I thought we were just having a casual chat, messing around, exchanging friendly banter. I didn’t realise how seriously he was taking it.
I suppose, with hindsight, I did notice the change in his expression when I said what I did – I just didn’t give it any thought at the time. His smile remained frozen on his lips, but his eyes flickered slightly with something I never even knew was there. Deep resentment, anger, low self-esteem, a long-running grudge… whatever it was, it made my comment a much, much bigger deal to him than it was to me.
I must have fallen asleep on the sofa eventually, I don’t know for how long. It was a beam of light that woke me up. I saw it flash and then disappear before I even opened my eyes. Then it swept the room again, and I came reluctantly towards consciousness, opening my eyelids groggily and blinking.
It was the beam of a powerful flashlight, not aimed directly at me, but being used outside. I sat up, feeling nervous, and felt for the light switch. When I flicked it, nothing happened, and I remained in darkness save for the occasional flash from the beam of light outside. The electricity must be out, I thought with some relief, banishing thoughts of a potential robber prowling outside the window. Sure enough, when I glanced outside, I could see the shapes of several people holding objects that could be tools… a ladder was propped up against the wall… that was all I could make out.
Wide awake now, I got up and opened the door to go upstairs for a better view out of a bedroom window. I swung round the corner and had my foot on the first stair when I froze in a deadly mix of terror and disbelief at what I saw.
Standing at the top of the stairs was the dark but discernible silhouette of a masked man holding a gun and aiming it right at Hilda, who cowered, motionless, in the bathroom doorway. Everything was deadly still, apart from my racing, thudding heart. He had to have seen me. But still he didn’t move. With trembling legs, I stepped slowly backwards and into the room from which I’d come.
That’s when my eyes, now adjusted to the darkness, saw the gunman in the kitchen.
He wore a police badge, and motioned at me to come to him. I ran. I ran faster than I’ve ever run to anyone in my life, and flung myself into the corner behind him. Outside, I saw a team of men silently climbing another ladder to enter through the back bedroom window. But then, with a grim crack so loud that it made me scream, there was a shot.
And that, dear reader, is how I came to be up at 3.30 this morning, switching on the lights and nervously checking every corner and hiding place (washroom, kitchenette, wardrobe…) in my little apartment for masked gunmen. It is also why I couldn’t get back to sleep for at least a couple of hours, and therefore why I am so exhausted today. I’d just been watching an episode of Ugly Betty – whose sister is Hilda. Betty’s boyfriend, Matt, was the guy at the start.
Why he turned into a psycho, hostage-taking gunman, I have no idea, but he really made it very hard for me to get any sleep last night…