Holly glanced up from her steaming latté, and gazed dreamily out of the window. That was the first time she saw the face. That small, round and bearded face gazing in at her from the street, his features pressed against the glass; his eyes sunken and dark with circles underneath, making it look like he hadn’t slept in weeks. His brow was wrinkled and seemed confused as he gazed into the coffee house. She took a brief sweep of the few tables around her, realising that no-one else had noticed him and that his stare was indeed intended for her. Looking back towards the window, he placed his palms flat against the pane and the look of sadness in his eyes was so intense she felt something squirm uncomfortably in her stomach just by looking back at him. The siren of a passing fire truck made her jump and knock over her coffee. Hastily wiping the boiling liquid from her hand, she turned back to the window, but the old man was gone.
It was a week before she saw him again. Volunteering to take her God-daughter to the park one afternoon, she set about making sure that the 5 year old was happily swinging like a monkey from the jungle gym, and settled onto a park bench opposite to read her book. She didn’t notice him at first, but there again, directly opposite sitting on a pea green bench, was the man, staring so deeply into her eyes that she thought he must be able to see right through her. She made a flicker of movement in her growing unease at seeing the stranger again, but he inclined his head towards her and with the tiniest shake, he got up, nodded again, and left. She inhaled a deep breath and felt her cheeks flush. Why did he keep following her? And, why had he almost looked as though he had tears in his eyes as he walked away?
She saw him a few more times after that, always the same scenario. She would be at a business meeting, or out to dinner with some friends, and he would always be there, tracking her routine and gazing at her in through a window or watch her from a distance. Though, he would never approach. Curious, rather than frightened at his presence, she began to make enquiries as to the strange ‘staring’ beggar man, but no-one else had ever seen, heard, or even noticed him before. Even if he was standing there and she directly pointed him out to someone that she was with, whenever she looked back he would have gone. She stopped mentioning him to people after that, worried that they might start to think she was either paranoid or crazy.
She didn’t see him again for quite a while, at least not in the street or through any windows. But he would come to her in her dreams, that face, so sad and lost. In her dream she would see him approach her and gently lay one hand on top of hers, before opening his mouth to say something. This was the point at which she would always wake up, with tears in her eyes, though she didn’t know why.
On one particular night, her friend Bonnie had gone back with her to her apartment, after a few drinks with some work colleagues, the pair decided to continue the party for the night. Grabbing a bottle of wine and glasses from the kitchen, Holly happened to turn around and glance at the window above the kitchen sink, and screamed in surprise, dropping the wine and glasses, sending them into a clattering embrace on the tile floor. He was there. Before Bonnie had time to ask what had happened, Holly was sprinting out of the back door and round to the front of the house. Leaning over the front gate, and apparently in some pain, was the old man. Rain was pouring over his face and seeping into the lines around his eyes. With the wind rushing past her and the rain sticking her hair to her face, Holly yelled, ‘What do you want from me?! Why do you keep following me?!’ He turned round, though it was an effort, and stood up to his full height, opened his mouth to speak, and then collapsed onto the path, with an uncomfortable crunch.
Cautiously, Holly approached the old man, with the rain forcing itself against her face. She gently placed two fingers on the side of his neck. Yes, he was still alive. ‘Bonnie…BONNIE!’, she yelled, as Bonnie skidded out onto the driveway. ‘What is it?!’, she stammered. ‘Call 911’, Holly answered, ‘Now!’.
They had been sitting in the hospital waiting room for over four hours and still hadn’t found out anything. The ambulance had arrived; minutes after they had rang, and loaded the man onto a stretcher. The two women had followed in Holly’s car and consequently, had been sipping cold coffee from Styrofoam cups for what seemed like an eternity.
Eventually, after another two hours of waiting, a doctor in blue scrubs and beads of sweat collecting at his brow approached them. ‘Which one of you is Holly?’, he asked. Holly stood up and faced him. He glanced her up and down and looks of puzzlement clouded over his face before he simply said, ‘Ok, follow me.’ She tottered behind him as they walked down hallways which all looked the same, and all had the same sickening sweet smell of illness and injury. He led her down a private wing with a single small room at the end. The doctor turned to face her and said, ‘He will see you now.’ Before Holly could ask any questions, the doctor had turned and walked back down the corridor.
With a deep breath, she slowly entered the room. The first thing to greet her was the constant beeping of the monitor; she guessed he had possibly had a heart attack and therefore he would be monitored constantly. As she approached the edge of the curtain, she saw his face, sunken into a mass of pillows, the same small round face that she had seen looking back at her through so many windows and the blue grey eyes still staring at her as they had done for the past few weeks. He smiled weakly as she approached the edge of his bed and beckoned her to come closer. With difficulty, he opened his lips to speak, and a barely inaudible whisper came out, ‘I won’t hurt you….I…I, have to tell…you.’ She sat down on the pink arm chair beside the bed and he reached for her hand. Instinctively pulling away he shook his head, and somehow, she felt compelled to let him hold her hand. She wanted to scream, to yell at him, and ask why he had been following her, why he never spoke, why they were here now, in this hospital room, ask him how he knew her name. But something kept her from speaking, and as she looked into his eyes, she thought that there was something oddly familiar about them, and the lightness and pattern of his hand on hers was also something that felt familiar, as though she knew this from another life. With a slow exhale of breath, he turned his face towards her again and said, ‘I’m sorry Holly, I’m so sorry, I just didn’t know how to tell you….I’m your…..your….’ His hand tensed against hers and his head fell back into the pillows, his eyes wide with fear. The heart monitor began beeping with frenzy and almost instantly 3 doctors in scrubs entered the room. ‘You have to leave’, one Doctor ordered, ‘wait outside’.
Stunned, Holly backed out of the room, shocked at seeing the old man begin to spasm and hearing all the Doctors yell medical terms at each other. After only a few minutes, a Doctor appeared in the hallway and walked towards her. Rising to meet him, he looked at her and then hung his head. ‘I’m so sorry’, he whispered, ‘there was nothing more we could do, his heart was very weak. Your father was a great man.’ ‘My….’, and with that, Holly fainted onto the marble floor.