I come back home from work each night at around 8:30, 9:00 pm. My apartment is on the 6th floor, the last floor. As usual, I said hi to Bheem, the watchman and asked him how he was. And he said in his usual, grinny way, “phine, madam.” At times I feel that he is truly delighted to see me. Well. I feel good when I see him too. The light on the lift switchboard said 4 and I waited for it to come down. It came and I opened the creaking doors and stepped inside. There is this mirror on the opposite wall and I stared at the person looking back at me. She was tired, disheveled basically a mess. I grimaced and then smiled in resignation. I looked up and I could see a light. There is no fan in the lift and this cavity on the ceiling is an uncomfortable factor. I remembered the short that a friend of mine had written on his blog. Ever since I read it I have been slightly uneasy in my lift. And the light which I would gaze at had actually the semblance of a destination that I was desperate to reach because of the rising fear inside me.
Suddenly the lift stopped. And so did my heart. It was the 4th floor. I held my breath and then exhaled when I saw this girl step inside.
“Hi”, she said. Sweet voice. Cute girl. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. I smiled back.
“My name is Nirmala,” this was said with a slight lift of shoulders and a sidelong glance.
I smiled again and said, “I am Preeti. Which floor?”
“Uhmmm, the last one…”
“That’s mine too…”
We got out together. She turned to me and said, “I live on the 4th floor. Number 4001.” Then she smiled and climbed up the stairs that led to the terrace.
This happened for one week. I met Nirmala every night and the same routine followed. The mirror was removed from the lift since an over-enthusiatic child had decided to punch it. Injuring himself seriously in the process and also leaving me without a distraction from the fear factor. Scribblers ought to be banned!!
One day I had company. He was one of those people whom you know lives in your apartment block and you nod at each other. I was speaking to Nirmala and he happened to get inside the lift from the 5th floor. His sister lived on the 6th one and he often visited her. That night he gave me a strange look. Then he turned to Nirmala and gave her a strange look too. We looked at each other behind his back and grinned knowingly. Men, can be so pathetic at times.
The next night, Nirmala had something to show me. We were inside the lift and suddenly the lights went out. We were stuck. The red emergency light went on automatically. We sat down on the floor. Nirmala was bathed in a strange red light and I suddenly realized that she had pitch black eyes. No light in them. None whatsoever. Maybe it was the power cut. I ignored it. She removed a book from inside her t-shirt. It looked old and dog-eared. She gave it to me. I saw poems inside the pages. Very beautiful poems.
“These are beautiful, Nirmala. You’ve written them?”
No reply. I looked up.
She was staring at me. She was smiling. And there was light in her eyes. But the light was strangely black.
“Yes. I’ve written them. I’ve always wanted to get them published. Would you help me, Preeti?”
I looked at her for some time.
“Yes. I will.”
Why on earth did I say that? I really don’t know. But I spoke to a few people and yes I did get her published. Meanwhile we met every night. She was quite a bundle of mirth and mystery. And there was something very unreal about her.
The day her book released I got a copy. I wanted to surprise her. And I waited for her to step in from the 4th floor. She did as usual and I said nothing, but just showed her the book. She looked at it. She looked at me. Her eyes turned blacker than black. And she stood speechless. Suddenly the lift stopped. It was the last floor. The lights turned red. And no, there was no power cut. I wondered what was going on.
I looked at Nirmala. She stood there with the book in her hand. Her book. Her poems. She was smiling. And her eyes were shining blackly. She stepped outside the lift and went up the stairs to the terrace. Without looking back.
I walked down the stairs to the 4th floor. To number 4001. I rang the bell and a middle-aged lady opened the door.
“Where’s Nirmala?” I asked.
She stared at me and I saw a man, her husband, come and stand behind her. They stared at me. Nirmala’s only wish was to get her poems published. She tried her best but her wish remained unfulfilled. One night, five years back, she stepped inside the lift and went up to the last floor. She climbed the stairs that led to the terrace and she jumped.
I stood there and images flashed across my mind. That man staring strangely at me. Obviously he would. For all that he knew I was speaking to myself, for God’s sake. The black light in the eyes. The unrealness.
I have stopped using the lift.