Rendezvous II: The Note
A security guard burst through the door. As I turned around, with the first hot beads of tears on my cheeks, I faced the end of a double-barrel gun. The yawning drop behind me beckoned, but I was too grief struck to think of escape. I wiped my eyes dry instead.
I turned the key and entered my shoebox-sized flat. It smelled dank and dingy; the miasma of rotten food was apparent. I slipped my shoes off, and sunk heavily into the plush, leathery couch. It was still light outside. The small, sliding window stood out in its light-grey hue, in contrast to the dusky interiors. I let the small of my back rest against a cushion, and eased myself a little deeper.
I must have dozed off, for an abject sundry sound made me jump. I closed my open mouth and slowly massaged my aching nape. It was completely dark inside; the window now was a square black frame against the wall. I strode across the hall where the switchboard was, and flicked on the lights. I sensed stepping on a paper, it being neatly folded into third.
I headed toward the couch, unraveling the note, which read:
Meet me on the Aurora Towers’ rooftop at 8 P.M.
So, she wanted to meet me. After my continual phone calls to reach her, to contact her through her close friend I know, had been rebuffed, here she is slipping messages below my door. I reread the note, wondering what it was that she had to say.
It was not a fight I thought would be this serious an issue. Certainly one thing had led to another that day. Many a jibes and leers were traded in the heat of the moment. After being together this long, we both had come to ignore the niggles. But, as I said, what started as banter led to an incriminating shouting match. Although we had wished curt goodnights, I feared if things would be same as before.
But nothing had me prepared for her mute standoff.
I pocketed the typewritten note and checked the wall-clock. It was 7:15. If she were to call it an end, if she were to explain her reasons, if she were to announce her marriage, then, I was ready to hear her out; and, if possible, would reason with her to put the relation back on track. I washed my face at the kitchen sink and looked at its swarthy, weary features in the mirror, its nose twitching slightly. I found the foul-smelling packet and binned it, closing the lid shut. Setting my hair right, I checked my now straight face, and left the apartment, alighting two steps at a time.
The Aurora Towers is near the city center, a full twenty minutes cab drive from my place, close to where she worked. Now that I had the time, I thought of meeting her at the office, but then thought otherwise. Better do as told; she may have her reasons. Besides, I might catch the evening traffic and risk delay.
I considered the twenty-one-story building and puzzled at her place of meeting. Where a cafeteria or a park bench would have sufficed she had chosen the tallest commercial building in town. Perhaps she wanted to make a significant statement that warranted the upper spheres, or perhaps she was simply targeting the sensational.
I watched the faces, each bobbing swiftly, some with earphones in the ears, some with cellphones clamped to them, some cheerily conversing with a fellow walker, some just cold and gaunt. I stood on the sidewalk half-hoping to see her and tag her somewhere, err, earthly. Finally, I stepped inside the building foyer, into the spacious steel-walled elevator and mumbled twenty-first floor to the operator.
Stepping out the elevator, I registered a red arrow on the wall opposite directing me right, to some insurance office. In this direction I turned instinctively, and walked on, slowly. At the far end was a door, made of glass with a gleaming steel handle, inside which was an empty chair. I heard the automatic doors of the elevator close shut and the dull reverberation of the descending vessel.
I turned on my heels, making sure there was no one watching behind the glass door. I reached the elevator landing. There, next to the elevator shaft, was the staircase to the rooftop. It was dark and dusty from neglect and disuse; a few broken chairs were haphazardly thrown on the stairs. I glanced at the far end office and climbed the stairs, careful to avoid the grimy banister and blackened walls, with a handkerchief covering my nose.
The wooden door to the terrace was unfastened. It dully swung on its hinges, its bottom rim broken and craggy. I wondered if it was she who had unbolted the door, raising my hopes of seeing her and avoiding the anxious wait.
I opened the door. The cool evening breeze swept my hair upright; beyond the concrete periphery I saw the orange lights of the town below. A black cistern stood to my left. I refrained from calling her name aloud, fearing I might attract any unwanted audience from the insurance office below. It was unlit here; the dull half-moon lent a gloomy ambiance. I stumbled on a water-pipe, righted myself, and scanned the parapet in front. It was nailed with angle-frames for Internet dishes, cable supports, antennas, while a few hung on crookedly. I could make out the two-feet high pillars, with wires wrapped around them. The light tricked me with shadows that were alike the objects, so that I carefully stepped over the shadow of a pipe only to stumble upon a supposed shadow!
I made my way around the pillars and wires and broken wooden crates to the parapet; the silhouette I expected was nowhere to be seen, right or left. I peered over the chest-height parapet, curious for the view, and saw a cab drop off its hire, who entered the building, beetle-like small from here. The matter at hand pulled me away. I saw an iron ladder leaning against the top edge of the stairwell. I decided to go around the stairwell and check the terrace’s rear end, now beginning to have second thoughts about her presence.
As I reached the black cistern and bent down below a sagging cable, I heard a piercing, guttural scream. I froze in my movements; my posture like a sprinter’s ‘ready’ position. It was a second-long burst of terror. But it was enough to skip a beat. I groped the convex edifice of the tank as I collapsed, shaken and suddenly cold.
I feared the worst, all the time cajoling myself it wasn’t so, as I blindly ran towards the source of scream. I scraped my elbow against concrete, ran into unknown rubble, and skipped the network of cables, and arrived at the opposite end of the terrace. It was deserted. I feverishly ran hither and yon, mad with a zany vim. But I realized, my lungs burning in agony, against my will, that I was late to arrive. Somehow, I dared not look over the parapet this time.
I stood there counting my loss. I bowed my head and saw the wobbling knees, the folded hem of my pants, the askew shoelaces, and a shadow. The shadow I suspected all along. Yes, it was him.
I limply lifted my hand as the guard approached warily. But he need not fear me. I had eyes only for that grotesquely masked face standing atop the projecting stairwell. The note I clutched between my fingers fluttered. I let it fly with the gust.