Chapter One – The Messenger.
Your door bell buzzes. You drag your heels to answer it.
“Aunt Tilly!” Your jaw drops. “I thought you were dead!”
She smiled sadly. Somehow, her smile was grey, like her hair, face and even clothes. She was entirely grey. You are aware of a pungent odour permeating the atmosphere. You last encountered it in a science lab, back in the day when you were studying for your GSCE A Levels. You feel embarrassed that Aunt Tilly has found you in such a state. You are wearing an old T-shirt and pair of shorts. Your hair is in disarray. Your apartment smells bad. You are so surprised by this visit and the suspicious circumstances of the smell, that you forget your manners.
You show her in, but Aunt Tilly does not budge from her stand. Her eyes are speaking to you. She communicates to you. She has come because of her daughter Tiffany. All this, without opening her lips once. It is strange how telepathy communicates volumes. You turn your head to look for your shoes. You have decided to go out to search for Tiffany. You are holding your trusty pair of black walking shoes, when you want to look at Aunt Tilly again. She is gone! She went silently. You quickly slip on your shoes and walk out. You’re searching for Aunt Tilly, to search for Tiffany.
You hear a familiar buzzing noise. It sounds like your door bell. You’re outside your home and yet you hear the door bell, like as if you are inside. It does not strike you as illogical. You hear your door bell and therefore you must be still at home. You turn around, in your bid to locate the sound. You can even smell it. Oddly, it smells like your hair oil on your pillow. You open your eyes. It is your pillow! Your face is against your pillow. What happened a few seconds back was a dream. However, you still hear the buzzing. It has followed you out from dreamland, and into your waking hour. The buzzing sounds so real.
You don’t want to get up. You’re still wallowing in the comfort of sleep, and a dream. Many things are happening. They are still happening. You don’t want to leave the dream. You want to see the follow through, to the end. You want to pretend you’re asleep, or not at home. The buzzing gets louder. It smacks into the curtain on your left. That’s not a buzzer! You open your eyes. It is still dark. You had just dreamed about hearing the buzzing sound. Only that it is real. And it has landed near you. The night light gives off barely enough light, for you to see that a large, blue beetle owned the buzz. It is on the curtain.
You flick off the beetle. It is strangely still. You have time to peer closer. It is a scarab. You shiver. You get goose bumps. The scarab is also called the Egyptian beetle, which is a mythical symbol of death, regeneration and rebirth. It is a messenger. Someone is going to die.
Nonsense, you tell yourself. For every scarab that appears, it does not mean that someone will die. You are not an infidel. That mythology stuff is legend. You can forget it. You turn your attention to what is real and a pressing concern. Are you going to send the scarab for regeneration, or toss it out the window? If it lives, it may return to pox you again. You pull a piece of tissue from the box on the bedside table. You aim at the scarab and grab it. Grumbling under your breath, you walk to the kitchen and contemplate tossing it into the rubbish chute. Another sudden chill paralysed your nervous system. You can’t do it. This Scarab may be the reincarnation of the Egyptian god Khepri, who often appears as this species of beetle. You stop in your tracks. You release the beetle out the courtyard’s window. It disappears. It must have fallen straight down. You shrug your shoulders and say, “I didn’t kill you. I let you go.”
Do you go back to bed? You don’t feel sleepy anymore. The anger of having to deal with a beetle has evaporated any remaining drowsiness. What’s the time now? You look at the alarm clock on the dining table. It says its 5 a.m. There is no point trying to go back to sleep. You might as well start your day. You walk inside your bathroom to start your early morning grooming routine.
As you wash your face, you slowly begin to really wake up. You struggle to remember the dream. You remember seeing Aunt Tilly’s grey face. You remember her plea to look for Tiffany. You can think clearer now that the cold water has awakened you. Why did you have that dream? Were you doing something prior to sleep, that influenced your brain, to create that dream? As far as you can recall, you did not engage in any activity that had any passing reference to Aunt Tilly or Tiffany. As a matter of fact, you had not even thought of Aunt Tilly and Tiffany, since the funeral. You feel a twinge of regret at having ignored them. You were struggling for your keep and had no time for anyone else.
You think hard about what science and culture have taught you about dreaming of dead people. Psychic stimulation may have activated your brain cells that stored the memory of Aunt Tilly. What were you doing or thinking the day before you had this dream? You wreck your brain trying to recollect what you did yesterday. Something vaguely or remotely connected to Aunt Tilly may have triggered the dream. But what did that? Your poor brain does not know.
What has culture taught you about dressing of a dead relative? She wanted to convey a message. She was smiling. In the language of dreams in your culture, a smile is not a smile. It means the opposite. A smile is a cry. Aunt Tilly was not smiling about her daughter Tiffany. She was crying about Tiffany. Impossible! Why would she cry over Tiffany? Certainly not the Tiffany you know, who was smart, sophisticated, sexy, sociable and super rich. Tiffany had everything by the age of 30. She had all the five Cs of cash, condominium, car, credit card and country club membership. She climbed up the Corporate ladder and smashed through the glass ceiling. She should be hard at work during a good weekday. What is Tiffany doing here at the airport? Who is that woman standing with her? The poorly dyed dirty blond did not speak well of her dress sense and social status. Bottle blonds are not for every woman.
Had Aunt Tilly come to remonstrate you for failing to pay respects to her at her final resting place? You feel ashamed for not ever once visiting her at the eternal garden of rest. Her columbarium niche was situated in the suburbs. It costs time and money to travel all the way out there. She had died over a year ago. Her soul should have passed on to the next stage. “I’m really sorry, Aunt Tilly!” You mutter an apology and make a mental note to pray for Aunt Tilly. You might even offer a mass and donation to send merits to her soul.
You fill the electric kettle and set the water to boil for coffee. You love the taste of caffeine. You need this help. There is no other breakfast for you. The piping hot beverage does the trick for you.
You walk into your dining room, which doubles up as your study and workstation. Half of the French doors is open. The chilly breeze helps you to wake up. Creak! Is that the Scarab? You feel afraid. Creak! Relax, its only the drying rack which is being swayed by the strong gust.
