The 90 W bulb lit up the room like a mini sun, making my eyes cringe. I must have been knocked out for a long time. My body was aching at places I didn’t even pay attention to. My back was so sore, it almost seemed non-existent. I pried open my eyes, turned around and looked above, to see that I was tied to a wooden pillar in the middle of the room. It was chipping off in a few places but it was thick enough to hold strong. I was tied up with ropes, that much I knew. But the knot was jolly good to hold me on to it. I tried to yank at it a couple of times, as if I could have taken that pillar down, all alone. Of course, nothing became of it.
I couldn’t see any window in the room. There was a shelf before me, with three racks filled with paint jars and brushes. On the right corner of the room were two heaps of wood chips, separated by size. To my left was a door that probably led out of the room but it was shut close. What was this? A carpenter’s workplace? What was a carpenter doing kidnapping me? And for what? I didn’t work at the forest department or the Home Depot. I didn’t have a syndicate selling wooden products on cheaper rate, making him fight for his price. What did he have me here for?
I wondered where the sound came from. “Hello!” I called out. “Hello! Is anyone out there?”
It took me a few minutes to realise that it was my own, grumbling stomach. My last meal was an awkward lunch with my ex-wife yesterday, when she came to pick up the rest of her things. My appetite was pretty mad at me. I tried to remember who brought me here. I was at the local bar drinking my regular, when a burly man had come towards me. I remember him menacingly approaching me, holding me by the collar and after that, everything seemed like a blur. All I could remember is that the guy had rough and large hands. Lord knew if anyone knew I was here.
Brrr! Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!
Shit! My cell phone! Where, where, where was it? Where in the hell was it? I looked around and saw it lying on what seemed like a patchy blanket, a few steps away from me. No, no, no!I tried to blow hard like an idiot. Then I realised how stupid it was. What was I thinking? It was a cell phone, not a feather. I tried to extend my leg towards it, but it was too far. I almost tried to crawl on my toes towards the damn thing. But my hands were tied too hard to loosen up. Whoever tied me up, must have been a professional knot-tier; maybe a hangman. The rascal might as well have tied me a noose!
These were times that all this technology, and what do they call it — ‘lightning fast communication’ — makes as much sense as a burnt peanut. Should I give up and call someone for help? I grunted and tapped my legs on the floor up and down in anguish. The fine sawdust rose in the air and caught my nostrils, sending me sneezing. Great! Now I had snot hanging from my nose like a child. All this because my arms weren’t strong enough to break free of the pillar. I tried to breathe my snot back in but a gooey drop of it still kept hanging. I prayed to the guy up there. If I die and/or be discovered, O Lord, please bless me with enough dignity to tear my arms with struggle than be stuck here, with snot on me.
I cursed my obviously chauvinistic attitude but couldn’t still bring himself to do it; the screaming, not the breaking the pillar thing. I was exhausted and felt like banging my fist. Damn if I was even able to do that. I yelled internally and bit my tongue in the process. It was only I had tasted blood that I really calmed down. This was going nowhere. I had to think of something else.
Before I embarked on that, my thoughts invariably went to what movie stars would have done now. Of course the guy would have a secret knife in his boot that he would somehow procure with his teeth and magically manage to cut through the ropes. But I didn’t have knives in my boot! Why would I? I was a television set salesman by day and a road construction worker by night, trying to make enough to pay my rent and then save some for a better life. I couldn’t possibly have anything that could explain his kidnapping!
I tried to think back what I had done or who I had met in the last couple of months that could reveal the reason. I didn’t hate anybody and I’d have liked to think nobody hated me. Not even my ex-wife, who left me for a taller man. But the person I definitely couldn’t stand, would have to be Woody.
Woody was one of the road workers who occasionally did night shifts with me. He would always making fun of me, daring me to lift a huge block of concrete or push a rock-laden cart, to see what my ‘little hands’ could do. Woody was an annoying pain in the behind. But that was reason for me to kidnap him, not the other way round.
Or was it Amber, the brunette salesgirl at Home Appliances Section, whom I had caught stealing money from the cash register? She did threaten me that if I told anyone about it, I’d be dead meat. But I didn’t tell anyone! Besides, nobody else created an alarm either for her to doubt me. Could she be just getting prudent and taking precautions before the next pay-check? I was obviously the only immediate and unattended evidence. Rest, she had taken care of. Could she have hired someone on contract to get me stowed away?
But…hiring requires a good sum of money, which none of my coworkers could be making. Maybe, a boyfriend then? But really…(I sniggered) an alleyway threat could have been enough for me. Amber knew that. Why waste her ‘resource(s)’ even if she had it?
I was getting tired of brainstorming and my gradually alarming appetite wasn’t encouraging the exercise either. I was so ravenous I could have eaten air if it was solid. Seriously, why is air not edible though? Like water or in worst cases, earth? At least water and soil will shut your belly up and let you concentrate on your possible kidnappers.
I took deep breaths and tried to follow Gupta’s breathing exercises. His sniffing in and out drives me mad every morning over my coffee, but honestly, that was be the only way to calm my nerves in such a dire situation. I told myself — “Breathe in and out. Concentrate on the breathing. Make sure you are in the present. Call your mind back when it wanders.” Even at that hour of stress, Gupta’s crazy yoga-isms made me giggle. Call your mind back when it wanders. Seriously? What is it? A dog? Gupta did say — “Treat your mind like an animal. Tame it rather than blame it.” Now that I think of it, that truly is something.
