Stricken

by Alan Delaney

part 1 of 2


The first time I saw her, I was sitting in my office, staring out the window. She didn’t particularly catch my eye then, no more than any leggy brunette in a dark business suit would, but she stopped long enough at the pedestrian lights for me to note all the important details — enough, at least, so that I would recognise her the next time she passed by.

As it happened, that was the very next day, more or less at the same time, with very similar results. It wasn’t love at first sight, nothing like that, just eye candy — very pleasant eye candy, admittedly, but nothing more.

From that point on it became something of a daily tradition. She wasn’t the best-looking girl on the street, my preference always leaned towards chubby blondes, not trim brunettes, but she was the most reliable. I knew what to expect from her, and when to expect her.

So, every day, at the same time, regardless of anything else I was doing, I made sure to be near a window somewhere, just so that I could watch her walk past. It was a game, nothing more, just something to pass the time in what was otherwise a dull and inane job. I never had any real goal behind it, not then. It’s funny how these things start out sometimes.

I’ve never really been the shy kind. I usually don’t have any trouble approaching girls, in the right situation anyway, and my self-esteem is in perfectly good condition, but I’m a one-girl kind of guy and I had a steady thing going at the time which I had no intention of jeopardising.

Besides, walking up to a random girl on the street isn’t exactly in the same league as hitting on a girl in a nightclub. I mean, how do you approach them? What do you say? It’s not like you can offer to buy them a drink or ask them for a dance. So, other than enjoy the daily spectacle, I did nothing but watch her, same time, same place, same dull-but-sensible fashion sense.

Once, I thought she saw me too. She raised her head and looked in my general direction. Our eyes seemed to meet and for a moment I thought she was smiling at me but it was hard to tell. Just to be on the safe side I smiled back. I even thought of waving but I restrained myself. How would I explain that to my colleagues?

Already I was getting suspicious about them. No one said anything, but I did catch the occasional, bemused smile from some of them when I tried to find an excuse to gravitate towards the window at the appointed time. I was beginning to wonder if they knew what I was up to and what they thought about it. Looking back now, it’s hard for me to imagine why such things seemed so important, but at the time, well, I was a different person then.

One day, it must have been about a month or so after I first saw her, I came to a decision: I had to meet her. There was no real motive behind it, no big plans: my steady relationship was exactly that; there was no void in my life that I needed to fill — nothing.

The only explanation that I could think of was that it felt dishonest, staring at her the way that I did. I felt I owed it to her to at least introduce myself, tell her how I had come to know her, and thank her for brightening up my otherwise boring day. I didn’t really care if it sounded creepy — it sounded right. So, I had to act.

At first I had the idea of following her. Maybe she went to her favourite coffee shop or into an office, and that I could get talking to her that way. Somewhere discreet, somewhere familiar. Approaching her directly on the street didn’t feel right, I needed something more.

The following morning, about ten minutes before her regular time, I made up some rubbish excuse about needing to post mail and left the office. I loitered with intent inside a nearby newsagents, keeping a close eye on the street outside. On schedule, I saw her sail past and stop at the pedestrian lights. I dropped the paper I’d been pretending to read and gave chase, though I kept my distance.

The street was in the middle of the financial district of the city. Her dress had suggested to me that she worked in one of the many high-rise offices in this area, but there was no way of telling which one — it’s not as though she were wearing a uniform. I would just have to keep a close eye on her and see which one of them she entered, or that was the plan.

As it happened, she walked straight past all the revolving doors and the chrome façades and headed towards the crossroads at the end of the street. I quickened my pace as she ducked around the corner, hoping to catch up with her again, but I’d lost her.

I searched around briefly, hoping to spot her having a quiet coffee alone somewhere, but she was nowhere to be found. Eventually I gave up and went back to the office, resolving to do better next time.

Later that same evening, I had a fight with my girlfriend — a very rare occurrence. I don’t remember what it was about, I don’t remember who started it, I don’t even remember her name any more, but I do remember that it was something small and insignificant, and that it was out-of-the-blue. I went to sleep that night on the couch, and dreamed about tall brunettes in black skirts.

The next day I was holding my usual vigil by the window. It was another quiet day so I was not distracted by meetings or conversations or phone calls — just the way I liked it. The appointed time came, the appointed time went. No show.

I kept watch for a bit, no longer even pretending to work, in case she was delayed slightly, but even before lunch was called I knew that she was not going to appear. She had walked the same way at the same time without fail for the previous month. I knew that this could not merely be a delay — something had gone very wrong.

I got no work done at all that day. I couldn’t focus my attention on anything else other than her failure to appear. Nothing else seemed to matter. I tried to tell myself that there was a simple explanation — perhaps she was delayed, perhaps she was stuck in a meeting, perhaps she was off sick, perhaps everything would be back to normal in the morning — but somehow I feared the worst: she’d seen me, she ran, she would not be coming back.

I slept on the couch again that night, not because I had another argument with my girlfriend — I was too distracted to have the energy for one — but simply because I needed some time alone. I didn’t know it at the time, nor would I have cared, but that would soon become a recurring habit.

The next day confirmed it: the worst had happened. By the end of the week I didn’t even bother maintaining my vigil any more. She was gone.

Looking back, I sometimes marvel at my own stupidity. If I’d known then what I know now, I would not have wasted my time looking for her; I would not have spent my days trawling public databases, online networks and personnel records searching for something, anything that would have helped me locate her; I would not have had to sit through endless, pointless conversations with colleagues and seniors whose faces were becoming more and more vague and unreal to me; I would not have had to get involved with now nearly daily arguments with some chubby, blonde who now meant absolutely nothing to me any more. But, as always, hindsight is 20-20 vision and perhaps all these things were necessary in ways that even now I do not fully appreciate.

Those few weeks after her disappearance were the most painful and tedious of my life. I lost track of the reams of paperwork, the hundreds of websites and the thousands of photographs I went through in the vain attempt to find her trail. I had long since ceased even the pretence of work, and meetings simply did not happen — finding her again was now my full-time job.

One day, I don’t know when exactly, a man came to speak to me as I was browsing yet another website. Even then I found it hard to place his face, though I have to assume that he was my boss. I also don’t recall exactly what was said, except that it was heated and unpleasant.

The only thing I really know for sure was that by the end of the conversation I was no longer employed. My only real reaction at the time was one of mild irritation — it made my search a little more difficult.

As I left the office a short time later, carrying a large box full of hand-written notes and ignoring the silly, pathetic glances of my former colleagues, a curious sensation came over me, somewhere between the lifting of a great weight from my shoulders and the removal of a heavy veil from my head.

It took me some time to figure out what was happening, but by the time I arrived home I understood everything: this is what she wanted, this is what she was waiting for. I don’t really know why I knew that, I just did.

I took my paperwork — meticulous, painstaking, exhaustive notes that had taken me several weeks to compile — and dumped the lot in the nearest skip. I knew I would not be needing them any more.

The next morning I was ready for her. Knowing that she would go all the way down the street, I waited at the crossroads. I had not seen her in over a month, but somehow I just knew she would be there, and she was, on time, as she always had been, as though the last few weeks had never happened.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Alan Delaney

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