Mystery of Highrise
Mystery of Highrise23 mins 426 23 mins 426
Medha looked out from the window of her living room. It was a hot October afternoon and the road was deserted. The scorching sun made it impossible to go outdoors. She was getting bored. She was done with watching television – the same old saas-bahu sagas. She had read all the books in the house, twice! All household chores were done. She was not at all sleepy. And she had nothing to do. She so missed their old flat, their old society!
Medha and her husband Akash had recently shifted into this flat in ‘HighRise’. This was a hi-fi society. Women here wore layers and layers of makeup, skimpy clothes and rude expressions. Medha did not belong here, she did not fit here. She longed for the company of the friends she had made in the old society. There she never felt alone, she never felt bored. Most afternoons, she and a few other housewives would gather together for a chat and some snacks. They would chat on all possible topics, from television and movies to their household problems, from crime in the city to new restaurants, from children’s woes to recent gossips. Some evenings they would go together to a nearby temple to offer prayers. Once in a month, they would have a dabba-party, where each one would prepare and bring one food item and they would all binge together. Sometimes they went to movies. So life there was always happening and interesting.
But here, people were unfriendly and unconcerned. She didn’t even know her neighbours. All residents of the society stayed behind closed doors and never mingled with each other. They had their own, independent and mutually exclusive social circles. Medha had absolutely no idea how she was going to adjust here. Medha looked at the clock. It was 4:00 pm. She thought of making some tea. Just as she was about to enter the kitchen, the door bell chimed. Who could it be at this unearthly hour, she thought as she hurried to open the door.
“Yes?” she asked the woman standing at the door.
“Are you new here?” the woman asked.
She was short, fair, about the same age as Medha, with genuine eyes and a kind expression. Medha developed an instant liking for her.
“Yes” Medha said, “Please come inside”.
The woman smiled as she entered. She was carrying a multi-coloured box in her hand. Medha accosted her to the sofa in the living room and sat on the chair facing her.
“I am Anamika. I saw you guys shifting furniture here. I stay on the sixteenth floor, flat no. P-4.”
“Oh…I am Medha. I and Akash just shifted here a couple of days back. Everything is so new and different here. I am yet to adapt to these new surroundings”, Medha said.
Anamika looked around the living room, taking in all the décor, the wall paper, the show pieces, the wall hangings. “You have a good taste, are you an interior decorator?” she asked, “you have decorated the hall beautifully!”
“Thanks a lot”, Medha replied, feeling flattered, “I am just a housewife who likes to decorate her home”. Anamika smiled at her reply.
“Can I have a look at the bedroom? Only if you don’t mind?” she asked.
“Oh yes, of course. Please be my guest”.
Medha took her around her three BHK flat with pride, showing off all the decorations, false ceilings, portraits, show pieces, chandeliars that she had personally chosen and arranged as per her taste. Anamika was probably highly impressed as she took time appreciating each piece of work shown by Medha, especially in the bedroom. Once they were back in the hall, Medha asked Anamika to be comfortable while she made tea. Ten minutes later, when Medha came back into the living room with two cups of tea and some biscuits, Anamika was not there. The door was ajar.
“Anamika?” she called out. There was no response. Medha went out and once more called out Anamika’s name from the staircase. No response. Why did she leave so suddenly? Why had she come in the first place? Medha thought. She closed the door and went back to having tea.
“Akash, cant we go back to our old flat? I get so bored here!” Medha complained. Akash was busy watching television. Medha was cleaning the kitchen after their dinner that night.
“Are you listening to me?” she called out.
“Yes dear. But when we stayed there, you wanted a bigger flat. Now we have such a lavish three BHK flat, that too at such an affordable price, you suddenly don’t want to stay here? I really cant understand what goes on in your mind!”
“I didn’t know I would feel so lonely here. I had so many friends there!” Medha replied.
“Medha it'' s not been even a week that we have shifted here. Give yourself some time, you will make friends here also. Do you know how much my colleagues envy us? We got such a nice flat at such a cheap rate? It was almost half its actual price!” Akash told her.
“But why did we get it at a cheap rate?” Medha enquired.
