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The heat must have gone to my head on that hot July day. After all, had been sitting in the sun for several hours. In normal circumstances, I would never have followed him. I may have been intelligent but I had never before been very inquisitive or creative what I did was always well within the limits of the proverbial box. I simply wasn’t the type to go prying into other people’s private affairs; that was their business and was well beyond the walls of anything that would be important to me. Funnily enough, I did end up following him. I wouldn’t have called myself a stalker, merely a college student whiling away their vacation time on cheap novels and becoming intensely bored. Perhaps this served me right, only boring people are bored.
He was staring at the outside of the university library with his head tilted at an angle the way a small child would look at a Picasso. I could see something written on the wall where he was looking.
I continued reading my paperback. That was my part of my usual summer routine: I would sit around on green summer grass reading and relaxing. But this was different, my book was not engaging and my day had been very dull. In fact, my whole summer had been downright boring, something that had never happened in the past. Perhaps then, it was solely because of boredom that I was glancing towards the brick building and the man. I stretched myself out on the lawn, leaning back on one arm and the other holding my novel. I breathed in the wonderful summer air; it smelled of fresh-cut grass, flowers, and ice cream. I crossed my ankles and squinted my eyes against the sun as I looked up into the clear, blue sky; the fishbowl that enveloped my whole world.
The truth was that my imagination was woefully out of shape. Somehow this man had sparked some adventurous, creative spirit in me and now the gears had begun to turn. My mind was exploring new horizons. I began to create a story for the man. He was about thirty and his name was Randy. He had recently completed a graduate degree in world religions. He was quiet and secretive, a long-time associate of a foreign terrorist organization. I had not yet decided what types of terrorists they were or what they were trying to do, but they had to be up to no good. At the moment he was deciphering a secret message, in code of course, left by another terrorist on the outside of the library. It was probably a sign of where they would be striking next.
The man stood there for another few minutes. The next time I looked at him, I could see him turning and walking in the direction of the bell tower and then turning right towards the Pharmacy Building. He continued toward 14th Street at a brisk pace.
Without a second thought, I quickly closed my book. This was a bad decision because the paper was so old and mauled that when I hastily shoved it in my khaki book bag lying in the grass beside me, the cover and the first hundred of the novel ripped away from the other two-hundred pages. Whatever I though, it cost me next to nothing and wasn’t good reading either. I stood up and slung my bag over my shoulder, at the same time wiping lawn clippings from my Bermudas.
I set off at a trot across the lawn after the Randy. I had to find out more about this terrorist, I was too caught up in the story I had created for him. Then it occurred to me, what was it he had been looking at, what was the secret message? I ran over to where he had been standing and on the bricks, about three feet up were written the words “Rise 152” in spray paint. What did it mean?
I set off once again over the grass, trying to keep within viewing distance of the man. I was following complete stranger but there was never a doubt in my mind. If that man really was like the Randy I had invented, what was I getting myself into? I had been bored for so long that all the excitement of this mystery made me feel as if I had just drunk a bottle of bubble bath. As he reached the corner of 14th he turned left and continued down the sunlit street. I continued to follow him, trying to be nonchalant. As he came to the corner of 14th and Monroe he crossed the street and then crossed the street again so that he was now standing diagonally across the intersection from me. As I waited to cross the street, I watched him walk up onto the porch of the old-fashioned, light-blue house situated on the corner. I could see him rummage in his pocket to get out some keys and he then proceeded to go inside. Ah, so this is the secret lair of the devious and elusive Randy!
Over the next week I followed every move that Randy made. He was a seemingly normal college student, but I knew his secret. He was taking a couple of summer courses in business. He had three roommates that I called Eric, Noah and Aaron. They were also part of the terrorist organization and all went by codenames. He hung out at the coffeehouse with his slightly ditzy, brunette girlfriend, who I had named Lindsay. She was certainly not a terrorist but was not bright enough to figure out about Randy’s secret involvement with an elusive international terrorist organization. To my dismay, none of the facts about him seemed to indicate any involvement with radical terrorism. Eventually I had to conclude that my story was just too unrealistic. I gave up tracking him.
Soon I was back to my usual routine of reading in the grass of the college library and the Quad. After all the excitement of the Randy case, my days seemed particularly dull and without purpose. Randy had awoken a new part of my brain, the creative part. Unfortunately, before I could explore my vivid, new imagination, Randy and his story had all but evaporated. I now longed for some new adventure and a new mystery to engage me.
Eventually, my summer routine had to be revamped to accommodate my newfound inquisitiveness. At the risk of being very cliché, I would say that my new motto became “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”. Everyday I would wake up awaiting the next intrigue. I would set off to do some reading on a sunny, public lawn somewhere. Actually, I was not getting much reading done, I was too busy eavesdropping and observing all passersby to make any progress in the new paperback I had purchased after my old novel been torn apart.
My first case after randy was the elderly lady who I called Mrs. Brown. I had seen her walking across our Central Park with a small Pomeranian and a smug look on her face. I was sure that she was a serial killer who was just acting as an old lady to lure in victims. Who would suspect a batty old lady wearing pink floral dresses and wearing glasses nearly two inches thick? I could see right through her disguise; underneath she was a malicious, twisted person. Her methods were devious; she would ask for assistance from young folk while getting into her car and then kidnapped them and hauled them out of town to do them in.
There was also the middle-aged man, Mr. Curbert, who stole people’s cars to resell them. There was the young woman, Natalie, who was an obsessive kleptomaniac as well as a teenage bank robber called Shawn. That was only a fraction of the tales I concocted. The stories escalated in excitement from case to case and I was enjoying myself more with each case. I filled many spiral notebooks with observations and evidence of people’s mischievous. I also took tons of photos of my suspects and everything relevant to them. Many might think it was an obsession but really it was a hobby. I would focus on a particular individual for a long period of time. I always did my best not to get too involved in my stories. Stories became second nature to me, a part of who I was.
* * *
I have a different life now though and many parts of my world have changed. At the same time, some things remain the same forever- my imagination is as active as it was back then. After all these years, I can still remember back to the happy times sitting on lawns spying on the population, creating new stories for people all the time. I had a story before that summer and if I could match a cloth with that story it would be an earth tone. After that summer it had morphed into a different tale altogether and had changed into many different fabrics of vibrant hues. Those fabrics pieced together to form a quilt that tells the story of my life, intricate yet simultaneously very simple. Randy is running the sewing machine.