The Stranger

That does it! Today I am going to confront this fellow and set matters straight. Rhea promised herself for the umpteenth time since the day she had seen the guy following her. She leaned her head back on the seat of the bus, closed her eyes and sighed. It all had begun a week ago. She was returning to her home town after attending her friend’s wedding. She had boarded the plane, feeling all antsy and nervous. Flight travel did that to her. She wasn’t very fond of flying, being scared of heights. Yet this had been the only option available at the last minute. She took deep breaths to calm her anxiety. Apparently she wasn’t as subtle about it as she had hoped. “Phobia issues?” A deep gravelly voice asked her. She turned to her left and noticed a guy looking at her calmly. She nodded, giving up all pretense. The plane had started moving and she was willing to accept any help that came her way. “Huh. Typical female behavior.” He said, smirking at her haughtily. Her eyes widened. “Excuse me? Did you really say what I heard?” He shook his head. “Denial is not going to be of any help, my dear. I suggest that you face your fears head-on.”  The galls on this guy! “Are you for real?” She asked, disbelief etched raw on her face. He suddenly grinned. She could almost swear that the crooked smile turned his face into something of otherworldly beauty. “Well, there are many who ask me. But trust me, I had the most fun when you asked this!”  Rhea shook her head. A psycho. Of all the people to sit beside her on the plane, it was just her luck that a psycho was sitting next to her. She determinedly ignored him and turned towards the window, dreading what she considered as the worst part of the flight - the take-off. To her surprise, she saw that the plane was already high in the sky, flying over the clouds that put up a brilliant display of colours. How did I miss the stomach-dropping feeling when the plane took off? She looked at Psycho with narrowed eyes. He kept searching for something in his bag. No, he couldn’t have deliberately argued with me to divert my attention. Lost in her thoughts, Rhea almost missed the announcement of the pilot. ‘We are turning the indication on for wearing your seat-belts as some turbulence is expected ahead. Please put on your seat belts and stay in your seat until the indication is off.’  ‘Oh God! Oh God! This is my worst nightmare come true!’ Rhea muttered frantically as she tried to put on her seat belts with fumbling fingers. Psycho calmly held his palm out, gesturing her to stay put and assisted in putting her seat belt. The plane shuddered under the turbulence. Rhea gripped on to the sides of her seat with white knuckles, her eyes closed in terror.  “I am yet to see a female who isn’t scared of turbulence.” Psycho said in a detached manner while Rhea shook her head in frustration. “Many of us are actually pilots, idiot! Go back to whichever century you time-travelled from!”  Psycho laughed. He actually laughed. “Oh I will!” Rhea gritted her teeth as the plane took a slight dip, shaking her very soul. “I know you are trying to divert my attention, just like you did when the plane took off. While I appreciate the grand ‘gesture’...” she freed her hands enough to gesture the quotes with her fingers “…you are now starting to get on my nerves. So please shut up and let me cower in fear silently while you reign supreme over the awful turbulence.” Psycho dipped his head to a side, giving her a curious look. “You are perceptive. What is your name?” “Rhea. And you are…” Before he could reply, the pilot announced that the seat-belts could be removed. With a relieved sigh, Rhea took off her seat belts and leaned her head back on the seat, glancing at her watch for the umpteenth time since she boarded the fateful flight. Thankfully, there were no more controversial statements from Psycho for the rest of the flight. When the plane had finally landed, Psycho turned towards her and said solemnly. “I apologize for all the statements I made against you and your gender. As you rightly understood, it was just to divert your attention.” He sounded so sincere that Rhea nodded her head and smiled slightly. “Have a nice time.” She said to him politely. He grinned at her. “I believe our paths will keep crossing. Take care.” Before she could reply to him, he got up from his seat and joined the line of the people de-boarding the plane.  That was a week ago. Just as he had promised, she had seen him the very next day outside her office. She was crossing the road when she saw him on the other side, looking pensively at her. She almost got hit by a car. Apologizing profusely to the driver who shot her angry looks and words, she ran to the other side where she was accosted by him. “You should be careful while crossing the road. That could have been fatal!” He said, his solemn and serious self a stark contrast to the playful and haughty side he had exhibited on the plane. Rhea took a moment to calm down her racing heart. Placing her hands on her hips, she looked at him sternly. “What are you doing here, Psycho?” His jaw dropped. Recovering himself, he burst out laughing. “Psycho? That is what you have named me?”  “It is not funny! What is your name by the way?” Rhea asked, her curiousity getting the better of her. He smiled mischievously. God knew, when he smiled, he looked devastatingly handsome. “Why don’t I tell you over a cup of coffee there?” He gestured towards the café next to her office. Every reasonable thought in her brain shouted a resounding ‘NO!’. Too bad that her heart decided to take matters in its own hands and made her nod. Looking mightily pleased, he gestured her to walk towards the café. “Must be nice to work at such a beautiful place.” He commented as he took in the surroundings. “Oh, you should see this place during the rainy season. It turns much more beautiful, what with the hill over there, taking a beautiful hue of green. Sometimes, tiny waterfalls flow down from the hill. It is a sight to see.” Rhea said. “Rainy season…” He muttered.  “What about it?” She asked curiously. “Nothing.” He looked at her, raising one eyebrow effortlessly. “You sure ask a lot of questions.” He chuckled when she made a frustrated sound. They had spent an hour in the café and still she had not learnt his name. He had parted, this time giving her a solemn warning to be careful while crossing roads. Before she could protest, he had winked at her and left.  Two days later, she was busy gearing up to participate in a bicycle rally. She had been adjusting the handle-grip when she felt another cycle stop very near to hers. When she looked up, she found a now-familiar face, with that frustratingly-devastatingly charming grin.  “Okay. Psycho, how did you know that I would be participating in the rally? Are you keeping tabs on me?” She asked, feeling slightly nervous.  