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The Shack

By Sristy Sharma (Vnée)

It had been days since he last saw the sun. It had been nights since he last saw the moon. And it had been many moonless nights since he last saw stars. And through all these days, nights, and moonless skies, he only had his human intuition to rely upon to know that the planet was still diligently making its rounds. He wasn’t a prisoner, at least of some authority or person, but it had been days since he stepped out of his shack, a sea-facing shack on the twelfth floor of one of most posh high-rise residential buildings.

Though, the surrounding features implore us to call it an apartment, it is not an appropriate term for the dwelling. In fact, it would be unfair to call it an apartment. It was, in all forms and features, a shack, probably not how we generally know the shacks to be, but in nature that it was being. However, admittedly, this shack had once been an apartment.

This ‘apartment’ was a dream apartment of many dwellers of the city. It had been a very pricey apartment in a very high-end high-rise residential block of a posh location in the city. This city, which was quite popular among locals and migrants alike, had many residential buildings with sea-facing apartments, but this was the best. The city itself was very ambitious as well. It was a crossover of money and technology and a hub of employment and advancement. In short, it was where everyone wanted to settle and the residential block was where everyone wanted to own an apartment. And his apartment was among the ones which represented the prosperity of the owner.

When he first bought it, it was a vast open-floor rectangular space, open to be designed as desired by its owner. It was a sea facing apartment— much better, it was an isolated, peaceful, unhindered, and clean sea-facing apartment. And the side which faced the mysterious waters was a floor-to-ceiling one-way glass wall. There were only two areas upon which the architect and builder had dared to put their imaginations. One was the island structure which had been constructed as a guide to the owner; (Please cook on this side; Please live on this side). The other was the second set of one-way see-through “L” shaped glass structure. It formed a cuboidal enclosure with the farthermost corner of the apartment, leading to a second guide to the owner; Please wash here. Although the apartment was semi-furnished and open for the owner to design, it seemed like the builder could not trust the owner, whom he still hadn’t met, much. In fact, he had taken the liberty to install several, important, albeit, guides in this apartment. Some of these were three sub-enclosures within the wash space, a false ceiling fully fitted witted with wirings, pricey matte switchboard embossings on the walls, fitted faucets, and a poor but enthusiastic open guide for kitchen cabinets.

He, unlike the builder, had decided to trust the guides to set up his apartment. He had only dared to use glass walls to create partitions to differentiate the open floor space into three rooms, a bedroom, living room, and study/work room, and a common hall-cum-corridor.

Though he was a bachelor living alone, he was a responsible adult as well. After all, he had worked from nothing to enough to own this apartment. He wakes up at six in the morning, courtesy of the alarm clock, every day. Though, there had been times when he struggled with his alarm a lot, always ending up sleeping at least two hours more, but now it had been years since, and now his body has been clocked to spring up from the mattress at six. He then exercises, washes, cooks breakfast and preps for his lunch, eats breakfast, carries his coffee to study, and works till one in the afternoon. After cooking and having lunch he resumes his work to clock out at six in the evening and prepares dinner. But he doesn’t step out of his apartment or speak to anyone.

He had no reason to go out. His job was manageable from home, anything and everything was deliverable at his doorstep, the amount paid to own the apartment ensured uninterrupted water, electricity, and gas supply, and so all his basic necessities were taken care of. He had everyone, family, friends, some crushes, colleagues, and other possible social circle participants, but not a need to keep in touch with them. He had no enthusiasm for sports to watch them, let alone play, he didn’t develop a habit to read even newspapers, let alone books, his TV time was so strictly scheduled by his mother that he had lost his interest in digitised content quite early in life, and his passion for art, travel and other traditional entertainments could never develop for they always cost him his ‘rest time’. 

So he has kept to his apartment, or then apartment and present shack, as the glass wall is all boarded up now. Hence, for us as well, it is a shack, boarded up and bound away. 

