Caged - Book cover


Onaiza Khan & Pablo Armendariz (Book 2)

Chapter 2

When I woke up it wasn’t morning, it was afternoon, and Alba was tapping my shoulder. It was one o’clock, and she had brought me lunch.

Usually, when she saw me sleeping in the morning, she’d just put the breakfast on the table and go away, but at lunch, she’d wake me up. I had fallen asleep late; therefore I didn’t wake up early.

I rubbed my eyes and looked at the table; steaming hot porridge that I thought must be lunch was sitting there, but I decided to jump on the cold French toast instead.

Alba was gone in a minute and turned up again while I was still eating, carrying a hot cup of coffee. I was very grateful for the coffee.

Sometimes she reminded me of my mom. Without me saying a word, she’d know what I wanted.

I smiled at her; I even wanted to hug her but decided against it. I didn’t want to make myself too comfortable around here, especially after the kind of feelings I’d had about Daniel the night before.

Instead of staying as far as possible from him, I went closer to him; I even found peace in his presence. It was disgusting to do such a thing. And I wasn’t proud of myself.

I used to call him Danny back when we got married, but now even if I said his proper name, my mouth felt filthy inside. Like it was the worst word in the vocabulary of the entire history of this world.

Like it was cursed and inauspicious. A jinx.

Not knowing what to do with the rest of my day, I jumped back in bed, and my eyes fell on his necklace.

He always wore a necklace that had belonged to his mother. It wasn’t very feminine, which is why it didn’t look funny on him.

It was a silver chain with a red stone hanging from it like a pendant. The stone was covered with a silver frame. The design was very complicated. Like a jumble of lines. Sort of a maze.

But a circular opening in the center gave the stone the limelight it deserved. That necklace appeared to me like a heart inside ribs; the silver being the ribs and the red stone being the heart.

The heart is protected by the jumble of ribs but cannot be hidden.

He had told me once what that stone was called, something starting with “C,” but I don’t remember what it was, though definitely not coral.

I picked it up and lightly brushed the stone with my thumb.

I was lost in its design when suddenly and abruptly I reminded myself that I never touched his things. If he left his clothes or anything else lying anywhere in the room, I never touched them.

If intangible things like his name or his presence affected me so much, touching his tangible things was gross. I threw the necklace back on his side of the bed.

I went to look out of the window.

The sun was shining beautifully now, and there was no trace of the scary rain. It was bright and beautiful all around.

The light reflected back from the mountains, their peaks covered in snow and greenery falling downward.

There were so many shades in the mountains, in the landscape. I wanted to put them down on a little sheet of paper with crayons.

And I wondered what sort of place this could be. The Appalachians? The Himalayas? The Rockies?

I didn’t know what city or country I was in, which was totally absurd. I took a flight from New York and changed planes a couple of times before I reached here.

I definitely knew where I landed. I read the signs on the road on our way here. Even under the bliss of being newly married to a man who looked like a Greek god, there was no way I couldn’t remember all that.

I could see all those signs for the airports and roads in my mind, but everything was a total blur. Not readable.

It was as if all that important information had moved to my unconscious. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t access it.

Having nothing else to do with my life, I’d tried to retrieve that information many times, but I never made it; it was as if there was a physical barrier between it and me.

So even if I accidentally grabbed hold of a phone, I couldn’t tell anyone where I was.

I hated how trapped I was.

I remember back in India I was watching this movie called Room with my friend where a young girl is kidnapped by a man and held captive for seven years.

She gives birth to a boy named Jack, and when Jack is five years old, she manages to escape with his help.

It was disturbing, but I knew it was just a sad story made for people to cry and forget their own problems. There was nothing remotely real about it.

When I saw my friend shedding tears over it, I told her, “It’s just a movie; don’t take it too hard.”

She said, “I have read true stories where people have been kidnapped and tortured for years and they couldn’t escape or do anything about it.”

I could hear her voice crystal clear in my head. How different life was back then? We’d had lunch at my house, watched that movie on my laptop in bed, and then I made hot chocolate for us.

I decided I’d ask Alba to make me hot chocolate when she brought me dinner.

I started to walk around the room unwittingly and spotted a DVD lying on the TV table, which was strange.

He would never leave anything like that in the room. Even his briefcase and laptop bag were password locked.

I picked it up instantly without giving myself a chance to reconsider touching his things and turned it around.

On the back, it said, “For you to pass some of your time.”

I couldn’t believe what I read and put it back. I didn’t want his mercy. If I could spend three months without entertainment, I definitely didn’t need it now.

