been molested by a distant relative, the trauma had left her scarred and she often had nightmares about it. After years of therapy, she had finally gained the confidence to live freely, but now she could no longer sleep.
One day, after hours of pleading, Aman had finally listened to her and promised that he would look into it. Aman had asked her to walk home that day and silently followed her. He had almost reached halfway when he suddenly heard the sound of heavy boots. He had turned around only to see the silhouette of a man on the wall. Assuring that Aisha was at a safe distance, he had started chasing the guy. From what Aman could see, he was a tall guy and was wearing a really large coat that covered him from head to toe. Aman couldn’t catch up and had to give up the chase midway. Worried he had run the whole way back to Aisha’s house checked all the doors and windows and called Karan, a friend of his who worked with the police department.
The next morning they had registered an official complaint at the nearest police station. Aisha was being stalked, but there was nothing to worry now as the police had been involved. However, Aman had taken her to a shop nearby and bought Pepper spray and a knife and asked her to keep it in her bag always.
Aisha had been shaken by the turn of events, there was a stalker! But, she was not even a celebrity.
“What did he want?” she wondered.
Days went by, she was mostly accompanied by Aman and so the stalker hardly appeared. Some days however she could see the man watching her room standing in the dark. A cold shiver ran down her spine. One day even Sareena felt that she was being followed, that, however, was her imagination.
For almost a week now, there had been no sign of the man and Aisha had finally felt at ease. Now that the stalker was no longer around, she could finally walk around without fear. She could now freely go to the shops in the neighbourhood without being stalked. Things had fallen back into place now.
Aman had called Aisha this morning and asked her to meet him at the Starbucks nearby. She had been excited to meet him and was ready to leave in almost thirty minutes. She had just walked a few steps when she heard the footsteps behind her. The pattern sounded very familiar. Aisha held her handbag near her chest and started walking faster. The footsteps that followed her grew faster too. As she walked, she could feel the knife in her bag moving around.
Aisha was almost running now, but the man wouldn’t give up. Right ahead there was a corner. Impulsively and out of fear, Aisha pulled the knife out. She knew that the building at the corner had a huge pillar. She ran as fast as she could and hid behind it. The man followed her but was perplexed on not finding her anywhere. He was a large man. His face was almost covered by the huge hat that he wore and his coat covered him from head to toe. Aisha held her breath and sat huddled behind the pillar. The man was looking around for her now. Anytime now he would find her, she had to make a run in the direction of her house before that.
Suddenly her phone started vibrating, Aisha had been caught. The man could hear the vibrations too. She held the knife in one hand and picked her phone with the other. It was Aman on the other end.
Voice failed her, the man was now standing in front of her. His eyes were bloodshot. Aisha waved the knife at him and tried to run towards the other side. The man was quicker. He blocked her path and cornered her. Now she was stuck between the wall and man’s huge frame. All she could do was cry out loud.
The man snatched her phone and threw it away. Aisha dropped the knife she was holding. The man picked the knife and started laughing. His teeth were all broken. Up close she could see his rugged face, the patched-up clothes that he wore, and the peculiar odour that emanated from his body.
Suddenly he held the knife up, Aisha closed her eyes in fear.
She stood like that for a long time. The sound of footsteps and a slow moaning sound brought her back to her senses. Aisha opened her eyes, to see the man lying in a pool of blood. Her feet trembled and she sat down, the man was alive and was trying to speak to her.
“You are not her, you are not her.” Is all that she could hear.
“Aisha….Aisha”, it was Aman’s voice. He had come for her.
Aman had been waiting for her at Starbucks and had called to ask her to hurry. The sound of Aisha’s shriek had paralyzed him for a fraction of second. The next moment he was on his feet and had started running towards Aisha’s house. He prayed fervently that she be alright.
And then at the second corner near her house, he found her huddled near the wall, a man next to her and a pool of blood. Afraid that Aisha was hurt, he ran to her. He had to almost pick her up. She was cold and was shivering.
“Aisha, are you alright? Are you hurt somewhere?” Aman asked, all at once.
Having seen Aman, Aisha was now able to think clearly. That’s when she recalled that the man was still alive.
“Dial 108,” she said. The man is still alive.
