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  • Writer's pictureanjali mohapatra

The stranger

The pitter patter of the rain was interminable as I stared at the fat droplets of water race their way down my window. It was a fine day to stay at home, unfortunately my parents didn't agree and had left for another one of their “very important” meetings. The thunder and lightning did little to soothe my nerves at staying home alone. In a feeble attempt to distract myself from the churning in my gut, I pressed my face against the window, listening carefully to the rain. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter. The sound got monotonous when suddenly the doorbell broke through it, clear and high.

My parents!

And then he burst in. In my rush to open the door, I failed to realise that it was too early for the meeting to be over.

The man was tall and dripping wet. Blood rushed in my ears and fear threatened to choke me as the stranger stood in between me and the closed, now locked, door. My mouth fell open to scream, but he stifled it with a meaty hand. My blood had never felt so cold.

‘Shh…don't shout,’ he whispered, his body hunched down to my height. Gently, he removed his hand and I rushed backwards, stumbling into the table and letting out a pained yowl. The man took a step forward, seemingly to help me, but the fear on my face must have stopped him.

‘W-who are you?’I stuttered, this was no good. I tried to pull myself together, to show the stranger that I wasn't afraid, but there was no masking the terror.

‘Relax! I am not going to harm to you. Please, don't shout. Just for few minutes, please, I need to be safe!’, he had backed up against the door as well. We both stood still and I took a good look at him. Tall but not muscular, he had a slight frame and didn't look any older than 27. His eyes darted here and there and there was no mistaking the emotion reflected in them. The way he'd pressed himself into the corner and tried hunch to take less space, it was clear. He was afraid.

This struck me as odd, why would he be afraid? Yet it was impossible for the anxiety written all over his haunt face to be anything else. My nerves settle slightly at this. He was dripping all over the hallway, so I gingerly handed him a paper towel making sure to keep a large distance between us. He might be afraid but I refused to take any chances.

The silence continued and it would've been easy for me to run to the nearest phone and call my parents, the police, anyone who could help…but he was afraid and I wanted to know why. Taking a deep breath I beckoned him over to the table.

We sat at opposite ends, the long table between us being distance enough. He tapped mindless patterns on the teak surface and my fingers clutched the heavy trophy I'd managed to slip from the mantelpiece under the table. The silence would have continued all night had he not broken it first.

“Are your parents home?”

I considered lying to him, telling him that they were close by, but he had seen the fear on my face and the lack of a response to my initial shout of pain. The question was odd and I considered for a moment whether this stranger is not as bright as he seemed. Silence answered his question, I refused to indulge him.

“Right, that was foolish, it’s obvious you're alone here. Don't be afraid, I promised not to hurt you.”

“May I ask you something?”

“Yes, of course!”, he perked up, waiting for the question.

“Why are you afraid?” There was no point in beating around the bush, my knuckles had gone white, fingers wrapped tight around the trophy. Chills still ran down my spine, I wanted him to leave. I needed my answer now.

He paused, considering the question. It was clear he hadn't expected me to be so direct. He took another minute, carefully choosing each word, “I was afraid of you, I am running from some cops, and I feared you'd bring me to them. My only crime was being forgetful.”

Being forgetful?

My phone buzzed faintly, the sound reaching us from the main hallway where it lay, cracked. My mind was thrumming with different strategies and plans on making the curious stranger leave, yet my curiosity burned brighter and before I knew it, my mouth moved on its own, asking why.

“I entered the wrong compartment of the train -first class- and the conductor caught me, asking for my ticket. My pockets were empty and I couldn't pay the fine so I did the only thing possible, I jumped out as soon as the train slowed down. However, it seems something had happened in a different compartment, a murder, the local police saw me running and assumed that crime was linked to me.”

My fear dissipated at this, if this story is true, then I'm simply dealing with a bumbling fool. A murder… it could be that he was lying and he actually was the murderer and I may have someone far more dangerous in my house.

“-and then I rang the door bell of the first house I came across. Hey? Are you listening?”

Drat! I got distracted by my own terror gripped thoughts. I nodded as earnestly as possible but he didn't seem to believe it. He narrowed his eyes, “You don't believe me, do you?”

“No, no. Of course I do. I do believe you,” the words tumbled out as heart started beating erratically. My fingers had lost all blood, sweaty palms pressed against the cool metal of the trophy.

During the conversation, his eyes constantly drifted towards the clock. It had already been an hour and a half, there was no message from my parents. That made me a little uneasy.

Another 30 minutes passed in tense silence when suddenly he jerked upwards, “Yeah! I won, I won! Thank you so much miss, for your kind cooperation!”

I sat frozen, uncomprehending of his words.

He smiled at me, waved his hand and only said, ‘I will let you know tomorrow. Thanks again, bye’

He shot out of the door, abruptly leaving me numb with shock. Who was this crazy fool? What had I done?

Sleep didn't come easy that night, I refrained from telling my parents about that madman, no harm had been done. I mulled over his words for a good portion of the night before exhaustion pulled me into a fitful sleep.

I awoke to a text from an unknown number.

It read: “Dear Miss, thank you! I am sorry for any terror I might have caused, I couldn't disclose the truth yesterday. I had a bet with my friend, your neighbour Ashish. He bet that if I managed to spend two hours with you, he would pay for all my expenses to go to Singapore. It was simply too tempting for me to not accept. The only condition was that I didn't enlist your help for succeeding the bet. I apologise again for scaring you. Truth is, I was afraid as well, I was entering a strangers house rather abruptly, anything could have gone wrong. I am glad it ended the way it did. Thank you for not calling the police onto me!”

I let out a deep sigh. All that terror, all that fear I had felt yesterday, it was for some foolish bet? So it really was a bumbling fool I was dealing with? I resolved to let rationality win out against curiosity the next time I had to deal with such a silly situation. Deep in my heart, I was glad that it was only a fool I dealt with.

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