She had been looking out of the window all evening, as day slipped slowly into night and the streetlights and headlights of cars came on. Four floors below, children were returning home, dribbling balls. From the trees swaying and bowing against the walls of the apartment block she knew it was windy outside. Her flatmate Neha would be back home soon. Neha was the practical one, tidying up, stacking the unwashed utensils on the sink, getting the clothes drying on the balcony, brisk and methodical, getting things done. Neha worked as a faculty at a coaching institute. Neha often said she, Ruchi, was the beautiful one. She said this in a resigned tone, conceding defeat. “Of course not,” Ruchi would roll her eyes, “I have small boobs. I don’t like the shape of my nose. Without eyeliner, I would be nobody. Nobody.”
Neha did not suspect a thing. She was at the institute all day. She could not be told. Nobody could be told. She breathed into the glass pane and squiggled his initials into it, staring at the letters before rubbing them out.
“6:15,” he had said. “And only for a short while.” He would tell his wife he was meeting a client. Lawyers, after all, worked odd hours. Four huge apartment blocks on the eastern fringe of the city. He and his wife stayed in Block D. Neha and she, on Block A. He had been walking his dog, a frisky Labrador, three months ago on a misty winter morning. She was hurrying for a class at the university. A dog had to be walked every day. She went down in the morning even when there were no classes. For days, they pretended they were just bumping into each other by coincidence. There were things to be said, about the smoky langour of Leonard Cohen and charting the atlas of impossible longings, two lives coming wondrously together.
Neha quickly ran a comb through her hair, glanced briefly at the mirror and let herself out of the flat, fumbling as she locked it behind her. She would not take the lift. There had to be no witnesses. Never love a man already taken, she thought as she climbed four floors, her heart beating as she breathed heavily.
The door to the terrace was slamming in the wind. The sound unnerved her. She let herself into the vast terrace, bolting the door behind her. He would knock. It was 6:10.
Her heart stopped pounding as she looked up. A diffused moon on the edge of a grey cloud. A sprinkle of stars. She walked towards the terrace wall, lifting up her arms. My one true love.
There was a quick crunch of steps and before she could turn around, a pair of arms grabbed her from behind in a vice-like grip. She screamed, losing her balance, as they both toppled to the ground. She fought him fiercely, struggling to her feet.
“You stupid bitch!” he asked, “What do you want to kill yourself for?”
“I wasn’t. Why would you think that?”
“I am not letting you kill yourself.” He had a square, bearded face, bushy eyebrows and wore thick glasses. He was tall, and he stooped. “Who sent you?” He was peering into her face, leaning forward.
“I came on my own. And don’t call me bitch, okay? What I do is my business.”
“You can go to hell.” He shrugged. “But don’t listen to them.”
“Listen, Mister, my arm hurts. My ankle hurts. All because of your stupid hero act. Who are they, anyway?”
Their plan was ruined. He would come soon and they would not have the opportunity to be alone. This bearded stranger with his small paunch and grey sweatpants and black T-shirt had already staked his claim on this deserted terrace. Her lover would not bruise her with kisses and enfold her in his arms. It was supposed to be the first time and already the plan was in tatters, with the stranger pacing to and fro before her, as if trying to remember what it was that was to be so urgently conveyed to her. Car horns sounded on the road below. Her lover would come on foot, take the lift to the eighth floor terrace. She was afraid, afraid of this man seeing her lover, recognising him. Afraid of her lover being displeased to see her with this man. Either way, she felt a pang of loss, a shadow flit over her, a dampening of her desire, the delicious fever rising in her all evening. Suddenly, he sat down cross-legged on the bare ground, his chappals placed on one side.
“I have to tell you something. Please. It will only take a moment.” He mumbled
She decided to humour him. After all, he had tried to save her life. He began to speak. “I am in a terrible situation. Somehow, I think after my visit to the dentist, last August, they inserted a chip into my body. See, this is without my knowledge and consent. I researched for more than a thousand hours on the Net. It is called Exitas, a company based in Germany that specialises in studying how human bodies decay. They are everywhere… you could be next… see that mobile tower… it is recording this conversation and maybe you have already entered their database…”
She sat very still. Goose pimples broke out in her bare arms. A cloud obscured the moon. Please come soon. Please come soon. She begged her lover.
He leaned forward, his breath on her face. She was too terrified to back away. Neha had her own key. Neha would not be able to call her, for she had left her phone on her table.
“Many powerful people are getting pay-offs from Exitas. Even the media is on their payroll. Whenever I read anything, the word Exitas looks back at me. It is encrypted on the text. On television, there is always scrolling news of people Exitas has trapped. Nobody sees it except me…
“You need help.” She said gently, anxious not to annoy him.
“Yes!” he said eagerly. “I need you to help me write a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, to the Prime Minister, to the President… I want the whole world to know about this menace. I want to be free… To live again.”
He was weeping now, his spectacles held in one trembling hand. She sat quietly with him, overcome by his suffering. When he became quiet, they came downstairs.
“I live in C 19.” He said “Thank you. Thank you for your kindness.” She did not think it wise to tell him where she lived.
Neha answered the doorbell and said. “Where were you? I was worried sick.”
“I just went for a walk.” She went to the kitchen, where Neha was making a curry. Then she went to her room, checking on her phone. He had not even called. It was never his plan to meet her on the terrace, for two lives to come gloriously together. She knew then, that she would never call him again
Just before falling asleep, she thought again of the man she met that evening. She had not even asked him his name.
Indrani Rai Medhi is a journalist, columñist and author. She has won the Kunjabala Devi award for investigative award for women issues and the Yamin Hazarika award for excellence. She has authored 12 books.