Anyway, I came back to the matter in hand. Who else could it be? Just then, something scratched across the floor in the other room. I felt my ears stand and my immediate instinct was to call out. But I caught my voice in my throat and listened to who or what it was. Something scratching on the floor could be anything. Even, a gagged victim fighting for life. My hairs stood sharp on my skin. He kept listening. There was no sound of groaning, moaning, grunting, heaving or even panting. A dead body? I shook my head in abject despair and felt my eyes moisten with tears and fear. What the world had come to? Worse, what was going to happen to me?
Just then, my cell phone took a voicemail. I almost tried to shush it, scared that the killer might hear it and barge in. But whoever it was, had left the room.
“Hello, Jonah!” Gupta’s familiar and now comforting accent rang through my heart.
I almost called out, “Gupta?” just before realising that it was a voicemail.
“This is Gupta. I called to say that there are some unknown people asking if this was your apartment. I hadn’t seen them before. So I told them you used to live here. I think they didn’t understand or didn’t believe me because they said they’d check in the evening and left. Call me when you get this. Bye.”
The red indicator light showing low battery wasn’t as alarming as Gupta’s call. Who could be asking for me? Could it be the same people who had got me kidnapped? But then, they’d know that the kidnapping was done. So they didn’t have to check my apartment. Unless…they were after something in my apartment!
Wow! That is it. They want something I have and don’t know about. That is why they tied me up here instead of killing me, just in case, they don’t manage to find whatever it is they want. My mind scanned my entire apartment for clues. In the living room, beneath the mouldy couch I sleep on and had got from a yard sale. Behind my 3X4” TV set that was on top of a wooden ladder-bench. In the spokes of my second-hand bike. Inside the water tank of my commode, below the balloon. Behind my shaving accessories inside the wall cabinet. What could this secret be?
I felt like Tintin, from the movie. Had I fancied any ship model lately, which had a mast that could be holding some secret scroll leading to Haddock’s treasure? I held on to the surreal thought like the absolutely adventure-less man that I am. Then I brought myself to reality! I had never had time to go antique hunting. Or for that matter, hunting anything at all, except jobs. But I wondered who the unknown people could be. I suddenly felt very important.
My intimidating predicament as a secret-bearer was exciting, but my physical universe was too painful to bear. I tried again, holding the rope knots in his two fists and pulling my wrists against each other. It was excoriating. The friction against my ‘little hands’ tore through my epidermis, leaving little gashes.
“Arghh!” I cried in pain. “Dammit!”
“Who’s there?” shouted a woman, from outside his door.
I was so startled I didn’t react.
“Who’s there inside?” The woman asked again, trying to open the door and hopelessly
turning the knob along and against the clock. “Is someone there?”
“Uh…yeah!” I replied, even though hopelessly, “I’m tied up in here.” Then after a little pause, I added, “I’m Jonah!”
“Hang on!” The woman said and left, probably to get a wrench or something to pry the lock open.
I was both relieved and alarmed. Lord knew who was outside and if it was any trouble. After a few failed trials, the door finally opened. A woman, possibly in her forties, was waiting at the door, wearing an apron. She was startled to see me. But she didn’t rush to save me. She took some time to consider and with each realisation, her furrowed eyebrows relaxed into a disappointed plateau. She then shook her head and turned around.
“Victor! Come over, you idiot!”
A few seconds later, a big and bearded man, hobbled over to the room and asked, “What is it, Donna?”
“It’s not him!” she replied, pointing at me.
“But he looks similar to the picture you gave me!” replied the knobbly giant.
So that was the Bigfoot who dragged me in here last night.
Donna stood back and asked him, “How many had you downed yesterday?”
“Just a couple, I swear. I was sparkly enough to play Angry Birds on his cell phone all night,” he said, pointing at me. “Then I left the game on my patchy blanket, went upstairs for some cookies and slept off on the stairs instead. So, yeah, just a couple!” Victor looked nonchalant about his stupid admission.
Donna shut her eyes and shook her head. “Victor, this isn’t my drunk husband. Now, untie him and leave him outside.”
Victor was visibly peeved at his errand going wrong but he didn’t complain. He untied me with his lips pursed and said, “You can go now.”
As I rubbed my hurt hands and got up, I couldn’t help saying, “What the hell!” But I knew better than to pick up a fight I couldn’t win. I was too exhausted and in pain to effort a fight.
“I’m sorry he thought you were my drunk husband,” said Donna, as she dragged a bag of sugar from what looked like a pantry.
“May I help?” asked Victor.
“No, you may not, you idiot!” Donna answered, “Go find my husband and have him complete the pantry door.”
I looked around to see that creepily enough, Donna was quite nimble-footed in her socks and the scratching sound that I had heard before was from the sugar bag dragged across the floor.
I added everything up and asked, “Say, is this a bakery or something?”
“Yes,” Donna replied, stopping in her steps, hunched over the bag.
I smiled, despite my pain and asked, “Can I get something to eat?”
As I left the bakery with a doughnut and my cell phone in hand, I called Gupta. “Hey there! I got your call and realised that it was that time of the month.”
“What time?” asked Gupta. “Your period?”
“Haha, no! These men you saw, I think they were Recovery Men. They came to collect my pending rent. You don’t know them because you’re a good tenant, Gupta. Anyway, good thinking!”
“Anytime!” said Gupta.
“By the way, how would you like to sign me up for a daily yoga session?” I asked, as Gupta’s gap-toothed grin glowed through the call and lit me up with a smile.