Ritesh got into the car, at the basement of their apartment building. They had to get to the other end of town for the wedding reception, and they were already running late. He looked at his wrist watch for the 3rd time when Alka called.
“I’m so so sorry, honey. I got stuck in this godawful meeting and… anyway, where are you?”
“In the basement, bringing the car out, just as I'd told you. Are you here yet? I’m just coming up. I'll pick you up at the gate.”
“Yeah, I'm in the building. But sweety, please give me 10 minutes? I'll dash upstairs and change my saree. Just 10 minutes.”
“Ok, but what’s wrong with the one you’re wearing. Moreover... you look good in anything.” Ritesh laughed playfully.
Alka had indeed worn a saree to office, as it was ethnic day for her team. But she wanted to change into another one.
“Ha..flattery. Are you nuts? In this saree? No way..Ok, bye.”
“Hey,wait, listen..” Ritesh started.
But she’d hung up. Must be rushing like mad now. Ritesh hoped the elevator didn’t act up today. He also had a couple of things to tell her, but remembered just one. He wondered what the other thing was. Oh well..he’d remember. Wasn’t earth shattering anyway. He pulled the car out of the basement.
Alka found the door open and pushed it. God, this Preeti. How many times to remind her to lock the door from inside?
Preeti was their cook who normally came in around this time and cooked supper for them. She wondered why she was here now. They weren’t going to eat supper at home anyway. Maybe Ritesh asked her to come prepare stuff for the following morning?
She heard Preeti tinkering around with vessels in the kitchen. It was around 6.30; and some natural light was still around, so she didn’t bother with the lights. And moreover, she didn’t have the time to think. She changed quickly and came to the living room a few minutes later.
“Preeti?” She called out and headed to the door without waiting for a response.
She wore her slippers and was about to step out when she remembered she’d forgotten the keys at the dining table. Usually, Preeti handed over her set of keys to the neighbor, so Alka always kept theirs with them.
She turned and jumped out of her skin, a hand on her chest. Preeti was standing right behind her, her hand outstretched, keys in hand.
“Gosh, you scared me. Respond…at least,” She laughed nervously, took the keys from Preeti and rushed out. She wanted to give a couple of instructions to the girl, and also warn her about the door, but she didn’t want to hold up Ritesh anymore.
“Ok…bye. Be careful around the house,” she said. Preeti smiled and nodded. She was always the quiet girl, rarely spoke. Alka left the door open and rushed down the stairs, saree and all. She wouldn’t do this normally, but today was an exception.
She was on the first floor when her cell rang. She had several missed calls on her display. She then looked at the ringing number and frowned. Ritesh.
“Baby, have you left already?”
“Yeah..I mean, I’m on the stairs. Why?”
“I forgot my business card holder honey. Can you please get it? Rakesh wanted a few, for some of his clients. We’re meeting him at the function, so…”
“Oh, Ritesh..no,” Alka protested. “I’ve come down half way.”
“Please, baby?” Ritesh coaxed. She sighed and ran up again.
She was standing in front of their door now; noting thankfully it was locked from inside. Just then, Ritesh called again.
“What have you forgotten now?”
Ritesh laughed. “Oh nothing. Just remembered. Preeti’s father called today from her number, said she was very sick and they had to take her to the village. We should call and inquire…”
“What?” Alka said, freezing in her tracks. “That’s impossible.”
Just then, she heard a click, and the door to their flat opened on its own.
Slow... and fully wide…with a gentle creaking sound.