I was staying at a hotel, which seemed more like a B&B, with a collapsible gate cutting away the common staircase passage to make the living space private, much like my own house in Siuri. My parents were there too, at different points in time. I remember people fleetingly passing by. Psychology says that we never really see complete strangers in our dreams. By that definition, they were all faces I should have recognised, and in some cases I did.
The walls were painted in the lightest hues of beige and green. Even then, I thought of how weird the combination was. That night, as I walked back towards the collapsible gate to go back to my room from the in-house restaurant after an early dinner, one of the young girls working in the restaurant managed to drop a whole pile of plates on my feet. Apologising profusely, she started picking up the pieces. Perhaps a zillion things were running through her mind then, starting from the harsh words of the owner and the excuses she might have to come up with, but the next thing I knew, she had managed to cut her hand. The nurse instinct kicked in and I asked for a roll of bandage, or atleast a clean piece of cloth and some cotton and antiseptic liquid. As I washed her hand with water pouring out of the bottle I usually carry around, a man in his late 20s came to me with a roll of bandage, some wads of cotton and a small bottle of Savlon. He hovered around as I bandaged her hand, all the while exchanging stories about who we were and where we came from. He hovered around when she started laughing at the way I managed to screw up the bandage knot. He hovered around as I vowed to set it right with utmost concentration. He hovered around and remained in my peripheral vision. Standing near the collapsible gate that separated my living space from the rest of the establishment, when we were about to exchange numbers on little slips of paper she had fished out of her pocket, I remember him inching closer, looking curiously at the slips of paper. I looked at him and asked him to back off. He didn’t listen. There were people standing around, watching him as he inched threateningly close, and no one said a word. It wasn’t a new experience though, so I knew not to drop my gaze. Both of us stopped what we were doing till he decided to back off. He stared back, reminding me faintly of an eccentric man who had once stalked me all over a train station, and my heart skipped a beat. The defiance changed to fury mingled with frustration, and he hit the collapsible gate with his bare hands with such strength that its very foundation seemed to rattle. He didn’t disappear, but he did move a couple of inches back. In hushed tones, the girl and I wrote down each other’s numbers. She took one look at the man still standing a few inches away from the gate, and with a final tight grasp of my hand, asked me to stay safe and bade goodnight. I still remember his gaze as I locked the collapsible gate, the steely demeanour with which he refused to budge. As I lay down on my bed, with the night lights on, I could hear the sound of his shuffling feet outside the gate. As the night wore on, the pacing became faster and more determined. Many a times I thought I could hear him rattling the bars of the gate. I could hear him banging on my window. I could feel his presence inside my room. I could feel him standing at the foot of my bed. I could feel him reaching for my blanket.