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Lalu Krishnan

Drama Romance Action


Lalu Krishnan

Drama Romance Action

The Elevator

The Elevator

14 mins 439 14 mins 439

Another long, enervating, mundane Monday had come to an end. The only bright spot was the multitude of compliments for my new beige office bag. I slung it over my shoulder and darted towards the elevator lobby. Just then, my mobile rang.

"Hey, are you awake?" I said, answering the call. Walking towards the plush, empty lobby, I looked at my watch. It was 11:30pm. Fifteen-hour workdays and high stress levels had become routine, since the start of the DDB project. Over those six months, my life revolved around reasoning with perennially dis-satisfied clients and pacifying disgruntled team members. I'd break my head over elusive financial targets and impossible schedules. Amid these, I had ignored my personal life. Shweta's call confirmed that it was at stake.

"You go to bed, Shweta," I said, five minutes into my wife's whiny monologue. "I'll reach home soon."

I cut the call without waiting for an answer and pressed the elevator button. In a minute, the door opened before me. I entered, letting out a heavy breath. I was relieved that in a few minutes I'd be in my car, heading home.

The full-height mirrors on the elevator walls made it look larger than it was. I glanced at them – a reluctant, yet subtly-narcissist peek. I was embarrassed seeing my repulsive self with grizzly, thinning hair and dark, sunken eyes that craved for sleep. I looked down, not wanting to dent my waning self-esteem.

I pressed on B1, as the door slid to a close. Suddenly, the elevator jerked, and the door opened again. I creased my forehead and stared towards the door. A classy, attractive woman stepped in.

"Sorry," she said, her full lips parting for a smile. Her tone emanated a melange of apology, courtesy and gratitude. However, when her large, glittery eyes met mine, her smile transformed into a grimace. She turned around in a jiffy towards the door, as it closed again.

The elevator moved. A bead of sweat rolled down my brow. I rubbed my cold palms, while raising my eyes to catch a furtive glimpse of the woman. Although I saw only her rear and a murky reflection of her front on the shiny elevator door, that was enough to confirm my suspicion.

Draped in a cobalt-blue cotton sari, Priya still looked the same. The couple of strands of grey, almost lost among her thick black tresses, enhanced her mature elegance. The few kilograms added to her erstwhile petite frame, made her look more desirable than she was before.

I writhed, ill at ease. Every second was an ordeal that I wanted to end fast. But the journey from the thirty-sixth floor to the basement of the glossy Bela Business Centre seemed to take a lifetime.

Fifteen years – indeed a lifetime. Yet it felt like just the other day.

It was a typical Thursday evening – weary, yet busy – at Adroit Infotech. Pankaj Kapoor took off his black-rimmed glasses and pinched the bridge between his eyes. His crisp, off-white shirt and grey trousers accentuated his schoolboy charm. He looked towards me, his eyebrows slanting upwards, towards the middle of his forehead. Leaning back, he moved his hand over his sculpted beard that he had grown a week ago. Unconsciously aping Pankaj, I rubbed hard at my itchy, unkempt facial hair. With my bleary eyes, an old, faded T-shirt and a worn-out pair of jeans, I was Pankaj's antithesis.

"We've discussed this, Raj," said Pankaj. "Your performance on critical account metrics continues to decline."

Avoiding eye-contact, I looked around Pankaj's royal fifteenth-floor office. It had a Mid-Century Modern Design theme – the wooden flooring, pristine walls, a large lampshade over the workstation and replicas of a Matisse and a Picasso on adjacent walls.

For a moment, Pankaj shifted focus onto responding to a message on his mobile. I creased my forehead and narrowed my shifty eyes.

"Many team members," he said, keeping his mobile back, "have threatened to quit if you continue at the helm."

He got up from his chair and ambled towards the large glass window. The glitz of the office interior extended into the Mumbai night-sky – the streetlights, the vehicles and the buildings. They shone like shreds of gold and diamond strewn all over the city, concealing the paradoxical reality.

