I was out late again, for what seemed like the thousandth time in the last
month. I got stuck in my office if you can call it that after class. I
was only planning on picking some stuff up for the following day, but I
had a little forced change of plans. I stepped in the hallway too quickly
to avoid the five students camped in front of my office. They needed to
talk to me about some lesson or other. Being head TA, it happened way too
often I really needed to have a raise or something, because this was
becoming too much.
"Can't you guys come tomorrow? I have had a really long day and no
supper," I begged. "Plus I am so tired that I highly doubt I will be able
to answer your questions."
The students were ruthless they didn't buy a single word. It was
probably because of my sterling reputation. How I rued it at moments like
these. "We really need to talk to you we want to be ready for the lab
"You can come tomorrow morning."
"We have class."
"We start at eight."
"We don't have enough time we have to go halfway across campus to our
"You should have come earlier."
"We tried to but something always came up."
"That's not my problem. It's an ungodly hour to come to a TA's office and
you know it."
Had they said anything the least bit arrogant, I would have had no
compulsion in sending them home. But they looked so sheepish. What did it
for them was the timid way one of the girls apologized for being
disorganised and promising not to do it again, please please please could
I give them a little bit of time?
Defeated, I sighed. "Next time, I will not see you if you come this late.
You have ten minutes."
That was an hour and a half ago. Ruthless, I tell you.
By the time I was done with the students, I was so fed up, annoyed and
frustrated that adrenaline was pumping through my body. Unfortunately,
that also meant that I was wide awake. I still hadn't had supper I
really needed to grab a bite before I went driving into the night. So I
decided to go for a walk before heading home. While I was at it, I would
go by this little quaint and cheap pizza place and fulfill my craving for
their chicken pizza. How I rue that whim today.
My city is wonderful. First of all, it never sleeps. There is an
omnipresent energy it the air that will revive you if you let it. Walking
in the street helps clear the mind. People are walking around at any time
of the day and the night, talking, hanging out just having fun. And
being around such people makes your own evening a lot livelier.
My shoulders had been drooping but they rose gradually as I walked in
the brisk evening air. I took a more "scenic" route, one that took me
through the best part of the city, where all the late night cafιs and
restaurants were. I was hoping to spot a bunch of friend so I could grab a
quick drink and unwind a little before heading home.
I turned in an alley I knew quite well and briskly walked
through it. It wasn't the best part of town, but I felt safe enough. I
knew most of the vagrants that hung out in this back alley, and often
spent some time talking to them. You wouldn't believe the stories I have
heard. But none of them were there tonight. It didn't make sense; it was a
nice, balmy evening, with no rain in the air, a perfect night for those
living outdoors. Where were they?
I don't know what made me look through that particular
window, look into that particular strange room at that exact moment.
Nothing happens without a reason, I know that. But this is a little
extreme because I did it, because I simply turned my head, I saw it, and
then my entire life changed.
The man was kneeling on the floor. The room was brightly
illumined maybe that's why I looked, who knows. There were three other
men and a woman in the room with them. One man, who was clearly in charge,
was holding a clipboard. It kind of looked out of place, but I guess not
all things are exactly straight out of the TV or movies. He put the board
down, said something to someone I couldn't see (there were more of them?)
and put his hands in the depths of his huge coat. He said something, the
man kneeling looked up and smiled, while the woman and the other man
laughed. It was just so odd, so out of place, that it transfixed me. This
was obviously a hit in progress why were they all laughing? A mafia hit
was no laughing matter. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the man took his
hand out of his pocket I barely had the time to note that what he held
in his hand was a gun and shot the man who had been kneeling. He keeled
over, dead. I noted with detachment that the amount of blood flowing was
surprisingly little, before meeting the eyes of the woman. I froze, and my
heart turned itself into a big knot. She didn't react, and turned her gaze
to the now dead man.
