We’re being followed, Kristi!” Mack, my younger cousin whispered to me as we left the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) light rail station in Atlanta.
Our parents had given us permission (after much begging) to visit Aunt Dee by ourselves. She lives in Atlanta and works in Lenox Plaza as a fashion consultant to a New York designer. We were on our own five days a week because she worked during that time.
Mack and I were thrilled to be able to sightsee by ourselves. Our parents had decided that since I’m 14 years old and Mack is 12, we would be all right on our own during the day. They gave us a list of rules to follow. We weren’t happy about the rules, but we promised to follow them. “Always, always, stay together. Go only to places that Aunt Dee approves, talk to strangers only when absolutely necessary, and most important, follow our family’s beliefs about what is right,” our parents had said.
Since Aunt Dee works just a block from her apartment complex, we checked in with her several times a day so she knew we were OK.
At first I was intimidated—I’m from a small town. Having heard stories about panhandlers and pickpockets, I was hesitant to leave Aunt Dee’s apartment without her. But after a week I felt like a native.
By going places with Aunt Dee when she wasn’t working, I realized that there are a lot of nice people living in Atlanta and many interesting places to visit. I stopped being apprehensive, and Mack and I started to venture out more.
Each night Aunt Dee suggested places to visit that were close by. She even made a MARTA schedule for us to use.
During our fifth day of sightseeing, we walked from the MARTA station toward Aunt Dee’s gated apartment complex. That’s when Mack told me the alarming news. “We’re being followed, Kristi!”
I looked behind us and saw dozens of people on the sidewalk. “How can you tell?” I asked in disbelief. We both like watching the detective shows that our moms allow us to watch. Sometimes seeing the shows causes Mack’s imagination to work overtime. I figured this was one of those times.
“The man behind us in the dark-gray shirt and blue jeans was on the train with us!” Mack said.
“Yeah, along with a zillion other passengers. ”
“But he was in our railcar,” he protested. “He was watching us.”
“So? That doesn’t make him a criminal. A lot of people from the station are walking the same direction we are.”
Mack didn’t say anything else, but I could tell he wanted to. He kept looking behind. Every few steps he whispered, “He’s still following us!”
I didn’t say anything until we were safe inside the gated complex. We hurried to Building D where Aunt Dee lives. While I hunted for my programmed card that would open the apartment door, the man walked up beside us. That’s weird, I thought. What’s the chance of us all going to the same building?
The stranger stood in front of the board that lists the last names of people living in the building. It seemed as though he was looking for a certain name.
In Aunt Dee’s building visitors press a button that causes a buzzer to sound in the apartment they want to visit. After hearing the buzzer, the person who lives in that apartment then presses a button that unlocks the front door so the visitor can come inside. When I slipped my card into the slot to open the lock, the man stopped reading names and watched me. I opened the door, and Mack and I headed inside. Suddenly the man rushed over and grabbed the door handle before I could pull it closed behind us.
“Hey!” I yelled, startled. “You can’t come in until somebody rings the buzzer for you.”
“Yeah, but there’s no point standing around waiting for that to happen.
My date’s expecting me, and I’m late.”
Something about how the man forced his way inside frightened me.
Aunt Dee never mentioned what we should do about an incident such as this. I was confused. What am I supposed to do now, God? I prayed silently.
It seemed like a good idea to ask God since He was right there with us and our parents and Aunt Dee weren’t around.
“What are you doing, Kristi?” Mack whispered. “You know our dads said not to talk to strangers unless absolutely necessary.”
“Yeah, well, I have a gut feeling this is one of those absolutely necessary times,” I whispered back. Still, I didn’t know what to say next. I needed a way to know if he should be in the building. Just then a thought started taking shape. I felt so calm in my thinking, I reasoned that God must have been putting the idea into my head. I decided to go with it.
“Oh, you must be Dee’s date,” I said to the man.
Mack started to say that Aunt Dee wasn’t even home, but I subtly motioned for him to be quiet. I was relieved when he understood and said nothing.
“My date . . . sure,” the man responded hesitantly. “You know her?” When he said that, I was blown away. He might as well have told me that he was here to break into an apartment. Now I knew for sure that he wasn’t supposed to be here. Before I could answer him, Mack said, “We know her every time we see her.”
The man nodded before heading for the elevator. Mack and I walked the other direction toward the laundry room.
When the elevator door closed, I grabbed Mack’s arm, dragged him into the laundry room, and closed the door. I called 9-1-1 and explained the situation, asking for a police officer to be sent. The dispatcher told us to stay where we were and wait for the police.
A few minutes later three police cruisers pulled up. They came to the laundry room to find us so we could tell them about the man who’d followed us into the building.
Three police officers ran up the stairs and two rode in the elevator.
One stayed behind to stop people from going upstairs. When the police officers came down the stairs, the man was in handcuffs and walking between them. One of the police officers told us they’d caught the man trying to pick the lock on a third-floor apartment door.
That night Aunt Dee was surprised to hear about our encounter with the burglar. Now when we go out we have more rules to follow, this time from Aunt Dee, too!
We don’t mind, though. Now we now know from firsthand experience that following rules that are from our loved ones—and God—keeps us safe.