Workouts can get a little horrific.

I loved going to the gym at my new school. Upstairs from the dorms, it was easy to reach. For  a half-baked couch potato like me, ease of access is important. I was new to the school, teaching English the first time overseas. It was all very exciting and the kind of adventure I had been craving for some time.

The facility was two years new with shiny chrome and glass everywhere. The floors were done in marble and granite. Entry into and out of our offices was with a teacher’s card and security personnel continually roamed the premises. The school felt safe and I was reassured constantly about how little crime there was in this country. I was happy teaching the little guys in grade school and then occasionally the bigger kids, too, from local universities. It was quite a mix.

I was getting back into yoga, lifting weights and trying to get this squishy body back into  shape. A number of Americans used the gym facility, as well as the native staff. Frequently our tastes in music clashed. I would put on The Cars or Lead Zeppelin and the next thing I knew, I was listening to teeny bop, bubblegum rocking on the player and one of the staffers had taken over.  Gak!

Halloween Eves a Saturday. The students loved getting into the American holiday. Groups of them dressed in strange attire had been scuttling around campus all day in giggling clusters. Now, the bulk of the campus was congealed in a large glob at the school auditorium. Never the party girl, I had declined chaperone duties. The noxious blare of music could be heard in the distance.

Mercifully, this side of the campus was fairly empty.  I liked having the place mostly to myself.  I could hear my footsteps echoing down the empty hall as I checked mail in my office.

Sometimes the school would creep me out because it is so big and felt cavernous at night. To save money, our security staff are always turning off the lights, which just created more shadows. However, there was a guard on duty at the security shack, an old duffer who sat   outside watching TV, so it seemed safe.

After submitting yet another lesson plan for the week, I packed up my stuff at my desk and left the office. I left the light on inside knowing it would aggravate security, but what the heck, I needed to see where I was going.

I had my gym bag with me and went straight up the stairs to the gym. I popped a Madonna CD into the player and turned up the volume.  I did yoga and stretching for awhile, working the kinks out.

When I got nice and warmed up, I got to  what I call her Belly Dancing song. I took a quick peak around that there wasn’t anyone else there, took off my t-shirt and got down to my skinny-strap leotard. I started my belly dancing moves in the mirror with my imaginary finger cymbals. I shook and rotated my hips for all I was worth and was feeling the groove, when something caught the corner of my eye. I whisked around to the window behind me but there was nothing. It had seemed like a dark object on the edge of my vision, but it was gone now. I finished up with some more stretches and headed for the shower.

The showers were a modern, glass enclosed kind with chrome handles. I turned on the jets hard and got the hair shampooed and rinsed. I was putting baby oil on my skin when something made me turn. My heart jumped to my throat when I saw a man in dark clothing in front of my shower door. He was holding a large knife. I couldn’t speak, but instinctively grabbed hold of the interior shower door handle and held on. He got hold of the other side, trying to pull the door open.

All I could see of his face were his eyes. His head was all wrapped around, almost turban style and all of his clothes were dark and felt almost Arabic. The eyes were dark and smoldering with some weird, unfamothable rage.

We continued this tug of war and he was winning. I was sweating and it wasn’t the steam in the room. I had a moment of panicked insight. I looked behind me and with one hand; I turned the water handle to hot and full force, then grabbed the sprayer.  With the other hand I shoved open the door and sprayed him full in the face with the water. He was knocked back  and I raced past him out of the bathroom and around the corner to the stairs.

He was fast on my heels and I could hear him pounding down the steps behind me. At this point I got my voice back and started screaming as I ran out of the building. The body oil wasn’t helping as I kept skidding as I ran. He almost caught me at the door but couldn’t get a handle on me as I was wet and slippery.

I ran across the quad screaming for all I was worth and looked left. The guard was gone out of his shack! Damn it! I ran through the doors of the Admin building and saw that the security guard wasn’t there either. Shit! Where were they? I ran down the hall toward my office as fast as I could go, hidden somewhat by the dark patches in the hall. I was hoping to God that one of the doors was open. I ran to the big office; it was completely locked. I ran across to the little office and by some grace I had managed to not lock the door completely. I yanked it open and bent down and turned the lock on the bottom and ran to the corner, squatting in the shadows. My heart was racing and the blood pounded in my ears. I was so frightened I could cry. I told myself to shut up and tried to slow my breathing.

I could hear the man with the knife running behind me. He went across the hall first and banged and pounded on the doors, trying to pull them open. Then, slowly, he came across to the little office and did the same thing. He stood there a long time peering in. I was crouched down next to a large storage bin. I couldn’t tell if he could see me or not because of the desks. He yanked at the doors viciously and kicked them too. I prayed the locks would hold. After some more of this, he faded into the darkness. After what seemed like forever, I could hear the two security guards chattering to each other and coming down the hall. What to do? I had no clothes on at all but was afraid to let them leave without me in case ‘he’ came back. I looked desperately around and found a roll of paper towel. I grabbed it and quickly wrapped myself in as much Scott two-ply as I could. I moved to the door and pounding on it, started yelling.

Later on, in the office with every light on in the building, the police officer sat asking me questions in slow English, the two guards were there and several admin people had appeared out of the blue. I was wearing clothes now. I answered their questions the best I could, fighting an overwhelming sense of fatigue and emotional glaze-over.

The worst part was that they kept asking me why I would be in the gym by myself so late at night. I hardly knew what to say. To stay in shape? It’s what we Americans do? They would shake their heads in that “Those crazy Americans,” kind of way. I was drinking hot tea and when they were finally done my chief administrator walked me back to my dorm room and made sure the door was locked before leaving. I collapsed in bed and drifted off to a troubled sleep where I kept running away from someone.

Next day, daylight coming through the windows, I wondered for a second if I had imagined the whole thing. I opened my door and my gym bag was there on the linoleum floor.  Some good soul had brought it to my room. The Madonna CD was right on top. I called my admin guy and thanked him for my bag.

There was a pause and he said, “I didn’t bring your bag over.” Then he said, “Let me check with security and call you back.” He called back in a few minutes. He spoke slowly, “Ah, Sarah, they didn’t bring the bag over either.”

 I hung up and decided right there, “I’m only using that gym in the daytime from now on!” But still, I kept staring at my bag. Trick or treat?

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