I ducked but it was too late. She had seen me I had
been the witness to a Mafia murder! So much for feeling safe, and nothing
ever happening in this city. My legs were numb, but I had to leave. I
couldn't stay, they would come I couldn't move! What if the woman was
telling them about them about me at that very moment? I slowly and
carefully looked up. The sight of her talking in a low whisper to the man
finally got me going and I stumbled my way out of the alley.
I didn't like going to cafιs alone, but I really needed a
good, strong coffee. I sat in a corner, so pale and shaking so hard that a
salesman played waiter and gave me a free coffee.
"No problem." He hesitated. "You look like you saw a
"Something like that." Thankfully it was a little busy,
and he left it at that.
I had gotten myself into quite a mess what was I going
to do? Not only I had witnessed a murder but I had been seen by one of the
killers. I needed to change and fast.
Suddenly filled with purpose, I headed for the bathroom. I
took out my contacts and put my glasses on, shook my hair out of its
ponytail and put the ever present baseball hat on. I pulled out my
eyeliner and added a thick line, making my eyes seem even larger and
whiter. Unfortunately, I didn't have lipstick on me, so I just put a bit
more lip balm on.
"Hey, you look totally different!" the salesman/waiter
said as I came out.
I was happy about that but did he have to scream it out
loud for everyone to hear? "Thank you for the coffee. How much do I owe
"On the house. Hope you feel better!"
"I do. Thank you."
I left the relative safety of the cozy cafι, heart
palpitating. What would happen to me now? I gazed at the sea of people
milling around. Even at this late hour, it was a normal sight in this
city. But a brush of panic at the thought of plunging into a crowd
potentially filled with bounty hunters looking for me almost overwhelmed
me. I calmed myself down with the thought that no one could possibly try
to kill me in front of such a large number of witnesses. Once my breathing
eased (somewhat), I focused on figuring out a way to get home safe. I also
wanted to make sure I had something to defend myself just in case. No one
could be careful enough, but I think this especially stands for people who
have witnessed murders.
There was one thing I could do to keep safe the only
thing I could think of that would give me the courage of going home. I had
no intention of going to the police I hadn't seen enough in the first
place, and second of all, I didn't want to live my life in fear while
waiting to stand as a witness in a trial. I watched enough TV to know that
people like me didn't live long and I planned to live a long and healthy
life. If the men and the woman - who had committed that heinous crime
realised that I wasn't going to rat on them, there would be a better
chance of me living a normal and safe life, rather than going to the
police and not knowing what would happen.
There are many pawn shops in Montreal. There is one on my
way from the office to my car. I always take a quick look at the window
who knows, maybe one day there will be something really nice in there that
I can get at a good price but I have never stepped in. It would be
different this time, as I remembered one of the items that I often spied
in the windows.
There is a bell above the door of the shop, the kind that
rings each time the door opens and closes. Twice for an entrance, twice
for an exit, four tinkles for each customer ding, ding, ding, ding. I
hate that bell. Even though I have never been inside the pawn shop, I have
heard its annoyingly shrill tinkle too many times already, and it made me
want to reach out, pull it off, put it on the count, grab the baseball bat
everyone had behind their store's counter for protection and beat the life
out of it.
Was I being followed?
I had a vague thought that I was being slightly
incoherent, but I had reached such a state of panic that I couldn't think
anymore. I entered the pawn shop ding, ding.
The man behind the counter looked up at me silently. Ding,
ding. I nodded at him; he nodded back. I took a quick look around and
immediately spotted what I was looking for.
They were in a locked case beneath the glass of the
counter. Seeing them made the whole situation seem even more unusual and
unreal was I going to wake up now in my office and laugh it off? I
certainly hope so.
I looked down at the seven models laid out before me.
"You looking for a gun?" the man's slightly surprised
voice asked me.
I looked up. He still hadn't moved. Although his hands
were still busy wiping a crystal vase rub, rub, rub. Everything was
annoying me tonight, grating on my nerves. If this was a dream, I really
hope I'd wake up soon, because if I didn't, I'd get a massive migraine by
the end of the morning.