“The builder shifted to Australia. This was the last flat and he was keen to sell it off as soon as he could at whatever price as he doesn’t plan to come back to India. We were lucky to get such a good deal.”
“Okay…I hope I don’t go crazy of loneliness here”, Medha said more to herself.
“Don’t speak nonsense Medha…go out, get introduced to our neighbours…find friends…” Akash said, exasperated.
“Hey did I tell you, a woman named Anamika came to meet me today. She lives on sixteenth floor, flat no. P-4. She was here for a while. I liked her. She was friendly and nice to speak to. She liked the way I decorated the house.”
“See? Gradually you will make friends here also” Akash said.
“But she suddenly went away, without telling me. I came out with tea for her and she had already left. I still don’t know why she had come here in the first place. She was carrying a box in her hands…”
“Come on Medha, she must have come to get introduced to you, and she must have remembered something important and must have left. Whats the big deal? You can meet her again tomorrow.”
Next day Medha did not have the time to get bored. Her maid had called to tell her she would not be able to come. This was the same maid from her old society. She had requested her to come here to work at an increased salary, at least till she found a domestic help here. Finding a help was proving rather difficult here. No maid was willing to start working in a new house. So Medha found herself busy with house hold chores. She was almost done with everything; cleaning, mopping, dusting and cooking by noon. That was when she suddenly remembered she had forgotten to hang clothes for drying. She quickly opened the washing machine door, loaded all semi dried clothes into a bucket and took the lift to reach the terrace. There was a woman in the lift. Medha smiled at her but the woman chose to ignore her. Medha looked away, a bit embarrassed. But out of the corner of her eye, she could feel the woman eyeing her. She could not understand why people here behaved so oddly. Medha had placed her drying rack on the terrace itself. The terrace of the building was big and clean. As Medha entered the terrace through one entrance, she spotted a woman standing close to the railing at the opposite end, with her back towards Medha. Who could it be, standing under the sun at this hour of noon, she thought. At that instant, the woman turned around. It was Anamika. She gave a big smile and waved at Medha. Medha felt relieved. There was at least one person here who behaved normally.
“Hi, what are you doing here?” Medha called out as she walked towards her rack.
Anamika slowly walked towards her. “I had actually come to collect some clothes that I had hung at night for drying. But looks like the maid already took them downstairs. So I just thought I would peep at the view from the terrace. Have you ever seen how beautiful the city looks from here? After all, we are on the twenty sixth floor”, Anamika said with a smile as she helped Medha hang the clothes.
“I would love to, but let’s come in the evening. This afternoon sun gives me migraine”, Medha told her.
“Yes it’s becoming so hot now-a-days! With all the global warming and what not…” Anamika said. “So are you too a house wife?” Medha asked her.
“Yes, actually I was a History teacher in high school before marriage. But I have left the job after marriage. My husband’s salary is sufficient to keep us going, at least for now. What about you?”
“I have done a course in Home science. But I have never worked.” Medha said.
They silently went about hanging clothes for some time.
“Hey you went away so suddenly yesterday…I had made tea for you…” Medha said.
“Oh, so sorry, I suddenly remembered some work, and I thought I could catch up with you later…” Anamika apologized.
“It's okay…do come over in the evening if you are free…”Medha said.
Now they were heading back towards the entrance.
“Okay…or you could visit us sometime,” Anamika said. Anamika waited at the entrance as Medha headed towards the lift.
“Aren’t you coming,?” Medha called out.
“No. I forgot something on the terrace, I will fetch it, you go ahead,” Anamika said.
“Okay,” Medha shrugged.
The lift was still on the fourteenth floor. Out of curiosity, Medha peeped towards the terrace to see what Anamika had left on the terrace. As she looked on, she saw Anamika picking up the same multi-coloured box that she was carrying yesterday, from near the railing.
