The mall in front of the bus-stop sparkled with lights. It was the last week of December, the week of festivities. The mall, though the largest in the city, was cluttered with people scurrying from place to place, store to store. And everyone was prepared. The people had saved money for the occasion, and the stores had been waiting for the week the whole year. The toy shops were full of Santa figures, for boys and Santa dolls, dolls clad in Santa’s clothes,for girls. The wine stores brandished the best liquor available in town, 22-year old Whyte & Mackay. Women clothing were highly overpriced, though thelingerie shops were overladen with an amazingly sexy winter collections. I know nothing of the other stores, because these were the only ones I went to.
I was waiting for the bus after returning from Monica’s place when I noticed the mall, glittering on the pretext of the upcoming festivals. Now, I am not someone who gets very excited on these events. I generally creep into silent corners on these occasions while my family goes out to parties, sipping my scotch and pondering over things I have to do/done/not done and sometimes over the state of relationship with my wife. We used to have a loving relationship, but then, we used to. Now all it is about is work, and children, and work, and yes, body aches, not feeling well, not in the mood, and tired-feelings. I have thought many-a-times of dissolving my marriage, but then the thought of my children comes to the mind and I mow the negativities like unwanted weeds. I like my children. I don’t exactly love them, but maybe, I don’t know, maybe I have little knowledge of love.
Anyway, I noticed my empty hands as I waited for the bus to come. It was the eve of Christmas, and everyone on the bus-stop had their hands full. It would be a good thing to take some gifts, I thought.
I bought a nice dress for my wife, toys for my pair of boy and girl, and the scotch for myself. As I was about to leave the mall, my eyes fell on the sexiest piece of lingerie I have ever seen in my life. It was beau…no, describing it as beautiful is an insult. But the moment I saw it, I knew I had to buy it. Monica would sure look heavenly in these!
I felt the weight in my hands as I waited for the bus to come. Nice. It’s always good to blend in with the crowd. Anyway, the bus came. Fortunately enough for me I got a seat by the window.
It was while paying the ticket checker that I noticed the boy seated diagonally to me on the other side. There was nothing exceptional about him, nothing worth mentioning. The only fact that got me interested in him was that he was looking at me. Or so I thought.
His eyes moved fast as mine met his, and that’s exactly what got me startled. I looked at him closely, staring at him for some time, trying to remember him. Nothing, not a clue. I was sure I had not seen him before. He looked calm, seated in a corner and not doing anything except for looking around. I kept looking at him, when suddenly he met my gaze again and as swiftly moved away his eyes. I had a feeling something was wrong.
Is this guy following me? When did he get into the bus? I tried to think, pressing my mind with all my might. He was there at the same bus-stop. Yes, he got into the bus just before me.
A thousand thoughts flashed in my mind.
How long has this guy been following me? Who put him up to it? Did he see me at Monica’s place? Oh My God! Did my wife put him up to it?
Lines, laden with tension appeared on my forehead, glistening with sweat-beads. I knew I had been too careless. I knew Nita, my wife, had her doubts on me.
“How come you smell of roses every day when you come back from office?” she had asked me one day. It had taken me a lot of time and gifts to fully convince her that it was the new room freshener.
But I had never thought she could go to the extent of hiring a private detective. I was getting nervous. I looked at the boy once more. My eyes stayed on him for a while and bang, there he was. He moved away his eyes as quickly as a cat and so did I. It is better to be followed and know it, without looking at the follower.
My mind was still playing games with me, some good, some bad.
Maybe it is just my imagination. Maybe it is just a coincidence. But he is glancing at me at every opportunity he gets. But so am I, isn’t it natural to look around?
My place was near. I knew all my theories were about to be tested. If the boy didn’t get down with me, I was safe. If he did, it was probably going to be a divorced life ahead of me.
I got down of the bus looking at the boy. He sat in his seat as calmly as ever, looking at the long queue of people waiting to get down and for the last time met my eyes. I smiled. He smiled back.
I was ecstatic as I got down and started to walk. “Phew, it was all hallucination! I am getting a little too paranoid.” I grinned at myself, walking faster, singing my favourite tune and then as a precautionary measure, I turned around.
My heart stopped beating for a second as I noticed the boy getting down the bus. He was the last to get down, looking around like he had nothing to care about. And then he again met my eyes. But this time I didn’t smile, nor did he.
If he is following me since Monica’s house it can prove disastrous. I’ll have to do something.
Now, the worst thing that can happen to you while following someone is when you let him know you’re following him. Or maybe, the best thing.
The boy was walking towards me while I stood straight, unmoving. He didn’t meet my eyes, and walked past me as if he didn’t even care. He thinks he’s good. I started walking behind him, keeping the distance close enough for him to not get lost in the crowd. As we came to a less crowded part of the bus-station, I tapped his shoulder. He looked around.
“Can you please come here? I need to talk to you.”
The boy looked at me, surprised. He came to the side without a fuss.
“Now, can you tell me who do you work for?” I asked.
“McMohan and Gwin,” he replied calmly and then added inquisitively, “Is there a problem?”
I had never heard of the name. Probably a new establishment. This time, I spoke with authority.
“Look, I know you’ve been following me and I know who put you up to it. Now, you might know things about me, or you might not,” I raised my hand as he tried to speak, “listen to me very carefully. I’ll pay you double of what they pay you monthly, right now.” I took out my purse, pulled out ten hundred dollar bills, and pushed it into his hands.
“Keep this, and don’t tell them anything. Tell them I came clean. Tell them you never saw me with any woman, that my character is as clean as a slate. Do this, and I’ll be grateful to you. I might even tip you extra.”
The boy kept listening to me, his eyes impassionate. He looked at the notes in his hand, and looked at me. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I reached the inner pocket of my coat and pulled out another five notes.
“Now, will you do it? Just forget about everything you saw.”
The boy was sure happy this time. “I have already forgotten everything,” he said.
I sighed. The boy left. I knew I could go home safe now. The evening had been hectic and would require some make-up tactics for the wife and some scotch for me, to wear off its effects. I’ll have to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
I pulled Nita to the side as she came out of the kids’ room after putting them to bed.
“You still haven’t seen what I actually brought for you as the gift,” I said.
“Somebody’s got a romancer in him tonight.”
“Just wait till you see it.”
Monica can have another later, I thought as I gave the two-piece to Nita to unwrap.
Meanwhile, not so far away in a boys’ hostel, a room opened with a sudden jerk. The two boys in the room were sipping vodka and talking. The new entrantwith the ruffled hair shouted and pulled out two bottle of Chivas Regal from a bag.
“How on earth did you manage these?” one of them asked.
“Did you steal them?” the other one said.
The boy waved disapprovingly at them, keeping the bottles on the table. “All I know is that some people can get really crazy at times!”