You sit on the sofa and begin your morning meditation. You love your prayer time. You infuse with confidence to deal with the world. Thirty minutes later, you are steeped in courage.
You turn on your modem and router. The lights come on slowly as the equipment warms up. Your switch on your MacBook. The piano chord sounds loud in the silence of early dawn. You have time to check your emails, news, social media and get ready to face the real world. Your body is awake but not your mind. Like a slow machinery, you need your oil and warm up. You drink coffee as you walk through your morning routine. Caffeine chugs into your arteries and across the blood-brain barrier. You are awake. And pleased you have nothing urgent that demands your time and attention.
You walk into your bedroom and slide open your closet. You pick out a top and bottom that co-ordinates. This is your winning outfit for today. This is the outfit that will see you through whatever today brings.
You take a quick shower and change into your costume. You become that successful person society wants you to believe, not the hungry freelancer who yearns to master the secret art of writing bestsellers.
You grab a few stationery supplies, your cameras, and toss them into your bag. If you don’t see your breakthrough, at least you will hang around to complete a few sketches. You waltz through your apartment to close the windows, switch off all electrical power sockets, turn off gas knobs on the stove and double check that the second exit door is locked. All that will shut up your OCD circuit. You are good to go.
You take the elevator down to the car park. You have the option of stepping out at Level One, but you hate to do the catwalk across the central public garden. You are not cut out to steal the limelight on central aisle. You prefer the walk through the car park in the basement. You are careful to avoid stepping on the loose drain covers; the ones that would resonate with vibrations and announce to your neighbours that someone failed to stealthily cross the car park. You are so busy watching your feet that you miss someone. Until you feel you are watched. The hairs on your arms react to tactile stimulation, like the burning stare from eyes. Drat. There is no escaping prying eyes, even in the car park.
You spy a figure standing in the extreme end of the car park. You can hardly discern the features. The individual’s back is against the sunlight and the silhouette is dark. The figure looks omniscient. The sun moves, or a cloud has eclipsed the sun. You can see again. The person wears a helmet, decorated with a pair of short antennas. The head gear looks like an insect’s head. Specifically, a beetle’s head. There is no visor, or it has been painted over. The body is clothed in tight fitting clothes. The top is a tunic. The bottom is a short skirt, or loin cloth. You swear you have not seen a more intimidating woman in a skirt. The right hand holds a staff. The stick is too tall to be a walking stick. The left hand is holding a big keyring. The costume is missing footwear. The figure does not wear shoes or slippers. You assume this is a she, but from the manner this ambiguous being has been staring at you, you know it is a he.
You feel afraid. It is not yet Halloween, by a long shot. Maybe this person is dressed for an acting part. There are many iconic characters used in promotions. You think on your feet. Should you make a run for it? If you reach the exit of the car park, you can call for help and attract the attention of the security guards.
You see the helmet’s antennas quivering in the air. Drat! The beetle head is sniffing the air to detect movements. This means it has poor eyesight and needs to smell you. Like a predator. You get a grip. There is no way a helmet can tweak its antennas. It is probably the wind blowing the suspended antennas.
You hasten your walk. Big mistake. The beetle man moves. You catch a whiff of a bad smell. Like the smell of decay. You suspect it is the source. What kind of human produces a fart that can be smelled ten meters away? That is no ordinary human.
You start running.
A car engine makes noise. You have to turn to look. A neighbor drives his white Porsche slowly round the bend. The beetle costume man stops. His antennas quiver. He is distracted by the car. You take the opportunity to run. As you reach the foot of the exit, you can not resist to look back. The beetle man is gone. The neighbor has parked his Porsche and exited his car. You see someone behind him. You know it before your eyes tell you. This is all strangely familiar, even as it is happening before your eyes. It plays like a horror movie. You have seen it before. Your thoughts race across your brain in the split second before your eyes set upon the figure behind the driver. It is the beetle man.
You hesitate to leave a fellow human in trouble. You think about calling the police for help. What are you going to say? A beetle is stalking a human in a car park? How ridiculous this sounds! You sound like a mad woman. You decide to let the battle of the fittest determine the outcome.
You run up the hill to get out of the basement car park. Fresh air never smelled sweeter. You try to catch your breath. You don’t want to look like a maniac. You are sweating. One guard is standing at the security barrier. You are sure your state of panic did not escape the prying eyes of the sentry. You raise your hand in an acknowledgement greeting. He waves back. You steal a look behind you. You hear the rev of a vehicle engine. Can it be the Beetle Man coming to get you? You contemplate telling the guard about your caper in the car park. What if he does not believe you? What is going to happen when he thinks you are bonkers? You are past the security barrier now. You see pedestrians and motorists on the road. You let out a sigh. Surely Beetle Man does not dare to attack you in broad daylight!
The vehicle approaches. It creeps up the steep driveway of the exit of the car park. It is the same car belonging to your neighbour. You freeze. You want to walk away from this nightmare. Your legs are pinned to the ground. You have to look. The car drives up to the security barrier. It stands close to you. The driver turns his head towards you. You can’t tell if he is smiling. The guard depresses the button to raise the barrier, and the car is off. He is not interested to mess with you. He was not waiting for you in the car park. He was waiting to get a car to drive away in it. Maybe you should retrace your footsteps to look for the original driver of the car? Maybe you should check on his welfare? What if he needs help?
It is none of your business. You have to hurry to keep your appointment. You hear the engine of another vehicle. It is the bus. It has been flagged down by some commuters at the bus stop. You sprint the remaining distance to the bus stop. You’re the last person to board. You hear heavy steps behind you. You look behind. No one. It is probably your imagination running to keep up with you.
One leap and you’re in the bus. You fumble in your large bag for your bus card. Beep! You’re clear to get your seat. All eyes are on you. Creeps. You scramble to the nearest empty double seat and plonk down to the one next to the aisle. Thoughts are racing in your mind. The scramble to get on the bus does not displace the earlier thoughts on escaping Beetle Man.
A mother and young son hop on. She steers the boy towards your empty seat. He wears a T-shirt with a picture. Ant Man. You get the idea you will be plagued by insects. You graciously give-up your seat, to facilitate mother and son bonding.
