The smell of asphalt made his headache even worse than before. His walk home felt like an eternity when Mahinder paced the freshly tarred road cursing, barely able to keep his eyes steady. The street was darker than he knew. When he slowly neared the interjunction, his two-storey apartment building came in to view, on top standing like a black hole, sucking all the moonlight into its core. Below stood the house owners grocery store which was half-lit. He almost thought of cutting into the interjunction, taking the east road to avoid confronting him, but a man walking from that way to the main junction made him think twice, the weather was getting cold and time had gone off course, might just sneak through without the owner noticing.
All his plans were doomed when he heard the owner call out.
“Mahi” a hefty man in his sixties came out of the half-closed shutters. Mahinder had no option but to face the owner.
“You are late today, working overtime?” the man asked cleaning his greasy hands on a cloth. Mahi worked late at the school where he taught especially when the exams were up. But today that wasn’t the case. Just a bloody headache.
“Yes,” he had to lie, rather than giving a long account of what happened. He desperately wanted to get into his room, lie down and never wake up.
“I know you are working hard to meet the ends, but if you need any help let me know. Okay.” the man put his hands on Mahi’s shoulder. Mahi smiled and nodded, slowly making his way to the steps nearby. He turned back to see a man standing near the steps staring at him. Maybe the owner, Mahi thought and continued up the stairs. He turned back to check and saw the man following him.
“Excuse me? Can I help you?” Mahi stopped and asked the man, was he the person who was coming from the east road, because he didn’t see anyone else on the streets.
“What do you want?” he asked again. He was alarmed, who was this guy, a thief, some maniac. But his thoughts were interrupted when the man turned back and ran down the stairs at a fly. Mahi followed him, by the time he reached the ground, there was no one. The owner was closing the shutters. Seeing Mahi staring abruptly at the darkness around, the owner got off the van.
“What happened, Mahi?” he inquired. His head was throbbing, almost as if his veins would burst open. Where did he go? Who was it?
“Did you see anyone run away?” Mahi asked the owner, gasping for breath.
“Now, no. What is the matter?”
“I saw someone follow me upstairs and then ran off,” Mahi told.
“I didn’t see anyone. It might have been a stray dog.” the owner said, scratching his head with a doubtful look at Mahi.
“No,” Mahi said, he knew what he saw, that was a man. Is he lying? why didn’t he see him? If I saw him, he surely had. He was tired, thinking more did only make his head burst open. Better get back, he thought.
By the time he was awake Mahi was far exhausted than when he slept. The vague memories of his dream flashed through one more time before vanishing into the void. It was dawn. The faint light of the new day could hardly touch the bedroom window. The time was hitting six. I need to sleep more, he thought. lying back to the bed, searching deep into the abyss. He was sweating, why? His muscles were straining. All he did was lie down. There was no hope in finding it. He woke up and switched on the lights. They blinked twice before it steadied. He noticed a dark spot on the right wall, bigger than his fist. That wasn’t there before. He leaned to touch it but it slowly closed on its own, blending into the rest. This wasn’t the first time Mahi has seen that. Buses, classes, restaurants everywhere. A dark spot that closed on its own, a spot no bigger than a coin at first. It was only getting bigger and bigger. He understood that he had some serious brain damage. The continuous headaches, dark spots that weren’t there. He was sure he was losing his eyesight.
Did he see the stranger follow him last night or was it just another hallucination his brain damage brought? He could not think any longer. Thinking made everything worse. As it always has in his life. I must seek medication.
On his way to school, Mahi stopped at the owner’s shop noticing the crowd that gathered around. He saw the owner standing near the entrance talking to three policemen who towered over the short man. Mahi cut his way through the crowd and met the owner.
“Mahi, You were right. Someone broke into the shop yesterday night.” The owner holding Mahi’s hand, the policemen closely examining both. Mahi was petrified, so that wasn’t a hallucination. Someone did follow me. Maybe he was trying to rob me but took the chance to rob the shop.
“Did you see his face?” asked one of the policeman.
“No, I wasn’t able to. It was dark.” Mahi responded, still in his thoughts. “Was he a theif?” Mahi turned to the owner.
“Yes, but he didn’t take a thing.” the owner said, not able to believe for himself.
“What?” Mahi was puzzled.
“Well, he didn’t take anything and we don’t even know how he got in at the first place.” the policemen said.
“What about the surveillance camera, that does work, right?” Mahi asked the owner. The policemen shared a look at each other, the owner was trying to catch his breath.
“Come on, Mahi. I’ll show you.” the owner pulled him into the shop followed by the policemen. A computer was placed at the cash counter, where the owner went on clicking something and called Mahi to look. The video clip showed nothing except a well-lighted shopping floor. It remained as it is for the rest of the time.
“I don’t see anything out of order or anyone. Where is the robber?” Mahi asked. The owner stared at Mahi, his eyes were slowly swelling with tears.
