Written by Nandini Sethi
Saturday night in the city, my friends and I hit the town, promising to make it a night we would (or not remember) for the rest of our lives! The club was as crowded as ever, with people flooding the dance floor and the bar, ordering drinks they knew they couldn’t stomach. The swaying bodies and involuntary regurgitation wasn’t a pleasure to deal with, but this is exactly the kind of night out I needed after weeks of exams and late-night submissions.
At the bar, I met this boy, who although charming and kind, didn’t seem like the one for me. But I had come out with the intention of having a good time – so I made the effort of talking to him and even danced with him for a bit.
I introduced him to the rest of my friends, and they took a liking to him too; I know because they kept teasing me and accusing me of twirling my hair and hiding my flushed cheeks. It was in the middle of a particularly loud song, deep into the night, when he whispered into my ear, “do you want to get out of here?” I simply nodded.
“Where can we even go this late at night?” I asked, fixing my seatbelt, watching intently as he started the car and changed the gears.
“I know a place.”
It ended up being the 24-Hour diner. The only one in the city. It was empty save an old woman sipping on cold tea, dozing while flipping through the latest edition of a fashion magazine.
We were starving, so we ordered some burgers and milkshakes, eager to play out our fantasy of living in a small-town America, but the burgers were stale and the shakes watery. It didn’t matter because we had a good time and didn’t even realize that we spent a whole 2 hours eating and chatting away.
It was 3:00 AM now, and I was ready to book my taxi, but he insisted on dropping me since he had a car, and my house wasn’t too far from the diner. I politely declined, but upon his badgering requests and puppy eyes, I gave in.
The drive was prompt, soft music filling in the comfortable silences. As we approached my gate, I thanked him for the lift and hesitated to ask for his number- still unsure if I wanted to see him again or let this be a strange, yet comforting, one night thing. But before I could say anything, he asked me, “do you mind if I use your washroom?”
I was taken aback. My face gave away my reluctance – it was obvious I didn’t want a stranger in my house! “I promise I’m not a thief or anything, I just really need a wee.”
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t think-”
“I swear I’ll be quick!”
Biting my lip, I nodded hesitantly. I hoped I wasn’t making a grave mistake, so I kept my mom’s number ready to dial in case I suspected something strange.
Awkwardly, we both walked toward my door, as I fumbled with my keys and swung the door open. I led him to my washroom, on high alert, standing at the door and keeping an ear out for any weird noises. This was totally bizarre! I could feel my hands shake and sweat, vigorously rubbing them against my jeans, calming myself down with good thoughts – people probably do this all the time or nothing’s going to happen, he’s just using the loo!
I flinched at the sound of the door unlocking and gave him a tight-lipped smile.
“Let me walk you out,” I said too hurriedly.
He didn’t utter a word, complying easily, walking probably even faster than I was.
I was glad to discover he wasn’t an axe-murderer or anything, so I smiled when we reached the door, just about to thank him for giving me one of the best nights I had in a long time.
But before I could, he gave me a grim look, a sense of urgency in his tone, “call the cops, right now.”
For a moment, I stood frozen. What was he saying? A million thoughts crossed through my mind in a millisecond. I felt like I was seconds away from passing out.
“W-what?” I stuttered out.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me out into the garden. Maybe I was being dramatic, but at this point, I was waiting for death to come for me.
The door left unopened, he was hyperventilating, and letting out pathetic little whimpers, but I realized that was coming from me.
From the outside of the window, he pointed towards the curtains, oscillating due to the fan I had left on inside. I didn’t know what he was pointing towards, too lost in my own thoughts, but when I squinted carefully, I saw what he meant.
There was an outline of a figure. A man. He was hiding behind the curtains, in an attempt to not be seen in the house, but what he didn’t realize was that we were standing outside, witnessing his every moment, the pocketknife tucked behind, his unkempt hair all over the place.
My knees gave out. This night was not what I expected it to be. I don’t remember much after that, only that the cops came in not long after, and a stranger no longer felt strange.