Apparently and as usual, she must have been transparent about her emotions, for his grin disappeared and concern came over his face. “Am I making you nervous? I am sorry. I had registered for the rally and when I came here, I found you. I swear that I mean you no harm. You never have to be scared of me, little one.”  She drew herself up, all five feet of her and placing her hands on her hips, asked him. “Did you seriously make fun of my height? Just because you are tall, you damn tree, it gives you no right to make fun of me!”  He raised his hands in surrender, although he couldn’t hide his amusement. “No, the term ‘little one’ was not meant to offend you.” He said calmly. “Then why did you…” Before she could complete the sentence, a shrill whistle rang out and everyone set off with their bicycles. She shot him one last deadly look and rode ahead in her bicycle. The constant prickling sensation in her neck indicated that he wasn’t far from her. She would have to keep an eye out on him. There sure were all sorts of weirdos in the world. And today, she had boarded a bus to travel to the adjacent town. She had barely sat on the seat when her skin prickled. She had turned around, only to see Psycho board the bus, smiling at her.  Today she would set him straight. She had had enough. This was becoming creepy now. “How are you?” He asked her as he predictably took the seat beside her.  “What are you doing here?” She asked, hoping that her tone conveyed her displeasure to him. “I was walking by the road when I saw you board the bus. I too boarded the same. I just wanted to say goodbye to you. I am leaving the town tonight.” “Oh… you are leaving? Where are you from originally? And how come I still do not know your name?”  He smiled mysteriously. “I will surely miss your questions. But let us not talk about depressing stuff. Tell me more about yourself. What do you like to do as a hobby?” Thinking that she would indulge him for a while, she said. “I like to read. Some day, I want to own a bookstore of my own. That is my dream-wish.” She smiled wistfully. “So what is stopping you now? Why are you working in an office then?” He asked, sounding perplexed.  She rolled her eyes. “Money, of course! I need a lot of money to open my own book store. I have been saving for a while now. Hopefully in a few years, I will have saved enough money to fulfill my wish.” She smiled at him. His gaze softened.  “So young, and so much to dream and live for…” He muttered in a low voice.  She looked at him in confusion. He simply patted her head, leaving her even more confused. “The next stop is mine.” She said to him. He nodded and got up from his seat and allowed her to move ahead of him. He gently held her shoulder when she lost her balance. Few minutes later, they both got down from the bus. It had halted near a signal. To her surprise, he held her arm gently while crossing the road.  Reaching the other end, she halted and turned towards him. “Right, this is it, then! I will be going to my cousin’s house now.” She said, feeling uncertain all of a sudden. On one hand, Psycho had unnerved her. On the other hand, she had enjoyed their conversations. But she leaned more towards the practical side of life and reminded herself that she knew nothing about him, not even his name.  Psycho looked at her intensely. Before she could react, he dropped a swift kiss to her forehead. “Take care, little one. Fulfill your life’s purpose. I sincerely hope that you would open your bookstore soon.” He grinned at her, again, that devastating grin that lent him an other-worldly beauty and said. “I believe our paths would not cross again now. At least, not for a long while. You have nothing to fear from me. This time, I am leaving for good.” With one last and gentle touch of her cheek, he left while she stood watching him. He didn’t turn back. She sighed and walked towards her cousin’s home, brushing off the encounter with Psycho as just another weird thing that the Universe did when it was in a mood. He wanted to turn back, one last time. But he knew that if he turned back, he would not be able to leave. He smiled sadly. Psycho, she calls me. Never learnt my name till the end, poor darling… I sure must have confused and terrified her. I couldn’t help it. He shook his head, wishing he had never met her. But sometimes, Death Himself came to claim and guide a soul when its time had come. Rhea’s time had come, first, when she was on the plane. The jitters that she had felt before the plane started, were actually supposed to trigger a heart attack. He, the personification of Death, had merely come to assist the dying soul.  But sometimes, Death came under the sway of humans. Something about her poor plight and her innocence had made him save her that time.  He had come again to claim her soul the next time outside her office. She was supposed to be hit by the car and die of instant brain damage. But her perplexed expression on seeing him had softened his stance. And he had saved her yet again. The third time, she was supposed to fall off from her bicycle, hit her head against a rock and suffer brain hemorrhage which would turn fatal for her. But she had looked so endearingly young and hopeful, that he just could not allow her to die. The fourth time, he had decided that he would claim her and end the disaster that he had turned this affair into. Not just her, but the entire bus was supposed to overturn and few souls were to have been claimed. But then, she had shared her dream with him. Her dream of opening the book store. She had such a beautiful expression on her face when she spoke about it – it was a mixture of delight, yearning and determination.  If he had any doubts, they were dispelled that instant. He, Death himself, had fallen in love with a human. For the first time, he had let go of his duty and granted life to a mortal. For the first time, he had fallen in love. For the first time, he had finally sacrificed himself. It would have been much easier for him if he had not saved her. Her soul would be in his realm, and she would have been his forever.  It had amazed him that he had placed her dreams over his duty. It shocked him that he had changed the course of the Universe through his action, for granting life to a soul beyond its time, changed events at a cosmic scale. It scared him that he had fallen for a mortal to this extent. It broke his heart that he had had to part from someone whom he loved to this extent.  But he would wait. It would be a long wait, for he had granted a long life to Rhea, a life where she would achieve her dreams, where she would find a partner and experience love and togetherness. It destroyed his heart, this thought of Rhea finding her soulmate and spending her life with him. He would let it happen. She deserved the happiness that true love brought. And in the end, when her time would come, he would be there, hoping that she would remember him, and guide her transition from mortality to immortality. And then, she would be in his realm forever. Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!