"Yes. Could I take a look at that one?" I randomly pointed
The man gave the vase an extra couple of rubs before
placing it on the counter, flicking the cloth on his shoulder and
lumbering to the counter where I was. He drew out a key from his pocket
and opened the counter's casing. He pulled the wooden box out and set it
on the counter.
"Have you ever used a gun before?"
"But not often."
"And you want to purchase a gun."
"For safety reasons."
The man's fingers were drumming the wooden case tap tap
tap, tap tap tap could he stop it, for Pete's sake?
"I'd suggest you choose another one, then."
"OK, fine, whatever."
"It's quite a delicate matter, buying a gun, you know."
I was fed up. Here I was, running for my life, looking for
a way to defend myself if the need presented itself, and this fat pompous
salesman was turning sanctimonious on me?
"Listen," I said, dead calm. "I have money, and I want a
gun. Give me a gun, show me how to use it, and I'll give you money in
The man held my gaze for a couple of moments. I was
certain he was going to kick me out as a punishment for my impertinence,
when suddenly, he smiled. It was a scary smile that made my skin crawl
was he in on it, too? What did he know? What was he going to do? I froze.
"Are you going to sell me that gun?"
"Sure, sure. Can I at least give you the simpler one and
give you a brief tutoring on its usage?"
"I don't have time."
"Five minutes. For your safety."
I hesitated, then capitulated. "That, I have."
I stepped out of the pawn shop ding, ding with a side
of my pants pulling down a little. I had bought myself a gun don't ask
me which one, I don't know a piece of cold metal made to kill another
human being. Ding, ding. It galled me to have been forced to buy such a
disgusting monstrosity but I had no choice. Unfortunately, things being
what they were, I was forced to have one. That's the way it was.
I now had to get to my car in one piece. I didn't think I
had spent that much time in the pawn shop, but as I looked around I
realised that it was a lot later than I originally had thought it was. I
checked the time and cursed, quite fluently too. It was a full hour and a
half later than I thought, and a time that even a woman who hadn't
witnessed a murder and wasn't wanted by the Mafia didn't want to be out
alone in the side streets and alleys.
I didn't have much of a choice though. My friend lived
around the corner, but he had had the grace of getting married and was on
his honeymoon. How unpractical. I did have his keys to take care of the
apartment while they were gone, but, how wonderful, the keys were at my
place. I had no choice; I had to get to my car.
I remembered an email I had read not long ago about the
kind of women that usually get aggressed, and decided it probably had to
do with my situation, too. After all, I had changed the way I looked
enough that someone would have to look at me carefully before deciding I
was the same pale faced, hair tied, contact wearing person from behind the
window. No one would expect someone being stalked by the Mafia to be
walking confidently down the street, so confidently I walked. No way was I
going to be a victim, at least, not on the outside!
I took the time to confidently stand outside the door of
the pawn shop. I breathed in the fresh air as if I had no care in the
world, and took the time to look around. There was no suspect activity
wait there was something odd. There was a man in a trench coat, on a
warm, balmy summer evening. Why would someone be so covered? It didn't
make sense, and it immediately rang a bell in my head.
It didn't deter me from my plan. Faking a confidence that
I didn't feel, I stared directly at the man until he turned away. Then I
started walking and passed the man, even brushing by him. My whole body
reacted to walking so close to a killer but I could have won an Academy
Award for my acting skills.
