Hi there. Let me introduce myself. I’m the elevator in wing ‘C’ of Seaview Heights, a plush highrise inhabited by some of the elite rich in one of the most affluent neighbourhoods of Mumbai.
Ferrying people up and down tirelessly each day and night is my job. A mundane, boring job you would say. To be honest, it used to be boring till I found a way to make it less of a chore.
How did I do it? Simple. By taking an interest in the hundreds of stories unfolding before me as people hop in and out every day.
Sweet tales of young love and stolen kisses, mundane squabbles of married couples, sad tales of loneliness of old age—just to name a few.
Let me tell you one such story. The story of Jasmine.
Jasmine was a nanny hired by Mr. Malhotra from C-804 to look after his five-year-old son, Ayush. The first time I saw her, my heart skipped a beat. Dressed in a simple T-shirt and jeans, her thick curly hair tied in a ponytail with a few stray locks caressing her ivory cheeks, she was one hell of a beautiful woman. I thought I had a crush on her, but then I reminded myself that inanimate elevators don’t fall in love. But my interest in her never waned.
Every day, I waited like a lovestruck teenager for the clock to strike eight in the morning to see her and breathe in the perfume she wore that lingered long after she got off on the eighth floor.
She used me many times a day, to see Ayush board the school bus, to receive him back, to take him out to the park or to run odd errands. She always did that little extra that soon made her indispensable to the Malhotras.
It had been a year since I saw her first. Ayush had grown fond of Jasmine and why wouldn’t he? She attended to all his needs, loved and pampered him, just like a mother would. People sometimes mistook him for her son, but I thought she looked too young for that.
They were right, I must admit. The way he clung to her skirt, giggled with her, chatted non-stop, narrating incidents at school, sought her comfort for that bruise and scrape on his knee—no one could guess that she was his nanny and not his mother.
The poor boy lost his mother in a car accident when he was just two.
His father married again. I never liked Mrs Malhotra, Ayush’s stepmother. She seemed cold and snobbish. I haven’t seen her do a single thing for the boy.
I heard from the gossipping ladies that she took no interest in his upbringing. I had not heard any tales of cruelty, to be honest, but the way she looked with her hair tied in a bun and with the everlasting frown she wore, I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned out to be the evil stepmother straight out of ‘Cinderella’. But that was my personal bias talking. Thank God for Jasmine, the boy found in her, the mother he never knew.
One morning, I saw Mr Malhotra really stressed about something, probably something related to his business. His driver Raju was late that day and when he finally arrived, Mr Malhotra insulted him, right here. In the presence of at least eight other people. I pitied poor Raju. I had never seen Mr Malhotra utter a harsh word before.
The next day things were back to normal again as Raju accompanied him to the car, carrying his bag. They talked casually as if nothing had happened. These things happened, I guessed.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of what happened two days later.
That was the last day Jasmine reported to work as a nanny.
After that day she didn’t have to.
Ayush was found dead right here, frothing at his mouth, his lifeless face contorted with pain.
That day Jasmine had gone to fetch something from the market. Ayush was alone with Mrs Malhotra who later said that she was asleep in her room at the time.
Ayush had entered, looking terrified and sick. He was probably looking for Jasmine. Before reaching the ground floor, he collapsed.
Raju had picked him up from school an hour earlier as the school buses were on strike that day.
Jasmine was the one who saw his body first.
Her sobs were heart-wrenching.
If I had eyes and could shed tears, I would have cried too.
The little legs that I had seen hopping happily only a while ago jerked violently before turning absolutely still, forever, right here. Someone informed his stepmom and she came rushing down. That day, her tears seemed almost genuine.
Mr Malhotra was a broken man after that. Unshaven, with sunken eyes, he turned into a feeble shadow of his former self.
All evidence pointed towards the driver, Raju The motive was obvious. Revenge for the insult meted out publicly at the hands of his employer. Autopsy reports indicated death by poisoning. Raju confessed during interrogation and was put behind the bars. It was an open and shut case.
That day, blinded by emotion, I had almost thought Mrs Malhotra was innocent. But as my mind cleared, I was convinced that she had a hand in the boy’s death. Something told me it was not Raju. He looked like he couldn’t hurt an ant, that he was a murderer was something I couldn’t digest. I wished I could find out. But as an elevator, all I could do was to listen and watch the stories play in my limited field of vision.
Mr Malhotra grew withdrawn and even stopped stepping out of his home. I saw his wife a few times. I heard that she was not of any help in consoling her distraught husband. That was no surprise to me, the cold, unfeeling creature that she was.
