Fiction: Visitations

Madhulika Ghose

Madhulika Ghose





“Misha! The next time you want to have some eggs for breakfast please tell me beforehand instead of gobbling my portion. I have an exam today for goodness sake!” Mini knew she wouldn’t get a response. Her flat mate had already entered her ‘silent zone’, the bathroom. No amount of shouting and screaming would elicit a response from Misha, once in the bathroom. That day was the last day of Mini’s semester exam and she couldn’t afford to waste any more time on spilled beans. She chuckled to herself, thinking how strange life was. I guess eggs on an exam day are just not going to work out. All her childhood Mini’s grandmother had superstitiously ensured that she didn’t consume any andas (eggs) on an exam day. Apparently, that would avoid bad luck and the chance of getting an anda (zero) in the exam. Mini ticked her mental checklist while grabbing a fruit and rushing out with her bag. Revision: check, black ball point pen: check, garlanding ‘dadi’s’ (grandmother’s) picture as it’s her death anniversary: check, breakfast: not a check, thanks to the glutton I have to share my apartment with. Down two flights of stairs and still sore about her missing breakfast, Mini realized that she had forgotten to take her umbrella. Not taking an umbrella on that day in the middle of monsoon would be utter foolishness. The memory of the difficulty with which she had procured it gave her the required impetus to sprint up the stairs to fetch it. Just the previous day she had obtained it after much arguing from the department store in exchange for a defective umbrella she had bought from there. Mini didn’t particularly like the psychedelic print on the umbrella, but it was a symbol of her victory in the hollering match against the store manager, and victory, no matter how small, is extremely sweet. Grabbing the umbrella and cursing her foul luck, Mini set out on her way to the college.

After submitting the answer script Mini stood patiently in the corridor waiting for the rain to subside. Despite a rocky start to the day, her exam had been surprisingly good. Even the gloomy weather couldn’t dampen her spirits now. Was the question paper easy or was I just lucky? I guess my prayers to all the Gods worked. I’m sure dadi also blessed me from wherever she is.

It had finally stopped raining and Mini stepped out. She would walk a certain distance and then take a bus home. As she walked in the gentle evening breeze she felt relaxed and random thoughts gently caressed her mind. She had almost reached the bus stand when it began raining heavily. Before the torrential downpour soaked her to the skin, Mini ran for cover. The nearest refuge was a thatched roof, probably the remnant of an abandoned tea stall. As the roof was leaking in many places, she placed her umbrella against the wall and strategically huddled against it for maximum cover. God! What a roof! So much water is seeping in! The only good thing is that probably nobody else will come here because of its dilapidated condition. Her relief was quite short lived. After around five minutes a young boy took shelter under the very same roof. He gradually inched closer to her, perhaps in the quest to place himself in the very limited dry spot. Great! Could this person really not find any other place to stand? If he moves any closer or happens to touch me in any way, I will shout out loud. What is he doing? Does he have ulterior motives? Wait! Is he an umbrella thief? She quickly grabbed her new umbrella to protect it from the potential thief. To her surprise, the boy suddenly spoke up.

“Hello! I’m Aakash. What’s your name? Do you study or work?”

Mini spontaneously replied, “My college exams got over today.” She regretted it almost immediately since it seemed to encourage Aakash to keep talking.

“Oh! Exams! I once thought they were very important, not any more. Look around you at the beauty of nature. Exams, studies, these are all transient, the sun and stars aren’t.”

Wow! Now I have to take life lessons from a boy pretending to have the wisdom of an old man.

Aakash continued, “Life is a precious gift. We should live it happily, carefully balancing our priorities before it’s too late.”

Indeed! Before it’s too late to avoid a massive headache, I should get away from this know-it-all.

Mini didn’t have to put in much effort to do that. Aakash said, “So, shall I go?”

Mini was now convinced that this boy was crazy. Who asks a stranger for permission to leave? Anxious to get rid of him, she swiftly replied, “Yes, of course. Goodbye.”

Mini breathed a sigh of relief to see him walk away. The rain gradually became a steady drizzle and she opened her umbrella to leave. She could see a big crowd on the road near the bus stand. There was also a police van and an ambulance. Mini wondered what mishap could have occurred and shaken this middle-class neighborhood so violently. Walking, she overheard some women talking, “He was such a serious boy! No bad habits, such a gem. Suicide! Unthinkable! He did it in the afternoon. Heard something about bad marks in some exam. His parents must be inconsolable.” So, it’s a case of suicide due to academics. Poor boy! What if this boy had met somebody like Aakash before taking this fatal step? I found his talk irritating, but it could have saved a life.

Mini’s train of thoughts was interrupted by the sight of a body being brought out on a stretcher. As she glanced at the body she felt a shiver run down her spine. Mechanically she asked a lady standing nearby, “What was the boy’s name?” The lady stood consoling a young boy, her son, a friend of the deceased. Before she could reply, the boy, indicating his mobile phone, mumbled, “Aakash is no more! This is so unfair! Even yesterday he was so happy!” In the mobile phone was a picture of two happy young men: this boy, along with the Aakash who had been giving her life lessons just minutes ago and had apparently committed suicide much before that. He had been asking her permission to leave not just the temporary rain shelter, but this worldly realm altogether.