If I give in to this, I thought, ~he’ll think he can easily tame me into a puppet.~

But the rain started again. That rain.

All the haunting feelings from last night started creeping back to me. The beautiful sunny day was drowning in a cloud of fear and darkness.

I told myself, it’s just a little change in weather, nothing personal. But it felt personal. I didn’t know why.

I was the only target of that rain. It was an enemy from an old time or some other life. It wanted revenge.

I buried myself in the blanket and tried to sleep, but it was all like the previous night; except he wasn’t there.

I tried to picture him as had I had seen him. His short beard, huge lashes, thin lips.

In a few minutes, he was almost there in front of me.

I knew every curve, every line, and every tiny feature of his face to the extent that I could recreate it.

I hated myself for doing that. I don’t need him, I told myself again and again and again.

In an attempt to distract myself, I picked up the DVD, put it in the player, and switched the machine on.

It was the American TV series Lost. I had heard about it; someone had told me was like ~The Walking Dead~ and I hated ~The Walking Dead~, so I didn’t want to watch this.

But then I thought that anything was better than thinking about him. Anything. Literally.

I started watching it from the very beginning and actually got lost in it.

It was about a group of people who survive a plane wreck and are forced to live on a mysterious island, and there is no help coming for them.

Sometimes I was totally drowned in the drama; I was on the island. The rain was still pattering like hell, which broke my concentration time and time again.

And I started weaving my own story. What would I have done if I were there? Who would I have made friends with? What would I have eaten?

I liked the Korean guy for some reason. Though rationally speaking he wasn’t very likable—he was very conservative and domineering over his wife. But something about him touched me. I couldn’t tell what.

And the door swung open again; it was time for dinner.

My stomach automatically started growling at the sight of Alba. She noticed the TV and gave me a pleased smile. Like she approved of me, accepted me.

I couldn’t know what she had in mind. She never spoke, as if the only language she knew was smiling.

But at that moment I didn’t like Alba. She seemed to be on his side. I thought she wanted me to give in and be happy with him. She might have good intentions, but I didn’t like that smile.

So I didn’t ask for hot chocolate. Who knows if she would have understood my demand anyway?

I started slurping the soup she had brought and didn’t let her take away the porridge from lunch. What if I got hungry again?

I had weird fears now; starving to death added itself to the list.

Then I noticed a hot thermos flask after she’d gone. I opened it and was glad to see some coffee. I never got coffee at this hour even when I slept late. It must have something to do with the weather.

While enjoying my meal, I dreaded his arrival. It will be eight o’clock soon, and he’ll be here—and then I pushed that thought out of my mind.

After eating, I continued watching the TV. I was addicted now. I wanted to know what would happen next. I wanted to know everything like my life depended on it.

Episode after episode, I kept watching. Suddenly, I realized it was twenty minutes to eleven and he was still not there.

I wasn’t waiting for him, but I noticed his absence and was worried in a way. I didn’t want him there, but my mind kept wandering, wondering where he was.

I had watched eleven episodes of the show by now, and my eyes were in desperate need of rest.

I went to the bathroom and was again headed to the bed when I heard a sound. A groan.

I could feel the pain in that voice—but where was it coming from? Such a soft sound can only be heard if someone is close. Very close. And technically there shouldn’t have been anyone that close to me.

The kitchen, living room, and all other rooms were downstairs. This floor was just for me. I started walking aimlessly around the room, and the voice began to wrap around my mind.

It was like the rain now. It wouldn’t leave me alone. I observed that the sound was clearer when I was closer to the library door.

That door was always locked…except it wasn’t.

I was so used to seeing that door locked, that I hadn’t even noticed that it was unlocked. I always wanted to go in there, but knowing it was open creeped me out.

I didn’t know what to do.

What if Daniel was in there? He could have been hiding inside since morning, wanting to catch me opening this door.

What if there was a monster luring me inside to kill me?

Many such thoughts came and went, but one thought, one idea lingered. The other guy, the hostage, HE is in there, I thought. And even after so much effort, I couldn’t shove that thought away.

I knew there was no way he could be in the library; I never saw anyone bringing him here. But there could be another way to get in. Another door.

I had to find out what was in there; it would kill me otherwise. I needed closure.

In the TV show I watched, two guys had found a mysterious hatch. And I felt just as they must have felt to be lured by something so inviting and so potentially dangerous.

How many times they must have wanted to open it, and how many times they had wanted to run away instead. Just like I was feeling.