You shut your eyes for a few seconds. If there is one thing you have learned from your experience riding crowded buses and trains, is that you can stand and sleep on your feet. You blank out all new incoming stimuli. You focus on one word. Peace. The past thoughts race on, and they pass behind your head. You face forward looking at Peace. The front scenery is calm and peaceful. Beep! It is only the buzzer for the alighting passengers. You steal a look. None look like Beetle Man. He can’t be in two places simultaneously.
And you almost miss your stop. Except that this is the stop to the nearest train station and the most popular stop. Almost everyone on the lower deck of the bus want to alight at this stop. It is faster to take the train, from station to station. You have opened your eyes in the nick of time. You stand up and walk to the exit. You disembark and the first person you see is not your favourite kind of guy. Does nobody think it strange to see a man dressed in costume, when Halloween is still far away in the horizon? The commuters standing and milling around at the bus stop seem oblivious to Beetle Man. You walk quickly towards the entrance of the train station. You swerve around to look back and he is gone!
You flash your bus card and the reader deducts your fare. You walk down two levels to the underground tube, and then one level back up, to the train platform. There are many people. The noise buzzes. It is uncomfortable, but yet soothingly familiar. You look furtively around for Beetle man. Your eyes tell you that you are safe but your heart beats wildly. Your palms sweat.
The train has arrived. You stand in the queue to board. It is crowded. Like a hundred bodies standing neck to neck in a carriage. The stench of crammed human bodies is overwhelming. Nobody seems to have used any deodorant or perfume in this carriage.
It is a short ride to the airport. Almost the entire car empties out at the airport. You can feel the center of gravity of the car shifting as the tons gravitate towards the door. You are carried outwards by the wave of bodies. Like crowd surfing. This is one of the few times you are glad for momentum. You have plenty of time to spare. You walk leisurely towards the Arrival Hall. Something does not feel quite right. You detect a queer odor in the air. Something does not smell good. The smell has permeated everywhere’. You are dogged by this funny, bad smell. You begin to suspect you are the source. You raise your left arm and sniff surreptitiously at your arm pit. You do the same for your other arm. You make a spectacle of yourself. You feel the heat of ten thousand pairs of eyes. If only that could burn up the odor. You make a mental note to buy a strong deodorant when you visit the pharmacy.
The place has full, centralised air-conditioning. It must be something in the ventilation. There are women and men. Some of them stand around, talking in low voices. Others are walking through. You see an odd pair of women. One is fair, with a short, sassy hair cut. The other is dark, with lanky, shoulder length hair. On an ordinary day, you wouldn’t give them another glance. But this is no ordinary day. It started with the buzz of a beetle, a Beetle Man and a boy in an insect Tee. One of the women looks familiar. It is something about the swing of her head and the manner she flicks her hair. Deja vu! Its Tiffany!
You call out, “Tiffany!” The woman half turned her head. There was a flicker in her eyes. Perhaps it was recognition? The glint in her eyes changed. Now it was only a hard look. The other woman turned to look at you too. She said something to Tiffany, but you could not make out the words. It could have been something along the lines of “Who is she?” Tiffany stared at you blankly. “I thought you were my cousin Tiffany?” You made your statement. She shook her head. You are denied. You feel hurt. Your cousin has betrayed you. Maybe she has reasons for doing so. You swallow your pride. “I’m sorry. I was mistaken. I thought you were someone else. My bad.” You beat a hasty retreat. Your cheeks are burning. Your feet are scrambling to get away as fast you can. You are in such a hurry to leave the spot that you almost trip yourself up.
You are confused. Why has Tiffany pretended not to recognise you? There is no bad blood between the two of you.
You steal a glance backwards. Tiffany is also stealing a look at you. She appears to be attentive towards her companion, but her eyes are stealing glimpses sideways.
You get goose bumps. This is weird. You normally get them only when something supernatural is felt. Your intuition warns you that something is not quite what it appears to be. Your gut feeling is that something supernatural is surrounding this circumstance. But what? You can’t put your finger on it.
The women are looking around constantly. They are guarded. One of them stares into the distance. You follow her gaze. She is probably staring at some male patrons in the coffeeshop in front. Maybe the lady has no idea of hypo-magnetism. It won’t work at this distance.
You are so confused you become disorientated. You don’t know where to go after this. You’ve found Tiffany, and in the same breath, lost her. You have beat a hasty retreat. Now you can stand aside to lick your wounds. You stand behind the indoor plants in the flowerbed. Tiffany and her companion are still engaged in conversation. They were trying to communicate without appearing to be too obvious. They were passing signals to each other, unobtrusively. The fair complexioned woman often looked anxiously into the distance, as if she was searching for someone. Suddenly, the hairs on your neck bristle and stand up. Something was up in the air. Tiffany and her companion were walking towards the passenger self check-in. They were moving farther away from you. You have difficulty seeing them. You think of your camera lens. You quickly dip your hand into your bag and pull out your camera. The telescopic lens was useful was you spied through it. You could view the people in the distance. It was as if they were standing nearby. There was a short queue of passengers. Why are they going to check-in, when they have no luggage with them? Neither woman was carrying even a carry on bag. Only the fair one had a tiny sling bag over her shoulder. She took out a small bottle and handkerchief. She applied several drops to her hankie. Tiffany approached an elderly woman passenger at the end of the line. She smiled and was talking to her. Suddenly, the fair woman gripped the woman from behind her, using her left arm. With her right hand, she applied her hankie to his face. The Old Lady was fat and lethargic. She could hardly fight back as she was surprised and overpowered from behind.