Next evening, Medha came down and alighted from the lift. She had to buy some groceries and bakery products. Two women were chatting in the parking lot. Medha had decided she would not try to be friendly with anyone unless they made the first move, especially after her bitter experience in the lift the previous day. As she walked past them, she sensed the two ladies staring at her. They made it very obvious as they stopped talking the moment they saw her approaching and continued to stare at her till she disappeared beyond the gate. Medha kept feeling very odd. She looked at her dress. Was something wrong with her appearance? Why were people behaving oddly with her? But once on the road, no one gave her a second look. Everything was as normal as it could be. So it was the people from the building who were behaving oddly. She shrugged as she made herself busy with buying groceries. When she came back, she thought the Security watchman was also looking at her with an unfathomable expression. The moment she looked at him, he looked away. When she passed him, he wished her a good evening without looking at her. Why was everyone behaving so oddly? Medha wondered. Was it because she was new here? Why did they have to stare at her, make her feel even more alien? Was everyone abnormal or was it just her who was abnormal? With each passing day, her hatred for this place was growing. Anamika was the only solace she found.
Medha was standing near the railing of the terrace. The city looked beautiful from here. It was twilight and the city sparkled with lights. A cool breeze was blowing, quite unlike the hot October evenings. She sensed something cold on her stomach and looked down. Her dress was wet on the front. She touched her dress with her hand. Her hand felt wet, very wet. She looked carefully at her hand, and to her horror, found her hand filled with blood. And at her feet lay the multi-coloured box, oozing blood. She screamed loudly… …and woke up with a start. Akash was holding her tight.
“What happened?” he was asking.
But Medha could not speak. Her voice was lost in fear. She was trembling. She was sweating. She wanted to tell him but couldn’t. She was feeling choked.
“Should we see a psychiatrist?” Akash asked for the third time. They were having breakfast at their dining table.
“Does getting one nightmare make you psychotic?” Medha shot back angrily.
“Its not just the nightmare” he said.
“Then what is it? You think I am crazy?”
“You said all people stare at you” Akash reminded her.
“Yes, they do. So that makes me crazy?” Medha asked, losing her temper.
“Then are all others crazy?” Akash asked.
“I don’t know” Medha said.
“Never mind. Just follow at least one advice. Don’t stay at home all day alone. You said you have found a friend. Why don’t you hang out with her? Have a chat with her; go to the mall with her. Do something to keep yourself occupied, then you won’t have such useless thoughts” Akash said
. Medha said nothing. She had not yet told Akash that the multi-coloured box she had seen in the nightmare was the one which Anamika constantly carried with her.
“Call me if you need anything,” Akash called out, heading towards the door.
After sometime, when her anger had cooled off, Medha began to think. May be Akash was right. Empty mind is a devil’s workshop. She needed to keep herself occupied. Then she would not think too much about such nonsensical things. She had heard a phrase that said that whatever remains in your subconscious mind, you see it in the form of dreams. May be she was just thinking too much. She decided to visit Anamika. May be she could accompany her to a nearby temple. At 5 in the evening, Medha went to the sixteenth floor. She went to the flat P-4 and rang the bell. As she waited for the door to open, the door of the adjacent flat, P-3 opened and a woman stepped out.
The woman was carrying a purse in one hand and keys in the other hand, probably going
somewhere. As she came out and was about to close the door, she spotted Medha. The moment she saw Medha standing there, as if struck by some kind of electric shock, she ran back into her house and closed the door behind her. Medha was non-plussed. Why were people behaving like that on seeing her? Did she look like some alien? Medha rang the doorbell to Anamika’s flat again. That was when she noticed that the door was locked from outside. Must have gone somewhere, she thought as she sighed and went back. Medha did not tell Akash anything about the odd behavior of the woman from P-3. She did not want one more discourse on how she needed to see a shrink.
“So what did you do today?” Akash asked her when she did not speak.
“Nothing,” she replied nonchalantly.
“Didn’t meet your new friend?” he persisted.
“No. I thought of going with her to the temple, but her house was locked.” Medha said.
Akash sensed the boredom in her voice.
“Come, let’s go out for dinner” he said to cheer her up.
Next morning Medha was in a slightly better mood. The night before, they had gone to Hotel LovelyFish, to have her favourite sea food. The night had been peaceful with no disturbing nightmares and a sound sleep.
“Why don’t you call your friend and her husband for dinner tonight?” Akash suggested, hoping that the dinner planning and preparation would keep her busy.
“Wow, that’s a good idea. That way I can introduce you to Anamika. I have not met her husband though…” Medha said, excited.
