I no longer have the energy to run. At this point, I want to lie down and cry because my entire body hurts, but I force myself to push through. I turned to leave this library; I can’t bear to stay any longer. I shuffle toward the front door. Even though it’s pouring so heavily and dark outside, I feel more at ease when I can see the outside world.
I took a deep breath as I stepped outside the door, which felt nothing short of liberating. I didn’t move despite the rain being extremely painful and harsh on my skin when it came into contact with my open wounds.
I can hear the sirens now.
“Thank god!” I exclaimed aloud as I submitted my final assignment this semester. It had been stressing me out for weeks, and I had been working on it for three days. Nothing in this world compares to the rush you feel when submitting an assignment, and I couldn’t help but smile with satisfaction.
Stretching out my body, I looked out the window and saw that the sky had grown darker, and a slight drizzle had begun. The weather forecast for Colombo had predicted that it would rain later in the evening, so I wasn’t surprised. I loved when it rained and was looking forward to it. I think being inside a library feels much better when it is raining.
Nevertheless, I had to leave the study hall and keep all my borrowed books in the main library building. The study hall was in a separate building on the Public Library premises. It was a short walk and one that I enjoyed.
I packed my bags and switched on my phone to see that it was 6.30 already. The library closed at 4, but as an intern, I could stay till 7. I knew everyone had left except Gunasiri, one of our security guards who stayed till 8 every day. I felt safe with him here and never alone in this vast building.
I switched off all the lights and fans, went out of the building, and locked it behind me. It was raining hard now. With the umbrella in one hand and my books in the other, I walked towards the main building.
As soon as I got there, to my utmost surprise I noticed that Gunasiri was not at his post. I rationalized his absence thinking he probably went to the restroom or to fix himself a cup of tea and went in.
I climbed up two flights of stairs and, upon reaching the second floor, switched on the lights and went on to keep the books on the shelf. I crouched down and began assembling the books when a person’s shadow fell on me. My heart lurched from the sudden shock, and I looked up. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t Gunasiri, and I was right; seeing the man next to me made me break up in a cold sweat.
“Hey there, Riley,” he said softly with a smile.
I was stuck in my crouched position, almost forgetting to move. Slowly, I stood up. All I could think of was running away, but I had to move past him to reach the exit. He looked at me, smiling as if we were the closest friends.
“H-Hi, Peter,” I managed to croak out and properly looked at him. He didn’t look different from the photo he sent a year ago; he was still beefy with a protruding belly and a receding hairline.
“It’s so nice to see you, Riley.” He knows. He knows. The way he emphasized my name, the way he said it bitingly. He knows. His eyes betrayed him. The hatred he felt for me was palpable. What scared me was the amount of hatred.
Somehow finding my voice, I asked him, “what are you doing here, Peter?” My voice didn’t sound like my own; it felt feeble to my own ears.
“Oh, just wanted to see you in person. It’s not like I can text a person when they deactivated their Instagram account, especially when they lied to me about their name. Isn’t that so, Maya?” he spat out with so much venom it made me recoil. I could see that my reaction made him happy, and he continued.
“Oh yes, I know your name. You want to know how?” He started moving towards me menacingly, and I could only stumble backward with him. I suddenly sympathized with people in horror and thriller movies. When you’re in shock, you can’t do what you should. It’s sort of like your mind takes time to process what you are going through so much that it forgets to be rational and act quickly.
“The only truth you told me was that you’re from Sri Lanka. Do you know how lonely I felt after you left? You gave me no warning. In just a single day, ‘boom!’ your account had disappeared. For days, all I could do was read our texts one by one, and I swear, Maya, it was the most painful thing ever!” He suddenly got emotional and a bit breathless, but he quickly composed himself and resumed. “You left little clues, and I wrote them on a notebook.”, he says, pulling out a notebook from his front pocket. “A long time ago, you mentioned that you love visiting the public library, but I didn’t know your real name. I have to thank our buddy @ricklikesbooks for that.”
It suddenly dawned on me that the only person I told my real name was Rick – one of the nicest men I’d ever talked to, and he ran a book account on Instagram just like me. We bonded over talking books, and I told to him one day. It was a moment of weakness on my part.
“Yes! I knew you were talking to him and texted him. He let your name slip by accident. He was so angry with himself and even made me swear never to tell anyone” He chuckled. He had cornered me. I felt my back hit the wall, which made me gasp. I should have told Rick that Peter was sending me violent texts asking me to meet him and send him my photos. The last straw was when he threatened to kill himself because I couldn’t text him for a day. I just deactivated and forgot about that account. I never thought he’d come for me since he lived in America.
“You lied to me, you b***h! And that’s why you’re dying today!” he yelled at my face pulling up a sharp knife. I could feel his hot, false breath, and I screamed and instinctively hit him in the groin. He doubled over in pain, and it gave me leeway. I ran, and all the while I screamed for Gunasiri. As I passed the last bookshelf near the exit, Peter lunged at me and knifed me on my back.
It was a pain like no other, and I fell flat on my face. Crying, I still tried to crawl to the door when I felt him stab the upper calf of my right leg. I screamed and again begged for help but to no avail. I suddenly felt myself being forcefully turned over. The pain shot through my leg and back, and I howled.
“Scream all you want, but no one’s coming.” Grabbing me by my hair, he made me look at him and, laughing, said, “I killed him.”
Hearing that made me cry harder, which he relished. He suddenly let go of my head, and I fell to the ground and hit my head with a thud. I became disoriented, and my vision became blurred. I had to get out. I had to do something. When I fell to the floor, I clutched the leg of the wooden bookshelf. I somehow recalled that the wood was old, and it was peeling in the back. I grabbed it and yanked a good piece but kept my hand there.
Peter was manically explaining how he killed Gunasiri. I had to wait till he got near me, and I got my wish when he leveled to my face, saw my tears, and remarked, “Aww does that hurt you, Maya?” I didn’t waste a second when I stabbed him in the left eye. I wanted to yank it out, but it was stuck, and Peter moved back, screaming. I was screaming, too, from the sheer horror of what I just did.
I had to move, and I started crawling to the exit. Seeing no other way, I pushed myself from the stairs to the second floor. My body was on fire, and blood was all over the stairs. I had left my bag on the first floor’s landing and took it out to dial 119. Before that, clutching my phone, I threw myself again from the stairs. I had one more set of stairs to go, but I heard him coming. Knowing I had little time, I took the call and frantically asked them to show up at the Colombo public library.
No sooner had I told the officer my location, than Peter had reached the landing. He cut a terrifying figure, especially with the piece of wood lodged in his left eye. “I will hack you, piece by piece, for that,” he promised and made his way down. Just as I was about to move, I heard him yell as he slipped on my blood. His body skidded off and landed right next to me, and he lay motionless. I didn’t hesitate for a second as I clutched the railing and limped to the ground floor. I didn’t stop to check whether he was alive or not.
When the police arrived, I was lying unconscious on the ground. I had lost quite a lot of blood, and it took me a long time to recover. They never found Peter. To this day, I feel like I’m being watched, and I know he is out there, somewhere, biding his time in hatred.
Rtr. Kusali Rupasinghe
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