You are afraid for Tiffany more than the elderly woman. If the old lady dies, Tiffany could face some serious charges for third degree assault or murder. You rack your brains to think of something. You want to intervene to prevent a big mess from happening. But how? It has to be a distraction that will summon Tiffany’s attention away from the targeted victim. You can’t call her name. There are spies and agents watching her. She could fall into bigger danger. You want to look to the skies for inspiration and a solution. You are in an enclosed dome which is the airport. There are false ceilings everywhere. Embedded lights, smoke detectors and sprinklers dot the monotony of the ceiling. A camera rears its ugly eye. Aha! You are inspired to do something to try a disruption. You fear punishment, retribution and justice. Your concern for Tiffany overwhelms your inner sense of fear and security for yourself. You rummage around in your bag. You thank your lucky stars for not emptying out your bag despite promising yourself to do so. You move to a spot where there are no eyes above you. Your hands are shaking but you struggle to maintain a firm grip on the seemingly flimsy objects. You draw out a stick and strike. The ciggie lights up. You watch nervously as the smoke drifts upwards. Tee minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 … and brrrrrrrrrriiinnnggg, brrrrrrrrrriiinnnggg … Its deafening. You run into the nearest female toilet and slam the door of the nearest cubicle. The alarm follows you. You toss the incriminating object into the bowl. You flush. It refuses to dive down. You use the water jet to aid its journey. At last, it swims away. (TO BE CONTINUED FOR THIS SECTION)
You release a sigh of relief. The evidence has been disposed. Just as you were about to unlock your cubicle to leave the toilet, you hear footsteps. You stay your hand.
“We better wash off these chemicals. They’ll make us sick.”
It’s Tiffany’s voice!
(Sounds of splashing water)
“Do you think we got her?” This must have been the other woman who was with Tiffany.
“Maybe. That stupid fire alarm interrupted our mission. Hurry and wash your hands properly.”
“Really? I thought the Boss sent backup to help us escape. That alarm wasn’t set off by accident. What are the odds that it was a coincidence that the alarm rang just after we started our mission?”
“I think you’re right. Those chemicals are really bad. I already feel like throwing up.”
“Oh no, you mustn’t fall sick. We’re in this together. “
“Don’t worry about me. I think I can make it to a cab.”
“Yes, we must leave immediately. The police may be here soon to search for us”
“Did we get caught by the CCTV?”
“You know there are many cameras covering the area. It isn’t possible to avoid all the cameras!”
“We can dye our hair and change our looks. I can cut your hair and you can do mine. We’ll leave this country and no one will be able to find us.”
“Yes, it’s time to run. We’ll leave here separately to avoid suspicion.”
(The door slams)
Your heart beats fast. You try to process this information. It’s difficult to accept Tiffany is involved in this elaborate scam. You are in urgent need to leave this place. You don’t want to be caught in the police net when they start their operations to catch suspects. You walk quickly out of the ladies’ toilet. In the distance, you see a commotion. The old lady was lying on the floor. One airline official was standing over her. Two medical emergency responders were trying to revive her. One security officer was on his Walkie Talkie, summoning for help. You open your bottle and swing it around you. Enough air has been swept into the bottle. You replace the lid and drop it into your bag. You see more airport officers running to the scene. Uh oh. It’s time for you to leave. You walk as fast as your legs can carry you. You can’t resist to look back. The offices are engaged in intense conversation. They are looking around. You turn quickly and break into a slow trot. It’s all you can do to stop running and bringing attention to yourself.
Here is the train station. When will the next train arrive? Ding -dong. The unmissable sounds of an approaching train are like music to your ears. The train stops and you board. It does not leave the station. It is stationary to allow more passengers to board. You can’t wait for it to happen. You don’t want to be delayed. Every second counts. More passengers board the train. Ohhhhhhh. You are in agony. What if the police arrive?
Ding-dong! Ding-dong! “Train doors are closing. Please keep clear!”
You allow yourself to sink into your seat. The unforgiving plastic does not offer much comfort. However you are so grateful to be able to be sent away from this place that you feel as though you are on the best train journey ever.
As the train was pulling out of the station, you see two police officers approaching the control station on the platform. You are saved in the nick of time.
The journey home was exhaustive as your overworked brain tried to process what you witnessed. You don’t know Tiffany at all. It was totally out of character for her to do such acts. She is not the Tiffany you knew since childhood. That Tiffany wouldn’t hurt a fly.
You decide to do some research online. That old lady seemed familiar. You must have seen her before somewhere. Where do you start when you want to search for her name? You decide to type in a search term in Google browser – “famous old lady in airport” The results turn up a string of related keywords. One of these caught your eye. You decide to look up “old lady with dolls”. You are brought to a webpage with an article about XYZ whose reputation is larger than life. She is a Doll Whisperer. She repairs broken dolls, refurbishes them and gives them a new life.
As quickly as she began her assault, she ended it. Tiffany was walking away as soon as her companion finished her gagging of the elderly woman.
The fair woman walked briskly away, in a different direction. You realise a hit just went down. The outcome is unlikely to be good for the victim. You train your camera lens in the direction where you last saw Tiffany. You can’t see her. You try to scan the surroundings for her. She is nowhere to be found.
“Omigosh! What have you done Tiffany?” You can’t help yourself as you mutter. This is not the Tiffany you know. This is not the cousin who saved you from your school bullies.
He was a truffle unsteady on his feet as he struggled to compose himself. He changed his mind about using the self check-in kiosk and left his place in the queue. There were a few passengers in the lines of the kiosks to the left and right. They appeared to be unaware of the commotion and acted nonplussed.
What should you do? Do you run up to the man to assist him? If you do this, would you be acting against Tiffany’s interest? She is involved in this fracas. What if she later confronts you for interfering in her affairs? She is your relative and blood is thicker than water.
The man walks across the hall. He is heading in your direction. You feel anxious that he will see you. He may ask you for help. You consider walking away, to avoid being seen. Then, you realise he is not walking towards you, but the men’s room. He almost walks out of reach of your camera lens. As he passes an airline’s information counter, he pauses to talk to the security officer on duty. He is gesturing with his hands and the motions he makes coincide with what his attackers did to him. You guess he was narrating the story.
The security officer uses his Walkie talkie to call out to his colleague standing at the far end of the hall. That officer comes running. The two men accompany the fat man, as they walk away. Where are they going? You contemplate following them. You are afraid they may notice you. What’s a girl doing, tailing three men?
