The nightmare leaves me breathless. It is as if I have been punched, punched hard in the gut. I somehow manage to stealthily leave the comfort of the bed without disturbing my friends. As if, of their own accord, my feet take me outside of the house and towards the terrace.
I stand on the terrace of the eight-storey building. It is past mid-night. Surprisingly, the moon is rather bright tonight. It is surprising because the moon has successfully managed to dodge the dense cloud cover. On their part, the clouds provide ambient light to the night sky. I am alone. I stare at the other tall towers of the complex. All the houses in all the surrounding towers are shrouded in darkness. Only one window, as if a spotlight is being directed at it, catches my attention. I forget my manners and stare at the window. Then, squinting a little I take in the details of the room’s furnishing. I can see a bed covered with a clean, white bed sheet. At least it looks clean from where I am standing. My gaze travels a little and my eyes rest on a table adjacent to the huge window. There is a laptop sitting on it. It looks like a MacBook and I smile to myself remembering the machine that sits in my room. From this distance it looks as if the owner is working. Not Facebooking or Twittering for sure. A flickering on the wall on the extreme right hints at the TV. There is a bottle of water next to the laptop. And suddenly the human angle in the story intrigues me. I turn my head left and see a man’s legs. He is wearing a pair of blue check shorts. He is sitting on a chair, which I imagine is very comfortable. A mosquito bites me on the curve behind my knee and I bend down to give it a scratch.
In that split second I am afraid that all that I had seen and for the most part liked might vanish. I could just be sleepwalking or it could be an elaborate dream. After all, I live on the ground floor of a building in which access to the terrace is restricted to CPWD workers. What am I doing on the terrace of a building in the east of the city? I suddenly straighten up. The movement is so violent that I am almost certain that I have inflicted myself with a spine injury. Fortunately, I have no time to ponder over my injury. As soon as I get up my eyes rest on the open, large, window. And a fraction of a second later, I see the man.
He has a receding hairline. He is multi-tasking. He is talking to someone on the phone and working on the document open in front of him and he looks up at the TV at regular intervals. I realize I have not moved at all in the last 10 minutes. I feel like a stalker so I start strolling on the terrace enjoying the cool night breeze and the promise of rain in the air. Walking from one corner of the terrace to the other I have a clear view of his room. I walk to the starting point with my back to his room. I notice on the third round that I walk a little slowly when I can still see his room but my pace increases when my back is towards him.
It is a refreshing exercise I realise. I could get used to walking on the terrace past midnight looking at the man who multi-tasks. Away from the daylight when I feel burdened by the responsibilities I shoulder, night, it seems, envelops me in a much needed hug. His presence, albeit just a shadow at a distance, is comforting. I start talking to myself. I imagine a conversation between us. At the start, the conversation is light and casual, maybe, even a little flirtatious in nature. Then we connect while I continue to have this imaginary conversation. I tell him about my favourite books, actors I cannot stand and tales of my travel. He continues to sit on his comfortable chair. He fidgets a little and then reaches for the bottle of water. Meanwhile, in my mind, our conversation progresses. He tells me about life in another city away from his home, his love for his car and how he still misses pulling his sister’s long hair just to tease her. I smile. I increase my pace. My back has turned towards his window. I glance quickly at my watch. It is close to two o’clock now.
He is irritated with the attention I am giving to my watch. I look at him indulgently. He realises we don’t have much time so he forgives me quickly. He regales me with stories about college, the music he loves and the fictional characters he loves to hate. He makes me laugh. On my part, I tell him about my bad singing and how I sing despite everyone, really everyone, I know discouraging me to even hum. He laughs loudly at this and promises to never stop me from singling. I tell him I’ll hold him to his promise one day.
I turn, looking forward to resting my eyes on his window and his bed with the clean sheets. I see he has stood up now. I stop on my tracks. Concentrating all my energies in mentally willing him to look my way I realize belatedly that I was holding my breath. I start coughing a little as I take deep breaths to compensate. He clearly has no idea that I exist. He yawns and stretches his arms. Then I see him slowly walk towards the wall. He switches the lights off. He hasn’t closed the window or drawn the curtains. So, I can still see him thanks to the ambient light. He walks to his bed. Picks up the remote control and switches off the TV. I see him take off his slippers and he lies on the bed and rests his head on the pillow.
I wish him a goodnight and hope from the deepest centre of my heart that he has a restful sleep. Even though I know that I won’t be able to recognise him if I saw him the next morning, I am grateful to him for his company after the nightmare.