Tired from hours of shopping, Sheena sprinted to the porch and unlocked the main door. The moment she pushed the door open, she heard something that made her heart stop – a loud petrifying scream. Few droplets of sweat collected on her forehead, she sensed that the scream was coming from the kitchen and gradually got diffused all over, and now the entire house was reverberating with shrieks and howls. She was utterly scared and her feet were almost rooted to the floor.
Wheeling around, she turned to face the car and scampered towards it. She pulled the car key from her purse. Her fumbling hands pressed the button to unlock it. Just when she was about to duck to secure herself inside the car, she heard someone coming from behind and said, “Are you coming tonight?”. This sarcastic rhetorical question was followed by a loud laughter, which made Sheena nervous
It was her favourite month of the year: the rainy season. Sheena was sitting on the porch, which was partially covered with concrete roof sheets, with her legs folded sideways, her hands were swinging randomly and cutting across the thin stream of rain drops. Occasionally, tiny raindrops kissed her cheeks and glided down to touch her feet. For almost half an hour, she enjoyed the scene and heard the weather gurgle. It was Saturday, the day before dreaded Sunday, at least for her Sunday was not a fun day. One thing which Sheena loved about weekend was the evening before Sunday, for that gave her a sense of freedom and for that particular moment she neither had to worry about waking up early nor had to go to bed on time, for that moment was free from shackles.
Sheena, now 35, was an IT professional. She had been working in the same firm from past 10 years. Fortunately, so far, she was never once asked to shift the city for her department was located in Bangalore only, and company never thought of decentralization. She did not stop herself from taking advantage of this permanency and bought a nice two BHK flat on ground floor of a 10-storey building located in the middle of this metro city.
With her biological clock ticking, she was under unsurmountable pressure from her family for getting married. she never understood the perfect way to handle the situation, so she reduced the visits to her home town to once in a year. There was a time when Sheena could not live a minute away from her mother, and now, even after six months, she seemed perfectly fine.
With time, she developed a habit of enjoying her own company. Every day, after office hours, she would come home, make herself a lemongrass flavoured black tea with less sugar and relish its taste with one of the top 10 series on Netflix. The four walls of the flat had only seen, captured and buried deep inside them the movements and memories of Sheena. If any occultist had ever tried to suck the essence of that flat, he would have had gotten overwhelmed with her presence. There was so much of SHEENA everywhere. Even the flat was powerless when it came to contain this habit- the habit of enjoying oneself and forgetting the surrounding- of hers within its four walls. Sheena carried it everywhere and to everyplace she visited or stepped foot on.
The same Saturday afternoon, when she was in the office, she heard indistinct chatter coming from a group of people. There were ten of them, six men and four women. These were her colleagues. From the seriousness of their faces, it appeared that they were about to launch themselves for some covert operation. Sheena, from time to time, raised her head from her cubicle to check on all of them.
The interior of the office had a maze-like layout, and there were boundaries and each such boundary was risen from ground with the support of a thick ply board. Between each set of boundaries there were desks, each desk was separated by a perforated wall, which offered decent privacy. Our dear Sheena never once refrained from taking advantage of whatever privacy it offered.
From her cubicle, she could hear people rumbling around and creating chaos about something. She stayed put at her desk, pretending that she was engaged in some work. After a while, her oversensitive ears grasped sound of retreating footsteps, and many others following suit. She concluded that the meeting must be over; to her despair, it wasn’t actually the end, but the beginning of something vicious.
Again, she craned her head from her desk and found that each member from the group was scattered over the floor and approaching employees one by one with a piece of paper and was putting down some note. All of them retained the same intense look and moved forward professionally, no chit-chat, only business. Sheena was about to shrug off the whole situation as a nuisance when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw loquacious Mary inching forward in her direction with enthusiasm.
Sheena picked herself with care and slowly, without making any noise, she dislocated her bum from the chair and ducked even deeper and in that position tiptoed towards the nearest washroom. She entered the washroom and left the door ajar to stay updated with the turn of events.
The next thing was Mary enquiring everyone to locate Sheena but none was aware. Given the hopeless situation, Mary departed from her desk and moved to the next one in line. Sheena saw her withdrawal and passed a sigh of relief. That leech, she muttered under her breath. She sealed the door and waited in the washroom for 30 minutes. She anticipated that after half an hour the situation outside might normalize.
Once the set timeline expired, Sheena slightly opened the door and noticed that everyone was at their desk looking straight into the desktop screen. She gauged the situation ripe for her departure from stinky washroom.
She was strolling past and was happy. In her head, she was laying out plans for the evening. Suddenly, she was ambushed by the group and taken to her desk. They made her sit and unfolded a sheet of paper on her desk; apparently, it had several other entries. One of the group members offered her a blue ball pen and demanded her signature on it along with 2000 rupees of contribution. Sheena wanted to retaliate but she thought better of it. She shoved her hand inside her bulky hand bag and pulled out a brown leather wallet. She flapped it open and looked at it intently and thought to herself, “Ohh! God! This will deplete my shopping fund.”
“Hey! What are you thinking? Now, draw 2000 rupees cash. Do it now,” one of the group members demanded.
“Taking note of your inconsistencies, we have to come ourselves and demand it rightfully," said another group member.
Her trembling hands pulled out the cash and offered it to the man, and also made an entry on the sheet. Once she was done, all of them departed at once but Mary.
“Hey, dear! I am so glad that you finally did it. So, are you coming tonight? You must come after all you have made a good amount of contribution. Didn’t you?” said Mary. Thereafter, she withdrew like a bee swarm depart once their purpose is fulfilled.
