Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Cellar in the city

This story was originally published on whereandnow.com in 2010, under the title "Nothing to lose but your chains".

        "When I hadn't seen a crack of light for, well, I can only assume it was days, I promised myself that if I ever got out of that cellar, I would quit my job antravel the world. You can't imagine what it does to you to be completely alone, stone cold, hungry and not even able to see your own hands." Kate Farringdon has been locked up in a cellar for six and a half days before a cleaner discovered her and set her free. Three years ago, she sold her flat in Central London and booked a single flight to The Gambia, where she now works for a chain of internet cafes.
        "It was the most frightening thing that has ever happened to me," says Kate. "I was working as an accountant with one of the big firms in the City. It wasn't my dream job, but it paid particularly well. I was planning to work for ten years or so, save a lot of money and then follow my dreams." She shakes her head and smiles. "I can't believe I would still be stuck in that same job today if I hadn't worked late on the 24th of May 2004."
        "There was this project, I don't even remember what client I was working on, but at the time it seemed very important to me and I had to get things done. So I stayed in the office till midnight. I was the only one left in the office, and when I was finally ready to go home, I found that I had been locked in. The front door of the office was closed. I should have called security, but I thought it would be easier to take the back door. Now, you have to understand that I hadn't had dinner yet and had been staring at a computer screen nonstop for over 12 hours. I don't know what happened, but as I walked down the staircase at the back, I somehow missed the ground floor and walked into the basement. I knew something was wrong when I reached the bottom of the stairs and had to go through an unfamiliar door. But it's not like I was used to taking the back door – even if I would have taken the right turning, it would probably have looked unfamiliar."
        "I used my mobile phone as a flash light because the corridor was pitch black. There were black bins, mops and buckets, but no exit. I turned back to find that the door behind me was shut. I pushed the bar, but it was locked. At first, I couldn't believe how stupid I had been to allow it to close. Of course, my mobile phone had no reception down here, and it was running out of battery too. I tried to open the door with force, but to no avail. I was so angry with myself! But there was nothing I could do but wait for security to discover me on CCTV."
        "The next morning, the alarm of my mobile phone woke me up. I tried to door again, stamped on the floor, shouted and peed in a bucket. When my phone switched itself off, hours later, I was so thirsty that I started to contemplate drinking from that same bucket. I lost all sense of time until my phone woke me up again the next morning. I couldn't switch it on any more but the alarm still worked for three more days. After that, I knew it was the weekend. There was no soft bedding, no light, no food, no intellectual stimulus to distract me. And whilst I was locked up in that cellar, I realised how empty my life had been. For the last five years, my life had been nothing more than this imprisonment. In the same building even! The only difference was that I'd never had to face my situation because there had been food, soft beds and chairs and stress to distract me."
        Farringdon spent two days in hospital to recover after the cleaner had found her. "The worst thing was that nobody came to visit me in the hospital. My colleagues were barely aware of the fact that I had gone missing; they just assumed that I wasn't well. I hadn't talked to my parents for weeks, so I can't blame them for not noticing my disappearance. My life hadn't just seemed pointless from the damp darkness of a city cellar – it looked exactly the same from the hygiene of the hospital. So I kept my promise, quit my job, sold my house and put all my money in an online savings account. They offer competitive interest rates," she says. Apparently, the accountant in Kate hasn't completely vanished. But she quickly adds: "The best thing is that you're much more flexible with an online account than with a traditional savings account. I've got access to my money wherever I am, as long as I can get on a computer with internet connection."
        "It's hard to believe, but I'm glad I got trapped in that cellar. I could have died down there if that cleaner wouldn't have found me by accident. Especially since he had no reason for being there in the first place! Just like me, he took one flight of stairs too many. It makes me sad to think about it, but at least I can say I'm alive."


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