I was still shaking almost almost! uncontrollably, but
I managed to walk back to my car. I even was able to smile at a young
child, grinning and bouncing idly with its mother while licking at an ice
cream. Interesting, since I didn't think a child would be awake at this
time, and even less eating sugar. Wouldn't it keep the child awake most of
I finally got to my car and, heart pounding, took my keys
out of my pocket. They fell to the floor, and I nervously laughed to hide
my fear. I looked around before crouching down and there he was, the
man in the trench coat. I stared at him for a long while before going down
and reaching for my keys. When I looked up, the man was gone. I froze for
only a brief second or two before hurrying into my car and speeding off,
I love my place. It's a little house on the outskirts of
the downtown area, with a little garden and even a play place for my
niece, when she comes over. I was always happy when I crossed the
threshold I had an interior doorway, that took me from the garage to the
house, but I always came out and went back in through the front door. But
not today I dove into the garage, waited anxiously for the garage door
to roll shut, and barricaded myself inside the house.
I was relieved but only for a few moments I was noticing
for the first time that the windows in my house weren't that quaint after
all they were weaknesses, possible entry points for a thief, or a member
of the Mafia eager to get his hands on a witness like myself. I remembered
an old movie I had seen, Home Alone
Speaking of which, I really should
see some more updated movies. Remembering an old movie from my childhood
about a kid setting up booby traps for a couple of thieves wasn't the best
conversation starter. But it did give me a good idea about what to do with
myself. I set out to booby trap my own house against the Mafia. One could
never be too safe, and I certainly couldn't afford not to be as safe as I
could be. Good thing I had just bought a whole reserve of canned goods.
It took me just under an hour I always was a fast worker
before I was done. I stood in the middle of my living room, feeling
safer than I ever had. I looked pensively at my computer. I had the
opportunity of working at home my job required me to be at the office
one, maybe two days a week, and mainly to hold office hours. Most of my
colleagues took advantage of that fact and stayed home whenever they
could. Up to now, I had always tried to go to the office to be more
efficient. But things had changed. I booted my computer up and sent an
email to my boss; she would be surprised at my change, but it was vital.
The phone suddenly rang; I jumped, startled, and
hesitated, staring. Who could it be? Was it someone I knew, or someone who
wanted to harm me? It didn't click until a few moments later that I had
caller ID I could know who it was! I approached the phone warily, then
sighed with relief it was my mother.
"Honey! How are you?"
"I'm great, Mom."
"I haven't heard from you in awhile."
"You know how I am busy."
"I know but you could spare a few minutes for your old
mother, can't you?"
I laughed. "You're anything but old, and you know that."
"I know, I know. But it is always good to hear it from
another person. How is work going?"
"It's going well. I have decided to stay at home more
"That's great! You will be able to sleep a little more."
"I highly doubt that. You know that I have a deadline
We talked for a couple of minutes, before a quick double
click made my back stiffen. "Did you hear that?"
"No. Heard what?"
"There was an odd sound."
"It was probably your plumbing. You worry too much."
Another double click made me swallow heavily. Mom
continued talking, but I tuned her out I had seen enough movies to know
what this sound meant. I was being tapped.
"You know Mom," I interrupted her. "I would never rat on
She was obviously surprised. "Of course you wouldn't."
"It's just not the thing to do."
"I know, honey."
"If I saw something, I wouldn't just assume from what it
looks like what it is and go talk to someone about it. I have never done
that, right from when I was a child."
"Did something happen? What aren't you telling me?"
"Nothing happened. It's just some random thought I wanted
to share it with you."
"Well don't just change the subject on me. You know I
don't like that."
And so the conversation went along.
The next day, my exile from the world began. I shut myself
out as much as I could. I worked from home, managing to go to the office
only once every two weeks. I ordered my groceries from the internet and
had them delivered. I shopped online for everything, from clothes to DVDs.
I became a modern-day recluse.
In the couple of times that I have risked it outside,
there has always been someone there, watching me, sometimes in an
unnoticeable car, sometimes sitting in the park down the street, sometimes
walking a dog (that dog was sure getting a lot of exercise!). I was being
watched, and, judging by the double clicking that I hear all the time
during most, if not all of my conversations, they were listening to me,
too. At least I was safe my booby traps were getting more and more
sophisticated, and I was safer and safer. But something was wrong.
How long will it be before they come for me? I don't know.