"But…," I said. Pankaj waved his palm to cut me short. "We've decided," he said, "to have the Duopulley account under someone else. The Ex-com deems this necessary to secure the future of the account."

Rumours were rife over the past two weeks that the Duopulley account would be handed over to Priya. I had suspected that something was cooking. However, I had no clue that I'd be moved out so soon – especially after four stellar years on the account.

But what came next stabbed me in the heart before stopping it for a second.

"With this, Raj…," said Pankaj. He sipped some water and took a deep breath. "…we don't see a role for you at Adroit. Unfortunately, we'll need to let you go."

A deafening sound and Priya's horrified shriek plunged me back into the elevator.

It swayed and wobbled. I gasped. I looked around. My eyes were wide, trying to make out what was going on. I leaned on to the elevator wall for support and held on to the handrail for reinforcement. The elevator danced and bounced, causing an eerie, metallic clamour. I closed my eyes and held my breath. Priya, screaming, was on her knees. After some more creaking and clanking while descending at full speed, the elevator came to a sudden, jerky halt. The impact threw me into the air. I, almost, hit the ceiling. I yelled, as I came down. My head banged against the handrail before I made a painful, unwieldy landing on my butt with a sharp, ugly thud up my spine.

My head reeled. I saw in twos and threes. An excruciating pain split my head and pierced my back. I gasped for breath. Exhausted, I lay on the floor. The fan had stopped working. The lights seemed to flicker and dim. I turned my head towards Priya, barely making out her obscure form sitting on the floor – her legs stretched out and back rested on the wall. 

I slipped into abyss with each passing second. However, in a minute, I gathered all my grit and energy to pull myself and sit up. The bag still slung around my neck. I zipped it open and took out my water bottle. I had filled it after dinner. I sipped some water and wiped my face with a little more. I felt better, although still dazed.

"Water…" Priya's soft voice nudged me into consciousness.

I crawled towards her and gave her the bottle. She gulped down some water and looked towards me.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

She nodded. "And you?"

"I don't know," I grunted. "Can't bear the pain…"

She gave the bottle back.

"What'll we do now?" Priya's voice was low – almost a whisper.

I shrugged, pushing myself closer to the wall. I felt a huge lump as I moved my fingers over my head, while taxing my brain for an answer to Priya's question.

'Didn't she recognise me?' I thought, feeling weird. After all that happened in the past, Priya and I were sitting next to each other, barely a metre apart. We had no choice but to help each other out of the mess we were in.

I hadn't seen her after that fateful day, fifteen years ago. I stormed out of Pankaj's office, sweating and puffing. Devastated, I reached my workstation – not mine any more – to find my laptop missing.

"Raj," said Swati, the HR girl sitting across the aisle. "They've asked us to clear your workstation." She pointed to an office boy at the printer hub, engrossed into packing up my belongings. I stood agape. The reality sank in. I was no more an Adroit employee.

"Also," she said, "you'll need to submit your I-card before you leave."

I stared at Swati in despair. She lowered her eyes and returned to her work. I swallowed a mesh of feelings – shame, guilt and anger. My eyes felt raw. I sank into the chair and looked around. Fortunately, most of the colleagues had left for the day. At the printer hub, the office boy placed into a box – the books, cards, photographs, certificates and other memorabilia that were part of my Adroit tenure. I wished he was quicker.

After a minute, Priya came to the hub. She waited while her document was getting printed. Trisha, a member of the Duopulley team, joined her. I couldn't hear them. They were laughing.

'It has to be about me,' I thought.

I closed my eyes and squeezed the armrests of my chair. My thumping heart overruled my mind. I couldn't bear the sight of their happy faces. I dashed towards the printer hub and confronted Priya.

"You'd be happy now," I said. A number of heads turned towards us. Priya and Trisha stared at each other in stunned silence. The hissing air-conditioner and the rumbling printer were the only sounds that I heard.