I yearned to see Jasmine, I missed seeing her and Ayush. I was glad the boy had her companionship at least for a few months of his short life.
I was missing Jasmine a little more that day when my door opened and she stepped in.
God must have read my mind.
God, how I had missed her!
The man accompanying her was Mr Malhotra’s Psychiatrist, Dr Goyal.
From what I could gather from bits of their hushed conversation, he had asked her to visit often as that was the only way he could try to make his therapy sessions and medicines effective.
‘He has stopped mentioning Ayush’s name. He is living in denial and it could be detrimental to his health. He has bottled up his grief from the past four months and only you, who were connected closely with Ayush can bring him out of this. Talk about Ayush, about the good times, try to get him to talk’, he said.
I wasn’t bothered about Mr Malhotra’s state as much as I was excited at the thought of seeing Jasmine regularly again. She made my heart sing with that familiar perfume of hers. Her curls were styled in a short bob now that made her look even more stunning.
She visited Mr Malhotra on alternate days. I heard that she didn’t accept anything in return for her favour. She was doing it for Ayush. It was because of him, because of this job that she had started seeing hope. She owed it to her little master. To make his father whole again.
Each day, I admired her a little more. This lady was not only a good employee but a better human being.
I got to know of her deprived childhood much later. But let me give you a sneak peek into it now.
Jasmine was the oldest of four children born to a poor fisherman in a small Goan village, Her father spent every rupee from his meagre earnings on alcohol, gambling and women. There wasn’t a night when he didn’t come home drunk. Fights, broken things and broken bones were an integral part of her growing up years.
Her mother did odd jobs, working as a maid in hotels and bars by the day, mending clothes on her creaky sewing machine at night under the dim bulb that strained her eyes. The responsibility of feeding four hungry mouths had fallen on her shoulders already weak with malnutrition and overwork, not to mention the umpteen number of fractures caused by her monster of a husband.
Jasmine dropped out of school after eighth grade. Her mother’s health was failing and she needed an extra pair of hands to help her. Jasmine babysat children of working parents in the neighbourhood, helped her mother with her stitching, cooked food and took care of her younger siblings.
When she was about to turn sixteen, the boys in the neighbourhood started noticing her. She was blossoming like a lotus amidst dirty waters.
Her father had started noticing her too.
‘Jasmine lets go to Panaji to celebrate your birthday this year. Just me and you. I’ll take you to the best restaurant there, you can have Pork vindaloo and taste champagne too. Then I’ll take you shopping. You wanted that party dress, didn’t you? I’ll buy it for you. My girl is turning sixteen and I want to celebrate.’
Jasmine was excited but wanted her mother and siblings to join them too.
‘But Papa, what about Mummy, Peter, Jenny and Annie, can’t they come along?’
‘Mummy cant take a day off and the kids have school, let’s all go together some other time. This time, just you and me.’
Unsuspecting, she had waved goodbye to them.That was the last time she saw them, but she didn’t know it then.
After treating her to lunch, as promised, at a cozy restaurant in the heart of the city, he took her shopping. He bought her a black dress that was too short for her modest taste and asked her to change into it.
‘Are you having a good time, baby?’ he asked.
She nodded, but something made her uncomfortable. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but her father didn’t seem to be himself that day.
Why the sudden change? she wondered.
‘Hurry up, we are going to meet an old friend of mine,’ he said interrupting her train of thoughts.
‘Do I know him? ‘
‘You’ll get to know him now.’
After a while, they climbed the marble steps of a victorian house and rang the doorbell.
A middle aged, balding man opened the door and ushered them in. She tugged at her dress in a futile attempt to cover her smooth and slender legs as his eyes seemed to bore into her exposed flesh.
Her father asked her to wait outside as he wanted to discuss something important with this man who was making her feel uneasy.
When she came in, she saw her father’s greedy grin as he received a wad of five hundred rupee notes. ‘Be good, baby, see you,’ he said as he shut the door and disappeared.
With shocking suddenness, Jasmine realised that her father had sold het to this man for a handful of notes. He was eyeing her greedily as if she were a delicious scoop of ice-cream.
In a flashing second, she picked up a wooden vase from the side table and threw it at him. It hit his slimy head and he fell down, unconscious.
She grabbed a table cloth and covered her bare shoulders. There was some money lying on the table. She grabbed it and stuffed it into her dress.
Then she ran, not looking back, not caring where her feet took her. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks, she vowed never to go back home.
She thought of her mother and cried harder. But going home now would be impossible. Her father would beat her first and if she came out unscathed, would sell her again.
