Chapter One

She lived in a yellow cube. With every passing day, the measured symmetry of each windowless wall swallowed her. 

In the centre of one wall was a locked yellow door. In the centre of the room was a yellow computer set upon a yellow work table with a chair. On her yellow kitchen counter to the far left of the room, she broke a few eggs, to eat, scrambled with toast. The smell of butter melting on the yellow saucepan filled the room. This week she’d been sent a garlic flavoured variety which she hadn’t had before. 

Each week, a yellow latex gloved hand gingerly appeared by pushing the yellow flap at the bottom of the door, carefully placing her weekly groceries on the yellow tiled floor. 

Each week, she tried to make conversation with the hand. It usually made a sympathetic gesture, in silence, after placing her nine groceries on the floor, one at a time, equidistant, in a three by three grid, before departing. 

Each week, she’d memorise the pattern of her nine rationed groceries, searching for a sign or a clue, before dumping them all in the yellow fridge in the corner. 

Milk carton to the extreme left, a slab of butter next to it, a mesh bag containing four apples, another with lettuce, a packet of urad dal, a packet of rice, a box of eggs, a few sage sprigs, and a lollipop.

Another time, a couple of avocados, a packet of lasagna, some rosemary, a beetroot, a few shallots, a freshly baked loaf, some eggs, fours mandarins, a few bright ube—a purple roundish vegetable she’d never before seen, eaten or known what to call. 

Then, udon noodles, a mango, a dozen bananas, a packet of raisins, a large eggplant, a few lemons, a giant leek, a tin of almonds, some sesame seeds.

Her heart fluttered, when she once found, what she thought to be a tiny white note dangling from an apple, only to realise it was the remnant of a hastily scratched barcode sticker. A sad reminder of the outside world.

Yet, she knew the hand was trying to tell her something. 

Something she couldn’t decipher.

In her dreams, the list of the week’s groceries played over and over again. Their placement, their names, their colours, quantities, nine yellow tiled squares tumbling in and out of her conscience. There was something there, something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. 

As she poured her eggs into the pan, she could hear the muffled beep followed by a hum of an induction plate turn on in the cube adjacent. 


Always at 8:00am. 

She wondered what colour their cube might be, whether they lived by themselves, whether they received a script to follow like her and whether the yellow gloved hand visited them too by pushing a flap on their front door. On certain days when she felt particularly lonely, 8:00am was when she’d march up to the wall, frantically slap her hands against it and scream niceties. 

“How are you today? Are you well? Are you cooking scrambled eggs too?”


“Do you want to get out of here? I know we aren’t allowed to scream. You could slap the wall back or something… we could create our own language… or… a secret code.”


Meanwhile, a ding from her computer indicated that she had received a warning in her inbox. 

Strike ninety-eight.

She sprinkled a few pinches of salt as the eggs cooked in the buttery glaze. Soft, fluffy, warm. She cooked them exactly for a minute whilst gently whisking them. The toaster beeped. The toast sprung out. She piled all of the egg in the centre of her pale yellow ceramic plate covering the small umbrella printed in the centre. 

The plate was a gift from her yellow gloved visitor. It took her by surprise when it turned up amidst groceries one random day. 

She stuck a fork in the egg, held the toast in her hand, taking a small bite of it with a forkful of egg. The first bite always filled her with nostalgia. 


Laying on Nena’s warm lap, as she knitted her yet another scarf while she read-out-loud articles from the monthly issue of Women of the World magazine, describing the successful lives of women who had ‘made it’ and how they reached there. After half an hour, they would both get up to make this very breakfast together, before she’d head out for another day of unsuccessful job interviews.

Another day, another perfect breakfast. One she had had for the past sixty-two days in this yellow room.

During her online orientation process, she’d been happy to circle ‘Scrambled eggs and toast’ as her breakfast of preference on the form. The form had been laborious, taking note of all her food allergies, preferences, health statistics, family details, down to her favourite colour. 


