Chapter 1 Did I ignore my gut feel?
Aimlessly, I’m wandering around Carrefour, dawdling with my
shopping trolley, and doing more window shopping than grocery
I spend half an hour in the sour cream section, checking prices of
all six brands, trying to spot my brand Amul, which doesn’t seem
to exist here in Muscat. Eventually, I settle on a Bega cheese—I
recognize the logo designed by my Australian friend Nilofer—and
add it to the trolley.
I might be wasting time, but I know I need it. For the first time
since the beginning of this month, I feel relaxed and sense my
batteries charging. I’m happy with window shopping today.
Then my weekly trip to Carrefour is over, and I’m driving back
Recharged, I’m ready for routine tasks like planning the rest of my
evening. “I’ll finish everything fast and sleep early. I need to get two
big bags out from the boot, which I can do quickly. Then I’ll just need
to put the food away, which I can finish tonight. Stuff from one of
the bags will go in the refrigerator, and groceries from the second bag
will go in the kitchen cabinets.” I’m a thinking person since there’s
nothing else to occupy my brain.
I arrive home and park the car in ‘my’ car parking in front of the
building, the one that’s open to the night sky.
Still sitting in the car, I catch a flash of movement to my left. I
quickly turn my head and look out the window to see that a grey
BMW has quickly parked two spaces over from me.
I study the two men in the car, curious what they’re doing here. I
usually mind my own business, so this is unusual behavior for me.
But something about the men makes me keep looking.
They descend from their BMW.
One of them has a square face and a broad frame with a fattish
bald head. The second man has a comparatively smaller physique
but a stout and robust body. He’s hurrying along with his shining
bald head. Both of them are young to be bald and must have neatly
shaved their heads. They wear severe expressions on their faces.
I watch as they walk quickly inside my building without looking
back. Both these men seem to be busy with something of their
own, and they seem united in purpose as if they are close to each
other and they’ve known each other a long time.
I don’t recognize either of them.
Both of them are wearing the same black T-shirt zipped up to the
neck, the same coco leather jackets matching their complexion.
Their jackets are loose-fitting and open-front—same pairs of
tight stonewashed faded blue jeans, same pairs of nice fitted black
leather boots. Like police officers or army men, they wear similar
uniforms, but their costumes are less formal, unlike them.
Something about the two men who have gone inside scares me, but
I don’t know what it is.
Not because I live alone. Living alone has never scared me.
I hear alarm bells ringing. I sense danger, and I’m scared to the core.
There’s no reason for me to shiver in this heat. This irrational fear is
choking my breath too. I can sense some unexpected happening is
gripping my body. Something about this situation has raised a red
flag deep inside me.
I don’t like admitting this, as I can find nothing scary in what’s
happening. My logical mind has tried and failed to find the logic in
my fear. “You’re acting stupid,” it assures me. “You need to be sensible
My heart, however, is adamant. In the unusual solemn silence
created by my fear, I hear a clear whisper, “You better run.”
“Run… run… run…” The word echoes loud and clear around my
“Whatever you do, you,” my heart tells me, “don’t go up to your flat
where you’ll be alone.”
My heart is racing, and my breathing is coming fast. I can’t
remember ever experiencing anything like this before.
“Don’t be silly !” my logical mind cuts in. “Both of them look normal.
You’re reacting as though they’re running towards your car !” But my
instinct pushes the thought out of my head.
I sit locked safely inside the car, eyes wide open, casting around for
anything else out of place. I’m expecting something unexpected,
but the car parking is empty now.
Once again, my logical mind questions these thoughts that are
See, they’re walking down the corridor like ordinary people. Why do I
Why did I stare unblinking at their backs in terror?
Now they’re disappearing around the corner like any other resident.
The men are out of sight.
I feel slightly better, but I’m still not at ease.
I can’t shake the fear that the men will suddenly reappear in the
corridor, come straight toward my car, and become violent, maybe
physically harming me in some way. I keep peeping outside, but no
one appears, and everything is still.
