Continued from part 1…
It was his phone, vibrating to remind him about his call.
The stranger continued to stare at him, silently screaming out Incorrect Password. But Kavin had other things on his mind. He was running late for the online meeting that Sallie had scheduled but neither the laptop nor the man on the screen seemed to care. No-one was around and it did not help that he did not know anyone from IT. Seconds ticked by and the unfamiliar face began to feel less intimidating and perhaps a little more anxious to see what he would do next. Kavin entered every password combination that he could think of but it was futile. Five frustrating minutes had passed since the call had begun and he was about to give up when he remembered the greatest trick in computer history.
He pressed the power button and restarted the laptop.
Login worked, magically. No watchman greeted him this time. But there were forty unread e-mails and multiple pop-ups of meeting reminders and chat windows. Sallie had been waiting.
Kavin never liked taking calls from his desk. He was a drifter. Night shifts gave him the freedom to roam around the dark office illuminating it one cubicle at a time thanks to the motion sensor lights on the ceiling. They always impressed him. Most desks in the office were identical with their yellow pin boards and white coloured tables. Each cubicle had a desk phone and a large monitor for itself with grey coloured partition walls on either side that separated one from the other. This created a false sense of privacy which innocently encouraged the person seated to surf YouTube and secretly stalk other employees from behind the confines of their fortress of servitude. A few cubicles were decorated with plants and idols of gods and some were minimalist and functional. Others were outrageously crowded with toys, gifts and overgrown creepers along with company branded stickers and event tags. These cubicles were a reflection of the kinds of men and women that used them and perhaps their relationship with work. Some were overtly optimistic and passionate whereas others just saw this as means to an end. The office, for the large majority, was really an escape from the monotony of their personal lives and the predictable nature of time. Here, something unexpected always happened. The flavours of yogurt in the cafeteria changed every week like how interns from the marketing department wore a brand new dress every Friday. Every month, festivals were celebrated with dance events and cubicle decoration contests despite burning customer escalations and tight project deadlines. Hackathons, pot luck lunches, colour-themed attire days and even made up traditions like secret-santa were often organised by the enthusiastic HR team hoping to get every employee to brag about the company culture on review portals like Glassdoor. And on a good month, a company sponsored beer bash awaited every one of these cubicle owners.
But not for Kavin. Neither did the marketing team work night shifts, nor was yogurt available in the cafeteria after 7pm. As long as he worked these hours, he would never see the inhabitants of these desks or have the luxury of having his own. But that meant he could choose a new one every night, like the cubicle he had found for himself that night.
BN1073: ASHA R.
Kavin adjusted his headset as he lowered the height of the revolving chair. The call with Sallie was done half an hour ago and had gone well. There weren’t anymore calls scheduled, but he still continued to talk into the microphone. Asha was on the line. She wasn’t feeling sleepy and had called his cellphone, as usual.
‘Don’t you get bored sitting in the office all by yourself?’
‘It’s easier when I have good company to talk to.’ he said squeezing the yellow stress ball on her desk.
‘Oh I am sure Sallie gives you great company.’ she teased him.
He laughed it off. Sallie and him weren’t even friends. Kavin arched his chair backwards and stretched his legs onto the desk, careful to not kick the photo frame in the corner. It was of Asha with a lady in her mid forties, who probably was her mother. He thought of telling her that he preferred her company over that of Sallie’s. And that perhaps he thought of her more than a friend. He felt closer to Asha since their last dinner and wondered if she felt the same connection. Surely, she didn’t call all her friends this late at night?
‘But no really, I like night shifts. They are calm and it’s easier to get work done without anyone interrupting you.’ He said as he picked up the photo frame to get a closer look at Asha. She looked the same, only younger.
He heard her slow yet distracted acknowledgement on the other end of the line.
‘Maybe we should do night shifts together.’ Kavin whispered into the mic as he admired the frame. ‘It would be fun having you around here you know.’
‘Sure you would like that. But don’t get any ideas Romeo, besides too many night shifts can be ha… Oh Fuck!’
Kavin lost his balance and almost fell off the chair hearing Asha shriek.
‘Hello Asha… Hello?’ He couldn’t hear a thing and stared at the phone. The call had ended. The lights went out. He wasn’t surprised. The voltage often fluctuated during this time of the night. He looked up, hoping for the generator to kick in immediately. Seconds passed but the lights didn’t turn on. The flashlight app could have helped had it not been for his phone that refused to turn on despite pressing the power button multiple times. The office was pitch black. It would take a while for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. A draft of cold air brushed against his skin underneath the sweatshirt alerting the hair on his hands. Kavin waved his arms frantically, despite the goosebumps, motioning the sensors above. But they ignored him. Scanning around in the darkness, the server room caught his attention. Housed behind large glass panes of the lab, the servers, unaware of the outage, continued to operate and communicate with each other, as their green LEDs blinked incessantly, to the loud sounds of the a/c in the lab. The inverter had done its job.
A glass shattered, piercing the silence of the night. Kavin jumped up frightened, and turned towards the source. At the end of the floor, outside the glass windows of the office, a ray of white light moved haphazardly. Curious, he walked towards it. Somebody in the opposite tower was pointing a torchlight straight at his floor trying to catch his attention, and they had got it. But what were they doing there? Wasn’t Tower B still under construction?
His eyes strained to see the person in the opposite tower but the beam of light was too bright and shook violently. This was annoying now. Since when was a torchlight this bright? Kavin raised his hands to block it and yelled.
‘Drop it man!’
Everything froze. Then, it fell. He stared in disbelief at the obedient white light as it fell free, travelled the floors of tower B in a flash and hit the ground with a loud, heavy thud. That didn’t sound like a torchlight. The iciness of the window transferred onto his trembling fingers. Underneath his shirt, his chest was moist with sweat while he stood frozen against the large glass, staring at the tower in front as his limbs went limp. His ears were hot and his mouth, dry. There had been an accident in Tower B, that he had heard about a few months ago. Could this be related? His brain felt fatigued from trying to comprehend what he had seen. Unsure of anything anymore, he turned around to head back to the desk.
A white flash blinded him.
The light was hot and he felt it sear his forehead. He raised his hands to cover his eyes, but his arms wouldn’t move. They felt stiff, like the rest of his body. Sweat trickled along his face, as he struggled to turn away from the light. The light moved closer and he barely made out the face of the person holding the torch. It lasted for a second but that was enough to send shockwaves through his knees. That face was familiar from before, one that he had seen on the login screen of his laptop earlier that night, and it was staring straight through his eyes into the depths his soul.
Then, the watchman pushed him.