As the first rays of the sun began to pierce the light mist that had engulfed the city, Mandira turned her side and blinked at the window. She pulled out her watch from under the pillow. It was a little after 8 am. It was a second Saturday and her office was closed. Another half an hour of sleep would be fine, she thought. She got up to draw the curtain a bit when she spotted him across the street. She broke into cold sweat. Now, he has found her house! Until now he had stalked her only around the office area. She was apprehensive. What does he want? He is a serious stalker!
Barely six months after her wedding to Ajit, Mandira was widowed. Those six months were the best period of her life. Ajit, an IT professional had proposed to her after a short courtship. They realized that they had gotten along like two peas in a pod. He admired her wit and her soft mannerism. She was not a striking beauty as such but her presence drew a lot of admirers and Ajit was no exception. When they decided to tie the knot, he had got this small apartment in Gurgaon. “We’ll buy something bigger,” he had assured her, “Right now, I’ve just cleared the educational loan with which I had studied abroad,” he had tried to explain to her. But she was not complaining. All they wanted was togetherness. She had continued her work at a knowledge outsourcing agency and was happy with what she was earning.
The bolt came when they were returning from work one evening. She got off the two-wheeler to get some vegetables. A tempo whirred round the corner and lost its control knocking off Ajit who was waiting on the stationary bike. The end was instantaneous. Post mortem and other formalities later, Mandira had decided to get on with her life and resumed her work. Tears wouldn’t help. For a couple of weeks, she stayed at Ajit’s parent’s house in South Delhi and for another week at her parent’s house in Gurgaon. She couldn’t use them as her emotional crutches throughout her life, she argued. She moved to her apartment and joined a carpool of her office. Brushing aside the snide remarks of some of her relatives that she had been unlucky for Ajit or he should have consulted an astrologer before getting married, she went on her routine duties.
Once, when she was at a mall shopping with her friend she spotted this man in his thirties perhaps, fair and of medium built staring at her. Did he know Ajit or me? A passing thought but she could not place him. She spotted him several times near her office block. Once he was in the parking lot from where she took the transport home. She had ignored his presence a few times but now she got apprehensive. Should she tell someone in the office? The security guy or someone like that? Should she tell the police?. Her mind was dead as she could not find answers. Should she confront him and ask what he wanted?
But his presence near her house was unnerving. He could ring the bell and force his way in, she shuddered. She drew the curtain and sat staring at the wall which had only one photo frame-that of Ajit and herself on their wedding day.
The stalker continued to appear at the most unexpected places, in the office canteen, at the temple which she visited every Saturday. But he only gave her a smile. Never came near her. She had stopped going to the gym as fear continued to grip her. She tried spending weekends at her mother’s place but it was of no avail. She noticed him sitting on the garden bench not far from the place.
Mandira thought that since it was a Saturday today, she would go early to the temple. She got ready and crossed the road and walked right past him without turning her head. She heard steps behind her but they were not close. “Let him catch up and he’d learn the lesson of his life today!” Mandira had made up her mind to break this stalker today.
As she walked a few steps, she heard a voice which resembled that of Ajit’s. “Mandira, please don’t turn. Keep walking. Please listen carefully to what I am saying. I am not your enemy, please. I mean no harm.” Mandira could hear her heart pounding. She slowed down a bit while he talked.
“Your husband Ajit was killed on purpose. It was no accident. He was working on a secret defense project of a friendly country. Some miscreants were out to get that programme. Ajit and I were colleagues at his previous workplace. Please continue walking and please understand that Ajit has narrated this to me after his death. How I don’t know. As I talk, he talks.” Mandira breathed deeply and stepped slowly towards the road to the temple. If he tries to be nasty, there would be enough people to tackle him near the temple, she thought..
“These guys will target your house shortly and harm you now as they have not found the CDs containing the progrramme.” He spoke softly. “Ajit had been warned and threatened many times. He had kept this as a closely guarded secret. The discs are in the frame of your wedding picture on your bedroom wall. Tomorrow, take the photo to your parents’ place as early as possible and pretend to be sick and don’t come to work for three or four days. Stay put. I’ll tell you where to take those discs afterwards,” he was quiet. She heard him turn and walk away. She turned slightly to be sure. He wasn’t there! Was this some trap? May be he wants that programme!
When she went home, she took the frame and found the back cover had two layers. She undid one and then the next. In between were spread three discs marked A,B,C!. Ajit had scribbled some name which was not legible. Her hands quivered as she took the discs and placed them in a plastic bag. Everything that the stranger said was right!
She packed a few clothes in a haversack and called her brother asking him to pick her up at night as she was unwell. The brother knew that Mandira was going through a bad patch and agreed. He came to her apartment picking up her bags while she held the frame tied loosely with a few twines. “What’s this?,” he enquired. “Oh. While cleaning it fell down and the packing came off. I’ll take it at the shop on our way if possible,” Mandira tried to explain. He shrugged and they both drove off.
Mandira pretended to be ill and stayed in bed most of the time. She called her office on Monday and said that she needed three or four days off as she was having fever. She heard her manager grunt and hang the phone.
Mandira’s mom came to her with the cordless telephone saying that her neighbour was on the line. “Mandira,” a shrill voice shouted, “Your flat has been broken into while you were away,” she screamed. “We have called the building secretary and he has called the police. Come please even if you are sick,” the neighbour was yelling. Mandira told her parents about the incident.
“Thank God. You were not there. These days dacoits will murder even for five rupees!,” self-consoling notes. Mandira got up. She was uneasy and felt that there was some truth in what the stranger was saying. After registering the complaint, Mandira returned feeling more helpless and more threatened. “They will hound me, if they want. Ajit should have been more careful. Why didn’t he tell me this when he had shared so many things with me?,” Mandira felt worse. She thought about the offer she had got from Singapore. Should she quit this and just put all this nightmare behind?
The following week, she resumed her work. Her colleagues sympathized with her more now. Wasn’t her luck really bad these days,? They asked her. She nodded. There was no loss of cash or gold but the house was totally a mess. She had a tough time picking up hairpins and napkins and the jumbled togs from the floor. Mother was of help but Mandira knew the seriousness of the matter. The stalker was not seen for a couple of months. The discs were in her bag which she had left at her parents’ place.
The parents had broached the topic of remarriage-she was young, qualified and without any commitments of kids. She could resettle her life, was the advice of many. She asked for more time. But they knew that silently they should look for a match for her now.
Mandira spent more time with her parents now. They thought she needed some support as she was shaken up with the recent incident. A few weeks passed and she saw the stranger again. He didn’t stare at her. As she got on to the escalator, he was a few steps behind. This time too she was apprehensive. ”Now at least you believe what I say. I hope you do. You have an offer to go abroad. Take it up. Sometime go scuba diving or go on a cruise and drop those CDs as if they fell accidentally in the sea. And by the way, think of remarriage positively,” he got off the escalator and walked towards the food court. She too followed him and sat at the same table taking her coffee with her. Her look was enough to make him speak almost inaudibly.