written by Srishti Kadu
edited by Rebecca Parkinson
Shalini jogs across the canteen towards us, stuffing her sparkly red iPhone into her purse, “Guys, my mother has called me at least five hundred times by now. I think I’d better leave.”
It is twenty minutes past nine. There’s twelve minutes till the next train. If I leave with her right now we could easily make it. I might even reach home before midnight tonight.
“But we still don’t have judges for the Contemporary Dance event, Shally!” Atif is beginning to get agitated.
“Arrey yaar, don’t take tension, it’s only Janfest! And anyway, Chiki said her dad would be happy to step in if we can’t find anyone else. He’s a movie producer. That’ll work right?” She starts stuffing books and pencils into her purse.
“I think we should call it a night. It’s only November.” I yawn. God I really need to sleep.
“It’s the 26th. We’ve barely got two weeks before Christm—“
A loud boom drowns out Atif’s words. The glass of water in front of me nearly falls off the table before Atif steadies it. Fireworks? I don’t remember dad mentioning a cricket match this week. Maybe it was for some festival.
“What the hell was that?” Atif asks as he looks around the canteen.
“Doesn’t matter. You coming or not?” Shally hitches her purse onto her shoulder as she looks at me. I nod. We both usually take the same train home from CST. It makes the sweaty hour-long journeys less painful. Being crammed in with irritated middle-aged women in the ladies compartment means that there is always someone having a fight, and Shally somehow forces her way into the middle of them all. Her abominable Hindi skills means that I get to hear some really funny arguments.
“Oye! Lissun! Lissun!” Ram Singh’s broken English reaches us before we see his short, plump form running across the quad. His wooden stick waves in the air, calling for attention.
“No one go. Stay on campus. Everyone follow Shinde. We are lock down now. Go! Go! Jao!”
“What the hell?”
“What’s lockdown? What’s happening?”
“Is this a drill?”
“Why would they do a drill at 9:30 in the night?”
“Shit man, my mom is going to kill me if I get home late again tonight.”
Panicked voices echo off the stone walls as Shinde hurries us up a narrow staircase and into LR 22.
Shally had her cell phone pressed against her cheek, “Why is there no network? There’s always network in 22.”
Once all of us are inside, Shinde locks the door and calls for everyone to be quiet. He speaks quickly into a walkie-talkie before bolting all the windows shut and switching off the lights. As soon as he does that I hear another loud boom. The windows rattle. I feel a hand grab my arm.
“Get down! Away from the windows!” Shinde yells at us. He spits angry Marathi into his walkie-talkie. After a moment the room is completely silent. In my two years at St. Xavier’s, I have never been in a lecture room with so many people and have it be this quiet.
“Okay, now listen. Very quietly. This is serious. I don’t know exactly what’s happened but right now, there’s a terrorist attack happening at CST. And we all need to remain calm, and safe. Police has been informed, and they’re sending back up, but I’m afraid we’re all going to have to stay in here for a while. They have jammed signals, so you probably won’t be able to call up your family.”
“Thank God we didn’t go.” Shally whispers from behind me.
I text both my parents letting them know I am alright. I don’t get a delivery notification, but I want them to get that message as soon as they unjam the signal. All I have to do now is wait it out. Shally, Atif and I sit cross-legged with the other students on the floor.
Even though the windows are thick, I can hear the gunfire and the screaming from across the street. Sometimes I can hear the sound of feet falling heavily against the tarmac. At least I tell myself they are feet. My eyes adjust to the dark and I see people sobbing and hugging each other, murmuring softly. I try not to cry as the windows rattle dangerously.
Shinde’s walkie-talkie fills the room with static. He speaks at length to whoever is on the other side. He then claps once to get everyone’s attention. It’s unnecessary, we are already listening.
“Be extremely quiet right now. Terrorists have moved to attack Cama hospital. There’s a big group of them, they’ve targeted other places too; Leopold’s Café, The Taj Hotel and Nariman Point. The police is doing its best. We’ve barricaded our entrances. There is no way they are getting inside the college. You’re all safe here.”
Despite his reassurance, I can hear the alarm in his voice. From the windows on the left, the pale yellow wall of Cama hospital is all I can see. It is too close. If they can get into the Taj, then no barricade could stop them from entering our college. I tick off all the places they are attacking against my mental map of Mumbai. It’s all in the South. At least my family is safe. The relief I feel barely lasts a few seconds as I process what Shinde had said earlier. How many people are lying dead right now? How many more fighting for their lives? Being rushed to hospitals? What about their families? Why is this happening?
I wonder how my parents must be feeling right now. I can picture my father, panicking because the phone lines aren’t working. I hope he isn’t desperate enough to drive all the way here. The TV is probably tuned onto some news channel while my mother and younger brother stare at it in silent prayer. Will they remember to pray for the others too?
It is almost midnight now.
I look around me. Almost everyone is awake, but it is still dead silent. Atif and a few others fan themselves with paper and for once no one complains about how stuffy LR22 is. I hold my breath to see if I can hear anything. But there is nothing now. No sirens, no shooting, nothing. Even Shinde’s walkie-talkie seems to be holding its breath. All I can hear now is my own heartbeat.