The Alter Ego
written by: Medha Godbole
She was standing at a crossing on the road, waiting to get to the other side. She was lightly tapping her feet, impatient. It was getting late for her on her first day at work as a Public Relations assistant. That was not her plan. The girl looked at her watch nervously. Then, as if finally, having made a decision, she took a deep breath, looked right and then left and she made a dash for it just as a car passed her by swiftly. In India, crossing a road in the peak hours in the morning in a metro city like Delhi is an even greater achievement than conquering Mount Everest.
Her office was in the commercial building just across the road. It was a two-minute walk after she had crossed over. Walking quickly, she checked her watch again and heaved a sigh of relief as she entered the building. She pressed the panel of buttons to call for the lift in the spacious and tastefully designed lobby dotted with plants and a dainty chandelier hanging from the ceiling. She would just about make it, she thought to herself. One more girl was there along with her, waiting for the lift. Both of them got into it together. She pressed the number 12 on the panel in the lift and waited. Following the typical lift behaviour, she looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds and then back to the button panel. The other girl just stood there and didn’t press any button. She calmly took her phone out from her purse and started checking her social media accounts.
The PR assistant took a deep breath as she took a closer look at the other girl. She was 20 something, had sharp features, with an oval face and complexion on the dusky side, average built, leaning towards slim with long hair. Her kohl-lined eyes had a distinct spark which added to her appeal. Overall, she seemed friendly. The PR girl parted her lips as if to say something, but stopped. This happened twice. She felt the other girl looking at her from the corner of her eye. Finally, she gathered courage to speak to her. Yes, speak to random people, and embarrass yourself, she muttered under her breath. After these encouraging words, just when she was about to awkwardly blurt out a ‘Hi’, the lift came to a jerking halt. She looked up at the lift and sighed in despair and exclaimed in rueful tone.
“Oh no, not today, damn it, of all the days, why did this thing have to breakdown today?”
She buried her head in her palms. The girl with the phone heard her and smiled. She tapped her on the shoulder.
“Umm, if it is any consolation, this is not the first time a lift has conked off on the face of this earth and you are not ‘The Eve’ when it comes to getting stuck in the lift. Relax. We will try and call the emergency service. We will hopefully get help and would be able to out of here. By the way, you mentioned today, of all the days. What did you mean by that?”
“Today is the first day of my job as a PR assistant. And the last thing I wanted was to be late. UGH! What am I going to do now?”
She sat down on the floor in hopelessness.
The other girl looked down at her with pity. Nodding her head in disapproval, she continued her rendezvous with her phone. Seconds later, as if having gotten an electric shock, she jumped a bit. She was reminded of the fact that there was a phone in the lift in case of an emergency. The phone she had mentioned to the PR girl, not even a minute ago. She promptly picked up the phone and was going to dial the number which was neatly stuck to the phone, when she noticed that the phone was dead.
She gave a thumbs up as the PR girl looked at her.
“Great, we have more time in the lift.”
The PR girl asked, visibly agitated.
“Well, the phone is dead.”
The PR girl rolled her eyes. The other girl plonked on the floor, next to her. The PR girl was getting restless by the minute. She was constantly shaking her head or moving her legs. This was punctuated by looking at her watch and the button panel in the lift. Minutes ticked by and there was an eerie silence. The PR girl checked her phone. She dialled the emergency number from her phone. But there was no response, because there was no network. She dumped her phone back in the purse, livid.
“Bloody hell, can’t even text my boss. Damn… What is it about this day?”
All this while, the other girl was chilling. She gave her a ‘what are you talking about woman’ look. The PR assistant gave her a ‘go ahead and spill it out’ kind of a look.
“Listen, can I tell you something? Look, I understand first day at work, yada yada, yada.. So what? Nobody desires from the bottom of their heart to be stuck in the lift. It’s just something which happens to zillions of people. You cannot do anything about it. So why not calm down, breathe and see what this space has to offer to us?”
The PR girl scoffed and nodded in disapproval.
“Sure, why not.”
She then took her phone out once again from her purse to see if there was any network available. No network. The phone gave her a message, loud and clear. Now completely frustrated, she dumped her phone in her purse. She had started feeling claustrophobic. She was finding it difficult to breathe. She stood up and punched the walls of the lift. That didn’t help and it worsened her condition. The other girl made her sit down. She started talking in a very calm and relaxing voice.
“Listen, try and breathe. Calm down. It is going to be alright. Just try and breathe. No matter what, just breathe and trust the process. Let go. Let go. Trust the process…Breath in and out..”
Her words seemed to have a hypnotic effect on the PR girl. She closed her eyes. With eyes closed, she remembered an incident which had happened years ago. She was in a similar unpleasant situation. She had always been one who was little short on patience and calm. A minor argument over her decision to go for a particular subject instead of what her mother wanted to, escalated into a heated argument. Things went to an extent where in a fit of rage, she had left her home with her mother alone. She had never even tried to get in touch after that. She had felt ashamed, scared, and guilty at the same time. She wondered if things would have been different if she would have been able to handle herself better. At that very moment, she got bitter and tears started flowing down her cheeks. She realized how much she had missed her mother. It was as if she had locked up that portion of her heart. Moments later, she opened her eyes, hot and salty tears still flowing, but she was completely relaxed. She had unblocked that portion of her mind. While she was wiping her tears lightly, she was astonished to see that the other girl had vanished. There was no one in the elevator, except for her. She looked around, in a daze, trying to get a grip on things. Nothing, nada. She was clueless. She could not make any sense of what had happened. She kept staring at the floor panel. Then she looked at the mirror which was at the back of the lift. She could hardly believe her eyes. She was flabbergasted at what she saw. She saw the other girl.
The kohl-lined eyes looked straight at her reassuringly, as if conveying that it is all going to be alright. Nothing is amiss. She blinked twice to make herself digest and believe what she saw. She even touched the mirror, tentatively. But there she was, still unperturbed, relaxed, and sorted. In fact, she thought that the person in the mirror had an uncanny resemblance with her mother. Just as she got a vague idea of what might have happened, the lift came to life with a buzz and the lights came on.
Then she got out on the 12th floor, confidently, knowing that her alter ego, with those shining eyes and infinite calm, was silently supporting her. She reached her desk and turned the monitor on. She was going to access her email when something struck her. She took her phone, got up from her chair and went to the lobby. She punched a number on her phone’s keypad, tentatively.
While she was waiting, contemplating, rehearsing, she was not sure what was going to happen. She was moving her leg constantly and biting her lip. Then there was a hello on the other side. A calm, melodious voice. “Naina, beta? Sab thik hai na? (All ok dear?)” Naina Malhotra couldn’t control herself. There was another bout of tears. This time, they were tears of joy.
Medha Godbole Singh
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