I’m breathing in jerks. The fear of these men has overpowered me,
and I still don’t feel at all safe getting out of the car.
If they chase me, I think, I’ll use the car to run away. My behavior
is incomprehensible, even to myself.
Just an hour ago, I was having a normal, peaceful day. Then I saw
these two ordinary-looking guys go inside my building, and within
seconds my energy and strength have disappeared as if sucked away
by some unknown force. In place of calm, I feel weak, helpless,
scared. Any sensible person would call it illogical, ridiculous, or
I am afraid of my constant mental chatter.
But I keep waiting in the car, trying without much success to quiet
my mental chatter. Slowly it’s starting to die down into scary, notso-
peaceful, hollow silence.
“Mmmmm…. I shouldn’t get out of the car. I’m safer inside, and I can
use it to escape if anyone chases me.”
At the same time, I’m aware that if anyone saw me sitting in the car,
they would wonder what I was doing.
I pull out my phone and act as if someone’s texted me, tapping
vigilantly on the empty screen.
The feeling I have is out of the blue, beyond logic, beyond my five
senses, yet so powerful and completely new to me. Now that the
two men have moved inside the building, I feel the danger has gone
inside with them.
As I tap on the inert phone, I try to make sense of my feeling.
“I didn’t see anything, but I felt it;
I didn’t hear anything, but I felt it;
I didn’t smell anything, but I felt it;
I didn’t taste anything, but I felt it;
I didn’t feel anything by touch, but I experienced it…”
The more I sit there, the more sure I am that this is intuition and
not anxiety or laziness. Still, I know I would have a hard time
explaining my feeling logically to a psychologist.
But I’ve been waiting for thirty minutes now; how much more can
I practically wait? What if those men stay inside all night?
I listen to my willpower coated with my ego. I protest against
the conclusion my mind has already come to, that the men are
criminals disguising themselves as residents.
Intuition is God’s rare gift, and ignoring it with
will power is the biggest egoistic foolishness
Trying to muster the courage, I tell myself not to think so negatively.
“You’re a brave girl. Are you going to let this silly fear make you sit in
the car for another half-hour because you’re scared? Think positive,
move out of the car, and go inside.”
I’m still not convinced enough to go inside.
Surprised and irritated with my state of mind, I glance at my watch.
”Oyo! Ten o’clock!”
By a mighty effort of will, I again muster my courage and try to
convince myself to get out of the car.
“I shouldn’t be listening to this irrational fear. Tomorrow’s a workday.
What I need is to go inside and relax instead of wasting time here with
“Well, am I a coward?” I mutter to myself.
“No!!! I am not a coward.”
“Then there’s no reason to get scared!” I scream the words out
loud enough to break the grip of the fear.
I can feel the time slipping away as I sit here doing nothing.
It’s time to be brave and go inside.
I turn around in my seat. Do a final check with eyes wide open.
The car parking still looks empty. Pushing past the last remnants of
my fear, I slowly unbuckle the seat belt.
“Don’t think,” I tell myself. “Thinking will not let you go inside.”
I slide down in my seat, face-up, eyes alert, observing through the
window as my hand searches the floor for my purse. I place my
clutch purse under my arm, then slip the keys out of the ignition
and cautiously switch off the parking lights.
Trying not to make a sound, I gently open the door and step out
of the car.
It’s then that I remember the milk and other groceries in the boot;
I know they’ll spoil in the Omani heat, but there’s no way I’m
getting them now.
So I lock the car and start walking, purse in hand, into the building.
I can feel the wind ruffling my hair as my steps grow faster, and I
try to tell myself to act more normal. But my legs seem unwilling
to slow down.
By the time I reach the stairs, I’m running faster than my legs can
keep up with. I’m running through the dark corridor—strangely,
the street lights are out, and the building lights are off.
Then I’m standing outside the wooden door to my flat, shuffling
through my purse in the dark; I can’t find the keys.