How long can I live like this, in such fear and uncertainty? Not much
longer. That gun looks more and more like a friend rather than a cold,
inanimate object. I have been living like this for a month now a
harrowing month, very efficient for my diet though. They now I don't want
to turn them in I haven't up to now, why would I do it?
There is nothing left for me to do but worry and write. I have filled
numerous pages and notebooks with words and sentences, thoughts that are
often rambling to an outsider who doesn't know what's going on in my life,
what I have been through.
The streets seem darker, even in the bright summer
sunlight. Old men don't seem as sympathetic, helpful men seem like they
all have bad intentions, even children look more malicious somehow. The
Incident, as I now refer to it, has poisoned me and my outlook on life.
Where it was rosy and happy before, it is now dark and gloomy. Once a
beautiful and fresh flower, it was now dying, leaving me in a brightly
coloured picture that was burning. It's an unending nightmare, flowing
down the drain in an ever increasingly fast swirl of images.
I don't like my life anymore if you can call it that.
Rephrase: I don't like life anymore. This isn't a way to spend your days
looking over your shoulder, booby trapping my office and house, cutting
contact with your loved ones so as not to put them in danger
What kind of
life is this? Is it even worth living? Wouldn't suicide and a subsequent
eternal sojourn in hell be better, since all do eventually get redemption?
I know what I saw, and I know what would have happened if
I hadn't done what I did. Don't think of me as a freak or an insane
person. Think about it what would you have done? What else could it have
been? How else could this have ended?
The summer was finally here, and with it came a whole
bunch of summer blockbusters. I didn't have the courage to leave the
house, but with the Internet I was now able to rent movies and get them
delivered and picked up at home. What a wonderful thing the Internet is.
My mother had recommended a couple of recent DVD releases
and I ordered them all off the Net. I had been working very hard in the
last couple of weeks and decided to give myself an evening off. I had
invited a couple of my friends over. I couldn't totally cut myself off
from the world, and had decided to use my upcoming thesis submission date
as an excuse to stay in and avoid coming out all the time.
Katie and Shari came in early, as they always did, and
thoroughly enjoyed the exquisite supper I had cooked for them. Hey, when
you are stuck at home all the time, you have a lot of time on your hands,
even with a thesis on the way.
"You are amazing," Katie said, setting her fork down with
a sigh of pure bliss.
Even Shari, who usually ate very little she was
continuously watching her already trim waist line had seconds. "This is
worth the extra exercise tomorrow morning," she said, holding her plate
"You can work out while we watch the second movie," I
said, loading her plate. "We'll set up the bike in the living room."
"Then I guess I will have to have seconds of dessert as
The movie was popped in a couple of hours later we had a
lot of catching up to do. I took the time to whip up another dessert to
prove to the girls that I could make one from scratch, I made a crθme
"What are we watching?"
"The spy thriller. The one that was made locally."
"I racked up quite an impressive number of awards. The
actors are not known yet but they are really good. I hope they get the
recognition they deserve."
"Nothing like a movie with a bunch of hot guys running
after another hot guy to top off a chick night," grinned Shari.
Something about the faces on the cover rang a bell, but I
shrugged it off. I spent so much time on the Internet that I probably had
already seen pictures and read interviews about the actors.
By the middle of the movie, I was certain I had already
seen a couple of these faces before. But Shari and Katie kept telling me
it was impossible most of them were brand new to the scene.
"Why does it bother me so much?" I couldn't help mumbling.
Then a familiar scene flashed on the screen, making my
skin crawl. The man kneeling on the floor. The brightly illumined room.
There was something no, someone missing. There was only two other men
in the room, none of them with a clipboard. Where was the woman?
Oh God. It dawned on me at that moment all these months,
all the precautions, the paranoia
A laugh gurgled out of me. Shari and
Katie sent me odd looks.
"Are you OK?"
I nodded. "Yes. I'm fine." Better than I had ever been!