It was 5:30 am in the morning in the month of December. I went to the park to take a walk. In Mumbai it is quite dark at that hour and this situation continues till the month of March. I had the habit to take a walk in the park for around half an hour before going for swimming. This used to be the warmup exercise before swimming. The park was lit feebly with few lamps on short posts at regular intervals, casting long shadows on the ground. They created a mystic atmosphere. But I was used to that.
For ages it was my daily ritual but during winter months, I used to be extra careful. There were not many people in the park at that hour. So I never carried any valuables lest I get mugged. Mugging episodes were not rare in our locality and often we got to hear about them. Moreover, the park actually was spread over a large area, nicely manicured with good number of trees and bushes, making it impossible for a watchman to keep vigil over the entire area.
On that day too, like any other day, I took five rounds of the circular tree-lined paths and decided to sit and take rest for five minutes before setting out for my swimming club. There was nobody around with the exception of a few dogs who had made the park their home. They were quite acquainted with me. I was about to get up when I felt my feet touching something under the bench. I leaned down to check if I dropped anything from my bag. To my surprise, I saw a pair of running shoes placed underneath the bench!
They were neither brand new, nor in a tattered state to be discarded. There was nobody to be seen in the vicinity. I was wondering who could have left the pair underneath like that. I was a bit scared too as I became apprehensive about the possibilities. Like there could be a bomb placed inside or something equally scary. But then I started comforting myself with the safer possibilities as well. Maybe somebody must have removed them for some reason and then left them by mistake.
Eventually I decided to move on instead of breaking my head on these issues. I would rather get out of the place and proceed to follow my daily schedule without any further delay. And if I chance to see the watchman at the gate, I would better inform him about the shoes.
As I was getting ready to pick my bag up and proceed, I felt somebody touching my shoulder. Fingers cold as ice sat mildly on my skin. My heart missed a beat and a cold wave ran down the spine freezing me completely. I thought of running for my life but could not move a bit, even for a second, as much as I tried. I came to my senses when I heard a familiar voice calling my name! “Aparna aunty, will you please move a bit, I need to take out my shoes from beneath the bench.”
My heart was still beating fast but somehow I managed to gather myself and act normally. I turned and saw my neighbour’s son. On enquiring he said that on other days he runs regularly around 7:15 am in the morning for around forty five minutes, followed by freehand exercises and stretching. But on that particular day he came early as he was required to catch a flight around 10 am. So after completing his run early on that day, he removed his shoes, spread his mat and was doing his exercises behind the bushes in lying and sitting position. He also said that he kept the shoes underneath the bench so that it does not get wet by the dew drops. By then I got over my fright. I gave him a patient hearing and appreciated his daily exercise regime before leaving for my clubhouse.
Now dear reader, this is a secret between you and me. Please don’t bother to tell others how easy it is to frighten a brave lady called Aparna Mondal. I am usually very bold, but then usual days don’t make for an extraordinary story.