Sunday, 6pm- Dubai
It had been an unusually long day, thought Jubilee as she took the elevator to the 3rd floor of her apartment. It was located in Bur Dubai- historically one of the oldest parts of dazzling Dubai.
The area was on the western side of Dubai Creek. It always seemed bustling with life as residential buildings jostled for space with 24×7 stores, hotels and street side joints serving anything and everything – from dosas and samosas, to biryani and kebabs, to the more local Middle Eastern cuisines including falafel* and the delectable shawarma** coupled with hummus.
Most of the country’s expat crowd lived in box life apartments stacked next to each other. If there was ever an example to be given for a cosmopolitan cocoon, this would be it.
Your neighbours in the adjoining flats could be as diverse as the colours on an artist’s palette. They could be a Pakistani family, a Lebanese businessman or even a group of Russian girls peddling their services as escorts in the innumerable night clubs across the city.
Jubilee who had celebrated her 38th birthday a few weeks ago, was an attractive looking lady. Marriage and motherhood had only enhanced her beauty over the years. She was tall, dusky with an impish smile! Right now she was wearing a beige coloured skirt with a slightly darker shaded brown top, the sleeves of which extended up to her elbows. All this was matched with fawn coloured sandals, giving her a sleek fashionable look.
Jubilee’s family had moved here only 2 weeks ago as this locality was much closer to her kids’ school than the previous one. The school bus stop was just 100 meters away from this building. Moreover, the metro station was simply a 10 minute walk, ferrying her husband daily and depositing him almost in front of his office. Oh, to have such convenience in a city like Dubai was indeed a blessing!
The elevator door finally opened on her floor and she took quick strides to her apartment and unlocked it. The cool waft of the AC welcomed her arrival into the empty flat. She dropped her handbag and plonked herself on the sofa.
It felt good to be back in the pleasant confines of her house. Temperatures above 40 °C scorched the desert kingdom outside. She had been outdoors most of the time today.
The school bus of both her kids was off the road. The school authorities had simply texted a terse message in the morning to all parents informing them of a breakdown in the bus engine. So, could they ferry their wards today, both ways? It simply ended with an apology for the inconvenience caused.
(Middle East follows a Fri-Sat weekend schedule)
If that was not enough, it coincided with her weekly shopping excursion to the supermarket. Later both kids, post lunch had wanted to spend some time at a common friends’ house. So, she had dropped them there and as agreed would pick them up a couple of hours’ later.
Jubilee was a proud Mom to 2 daughters – the elder Luvena and younger Solaina. While the younger was the sober one, Luvena was a live-wire and handling her sometimes left Jubilee exhausted! Yet there was no other happiness on Earth just to spend time with them and hug them to sleep with a bedtime story.
So yes, here she was finally with some moments for herself. That was also essential; to have some me-time, when she could just chill and relax on her own. Her hubby would return from work only around 8 pm. That made her check the time on her mobile phone screen. It was closing in on 6 pm.
So, she had a good 2 hours to unwind before she needed to start cooking dinner, pick up the kids and invest in some family affairs.
It would also be almost 7.30 pm in India now. (India is 90 minutes ahead of U.A.E) This made her think about her ageing parents in Bhubaneswar and she wondered what they would be doing. Most likely her mother would be having her evening snack- a bowl filled to the brim with ripe succulent slices of papaya, to take care of her constipation and her father would be tuned into the evening news.
Jubilee did not want to be disturbed for the next one hour at least. First, she decided she would take a nice relaxing shower. Then maybe she would watch some Tv. The thought of the cold water hitting her body reinvigorated her as she quickly got up from the sofa and proceeded to her bedroom.
Same Evening -Sunday 7.30 pm, Mumbai
The bedroom was in complete darkness. Sarita woke up with a start. Oh God! I have overslept, she thought to herself. She had planned on taking a short nap but at some point the exertion of daily life had taken its toll.
Thunder rolled in the distance warning of impending rain. It must be that sound which woke me up, thought Sarita.
She got up quickly from her bed, feeling around for her mobile in the darkness. She found it and turned on the torch app. She stepped out into the narrow corridor which led to the spacious living room cum dining hall.
Why was the entire house in darkness? She flicked on a couple of switches and realised there was no power at all.
Sarita who was in her early 40’s was an effervescent personality. Whoever came in contact with her, could not help but fall in love with her cheerful, bubbly self. She was a typical Aries – passionate, energetic and confident at almost everything! She was a bit chubby and that only added to her overall cuteness factor.