Aman quickly sat down and checked if the man was breathing. The breathing was weak, but he still had a chance. He saw the knife he had given to Aisha lying on the floor covered with blood. Quickly he pulled the blue scarf Aisha had around her neck and picked the knife carefully and wrapped it up and put it in her bag.
He hesitated in calling the ambulance, but Aisha asked him to hurry. Without really stating the cause he called for an ambulance and after giving them the directions motioned Aisha to walk with him. He decided to take her to Starbucks, a crowded place would help her gather her wits, and a cup of coffee would calm her. During the walk, Aisha described to him what had happened.
Aman was relieved to know that Aisha had not stabbed the man, but the question now was the reason behind all of the events that had traversed. On reaching Starbucks he had ordered a coffee for Aisha and asked her to wait for him there.
Once outside Starbucks Aman called Karan and narrated the events to him. He then took his car and rushed towards the place where it had all happened. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later. Having assured that the man was still alive Aman went back to pick Aisha.
Aisha’s innocence was now in the hands of the man. He had to come back to his senses soon.
On the way to the hospital, Aman instructed Aisha to be calm and explain the incident in detail to Karan who would meet them at the hospital. Karan was waiting for them outside the hospital. He had gone ahead and confirmed the man’s identity.
The man’s name was Mohan. His ID card held the address of a village nearby. Karan had briefed the nearest police station and instructed them to run a background check. In the meantime, doctors had managed to stop the bleeding. The injury was minor, but having lost a lot of blood Mohan was still unconscious.
Aman had called Sareena and asked her to come to the hospital. Aisha broke down in her mother’s arms. She was almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The police had come and taken Aisha’s statement, the cross-questioning had drained her. She would be held a culprit until Mohan gave his statement.
After a couple of hours, the police station near Mohan’s Village had called Karan. They had found Mohan’s house, but he had no relatives. The neighbours had reported him to be missing a few months back. The records said that he was a widower and that his only daughter had been killed almost a year ago in the city.
The findings left them even more puzzled. Wondering what to do next, they all waited for Mohan to gain consciousness.
Aisha could feel the pain that a father must have felt on the loss of his only daughter. She watched Mohan through the glass window, and suddenly he stirred. Aisha called for the doctors immediately.
Mohan woke up to see a crowd around him. He was scared and tried to run, but was restrained by the tubes attached to him. Scared he started yelling.
Aisha heard the commotion and ran in.
“They won’t hurt you Mohan”, she said soothingly.
On hearing her voice, Mohan looked up.
“Come behind me Sashi, I won’t let them hurt you…I won’t let them hurt you.” Saying this Mohan collapsed.
In the meantime, Karan had been investigating about Mohan and had asked for his daughter’s death report.
Mohan’s daughter Sashi, was an intelligent girl who had passed engineering entrance with high scores and had been admitted to a big college in the city. The proud father had reluctantly sent her away. Every vacation he would personally escort her home, but during her third-year vacations, Sashi had insisted on travelling with her friends. When Sashi had not arrived even after a day, Mohan had reported at the police station but the staff there had asked him to wait for a day or so. He had waited for two days, but on the third day, he had been called by the police only to state that a girl had been found at the river nearby and he had to go for identifying the body.
Mohan’s life had ended then and there. Post-mortem reports stated that she had been raped and then drowned to death. After months of isolation, Mohan had lost his senses and set out in search of his daughter’s killers.
Days passed and Mohan’s condition showed no change. The court declared Mohan to be mentally ill and unfit to act as a witness, and Aisha was exempted from any charges as the knife had Mohan’s fingerprints and her statements clearly matched the evidence and there were no witnesses to testify otherwise.
Sareena started to volunteer for helping children who had been abused. The incident had opened her eyes and made her aware of the negligence she had shown towards her duties so far.
Mohan’s story deeply touched their hearts and so, Aisha and Aman decided to get him treated. In the due course of treatment, doctors were able to find that Mohan had started following Aisha because her voice resembled that of Sashi’s. In her voice, he had found the hope to live and he followed her around.
Six months later, Aisha and Aman got married. Life was better now. The goodness of few had changed the lives of many. Mohan had found his daughter again in Aisha and had a reason to live now. Karan reopened Sashi’s murder case and was dedicatedly in the lookout for the culprit. Sareena spent her days serving the society, and Aman and Aisha started a trust to take care of parents who had lost their children under unnatural circumstances.