Over dinner: "Don't be silly! I've passed by that place so many times. There's no one in there but a girl. You could be friends!"
"No way!" she said, pouting.
James walked to and from work. Everyday, he passed by the house, a grand Victorian affair with an impeccable lawn and hanging ornaments in the porch. Everyday, up in the second-floor window, James would see a girl, pretty, fair, black-haired with sparkling blue eyes. Some days she would write, or perhaps eat some cake or other, and on other days she would simply look out. At night, too, as he returned from work, the girl would be there, smiling as she looked out, reading an anonymous book, chatting to some unseen person in the room. Once, she had smiled at James.
Over time he had taken to referring to her as a guardian angel, a benign presence watching over the neighbourhood.
James didn't give this too much thought until the day he walked past and, looking up, found the second floor window empty.
Don t be silly, he told himself, as he had told Karen so many times. The girl can't possibly stay there all the time. Maybe she's gone to the toilet. Maybe she went out for the groceries. One cannot assume the worst.
When he came home, the window was still empty. Maybe she's on holiday. Maybe she's moved. He felt a twinge of sadness, even betrayal, even though all they shared was the same neighbourhood.
Having tucked Karen into bed, James stayed up to finish some work alongside the TV. At 10pm the news briefly flashed a picture of her- but the moment James got to the TV screen, she was gone. In her place was a grainy picture of another woman, with vaguely Asian features- "...connected to the incident."
What incident? Connected how?
The next morning, James walked past and stopped, deliberately, in front of the house. He stared at each window, trying to divine the location of the girl, trying to reach into his intuition which might tell him something.
"You know her?" a voice from behind asked mildly.
James jumped and turned around. It was a pretty woman, wearing a cardigan and a dress. She stood with a dancer's posture and, for her delicate looks, her voice was low and mature.
"Kind of," James answered awkwardly. The woman nodded.
"You know what happened?" she asked, and an odd light seemed to glimmer in her eyes. James shook his head.
"I heard it was kidnap." Her voice turned sombre.
"Hearsay, it's not always true, is it?" he asked anxiously. "How'd you know?"
She shrugged. "I hear things. Well, have a nice day." She walked off, with graceful bouncing steps. James thought there was something too odd about this whole encounter. And her face was familiar. He chewed his lip, pushed up his glasses. Yes, it was familiar. Very familiar.
Where had he seen-
It was her, who was "connected with the incident". It was her in the grainy photo.