She’d scribbled happily.

Thinking of the yellow solaria fields stretched outside her window, the yellow boots she’d wear for harvest season, the yellow scarf her Nena made for her with the words, ‘No matter where you are, home is here,’ knitted with a large red heart punctuating the word ‘here’. She had stuffed it in her suitcase before getting into the yellow cab which had been sent for her from work. Yellow, the rays of the sun on her grandma’s luminous, wrinkled skin which became a blur as she held her hand in a quiet teary-eyed goodbye, scored by the sound of the cab driving her away. 

Circling yellow was why she had ended up in this sunshine monstrosity. Why couldn’t she have picked eggshell, baby blue, even a calming pistachio?

The cab had dropped her off at a road lined with large cubes on either side, as far as the eye could see. Salmon, vermillion, ecru, viridian, rose, each cube a unique colour. The floor on which they stood was sparkling white, as if nobody ever walked on it. Not with muddy boots at least. There was no sign of a plant, a tree or a shrub, no dirt, no traces of life at all. Only closely placed coloured cubes and a white road in the middle. The driver opened the door and placed her suitcase in front of the bright yellow cube and drove off without a word.

She looked around in silence, staring at the large yellow door in front of her. She fished out a key card which had been sent in the post along with a letter stating she had got the job. 

Oh the joy! She had celebrated with Nena at Tete’s tea shop with a warm chamomile tea, cold chocolate milk, a large spread of all their house favourites and three desserts. With Nena’s savings running out and the labour of the farm becoming more and more strenuous for them both, she was looking for security more than anything else. 

The contract stated that half of her income would be directly transferred to her family should she like to have that arrangement. She did. She’d be provided with all necessities including accommodation as part of the perks. She was. She’d need to move four hundred kilometres away from her precious Nena. 

The third dessert was ordered to get through this. 

At 8:30am, having savoured her eggs, she got up from her dining table to wash her plate. When suddenly, the yellow umbrella next to the cupboard fell to the floor, from its usual, appropriately slanted resting position, for no apparent reason. It made her jump. She scrambled to the umbrella and stared at it for a whole minute. In a room where nothing happened the entire month, an umbrella falling to the floor of its own will, was an occurrence that could only be deemed strange.

She inspected the umbrella. Thoroughly checked it for any visible damage. It lay innocently strewn across the yellow floor as if nothing had happened. She tried to make herself believe that nothing HAD happened but thoughts flooded her mind. What should she do now? Should she return to washing her plate as per the script? What else was going to happen today which she didn’t know of? Was the alarm clock not going to ring at nine? Was it going to suddenly topple from the bedside table too? Was the email not going to come in exactly at the same time? She placed the plate inside the sink and wondered if she should skip washing it. Maybe she should lie down. A growing headache summoned her to do just that. Questions whirled as she lay her head on the pillow. It’s just an umbrella. She is overthinking. Things fell randomly all the time back home. A gust of wind, a squirlet from the farm, neighbourhood kids messing around, but not here. 

The umbrella did not fall in the script. 

Yet again, she pondered about her life in this yellow room of identical days which played over and over again. What was this job? What was she doing here? 

Everytime she went off script she received a warning in her email. A hundred warnings and there would be ‘consequences.’ The faint ding she now heard meant she was on her ninety-ninth. What had she done now? She didn’t make the umbrella fall. Most warnings were for the times she tried to get out of her unyielding front door. She gnawed at it, tried to open the bottom flap the other way, knocked violently till her hands bruised, fidgeted with the doorknob. What could the consequences be anyway? No eggs for a month? No screen time? A cut in her salary? Something worse? On some days she felt anything would be better than this. On others she didn’t, knowing Nena was receiving half of her salary. But was she really? How was Nena doing? She hadn’t been allowed to make contact with anybody since she was locked in this yellow cube. 

With every passing day she felt more alone. 

