It happens every night, like a clockwork. Till one day, when he finally decides to take things in his own hands. Little does he realises, it might be a trap.
It starts as soon as I close my eyes to fall asleep, the tapping of the keys on a typewriter. Then it continues the whole night. The sound comes from the ceiling, from the apartment just above me. I never had trouble falling asleep before. But after the sound started, it’s getting difficult. Even if I drift off a sudden jab of the key wakes me up. I ignored it for the first few days, taking it to be an infatuation of my neighbor.
It continued like that for over a week and I got fed up. I decided to confront my neighbor. I don’t remember ever visiting the floor above mine. There arose no situation which demanded me to go there. But now I’d a reason.
The apartment was locked. After talking to one of the neighbors, I got to know that a girl in her late 20s lives in the apartment. She’s away most of the day. But the most surprising fact I learned was that she couldn’t speak. She was mute.
I tried visiting her apartment for a few days but she’d already be gone. Our schedules were conflicting and so I never got hold of her. I haven’t told anyone about the sound yet, not even my girlfriend. Although many have noticed that I’m not sleeping well, maybe from my behavior or my tired eyes (the former can’t be the reason, as I’ve not noticed any significant change in my behavior).
My girlfriend sleeps over at my place every weekend. Luckily, she’s a deep sleeper and doesn’t seem to notice the sound at all. She falls asleep before the sound starts. So I bear it alone. She would sleep soundly as if nothing’s going on. Sometimes, I feel an urge to poke her and wake her so that she could share my pain too. But I know poking wouldn’t be enough to wake her from the slumber.
One of my colleagues at work gave me his sleeping pills. I was operating the printer and forgot to fill the toner. He noticed I was printing blank pages. He took me to a corner and asked if there was something wrong going on with my life, or if I was getting enough sleep at night. I was speechless. After seeing my hesitation, he patted my back and fetched a bottle of pills from his pocket. Take one before bed, he said. I took the bottle and shoved it in my pocket as if we were making an illegal drug transfer. He smiled and walked away, without saying any word.
I take that he was sent by my boss. He must have noticed my poor performance for the past few days and decided to send someone with a bottle of sleeping pills to help me out. If that was the case, then I’m grateful to my boss.
I did as I was instructed. I took one pill before I went to bed that night. Just when I felt I had drifted off, a loud tap of the key woke me up. My nightly torture had started. I grabbed my pillow and shoved it on my ears. But the loud taps of keys perforated the pillow and pierced my eardrums. I flushed the pills and my life went back to as it was.
Now after listening to the sound for about a month, it’d started to seem like a melody. It’s not just the random strokes of keys anymore. There’s a rhythm in it. I think about the melody of the sound on my way to work. I think about it while I’m sitting in an important meeting. I think about it while I’m eating with my colleagues. I think about it the whole day. It’s as if the sound has been carved deep into my mind. I even started humming it while I’m cleaning my house, or cooking my meals.
‘What’ve you been humming whole day?’ asked my girlfriend when we’re out grocery shopping.
‘It’s nothing. Just some music I heard last night,’ I answered.
‘It sounds familiar,’ she said. ‘Is it Mozart?’
I was surprised for a moment. But in no way she had listened to the sound given the way she sleeps at night. Maybe it was all subconscious.
‘I don’t remember,’ I said. ‘I’ve been trying to figure out the same.’
I must have just blurted it out, but I was trying to figure out what the sound meant to convey. The melody flowing like a gentle river. Like the tides in the oceans, rising and crushing onto the sea, repeatedly. The keys go unprecedentedly faster most of the time. Then there’s a slowdown as if the keys have been jammed. But the tapping doesn’t stop. I make a vicious attempt to decipher it. Maybe she’s been trying to convey something all this time. Tell me about her secrets.
Maybe she’s a songwriter, trying to write a masterpiece. That would explain why the keystrokes are all rhythmic. But it would be painful for her to write a song which she would never be able to sing.
I’ve planned to break into her house. I’m waiting for the right moment. I would do it neatly and leave behind no trace of a break-in. Maybe she would never notice it, as she keeps herself busy with her work and typing the whole time. It’s difficult to break in from the front door, as there are surveillance cameras everywhere. This leaves behind only one option, to climb into her balcony, which lies just above mine.
I bought a nylon rope and practiced each move in my head. I should do it in the afternoon when everything’s quiet. The rear part of my apartment faces a line of trees so nobody would be able to see me taking my endeavor. Still, I take every precaution.
Finally, the time has arrived. I’ve taken a day off my work, just to carry out my plan. I tie a hook at the end of the rope. Swirling it a few times, I throw it with utmost force. It misses. I try it again. It hooks on the railing of her balcony on the third attempt. I look around for a probable spectator. The path is clear. I start to climb. The climbing part is harder than I had imagined. The rope keeps slipping as my hands have started to sweat. I should’ve tied knots in the ropes, I think. It would’ve been easier that way. Nevertheless, after struggling for a few minutes, I finally climb onto her balcony. The tight grip left marks on my hands.
I take out the equipment to pick the lock, a wrench, and a nail. I’d practiced it on my lock several times. So it doesn’t take long to open the door. Within a minute I’m inside her house. The damp smell of the closed space invites me in. I’d planned to go straight to her study and break her typewriter.
I go into her bedroom. The blanket is strewn on the floor. She must have hurried in the morning to leave for her work. All the climbing and lock picking has made me thirsty. So I head towards her kitchen. I open her fridge, only to find two rotten apples and a bottle of juice. The bottle is open. I pick it up, only to gag on its terrible smell. I put it back and head towards her study.
It sits on the desk, the torture instrument, with a semblance of innocence. There’s a pile of paper beside the typewriter. The dust has settled on everything, forming a layer, making everything dull.
I inspect the typewriter, a vintage Oliver. A paper is rolled on the cylinder. There is an unfinished word at the end. It seems as if somebody has abandoned it in haste. I blow the dust and press the keys, randomly.
I dust the pile of paper. I nearly guessed it correctly. It’s a poem, written in beautiful verses. The words compel me to read further and further. She’s written her own story in form of a poem. The story of a voiceless girl, who’s a lot to say to this world. How she tries hard every day to fit into the world. The shame she went through when she was young. And the overwhelming guilt of an accident in which she lost her brother. If only she could scream, she would’ve alerted her brother before he was run over by a car. But the girl has now accepted her fate.
Then the poem ends, with an unfinished sentence. It turns out the paper loaded into the typewriter is the last page. I rummage through the study room, flip the pages of every book, hoping to find a folded paper bearing the end of the poem. But there’s none.
If I be careless like this, throwing around the books and the paper, I’d leave behind traces. But I don’t seem to care somehow. I sit in the chair, disappointed. My mind is running with thoughts, about the fate of the voiceless girl. What happened to her? I imagine all the possibilities.
My heart starts to pound. It’s unfair, what happened to the innocent girl. What had she done to deserve such a life? I load the page back into the cylinder. The girl deserves an ending to her story, a resolution to her pain. Maybe I should just write my version. I adjust the carriage to the left so that it points towards the sentence she’s left unfinished. And then I start tapping the keys.