Jake liked the new place he had rented at the start of his first year in the master’s program. It was a small, one-room apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom on the fourth floor of an old building on the eastern side of Thornburg. The neighborhood was packed with tall buildings, narrow streets and large supermarkets, but Jake was among the lucky residents whose view included a yard with a couple of trees among all the other concrete structures.
His new place was only five bus stops away from Thornburg’s center, where Jake would get off and walk an extra ten minutes to get to his college. Buses ran frequently in his new neighborhood and, even when Thornburg experienced the levels of traffic it was renowned for, it still wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes for Jake to get to the city center.
Thornburg was also famous for its high rent and housing prices, but Jake had managed to score a living space with a lower-than-average rent for the type of place it was. So, with his current budget and needs, the newly rented lodging was ideal for him.
Since he had lived in the student dorms up until that point, he didn’t have many things. Cleaning supplies and utensils, dishes, some appliances and other such things had been shared with his previous roommates in the dorm. As such, they were currently missing from his apartment. He really needed to go shopping.
Jake also didn’t have curtains, so he needed to add those to his shopping list, too. But, since buying all the stuff at once would leave him starving until his next paycheck and there wasn’t really any certainty when that would be, he prioritized buying only the things he really needed and only when he really needed them.
And so, one month after his university year had started, Jake still did not have curtains.
The building opposite from his was fifty meters away, separated by the yard where people walked their dogs and kids played hide and go seek. That building was positioned in such a way that Jake could easily see inside the homes on the third, fourth and fifth floors. Of course, the reverse was also true, and someone from the opposite building could see inside Jake’s apartment, especially with him not having any drapes or curtains.
This didn’t bother Jake, and he changed clothes in his room with complete disregard to the fact that someone might see him during this daily activity. Whenever the thought entered his mind, he immediately dismissed it, thinking that most people had better things to do than watch a random guy changing and doing stuff inside his own place.
That was, until one morning when he was proven wrong. Jake had just taken off the T-shirt he had slept in and gone over to the windowsill to get the camera he had left there. Looking out through the window, he saw a guy around his age, sitting on the threshold of his balcony on the fourth floor of the opposite building, smoking a cigarette and looking directly at Jake as he was doing so.
Jake challenged the other guy with his gaze, but the latter seemed completely unaffected as he continued to look at Jake, barely even blinking. If the other guy had shown some kind of aggravating reaction—or even any reaction at all—Jake was ready to shout, show the middle finger or do something else that would aggravate the other guy in return. But, as there was no reaction, Jake had nothing concrete to go on. For all he knew, the man could just be staring into space and it only seemed like he was looking at Jake. So, Jake stepped away from the window to finish his business, forgetting the incident had ever happened by the time he reached the bus stop.
The next morning, he remembered it and, out of curiosity, looked toward the opposite building to see if the guy who had been potentially staring at him was still doing it. He was.
Again, he was sitting on the threshold, smoking a cigarette and looking straight at Jake. Again, Jake itched to do something to make him back off, but he was running late, so he postponed doing anything about the matter.
On the third morning, the guy wasn’t there, and Jake thought he may have jumped to conclusions too soon. So, he made a mental note to better control his aggressive reactions until he was sure he had good reasons for having them.
The fourth morning came, and Jake saw the other guy again, staring at him with a blank expression. Jake forgot about the mental note he had made, went out on his balcony shirtless, crossed his arms and glared at the guy. He was confident in his ability to be intimidating and to keep it up until either the other person lost their nerve or until Jake lost his cool. However, the guy proved to be a considerable opponent, as he never once turned his gaze away or changed his expression. Three minutes passed like that, and the annoyance building up within Jake was going to soon make him drop the glaring for something more impactful. But, then, the other guy showed a faint smile, looked at his wristwatch, put out his finished cigarette, stood up and waved to Jake before entering his apartment.
Jake grabbed the empty flowerpot on his balcony and almost threw it at the other guy’s window. He had not imagined it, and he had not overreacted. That guy had indeed been staring at him the entire time. And he’d also had the nerve to smile and wave at Jake as if they knew each other.
On the fifth morning, Jake showed his middle fingers, wrote ‘Get lost!’ on a sheet of paper, mimed ‘Stop looking or I’ll break your neck’, and did everything he could think of apart from yelling and making a spectacle of himself in the neighborhood at that early hour, but the other guy displayed no reaction whatsoever.
Fuck. Just you wait, asshole. I’ll figure out your apartment number and go deliver a more convincing threat up close. Let’s see if you stay unbothered with a fist between your eyes.