“There isn’t any.” the owner said. But his face said there was more than something normal about the scene.
“Then how do you know there was someone inside,” Mahi asked. These people were just wasting his time.
“Look” the owner skipped to 5:47 am. The steel door at the backend of the shop that was used to unload the packages opened on its own. Tears were rolling from the owner’s eyes. Mahi couldn’t believe or didn’t want to. The policemen felt the same way. Either the camera wasn’t properly working or the door wasn’t locked, that was the only logical explanation Mahi could come up with. But the policemen and the owner convinced him better. They were properly locked and had found the key in the lock. Someone used the key, the owner kept in his table to open the door. But who? there was no one inside. No trace of anything living that could have opened a door with a key. The backdoor stayed open as it was when Mahi left for school.
The day wasn’t entertaining, like almost the rest of his past. On his way back, the thoughts came back to him. Why did the man follow me? Why didn’t the owner see him? why did he break into the shop if not for stealing? And why was he not captured by the camera? All the Why’s were running one after another through his mind. He decided to take the east road. Although it was a longer route, he had time to spare.
The east road was quiet and peaceful than the main one. Shadier if not anything else. He had never even thought of taking the road before and it hit him hard on the back as he had to find the way on his own. The road extended to the interjunction where it met the main road. He almost reached the back entrance to his apartment building only a few feet away from the backdoor of the owner’s shop which the thief used to escape. He caught a glimpse of someone pass through the main road down in the direction to his home. The person was walking fast, almost into a run. Mahi felt something amiss and thought to follow him. Nothing was visible of him except a shadowy outline. He went down further the road to meet the interjunction saw the man continuing his walk towards the stairs. Then he stopped. Mahi leaned on the wall on his side to stay hidden from him. He had to find out who that man is. Mahi almost dialled the police when the owner came out and spoke to the stranger. He sighed, moved towards them both to listen to what they were saying. The lights were dim and the shutter was half closed like the last day. Mahi stretched himself to listen and heard a bit or two of the owner’s voice.
“……working overtime?” the owner’s voice fading. He couldn’t make the other persons reply but the owner was patting the man’s shoulder.
“……..meet the ends. if you need anything let me know. Okay,” The owner said, this time a lot clear. Mahi was confounded, this felt very familiar, he remembered having the same conversation with the owner, very recently. Like the last day. Several questions passed by his mind but he ignored them when he saw the stranger walk up the stairs to his home. What? Why is he going that way? Why didn’t the owner stop him?
Mahi followed the man to the stairs. The owner was busy loading something to his car that he must not have seen Mahi. The old man will hear from me for this, let me find who that is first. The stranger went up to the gate on the stairs and locked it from behind then he noticed Mahi. He stood there looking at Mahi but continued walking up. Mahi was terrified he didn’t understand why the owner let a stranger to Mahi’s apartment and what did this man want? He followed the man up to the gate when the stranger looked back again at Mahi and spoke.
“Excuse me? Can I help you?” Mahi froze, that wasn’t right, he said the same thing yesterday when he saw the stranger, his very familiar voice. Diming light from the moon showed the man’s annoyed face.
That can’t be… No…
It was him, Mahi itself. Or an impersonator. But no, it was himself. The face, the same one he had been staring at in the mirror now standing upfront. Was he having a hallucination, he tried to wake up from his sleep, the nightmare. No. It wasn’t one.
“What do you want?” the man moved towards Mahi. Everything he felt till that moment started fading, they were turning black, the dark spot appeared, growing over the stairs and his home like vine roots. He ran down the stairs, more like jumping the steps. He wanted to run to the nearest hospital but he saw the owner standing near his minivan. Mahi saw the half-open shutter and ran into the shop. The inside was growing black as the dark spot grew further and further. He hid behind a farthest aisle and stayed there. What has become of him? Why was there a man like him? Why did things happen yesterday repeat? I was standing exactly where the stranger was standing yesterday? What is going on? Am I becoming blind or is the world growing dark? He was now sitting in the middle of nowhere, vast blackness. His body illuminating bare grid lines. What has become of me?
He heard the shutter close and voices of two men from outside, he knew who they were and what they were talking. Exactly what he asked the owner yesterday. He sat in the blackness as if there was no return.
As time passed by, the gridlines started to appear around slowly bringing the light back. At the first sight of light Mahi stood up and ran up to the front door, but they were locked from outside, but he knew there was a back exit. He searched for the key to the door and rushed to the back as soon as he found it. The door flung open welcoming the faint light of the new sun that made the blackness retreat. He looked at his watch, 5:47 am.
I was the robber and the stranger who followed me yesterday. But I was the one sleeping in my bedroom.
Thank you for reading the first part of Yesterday night. I will be uploading the Second part very soon. Comment your thoughts and reviews.
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