That afternoon, as Medha was preparing lunch, the door bell rang. Medha expectantly opened the door. It was Anamika.
“Hi” Anamika said as she came in. She was carrying a duffel bag in her hand.
“Hi”, Medha said, “Take a seat, I’ll come back in a moment”. Medha went to the kitchen and turned the flame to low.
“I had come to your flat yesterday evening. I thought you could accompany me to the temple. But it was locked.” Medha said as she came back into the living room.
“Locked? Are you sure? I was at home only,” Anamika said, looking puzzled.
“I am damn sure. You can ask your weird neighbor who ran away on spotting me as if I was going to eat her,” Medha said.
“Forget it. You want to go shopping? I am going to City Center,” Anamika said.
“Any specific shopping?” Medha asked.
“Yes. My sister is getting married in a couple of months. So I have lots of shopping to do,” Anamika said.
“Great, congrats. I would have accompanied you, but as a matter of fact, I and my husband Akash were thinking of inviting you and your husband for dinner tonight. Will you come?” Medha asked.
“No, don’t take so much trouble,” Anamika replied.
“No, I love cooking and I would love to have you over for dinner. That way our husbands would also get introduced to each other…”
“And to us…,” Anamika said with a rigid expression.
“Yes…why, is there some problem?” Medha asked.
“No, no, we will come, thanks,” Anamika said, the rigid expression disappearing.
“So today I have lots of cooking to do. First I have to buy some groceries too. I will accompany you for shopping the next time. For sure,” Medha promised.
“Okay then, see you in the evening,” Anamika said, heading towards the door.
“Hey you forgot your bag,” Medha said, picking the bag from the table.
Medha had expected the bag to be empty. But she could feel something in the bag. The box. But before she could ask anything, Anamika took the bag from her hands and went down the stairs
The evening saw Medha busy with food preparations. She had painstakingly prepared a nice menu; Aloo-gobi, Paneer kofta, Daal Palak, Boondi Raita, green chutney, Moong dal halwa, jeera rice, crisp roti’s, roasted papad and some vanilla pudding as dessert. Akash had helped her arrange the new Coral dining set on the dining table. He had also bought four special masala paan on his way back from office. They sat watching television, waiting for the couple to arrive. It was almost half past nine, there was no sign of Anamika or her husband. Medha was getting restless. She kept on pacing back and forth, intermittently peeking through the door to see if they were there yet.
“Which flat did you say they stay in?” Akash asked, getting up.
“P-4, on sixteenth floor,” Medha said.
“I’ll go and see if they are there and why they are late. May be they just forgot…” Ten minutes later, Akash came back.
“Their flat is locked,” he said, flustered. “Are you sure you told her?”
“Of course I told her. She promised me they would come…,” Medha replied.
“Okay then. Let’s wait till ten,” Akash said, settling back into the sofa in front of the television.
Finally, at half past ten, Medha and Akash gave up their wait and sat for dinner. Both could not eat much and could not do justice to the food Medha had prepared with so much effort. Both ate in silence, same thoughts engulfing both. Why hadn’t they come? Why didn’t they at least inform them that they would not be able to make it to dinner that night? Or even leave a message with the watchman? This was certainly weird. As he lay on his bed, Akash gave this a thought. What Medha kept saying wasn’t entirely untrue. He too had experienced the same stares and odd looks from people. He did not say this in front of Medha, but he knew there was something fishy going around here. But what?
Medha stirred in bed. She must have slept for hardly an hour, after which she was woken by some sound. She had no idea where that sound had come from, but now she couldn’t sleep. It was very dark. Akash was fast asleep beside her. Once again her empty mind was playing devil’s workshop. She was thinking of all possibilities about what could have been the reason for Anamika’s no-show. She took out her mobile from under her pillow to see the time. It was 3:00 am. She placed the mobile back under her pillow and tried to turn on her left…and she froze. She saw the silhouette of a man walking past the window towards their bathroom.
Akash woke up with a start at the loud scream. Medha was now shaking violently and shouting hysterically. He quickly sat up and held Medha close.
“Calm down, calm down, did you have another nightmare?”
