He bumped into two kids ambling slowly on the footpath. Why can't people design a machine which would suddenly make children twenty-one once they crossed three, thought Nutty to himself as he suppressed a curse. He was almost there, one minute to the lift and three minutes thereon, should be there not more than a minute late thought Nutty, when a cold sweat broke over him. The ID card! In one swift move, he transferred the reports from one hand to the other, dug into his left pocket, transferred the whole thing onto his left hand and dug into the right pocket. Still not there. All was not lost, the guard knew him, so he could do it but it would be embarrassing. Then, in a last ditch effort he looked into his wallet. Vinayaka be blessed, he thought, as he triumphantly retrieved his blue and white card.
He put the reports in the briefcase and straightened himself out. He gave a sigh of relief. He ran to the elevator and called the shabby looking lift. This lift was the worst part of Nutty's day. It was one of those old lifts which were being removed everywhere and replaced by the sleek chromium coloured lifts by OTIS or JOHNSON or some such manufacturer. Years ago it had had a green interior. Now it just looked plain dirty. It had two iron grill bars, both had coats of black paint which were peeling off. If the inner was closed without the outer first closed, it made an ear piercing ambulance-like wail, a wail so irritating that Nutty felt like strangling the person closest to him so that the “stranglee's” shout would drown this. In addition, the siren's fluctuating sound made him feel hot. Regulars never did that mistake, it was always the newcomers. In his better moods, the siren had brought memories of Kill Bill and then Pulp fiction and he half expected 'Vince' Vega and Jules to greet him at the ground floor.
The main cause of irritation was the lack of space. It was a small lift, maybe 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet. But during rush hour around fifteen to eighteen people stepped in. It was a gross violation of the permitted capacity. Nobody minded, actually. It had borne this load for as long as anyone could remember. In fact, people agreed heartily when a regular justified crowding on the grounds that lift design included a generous factor of safety anyway!
He whistled tunelessly waiting for the lift, when suddenly, out of nowhere, an Angel appeared. He took a deep breath. To add to his discomfort, she came and stood right behind him. He blinked twice and then looked away realizing he was being rude. She was fair, petite and had jet black hair. It struck him he had not given the beauty her due and should have another glance, purely for aesthetic reasons, and he turned round. When he had been in his world, a crowd had gathered behind him. As these things go, the burly and hearty Raman had also just arrived and he too was standing behind him, more importantly completely overshadowing the Angel. Raman bellowed, ”You too here eh? Was expecting you to bug me on my cell phone for being late. Being professional and all that jazz. I always like a meting between late risers. har har har”. Nutty smiled back at Ramon. There was a life in his laughter and he couldn't help joining him. As the twelve-thirteen people packed themselves into the lift, Nutty realized that he had lost the Angel behind Raman's bulk. For the rest of the tortuous journey up, he would have to be content with looking at the top of her head. He noticed that she got off the lift at the 6th floor. Good, he thought. Nutty and Raman got off at the 8th floor. The meeting was quite ho-hum.
The routine with the Angel continued for around two weeks. Whenever, they both were in the lift, there were always twelve, thirteen others. It is quite difficult to start an epic romance in such a fashion, Nutty thought angrily. For the two-three times, they were together, he could only manage the top of her head or the upper part of her back. By now, the Angel's had acquired a personality of its own. Her hair was not very long but it cascaded till about half her back. With familiarity comes more curiosity and Nutty wondered if the front was as perfect as this. Doubts gnawed him but there was no way he could find out. The 6th floor had an ad agency. He knew no one there and there was no way he could feign an excuse and go there. For one, the ad agency owned the whole floor and there could be many divisions. Mistakenly walking out was ruled out as ID cards were scrutinized properly. Plus he had read in the Reader's Digest that the Japanese had a word called Bakku-shana – a woman who looked good from behind but not from front. This simple snippet acted in his mind like a corroding acid whenever he was admiring the hair.
One Saturday he had to come to work. Cursing his fate, Nutty dragged himself to the office drudgingly. As he was waiting for the lift,the cell phone rang. He picked it up and started talking to an old friend and got into the lift and suddenly heard that horrible wail. He looked up with mild rage on his face and suddenly he missed a breath. Could it be... yes... indeed it was the Angel herself and no one else was there. He gasped for breath, opening and closing his mouth like a fish. The Angel finaly closed the lift and the wailing stopped. To a Neutral Observer the scene would have played out like this.Girl closes the wrong grill mistakenly, mind numbing wail, girl doesn't know what to do, turns round to seek help, sees a man with a frown suddenly stop talking, man's eyes widen and he gawks like an idiot, man looks about, throws his arms in all directions (?!!!), by this time girl figures out and closes the door.
