He knew the door to the terrace didn’t creak when opened. He had opened it often. Without a thought, he took a left and then a right along the big water tank and proceeded to find his usual place. The terrace floor, like most of the terraces in the city was a broken tile mosaic; apparently it prevented water leaking into the house, when rain badgered it three months every year.
He had no tape measure but he knew exactly where he could sleep. A shard of a black tile shaped like Italy was north-west; the orange shard that was one half of a handlebar moustache was south-east, and such. Four corners marked his sleeping space. And while an open sky and closed stars dominated that moment before he closed his eyes, that didn’t disorient him. There should have been a ceiling fan whirring against the white ceiling, but it didn’t matter much. The memory of many an event on the other side of that surface were his markers. Each tile, fifteen feet below held a fading emotion. He had been coming to this terrace for years now, but today, he almost didn’t make it. He smiled, as a shudder tickled him in a place he wasn’t bothered to notice.
They had changed the security company.
The watchman of the gate was not asleep, completely. His eyes were closed, and a general ennui seemed to hover around him. Yet, something about him was awake, and worse, alert. The small creaking of the gate handle never woke the usual guy. He could not risk waking the new guy. He decided not to use the gate. Perhaps he could wait when a car came in late and tailgate while the sleepy head slowly closes the door. He was not sure how long he could wait for a car; he wasn’t sure if a car would come at all.
Risking the creaky handle was the best option.
It didn’t wake the new watchman. He opened the door in less than a minute, which seemed like more than an hour. As he darted through the parked cars, he realised that the watchman at the lift would be new too. He prayed that he was an old guy working two jobs and that this was his second. He made his way to the entrance of the third wing of the building. A wiry young guy was smoking a beedi at the entrance.
Five minutes passed. He lit another beedi. He was bit surprised. Cigarette smokers would usually light up one after the other, beedi smokers seldom did that. Another ten minutes and the crouching made his legs heavy as lead. Why is this excuse for a watchman awake, he wondered; even if he had to prove something no one is watching, but a miscreant like me — and he does not know it! Why does he not sleep like everyone else? He finally spread his legs and rested on the passenger side of the Silver Honda. Twenty minutes passed, and the bundle of wires that was the watchman left his seat to drink water.
All life came back to his tired legs and he stood up sprightly behind the silver Honda. He made a dash for the lift. He knew he could not use the lift, because the lights and the sound of the doors would draw attention, but at least he was in the wing’s entrance. He moved towards the staircase and peeked to see where the watchman was.
Still at the tap.
Seventeen floors. The terrace is the eighteenth floor. That’s 468 steps.
A man does much to get back home. Once he travelled a lot to go to work and come back. Today it is only 468 steps. If he took two seconds to conquer one step, it would take him approximately fifteen minutes. But that’s uniform motion. LOng ago he had been taught the fallacy of uniform motion; it didn’t exist – it was only a concept for the laboratory. Come ninth floor and he would take more than two seconds for every step.
Time is all I have and I can spend it at will, he thought to himself, as he started up the staircase. Because he didn’t have a watch, he did not know how long it took him to reach the terrace. It seemed to him that he took as much time as always, in spite of his heavy legs. When he saw the door to the terrace, all pain seemed to vanish.
He closed his eyes, imagining the ceiling fan. He tossed and turned between Italy and the handlebar moustache. A few years ago, it was different. Perhaps he imagined it all; perhaps it was real. It didn’t matter however, because he felt at home. He had struggled to get home, so this was as real as it could be.