With every passing day she grew to hate the colour yellow. 

She wanted to leave. 

The contract she had signed had one hundred and forty three days left. All these days without seeing Nena, without hearing her voice, without the warmth of her smile.

The startling alarm which rang at 9:00am made her realise she had fallen asleep and tears had dried on her face. 

She woke up and hastily switched on the computer. The script she’d receive everyday grimly greeted her. The same to-do list which governed her days since she began the job.

She was supposed to watch the news for an hour while they broadcasted stuff about how Andrade Jelouse, teen heart throb, now prefers french fries over potato wedges and how its causing the sale of wedges to hike but french fry demand to plummet or how Sasha Magnolia was about to purchase yet another mansion as the one she lived in did not suit her Goddess energy. Just when subjects turned to water shortages, rent hikes, public surveillance, her hour was up. That’s when the doorbell would ring and the yellow gloved hand would appear at the base of her front door, delivering her weekly groceries or her daily progress report. She was then to cook her meals, wash the dishes, dust the furniture, take a shower, wear her work uniform and get a minimum of twenty people to enrol to this very job she detested, for the next ten hours. 

She remembered how thrilled she had felt receiving her offer letter. How it must have been sent by another unsuspecting person, just like her, with no luck on previous job searches, now regretting every decision along with having said that a ghastly orange, perhaps, was their favourite colour. The job had been advertised in her local newspaper as the dream of every villager. A fancy new accommodation, work from home in a pleasant neighbourhood, the perfect balanced life that everybody searches for, and the only task, to enrol more people into working the same job. It didn’t state the entrapment, the complete lack of contact with the outside world or the general bizarreness of the entire thing. 

The first few days at work had been novel, joyous, even. In a week, she began craving the light of the sun, the smell of grass, the sound of sparrowhorns which woke her up each day, along with Nena’s soft hum as she made her bed in the adjacent room. In a month, she began to feel lonely and frantic, missing every aspect of her life back home. In two months, she knew she wanted to get out. She knew she didn’t want to enrol new people into this… whatever this was. She confidently wrote a long, verbose email of resignation explaining her experience, the isolation, citing violations of her rights. Within minutes it was declined. That’s when she began going off script, making small attempts to test the system. 

First, she stealthily tried to turn the door knob which didn’t budge. She had known it wouldn’t, but the reality of being trapped gripped her entirety for the first time. The ding which sounded from her computer immediately after was her very first warning, sinking her heart with fear as she realised she was being watched.

She changed into her uniform, curiously glancing at the fallen umbrella and opening the warning email.

The umbrella had not set off a warning. Not having washed the dish after breakfast, had. 

The dish lay in the sink with bits of egg and crumbs of toast on it. 

A few minutes before going ahead with the enrollment at 10:00am, something inside her drew her closer to the umbrella. She had inspected and pondered over every single object in the room including the umbrella, but, for some reason, it had never occurred to her to open it. Not until that moment. She now questioned the existence of an umbrella in a room from which she was never meant to leave. Nothing in the room was just for show, there were no trinkets, no memorabilia. And yet, here was an object which could never be used. As curiosity took over, she opened the umbrella. 

On the inside, between the silver spoked interior, in the lightest silvery ink were indiscernible scribbles which looked like some sort of a curving, twisting, abstract pattern. She gasped as she viewed the lines, how they dipped and turned, to form this faint web of art. 

Had the previous occupant left her this? Could this tell her what was going on in this place? Could this possibly be her way out?

As the alarm announced, 10:00am, she strategically decided to go as per the script the rest of the day to avoid triggering another warning, the very last one, before she’d have to face whatever the repercussions were. She regretted having wasted her warnings on tapping walls, talking to the neighbour who never replied, not cooking lunch on time just because she didn’t feel like it. She wished she’d saved some for this moment so she could have a real shot at deciphering what this was. She sighed and closed the umbrella resting it exactly where it had fallen. 

