7:00 A.M. 16 – Jul – 2007 Monday
Lift was falling down into an abyss. I heard screams, “Wake up!” I was trying hard to open my eyes. My heart palpitated. The more I forced the more difficult it was to open my eyes. Limbs felt paralyzed, frozen. I lay like that battling till a drop of water fell from the roof of the lift. I jolted back to my senses.
”Wake up! Your phone’s been ringing for a while.” I came back to life from a dream that now faded fast into a distant past before I could grab it. I tried to close my eyes tightly in a last ditch effort to reenter the dream but simply couldn’t. It slipped away from me. Exasperated, I left the dream and opened my eyes wide. Tenth day after my girlfriend’s death and I was not out of my depression yet. My dreams were getting crazier by the day.
Another two drops of water were about to fall from my roommate Madhu’s hands to my eyes. I had one or two seconds to beat gravity and block those. “Dei, your dad had called. 16 missed calls till now.” I jumped up and shouted, “Why did you not wake me up before?” We were in my first year out of college, our first job and five of us college-mates were staying in a rented apartment.
“Psycho, you were sleeping like a stone! Completely unresponsive to my shouts.”
“Alright. Leave it.”
I rang back my dad. As soon as he picked up the phone he shouted, “Where were you all these while? Get ready and run to the Railway Station. Advance reservation for train tickets for September holidays starts today. Booking starts at 8:00 a.m. and the tickets will be over in 15-20 minutes. It is seven already…” I didn’t wait to hear the rest. I threw the phone down, grabbed my towel and rushed inside our single bathroom apartment. I didn’t have much belief in the online portal. My credit card request was yet to be approved anyways. I had no other way but to go to the booking office in person to get this done.
My roommates started banging on my door. “Fucker, it is not your turn.” I ignored the loud bangs and bathed as fast as I could. Still it took 5-10 minutes roughly. On that day, one guy would miss his office bus, another late for his office meeting, another one late for his entrance coaching, and the last one would be late for his newspaper reading slot on the toilet. The moment I came out, there was a big fight with my friends. While each them were taking turns cursing me, I quickly dressed up and escaped to the bakery beneath our rented apartment. I checked the time on the clock precariously perched on the shop wall.
I grabbed a newspaper, a sweet bun and asked for the directions to the ticket booking center enroute to my office. Waving an autorickshaw, I shouted, “Multi-Utility building”.
“Meter + 15 Rupees, Sir.”
With no time to argue, I jumped in and asked him to rush.
I felt bad having quarrelled in the morning. I should have woken up early. I thought about sending a “Sorry” to my roommates. Searching for the phone, I realized that I had left it on the bed in my hurry. Purse, ATM card, watch, medicines? Good lord, those were inside the laptop bag. Saved. I checked the time. Shit, missed my morning dose. Water bottle? Empty! I should have taken my morning medication by now.
“Ok. So where is the building?”
“Right behind you.” The driver said stopping the vehicle as I jumped out counting the currency notes.
“The 28 floor building! This one?”
“Yes sir.” I paid him and dashed into the ground floor lobby. This was one of the tallest building that I had seen in my life till then. The building looked archaic and unmaintained. I could smell urine right at the entrance itself. Typical of public places everywhere in India but not expected in this huge building!
There wasn’t much crowd in the building. Luckily, there was a direction board with all the floors and the offices on each of them. I scanned it. I couldn’t find the ticket booking center on it. The top three floors’ information was smudged, partially gone due to paint erosion. More than the paint it felt as though time had corroded the entire building. It was peeling off from everywhere possible – walls, top roof, grill doors, every inch of it. It hasd last seen a fresh coat of paint probably a decade back. I checked the time.
I had 15 more minutes. Not an issue once the floor was found. I approached the lift and waited. It was an ancient chain lift, 4 of them side by side. It looked old, and rickety when compared to impressive OTIS lifts at my office. I could hear the noise of one coming down. Lifts were placed parallel in a narrow lift lobby. Each lift opens to a small space in front of it and the lobby wall behind. The end of the lobby was a really narrow fire escape. I wondered whether anyone could escape from this building practically. It took long 5 minutes for one to come down. An senior gentleman somewhere in his 70’s walked out of the tiny lift when it opened.
“Train ticket booking office?”
“The Top Floor!”
I jumped into the lift and pressed the top floor. After 27th the rest of the buttons were again dissolved by time. I wondered why the rest looked new. Three other folks came running and got into the lift before the door could close. They pressed the respective floors. One of them seem to press the top row – May be the top floor – booking station perhaps.
Lift struggled to move up. It was excruciatingly slow. I could hear the mechanical noise of the chains lifting us above. The katrak- katrak-tak noise sounded like those roller coasters being pulled up the elevation before the first big drop. My heart paced as if I were literally on one of them. There was no fan and we started sweating. It was completely shut from all the sides with no transparent glass sides for the lift. I felt claustrophobic. The lady inside the lift got down at the 10th floor and the middle aged man on the 18th. I noted that there was the 13th floor in the building and thought Indians never had these the fear of the number 13th. Then there was only another man in the lift. The lift slowly approached the top. The small display on the top showing the floor was functional but some LED lights were out.
21 – I
22 – Inverted C
23 – Again Inverted C
The lift opened. I jumped out. As I turned around I noticed the other man had not got down but went down again with the lift. A helpless look remained in his face as the lift door closed in front of him. ‘Strange!’ I wondered ‘Where was he going? It did not open anywhere between 18th and the top also! Hmm…’ I checked my watch and turned around to the room entrance.
The room was locked with a determined 8-lever lock and a certain chain. Confused, I turned around. I skipped heartbeats 2, 3 many as I realised there was no staircase. immediately, had went to the lift button, I got a mild shock. Button was missing! and the lift display was flickering as it was inside the building.
No lift button, no staircase, chained room. I ran towards the lone window. I could see entire of MG Road all the way until Chinnaswamy stadium and the rising UB city skyscrapers beyond. I felt a sweat drip start right from head down my neck through my spine until I could feel no more. I was numb and in the window sill I could see my face turn pale.
What happens now?
Does he get out?
Or all this imagined?