Ria looked around the beautiful building. The walls and the roofs all must be having stories buried in them, she wondered. The architecture was awesome. The building was tiled; they looked like Kota stone tiles and looked extremely elegant. Why on earth were they demolishing it? Of course, health clubs were a fad these days and who wouldn’t want money? Pity, the building had to go, she could never understand the value of money over sentiments or emotions. Or maybe it was she was too emotional. They were taught not to get attached to the patients they worked with but she couldn’t help it. Last week she was helping a juvenile delinquent charged with drug abuse and alleged molestation…the guy was only 17. He was usually angry and quiet and during the course of his sessions wherein he was accompanied by the social worker and his mother, she had found out he was from a broken home with an alcoholic father who battered his mother. She had landed up convincing the mother too to come on board for the treatment and the boy had been thrilled. Within a week he had shown positive changes and an eagerness to reinvent himself. Even yesterday after she had supervised their sessions, she had cried her eyes out in the bathroom. She wasn’t weak hearted but these events just got the better of her.
The water drops blown by the wind fell on her face threatening to drain away her makeup and she jolted back to the present. She walked in with the rest of the groups as they made their way to the party hall.
The stairs of the old building attracted her. They were broad spaced and had a side ramp as well for the wheeling up something like a stretcher or a wheel chair. The building didn’t have an elevator but compared to the current hospital where she worked, this was more spacious. That’s it…she didn’t want to think of work this evening. As the blast of the dance songs filled the air her spirits too lifted up. She wanted to let her hair down. She let go the melancholy and joined Preeti on the dance floor. The little elevated dias was artificially made, Ria could see.. probably just for todayThe senior staff members were having a slow dance or some of them were just chatting in groups already busy hitting the snacks and drinks.
Ris swayed to her favourite song the remixed ‘Saki saki…’ She was no Nora Fatehi but loved to gyrate sensually like the dancer herself. Her father never liked his daughters dancing. Ria loved dancing but since it was looked down upon in her home she could never try out anything. She did though occasionally behind closed doors in her room whenever her parents were not at home. She found it extremely cathartic. Sometimes Pooja joined her as well but she didn’t fancy dancing. Ria had practised some mean moves over a period of time but couldn’t get a chance to showcase them. Today she did and she wasn’t going to let it slip away.
After about an hour she had danced to her hearts content. She had never felt so free in a while. It was as if the barriers of her life were broken and she was a free bird. She wanted to leave the turmoil of her work and personal life behind and just savour the moment. Tusshar and Preeti too danced with her and gradually they were joined by her other colleagues who started to follow her lead. Some of the senior staff members also joined them. She was thrilled to the core. She stopped bothering about how wheatish her complexion was, how fat her backside was or how the freckles on her shoulder didn’t suit her or how she was supposed to behave or not to behave. Today, at this moment she was liberated… from every damn stereotypical cocoon and she just wished time would stop right there. Once in a while she felt Tusshar coming too close or the other accounts guy who the hots for Preeti had too tried to feel her up. Ria knew her larger than normal backside was often a butt of jokes besides her complexion and she often wore tight fitting jeans. Preeti often told her it looked sexy but she wasn’t convinced. Today however she was sure the gown brought it up even more… Preeti had teased her about being the Cinderella looking for her prince. It was strange that the guys who probably laughed at her dearie wanted to feel it today… she though disgustingly. It was tough dancing avoiding the touchy feelies but she wasn’t going to mar her pleasure for these chauvinistic idiots who thought they were a blessing to womanhood by just being born. Somehow Swara was conspicuous by her absence. Off late the receptionist hadn’t been her usual flirty or chirpy self… not that Ria was concerned. But she had thought Swara would be there today. The lady loved to show off her booty!