Medha couldn't speak through her trembling teeth. She was sweating profusely. A moment later she began crying. Akash consoled her, patted her, reassured her that he was there and everything was alright.
Finally, when she could speak, she said, “I…I saw a man…here…going towards our bathroom…”.
Akash stayed silent for sometime. Then he said, “Must be another dream. Calm down”.
“It was no dream”, Medha shouted, “He was for real. I am awake for last two hours. I just checked the time on my mobile. It was 3:00 am. Then I turned left and saw him. He was here!”
“Okay, okay”, Akash said to silence her. She needs to see a psychiatrist, he thought in his mind.
Next morning, both avoided the topic of last night’s episode. Akash wanted to make Medha forget it and move on.
“Shall we go for a movie tonight? Regal is playing ‘Rascals’, Akash said.
“If you come early”, Medha replied in a somber tone.
“I will, and if you meet Anamika today, ask her why they didn’t showed up yesterday”, Akash called out from the door. Medha did not reply.
The maid was telling her how her husband drank liquor every night and how he daily fought with her. Medha was pretending to listen, but she could not really concentrate. There was too much on her mind. Why didn’t Anamika turned up yesterday? What flimsy reason would she give this time? And what was that she had seen last night? Was it really a hallucination? Was she really going crazy? Could a shrink really help her? A loud polyphonic ringtone startled both. Medha’s mobile phone was ringing. Medha reached for it and saw the displayed name. It was Radhika, her college friend.
“Hi Medha, how are you?”
“I am good, you tell me, whats up?”
“Nothing, the usual boring routine. How's your new home?”
“I am still in the phase of adjusting to new surroundings”, Medha said, “How’s Ditti?” Ditti was Radhika’s daughter.
“She has become very naughty. We are thinking of putting her in a play school.”
“But she is not even two years old, right?” Medha asked.
“She will turn two next month. Hey Medha, I needed to ask you something”.
“Yes, tell me?” “You stay in HighRise right, on RC Road?” Radhika asked.
“Yes”, Medha replied.
“Actually a colleague of mine from office, Avinash, was interested in buying a flat in HighRise. So I told him I would check out with you as you have recently shifted there…”
“The society is good. Flats are also nice, airy and well maintained. There is no problem of any sort, water, electricity, lifts everything is well maintained. There are three security guards who do shift duties. Other than that, there is a mall nearby for vegetables and groceries. There is a medical shop at walking distance and a hospital at ten minutes distance…” Radhika took a silent pause.
“Actually it's not that. We have…heard things…”
“What things?” Medha asked, alarmed.
“May be just rumours, you know, but I thought I should check it out with you…” Radhika said.
“What are you taking about?” Radhika was again silent for sometime. Medha began feeling restless.
“Medha, the society HighRise is an expensive one, the flats there are not affordable for people like us…but Avinash said he was getting a flat for less than half the price. So he wondered what could the reason be and he did some enquiries on his own…”
“Radhika, we also got this flat at half the price. The reason was, the builder is shifting to Australia permanently and this was the last flat which he wanted to sell at whatever price…”
“Medha, they gave him the same reason. But you tell me, does this reason sound plausible? Even if he is shifting to Australia, he can appoint someone to sell the flats. The money can be transferred to any part of the world. Why would he prefer incurring a loss amounting to lacs of money?” Medha realized that Radhika had a point. She and Akash had never given this much of a thought. “And if yours was the last flat, what about this flat?” Radhika asked further. “So Avinash did a bit of background check,” Radhika continued, “He found out some shocking stories…”
“What stories?” Medha asked, fear beginning to grip her.
Radhika hesitated before speaking. “He heard that a lady from the building had murdered her husband and committed suicide…”
“What??” Medha was shocked to hear this.
“You really have no idea?” Radhika asked.
“No…absolutely no idea…” Medha said, still in shock. “When did this supposedly happen?”
“Around a year and a half back… Since then, there were no customers ready to buy the two flats, one in which she stayed and the other where the crime took place…that’s why they say those flats were put on sale at throw away rates…Medha, I am sorry if I disturbed you… these may just be rumours you know...” Radhika said apologetically.
“No, no. I need to check out if any of this is true. I will give you a call”.
