It had been a month she'd seen the stranger across the hallway, fidgeting with his bowtie; a slow rippling feeling echoing as he walked towards her. But he hadn't said hello as normal people do, instead, he had walked past her. When she turned around to meet his gaze, he was gone. Like a puff of smoke, he had disappeared leaving behind a trail of cheap cologne.
Kendra, Head of Harmony Kc, fluttered her eyelids a couple of times before laughing to the sound of the typewriter from the other room. She had not cared about the mutterings of her assistant Natalia concerning a man who wore tight suits and fidgeted with his bowtie down the hallway and she had made that all too clear.
Maybe Kendra with the curly hair had not believed a word her assistant had said because she had been standing by the hallway and she had seen no one out of place. She was the head of a publishing company and she knew everyone by name so no one could have walked past her without her knowledge.
She did ask some very good questions though. While trying to light up a cigarette, she asked Natalia to describe the odd stranger.
"It was fleeting. I saw the blackness of his tight suit and saw that his hands shook with excitement as he fumbled with his red bow."
"A white man walked into..."
"He wasn't a white man!" Natalia whispered with a clenched fist.
"Oh, so he was black?"
"No...I don't know, Kendra."
A puff of smoke and a creased brow followed her mutterings until she too began to question her wandering statements. Kendra stood up from her most prized possession- her large chair- and sat on the table. Her stare did not waver as she let the cigarette smoke linger in her lungs.
"So you saw him fidgeting with his red tie but you don't know if his hands were black or white or colored. What do you want me to think?"
"I'm telling you the truth. I saw him."
"Do you know him?"
"Of course not!"
"Then we're done here."
But Kendra was already out of the office. Natalia had stared at the vacated chair and wondered how to get her boss's attention. She could think of a million things to do but she only needed one to convince Kendra that she wasn't stupid or anything.
Natalia had done nothing nor did the man ever appear. Until today.
As she made her way home, she felt that cold eery sensation that sort of numbed her senses. For a minute or two, she simply stood by the curb watching for the man in a black suit and red bowtie. A couple of cars sped past but her gaze remained steadfast, watching the store with a blue awning.
Natalia did not see anyone that had a faint resemblance to the stranger from work but she had that feeling that stroked her neck and raised her fears. That kind of weird feeling that leaves you reaching out in the dark for a knife you hid beneath the cold sheets.
After a while, she moved away from the direction and silently headed home. Out of nowhere or maybe out of some despicable place, he appeared again. He was standing in the hallway, fidgeting with his bowtie and staring past her to the photograph on the wall.
"Hey, you!" She called as she walked towards him. Somewhere deep within her, she knew she was going insane but for the moment she was only aware of the man who showed indifference towards her. She got to him in no time but as she reached for him, he disappeared again. And at once she was back at her apartment wearing her nightdress and eating cold pizza.
"I saw him again, Kendra."
The announcement- whatever it really was- came out of nowhere and Kendra's slow smile disappearing made it obvious. Two writers strolled past talking excitedly about the new book that was making waves in the world.
"Who? The imaginary stranger with the black suit?"
"You apparently do not believe me but it's true. I saw him a week ago while going home."
"So he followed you?"
Natalia stopped. In a day or two, four writers with cigarette smell would sit around a campfire to discuss Natalia going insane while she stood by a tree listening and pretending not to.
"Talk to me, Natty. I don't want to say what I'm thinking so you better start making this all clear."
"Never mind. It's foolish, really."
"I don't know why it took you so long to realize that but I'm glad you're not going to pursue that story any further."
When Kendra stood up, Natalia saw him again in the reflection from the portrait in the office. He had a grim smile that revealed tobacco-stained teeth but his hands were still on his bowtie and his suit still had that faint glow.
"He is here," Natalia whispered pointing to the portrait.
Kendra looked back at the portrait above her beautiful chair and saw a younger version of herself holding a dog.
"That's Pete!" Kendra almost screamed.
"I'm not talking about your dog!. Don't you see him right there? He is standing behind you in the picture!"
"So is he a white or..."
"Well, say hello to him for me and tell him to get the hell out of my office unless he wants to talk business."
"Kendra you've got to believe me. Have I ever made up a story just to bore you or make you think I was going insane?"
"Anyone can have a first," Kendra said. "Go home, Natty. Take a break. Go see a therapist if you like but come Monday, I want to see you back at the office with a huge smile and a new story."
Kendra nodded and walked away. Natalia looked back at the portrait but he was gone. She leaned back against the wall and let out a gasp. She started to doubt her sanity as she walked out of the office.
She must have been half asleep but even her sleepy senses knew she'd seen him again. Had he been the one who'd been glancing at her as she neared her apartment? It bothered her that most of her time was being shared between glimpsing the troubled smile of a man she did not know. She wasn't insane but she seemed to be the only one who could see him and the smile etched across his chin.
In the evening as she ate dinner, she made a mental note as to the man in the black suit. She shuddered at the thought of meeting him again and catching the disdain behind his eyes. As a writer, she could write about this strange man and the feelings that seemed to erupt inside of her the second she felt his sick presence.
But as the night wore on, she forgot to write. Or maybe she had not forgotten. She slipped into bed and covered herself beneath the sheets. Through the wind that pushed itself into her room, she fell back to the floor with a soft thud. The timer by her bed struck two as she stood up.
And then she saw him. Like a black dot on a yellow curtain, he seemed out of place sitting on a chair by the door. Oddly, she did not scream or run back in terror. She simply sat back on her bed, pushing her knees closer and sighing.
"Who are you?" She asked.
His pale hands were still, the bowtie sitting idly by his feet, the smile gone. In place of these things, was the silence that filtered into the cold room. He did not answer her but he was not looking away either. His stare was benign, almost different from all the ones he'd given her. He was a stranger to her yet somehow, she knew him.
"You know, it's 2 am and I'm here alone with you. I am supposed to be screaming and thrashing and threatening to call the cops but in the end, I'm sitting here and talking to you."
Silence, the stare not breaking.
"Who are you? You are here again. I've been seeing you around yet no one else can. What am I?"
Silence, the hands so still, so unmoving.
"I need an answer!"
Silence, the suit still tight, still dark, still the same.
"I used to wonder at things like this, mysterious stuff that pulled at humanity, cracking our skulls open with relentless urgency. I used to write about it too. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that it was meaningless. The writing, although pragmatic, was meaningless in it's making and authenticity.
I don't know what to tell you. Hell, I don't know what to tell myself. Who are you?"
Silence, a broken stare, a twitching eyelid, flickering light.
"Well, you won't talk but I want to listen." Maybe it was hard for her to admit that to both herself and the man that still sat on a chair by which she wrote about murder and romance and documented entries in her little computer. But she said it and she did not back down as she told him this. Maybe there existed a better meaning to his coming to her which he couldn't let out just yet. Maybe she had to wait a bit.
Give him time.
"The difference between the two of us is like a missed heartbeat." His utterance was like a broken record. Like the scribblings of a drunk man.
"What do you mean?"
"Talk to me, please."
"You can see me only because I let you. I am a part of you, have always been. We are like the ocean and the sand. I pull back, you drag me in."
"More like needle and thread."
"If we are going to sit here and talk about comparisons, we can as well add that to the menu," Natalia said.
"I still don't understand."
"Call me your Guardian Angel."
"But guardian angels are beautiful...I mean, they don't...um..."
His smile returned as he stood up from the chair. She closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, she was back in the kitchen eating cold pizza.
Sunlight bathed her in its warm glow as her lips opened up in a line that made her shiver in delight: call me your guardian angel.