With a trembling hand, I pressed the button to call for the elevator. It was on the tenth floor. It would take some time to come down to the ground level.
As I waited, flashes of my life appeared before my eyes. The ugly altercations, the verbal duels, the insults. They came back like a video montage of my frustrating life. I’d had it. This elevator would take me to the top floor. And from there to the terrace of the tallest building in my vicinity.
I gulped and made my final resolve as the elevator doors opened. I stepped inside and was surprised to see another woman entering the elevator. I didn’t give it much thought. I was too lost in my own disturbing world.
Everything was proceeding smoothly. The elevator had just crossed the fourteenth floor when we felt a series of jerks. There were some odd sounds from the elevator, none like I had ever heard before. Suddenly the elevator came to a halt. The doors being automatic, we were completely cocooned inside the carriage.
Even though the reason for this last journey was firmly chalked out in my mind, this new event caused me severe anxiety. I am claustrophobic. I get very uneasy and anxious in cramped spaces. I looked at the other woman for some reassurance. She looked at me and gave me a warm smile, then turned around and began inspecting the buttons on the lift.
I hope she doesn’t do something crazy and put both our lives in danger. I smiled at the irony of my own thought. I was the one who was putting my life in danger anyways.
Casually she pressed a red button on the elevator. She must have sensed the question on my mind because she turned her face to me and said, “That was the alarm I just set off.”
Quick thinking, I thought.
All of a sudden, the lights went out. Damn, this was going to be harder than I thought.
“Are you alright?” came her voice from the darkness.
“Just not fond of cramped quarters, that’s all.” I tried feebly.
“Oh I used to be afraid of heights. I was four years old when I fell from the terrace of the shanty where I lived.”
Did she just say shanty? Hmm..
“It took me a long time, and a lifetime of steeling myself looking down from the balconies of tall buildings to get over that fear. Fear is natural, but giving in to irrational fear is what sets us back.”
Was this going to be a lecture in “How to live your life?” I thought miserably. Here I was trying to end everything, because I couldn’t handle it anymore. What luck to be marooned in a lift with a total stranger who is eager to give you life gyaan.
“Do you work here?”
“Sorry? Did you say something?”
“I asked you if you worked here.”
“Then are you here to meet someone?”
I didn’t know what to answer.
“I hope I am not being too personal. It’s just that being stuck here, and not knowing what else to do, I thought we could chat, you know, just to keep ourselves from panicking.”
I was just about to snap back at her, when we heard some noises from outside the door. It was the security guard knocking on the door.
“We are stuck here, please open the door.” I said.
“Madam, I am the new guard here, and not very sure about how the lift works, or how to use the key. I have just called the maintenance guy.He should be here any minute.”
“Would you like some water?” Her voice again.
“I always carry a bottle with me, you know. Just in case. You never know when you may find yourself in sticky situations.”
“How come you can’t mind your own business and let me mind my own?”
“What’s that? Did you say something?” She asked.
I realized I had just muttered those words under my breath. Not loud enough for her to hear.
“You know, where I live, we have to be assertive, or people take advantage of you.”
“Where do you live?” I half-asked. Didn’t really want to know.
“Have you heard about Hira basti? That’s where I live.”
Hira Basti? That was the infamous red light district! I was pretty sure I had taken a good look at her before the lights went out. She didn’t look like a prostitute at all. In fact, had she not told me, I would have taken her for some regular office going woman. Or was I being presumptuous?
“Er.. um… what do you do exactly?”
“Oh I am an escort. I “accompany” men and sometimes women on occasions. Of course, we all know what that means!”
“Oh.. I am sorry.”
“Don’t be, it’s good money. I need it to see my daughter through her education.”
“What are you doing here then? This is an office building.”
“I am here to meet my lawyer. We had this small room, just a one room kitchen in the northern suburbs. That’s where my mother lives with my daughter right now. I bought this room six years ago out of my hard earned money, to be able to carve out a decent lifestyle for all of us. I was fed up of this life, and desperately wanted to give up escorting. My agent however, came to know about this. He forged documents and filed a case in court showing that the house was his. Everyone knows what happens with long drawn litigation. All my money was exhausted, trying to pay the lawyers fees and the court rounds just never end. I tried doing other odd jobs. But I don’t have any education, and the jobs that I was getting paid peanuts. Barely enough for fifteen days. That is why I found myself coming back to this business. With a different agent this time.”
I was speechless. This incredible woman, is still smiling through all this!
“My mother did everything she could to prevent me from entering this trade. She was unsuccessful, but at least she tried. Now she is helping me so I can raise my daughter away from this life. She takes care of my daughter while I send them the money every month. I dream of the day when my daughter will graduate from college. She will have a decent education, a respectful job. She will not suffer the way my mother and I have suffered.”
“But don’t you ever feel like giving up?”
“What will happen if I give up? How will my mother and my daughter survive? I have thought about this many times. Many a times when I was beaten and tortured by a client, I have thought about ending my life and being free once and for all. But if I take the easy way out now, it will mean a lifetime of hardships following the same life, for my daughter. I would rather trade with Satan, then have my daughter living in this hell. Every morning, I wake up and look at my daughter’s picture on my phone. I call her to hear her voice. And God gives me strength to pull through another day.”
Oh God! And I was cribbing about my life being so hard! This incredible woman was like the Goddess Shakti herself!
Just then the lights switched on and we could hear someone outside the door. Within minutes the elevator doors flew open, and we saw that we were halfway above the floor. Quickly the guard whipped out a small stool, and we both stepped on it and walked out. The maintenance guy was asking me questions about the elevator. I turned around to look for her, but she was gone.
Just then my phone rang. It was Shyalmali.
“Mom, where are you?”
God bless that woman. I will never know her name, nor will I ever remember what she looked like. But I will always remember her as the stranger who taught me one of the biggest lessons in life. I felt ashamed of my own selfishness. Whatever the hardships, giving up is never a solution. I felt the hot tears accumulating in my eyes as I thought about my kids.
“Mom? Are you there, mom?”
“I am coming home, baby. I am coming home.”
This post has been written in response to WordPress’s Daily Prompts 365.
The prompt today was “Fictional Elevator- You are stuck in an elevator with an intriguing stranger. Write this scene.”