Strange Encounters

Albina Arjuman (कtha)

Albina is a scientist and comes from a biomedical research environment. She has recently taken to fiction writing to explore the possibility of spreading awareness about day-to-day, socio-cultural, mental health related issues. One of her first speculative fiction pieces, Strange Encounters, was recently published in State of Matter magazine. She is presently working on a slice-of-life fiction novel.


All I felt was a shove at my derriere (obviously it was my brother) and I tumbled into the circle manned by the legs of many people and stared directly into the black almond eyes with a hint of red in it. And there was a stench. Probably of my shock and fear.

I squealed slightly (although I wanted to scream but I partly lost my voice in that moment) and scrambled up to my feet, trying to get away. But some people held me up and tried to calm me down.

This time when I looked at what beast those eyes belonged to, I found that it was merely a white Spit but a strange one at that. It seemed to be lacking its front legs. Although I know today that it must be a genetic anomaly, back then in Class 1, when this incident took place and I was peeking through circus tents curiously, it spooked the hell out of me.

Years later during my graduation, my friend and I were fooling around riding her Kinetic Honda when we met with an accident. I remember while I was passing out, a swarm of people were rushing towards us from as far as my fading peripheral vision reached. The last thing I saw before passing out was the same pair of almond eyes with a hint of red in them. Only this time he smiled at me and said,

don’t tell anyone!

I didn’t.

It’s always been awkward for me.

The meetings, the greetings.

While it was easier to get over my glossophobia by class V (Vaidehi Miss did such a wonderful job with the ‘stuttering me’ that I am unabashedly proud of her efforts), one-to-one personal interactions are still difficult for me to handle.

This one time, while being introduced to a cute boy who had newly come into our class, I distinctly remember that I forgot my name. Makes me cringe every time I think of it. I mean, who does that?

My brother would often hurl jokes at me for my overly shy and under-confident demeanor. One day he said, ‘you’re as awkward as a blind dog in a meat shop’. Although it was educational to learn that metaphor, it gave me the tingles somehow.

In any case, there was no denying that I was quite bashful and awkward in my skin, for I did have my share of weird, or whatever one may call it, encounters.

This one time I was walking down to the library on a warm Sunday afternoon. Suddenly this man stopped me, physically barricading my forward movement. Sweaty. Dark-complexioned. Dark brown eyes encased in reddish sclera. Middle-aged. Haggard old clothes. Greying hair. A cloth rug-sack dangling on his shoulder.

He looked desperate and disoriented, trying to blabber something in kannada, while I was sweating bullets at this unexpected confrontation.

Turns out, this man was a teacher from Dharwad, a city in northern Karnataka.

As if apologizing, he narrated a harrowing tale of being stranded in Mangalore, ‘for ‘academic activities’ where he was robbed off his luggage. He had no money or contacts and had approached me as I looked like a ‘student’, who may be willing to help a ‘teacher’. He said that he was absolutely embarrassed but didn’t know how else to get back home.

He obviously needed some money.

At that moment the woman in me clearly doubted everything about this episode. There was a plethora of feelings.

First, the fear.

He is going to slit my throat.

He may throw acid at me.

He might pull out a kerchief soaked in chloroform to subdue me.

Second, the sinking victim feeling.

Why me?

Did I wear something revealing?

Do I look like I have a lot of money?

Third, guilt.

What if he isn’t lying?

What if Papa was stuck in such a situation?

With a defensive demeanor, I walked past him in a rush thinking about all this. I wanted to just disappear. Yet a bit further, the thought of my father in a similar situation stopped me. I decided to give him whatever little money I had, even if he was tricking me to extort it.

I traced my steps back, found him and gave him the money.

He said,

You are a ‘vidyarthi’, I am an ‘adhyapaka’ all I can bless you with is ‘vidya’.

By the time I reached the library, it felt eerie, as if someone was staring at my back. I turned around to find the same teacher standing across the road. Only this time, he looked confident, had a smile on his face and with an all-knowing gaze whispered in kannada,

don’t tell anyone!

I didn’t.

Hostel life was disorienting for me. I was out of home for the first time. But there was also a new sense of freedom: no Mama hovering over my head. So I’d get out for strolls in the canopied lanes of the neighbourhood with bonsai-lined houses every now and then either with a friend or alone, usually at dusk. The aroma of the night-blooming cestrum flowers was heady and added a romance to the air. And a migraine, after.

One evening, I noticed there was someone trailing me during my walk. I turned around and saw a man, probably a vagabond in oversized baggy clothes walking behind me. He had bloodshot eyes, salt n’ pepper spikes for hair, but the most weirdly familiar thing about him was the spring in his walk. It was like he was missing his arms entirely, so, to be able to balance himself on his two legs, he would spring up and down like a kangaroo, or maybe a two-legged dog.

As cautious and self-preserving as I was, I quickly walked around to a bakery near my hostel. I decided to spend some time there, so that the stranger would simply move on.

I spent a good half an hour in the bakery indulging in their delicious sugar doughnuts and savoury chicken rolls after which I decided to head out, only to find the strange little springy man waiting unabashedly for me. With no other way to mask my location from him, I headed to the hostel with him trailing me. That night I peeked through my balcony at the road in front of the hostel. This guy was still standing there, staring up.

I panicked and wondered whether I should tell this to anyone. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I gave up walking and peeking through the balcony for a bit.

After a week, I went out to meet some batch-mates nearby. I consciously scanned my surroundings every now and then but couldn’t find the stranger anywhere. With some respite in his absence, I got out for my walk the next day to get some air. Just as I hit my favourite bonsai-lined house, he came out of nowhere right in front of me and began blabbering. The sheer shock of his encounter sent me sprinting until I  tripped over something and fell face down. By the time I managed to get back to the hostel, I had a torn pair of jeans, a sodded T-shirt, a bleeding knee and elbow, a bruised chin and the nightmare of having been touched by him.

No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get him off the hook. He was everywhere: at my college, the library, the bakery, the nook, the corner. Everywhere.

A time came when I started meeting a guy friend in the evenings, of course, trailed by the springy man whom I still hadn’t mentioned to anyone. One night as I peeped through my window, I saw him standing at the hostel gate with a bouquet of dried wild weeds. The moment he caught my eye, he pulled out a match box and set it on fire, did something obnoxious and scooted away springing.

Although it felt uncanny, I was relieved thinking I wouldn’t see him again.

One day around dusk, I was returning from lab duty at my hospital. I couldn’t get a ride but wanted to return to my room before I had a headache. So, I took the shortest route I knew on foot. It was warm but breezy and the time for trees to shed their leaves. Although it was way past siesta time, it was quieter than usual.

I was startled by someone who cooed at me from one of the houses. I turned and saw the same springy man. He was standing in one of the porches. Only this time, he stood more confident and upright. And when he spoke, he did not blabber. He looked straight at me, smiled and said,

don’t tell anyone!

I didn’t.

But I felt something wasn’t right. Something mighty was weighing me down.

I got back to the hostel. Deep in thought, I crashed into a girl retreating with a cup of tea.

She immediately retorted,

What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy?

I left for  home that week. Lying down one night, I stared straight out of the window at the full moon, letting things cross my mind freely.

Am I crazy?

Why can’t I talk to anyone about things?

Can people see that something’s not okay with me?

Then suddenly outside my reverie, I noticed someone jumping from one terrace to another. In the stillness of the world past midnight, he seemed like the only thing evidently moving.

Is that a thief?

Or a banshee?

The hair on my body stood starkly up. My heart was thudding like an engine with no escape. It was as if everything I knew had ceased to exist and I was in a corner of a white room with no doors or windows. I was staring into the biggest pair of black eyes with a hint of red at an alien suspended in thin air. This creature was so close to me, only the open window separating us.

The moment I felt blood in my legs, I sprang and dashed out to my parent’s room. As I was about to wake Mum up, the creature leapt to the window of this room and whispered, with decided eyes and an all-knowing smile,

don’t tell anyone!

I didn’t.

But a part of me spoke to me.

And I wrote down all that I can’t say.

Maybe someone someday will read this and know what to do.