The sky thundered at 8:15 that night followed by the rain heavily pouring down. I was on my ocassional late evening strolls on the only open space of our apartment floor. The long narrow corridor belonging to all four families cohabiting the floor sufficed for the openness in my pandemic-hit, constricted city life. I do not have the luxury of more options, you see. But you are not interested to know what I do on these strolls; that is not the point at all. Rather, I want to talk to you about the neighbours from the building infront.
I cannot remember when, but we had an open view to the vast blue sky from our windows once. Then the building was constructed. It was not a very tall one though. It nevertheless substituted the sky we were used to. It took me a few years to get accustomed to this suffocation behind the bars. Gradually, I forgave the owners of the building whom I had secretly disliked and shifted my attention towards the two families who came and stayed infront of us.
We used to spend most of our morning and late-afternoon tea sessions these lockdowned days conjecturing: whether one of the families perhaps speaks Hindi, whether the creeper climbing down bears white gourds or spine gourds, that the other family possibily has a woman obsessed with cleaning her house excessively and so on. The families never knew they entertained us but they did. One of them also announced the passing of time with their loud religious prayers they sang hour after hour. We were much benefited indeed.
Amidst phases of despair, frustration, sighs, gossip and laughter, one morning we heard sounds outside. Upon inspection from our tiny little balcony, we saw both the families were packing their things, perhaps in order to shift to some other place. The packing frenzy went on for a few days. We wished it stopped soon; nobody likes to be spied by young men from moving-and-packing companies placed on the opposite terrace, while one sits down to some boring lunches now, does one?
Well, the hullabaloo finally stopped one day. The religious family went away silently. The other one left with a few loud and shrill ululations.We saw the last of the folks and things fade away in the distance.
That night, when the thunder and rain hit me at 8:15, it suddenly dawned on me how silent the building was. The verandahs, which would otherwise carry whispers of ritual telephonic conversations, a mother casually caressing her overgrown son, the long sighs of relief of the man returning from work, the clanging of the bells and the wisps of religious offerings, were eerily silent that night. There was nobody, not even any lights.
The overwhelming and all-consuming stillness reminded me how fleeting moments are. I realised how we had taken everything for granted.
That night at 8:15, when the thunder startled me and the falling rain drops lightly bet against my wearied cheeks, I missed them.