You scan the surroundings through your lens. You see quite a number of people staring into the open space. What are they looking at? You feel the gaze of a pair of eyes staring straight at you. You are afraid. Those are the most evil pair of eyes you have seen in a long time. What if the eyes suspect you have witnessed an event you shouldn’t have? You are jolted out of your comfort zone. It was fine being a voyeur and watching people. However, you hate it when the table is turned and you are in the cross hairs of a viewer. What does the prey do? You’d better run and camouflage yourself in the security of cover. You scramble and start walking away from this spot. Your steps quicken. You find yourself almost in a run. You are at the entrance of the underground train station. You finally trust yourself to look back. No one is following you. At least, you seem to think that no one is on your tail. You notice small pockets of commuters waiting at the station. Is anyone staring at you? You don’t seem to think so.
The buzzer sounds. A train is approaching. You walk to the starting end of the train line. You are at the best position to look down the line, at other commuters who are waiting for the train. You see some commuters who have taken up their positions in the queue. They stand facing the barricades, waiting to jump into the train carriages, the minute the barricades open. There is not a second to lose if. anyone wants to grab a seat inside the carriage. You don’t see anyone suspicious. The travelers are in their own world. They avoid eye contact. You don’t see anyone you recognise. If anyone wants to catch you for watching the gagging incident, you must escape their clutches. You don’t want to get involved. You sit down at the bench instead of taking a position to queue to enter the train. You want to throw off the. scent.If anyone is watching you, they would think you are just sitting there and not getting ready to board the train. Any trolls would get confused and caught unawares. You plan to jump into a train carriage just before the toot sounds to warn that the train door is closing.
The train arrives. The doors open. The toot sounds the warning that the doors will close in seconds. You rush inside. You barely make it in before the automatic doors close behind you, with just a hair’s breath to spare. You look anxiously around. There are a few commuters seated in your carriage. There is a mother with a toddler. A middle-aged man with a slight paunch is engaged with his smartphone. He is watching a video. The audio is slightly muffled. You can barely make out the sounds. The speakers are conversing in some foreign language. Foreign. Language. Your mind clicks the two together. This does not look too good.
Since you are at one end of the carriage, you think of walking down to the second carriage. You glance down the corridor. The second carriage is also sparsely populated. There was a woman dressed in hijab. A few local school students in uniform were chatting lively. You might feel safer sitting amongst the natives.
You get up and walk to the second carriage. You choose a corner seat by the exit. preparing to bolt out of the train when it arrives at. your desired. destination.
The old man who was watching his foreign language film decides to change his seat too. He was not sitting where you last saw him. He is still in the same carriage,but he is on a different seat. He has positioned himself on another seat that has an unblocked view of you. You feel afraid. He must have a motive for changing his seat. He may be using his hand held device as a decoy, to deceive others into thinking that he is watching something on his device. He may be spying on you instead.
You try to keep calm. You try to picture those resurrected old war posters that instruct readers to keep calm and carry. on. You just need a few more minutes of this calmness, before you arrive at your desired station. Then you can make a run for it. Surely you will be able to outrun. the old man. What if there are others who are tailing you? Will you be able to dodge all the undesirable elements?
So many thoughts race through your mind. You poor brain feels like it is going to explode.
The automatic voice recorder announces your destination. You grip your bag tightly and try to look nonchalant. You don’t want to alert any trolls that you are going to alight.
The train doors slide open. You wait until the last minute, to stand up and dash through the doors. You can’t resist to look back.
The balding man is also on the platform. He shuffles his feet slowly around. He looks as if he is waiting for you to begin walking. What are you going to do now? Your heart is in your mouth. The woman dressed in a hijab cuts between you and the old man. Her back is towards you. The old man stops shuffling his feet. He seems to be staring at the woman. So, an unlikely beauty is going to tame the beast. This is your life savior. You run to the escalator and run down the moving steps. You can’t get away fast enough.
You pour a tiny fraction of the air into a small vial. You don’t want to waste precious raw ingredient that forms the basis of your methodological procedure. You screw the lid of the original source while leaving the small vial open. You try to sniff the air for stimulants. You feel slightly nervous as you prepare mentally, emotionally and physically. You sit still. The surroundings are quiet and calm. You close your eyes and wait.
You ride on the air molecules to seek the old lady. You travel forwards in time. No, this is not where you desire to be. You have to back-paddle. You see streams of images running past like a video tape on fast forward. The air around the old lady has been many places. You go back, back, until it slows down. It has regressed to its original home where the surroundings are quieter. The molecule has almost stopped moving. You look around you. You are in a home. The furniture is teak wood. The owner loved no nonsense settee chairs and a dining table set. The display cabinet was of matching teak. Painted porcelain plates, tea sets and old crockery were crammed into the small space. You look around for the main door. There are so many curtains. There is only one full length curtain from the floor to nearly the ceiling. This must be it. You float towards this curtain and wedge yourself past the material. You see wood. Now, to see the unit number and street name. How would you get past this obstacle? You are not in your physical form. This door weighs a ton against your minute form. You back away into the living room. There must be an alternative method to see the address of this house. You scan the room. There is a letter rack on a corner of the coffee table. THERE ARE LETTERS IN IT. You read one envelope and memorise the address.
Meow! A cat suddenly jumps on the coffee table.
Fetching your bottle of air from the scene, You pour of the air into a small vial. You don’t want to waste precious raw ingredient that forms the basis of your methodological procedure. You screw the lid of the original source while leaving the small vial open. You try to sniff the air for stimulants. You feel slightly nervous as you prepare mentally, emotionally and physically. You sit still. The surroundings are quiet and calm. You close your eyes and wait.
You ride on the air molecules to seek the old lady. You travel forwards in time. No, this is not where you desire to be. You have to back-paddle. You see streams of images running past like a video tape on fast forward. The air around the old lady has been many places. You go back, back, until it slows down. It has regressed to its original home where the surroundings are quieter. The molecule has almost stopped moving. You look around you. You are in a home. The furniture is teak wood. The owner loved no nonsense settee chairs and a dining table set. The display cabinet was of matching teak. Painted porcelain plates, tea sets and old crockery were crammed into the small space. You look around for the main door. There are so many curtains. There is only one full length curtain from the floor to nearly the ceiling. This must be it. You float towards this curtain and wedge yourself past the material. You see wood. Now, to see the unit number and street name. How would you get past this obstacle? You are not in your physical form. This door weighs a ton against your minute form. You back away into the living room. There must be an alternative method to see the address of this house. You scan the room. There is a letter rack on a corner of the coffee table. THERE ARE LETTERS IN IT. You read one envelope and memorise the old lady’s address.
