It was 9:00 AM in the morning and I was just chilling with my mom and going through some family photographs. And God! I couldn’t believe how many I had clicked in all these years! That’s the thing about today’s technology and today’s world of social media. You don’t have to worry about the reel and you want the perfect shot, the most striking poses and the kind of photos which can rake in a ton of likes. So, for picture-perfect, you just keep hitting the capture button. I noticed a man in almost all of my pictures standing behind me. The man seemed relaxed and seemed to be minding his own business and nothing seemed off about him in any photograph. Except the fact, that he was in every damned photograph. I asked Ma to identity the guy but she couldn’t. Ma and I have been living together since the beginning of time. I never had a father by my side and I never asked for one, unlike the kids in movies and TV shows whom I find way too idiotic for asking their single mothers to get them a father, and then throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their father shaped toy! I mean, how hard is it to put two and two together and figure out that if you don’t have a father, it means something happened and there’s a reason behind it. Why do you have to cry like that and make the life of the woman who loves you the most, hard with your incessant nagging? I get it that all kids aren’t mature like me, but, come on! I knew about such things since I was just five, and nobody ever told me how to behave. I’m 21 now and I still don’t care. Sports day, parents’ and teachers’ meetings, I never made a fuss about anything. Anyway, coming back to these photographs and the mysterious man, Ma and I keep things to ourselves and don’t mingle much with the people around us. So, its not hard for us, or at least her, to identify any person. The guy looked like he’s in his 40s seeing his build, but his face looked way too young for that body.
I scrolled through more photographs when the doorbell rang. I was a bit surprised because of this, because, almost the entire globe is on lockdown, and I’m pretty confident that Ma and I aren’t friends with people who are nuts enough to visit us during such times, but, you never know. The lockdown is really turning people nuts. They just wanna be out there. Sometimes even I have the urge to rush outside, I’ve always been an outdoors person. But, the thought of Ma always refrains me. Ma went to answer the door while I looked at more photographs, I’m sure Ma wasn’t even looking properly at the guy, she was busy checking her WhatsApp. Adults always fret about kids using phones too much, without realizing how much they’re hooked to their own phones. And I’m pretty sure she got up to answer the door just because she didn’t want me to poke her again to take a look at the photographs. Damn. I sometimes feel that she is the child and I’m the parent. She came in and handed me a letter. Ok, now I seriously think that I’m a generation older than my mom. Her friends are texting her while mine are sending me letters. Congratulations to me. But, I really appreciate the effort. Maybe someone wanted to try something new in this lockdown. Guess what. They just did the right thing.
I quickly saw the name of the sender, it was from Nathan Goodman. Nathan? I re-read that. Why is he writing me a letter? He lives in the same city. I think my best friend is just bored and wants to mess with me like he always does. He must’ve been tortured to death by now without getting a chance to poke at me for so long. He can never get enough of it and I do pay him back for all his deeds, with interest. Sheer pun intended. Although it wasn’t a love letter, but a warm sense of giddiness took over me as I tore the envelope. I heard Ma talking to someone and asking them to have some sweets. That’s my Ma, she knows that such people work hard and don’t get paid back enough for their services. So she always try to brighten up the day of delivery guys and people who offer services like repairs or anything like that by serving them tea and some homemade snacks. She’s a sweet soul. She must be attending the mailman at the moment. The envelope contained a letter, and a lot of photographs of Nathan and I. I just partially saw one of them, but then decided to read the letter before I saw the photographs. I didn’t know how hard I was smiling until my cheeks started to hurt.
“1st May, 2020
I know that this must be a surprise for you to receive a letter from me, but the situation demands that I convey this very urgent message to you in this manner. The other methods may not be safe”
My large smile faltered a little on reading that. Now Nathan was always known for pranks since college, but something inside me said that this is no prank. I read the letter further.
“So, no beating about the bush and let me get straight to the point. The whole world is on a lockdown right now because of that one hell of an infectious plague which is just shutting down people by attacking their lungs. So, everyone’s in their homes sitting cozily with their families and doing all sorts of stuff. Well, my family and I ran out of things to do, and so we decided to take a look at the family photographs for a change. Since it’ll just open the floodgates to both nostalgia and some strongly needed dose of dopamine. So, I was going through the photographs and I noticed a very peculiar detail about some of them. Most of my photographs featured a man with a salt and pepper beard with a rather young face but the body of a 40 year old truck driver”
I froze for a second and an unforgiving chill ran down my spine as I read that. There really was something wrong about the photographs. The man in almost all of them wasn’t a mere coincidence. I took out one of the photographs and took a look at it. It was a picture of our convocation. Nathan, my girlfriend Charlotte and I were posing with our teeth showing for the photograph and our hands making the V-sign signifying victory. On the upper right corner of the photo, I saw the phantom man standing there, among the other parents. Nathan had encircled him with a red marker.