The weekend came and Jake didn’t see the other guy at all. He must have gotten his message across more effectively than he’d thought he had and the guy had backed off.
However, when Monday morning came, Jake was once again being watched. Anger instantly swelled up within him and he threw the empty flowerpot like a baseball toward the guy’s head. The flowerpot cracked against the balcony railing and its pieces fell on the ground in the yard.
What the fuck? He didn’t even flinch. It would’ve cracked his skull if it weren’t for the railing. Is he blind and deaf? No, he can’t be blind. He’s constantly looking straight at me, and he even waved at me. Then how can he not even flinch with a piece of ceramic flying at him? What the fuck is up with this guy?
Jake swiftly retreated into a not-so-exposed area of his apartment and pressed his hand over his chest to slow down things happening within him. Being creeped out was unfamiliar territory for him, and he didn’t know what to do. Eventually, he managed to calm down. But, in the evening, he hung up one of his bedsheets to cover the window and the balcony door from the inside.
At some point during that week, he peeked from behind the bedsheet to see if the guy was still there in the mornings. He was. He lifted his gaze and they locked eyes. Jake panicked and backed away from his window. A few seconds later, he became outraged, realizing that he had been intimidated into retreating two times already. Besides that, he had made disadvantageous alterations to his life by blocking the access of natural light into his room, all because of a weirdo from the building across. He took down the bedsheet that evening and settled on speaking to the building administrator as soon as possible.
The following morning, however, Jake didn’t see the guy on the balcony, and he mentally slapped himself when he realized he was feeling relieved because of it.
The fuck? Is that stalker really making a chicken outta me? Get yourself together, man!
He headed toward the bus stop to go to his morning courses and found that it was as crowded as always at that early hour. Jake cursed himself for letting the guy stress him enough to once again forget something at home. When the bus came, people flooded out of it and into it in a messy manner. Jake had a large bag full of filming equipment with him and painstakingly made his way toward a free spot near the window. He breathed with relief after securing that spot but, after turning his head a bit, stopped breathing and almost screamed.
What caused this reaction was the unpleasant surprise of seeing the guy who had been watching him in the mornings now standing right next to him, not even thirty centimeters away, and looking straight into his eyes.
Jake composed himself with haste and called on his threatening tone to spit out, “What the fuck are you looking at, huh?”
“Well, in case it wasn’t obvious,” the other guy started, “you.”
“Why not? You’re right in front of me.”
“Look somewhere else!”
“Don’t want to.”
“There’s nothing better to look at right now.”
“Stop looking at me! And stop watching me change in the mornings!”
“I don’t necessarily want to watch you get changed. That’s just what you mostly happen to be doing while I’m out smoking on the balcony.”
“I don’t care. Just stop fucking looking. Do you want me to make that clearer for you?” Jake grabbed the other guy’s collar to convey the actual meaning of his question.
“Go straight ahead from the bus stop where you get off and take the first street on the left. There’s a store there where you can buy cheap curtains.”
“I’m not gonna go buy curtains just to stop you from watching me. And why do you know where I get off the bus, huh? Are you following me?”
“No. I just get off two stops later than you. We take the same bus almost every morning. You just didn’t notice me till now.”
“Riiight… And you expect me to believe it’s all just a coincidence?”
“I don’t really care what you believe…or if you buy curtains or not.”
Jake hadn’t expected his stalker to have such an intense stare from up close or for him to seem so indifferent. He let go of the collar because it did nothing to intimidate the guy and it only brought that intense stare closer to Jake. “You! What’s your name?”
“Your real name.”
“I can’t stop what I haven’t even started.”
“You expect me to believe that you just give your real name to the ones you’re stalking so they could easily report you to the police?”
“If I lied about my identity, I’d look more suspicious when someone reported me. Besides, it saves time for all the parties involved, so yes, I give my real name if I’m asked for it.”
“Wait… Does that mean,” Jake started, his eyes widening at the realization, “you have a history of stalking people and getting reported?”
“I have a history of getting reported, but I don’t actually stalk anyone, so the police can’t do much besides roll their eyes and give me a scolding.”
“If you don’t actually stalk, then why would you get reported?”
“People get freaked out easily. It’s understandable since we live in a dangerous world. This is your stop, by the way.”
“We’re not done with this conversation, Thomas Pierce!” Jake said in a threatening tone as he struggled to get off the crowded bus.
Once outside, he looked back and met Thomas’ eyes that never left him until the bus began moving away.