"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Muscat International Airport, we will be landing in a short while… Please remain seated. Fasten your seatbelts, put your seat back upright, close your tray tables and keep the window shades open. The temperature outside….."
Annie completed her announcement, started rubbing her cold palms and smiled shakily at Suhana.
"Why were you so nervous? It was perfect." Suhana smiled back.
Malobi also smiled and patted her back.
Annie was one of the newly appointed crew members from Mumbai. It was her first flight with Emirates and the first ever announcement on the flight.
Her duty ended at Muscat. New crew members relieved her and the aeroplane took off for Dubai.
Annie stepped on a foreign land for the first time in her life. Everything was new to her… it was good that she had Suhana with her to guide.
They checked into Hotel Al Falaz and after dumping their belongings hastily, they ran towards the dining room. They were starving.
There was no room numbered 1300. Suhana informed her, most of the hotels there follow the same rule. Annie remembered seat 13 wasn’t there too in their airbus. Annie was placed in 1301 and Suhana got 1310.
A sneaky smile appeared on Suhana's lips which Annie's eyes couldn’t catch. They wished each other and went into their rooms for rest.
Born and brought up in a lower middle class family, Annie could never get an opportunity to spend nights in a hotel before… that too in a 4 starrer. She was so happy to enter the bathroom full with lavish toiletries she could ever imagine. She wanted to have a hot bubble bath… but was confused over so many gadgets to be handled, about which she was totally unaware.
But… there was none to find faults with and she was able to manage them with trial and error method.
She felt like a queen and started humming her favourite song.
Papa was dead against her joining the airline job. Maa was always with her, very supportive. Annie wanted to be an aviatrix but the killer maths… so, she had to be satisfied with an inferior substitute.
She closed her eyes in utter comfort.
Annie opened her eyes with a knocking sound… Oh Lord Jesus! She was asleep in the bathtub… she could have drowned!
Annie wrapped on the bathrobe… it has to be Suhana, she doesn’t know anyone else here.
But… the knocking seemed coming from the window pane... she felt a shiver.
Annie was a brave girl but it was her first time out of her protective world into an unknown one… that too alone.
Now the sound was coming from the mirror… how could it be possible? She went near… Something was written on the accumulated vapor on the mirror.
YOU HAVE A BEAUTIFUL VOICE!
It was a spine chilling experience.
Somehow, she stepped out of the bathroom and dumped herself on the bed. She was trembling with excitement, fear and worries… her limbs were out of control.
She tried to recall… actually what must have happened… should she call for Suhana… no she shouldn’t, she will make fun of her. Suhana and Malobi are there in this airline for a long time, they have covered nearly the whole world. She thought of entering the bathroom once more but didn’t dare to.
She changed into her night dress and put on the TV before going to bed. She was feeling cold, if the temperature of the AC could be increased… let it be! She dragged the blanket and lay down.
Not a single channel was there to be watched neither could she understand the language and turned off the TV with the remote.
Oh Lord! She had forgotten to switch off the lights… aah, there's a switch- board at the side of the bed. She put off all the lights except the night lamp.
Annie woke off with a clamour. For some moments she couldn’t even realise where she was or it was a day or night... the furniture, the walls… all were unknown to her. She wanted to find out the source of the noise and looked at the TV.
Didn’t she put the TV off? The TV remote button might have got pressed during her sleep. She put it off again and tried to get some sleep. She has a return flight the next day, it would be difficult without some sleep.
As soon as she had closed her eyes, the TV started off.
What a mess… is this a haunted room? She had to get up and disconnect the TV plug… as her hand reached the switch board, she drew it back swiftly... she felt the presence of another hand there and looked at the board immediately, which was clearly seen… there was nothing.
Oh God! I am really tired, I think I am hallucinating.
Annie left her bed to adjust the AC and unplug the TV… now the TV will not be turned on.
She went to the French window and opened the curtain to look out. The city was asleep but looked nice on a moonlit night, from the thirteenth floor… but just in contrast to Mumbai which never sleeps… you can feel the life going on all through the night.
She didn’t pull the curtain back, she found it better as some light was there.
The shivering was still there, might be because of the AC, she was not accustomed to… but she had already started getting adjusted to that comfortable life she had never enjoyed before.
Annie picked up her cell phone to look at the time, about which she didn’t have the faintest idea.
She stared at the phone screen and forgot to blink… she had set her parents' picture there but she found her own photo instead, on that hotel- bed, sleeping.
She turned into a statue… what is happening to me? I am not hallucinating any more, this picture is the proof of that.
She had gone to bed early and it was only 12 at night… she had to spend the rest of the night there… alone.
The childhood thought rushed in… keeping your eyes closed solves so many problems. Whenever Maa used to send her to a dark room to bring something, she had a habit of going there with closed eyes… so, so many things remained unseen.
That knocking sound was heard again in the bathroom… she thought she must go and find out the cause... she had to face the situation bravely.
Annie stepped into the bathroom cautiously and looked at the mirror… thin stream of blood was rolling down.
Laughter of a child attracted Annie's attention, there was a face at the window- pane… on the thirteenth floor! And how ghoulish was the expression on that face. Annie recalled the doll of Child's Play. She turned back to come out of the bathroom but found the door locked, she tried hard but wasn’t able to open it. She thought she shouldn't be panic stricken but keep her cool. She approached the bathroom closet to get something to open the door. There was a big red circle on the milky white closet- door. As she touched the closet to open it, the circle vanished and a dark, narrow tunnel appeared. Annie peeped in to see and found a spiral staircase, might be for the sweeper's use... invited her. She started descending. Someone or something was deterring her from the back. She had lost all her might, her legs were wobbly but somehow she went down in a staggering manner.
She found an endless- open ground before her and started running fearlessly. She heard footsteps following her. Though she didn’t dare to look back, but something forced her to turn and see.
She fell into a deeply cut open pit. There was no way to come out. Debris started covering her body… she was helpless.
Annie woke up with a jolt. She was completely drenched in sweat though the room was cool...
The TV was on.
Oh my Lord Jesus! It was only a dream. She was so thirsty but couldn’t collect the might to stretch her hand and take the jug of water. But… there was an urgent need to go to the toilet. She sat straight on her bed with trembling limbs. As she touched her neck, the cross came into her palm. She kissed it and sat still with the cross in her fist.
She took time to come off the bed. Annie switched on all the lights and put off the TV again and entered the bathroom cautiously.
She kept the door open. Her eyes fell on the white closet at the corner with a big- red circle on it… which she didn’t notice before.
The non stop laughing sound of the child was heard, was it coming from the adjacent room… but how was it possible?
She touched the red circle sheepishly and to her utter surprise the red circle vanished and a dark tunnel appeared. Some unknown force was driving Annie to step in. Her adventurous soul encouraged her to go and see by herself. She put her cautious step inside and curled herself to enter the closet.