Desperate to get inside, I open the back zip of my purse and take
out the spare key I keep for emergencies.
Unlock the door, step inside, and quickly pull the door closed
behind me, my heart racing. I breathe in sharply and let out a long,
shuddery sigh. The entire flat is dark; that much is typical for this
hour, but my feelings are anything but normal. Afraid of what may
already lurk in the flat, I stand stock-still as my vigilant eyes adjust
to the dark.
I move to the second bedroom and close the door; then I lock it to
Under the door, I can see the light coming from the living room;
I must’ve switched it on automatically when I came in, but it will
have to stay on.
I fall with a heavy thud onto the bed, like a dead object.
Finally feeling safer, I listen to my racing heart and look at the full
bright moon for solace, to quieten me. The moon agrees to calm
But soon, the street cars grow jealous of my silent conversation
with the moon, and they do everything they can to disturb me with
horns and flashing lights.
Restless energy is circulating freely like a mad wild bull inside me.
Just lying there, I feel restless, so I pick myself up off the bed and
move to the living room, then start pacing aimlessly back and forth
across the room.
After a few minutes of pacing, I rush to the balcony in the last
room, gazing down at the street. I don’t know what I expect to see
out there, but there’s nothing suspicious.
My logical mind tells me, “Of course there isn’t; everything is normal
and in order. The issue, if any, is with you. You need to manage yourself
and be peaceful.” I take a deep breath, hold it, and release it slowly.
I do this several times, but the effect is minimal; my heart is still
pounding, and my eyes keep darting back down to the street.
“Let me try alternate nostril breathing; maybe that’ll calm my mind.”
Finally, something that helps; I begin to calm down and become
Yawning, I head back towards the middle room to sleep.
But I’m still aware of being alone, and an echo of the fear still waits
in the corner of my mind.
I lie silent on the bed, close my eyes through force of will, and try
letting myself sleep. But my eyes snap open in the darkness and fall
on the lighted phone at my side. The phone is ringing but in silent
“Oh! That’s why I haven’t heard my phone go off in hours.
I don’t remember muting it, but I must’ve at some point.
I won’t pick up any call, no matter how long it rings.”
What seems like hours later, I’m still not asleep. What’s happened
is too strange, and I imagine anyone in my situation would have a
hard time sleeping.
So I use the powerful force of autosuggestion to regain the strength
I brainwash myself, ”There is no danger in this building; I’m strong
and feeling sleepy.”
“Autosuggestion is good, but not using it to
control the mind chatter and ignoring something as precious as intuition or the signs or
caution from the universe is foolishness. ”
The next day, I’m thinking about what I want to wear to work.
I have long, silky-fine Indian hair, trimmed well with gentle waves.
I always keep them clean and shiny, and today is no exception.
I walk gracefully around the office, hair hanging below my
shoulders. I love it when people turn around and see me.
The plain office shoes with extended heels make me look a little
taller than I am.
Like most girls my age, I love to catch attention.
“I’ve been wearing only trousers and shirts to the office for weeks. It’s
time for something more exciting. I don’t feel able to express myself in
western clothes. I want to wear some Indian colors. Today, I can spend
time to decide on a decent Indian outfit for an ethnic look.”
“Hmmm…. . what should I wear?”
Sets are neatly hanging in my wardrobe. I glance through them.
“It’s Thursday, and I can wear yellow.”
The use of colors in Indian culture is more symbolic;yellow brings
happiness, peace, and mental concentration.
I hold the yellow lehariya chiffon pastel kurta in front of me in the
wardrobe mirror. “It’s not too much for office wear,” I assure myself.
“With fawn leggings, it’ll be just right.”
I hang silver earrings with small jhumkis at the bottom in my ears,
then glance back into the mirror and am happy to see they’ll look
fabulous with this outfit.
Dressed up in ethnic attire, I look like a fresh, pretty, confident
Indian software girl—with a beautiful smile as always.