"You've achieved everything," I said, "by politicking me out. Haven't you, Priya?"

Priya shook her head. "What do you mean?"

"Don't feign ignorance," I said. "You now have a plum account. And you've thrown me out of Adroit."

I turned towards Trisha. "And you," I said. "All of you ganged up against me. Now scratch each others' backs and enjoy!"

Trisha froze. Priya parted her lips to respond. Before she could, I turned towards the office boy. "Make it fast, Ganesh," I said, my voice hoarse with anger.

"It's done, sir," he said, trembling, securing the box with a large, black tape. I carried the box towards the exit of the silent bay and flung my I-card at the security desk.

"What do we do now?" Priya asked again. She was barely audible, but loud enough to drift my wavering senses back into the elevator. 

I rummaged my pocket for my mobile. It was not in there any longer. I looked around and saw it thrown at the other corner of the elevator. I crawled towards the mobile and tried to call our office front-desk. It was jammed. The cracks suggested that the touch screen was damaged from the impact. Before I could ask for it, Priya stretched out her hand and gave me her mobile. I smiled when I saw that it had network connectivity.

I called the front-desk and briefed our security guard about our predicament. "Call the lift emergency number from the Perception directory," I said. "Also, you may need to call the fire brigade."

Priya closed her eyes, half listening to my side of our conversation.

"Don't worry, sir," said the security guard. "We have the emergency SOPs documented. You'll get help very soon. Take care."

I had no choice but to hope that the security guard would do what was required. I gave the phone back to Priya. There was nothing else I could do other than to wait, hope and pray. The jabbing, pulsating pain in my head and on my back seemed to increase with every minute that passed.

I could see Priya frantically poking at her mobile. After some effort, she got through to the person she wanted to speak to – perhaps, her husband. She was as organised as ever. From what she said, I realised that she had already Whatsapped the location map and our front-desk number to him. I was impressed.

It struck me that I had not yet informed Shweta about my situation. I was embarrassed to ask for Priya's phone again. It didn't matter anyway – other than to get another mouthful from Shweta.

There was a minute of uneasy silence. I was drenched in sweat. The pain, the heat, the claustrophobic suffocation and the eerie, pungent odour that was a concoction of something burning and the reek from our bodies – I was losing my sanity. I felt like ripping off my clothes, pulling out my hair and howling loud. I unfastened the top two buttons of my shirt and banged on the floor of the elevator, unable to do much more.

"Are you okay?" Priya asked. I looked at her and nodded my head. I took a deep, exasperating breath and drank some water, before giving the bottle to her. She took a sip.

"How have you been?" I was surprised to find these warbled, involuntary words come out of me. I looked at Priya in her eye for the first time since our ordeal began twenty minutes ago – and for the first time in fifteen years. A few racy flutters ran down my heart.

Her exhausted face was soaked in sweat. Her frizzy hair was all over her. I recollected that she'd always had a problem with her hair. She took pains and spent money in thinning and straightening it from time to time. But any such fix would be temporary. The hair would go back to its former glory in a matter of days. I felt, though, that this feature enhanced her good looks. She'd be elated whenever I told her that, although she didn't take the compliment seriously.

That day, too, despite the state she was in, I found her attractive. My mind suppressed a flurry of confused emotions.

"I've been okay," she said. "You?"

Her husky voice, her stoic, no-nonsensical demeanour – everything felt the same. Yet so much had changed.

"Yes," I said, nodding. "All okay." I saw her lips stretch into what I thought was a suppressed smile. 'But why would she smile?' I thought. 'Perhaps, it was a snigger – at the irony of what I said.'

"What brought you here?" I asked.

She looked towards the elevator door. "I didn't know that you were with Perception," she said. "How long have you been there?"

I wondered why she ignored my question. "It's my fifth year," I said, nevertheless. "I heard that you're flourishing at Adroit."