About what seemed like hours, she was exhausted. Her legs were calling it quits and the gown felt tight trying to strangle her so she decided to take a break for a drink. She drifted away from the dance floor. Preeti’s heels which were a bit tight on her feet were stinging her toes and she longed to sit somewhere. She saw a few chairs arranged in the circular edges of the hall. She chose a mock tail and some starters to go with it. She strutted to the chair where she had kept her bag balancing the food plate and her glass on the plate. The crowd had considerably thinned. Those who had come in their vehicles must have left she assumed. She quickly looked around. Everyone was drinking and dancing. The dance floor was getting stuffy with the crowd as well as the overbearing blend of different perfumes and stinky sweat. Ria wanted to throw up as she saw Preeti who was on her 5th beer. The girl loved her poison and looked like she was hitting it good. Ria shuddered wondering how Preeti would drive her home… maybe she would have to resort to booking a cab or worse comes worse go to Preeti’s house which was closer from the old building than hers. Tusshar had hit the unmanned bar as soon as he had reached and was down quite a few pegs. The management had been generous Ria smiled looking around. As she popped in a hara bhara kabab she thought how had struggled to keep Tusshar and some other male colleagues away from coming too close. She often thought of… him though. Would he have noticed her if he had come to the party? What would he think of her outfit? Ria shook her head. The guy had humiliated her for crying out aloud, messed up with her work thoroughly. She shouldn’t even think of it anymore… she was definitely disillusioned for two years before joining the hospital. What was she even thinking? Her colleagues would have a field day pulling her leg or even worse calling her choicest names and she would become the top flavour of the hospital grapevine. She was slowly patching up with them, getting them to trust her… She needed the job and couldn’t antagonise her colleagues in any way. She was enjoying her goodies looking at her friends burning up the dance floor when she felt as if she was being watched. She had felt that while dancing as well but had let it go, not wanting to dampen her fun. She looked around the hall but couldn’t connect with anyone she thought could be staring at her. The haunted place must be affecting her psyche… Ria let the eerie feeling go and returned to her drink. After a while, once again the hair on her neck stood.
She felt she had enough as she checked her watch. It was late approaching 10.30PM and she longed to go home. She peeped out of a window. The downpour was bad and the outside compound was filled with a foot of water. The roads were not visible for a distance and she was alarmed. They had to rush before it was late, otherwise they would be stranded. A wave of fear took over as Ria rushed to Preeti and yelled over the music “HURRY UP…WE HAVE TO LEAVE” Preeti squinted at her. She was heavily drunk and kept dancing. It took her a good 15 minutes to gather other sober members, the seriousness of the situation gradually dawning on them. The bus cleaner too arrived at the same time asking them to call it quits because of the worsening weather. The driver, who had been dozing off on a bed lying in a corridor, was called in to get the bus close to their exit. The senior staff members had left a while ago in another bus and only the young crowd from her bus and a couple of vans was left at the premises. The vans had trouble wading through the waters so all those people were to be accommodated on her bus… Oh God she had to rush to catch a seat otherwise she wouldn’t be able to feel her feet. They all rushed to collect their belongings as the bus driver hurried to fetch the bus from where he had parked it.
Ria wanted to take a leak badly and gestured to Preeti hoping that she understood her considering her inebriated state. She wanted to tell some other girl but her bladder was threatening to burst any momenta and the act was anyways not going to be easy with the figure hugging gown. She took her bag and rushed to the nearest washroom and there were three other girls before her in the queue. Her urgency was driving her nuts adding to the anxiety of being able to reach home and she wanted to use the loo quickly. She thought, this was a hospital…. They were on the first floor actually they were above the basement so technically the ground floor…. there had to be many more bathrooms. She couldn’t risk going alone to explore the dark wings on the current floor. There should be something exactly similar upstairs right above. She decided to go for it. There was no more time to waste.
Ria found the stairs and gathered her gown and bag. Then using the light from her mobile phone she rushed upstairs. She was right. There was a washroom exactly above the first floor one. However her happiness was short lived. The washroom was locked. As she looked around she saw there was light on the third floor. There had to be a washroom there. She heard the bus honk as it drew closer to pick them up outside. She had to rush and there was no time to inform anyone. She quickly panted her way upstairs to the third floor. There was a washroom and it was open after all… thank you God!! Ria quickly looked around. The washroom was only dimly lit outside; however the cubicles were still dark. She was forced to use her mobile flashlight. With great struggle balancing her bag and the dress, she relieved herself and as she emerged out of her cubicle, her dress frills got stuck on a door hinge. There must have been a nail. She tried pulling carefully to avoid tearing it but with her bag in her hand it was a difficult task.
A cold sweat broke out on her forehead and she mopped it away with her forearm as she thought the bus was probably filled by now. Her dress was already sticking to her body and she hated the claustrophobic feel, she couldn’t help the panic rising. She looked around and in the dim light saw discarded hospital furniture stored nearby. All had rough rusted edges. She had to be careful. She kept her bag down. The floor was dirty but she had no choice. She tried pulling again but the dress remained stuck. She heard the bus honking… Oh God, they must be waiting for her. To hell with the dress… she pulled with all her might. Suddenly the dress frill tore free and she was thrown backward by the force. She tried to balance herself but it was too dim for her to see the obstacles before it was too late. Something pierced across her leg cutting through her calf and she fell with a scream her forehead hitting the tiled wall as she fell.
The last she remembered in the excruciating pain was the bellowing horn of the bus before darkness claimed her.
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