Dust covered the maroon living room walls, which gave them a slightly brownish appearance. A teakwood sofa set spread out in an L-shape with a broad table in the centre; a cabinet with lots of space for books and showpieces made up the living room.
There were elaborate carvings on the wood that gave the interiors a traditional European look and feel. The smell of ageing wood consumed Anahita’s olfactory senses; she did not like it. The ceiling was higher than usual, and that made her feel smaller and trapped. Keshav waited outside as it did not feel right to enter when she was alone inside.
Anahita looked at the maroon curtain that separated the living room from the rest of the apartment. I should get rid of that ugly thing. She drew the curtain to one side and felt something sticky clinging to her fingers from the fabric. Once she drew the curtains apart, the living room extended into a larger space that she could use as a dining area.
She scanned one corner of the area to the other, traversing from the kitchen door on the left to the three doors that led to different rooms on the right. She heard footsteps in the living room. Probably Keshav.
Anahita opened the first door from the right that led to a study room with a large wooden shelf meant for a library or an office room. There were lots of books in the room. The large French windows faced east, and she assumed they gave a magnificent view early in the morning. She pulled the door to shut it and walked to the next one.
The second room looked like a bedroom, but it did not have any furniture like the other ones, just a large window on the Eastern side. The room was a perfect square with the same maroon painted walls.
Who would paint their walls maroon? Anahita wondered as she closed the door and looked at the ceiling, walking over to the third door. She turned the knob, but it was jammed. She jiggled it, but the knob wouldn’t budge.
Maybe it needs more strength or a key?
After a few minutes of radio silence, Anahita turned around and was about to walk out of the place when she heard a small clatter behind her. Instinctively, she turned back towards the door. It was now ajar. A putrid odour wafted out through the gap.
Absent-mindedly, Anahita nudged the door open and entered the large rectangular bedroom. There was a vintage writing desk on the left, while a beautiful cot dominated the room. Unlike the other rooms, this one was purple and there were patches of paint peeling off the wall. She felt at ease at once, as if an invisible force was putting her to sleep; a warm touch that promised to show beautiful dreams if she closed her eyes. The feeling that one would get moments before an afternoon siesta.
She liked the room. There was a bedside table. She had already decided that she would keep her favourite photo-collage on that table. No, it was as if the photo always belonged there. Anahita reeled with a sense of déjà vu.
I must have been here before. Did I come here for an ad shoot? Was it that short film where I played a part? Did I come here with Mehr on one of those parties and got so drunk that I woke up in my hotel room or her bedroom? How can I forget something that happened only as recently as nine years ago? Has my anxiety disorder eaten so deeply into my cognitive abilities that I can’t recollect from memory?
Her left eye welled up, the right one almost on the brink.
Anahita wiped the tear and glanced at the dark-coloured curtain on the eastern side. She pulled it to reveal a glass door that opened to the balcony. It was then that she realised it had become very cloudy outside. It could rain any moment. The glass door had an old-style latch.
Behind her, she felt someone move. Warm breath fell on her bare skin, just below her neck. Who...?
“You must leave,” a male voice echoed in the empty room.
Anahita turned. It was Keshav. He was standing with a phone in his hand. “Your husband just called, madam. We must go back and pick him from the office. Are you done here?”
“Yes. Yes, in fact I was about to come out,” Anahita told the driver. “Let us go.”
Anahita Anand and Keshav exited the room. The door closed behind them and, unbeknownst to them, so did the curtain on the glass door.
Excerpted with permission from Dakhma, K Hari Kumar, HarperCollins India.