This whole process drove her berserk. She lumbered around, blinking stupidly, thinking of a perfect way out. She left the office earlier than usual and everyone was shocked to see her break the routine. She drove the car on high speed and every so often broke traffic rules. The digital clock flashed 4:00 pm when she reached home. She sat down on the porch to enjoy the drizzle for a while.
“They all looked adamant, they may come searching for me. I must leave. I can pass time in the mall and if I get call from them, I shall tell that today was first day of sale and I did not want to miss good stuff. Yeah! That sounds perfect. Go Girl!” she said to herself, and sounded quite satisfied with the justification she was planning to offer for her absence.
She booked a cab instead of driving down in her own car. Perhaps, she was too tired to drive in a road laden with cars, bikes and buses. She asked the cabbie to put on a soothing music and enjoyed her ride.
The colourful radiant ambience of the mall felt like a breath of fresh air to her. Though, it was stacked tightly with people – the weekend rush- she was fine with that for she was not obliged to entertain anyone. She can ignore them, brush them aside, or pull a funny face at them.
She meandered around and checked the stores which had displaced ON SALE on the entrance. Around 9 pm, she felt like going back and then booked herself a ride. The cab driver pulled over in front of the building and from there she walked with her hands occupied with fat shopping bags which were vomiting chintzy clothes. She noticed the guard rise from his position and walk towards her. She changed her direction; she was not in mood to talk. Not today, uncle, she mumbled.
She scurried towards the door and ignored the guard, which made him retreat.
“Surprise!” said Mary. She smiled from ear to ear and hugged Sheena. “Where were you? Ohh! Shopping. I knew you are a trendy girl.”
“Mary, what are you guys doing here? I don’t like such jokes. I mean, you know I don’t have maid. I will have to clean the mess on my own” grunted Sheena. Her face looked deprived of life.
“Ohh! Come on! Do you really think we will make you clean it on your own? Let’s go inside, now. Everyone is waiting for us. It is Saturday night, woohoo!” Mary exclaimed.
Mary pulled Sheena inside wherein few were standing and talking and rest were sitting on couch. All of them were busy doing something until Sheena appeared.
“Finally! She made it,” said Anjali. She was pleased as punch to see Sheena.
“Anjali, did you really think that we were gonna spare her this time,” declared Ajay. He mimicked Michael Jackson and performed moonwalk which was followed by a tornado spin.
“Bravo, Ajay. Your plan and you rock,” Mary commended Ajay.
“I appreciate the effort. Though, I was a bit skeptical at the outset but it unfolded just the way we imagined. And, Mary, your prophecy materialized. She did go for shopping. Why on earth would you waste a Saturday night on shopping?” Roy pulled funny faces on Sheena while he expressed himself.
Everyone started to pass comments one by one and Sheena heard all of them until her head started to spin and their comments became background noise and slowly faded. She fainted.
When Sheena regained consciousness, she was lying on her bed and all of them were sitting around her.
“I am really sorry guys. I ruined your evening. I am not used to having so many people at once, so I got nervous and flustered," apologized Sheena.
“Hey! It is alright. We just wanted to hang out with you. And, seriously that contribution and everything was just part of our plan. We thought that may be a good contribution would force you to join us,” explained Anjali.
“But, look! it did not even help us that much. I don’t know, but something about you tipped me off about that. So, I stole one of the keys of your flat from the key ring when you were missing from your desk and organized everything here,” said Mary. She rolled her eyes while her big mouth continued to spill the beans.
“Look, guys, I know you tried hard to involve me. But I don’t enjoy loud music and gatherings. It makes me restless. I don’t know why does this happen. Whenever I attend any party, my social battery drains out within minutes and I just feel like hitting the bed. When I was younger, I tried to change myself, but ended up killing my self-esteem. Then I met someone who made me understand that it is always better to stay the way you are and right people will find means to stick around,” said Sheena. She tried to put her feeling in words just to give a nice justification for her actions.
“Whooo! This is the first time she has spoken this much. Shall I bring energy drink! Just kidding,” grinned Ajay.
“I think, I understand you. Actually, it was my idea no one else to be blamed for my stupidity. Last year, my elder sister was diagnosed with chronic depression. That made me feel bad, really bad. I wasn’t not available when she needed me. So, I decided to be available to those who don’t ask for any help. I though you stay quiet and perceived that silence as a sign of depression….” Mary told and her eyes welled up with tears.
“No problem, Mary. I am glad that I have people who think about me.” Sheena consoled Mary.
“You know what! We all live away from our family. Daily stress, burnout, scolding from boss and other stressful events make us pressure cooker. So, we hang out on weekends to release that pressure, or else we all will burst. You should also give it a try,” Ajay tried to persuade Sheena.
Thereafter, one by one, every member departed from the flat to leave Sheena enjoy some me time.
Anjali and Mary drove back home in one car, and others chose to walk.
“Hey, Mary. Why didn’t you mention the incident when Sheena was hiding in the washroom to avoid us? that’s so uncharacteristic of you,” asked Anjali.
“Because then she would have been mortified, and we were there to make her feel good,” said Mary. She smiled graciously. "And, my sister never had depression. I just made it up to make Sheena feel at home, so that wouldn't confuse herself with weird."
After listening to Mary, Anjali paused for a moment and mused over the conversation. She pulled over in front of her house.
"Mary, everyone needs a friend like you. No one could have understood her but you, for only you understand how much effort it takes to change your entire personality just to gel with a bunch of people."
"It does take a lot of effort. Good night, Anjali. Take care"