I wanted to go ahead and look at all the photographs but I thought that instead of coming to my own conclusions, I should first see what Nathan has to say. I resumed reading the letter. ” Every damned picture, Chris. Every damned one of them. I saw him everywhere. I’ve sent you some photographs and I’ve encircled him in every one of them. I tried to observe the pattern in all of this. And, being the overthinker that I am, I thought of various ways in which all of this could be connected. I first thought it was only the college photos, but he’s not in everyone of them. Now, it is fairly possible that he can’t just go and stand behind us in every photograph. But, his presence isn’t just limited to our college photographs. He’s present in the photographs of the grand opening of my father’s café. He’s in the photographs where you and I went for that art exhibition last year, and, the most surprising one, he is even there in the photographs when we went to that educational tour to Japan. This guy has followed us everywhere”. I was getting the chills as I read this. Why is this man following us everywhere? Even when we were on foreign soil? Why is he making such grand an effort to chase us. I read on further.
I tried to map him. See where he went, but this didn’t yield any result. It was too complex to form a pattern. Not just us, I looked at pictures from Kate’s phone. He’s there too. I asked for pictures from 5 more guys and he was there in all of them. He has been following a lot of us, but I don’t know what for. But, I noticed one thing here. He was just in one or two photographs of the people we don’t hangout with much. I narrowed down his targets that way, and I figured out how he moves. He isn’t targeting all of us. He’s targeting just you. Yes Chris, you read that right. This psychopath is after you”. My heart was going like a jackhammer in my chest. I couldn’t think straight. A strong sense of fear had gripped me from the inside out. Why does Nathan think that he’s after me? I read on further to clear my doubts.
“Although he’s present in the photographs of a lot of people. He has appeared only in the photos of people we’re close to. But, he’s not in everyone of them either. Remember when everyone had gone camping and you and I stayed behind to look after Charlotte because she was sick? We had went to a Chinese restaurant to get her some soup and I saw the psychopath there. He didn’t follow the group who went to the camp. He followed the three of us. After the scope was narrowed down to just three people, I started looking at individual photographs of all of us. He’s not in the ones where Charlotte and the other girls were enjoying themselves at the beach, and many other events, and also before you guys started seeing each other. He’s also not there in the pictures of my basketball tournament. But, he’s there in the pictures of your soccer tournament. He followed you there, but didn’t follow me or Charlotte. To confirm my suspicion, I checked your photos before college, and I had my answer when I saw him in your photos. He’s after you, Chris. Be careful. I sent this letter and not a text or anything because I thought we’re being monitored. Write back to me, don’t call me or send me a text. And, don’t let anybody unknown enter your house
I was half scared to death by now. Why is this man spending his time and resources to track me down. Right then, the last line echoed in my head and a shiver ran through me. THE MAILMAN.
I quickly grabbed a baseball bat and rushed to the living room and I was stunned to see the face of the mailman. It was him. IT WAS HIM. Ma was horrified to see the deathly expression on my face and the baseball bat in my hand. She rose from her seat and so did the mailman. “You have 10 seconds to tell me the truth about what the hell you want with me and my family before I pulverize your head to pieces!” I screamed at him. “Christopher Barnes, where the hell are your manners?” My mom screamed at me. ” We don’t need to show him manners Ma, we need to show this freak his place. He has been stalking me everywhere. ” I took a pause to look directly in the eyes of the guy. “I know what your game is. Now, say what is it you want with me, before I call the police so that they get to take that information out of you. “
The man stood in silence, and slowly removed his cap and said, “The police can’t take any more information out of me, son. I’m useless to them now.” He said with a sad expression on his face. “What do you mean?” I yelled, I couldn’t afford to let my guard down. “I mean, my career as an informant has long been over. I don’t do that anymore.” I still had no idea what he was talking about. “Richard? Is that you? ” My mother said, with tears in her eyes. What? Ma knows this guy? Why the hell did she not identity him before? And who’s Richard?
“Yes its me, Alice. I’m home!” The mailman said. The words hadn’t quite sunk in but, I felt my knees a bit weak from that statement. “And Chris, my game was to look after you, watch you grow and try to somehow fill the void I had left. I am your father”. The words hit me like a thunderbolt and I screamed, “what makes you think that I’ll believe you just like that? And, even if you are my father, where the hell have you been all this while? Huh? Why didn’t you ever man up and came to us, and even when you did, you are here with a disguise? What the hell is all this?” I didn’t know why, but my eyes filled up with an insane amount of tears. “I was a spy son, a spy for the government. I was supposed to go underground and get a plastic surgery and stay away from you and Alice for your safety. I missed you terribly son, and I missed your mom too. I’m sorry I could never be there for you, but, I’m home now. The operation I was working on, its finally over and I wanted to see you. I was so jealous of everyone who were getting to spend time with their families in their houses. And, I just couldn’t take it anymore, I asked for the permission to see you and now I’m here”. My mom went and hugged Richard. Or, should I say, dad. I hugged him too and then rushed to my room. I had to make a phone call and give Nathan some good news.
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