Even though my situation was entirely different, I wanted them to be on my side and encourage me to open the door.

I opened it.

It was just like any small library, a square room with two huge shelves on the front and the left wall. And apparently, there was no one here.

There were lots of books, some classic literature, some business and self-help books in English and some in French. And it struck me that Daniel is French; his mother is a French woman, and his father, Indian.

And yet again that groan. From where I didn’t know. But it was louder there, and I could see no one.

I wanted to run back into the room and lock the library door. I thought there might be a ghost. But even if there was, it could quickly follow me to the room, so there was no point in running now. It was already too late.

I thought I was probably trapped when I saw a window on the right wall. A faint hope glimmered in my heart.

What if this window opens? What if it’s not sealed from the outside like the windows in the room? Probably that’s why he keeps this place locked.

Either he wanted to deprive me of fresh air or prevent me from committing suicide. Whatever the reason, he made sure that the windows in the room were sealed shut and that the glass was unbreakable.

I had tried all sorts of things in my initial days here, so I knew some stuff.

And I was right; this window opened.

But there was no sun or light or fresh air welcoming me. A gush of wind and water pushed me inside. I tripped on something and almost sprained my foot.

I rushed to close the window; I did not like the water or air, however natural they were. Nature wasn’t agreeing with me now.

And my eyes fell on a valve on the front wall behind the shelf just like the one I had seen on a water tank back home. It had been concealed by something that I guessed the wind blew away.

Now I was more than scared. But curiosity didn’t let go of me either. I was scared and curious.

In horror movies, when the heroine hears sounds and goes looking for the ghost with a little flashlight in her hand yelling, “Who’s there?” That’s how I felt.

I turned the valve to my right, and the wall opened up; literally opened up. There was enough space for me to squeeze past the shelf and get in.

I wasn’t sure if it was real. I could have been hallucinating after all that I’d been through.

I had a habit back in time to Google everything I heard or thought about. I wanted to Google “hallucinations” badly right now. But obviously, I had no access to the internet.

I was only left with my wild imagination. I tried to focus on what was coming and not declare myself crazy already. Calling me crazy is not my job, right?

I entered into what I like to call “oblivion.” It was like a dark passage, and I heard the rain louder here.

This seemed to be a fragment of hell, my own personal hell, and this passage was exactly like my life, hollow and dark. I was walking straight and didn’t understand where I was going.

I could easily have been sleepwalking because never before had I experienced anything like this in real life.

July 2, 2016, Saturday was a day full of surprises, starting from the DVD. Then him not coming, his necklace lying in bed, the extra coffee, the door left unlocked, the window, the valve, and now this, whatever this was.

And that soft groan again. It was real. I could feel it in my bones. I walked back and forth along the passage to find out where the voice was loudest and clearest.

I found a spot, and there was a window, a rusted iron window, and I jumped inside that window in the blink of an eye.

For all I knew it could have been an elevator shaft. I could have fallen into the darkness, breaking myself into two. There won’t be any ground under my feet—

But fortunately, there was. And I stepped down all right. I wished I had a little flashlight or phone light so I could see where I was going.

I stumbled on something; it was an empty beer can, so someone definitely came here. It stank and made me want to hurl. But I couldn’t get distracted by such a little thing. It’s an empty old beer can, not Dracula.

And then I tripped on another beer can, I supposed, and I suddenly started to roll down a set of stairs.

I was Alice in Scaryland. No beautiful white rabbit with a watch to follow, but the haunting voice of a tortured soul.

It was him; it had to be him, the other hostage. I had wanted to see him since I heard him scream for the first time.

The voice was getting clearer.

The sharp pain in my body was nothing compared to what I felt in my mind. I could feel his pain, his agony without his saying a word.

I wanted to help him, even while my body was twisting in pain.

What happened next was a little embarrassing and less brave of me. I stepped on what I thought was a fat mouse, and it was suddenly the scariest thing in my life.

I could picture the whole place crawling with mice and had a feeling that if I stepped down another step, they’d strangle me to death. A stinking death. Another odd fear.

So I ran back upstairs—this time without stepping on or tripping over anything—and closed the freaking door.

I lay on the bed, shutting my eyes as firmly as I could. And another thought crossed my mind.

The Korean guy is like Daniel. His expressionless face and overprotective behavior. Always trying to keep his wife down and control her. I was looking for Daniel in him.

It was a repulsive feeling. It was hard to grasp that I was still in love with him.

Cursing myself for it, I fell asleep.

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