After the siren had died out, she regained her composure and looked at him with a mixure of bewilderment and disgust for his behaviour. Unfortunately, whatever may have been the angel's talents, reading other people's minds was not and she could not have fathomed the churning within him. Nutty's mind was plunged into turbulence. “Are you single?” “Are you free tonight?” “Or better,Pickup lines!” “My love for you is like diaarhoea, I just can't hold it in... naaa... too bad... how about just “Come here often?”... Good, he thought and said it. Said would be the wrong words, for a sound vaguely resembling “Cccome” came out, then a cough and the rest of the sentence went something like "Here Often?" But the Angel thought it was a sarcastic comment. Realising that, Nutty said, “The lift... it happens. I mean we all do such mistakes. Mistakes are to be made. It is human to err”. She just raised her eyebrows in response. Finally, in resigned state, he just said, “Hi, I am Sriram, friends call me Nutty. I work in this building”. She nodded her head and said,”I can understand that. Anyway, I am Diya and I am interning for the ad agency on the 6th floor. Oops, my floor has arrived”. She smiled, a polite one, and got off.
Nothing more than a cursory smile was possible during weekdays but he always made the Saturday trip when they usually had the lift to himself. (Unfortunately, she never came to work on Sundays) This had been going on for around five weekends and he pretty much knew all about her from these lift meetings. She had been born and brought up in a foreign country but was spending her summer here. Thought it would be fun to do an internship and meet a lot of people and so had landed up in that agency. She was enjoying her work and wanted a career in the field and things like this. The next weekend she dropped a bomb, when she casually remarked, “The next weekend will be my last weekend here. Have a lot of fun events planned this week.” (Thousand Watt smile) That is when it struck him it had not occurred to him to take the relationship to the next level. He felt as if some huge weight had fallen on him. He kicked himself for just being “Lift Buddies” with her!
The sleeping Tamil Tiger in him (No connection to any famous organizations!) had been awoken. He had to settle this issue and he would not take no for an answer. By now he knew which department she worked for and called her.
"Hello", a now familiar voice answered the phone,"May I know who is this?', the voice continued with a tinge of puzzlement. "Hi, It is Nutty here", spluttered the caller.
"Was wondering if you could squeeze in a lunch with me amidst your busy schedule and all...?"
"Oh, that would be a pleasure!", Diya squealed.
"McDonald's?", suggested Nutty.
"Great! Will be there in 45 minutes. Okay?" "
"Purrrfect, in fact! I have a couple of things to attend to. We'll meet at the ground floor. Bye then!", said Nutty
"Byeee", relied Diya in a sing song manner.
They both gave a look of surprise and burst out laughing simultaeneously.
"Is this a dream?", Nutty asked.
"I KNOW... How surprising is this? Talk about one in a million probabilities!", Diya said.
"So how have you been?", Nutty asked as he pressed the button for the 44th floor.
"Great! You haven't changed one bit!", Diya replied as she reached for the 40th floor button.
She DID look great, Nutty thought to himself. She had put on some weight, but then both of them had. She now looked more like a professionally succesful woman, a marked difference from the wide eyed, wet-in-the ear intern he had been smitten by.
There was an awkward pause for a moment. The elevator counter showed 20th floor.
"I am now a copyrighter for this ad agency. We are new to this field and run more like a startup", she said as she flashed her thousand watt smile.
"I am still in Insurance. Here to meet a client", said Nutty.
"So what happened that day... remember we had an appointment for lunch at..."
"McDonalds", she finished the sentence for him. "I know... I was suddenly called off for some work by a really senior guy. It was really important and all... and that day I went home really late! I felt bad about it and tried to reach you the next day..."
"Ha ha ha... when you wouldn't have found me as I had to fly off for a week at short notice, to meet a big ticket client and thrash out a deal!"
"The victims of modern commerce, I guess", Diya giggled.
"Hey, so what about catching dinner today. We can exchange notes on our lives?", Nutty asked, expectantly.
"Hmm...", Diya thought for a while. She was especially cute when she was thinking, the pursing of the lips, the concentration in the eyes.
"I have a dinner with my fiancee... what about lunch?"
Nutty suddenly swallowed hard. He felt a sinking feeling in the stomach, the kind of feeling you get when you realise that the chair that you were supposed to sit on has been suddenly removed and you are already falling, so you really cannot do anything but fall.
He felt hot inside and was reminded of the siren back in the old lift at his office.
"Yes.. yes... wait... actually no. Oh Damn no. I have a lunch meeting with this client! Damn it!", he flushed
"That's okay. It was just SO great talking to you. We'll work something out. Byeee", as she walked off the lift and perhaps from his life.