It happened while I was jogging that morning. I saw him sitting on a roadside bench. I froze, but it was not due to the cold weather. Yes, he looked so full of life. Before I left home, I saw his picture in the newspaper under Obituaries. Might be, it was an error from the paper and they would apologize for the same in their next edition. Or it must be a fraud played by his family that was after his money. Or, I was watching one too many horror reruns on the TV, to arrive at an idea that it was a case of a dead man walking. Boldly I moved closer to the stranger.
Yes, it was the same man. He could be around 50 years. Yes, here too he sported the same queer moustache. But for his moustache I would have surely missed him. I started with a greeting. "Is it not too cold for November?" He glowered as though he contacted a live wire. Next minute, he seemed he did not care about me, nor heard anything at all. Now I shouted, "Will you please tell me what bus I should take to City Centre Mall?" He checked his watch absentmindedly. I continued shouting, "Excuse me, where are you from? Do you have a name?" Shaking his head, he moved his finger closer to his lips. Obviously he conveyed he did not know my language. So, I walked on to continue what was left of my jogging. I looked back after a couple of steps. Lo, I did not find him there. I felt it was impossible for one to disappear so fast on that desolate road.
I returned to the bench where he was sitting. A newspaper swayed on the bench under the bus shelter. Yes, nevertheless that was his picture I saw in the newspaper at my home. I picked up the paper and brought his picture to my eye level. A blue circle was drawn faintly around the image with number 9 written over it. The number intrigued me. What that could mean? Various thoughts flashed across my mind.
I returned home nursing a headache. Of late I was living with a friend who was new to the city. He needed a stopgap accommodation since he was searching for a job in the MNCs near HITEC city. Since my family was anyhow away, I wanted to play a good turn to this old friend. I slumped myself on the sofa. My friend was too absorbed in something that was in the newspaper. I tapped him on his shoulder. He stared back. I gave him my story that happened during my jogging trip. I pointed my shaky finger at the picture he was looking at. I asked for an advice as to what I should do then. "Tell me whether I have to call the police and report this man’s bluff, what with our city facing possible threats from terrorists who are shooting tourists at a point blank range elsewhere? My friend laughed off my fears. He said it was just the hangover thanks to our previous night's binge, and that I was getting too paranoid over the face of an out-of-town tourist." Then the doorbell rang.
My friend volunteered to answer it. I heard some animated talk going on outside the door. I was about to put aside the newspaper. It was when the live face of the mustachioed man zoomed into my face. I jumped out of my skin seeing his limp hand taking mine. “Look! Your roommate at the door just told me how you worried and almost approached the police. What you saw was really my picture in today’s newspapers. By the way, I am a marketing researcher hired by the newspaper. My assignment is to survey their readers. The paper wanted to test how vividly their images caught readers' attention and stayed in their minds." He went on, "I followed you to collect your impressions. Anyway, your friend was quite helpful in his feedback for a good report. I think I am done with my job. You happened to be my candidate No. 9 and that is not a bad number either, for a target."
He left before I could say a thing. I came back to my senses. I hadn’t really noticed if his feet were twisted backwards for a ghost.