“It’s been a week. He hasn’t even called me once,” she thought while preparing the breakfast and pouring out some juice. She checked the calendar and the time. She was getting late for work.
“Need to work fast or I’ll be late.”
Dumping the dishes in the dishwasher, she rushed outside her house, making her way towards her car.
As soon as she reached her office in the hospital, she was bombarded with files and pending drafts that were piled on her desk. She groaned internally but still greeted her assistant with a beaming smile.
“Good Morning Martha.”
“Good Morning, Ma’am,” Martha replied while standing up from her seat and greeting her formally with an awkward smile and pushing a lock of hair behind her ears.
“How many times have I told you not to get so formal with me. Call me Nikki,” she said with a wink and smile.
And the day passed by, and even before she knew, her department was empty. She huffed and looked at the clock which was already past seven. The sun had set. Lazily, she dragged herself off her seat and gathered her stuff, making way towards her car. She was checking her phone on the way for any new missed calls or messages, specifically from someone. But, nothing new popped on her phone. Heavy-heartedly, she stacked her bags inside the car and started the engine. She was halfway through to the destination when her phone rang. An unknown number blaring on her phone. Wrinkling her forehead, trying to jog her memory whether she knew that number from anywhere, she picked up her phone and hesitantly answered it.
“Hello Nikki,” a deep baritone made her heart race a bit faster and she knew who the caller was. She had been waiting for this moment for almost a week now. Hurriedly she replied with a quick greeting and halted her car at a nearby parking space.
“How have you been, Nikki?”
“Well, the usual, work and other chores. What about you?”
She was getting sweaty, and her heart beat faster. She was getting nervous which made her say stupid things now and then. She would curse herself internally, whenever she would embarrass herself, and bite her lips occasionally. Old habits die hard. But today was different. Today she couldn’t stop herself from biting her lips constantly. His words were replaced with static noise and as she sat in the driver’s seat, still numb from the conversation she had and the information she got from her friend – that’s what she thought until now though.
Reflecting on his words, the incidents of that night came barging in her mind. That night was darker than usual. There was no moon in the sky and the wind was blowing lightly. Nikki was on her way back home from work and it was later than usual. While on her way home, she had to take a long turn as there were some potholes on her usual route, which apparently was blocked. The other route was eerily empty and was a long stretch of nothingness. She turned her radio at a moderate volume to kill the weird emptiness of the way. In a distance, she could see a figure of someone walking along the side of the road. She could make out the big backpack he was carrying in her car’s headlight. Getting a bit closer, she realized that the man had also noticed her presence as he stopped in his tracks and started waving his hand with a thumb struck out in a traditional hitchhiker way. Nikki got in an indecisive state as whether to stop and help this guy or to drive straight and never look back. But her kind and considerate counterpart wouldn’t let her drive away. So, she slowed down her car, halted in front of the man and rolled down her window. She asked the man where was he heading and on knowing that the city was on her way home, she allowed him to get into the car. While in the car, she at once started a conversation to kill the silence.
“What’s your name?”
He replied after thinking for a while looking straight ahead.
“My name’s Neil and what would be yours by the way?”
At that, he turned his head towards her and smiled. He was a good-looking fellow with lots of freckles on his nose and a small dimple on his right cheek, that appeared only when he smiled. His chestnut brown hair was ruffled in a wavy mess and his dark eyes looked sleep-deprived. The ride, after his sweet dimpled smile, was smooth and filled with lots of small talks. Nikki was feeling more comfortable and even a bit closer to her newly found hitchhiker. After getting to the city, Nikki offered Neil to have dinner with her. He agreed. They went to a nearby restaurant and chatted happily over dinner. Nikki was overwhelmed as these occasions in her life were rare. Neil got all flustered when the time for paying the bill came. Nikki knew a little about his present financial condition, so she convinced him to let her pay for the food and let him buy the next time they meet. After dinner, they were back on the road and talked comfortably with each other. After reaching the destination, she turned off the engine and said goodbye. Neil saved her number to catch up with her later. Then, with a beaming smile on her face, she made her way home and slept with a warm feeling in her heart that night.
But the call today changed everything. Her feelings for him that were starting to grow, lay slaughtered. Over the phone, he said, “Nikki, I have to tell you something. Listen to me very carefully. Never allow a hitch-hiker in your car ever from now onwards. Because you don’t know how dangerous it will be. I’m calling you to tell you that, that day I didn’t get into your car for a ride but to high-jack your car, rape you and then kill you on the way and dump you in some nearby forest, and then steal your car and cash.” All but silence is what followed his words. Thereby, he continued. “I couldn’t do it though, after talking with you so much and getting to know you. And your smile was so warm, I couldn’t help myself but feel guilty about what I was going to do. And then you offered me dinner. So, I decided against it and left that idea altogether. You are the kindest and warmest person I have ever known. So please, never let a hitchhiker in your car at odd times and especially at odd places.” And that’s when the line cut off and all that remained was the hum of static on the phone and her loud and heavy breathing.
Written by:- Muskan Priya