“Okay, thanks, and take care…”. Medha was too shocked to react immediately. She had no idea about any such thing. Nor did Akash. Or did he?
“What happened didi?” the maid asked, sensing her disturbance.
“Nothing. You go, do your work”, Medha told her.
The maid shrugged and left. What should I do now? Medha thought. She dialed Akash’s number. It was busy. Then she decided against calling him. May be he too had no idea, and it was not a good idea to disturb him at work. Should I ask Anamika? She must be knowing it, Medha thought. But again she remembered yesterday night’s fiasco and decided she wouldn’t speak to Anamika till she came and gave some good reason as to why they had ditched them. Security guard. He was the best person to tell her what had really happened. Without changing out of her nightie, Medha rushed down to the security watchman’s room. The watchman was sitting inside, listening to some match on a small radio.
“Yes memsaab?” he immediately stood up on seeing her
“Surinder”, she said, reading his name from his name plate, “I need some information from you”. She could see his eyes clouding with a combination of fear and confusion.
“What memsaab?” “About what had happened here one and a half year back”, Medha stated.
“I…I don’t know…”, he stammered.
“Don’t lie. I know that you know. Now tell me,” Medha almost shouted.
The watchman swallowed a lump before proceeding. “One and half year back, a couple used to stay here, Pinky and Ritesh. Ritesh used to work somewhere and Pinky was a house wife. That month, he had told her that he would come late from office as he had to do extra work for promotion. But in fact, he used to come back by five, the usual time, and spend two hours at the house of Riddhima. Riddhima was unmarried and stayed alone in her flat in this same building. One evening, Pinky went to Riddhima’s flat, where she caught Ritesh cheating on her. In a fit of blind fury, she picked up a knife from the kitchen and stabbed them both in the bedroom. Then she ran onto the terrace and jumped off.”
Medha listened in shock. So what Radhika had told her was true.
“What happened to Ritesh and Riddhima?” she asked.
“Ritesh died on the spot. Riddhima survived but she did not stay here any longer. So those two flats, Pinky and Ritesh’s flat and Riddhima’s flat have been vacant till…”
“Why did Pinky go to Riddhima’s flat that evening?” Medha asked before the watchman could complete his sentence.
“Pinky’s sister’s marriage got fixed that day. So she was distributing sweets in the building. She had no idea that Ritesh was at Riddhima’s place. They somehow left the door open and an unsuspecting Pinky went directly inside looking for Riddhima to give her sweets. Everything after that happened within a blink of an eye. Pinky jumped from the terrace clutching the box of sweets.”
The last sentence rang a bell in Medha’s mind.
“What kind of box?” she asked, startled
“A colourful box of sweets” the watchman replied.
Medha felt her body beginning to feel numb as a cold shiver ran down her spine. Multi-coloured box.
“Which flat did Pinky and her husband stay in?” she asked, dreading the answer.
“P-4, sixteenth floor”, the watchman replied.
”No one has bought that flat since…” Medha was gripped with a cold fear. She could feel herself trembling in spite of the heat. “That is why we all were astonished when you and Akash sir bought that flat, Riddhima’s flat, where Ritesh was killed…That’s why people in this building stay away from you…you know…” Medha listened in utmost horror.
She stumbled for words as she managed to ask, “Do you know Anamika?”
Now it was the watchman’s turn to stare at her in horror. “How do you know her?” he asked.
“I met her a couple of times.”
“WHAT?? Anamika was Pinky’s real name!”
They both stared at each other in horror as the terrifying reality struck. Medha was staying in the same flat where Ritesh was murdered. The silhouette she had seen yesterday night had to be him. She had been speaking to Pinky’s ghost for past few days. That was why people gave her those stares, ran away from her when she stood ringing the bell of Pinky’s flat. Now it all became clear, as clear as a crystal. Medha dashed up the stairs. She had to call Akash and tell him about this. They must shift out at the earliest. As she opened the door, she froze.
Anamika was sitting on the sofa, with the multi-coloured box in her hands.
“I have been waiting for you, where have you been? I am so sorry for yesterday, Ritesh came home very very late. How about arranging the dinner tonight?”