STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
Lois looked out of the bus window, not really seeing anything. It was late autumn and the days were getting shorter. The overcast sky had blanketed the last of the setting sun’s glory and although it was not quite six o’clock, it was dark enough for the street lights to activate. She pressed the bell for the next stop, number 29A. Gathering her grocery bags into one hand and slinging her handbag over her left shoulder, she made her way to the exit door. The bus slowed and stopped; she called out ‘Thank you,’ to the driver and stepped onto the footpath.
Changing her grocery bags into one for each hand, she walked along the footpath until she reached the corner of the street where she lived. As she turned into her street, the familiar surroundings were comforting and traffic noise became more subdued. There was enough breeze to agitate the tree branches, causing the glow from street lamps to flicker. All the houses were closed up with only glimpses of warm light leaking through blinds and curtains. It was so quiet her footsteps echoed around the buildings.
The empty streets and eerie darkness suddenly made her feel vulnerable. She was a spinster. No husband waiting for her to get home from work. No loving children to run and greet her as she opened the door. She would go home to a dark, cold and lonely house, unpack her groceries and cook her own dinner. Just as she always had. In a few more years she would have to retire. She wasn’t looking forward to it as her days would be even lonelier then.
Lois enjoyed her job at the real estate office. New people came in every day enquiring about houses or units to buy or rent. She enjoyed showing them the listings, pointing out the advantages of each selection. There were documents to fill out, letters to type, follow up phone calls, inspections to make. The work was varied and interesting.
She had her hair coloured to keep its natural light brown shade, but the steel grey roots insistently grew back. She still had her nails done regularly – it was important to make a good impression for the clients. Won’t have those luxuries once I retire, she thought.
Looking down the street for the gateway to the block of units where she lived, she was startled to see a dark shape move. She slowed a little, straining her eyes to get a better look. There appeared to be a man leaning on the brick wall. Her discomfort snapped into overdrive as she tried to discern who it may be. She couldn’t see his face as he was silhouetted against the light behind him.
There had been an assault on a woman in the neighbourhood a few weeks ago. A youth had tried to grab her purse and run, but the woman held on tight and he eventually gave up and ran off. Lois quickly decided she would cross over the road and walk past her unit so she could check out this mysterious man without having to get too close.
Walking more briskly now, she moved along the far footpath, keeping her face forwards but her eyes watching the shadowy figure. When she had passed him, her ears strained to hear any movement that may indicate he was moving, running up behind to take her by surprise. If he did chase her, she’d drop the groceries and run to the first house she saw with lights on. Even though it was quite cool now, she was perspiring.
Turning the corner into a side street, she quickly glanced back over her shoulder. Lois sagged with relief as she saw the figure still leaning on the brick wall, the glow of his cigarette marking his position. She was out of sight behind this high hedge. Should she call the police? What would they do if they came? He wasn’t really doing anything wrong. She crept to the corner and peered around cautiously. He was still there, but standing now. She waited.
Alex had been to see his mum. She’d recently moved into one of the units behind him and he’d been helping her sort things out in her new home. She seemed happy enough but deciding to move to a new home is always an emotional see-saw. Now that dad had passed away, the large four bedroom home the family had lived in since before he was born was just too much for her to take care of. She’ll quickly make friends with her new neighbours, he thought. He leaned back onto the low brick wall, pulled a cigarette from the packet in his pocket and lit it while he waited for the taxi.
A woman turned into the street from the main road. He noticed her hesitation and watched as she crossed the road to walk along the opposite footpath. She appeared to be an older person, and he wondered if she had been spooked by his unexpected presence. Should he call out and tell her it was okay? He was just visiting his mum? No, best let it go. He’d be gone soon.
The headlights of a car came along the road and the man moved forward, waving his arm. It was a taxi. What a relief, Lois thought, he’d only been waiting for a taxi. Must have visited someone in the units, laughing quietly at her foolishness. He climbed into the cab and it pulled away from the kerb. She pressed back into the hedge so she wouldn‘t be seen as they passed.
Joan was a widow. Her husband of forty two years had passed away three years ago. She still lived in their family home, a very nice solid brick, two storied house with three bedrooms and a small garden. She kept two cats for company. Looking out of the lounge window, Joan noticed it was almost dark. She closed the blinds and turned the lights on.
She climbed the stairs to close her bedroom curtains. While pulling them across, a dark figure on the footpath opposite caught her attention. Someone was hiding behind the hedge, peeking furtively around the corner. Joan couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman as a large tree cast its shadow over them.
Joan was intrigued and watched the figure for a while. Perhaps they were checking out the neighbourhood. The person had a bag in each hand. Were they stolen goods? Should she call the police? But what could the police do? It’s not as though this person was doing anything wrong.
A taxi drove down the road. Joan could see now it was a woman hiding across the road, and the bags appeared to be from the local supermarket. The woman pressed back into the hedge as she watched the taxi drive by. She then walked around the corner and out of Lois’s sight.
How peculiar, Joan thought as she drew the curtains across and went downstairs to watch telly. She frowned. I must keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour. You never know just what people are up to these days.