Meow! A cat suddenly jumps on the coffee table. You are fearful for your life. You are in spirit form, which is nothing but air. If the cat breathes or swallows too much air, you will become trapped inside the feline. You flap your arms like wings. The convection currents may carry you upwards and fly you to safety
The cat sniffs the air excitedly. It has caught your scent. It prances around on the coffee table excitedly. Meow! Meow! A left paw swipes at your ankle. It misses by a hair’s breath. You heave a sign of relief. Oh no! Wrong move. As air rushes out of your lungs, you deflate a little and sink. You’re going to sink down into the clutches of the cat! You swallow a gulp of air. You manage to float up by a mere fraction of a millimetre. You have to breathe. You have to breathe out this air and you’ll deflate again. You hate yourself for falling prey to this dumb idea of coming here. You’re wasting time beating yourself up. How do you scare this cat away? How about Bow Wow? The cat is puzzled. It hears the bark but doesn’t see its corresponding animal.
There are shelves from floor to ceiling. There are many dolls sitting on the shelves. Some are from famous brands while others look like imports from different countries.Every doll was uniquely dressed. They wore all manner of dress, from pajamas, nightgowns, day wear, to nightwear and sportswear. There was a doll for every occasion, dress and culture. There was easily at least a hundred dolls. The old lady was an avid collector of dolls. Some dolls were in their original boxes. They could be worth a lot of money to collectors who are interested to buy them. The thought came to your mind that perhaps this old lady was being targeted for her doll collection. If predators harm or kill her, then they would steal her doll collection.
The hairs on your arms stood up. Hundreds of eyes stared back at you. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a tiny movement, followed by a convection current. You turn your head. You look closely. Nothing. Your eyes may have played tricks on you. You would like to ask the dolls, what are you all doing here? Weirdly, you feel that they may also like to ask you, what are YOU doing here? Mentally the word VISITING is at the topmost of your brain. Did the eyes turn hostile? Is your imagination playing tricks on you? Glassy eyes, blank expressions, silence.
Grrrrrrr … Grrrrrrrr … Oh no. A bull dog appears. The cat leaps down from the coffee table and dashes out of the living room in a flash. The mutt gives chase. With the animals gone, you are free to travel back. You will your mind to direct mental energy to propel your journey. You are tired and fighting against fatigue. Your energy recedes. You struggle on. You have to leave this place before you drop into an exhausted heap. You feel heavy. You sink. You’ve got to fight this. You try to meditate. You think of traveling back home. You are enveloped by homesickness. Your home is calling you. You can smell the faint fragrance of Xxxxx from your room. You had left the stag(check spelling) uncorked on your dresser, in your hurry to complete your grooming routine. The molecules of scent escaped. You are thankful they have reached you. Now you are going to ride a molecule of compound to travel home. You wave your arms to draw a draft of air towards yourself. The current helps to move the fragrant molecule towards you. You catch hold of it and program it to turn back. Head for home, you say. The molecule is confused. It wants to continue its journey of escape. It wants to flee the glass prison which held it captive. It fights against your programming. Relax, you tell it. You are never returning inside the bottle. I just need you to travel back home. It stares hard at you. It seems to discern you are telling the truth. It wants to trust you. It allows you to hitch a ride on its back. It takes bearing to take stock of its orientation. Slowly, like a pilot, it gears up for its flight. Slowly but surely, like an old airplane, it starts to fly. It is a slow crawl. The molecule is weak. You are also weak. The passing scenery becomes familiar. You begin to recognise your neighbourhood. You’ve made it back! Thank you, you say to the fragrant molecule. No problem, it says. Before you can even say more, it zooms up and blasts away, as quick as a rocket.
You float into your room. You stay still to summon your energy. You transform back into human form. Ahhhhhhh. You take at least a minute to feel your fingers and toes again.
You place your source bottle of original air carefully in a locked drawer. You will need to harness the power of quantum physics to become light enough to hitch a ride on an old molecule, to travel back in time.
You know her address. If your dream machination fails, you can fall back into Plan B. Which is to physically pay Old Lady a visit. You sit on the floor and get into the Zen position. You direct your mental energy on sending a message to her. You close your eyes and visualize her. You want to speak to her. She is busy attending to her rows and rows of dolls. “But this is a matter of utmost importance”, you protest. “Nothing is more important than banishing dust mites from my precious dolls! Look how dust has dirtied their fabulous looks!” She takes a doll in her left hand, while rubbing its face with a cloth in her right hand.
You are not in the mood to perform your regular activities for the day. Thoughts are racing in your head. How are you going to convey a message to the old lady? She needs to know that she is in grave danger. Should you pay her a visit? What would her reaction be? Would she believe you? What if she asks for your source of information? You have to protect your cousin Tiffany. You can’t say anything that would implicate her in this scam. Should you say you are a clairvoyant who sees the future? What if she thinks you are queer in the head? First impression is often the last impression and you don’t want to wing it.
You decide to try another strategy. You sit still and close your eyes. You try to connect with your inner mind. Somewhere, your pineal gland is sleeping. Hey, you call out to it. I need your help. Silence. Undeterred, you go ahead. Hey, I want to dream of the Old Lady who was attacked at the airport. I need to pass her a message. It is a question of life and death. Will the Universe please help me and allow me to access the channel of communication?
You dream. You are walking into a crowd. A sea of people offer resistance. You look at every face. No doubt, you miss a few faces. This is a time you wish you could summon her by telepathy. Is it even possible in a dream? You close your eyes. You focus on visualising the old lady. A face vaguely forms. You see an eye embedded in wrinkled parchment. Another eye looks at you. It is of the same pair. You process this information. Where there are eyes, there is also a face. You wait to see more. You are rewarded with a nose, lips, a chin and … an angry face. You are so shocked you step back to look at the face in entirety. It’s the old lady!
