Enjoy an exclusive guest post from Rohit Sawant author of “Delivery Spéciale” featured in our ON TIME anthology.
Samira banged on the door with the flat of her hand when ringing the bell proved futile.
She had barely slept a wink. Her roommate’s hearty snores hadn’t helped; she didn’t have to stare at the dark blotch that was the discolored ceiling, angling herself so as to avoid the droplet of water suspended above. The worst part was relaxing enough to drift off only to flinch awake when it plopped down on your forehead. It drove Samira insane.
She had half a mind to stomp up the stairs right then and pound on the prick’s door, give him an earful about getting the goddamn leakage fixed already. But of course, that sort of thing would’ve gotten her evicted, since the prick in question also happened to own the building. So grabbing her pillow, she did a one-eighty, propping her feet on the headboard, and resolved to have a word with Kalpesh Shah before leaving for work.
The man had the demeanor of a lackey rather than a landlord, and an older tenant’s claim that Shah was more of a caretaker and the real owner of the building was the old bedridden relative he looked after seemed truer with every interaction.
Just as Samira was about to slap the door again, it abruptly unlatched and swung open. No face peered out from behind it. A pale wash smeared the dawn sky, some of the weak glow spilling in through the concrete slats by the landing. But the room she stared into betrayed no hint of light as if midnight still hadn’t ticked away within.
She absently gave the door a nudge. A faint splash from beyond drew her attention to the doorway’s threshold; a puddle of water brimmed by the sill.
Another wet thump, nearer this time, resulted in water splashing across the floor.
She unconsciously stepped back, gazing downward at the spatter dewing her sneakered feet and missed Shah’s frantic approach up the stairs, which startled her as he yanked the door shut.
Samira broke the awkward silence, muttering about the leakage as he stood a step below, one hand on the bolt, a bag of groceries in the other. Even as she spoke, part of her criticized the meek delivery of the complaint, which was the opposite of what she’d played out in her head.
“I’ll look into it,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I’m in a hurry actually…”
As if to interject, the door juddered in its frame drawing a puzzled look from Samira. Shah offered a strained smile in return.
Walking down the stairs, she threw a glance back at him, still standing sentry. Only when she passed by her own door did she hear the grating of a key from above followed by the boom of the door slamming shut.
Out on the street, the sight of her usual bus broke off vague thoughts about the odd encounter, and she crossed the road in a sprint, almost having a near miss with one of those food deliver riders.
Who orders in this early?
Not fun, is it? thought Samira seeing Niki vigorously knuckle her eye, rubbing at the descended droplet most likely.
Following her brief exchange with Shah, the leakage had subsided until it hadn’t, and now, it made a reappearance, manifesting itself over Niki’s side of the room, too, this time.
Samira was often met with a mixture of incredulity and envy from her colleagues on sharing her rent rate. Even when she mentioned the drippy ceiling, they dubbed it as a minor inconvenience.
“Fuuck,” Niki whispered. The annoyed tongue-clicking gave way to a low groan that stretched for seconds then wavered.
The sound made Samira’s flesh prickle, and she half-raised herself. This was new. In the few months she had roomed with Niki, the only nocturnal noise the latter occasioned was a guttural snore.
She called again, but feverish screams inching towards a crescendo drowned out her voice.
After some hesitation, she rushed to Niki’s bedside, seeing her thrash about, and tried to wake her. Later, Samira would discover a thin scratch on her forearm, a result of the melee.
As Niki finally snapped awake, panic-doused, a blow from her knee knocked Samira off the bed, and she scrambled back, still screaming.
Lunging across the room, Samira flicked on the lights and stood with her hands out, repeating that it was okay.
She gradually neared Niki, intending to draw her in an embrace, but paused seeing a wispy green smear in the white of her eye, the delicate skin around it rubbed raw. The green blemish dissolved as she looked on.
Before Samira could shove any comforting words out of her mouth, Niki hunched over and threw up.
“I’ve tried but the whole roommate thing just doesn’t work for me, you know,” said Riya as she roamed about the flat with Samira in tow.
“I know what you mean.”
“I’m surprised you’re giving up this space.”
“What with my finances, even this is proving to be burdensome, especially with my roommate gone. Plus, I have a night shift at work and barely spend time here, so I’m opting for something cheaper and closer to my office.”
“I see. Well, except for this,” Riya pointed her head at the flaky ceiling, “everything else seems great.”
“Yup, it’s a minor inconvenience.”
Rohit Sawant’s fiction has appeared in the Shirley Jackson Award winning anthology The Twisted Book of Shadows, Transcendent, Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Edgar Allan Poe, Weirdbook, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India, and his favorite Batman is Kevin Conroy. You can find him at rohitsawantfiction.wordpress.com and @iamrohitsawant on Twitter.