She looked at me again. "Flourishing?" she said. "I don't know that. You believe a lot in what you hear. Don't you?" She stretched her lips again. This time I was sure that she had a snigger.

I had never bothered to keep a track of Priya's life. However, three years ago, I had chanced upon a news flash about her appointment as the COO at Adroit. I wondered why she reacted with a snigger. 'If this is not flourishing,' I thought, 'then what is?'

"All I know," she continued, "is that I couldn't survive the restructuring that happened last week after new investors took over. I've been asked to serve a month-long handover process before I leave."

I didn't know how to react. A part of me was elated.

'Serves her right,' I thought. 'Sweet revenge! All's well that ends well.'

The other part of me plunged into an inexplicable sympathy. She was a talented, hard-working go-getter. 'How could she get the axe?' I sat silent, looking down.

"In fact," she continued. "I had come here this evening to explore an opportunity with Spinz. They're setting up here. Three interviews, four hours and the mobile number of an HR dude, who doesn't pick up. And now, I'm stuck here with you."

I smirked. "I'm sorry to hear this," I said.

Priya gave a light, sarcastic giggle. "You should be happy, right?" she said. "After all, I was responsible for you getting fired."

She waved the end of her sari pallu near her face to fan herself. It was getting hotter and stuffier by the minute.

"Should we call the security to understand the progress?" I asked. Organised that she was, Priya dialled the Perception front-desk number on her mobile and gave it to me. I heard a few beeps. Before I tried again, I noticed that the mobile had lost connectivity. I wrinkled my nose and showed the screen to Priya. She sighed.

I continued with our conversation about our past. "Not sure why all of you had ganged up against me," I said.

Priya turned towards me in a huff. "And how did you conclude that?" she asked. "You'd have heard, of course." Her voice was weak and trembling, but louder than she was until then. I was taken aback by her aggression. She seldom raised her voice in the past, even when I threw unreasonable tantrums.

"First, you decide to break up with me," she said, "for reasons best known to you,"

I looked away. I tried to speak but couldn't utter a word. I sipped some more water and sank my head into my knees.

"Ten days later," she continued, "you create that scene in office suggesting that I got you fired. Did you imagine what would've occurred to me after that?"

I heard her sniff and sob. "How would you?" she said. "You're empathetic only to what you think and what you hear – insensitive to everything else."

I looked up to see Priya wipe her eyes with a towel. I felt awful. The ground gradually slipped away from me.

"Everyone knew that you were two-timing with me," I said. It was a last, shameless attempt to convince her – convince myself – that I did no wrong. "You were always with Pankaj. He had even promoted you twice, out of turn."

I knew that the silly justification didn't deserve a response. However, Priya gave me one. "I tried my best to convince you, Raj," she said. "But you went by what you wanted to believe. That was, obviously, not the truth."

A loud thud broke Priya's harangue. A few lighter thuds followed, making the elevator shake again. My heart raced as fast as it could. I consoled myself that help had, perhaps, arrived. I didn't want to listen to Priya anymore. I had got her point and didn't want her to rub it in. However, I had no choice. She shook her head in dismay when the rumblings stopped.

"Your whims," she said, "made us drift apart. They also made your work suffer."

More noise and vibrations followed half-a-minute of silence. When they stopped, we heard the security guard shout through the duct: "Sir, hope you're okay."

"Yes," I shouted back with whatever energy I had. "But it's getting worse with time. We'll need to get out of here soon."

"The experts have arrived," he said. "Everything will be sorted in some time."

I sat back with my eyes closed, waiting for help and lamenting the mistakes that altered my life.

The shrill sound of Priya's mobile ringtone jolted me up. I rubbed my eyes, relieved that its connectivity was restored. I saw Priya's outstretched hand and realised that the mobile was with me. I noticed the name – Pankaj – flash on the screen, as I handed the mobile back to her.

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