Friday, June 22, 2007

I Am Accused of a Heinous Crime

This morning, shortly before seven, as I walked to my day job at the University of Texas, carrying my briefcase and thermos, I saw a man down the street, standing on the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe. He appeared to be waiting to cross Guadalupe to the campus side of the street.

There was nothing remarkable about him. He was black-haired, appeared to be Hispanic, and was dressed neatly in black pants and white shirt. Also, he was carrying a backpack, as many people do in the campus area. Nothing remarkable at all. However, there was something in his body language that caught my eye, something subtle, which I might not have noticed, had he not been directly ahead of me and the only person other than myself on the street.

This is what he would do. From time to time, he would turn his head in my direction, ever so slightly, just for a moment, then turn back—a quick, nervous movement that indicated he was casting a furtive glance in my direction. He did this several times. Then, as I drew nearer, he turned facing me, walked over a few steps to a newspaper vending machine, and stood there looking down at it, as if reading the headlines. He stood there a long time, and was still standing there when I was within ten paces of him.

I glanced at him. If he was a student, he was older than average, in his forties, perhaps a grad student. Or maybe he was a faculty member. Then I noticed that his backpack hung limply from his hand, as if it held only a single heavy object. Backpacks on campus, whether carried by student or faculty, are generally packed quite full.

I started to pass him. He looked up from the vending machine and said, “Are you all right this morning?”

I nodded, then said good morning as I walked past him. From behind, I heard him say, “Good morning.”

I crossed 22nd to the other corner to wait for the light to change. In my peripheral vision, I saw him shift indecisively for a moment, then stride across the street to stand beside me. We stood there silently. I looked straight ahead. The campus was directly across the street. Cars streamed past.

“Are you a teacher?” he asked.

“No, I’m not.”

The light was still red. A few more cars streamed past. I looked to the left to see if there was a break in the traffic. There was. Then I looked to the right, saw it was clear, and crossed the street. He did not follow me, but remained on the corner.

I was almost across the street when he screamed, “SERIAL KILLER!”

I walked faster. He kept screaming from the corner. “SERIAL KILLER! SERIAL KILLER!”

His scream grew fainter and blended with the sounds of cars as I hurried across campus.