TODAY: 8 PM : 29th FLOOR TERRACE, KADAMBARI APARTMENT, SOUTH MUMBAI :
“It would just serve him right ,” Kruthika’s contorted mind ran amok, thinking of ways to avenge her insult. Twisting tiny knots of her beige dupatta between her trembling hands, she balanced her feet on the thin ledge on the parapet of the dim-lit deserted terrace and slowly tip toed towards the other end of the ledge.
At 31, Kruthika was a successful creative director at a leading advertising agency in Mumbai. A pair of twinkling dark kohl eyes, vibrant cocoa hued skin and her mellifluous voice got her more male attention in this new city than texture conscious Delhi. She was enjoying the attention but was too fragile to open the gates of her heart. A vociferous reader and an engaging conversationalist, Kruthika could debate for hours on subjects she was passionate about. She felt deeply, she loved deeply. The depth of her character had been her nemesis all her life.
” Sex lies between the ears of human kinds “, She tossed back her head full of dark curls and laughed as a friend pointed out her loveless existence few months back.” I have books for company, for mind stimulation.”
“Ok. I am done with men in search of temporary respite with an exotic beauty before moving to fairer turfs. Lets break the pattern this time. Find me a thinking man who can conquer my mind before he crosses threshold to my bedroom. Cannot let another lustful mind destroy my self-esteem“. She told an old friend in Mumbai upon her arrival the city.
Today, Kruthika was all but herself . Deliberating between life & death, fear concurred with her determined mind and her acrophobia vanished in thin air. Today, she was swinging between victory and defeat. Hanging on to the thin ledge of the 29th Floor terrace, Kruthika was a like a warrior in the battle field who had never entertained defeat in her life.
FLASHBACK : 6 MONTHS BACK :
Growing up in Delhi, Kruthika would wake up to sweet fragrances of Dahlia and roses from the lovingly nurtured garden of her maternal grandmother’s palatial bungalow in Greater Kailash. It was only when she moved to Mumbai with her new job, she decided to opt for a top most floor apartment, to get away from the pollution filled air from the road and to give creative high to her fertile mind.
Vertigo was part of Shubhra’s existence since childhood, something, her single parenting mother discovered during a mountain trip .Heights still scared the hell out of her but she learnt to deal with it with time. The added advantage of top most floor at Kadambari Apartment was an easy access to the open terrace and vast blue skies above. She was used to open spaces, a compromise she refused to make in this new city.
The building had old styled elevators, the ones with double shutters and an operator. Though her flat was spacious and upgraded by her landlord. There were four apartments on her floor, two on right side of the elevator and two on the left.She loved the sea facing apartment and had no qualms in paying a premium for it.
She met Pratham in the elevator on her first day in the new home as they both reached out to press elevator button for the top floor.
“Hi, I am Kruthika Singh. I moved in here yesterday only.” she extended her hand out of courtesy and smiled.
“Hey Kruthika”, Pratham smiled back. Kruthika noticed the tiny dent that turned into a dimple on his right cheek. ” I am Pratham Sinha, am Investment banker. I head the local division of Zes Bank .I also moved in here 6 months back “ Shaking hands with him, she felt a warm gush rush through her cheeks.
“So, you live here with your family ?” Kruthika surprised herself with an uncharacteristic inquisitiveness.
“I live here alone. So glad to have some human company on this erstwhile deserted floor. Ghosts of this corridors would be happy to have a new human interface.” Pratham rolled back his head with a resonating laughter at his joke.
The other two flats on the right side were owned by an NRI and stayed locked, Pratham lived in the flat right opposite hers.
There was an instant connect between them from day one. Pratham had a way with words. He would quote Keats and Bukowski during their evening walks by the beach and his analytical approach to world affairs to current affairs led to night long discussions between two of them. He made Kruthika laugh and she found her old scars healing one by one. Their discreet evenings were spent nurturing her plants in the balcony and their minds at Pratham’s living room.
Intimacy is a natural progression to any romantic liaison. Neither of them ever professed love for the other but it felt more like love and they found bliss in each others arms.Watching plays, reading books, talking of Bhagwat Geeta, splashing water at each other at Juhu Beach, watching queen’s necklace for hours, holding hands with no words trespassing between them during long train journeys in packed local train compartments, Kruthika and Pratham became synonyms of each other.
ONE WEEK BACK :
Kruthika was baking a heart shaped cake for Pratham’s birthday. She carefully rolled flour with baking powder, sugar, eggs and oil, adding cocoa powder and cinnamon to the batter before placing the cake batter in the oven. She patiently started to prepare the icing and in between , folded her hands, praying to Lord Krishna to bless Pratham with a long life.
“Love makes a fool out of us all. ” Jamey Johnson crooned through the juke box as the aroma of freshly baked chocolate cinnamon cake filled each crevice of her tiny white kitchen. Kruthika did a small waltz out of joy and rushed out of the door to get Pratham from his apartment.She daintily placed a tiny baby candle on the cake , amidst all the other cryptic pink and blue decoration in her living room and smiled shyly to herself . She had stayed up all night to creatively share the good news with Pratham.