Her family had moved in only a couple of months ago into this building. It was a very old one- dating back to almost 2 decades; but her reason for moving in were almost the same as that of her friend Jubilee’s- proximity to her hubby’s office as well as to their kids’ school.
With the ever increasing traffic in the Maximum City, daily commuting had become a burden. This move meant sacrificing their previous modern furnished apartment but on the flip side this gave them more time to pursue activities other than just their work.
Being the home maker she knew there were no candles left in the house. She had intended to purchase some since the past week but each time it had slipped her mind or she had simply procrastinated leaving the errand unfinished.
Sarita changed her slippers into her walking shoes and stepped out into the foyer. There was a small convenience store just across the street.
She let out a sigh of dismay as she realized she needed to walk down and then back again over 6 flights of stairs.
A sudden roll of thunder brought a sense of urgency in her and quickly closing the main door, she stepped out.
She glared at the closed steel doors of the elevator in mock anger; which in turn stared back at her, standing like a cold, silent spectator to her obvious discomfort.
By now, Jubilee had collected her towel and change of clothes for the evening from her bedroom closet and headed for the bathroom.
She pushed open the bathroom door, but it would not budge. Surprised she looked at the bolt securing it from the outside. It was locked. She smiled and pulled it back.
She tried to push it open again. It refused to yield. This time with her palm open and her body weight on the door she pushed against it with force but the result still remained the same.
It was then that she realised that the door had been locked both from the inside as well as outside.
Sarita huffed and puffed her way up the stairs and back to her flat. The exercise yet again underscored the fact that covering any distance on flat ground was starkly different to covering the same over a flight of stairs.
Her husband, Shirish with both their kids – an elder son Shlok and daughter Ira, were at her in-laws’ place. He had gone to catch up with his parents’ well-being and the three of them would be back only post dinner.
Her reasons for not going were dual – Not only was she feeling a bit under the weather today but also in no mood to meet her in-laws and especially face her mom-in-law’s acrid tongue. So, she had decided to stay back and catch up on some sleep.
She lit up a couple of candles in the hall and got hold of the emergency lantern from the wooden cabinet. The lantern was a delicate hand-made glass piece crafted with intricate artwork and purchased during one of their exotic holidays to Turkey a couple of years ago.
Clutching it in one hand she started walking back to her bedroom.
Even as she approached it, she could feel something was not right. She slowed down her steps and realised the bedroom door was shut. Did she close the door when she had left her flat a few minutes ago? She was unsure. She never did that normally.
Gingerly she shifted the lantern onto her left hand and placed her right hand on the door knob and turned. It stayed put. She tried once more, a bit harder this time. It did not yield.
With her uneasiness growing she realised that someone had locked the door from inside.
Jubilee stood perplexed. How was this possible? The door had been alright when she had left the apartment a few hours earlier. She again tried pushing it open, this time with more force thinking that maybe she was missing something.
Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a sound coming from within the bathroom. As if someone was moving a chair around. It was a scraping sound; wood against floor.
A chair was being dragged on the floor! But why? And by whom? But for herself, there was no one else present in the house.
With a growing sense of alarm she stood in front of the door watching it, unsure of what to do next.
Sarita felt sure that she had left the bedroom door open when she had stepped out a few minutes earlier.
Yet the door was now closed. Not only that, it was locked too. Had there been a strong gust of wind which had shut the door? Yes, that was possible. She had seen the weather turn for the worse when she was outside.
A storm was building up. Not unusual at this time of the year in Mumbai. The monsoon was in full force!
Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a distinct sound from behind the door. She quickly put her ears against it.
Someone was moving around in her bedroom! The sound was unmistakable-shuffling of feet on the floor. But who? But for herself, there was no one else present in the house.
Suddenly she heard a slow sobbing sound from the room. A girl’s voice! Whoever it was, she seemed to be in pain- heart wrenching sobs cloaked in deep anguish came from within.
Sarita felt herself going cold.
At that instant, a sudden stroke of lightning and thunder surprised her. She stepped back hurriedly and thudded against the wall behind her dropping the exquisite lantern onto the floor.
The crash made a deafening noise in the empty flat with the glass breaking into a hundred pieces.
She stood trembling as darkness engulfed her once again.
To be continued…
Falafel* A deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Falafel is commonly served wrapped in a pita like a sandwich. Shawarma** is a dish consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical fire spit. Hummus*** is a dip or a spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic.