The strong steel doors closed with a satisfactory ‘ping’ in front of her face. Sheetal had managed to enter the elevator in the last moment, even as she saw Rahul waving to hold it from a distance. Before she could react, the man on the right had hit the close button, and now they were on their onward journey. She looked at the man with mock irritation. He was tall, well built and dressed in a suit. ‘Oops’ he said with a shrug of his shoulders and a slight smile. He had a strong jaw and a nice smile. Sheetal forgave him. She smiled back.
As is the norm, she then proceeded to ignore the rest of the packed lift and began to fumble for her phone. Twenty floors was a long way to go. It had been a hectic morning and the work schedule for the day seemed cruel. She had worn her new red top and black heels to combat Monday morning blues. Now she didn’t even have Rahul for company in the lift.
As she looked down to her phone and the empty gmail inbox, she could not help but peep into the glowing LCD on her neighbour’s screen - ‘you look hot’. She just had to look up. The man was very obviously chatting to that girl next to him, all demure in a salwar suit, replete with sindur. The girl giggled and gave him a slight punch, oblivious to the remaining 7 rather interested individuals. The lift pinged 3, and the couple walked out.
‘Ah! Interesting anecdote to tell Rahul’
Getting some more room, Sheetal swept her eyes around the lift, checking out its inhabitants. She found herself staring at a near-teenage boy with headphones plugged in. She could almost hear the noise emanating from them as he stared dazedly at the lit up display. He couldn’t possibly be working! She thought. He looked way too young. Probably an intern, she concluded.
‘Good morning!’ Ah! Her white haired ex-colleague. ‘Morning! How was traffic?’ she added. ‘Usual...usual’ He replied and smiled while nodding his head slightly. He was at a loss to say anything more and she hurriedly looked back at her blank screen.
‘Se-venth floor. Ping!’
The headphone-boy stepped out. Sheetal gratefully moved into the empty space next to the lift wall left by him. She now felt secure with the lift behind her, and people in front of her. A couple of noisy men walked in, hitching up their pants.
‘Haan, and then he walked out of the meeting!’ to which both of them laughed loudly, shook their heads, and chuckled. They were identically pot-bellied, in white shirts, engrossed in their conversation of office politics. One seemed to be the boss – the other was laughing too loudly at the joke.
‘Accha, you co-ordinate with Suman and send me...’ they got off on the next floor, talking, busy with each other, deep into the fresh Monday morning. She found them obnoxious.
Sheetal followed them out with her eyes. She noticed the tall man near the buttons looking at her. Immediately she looked away. Had she met him earlier? Was he a business acquaintance? She couldn’t decide. She let her eyes continue moving right.
She noted the familiar face next to his. ‘Hi’ they both said. She had no idea who he was, but they almost always caught the same lift every morning. He went to a floor above hers. They were lift-buddies.
A chiffon dupatta grazed her arm. ‘Ugh!’ she pushed it aside. She hated the feel of someone unknown’s clothes on her, especially chiffon dupattas. The lady on her right looked at her, smiled perfunctorily, said ‘Sori’ and went back to her important gossip to the lady next to her. The other lady was matronly, in a skirt with untucked shirt, curly hair, and dark, red lipsticked lips. She was nodding understandingly. It seemed the matter was very important. Their voices were hushed and their hands were moving fast. Sheetal eavesdropped.
‘Arrey, Mr. Mehta was called to the cabin, but he looked horrible when he came out...’
‘I am telling you, no, there is something about salary cuts in the office’
‘Twel-vth Floor. Ping!’
‘You never know now. It might be his...’ The two rushed out, still talking, clutching their jute lunch bags and bulging handbags. Sheetal mused about the poor Mr. Mehta and wondered about a salary or worse, a job cut.
‘Thirteen-th Floor! Ping!’ Apologetically nudging past, her white haired colleague went ahead. ‘Bye’ he smiled and shuffled out. ‘Bye’ she replied belatedly, smiling back.
‘Your friend?’ She heard a deep baritone voice say – it was the man next to the lift buttons.
Sheetal politely smiled and nodded slightly. Was he in her office? Not knowing she concentrated on distraction. She clicked some buttons on her phone. No one was online on chat. Darn.
‘Traffic is horrible today’ that awesome voice wanted to continue the conversation
‘Hmm.’ She acted busy. Why didn’t anyone call her? She opened her calendar application in desperation – did she have a meeting lined up? Was he a client?
‘Are you, by any chance, Sheetal Mehra?’
‘Oh shit! He is a client!’ Alarmed, she looked up at him. ‘Yes, yes’ she replied stupidly with a hesitant smile.
‘I read the name tag on your laptop bag’ and he gave her the most dazzling smile she had ever seen.
‘Oh’ He was hitting on her. He was not a client. He was good looking. This is her office lift.
‘Twenty-th floor. Ping!’
Sheetal slowly started walking out of the lift. ‘I’m Sunil. Will you be free for coffee sometime?’ He handed her his card, as he held the door open. Her lift-buddy was smiling. ‘You can call me. Or mail me.’ He pointed to his number on the card. The lift-buddy was grinning now.
‘Um...‘ She turned the card in her hand and walked out of the lift, savouring the situation. She was conscious of his height as she passed him, even with her heels. She turned back. And looked at his smile. That clinched it. ‘I’ll call you.’ She turned on her heel and walked into the crisp, new, delightful Monday morning, dreaming of cappuccinos.