Pratham was in Norway for a week and was expected to return late last night. She rang his doorbell, hoping to wish him with a warm hug and a passionate kiss . The door was opened by a young woman looking at her happy face questioningly.
” Uh. Hi, I am Kruttika. I moved in the flat across recently. You are? ” she asked. Startled at the sight of complete stranger opening the door of Pratham’s house, her reflexes froze momentarily.
“”I am Mrs. Pratham Sinha“. The woman responded with a frown on her head . ”Do you have any work with us “?
Devastated Kruthika could regain her poise only after a minute. Gathering her wits, she pointed towards her door ” Uh, actually, there’s no water in my apartment and I wanted to check if you have the same problem.”
“No problem with us, please call the maintenance ”saying this, Shubhra banged the door on Kruthika’s face.
Closing her apartment door, Kruthika fell down on the floor on her knees . With her head tightly squeezed between her thighs, she could feel the decorated walls of her living room crumbling on her head. Debris of her shattered dreams were lying all around her with dust of disappointment fading her crimson dress she lovingly had worn for Pratham’s birthday. She was trying to put plaster back on the walls and grey bleak patches were mocking her for her naivety. The apartment reeked of death of a carefully crafted dream and she felt the corpse of her dreams wilting under her long artistic fingers.
Three betrayals and heart breaks , a long phase of chronic depression, sudden death of her mother, the warrior in her had survived it all. Every time life defeated her in a battle, she raged a new war against it, rising like a phoenix . Pratham had become her life. A new city, a new lover and a new house, she thought happiness had found her address and she was home finally.
Please tell me it is a bad dream, O Krishna, I hope it was a bad dream, this is not my destiny, this is not my karma. Kneeling on her feet, she prayed fervently.
Deep exhaustion led to sleep and she woke up to a series of knocks on her door in the evening. Opening the door, she found Pratham’s wife standing there.
“Hi, my name is Shubhra” she said sheepishly. “I am sorry I was rude to you this morning but you see ,I was away from Pratham for a year and came here only last night , hoping to surprise him on the eve of his birthday and he wasn’t there. I couldn’t get through his phone too and then you came this morning, I was so upset and just took out all my frustration on you,sorry again.”
Shubhra smiled childishly, “I got to speak to him in the afternoon, he said he had been travelling for a week for business and had gone to bank straight from airport. Err, He works at my father’s bank at a very senior position. God knows where was he travelling to. Can you ever trust men and then he says I call him too much. What do I do ? He’s my husband and I have a right to know what is he up to. By the way, since you have moved in re recently, you haven’t met my husband. Have you ? Shubhra looked at Kruthika suspiciously.
” No,I haven’t. I moved in here last week only. ”Kruthika lied, looking at the floor behind Shubhra .
“Were you living somewhere else?”she asked Shubhra.
“Yes, at my mother’s house. I was undergoing a ,umm, treatment and needed special care. Do you live here alone?” Shubhra asked, gazing through Kruthika’s head to spy into the anatomy of the flat.
“Yes, I would live here all on my own. “Kruthika replied, holding the entry door tightly with her head barely visible to Shubhra .
Shubhra continued with her monologue, “You know I was expecting a baby but had a miscarriage and then doctor advised complete bed rest and a surgery. Pratham came here to Bombay to head our bank’s branch but I had stayed back in Patna for the delivery and then the miscarriage happened. I wanted to be here with him, be a good wife but my parents wouldn’t let me go. I am the only daughter you see and they love me like crazy but yesterday, I fought with them and got on the first plane from Patna last evening to be here with Pratham on his birthday and he wasn’t there”.
“You said you live alone here na. You don’t worry, I would be around to help you settle.” Shubhra said expecting a welcome into Kruthika’s apartment but turned back dejectedly as Kruthika muttered few words of gratitude and closed the door on her face gently.
Kruthika soon discovered that Shubhra suffered from severe mood swings and was obsessed with Pratham. She extended a hand of friendship to emotionally unstable Shubhra who clung on to Kruthika’s generosity. Kruthika would still visit Pratham’s house but only on meet Shubhra briefly. She discovered Pratham’s conniving ways through Shubhra’s monologues about her marriage .
Pratham tried to justify his infidelity to Kruthika during one such visit, calling Shubhra mentally unstable but was met with a cold stare and a stoic silence.
” Darling, you know you are the one who resides in my heart. Let me work out things and I will leave her soon “, he professed his love dramatically to Kruthika one day, never to say it again.
She had never asked him if he was married, he never told her. He hadn’t promised marriage to her or offered for her to move in with him in last six months but he vowed to live and die with her.
” What would be life without you K”. He would swear dramatically and sigh.
All lies !! Blatant stinking lies !!
But the passion filled days and nights of last few months would come and hound her sensibilities again and again. she would find herself drowning in the seas of sorrow, only to recover enough to carry out the rigmarole of the day and attend to urgent work commitments.
