Mediocre sunshine peeked in through the stained and cracked glass, on the only window in the apartment. Plaster peeled off the walls and she could smell the dampness. A baby was crying somewhere and outside, street-vendors were out already shouting and yelling and pedalling. Pushing or pulling. Morning-tea smell wafted all around the building. How she hated tea. How she hated the sounds, the smells, the gnawing feeling of helplessness.
The same dreary, dusty place. The same emptiness. The same couch and the same wobbly bed. Dust covered corners of the room, the doorway to the kitchen. The doorway that had no door.
A leaky tap in the kitchen had been making awful noise all night and she didn't have the money to get it repaired. Tying a rag around it had done absolutely nothing except making it worse. She hadn't slept all night and her head throbbed with a dull pain that had become typical to her mornings.
She got up from the thin mattress which she had covered out of habit by a moth-eaten, faded cloth she had been carrying with herself since she had left home.
Out of habit, again, and not vanity, she stood up and unknowingly, lazily shuffled and dragged her feet over to the dressing table. And stared back at her reflection.
A stranger in the mirror. Kohl smeared, sleepy eyes looked back at her. She had been wearing the same set of clothes for four days straight now. And she was sure she smelled, but she couldn't tell. There was grime under her fingernails. A couple were broken, a few others about to. A soiled bandaid was tighly wrapped around her left index finger.. result of a gruesome accident in the kitchen, trying to cut onions with a blunt knife.
She ran her hand through her hair and her half-broken nails pulled out some strands. It hurt. Banging footsteps on the corridor outside. Neighbour's children. One squealed, and the other shrieked. And their mother bellowed at them, yelled at them, and then began complaining in that nasal, annoying monotone. And she carried on all day, with the clinking of the utensils, with the swish-swash of the water, with the flapping of wet clothes being hung up, the story of her life. Her consistent babble of which only she was the listener in addition to being the speaker.
The mirror rattled as someone on the other side hammered a nail into the wall. Presumably. A glass of water lay on the floor. The water rippled, splashed, the glass tilted and then the water was spilt, splashing on the floor. It ran across to her feet and travelled all around them and in between. She stepped out of the puddle and moved towards the window. Her feet made dirty brown footprints on the already filthy floor. The floor felt slippery under her bare feet as she reached the window. Leaning on the ledge she peered outside and it was the same.
Like everyday. Never changing. Bicyclists. Scooters. Cars. Trucks. The sun shone strong on all of them. It was like a spotlight gone wrong. It was too strong and it was too hot. It was yellow and brown. And hazy. Noises on the road and noises in her head. Dust swirled up from the street and covered her thinking. Her eyes stung and she recoiled violently, a mad coughing fit. She sat down against the wall, wheezing. Water.. water.. it wasn't there. She trembled and laid her head against the solidness of the wall. It was not even remotely cool, just hard, solid wall. And it smelled bad.
She was thirsty and hungry. Getting up with a groan she went to the kitchen and dug out a mouldy loaf of bread from the fridge that didn't work. And decided to use whatever butter was left of the small packet she'd bought last week. Taking the knife she scraped all of it off and smeared it across a slice of bread. It barely covered one. Breakfast for one.
With food in her hand, on the way to the couch, she banged the switchboard to make the ceiling fan work. She hadn't even noticed it had stopped. Well, it didn't feel that there was a fan in the room, anyway. Chewing the hard tasteless, crusty slice of bread she scratched her leg unknowingly. After finshing eating she ran her hands over her stomach, trying to sooth the rumbling. Like a baby who won't stop crying.
The room smelled musty, the fan clattered and clattered and then stood still. Unmoving. She sighed deeply and drew her legs up on the couch. Rolled into a ball and nuzzling the arm of the couch, cried. She knew she was the only one crying. She knew she was the only one crying for herself.
Now there was thumping on the ceiling. A noise.. it sounded like glass smashing. On something. Someone. She didn't care. Not anymore.. she started sobbing uncontrollably and rolled onto her side. She wished that only holding her breath could make her die. But it was insane. It was impossible.
Getting up.. lying on the dusty green couch, with painful eyes and a cramp in her neck. And numb all over. Panic grabbed her as she wondered where she was. And then it dawned on her slowly.. but steadily. Fear, as her heartbeat, mounting till she could take it no more. She screamed. At the top of her voice. With all the air she could gather in her lungs. She could hear a million other voices screaming with her.
The room grew silent all at once. A constant ringing sound took its place. She realized the screaming was in her head. She hadn't made a sound. But her throat hurt. Judging by the sounds of crickets and the coldness she felt.. it must be well into the night. But the traffic never ran out. Old bollywood songs could be heard from across the street. Baritone voices mixed with the unbearable noise of speeding, screeching and honking vehicles. Her head thudded with a piercing, pounding pain. Her shoulders ached.
Tears sprang up in her eyes. She felt a lump rise in her throat. She felt her face burning up, her ears going hot and the hair on the back of her hand prickling up. Hugging herself she whimpered till the sobbing stopped. Like a ghost, she went over to the window and smelled the air. It smelled of night. And rotting garbage. She noticed the traffic was relatively less than it was in the morning but it made the same clattering noise, the sounds of metal against metal. The rumbling. The unearthly vibrations.
She turned around and crossing the room in long strides reached the door and stepped out. Stained mosaic floor. Broken bottles lay on one side, on another were newspapers. Probably were used to pack something in.
May as well wait for the elevator.. she pressed the button with her left thumb. Ten seconds.. It rattled up. Metallic clinks echoed all around the corridors and she thought to herself. She should be scared. But nothing was child's play anymore. As she could see it coming up towards her.
Up. Up. Up.. she imagined it. Imagined a skeletal face with a scar right across it, skin stretched tight against the gruesome grotesqueness of a face she'd never seen. Sunken eyes. Lips curled in a sneer. Eyes darting in every direction. An ugly half-smile pasted across its face. It was coming. Coming towards her in the smelly elevator.
No. It may even be running, gliding, sliding towards her on the stairs. On her right. No, on her left. She was sure it was coming towards her right now. Not in the lift. But now she could almost feel its ratlling breath on her neck. The smell of fear. Closing in on her. Her heart beat wildly, she could feel it throbbing at the base of her neck. Her throat was constricting quickly. She gasped for breath. And gulped down a mouthful of air.
At the second the lift reached the floor, she clutched the iron rods and started shaking it back and forth. But then she felt weak and stopped. Finally she managed to drag open the door. Inside was a three-legged wooden stool, the liftman was supposed to sit here. But she had never seen him. Inside or out of it.
The life stank of cigarette smoke. There were etchings all over the sides. Names and phone numbers. Some wrote names of Gods. Some had scratched in vulgarities. It still made her snicker. Sound of the breath she took in echoed around the narrow walls of the elevator. It lurched to a stop on the ground floor.
Without looking at anything, not even once. She ran out the main door out into the pavement. There was no-one. Just cold air swishing around her. It made her happy for a moment. This was perfect. Just "perfect". She looked up at the sky and took in a deep breath. She saw just a little right of her, a speeding truck was rushing in closer. Closer. At last, this had lasted a long time, she thought.
She stepped out into the road.