I was almost prepared to go to bed when I thought a frail whimper fell on my ears. Alone in the quiet room I stopped the rubbing of cream on my feet and held my breath to listen in. And I heard another moan. I got off the bed and went close to the window to see if there was anyone in the balconies around or the lawns in my sight. I tried to look across the expanse of the silent chilly night but there was no one visible. Now that my senses had converged on the sound, I heard the draggy words “Give me water!” Shivers ran down my spine.
It was an old woman’s voice seemingly from the apartment above or below mine. A part of me was alarmed ever since the two recent suicides by elderly ladies in my block. I heard the call outs accompanied by recurrent knocks at some object. I instantly called up the security and asked them to check the houses above and below to know if anyone is in distress. The guard informed me that the house below mine is vacant so the only house to check is the one above. Little later, he came to my place along with his supervisor to apprise me that they rang the doorbell and the intercom multiple times with no avail yet the old lady’s voice was heard outside the house. I concluded that the lady is inside the same house so I asked the security to pull out the owner’s mobile number from their records, which they tried and couldn’t get through.
Not knowing what to do next, I went to my immediate neighbor to check if they happen to know anyone on that floor. The elderly lady from my neighboring house and I rang the bell to another apartment on the floor above, hoping they may know something that would help solve the mystery but the family wasn’t home. My mind played with all undesirable emotions and threw up permutations of evil probabilities.
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Now there wasn’t really much we could do except for breaking the door open or calling in the police, which didn’t look like prudent options in the absence of any concrete information. Dejected my neighbor looked at me and muttered “What has this world come to!” That’s when I gathered her fear was the same as mine. I was frustrated with the lack of closure but decided to go home and wait for the daybreak. I got into the bed, shut my eyes but all my senses were still trailing the sound. I prayed for the night to pass as quickly as it can and the next morning to not present anything mortifying.
Next morning I woke up to a call from security asking me if I needed any more assistance. I stepped out in my balcony and looked up towards the house simply out of curiosity, when I found a man sitting in the balcony with earphones plugged in. Overwhelmed I waved like mad at him and shouted for his attention. He smiled at me visibly amazed by my animated behavior. I told him without wasting any time “Listen! I am coming to see you. Please open the door to your house” I went up and narrated the entire story. He began with apologizing for not responding to door bells and phone calls. He said “I didn’t get to know that you were trying to reach me. I have pulled out my door bell and intercom. They don’t work.” I kept looking at him as he spoke. Then he said “No I am not anti-social. Just that I like to keep the noise levels low as much as possible. I keep my mobile phone on silent at night. I did see some missed calls from security and was about to call back before you saw me.” I was looking at his face tellingly, unintentionally forcing him to finish. He added “It’s hard for my mother to sleep at night.” I quickly jumped in “Oh so that’s your mother! Why can’t she sleep? And why was she asking for water all night?” He answered “Yes I came back from the US for my mother recently, moved to India because of her health conditions. She had a fall which resulted in a head injury. Now she suffers from cognitive disorder because of which she started to slip into depression. A single thought gets wedged in his mind and repeats itself. Last night her mind didn’t recognize that she had had gallons of water”.
The man detailed out his mother’s condition, the line of treatment her doctor is taking, the hospital visits, the prognosis and so on, while my heart was slowly getting clouded with guilt. I had conveniently cooked my own story where the son had seemingly abandoned his ailing mother and the mother was slowly dying in misery. My heart which was earlier cloudy by a perception was now raided by a hailstorm of guilt.
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