But Kruthika lost her mind today. In front of her, Pratham gifted his wife a diamond necklace on their anniversary and professed his love for her. Kneeling down on his knees, he kissed her hand. She saw it all from the kitchen balcony.
“Crap Pratham. I know you would never leave Shubhra“. Kruthika cursed Pratham loudly in her mind and rushed back to her apartment . She had realised Shubhra was his permanent secret key to the vault of success and Pratham loved no one but himself.
28th FLOOR, KADAMBARI APARTMENT : 8 PM :
On 28th floor of the same building , Shubhra yelled at Pratham from living room’s balcony.
“Damn Pratham, you still haven’t taken a shower, it is 8 pm already . Heights of laziness.” She rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders backwards as she roughly pulled down dried clothes from the clothesline and continued.
“Come out of your hibernation, will you ? The glass of milk is rotting on the table. I know you would raise a stink in case it gets cold. God knows why you must have hot milk at 8 every night, how peculiar is that habit. Anyways, don’t leave the balcony door open after taking your towel, the black cat’s been lurking around since yesterday and you know how I abhor a cat. I hope Kruthika closed the kitchen door after she left with the bowl of sugar. Oh God,can you ever trust strangers with your house.”
Pratham banged the bathroom door and allowed the incessant chatter of his wife of 3 years die down under the powerful gush of cold water from the head shower. Fragrance of freedom was sweetest behind the closed-door of his 6ft*6ft bathroom.
Dripping sweat under the powerful stream, he ran his options to get out of the mess he got into. Marrying this uncouth, foul-mouthed woman, daughter of his bank’s Managing Director proved magical for his sinking career . It was a bad barter personally but reaped him exotic fruits professionally. Not only his career graph rose high in last three years , he was made a board member of the bank last year. An apparent heir to Shubhra’s father once he retires, an aspiration he kept closely guarded in his heart . Shubhra, like a bad habit, became part of his existence.
“Hmm, I think I can manage this mess but how do I get rid of Kruthika. She was fun to be with while it lasted but there is too much at stake to let go. She looks like a time bomb ready to explode anytime and destroy my universe. ” His mind raced as he stepped out of shower.
TODAY: 8.15 PM : ON THE TERRACE :
“Huh. It would serve him right”. She was laughing aloud,twisting her crumpled dupatta, chewing on her nails frantically. She looked at her watch, it should happen anytime.
Then she heard a sharp shriek from Pratham’s house. Shubhra was shouting frantically and weeping at the same time.
Yes, Kruthika triumphantly clapped her shivering hands. It had happened, her plan had worked .Chemist had said rats get killed within 5 minutes of taking this poison, Pratham’s peculiar habit proved to be his nemesis. I would have him all to myself now, just as he had promised.
” Pratham” shouting his name, she spread her wings like a bird. Her body felt feather light and her thoughts turned into mist. “You would get to keep at least keep one promise you made to me Pratham. “. She looked at the floor beneath her and closed her eyes.
SAME DAY : 8:10 PM ON 28th FLOOR :
Pratham came running out of the shower.
”Have you gone mad Shubhra ? Why are you shrieking like a crazy monkey ! “? But he too froze at the ghastly site in front of his eyes.
The empty milk glass was lying tumbled alongside the lifeless body of the black cat on the floor.
“THUMP”, there was a loud banging noise from outside and both Shubhra and Pratham ran towards the balcony.
“Oh God, someone has fallen from the terrace,” Shubhra shrieked.
They rushed out towards the elevator to see . Shubhra was still hysteric with the thought of dead cat in the house and refused to return until house was sanitized and purified.
Outside the ground floor lobby, a crowd had formed around the body. There were soft whispers in the crowd, many hit Shubhra’s ears as molten wax ,”Oh, poor girl, don’t know what troubled her, made her take such a drastic step. She had moved in here only 6 months back, not everyone knew her so well. Uhm, may be Mr. Sinha would know, they were together on the same floor all these days. Anyone knows where her family is,call her office.Someone call Police, call ambulance.”
Hearing all the whispers and looking at Kruthika’s body, Shubhra fainted; Pratham didn’t know what to do. He got her back to the flat and also got cat’s body removed from the house.
He shuddered at the thought, ”What if I had that glass of milk but why ,why Kruthika would do this.”
Then it stuck him, “She always talked of Karma and life after death, she thought death can bring us together. Ah, ,what a fool was she, here I am, alive . ”
He heaved a sigh of relief. ” Thank God, I am alive, I can handle this mess and Shubhra, convincing her would be like a piece of cake“.
Shubhra slowly regained conscious and she woke up to see Pratham sitting beside her in complete darkness.
“Pratham, ” Shubhra’s voice was chilled and her hardened eyes stared blankly at him. The colour of her eyes had changed and her eyes shone through darkness, he could not meet her intent gaze.
He shuddered. His face became ashen and he started to shiver ” No point crying over the spilled milk now Pratham. A cat has nine live and she would return. Nine times. To take her revenge, over and over and over. O Ma !!” Saying this , Shubhra fainted again .
The ghosts of his past were lurking around on the 28th floor of this building.
Pratham knew his life would never be the same again.