Indian in the cupboard
“I once worked as a live-in staff member in a college dormitory.
During the summer we housed the few summer school students who remained on campus (nearly 30). It may be significant to point out these students tended towards the highly academically-motivated, often times high-stress students, if quiet.
One warm day in late June my office received a call from a concerned sibling that she and her family was unable to reach her brother who lived by himself in a room on the summer school floor. This wasn’t unusual as our office frequently dealt with students avoiding their kith and kin due to frayed nerves or general social awkwardness.
Our normal protocol to check on a student is to try to reach them by our emergency contact information, failing that – go check their room to verify they’re living in the building and perhaps available then and there, then have them call their family to verify we followed up on the original request. Also – we are to only enter a room with another staff member present to ensure personal safety of staff and students. I failed to reach this student on his room and mobile phone, and was working short-staffed so since I was on my own I decided to pop up to his room and check on him. I arrived on his floor around 2 in the afternoon and the floor seemed deserted as I had expected. I found his room number and immediately noticed the sound of a movie playing on a TV or computer from behind the door. I knocked three times and announced that I was a staff member checking on his health and safety.
I didn’t think this was that remarkable, college students are notorious for leaving electronics running while not in the room. I checked the floor showers and bathrooms and found them deserted.
I returned to his door and knocked three more times, waiting about 20 seconds between each knock.
This is when my instincts started to buzz. I worked in residence halls a number of years as a professional and something about all the pieces of this puzzle weren’t adding up; family concerned about his health and safety, electronics running (someone must have started them recently, within the time frame of a movie run-time), summer school students and their idiosyncratic behavior, something wasn’t right.
I was by myself, so I probably let myself get more worked up than if I was with someone else. A deserted dorm floor, even at 2 in the afternoon, oftentimes evokes Kubrician memories of the Overlook Hotel . . .
I decided that for some sense of closure or sanity I needed the immediate resolution of keying into this student’s room, even though I was by myself and not technically supposed to do so.
I knocked on the door one more time for good measure, again announced myself as the hall director. I keyed into the room and my spider sense went off even stronger: The room appeared relatively vacant; the student appeared to be living out of a suitcase (which is unusual for someone staying no less than 8 weeks for a summer school session). The bedding was tussled like someone had been sleeping in it and all the lights in the room were on. And as I had suspected, there was an open laptop on a desk running on battery power playing The Matrix. But no student. I began to start rationalizing to keep from feeling unsettled; surely this student and I had crossed paths on my way to his room (I’d never met him before so I wouldn’t recognize him otherwise) and perhaps he was just down in the lobby picking up delivery food for a late lunch.
Sure, that’s it.
Then I turned to leave, planning on trying to reach the student later in the afternoon or that night. As I turned to leave I noticed another odd piece of evidence; the accordion closet doors (which are removed in most rooms due to disuse, particularly single rooms like his) were still in this room. And they were closed.
Odd. I couldn’t remember the last time I actually saw someone use those cranky, dysfunctional doors. Then my intuition spiked higher than ever. SHIT SHIT SHIT. I realized I was alone in a room with a potentially suicidal student who may, in fact, have completed just that. And I am about to be “that guy” who discovers the body and then has a shit storm of paperwork and undesirable tasks, not the least of which would be calling the family back to break the news.
I felt like I was talking to myself when my voice cracked as I spoke to the closed doors and announced my name and title and that I would be opening those accordion doors in 3 seconds.
I fumbled with the latch on the doors, and finally managed to get them disengaged, and as I slid the doors apart, I was unprepared. I don’t know what I really expected, a hanging? gunshot wound?
I’ll tell you what I didn’t expect: a 7′ dark-skinned Indian man staring at me embarrassingly as though I had found his secret hangout. We stared at each other for a good 15 seconds without blinking, breathing or speaking. I finally realized what was going on and my natural emotion was disbelief. All I could think to say was, “Um . . . are you in here hiding from me?”
He looked at me and said, “Yah.”
My heart was still racing, I turned to leave and before I shut his door I turned back to him and said, “Call your sister, she’s worried about you, and, frankly, I am too.”” — PressureChief