She landed at the Madgaon railway station that night and got into a departing train, ticketless, alone and scared to death. She hid in the toilet when the TC passed by. Only when the train reached its destination, she realised that she had landed in Mumbai.
Four days later, a kind lady took her in and gave her food, water and a change of clothes. She was a widow and was looking for a babysitter to look after her daughter while she worked. Jasmine lied that she was an orphan and had come to the city looking for a job. The lady believed her that’s how Jasmine got her first job as a nanny in Mumbai.
She mainly worked with many middle-class families over the next ten years and built a credible reputation for herself.
She was then hired by an employment agency that catered to rich clients and her job with the Malhotra’s was her first big assignment.
She wasn’t used to seeing such wealth and comforts that she saw at their plush four bedrooms, sea facing apartment. She wanted to live like this. She would work hard, do whatever it took. The miserable life she left behind in Goa was long dead and buried. It was time for a new beginning. And so she immersed herself in her work.
Coming back to where I was, Jasmine was slowly able to bring Mr Malhotra out of his shell of grief. I even saw him smile briefly as Jasmine accompanied him on his evening walk. A little birdie told me that things had gone sour between the Malhotras. Maybe, the fact that Mrs Malhotra couldn’t connect with her husband during his darkest days contributed to it, or it could be that he too suspected that she had something to do with Ayush’s death.
I never saw them together in recent days. It was always Jasmine he was seen with. She sometimes told him of her own struggles and how she had overcome them with courage and made a decent life in this sea of humanity and he was impressed. Every day I heard little snippets of conversation and I put them together. That’s how I know about her past.
Mr Malhotra’s neighbours and friends were pleasantly surprised at the transformation they saw in him. Slowly, he was taking baby steps towards a normal or almost normal life. Dr Goyal was happy with the progress and he mentioned it to Jasmine the other day.
‘He will be himself soon, you are free to go then. Thank you so much, I couldn’t have done this without you,’ he said.
Mr Malhotra’s friends were all praises for Jasmine’s selfless work, today Dr Goyal joined them too. Such was her personality, people couldn’t help but admire her. Who in today’s world showed such devotion towards their ex-employers?
Rumours had it that the Malhotra’s marriage was about to hit a dead end and they were headed towards divorce. I wished I could somehow prove her guilty of murdering Ayush, but all I had was a hunch. And hunches, that too of elevators don’t count as evidence.
A year later….
Mr Malhotra stepped in, holding hands with his wife. As soon as the door slid shut, they kissed.
What happened? A miracle? Sorry to disappoint you, but this was his third wife, the new Mrs Malhotra, but I will always call her Jasmine.
She had succeeded, kept her promise to herself, done whatever it took. Mr Malhotra, his apartment worth crores, the wealth he inherited from his father would all be hers now. The fool had trusted her and so had the pesky little boy. He was out of her way for good. She had seen to it.
She had underestimated her acting skills. She must be really good, no one suspected her.
The driver poisoned Ayush, alright. But he was just a pawn. She had offered him twenty-five lakhs in return. That would be much more than what he would earn in his entire life.
He had agreed, for his family, for his children. People did ridiculous things for the sake of their children. Not her father, he wasn’t even fit to be called that. She never heard from her family again.
Was her mother alive? Her siblings must have grown up now. She shook away the thoughts, she didn’t want any shadow from her past to intrude her new life.
After the pest Ayush’s death, she had approached Dr Goyal, offering to help. One thing she was sure of was her ability to charm her way into people’s hearts, children and adults alike. She made them believe in her ‘altruistic’, ‘selfless’ nature. She smirked at the words. She was anything but that.
Having poisoned Ayush, her next step was to poison his father’s mind with lies that she made up about his wife’s cruel treatment of her stepson. The fool didn’t have a mind of his own and ignored the fact that being cold and distant was his wife’s nature, but he had never seen her raise her hand or even her voice on Ayush.
So I was wrong about her, that’s okay, it happens.
Jasmine’s last obstacle was gone with their divorce. The rest was a cake walk. She seduced him, got him on his knees with a solitaire ring.
They are just back from their honeymoon in Switzerland and I now look at her with disgust. This isn’t the Jasmine I knew. Even, her perfume is different, an expensive one. She isn’t a nanny anymore, you see? She is Mrs Malhotra, a millionaire’s wife.
Now, how do I know all this you may wonder.
She never told me, or anyone else. But after years of being involved in people’s lives, seeing and observing them has made me discover new talent, I didn’t know I possessed. Guess what? I can now read minds too. There are a hundred other tales I’m dying to tell you, but that’s for another day.
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