“Hello!” you manage to croak out. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“I know. I heard you summoning me … in my mind. What do you want?”
“I’ve something important to tell you. You are in grave danger.”
“Nonsense! Who would want to harm me? I have no enemies!”
“I think robbers or thieves are trying to steal your dolls.”
“No, not my precious babies! Who are those robbers and thieves? How can I protect my babies?”
“I don’t have concrete ideas. Maybe you should pay attention to your safety and security of your home. Keep away your dolls, under lock and key. If anyone asks you about your dolls, say there are gone. Then maybe you won’t be in their cross-hairs anymore.”
“What do the robbers look like? Can you at least tell me so that I can keep a lookout for them?”
You don’t want to betray Tiffany and yet you wish to save the old lady and her doll collection.
“I think they are females.”
“Are they people who you know?”
“No. I saw them in a dream.”
The old lady looked at you suspiciously.
“Are you one of them?”
“No, Mam. I wouldn’t warn you if I was a bad nut.”
(THIS PART IS DREAM WITHIN DREAM)
“I’ve got to run,” I say as I simultaneously turn on my Chelshire cat disappearing act. I allow my molecules to slowly dissipate by traveling away from this place. Slowly, my other molecules will be pulled towards the leading pack and I would disappear.
You wonder if you would need to pay her a physical visit. A bigger pressing concern would be Tiffany. Where has she gone? She must be in hiding. Surely she is aware that the airport authorities and police are searching for her! You want to call her but you don’t want to alert the other woman, who may be with Tiffany. If Tiffany comes under suspicion, then she may be in danger. You contemplate leaving a message for Tiffany, in either her voicemail, or email. Then again, these methods are even riskier. Anybody could lay their hands on her cell phone or email, and read your messages. The better option would be to speak to her directly.
You reach for your cell phone to place the call. It was the longest minute of your life. If she didn’t answer her cell phone, it was unlikely she would be accessing and responding to her email. You loathe to call her parents, who are Aunt XXX and Uncle YYY.
Now that there are no easy ways to contact Tiffany, you focus on metaphysical ways. You close your eyes and shut out stimuli from the environment. You think of Tiffany. You visualise her. You tell your pineal gland to communicate to Tiffany. Tiffany, we’ve got to talk. Let me help you. There are so many ways to solve a problem. Please get in touch with me.
You are hopeful on the day you left your message. One day passes. The second day dawns. You begin to lose hope. Maybe Tiffany wants to stay away. Maybe Tiffany Has to stay hidden.
You choose an evening to make your visit. It is the time of rest and when most people will be at home. Elderly people go to bed early so you don’t want to be late. You wonder if you should bring a gift to sweeten your visit. But what to give? She may refuse to accept something for herself but she would not decline something for her beloved dolls. You think of the dusty dolls on the shelves. What would they need? Evidently they require a generous amount of time to care for them. They are like children, except they were objects. Needing dusting and cleaning. Which could be helped by a vacuum cleaner. Now don’t you have a small vacuum cleaner to spare somewhere? Yes, one that you didn’t ever use and could give away to someone who could make good use of it. She could use it to vacuum dust from her shelves of dolls. His is battery operated and wireless so she could take it anywhere up and down the shelves. She would not be hindered by a power cord. Yes, this would make a useful gift, if she would accept it. You scramble to look for your hand h eld vacuum cleaner. You vaguely recall having kept it in the utility closet. After several seconds of digging, you spy the small vacuum cleaner box. You pull it out of its shelf and open the box to ensure it still holds its original contents. You pull a sheet of wet wipe to clean the dusty box. The box looks polished and presentable. Now it’s time to prepare yourself. You walk over to your closet and stare at your wardrobe. What would appeal to an old lady? What would help you to get accepted and gain her trust? You rule out the bright colours. It would help to choose some somber colours and appear to approximate her age group, if not age. You settle on dark coloured pants and a dark top. You feel pleased with yourself. You have invested well in a versatile wardrobe that will serve your needs.
Now that you’ve prepared your outer appearance, it’s time to prepare your inner one. You sit in your sanctuary. You close your eyes and shutout all distractions. You can’t help but feel nervous. You don’t really know the old lady so you can’t predict how it would go down. You concentrate on positive energy. You will yourself to emit positive vibes. You desire to make yourself attractive to capture her attention, confidence and co-operation. You fetch a small hand held mirror and hold it up your face. Now you experiment with your facial expressions. How to look congenial? You smile. Yes you look good when you smile. You make a mental note to use engaging tactics like nodding your head. Nothing flatters a person’s ego more than appearing to agree with them. Older people are obstinate. You could get them to agre with you by making your suggestion theirs. You are going to get her to agree to some safety measures, while making her think the suggestions are hers.
You are ready, or as ready as you can prepare yourself to be. You start getting into character by walking around carefully. You are somebody serious and trustworthy. You are that person who the old lady can trust. You grab your handbag, then catch yourself in the act and correct yourself. You pick up your handbag with deliberation and style. You want to appear dignified. You have to stay in character as from now.
You wear a red rubber band on your right wrist as a reminder, and you’re out of your front door. You take a bus to your destination. This time allows you to constantly remind yourself to stay in character. You think about what you intend to say.
The scenery whizz past. The imagery appears to be a dream. It is unreal.
You reach your destination all too soon. You depress the buzzer and the driver lets you alight from the bus.
Your heart beat quickens as adrenalin is pumped into your bloodstream. You walk past a row of neat, tidy houses. You don’t need to look at the address written on paper, to know which is the old lady’s home. You recognise it from your memory, through time travel and from your dream. You walk up to her front door.
Ding-dong. The rich chime of her door bell reverberated. You steel yourself to face your anticipated hostess. It is a long wait. You press the buzzer again. Perhaps she is busy. You see a dim light through the curtains at the window. She must be in. Or at least somebody is. You look at your watch. Maybe you should give up already. You turn on your heels and prepare to turn back. A click stopped you in mid track. The unmistakable sound of a lock opening. You spin around in shock and the creaking door reveals a face. This is the hour of your calling.