For makeup, I limit myself to red lipstick, smack my lips, and pick
up a napkin to kiss it. I think I look perfect with a natural, even
I lean closer to the mirror, smile slightly, and my beautiful, large
teeth appear to protrude to brighten my face effortlessly. I love this
I’m ready to go to the office.
With my car keys in hand and a leather handbag on my shoulder,
I trot briskly to the kitchen and start looking around for my office
water bottle. When I’m unable to find it, my face loses some of its
cheer, and I can feel a slight headache coming on.
“I’ll manage without it. If I don’t leave now, I’ll be late.” I rush to the
car, my heels making a noticeable tik-tok.
My neighbor Sara is waiting in her car; she turns around, waving at
me, “Hi Priya? you look lovely!”
I smile and wave back. I know I look nice.
Work is non-stop all day long, and when I get home in the evening,
I collapse on my stomach on the living room sofa. My breathing is
shallow, and I feel nauseous.
I reach out and drag the dustbin near my head in case of an
“I should have been careful,” I think as I reflect on the day. I felt a
migraine coming on this morning before breakfast, but I ignored
it, thinking it would subside as the day progressed. If I’d taken it
easier at work, I could’ve avoided it.
It didn’t help that it was a bright day and I left my sunglasses at
home, so the headache had got worse even before I reached the
office. I owe today’s migraine entirely to my carelessness.
The bedroom light is on, but I don’t even have the energy to switch
Lying down, I shield my eyes against the light with the pillow.
My body is wet with sweat, and it feels like the sweat is draining all
the nutrients out of my body and leaving me exhausted.
Tomorrow is the weekend. I can take the rest of the day to rest,
but the pain is terrible, and I’m not even sure I’ll survive the night.
I give up on the idea of sleeping, figuring instead that I’ll just lie
down and rest as long as I can.
I wake up with the morning sun rays stubbornly making their way
through the weak curtains. I don’t know when I slept.
I still feel tired, but at least the migraine seems to be dying down.
As I brush my teeth, I can still feel a tolerable but unwelcome
headache. I know I can’t rush through today. I have to take things
easy; thankfully, work should be light today, so maybe I’ll feel
better by the end of the day.
I gulp down a small glass of fresh orange juice.
To my surprise, I feel a little hungry.
I microwave a tiny amount of oat porridge in a small bowl, which
is one-fourth of my everyday diet. I eat it with curd, black salt, cut
onions, and a pinch of mint powder. My tender body receives it
well, and I feel my energy growing, but the headache persists.
In the kitchen cleaning the dishes, I think to myself, “I’ll have to
make sure I’m productive today, so I have to push myself to be active.
I can finish off the mundane tasks I’ll have to do this weekend, like
washing these dishes and cleaning the flat.”
I’m sluggish and bloated, and my back is aching.
I can’t risk another migraine, and I again promise myself to make
it an easy day at work, putting in slow and steady effort until the
migraine eventually lessens and dies out.
Next, I make tea with fennel seeds and lemongrass and search for
something light to munch on with it.
I open an orange airtight container and take out some foxnuts.
These will be perfect, as they’re light on the stomach.
It’s a lazy weekend, early afternoon. I’m sipping tea from a Japanese
bone china cup, curled up on the sofa, munching buttery home-roasted
foxnuts. Externally, life can’t be better than this. Internally,
I feel nauseous, windy, and bloated with slight traces of yesterday’s
“Anyone can mistake my current state as a greener grass here. As they
say, “Seeing is believing.” Suppose anyone who sees apparently with
pair of eyes will see it wrong. One needs to feel the invisible story of
another’s life with patience and maturity.”
Suddenly, I’m starting to feel better. I guess it was the lemongrass
tea and bland foxnuts. I’m not sure which helped more, and I
decide it must have been the combination.
Thankfully, the migraine is almost dead, and there’s nothing much
I can do at home. There’s no milk for tomorrow morning, as the
one I got yesterday went bad lying in the car boot all night.
I decide to head to a nearby kiosk to grab another liter of milk.
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