It is surprisingly difficult to identify a psychopath. You may think that instinct will kick in when the time is crucial and that you, as a functional, relatively sane individual, will recognise the potential for darkness in another. It is not always so.
My psychopath came in the form of a dashing Punjabi Pilot. The setting was India; the place into which the world has seemingly tipped its paint box to create a tumultuous, fantastical and oft malodorous phenomenon. I was nineteen and comparatively innocent. Until, that is, the Pilot entered the tale with a disarming smile and well-hidden arsenal. He appeared one night, in a beautiful town by a placid lake aglow with the floating prayers of the faithful. He had a tattooed lady and a laughing Australian in tow. As a trio, they instantly provided me with a unique, temporary family, assembled by circumstance and beer. For a while, we travelled together through the desert and over mountains. We saw a blue moon, and red red desert sun. Then the tattooed lady and the smiling Australian left. It was me and the Psychopath, still known only as the Pilot.
Nineteen is young and my judgement was not yet well developed. That, and his smile was generous, his laugh easy. Excuses yes, but psychopaths are hard to spot. So one thing led to another and the Pilot and I, we got to know each other a little better; a harmless holiday fling, easily done and easily left.
But, though easily done, the Pilot was not easily left. He became cloying and intense. I bade him good-riddance. Months later and miles away, the Pilot materialised on a beach strewn with hedonistic hippies, coconuts, and cows. I spotted him amidst the travellers, an apparition beating a hasty retreat. I was not certain it was him – how could it be? I forgot it until he appeared again. This time I knew. He was following me.
Another couple of weeks passed. One night, in the sweltering, heavy heat of the south, where the dense greenery parts to reveal sugar-candy churches, he sat down opposite me in a restaurant. My palms prickled, my stomach dropped. The Pilot had morphed into the Psychopath. He took a bite of my food.
Come back to me, he said.
I was never with you, I peeped.
I can follow you, he whispered.
I can f#cking see that, I replied
How? The internet. I had used his phone to check an email. He got the password. He was following the words I sent home.
I can hurt you, he promised.
I panicked and left, feeling sullied and powerless. I arranged to leave India and travelled to Delhi. Tired and alone, I asked the man at the desk of a hostel not to let anyone up to my room or tell them I am there. There has been a man, I say, a frightening man. I go to my room. I have one night before I leave. I want to remain invisible. Hours go by. There is a knock.
There is a man to see you, madam.
I stare at the receptionist in horror.
I am taken downstairs. The frightening man, the Psychopath is there. With him are men in suits. And police. How did he find me? I did not send emails, I changed my flight. This moment is truly awful, and this lobby filled with men, is the last place I ever wanted to be. I am scared and furious. Perhaps I had been silly and young. Perhaps I had been appallingly ignorant. But this?!
Madam, are you this man’s wife? Asks his lawyer
Do you owe him $20 000?
I start to laugh. And laugh. It is too ludicrous.
Me?! Marry him?!
I return to my room, shaking and sure that I am going to see the inside of a Delhi prison-cell.
There is a knock. It is the lawyer.
Lady, he says sadly, I am sorry for this craziness. You must be careful in the future.
He leaves. Somehow, I'm free. The next day, I'm taken to the airport with a police escort.
Maybe at home, free of the paint box of colours that had clouded my senses, I would have recognised the danger the Pilot posed. But I was in India, where everything is upside down and back to front. And he had appeared, smiling, on a warm night by a lake, with a tattooed lady and a laughing Australian.