The Paranoid Paul

The Avenue Street lay deserted in the scorching afternoon. Down the empty lane, came an anxious-looking boy of about 15, walking hurriedly. What would his parents say? And this was the third time he was late from school. Did this mean no pocket money for a month? Or was he about to be grounded for a very long time? Just as he was thinking up an excuse, he arrived at the front door of his home and knocked. No one answered. He knocked once again but still no answer came. Then he tried the knob and the door surprisingly flung open.
“Mum, Dad, Elina? Are you there?” Paul called out as he checked every room. The whole house was empty. Then he went to the terrace, hoping against hope that his parents and his little sister would be there. But they weren’t.
“I’ll try calling them,” Paul thought. He dialed his mother’s number and waited on the line. But she didn’t pick up. He tried again but ended up with the same result. Then he tried his father’s number twice but no one answered. Why on earth weren’t his parents answering his calls? With this, another train of horrible thoughts came into his mind. What happened to his family? Where were they? Were they alright?
This really scared poor Paul. He ran to his neighbor’s house and rung their doorbell. The door slowly opened. “Uncle, have you seen my parents?” Paul asked shakily. “No Paul, I haven’t. Is everything alright? You look worried,” replied Mr. Matthews. “Er .. I am looking for them. They,” Paul called out as he ran towards the other neighboring house. He rang their doorbell twice, but no one answered. He thought of going to some more neighbors but he didn’t have any time to waste.
“I should go and report to the police,” said Paul’s mind and his legs obeyed. “Luckily, the police station is only half a kilometer from my home,” Paul thought and blessed the people who had planned the layout of Avenue Valley.
On his way, Paul passed a coffee-shop with a strange ‘punk’ kind of man standing outside it. He had shaggy hair and wore a dirty coat along with torn boots. Paul couldn’t help noticing how the man’s eyes were following him. Very soon, not only his eyes, but the man himself was following Paul.
“It will still take fifteen minutes to reach the Police Station. I hope I can avoid this man for fifteen minutes,” Paul said to himself. In order to get rid of the man, he quickened his pace. But no matter how fast he walked, the man seemed hell-bent on following him.
“Only ten more minutes,” thought Paul. But now the man seemed awfully close behind him. Suddenly Paul heard a peculiar sound and turned around to look where it was coming from. He found himself face-to-face with the man just as he pulled something out from his pocket.
Paul could hear his heart beating fast. “Oh no! It’s a revolver! He is taking out his revolver!” cried a voice inside his head. “NO!” he yelled out of fright and almost ran when he saw was that it was not a revolver at all but only a mobile phone!
“Yes,” the man rudely said into the phone and then looked at Paul, a teenager who was frightened out of his mind.
“I am not giving up without a fight. I am sure this is the man who has my family and now he has come for me. But I am not giving up without a fight,” Paul swore in his mind and tightened his fists, ready to hit.
“Are you o-,” the man said, addressing Paul, but couldn’t complete his sentence as he was awarded a hard punch in the face! The man was so shocked that he was about to fall to the ground, but recovered himself soon enough and caught Paul’s fist before another punch landed.
The man grabbed Paul’s other fist too and spoke roughly into his ear, “The Police Station is not far, boy. Just two minutes from here. I am going to drag you there and then you can tell the officer what you were punching me for. Got it?”
“You! You don’t threaten me. You are the one who’s going to get into trouble, not me. Where is my family? You’ll have to explain this to the officer,” Paul said bravely.

“I don’t know what you are talking about. I didn’t sign an autograph for you- is that why you are going mad?” the man asked.
“What? Why will I ever want an autograph from you?” Paul questioned. But before the man could answer, they arrived at the Police Station. They went inside and what Paul saw inside made his mouth crack open.
Sitting in front of the officer were his parents and Elina! And they looked just as surprised as Paul did.
“PAUL!” yelled his parents and Elina ran forward and hugged him. Paul was still in a state of shock to be able to say anything. But there were two other people who were more astonished than him and they were the officer and the dangerous-looking man.
“Oh Paul dear! We were worried sick. Where were you?” Paul’s mother, Mrs. Jackson asked. “And what are you doing here, of all places?” Mr. Jackson asked.
Paul told everyone exactly what had happened and how he ended up in the Police Station. “And what autograph were you talking about?” he asked the strange man.
“I was talking about my autograph. You see I am a famous rock artist in my country and this is the first time I am visiting your country. So I thought I’d explore a few places before my concert tonight. I was just hanging out at the coffee shop when we met.”
“I am sorry, sir. I am very sorry. I guess I was being too paranoid,” Paul apologized.

“Yeah, it’s OK. I am Bill, by the way,” Mr. Bill said and held out a friendly hand.
Paul introduced himself and they shook hands. Finally, it all made sense except for one thing. “But Mum and Dad, what are you doing here?” Paul asked curiously.
“Paul, we were looking for you. But we couldn’t find you so we came here to report to the police that you were missing!” Mrs. Jackson said but upon seeing the confused look on Paul’s face she explained further and said, “You have totally forgotten, haven’t you, Paul? We had gone to Elina’s parent-teacher meeting. We told you last night to stay in the school and wait for us.”
“You were supposed to come with us. But you didn’t pay any attention. We naturally thought that you’d be in school. So we went looking for you. By that time, the buses had left too, so we couldn’t be sure whether you had boarded the bus home or not. Then we called the guard and asked him to check if you were home, but you weren’t,” Mr. Jackson said.
“I was late. Sorry. But why wasn’t the door locked then?” Paul questioned. “Mrs. Matthews had left her purse in our house when she had come for dinner last night. So when she called me, I told her to use the extra key we always put under the doormat and take it. But she forgot to lock the house again as she was in a hurry,” Mrs. Jackson answered.
“And what about your phones?” Paul asked.

“We had been asked to switch them off during the orientation. After the program we saw your missed calls. But no matter how many times we called back, you didn’t answer as you weren’t home,” Mrs. Jackson concluded.
Paul finally looked relieved and smiled. “Thank God, it’s over now. Even a tiny mystery can be exhausting,” he said as they headed home.
-Pragya Arora