Mini felt numb, her hands and legs didn’t seem to belong to her anymore. She grabbed a nearby tree to prevent herself from sinking to the ground. Who had I been conversing with in the rain? Her heart almost stopped beating and then began thumping harder than she had ever imagined it could. Before she completely lost control over mind and body, she forced her legs to carry her home.

On entering the apartment, she could hear Misha shouting, “Mini! What’s wrong with you? Don’t throw fried eggs into the dustbin. Millions don’t get to eat, you know.”

Mini was stunned. The eggs hadn’t been eaten by Misha or her. They had been neatly thrown into the dustbin by some unknown, invisible entity. Oh my God! Is it dadi? It’s her death anniversary. Has she done it to maintain the tradition of not eating eggs on an exam day? After much fretting she managed to calm her nerves just enough to be able to think clearly. I’m sure these are one-off incidents. I should just move on.

The next day was an event Mini had been waiting and preparing for since almost a year. It was a yearly quiz contest organized by a famous television channel. She was an avid quiz enthusiast and participation in this event was one of the highlights of her entire year.  It once again rained heavily, but this was the preliminary round of the contest and not attending it would be sacrilegious for Mini. So, faithful umbrella in tow, despite feeling paranoid and rather tired, she mustered enough enthusiasm to step out and head towards the event venue. Once there, surrounded by the infectious energy of other quiz enthusiasts, her fears were temporarily allayed.

As it was the golden jubilee of the quiz contest that year, there was a big prize to be won by cracking two preliminary rounds in MCQ (multiple choice question) format followed by a main round. This was the first prelim round. Every single participant was provided with a printed sheet of questions where they had to tick their choices and submit the paper within an hour. Eager to perform her best, Mini chose a particularly secluded seat in the corner of the room. She picked up her pen to mark the first answer. I think it’s option 2. Should I tick it? I’m not sure. As soon as she was about to mark the selected option, she felt a nudge on her hand. It was as if a very cold finger had touched her hand, trying to move it. Shocked, she quickly moved her hand away, only to feel another nudge. Frightened and helpless, she decided to keep her pen to one side and stop marking the answers. As her hand crossed option 4, the nudging magically stopped. Reflexively she put a small tick on option 4. Moving to the next question, the nudging started once more and only stopped when her pen rested on option 3. Unable to decipher the meaning of the strange experience, and propelled by some magical force, Mini ticked all the options where there was no nudging and finished the paper in half the stipulated time. Petrified, she submitted it to the people conducting the quiz and headed home. She knew her name would definitely not appear in the list of qualifying candidates. At least it wouldn’t be a long wait because the results would be published online that evening itself.

That evening, she opened the website of the quiz contest to find her name on top of the list. It said she had answered each question correctly. She felt equal parts of joy and dread. I topped the qualifiers list! I finally did it! Or did I? Is this somebody else’s result? The result of the frigid hands’ owner? This time there seemed to be some benefit of the supernatural incidents that had been occurring. Her mental peace was, however, too large a price to pay for winning any contest. She couldn’t give up the chance to appear in the next round, but the thought of what might happen in the quiz room gave her goosebumps. What if the spirit decides to be a bit more persuasive? I could end up with bruises and God knows what else! Mumbling prayers to every deity she could think of, Mini decided to confront the entity. She would go for the quiz and try communicating with it during the time allotted for answering.

The next day Mini was in for a big surprise. Her frayed nerves ensured a terrible performance in the quiz and she wasn’t assisted by any factor, terrestrial or supernatural. Relieved at the absence of the morbid helpful hand, but confused and terrified of what might happen next, Mini somehow managed to submit the paper and reach home. That night she sat and decided that it was high time to take matters into her own hands. She would go over each unnatural incident and try to figure out what might have caused it to occur. All these incidents indicate that something must have attracted these entities to me. Something which is a new acquisition and wasn’t there too long ago. It suddenly dawned on her. The umbrella! Every time something strange occurred, it was with me. The umbrella was home all day today, I had forgotten to carry it with me, that’s why I wasn’t disturbed today during the quiz. It has been acting as a beacon of sorts attracting creatures of this world and beyond. Without wasting any more time, Mini took the umbrella and flung it out of her window with all the strength she could gather. Those who are dead, should remain dead.

Ramu, the ‘chaiwallah’ (tea seller) heard a thud on the plastic sheet covering his cart. It was his tea stall by day and resting place by night. He got up to check what had made the noise. Those nasty neighborhood boys. If they’ve thrown another beer bottle, I will break it on their heads tomorrow. Muttering curses, he stood up to see that it was an umbrella. He was delighted with the sudden gift from the sky. Marveling at his good luck, Ramu lay down on his makeshift bed to sleep. That night, however, there seemed to be an abnormally high number of people walking near his cart, creating too many audible footsteps and heralding an extended inky night of not much restful sleep.

5 comments :

  1. An eerie story, with a touch of humor, engagingly narrated.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sir! Glad you enjoyed the story.

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  2. Beautifully narrated. Very touching one in a lovely flow. Congrats

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