Now not everything was boarded up in this shack, just the creeks, crevices, and holes in the walls which could be used to maintain any connection with the outside world, even the door was now doule bolted and triple locked. You could possibly imagine the haphazard life he must be leading, however, the reality is quite contrary.

He still follows his routine, he still exercises daily, and he still works daily. Starting in the morning when he opens his eyes slowly and rises his upper body into a perfect ninety degree angle to sit up, and still beat his digital clock at exactly 6:00:00, not even seconds erroneously, to unfolding his sheets and lying down in an attentive stance exactly at eleven-thirty in the evening, he does everything exactly like before. He cooks his three meals diligently, takes his baths every day, makes sure to learn something new every day, and meets his work deadlines without fail. However, he never seems alive, or even awake, through all these chores, even though he is breathing and is holding an alert gaze, all his actions were inhuman, not robotised or muscle memory but inhuman. He was now more a ghost rather than a human, not in the normal senses but in the ways he lives. He led a very disciplined and controlled life, expect for the hours he spent gazing at the slip up. In fact, he was really only alive when looking at the light peeking through the slip. 

There is a creek in his hard handiwork of boarded glass wall, in the living room, near the glass partition separating the living and bedroom. One could credit his slight slip-up in barring the windows for his updated knowledge, but it was truly and simply just a slip-up, a mistake. Though, confusedly one he religiously visits twice every day. Although the visits were random he could be seen gazing at the slip for minutes at length, twice daily. And never did his gaze waver or pricked, he stood steadily and gazed steadily, always, daily.

When he is gazing at the slip his gaze is always dreamy, as if his thoughts and soul had half left ‘here’. And he sits in his living room, his position different than from his other sitting chores, back slouched, cross legged, and drooping shoulders, head tilted at an odd angle. This posture ought to hurt him, especially as he had developed a habit of sitting like this, unshifting, for at least two hours every time he visits the slip but he never changes his posture. He also never blinked his eyes or drank from the forgotten tumbler lying beside him. But still, if anyone were to see him now they would be relieved, as compared to his whole day now he was alive.

Curiously, even though the crevice was just a slip, its features made it seem architectured. Like, it was in the living room and not in the bedroom, as if the partition missed it by a few centimeters, which again was not possible as the partitions were installed before he boarded the glass wall. Also, it was wide enough to allow enough light for air to come alive, but not enough to rob it of melancholy. Never, even on the sunniest days and the brightest nights, the light creeping in could alight someone downtrodden. It was a straight slip but laid slanted on the wall, enough to create the lengthiest and the most hypnotising invite possible. Its height was also perfect, it laid a perfect distance for him to crane his neck, but not strain it into a neckache. But its most important feature was its visibility. Wherever he could be in the apartment the streak of light, the alive air, the slip itself, or just all of it at once, was always visible to him. Almost as if he had set a reminder. 

Although this was not the case, he remembers it, the shack remembers it.

One day, when the weather was absolutely breathtaking, and the sea water was inviting rather than scary, he had placed an order for thick plywood strips. On the second night, when the sky was clear with visible stars (one could spot constellations) and bright almost full moon, which was still a few days away from teasing its overflowing lover, he had boarded up the glass wall, following with other windows of kitchen, bathroom, and study room. He had carefully used wood to create a rectangular framework, and had followed proper measurements to install perpendicular plywood within this structure. He had drilled the smaller boards into the structure. 

He had been alive all throughout the process. 

He was careful in boarding up other windows, and when after a cool refreshing bath he sat on the island stool to eat his meal he saw a streak of light, clear, stark, and daring, imposing on the fruits of his efforts, and suddenly his apartment had become a shack. He gazed ghostly at the streak of light, not robotic but not humanly as well, and it was the last he had been alive as well. 

Now, he was only alive for about four hours a day, on his regular and religious visits to the slip in his boarded-up shack.

By Sristy Sharma (Vnée)

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