She needed to be patient. 

She needed to figure out how to do this right. It wasn’t too late. She sent out the enrollment emails while her mind chased the possibilities of what the scribbles could mean. 

At 8:00pm the lights went off. She hastily ate a few fruits for dinner just to be able to tick that off. She had a little less than an hour before bedtime. A small window to herself, with no instructions, no to-dos. In the darkness, she kneeled on the floor and opened the umbrella again. Her eyes widened in awe as the indistinct thin scribbles glowed brightly in the dark. She peered over them tracing her finger along the curves. The lines sloped and rose and went around the metal structure of the frame forming a pattern. She took it in as a whole and took it in, in parts. 

Slowly, the mess of lines began to fade away and she realised it was one single line of text which twisted and turned and interlaced over and over to form this complicated tangle. She needed to follow the line and observe where it went. No ding from the computer meant she could go on. 

She hadn’t been found out, not yet. 

Her sweaty hand began to trace the line, leaving out the smaller curves and concentrating on the bigger swoops and dives it took. As the noise from the illegible forms faded away in her mind, only jagged letters remained. Her fingers stopped tracing as four words stood clearly in the script of her native tongue in front of her. 

This is the key.

Her heart skipped a beat. After what had been endless days of poking and prodding, she had an answer, or atleast a clue, something to go off on. 

She was scared that the glowing words would disappear if she closed the umbrella. She felt around the umbrella’s frame carefully to possibly find a small part which might perhaps come out and show itself to be the key. The cold surface was smooth throughout. 

She moved closer to the door knob to search for an opening such that a part of the umbrella may perhaps be inserted in like a key. 


As her heart beat faster, she made her way to quickly check the computer. There hadn’t been another warning since the one for the dish that morning. Relief.

She went back to the door and carefully observed it without touching it, ensuring that the last warning wouldn’t be set off. She had to be careful. She meticulously observed the door but saw nothing out of the ordinary. She wondered if she should probe the doorknob with the umbrella, but decided against it for now. She moved closer, her face inches away from the doorframe, and began inspecting it inch by inch from top to bottom. 

In the slightest way, that she’d easily miss had her face not been so close, she saw the tiniest silvery, inky glow, the same one which covered the inside of the umbrella, in the centre of the door. On closer inspection, she realised the thin long metal tip of the umbrella seemed to be the size of this tiny glowing circle. 

She glanced at her computer one last time. Still nothing. 

She took a deep breath and cautiously lodged the tip of the umbrella into the glowing circle. It gave way with a faint click. She took another deep breath to calm her shaky hands. Instinctively, she turned the umbrella around, holding onto the curved handle, as one would when unlocking something with a key. 

Soundlessly, the door opened. 

Through the tiny sliver, moonlight poured into the room and a gust of cold wind made her shiver. 

Her computer was still quiet. No ding, no warning. 

She quickly grabbed her scarf from the couch, threw on her sneakers and silently stepped out clutching the umbrella close. 

Even though her heart filled with dread of being caught, she couldn’t help but take a moment to admire the magical moonlight, the smell of fresh air, the cool breeze on her skin, the many coloured cubes around her, this outpouring of colour which, finally, wasn’t yellow.

She expected to be alone in the darkness making her way onto the white main road on tiptoe, instead, hushed murmurs and shuffles filled her ears. When she turned the corner, she saw a sea of open umbrellas, in every colour imaginable, moving steadily in one direction, away from her. She noiselessly walked closer to the procession wondering if she should open her umbrella too to blend in. She noticed that each umbrella was held by a gloved hand, of the same colour, so low, she wasn’t able to see any faces. 

As she contemplated opening her umbrella, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around alarmed, her legs all of a sudden feeling like jelly. A large yellow umbrella, much like her own, held by two familiar yellow gloved hands. 

When she looked under the umbrella she saw two familiar eyes staring at her, her own.

“About time you got out!”