“Yes?” Her finger pushed back her spectacles to get a good look at you.
“Good evening. My name is XXXX. I’m a hobbyist in dolls. I would like to share with you my experiences as a collector of vintage dolls.”
“How did you know about my dolls?”
“I don’t exactly collect them but I’m an agent selling dolls for my clients.”
“Oh, and who gave you my address?”
“Nobody gave me your address. I’m cold calling, going around from door to door. I’m working on this neighbourhood today. I saw a light on in your home and decided to try my luck.”
Her eyes relaxed. I decided to take my chance. “Can I show you a product that is useful for cleaning dolls?”
“What is it?”
I pulled out my hand held vacuum partially to allow her a peak. “I could do a demonstration for you and show how effective it is.”
“Alright. I guess you can come in and show me how it works.”
She held her door ajar, but only just a little. I had to squeeze against the door frame to enter.
With reluctance, she invited me in.
Deja vie. The interior decor was familiar. You set your bag down and take out your prized possession.
“I’ll like to demonstrate the usefulness of this hand held, battery operate vacuum cleaner. You flick the switch and the machine kicks into life. You are careful to position the vacuum at least half a foot away from the dolls on the shelf. You start with the lowest shelf. You move the vacuum around the dolls, ever careful not to touch them. This device fulfilled its promises. It was easy to manipulate, given its size, dexterity and convenience.
It was a chore but you couldn’t help feeling creepy. Perhaps it is because you are in a virtual stranger’s house. The dolls look creepy. There were so many of them on one shelf. You are busy with the vacuum but you feel strange. It is as if every doll was staring at you. You tell yourself not to be silly. The good quality of the glass eyes make it seem as though the eyes were staring back at you.
You must have vacuumed at least two dozen dolls on this shelf. You could vouch for its effectivity as the dolls seemed to look brighter after the dusty makeup was removed. You can see the old lady was looking on with approving eyes. Those dolls were her previous possessions and her eyes glowed with pride. She approved of you. You might be able to persuade her to listen to you. It’s safe to stop vacuuming now.
“You may like to check the performance of this vacuum,” you say with a flourish as you take a mock bow.
The old lady stepped forward to look closely. She smiled. “Pretty neat job in a jiffy.”
“Only the best for your precious dolls!”
“Your vacuum is able to clean almost all the dust off my dolls. This is more sensitive and gentle than an ordinary, normal sized vacuum.”
“Would you like to have this?”
“Oh, no! I couldn’t take it from you. “
“Please, it would be a pleasure to help you preserve your exquisite collection.”
“I’ll only accept it if you’ll allow me to pay you.”
She was insistent. She had her pride.
“I can’t take your money but you can trade something with me.”
Her face was anticipatory.
“You don’t need to pay me if you’ll promise to take precautions with your personal safety.”
“How did you know I was in danger? Are you in cahoots with those bad rascals?”
“No, Mam. I’m just concerned for your safety.”
“Thank you. Rest assured that I shall always be careful with my safety and belongings.”
You feel like a thousand eyes are staring at you. Nonsense. The only eyes belong to the old lady.
“Hello? I’m talking to you.”
“I’m sorry. I was distracted by the dolls.”
“They look so life-like.”
“They should be. Nothing but the best for me.”
“You should take more precautions in caring for your dolls. Your collection can be seen from the windows from the road.”
“Yes, I know. But my dolls do have a way of taking care of themselves.”
“Well, they do look intimidating to uninitiated people who have bad intentions to steal them.”
As if on cue, a small sound rustled nearby. You almost jumped out of your skin.
Meow! The cat walked up to its owner and rubbed against her leg. Somehow, it didn’t feel like the cat was responsible for the noise.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to feed Kitty. Thank you for your gift. I’ll remember your advice and take due care accordingly.”
She figuratively walked you to her door and ushered you out. That was quick. At least you have tried your best to do your duty.
You look into your open handbag. Your bottle peeps out. You rummage in your bag and find the cap. You screw it on and smile. You have captured fresh data from the air molecules in the old lady’s home. You had left the bottle uncapped for this purpose. Now you have a treasure trove of molecules.
“Would you like to see bigger dolls?”
“You mean to say you have bigger dolls? How big are they?”
“How big do you want them to be? I have dolls of all sizes!” Her eyes were shining. She was pleased to boast about her collection.
“I want to see everything!” Your intuition told you there was more than meets the eye. Since the old lady was in the mood to share her secrets, you might as well seine while the iron is hot and make use of this opportunity to discover more about this eccentric woman.
“They’re in a room by themselves. Follow me!” She almost darted away in quick steps. You hated and followed suit. She opened a bedroom door. You gasped. There were many dolls lying on the bed. They were life-like. Most shockingly, they were life size. You started walking towards the bed. A hand restrained you.
“No disturbance please,” she said in a whisper. “They need to be maintained in their pristine condition”
You make a mental note to return and check out the life size dolls. It would be trespassing but this was too intriguing to pass up. Life size blow up dolls are hot and trendy. These dolls look a little too life like. You want to examine their texture and learn more about them. You could glean gold nuggets of information and enrich yourself. If you could harness this powerful information, you might be able to make your own line of life like dolls.
#writethepandemic Writing Prompt from – Shelter and Write (#shelterandwrite), by Jaclyn Bergamino. List of 30 prompts here.
Here are some prompts which I have yet to write and I’m using this list as a reference:
16. Find at least one other person to create a piece of writing with.
17. Write a letter to yourself 3 months ago.
18. Write about a character for whom the pandemic is a plot twist.
19. Tell the story of an image that has left a lasting impression on you.
20. Write a conversation in which someone quells your fears.
21. Create an erasure of a text having to do with the coronavirus.
22. Respond line by line to a poem that resonates with you in these times.
23. Write a detailed description of your current daily life.
24. Write in detail about a place you cannot be right now.
25. Create a piece of writing based around found words and phrases.
26. Write a difficult conversation that you have had or should have.
27. Write a story in which a good-news headline is the catalyst for the plot.
28. Write about someone more affected by COVID-19 than you are.
29. Bring a piece of art about the pandemic to life.
30. Write about a new connection in recent weeks.