When Soki stood in the eastern corner of her terrace, she was hard to spot. Her petite frame fit into the cranny overlooking the main road of Wokla, South Mumbaska. From that height – it was the fifth floor, but felt higher, somehow – the seven tar roads that crisscrossed at the noisy junction in the city centre looked like an enlarged map of some kind, not an actual place with real people and vehicles passing through it.
Desperate to dodge the viral miasma that shrouded her city, Soki hadn’t left the confines of her home for nearly 18 months. She now felt like a distant observer of the city below her mortar perch, not a part of it.
What she felt one with was the house itself, an old, dilapidated, well-ventilated house, modelled along obsolete architectural designs like high ceilings, air vents, thick cement dividers between rooms, and wooden stoppers that kept unlocked doors from banging.
After spending so many months in the same rooms, corridors and balconies of her airy asylum, and watching the churn of seasons from the same place, Soki’s dreams were also tethered to that house.
On some nights she dreamt of apocalyptic waves flooding the rooms and breaking down the mossy walls of her home. On some nights she dreamt of an illogically-sized plane crashing on the street in front of her building as she leaned over the parapet to get a better look at the dreadful, unreachable scenes below. On other nights her dreams turned her dusty terrace into a swimming pool, chlorine and all. The ceiling was covered in Egyptian murals on some nights and her curtains were on fire on others.
Dreams that used to take Soki around the world, now kept her within the sanctuary of her home, beneath UFOs, fighter jets and meteors that flew above her building, with cinematic special effects. When she woke from these alternative realities, she was back in the same place as the one she inhabited in her dream, except, the movie set of the night was now dismantled, and Soki was back in the bland, everyday version of it, the one with doorbells, deadlines and phone bills.
Now camouflaged in her corner, she looked at structures, skies and vistas along the horizon – scenes she didn’t need eyes to see any longer. That junction, on that road, visible from that angle, existed twice – first, in the real world and then imprinted on her mind, after all those monotonous months of observation. Only the hues changed, from light to dull to bright, then dark, and light again.
Soki’s sun set in the east. The water tanks, one level above her floor, blocked her view of the sun as it died in the west, but its magnified twin floated and rippled across the glass building, some kind of embassy, down the lane. Once cast on the glossy blue of that commercial tower, it was no longer a bright star common to the city, but Soki’s private yellow bulb, drowning with predictable familiarity, bringing another identical day to a close.
She watched the rain-washed roads that replicated everything above them, instantly doubling the number of people, trees and cars in the area. Joined to their hazy reflections by the soles of their feet, the people of South Mumbaska walked around, followed, step for step, by smudged forms of themselves. Invisible to anyone who cared to glance at her terrace – crows, flies, neighbours – Soki felt closer to these ghosts from the city’s netherworld moving along the wet roads, than the people they belonged to.
The dark orange sky was mirrored on the surface of a tinted glass table, a few feet from where Soki stood. On the table top, home-bound birds glided through rings of dried coffee stains as they flew above the terrace, trapped in that two-dimensional glass cage for a few seconds… after which, they were free.