The first storm of the monsoon was brewing, and the clouds were pregnant with rain. The new roof tiles in my Cassia house were ready to take the beating. Tall coconut tree swayed violently and hurled dead barks to the ground. In the distance, was the abandoned Azad biscuit factory where a pack of dog had taken refuge and was orchestrating long lingering moans.
‘Did you bring it all? she asked again.
‘Yes, sis.’ I told her.
‘Except for one’
‘Never mind’ she said. ‘I’ll ask mom to fetch it.’ I came in and huddled in the corner, and was in no mood to attend her ceremony the next day.
I had heard ghost stories before but was not attuned to believe them. But this scenario was different. A sense that strange forces had surrounded me. I could feel the presence as each step took me closer to the place. To the old tamarind tree, with multiple arms stretched into the sky. I bit my lip and ground my teeth in agony (for the fear of making unwanted sounds) as drops of candle wax melted around my palm. Deepak had mentioned that the ghost which resided here was a ‘she-ghost’ – with long white drapes and no feet. What if I meet her? In the pitch of darkness, no one was even at a shouting distance. My palm cupping the flame of a single candle which was the only lifeline between reality and the paranormal. My lone face lit with inner fears, exposed to possible entities hovering outside. I remembered the days when we threw stones at the raw tamarinds above, and jumped in glee as they rained down to our relentless target practice. There, beneath the tamarind tree we had spent countless hours narrating ghost stories and quivering our eyes while we gnawed our teeth into its sour juices. But daylight concealed the mystic of this place. Night was when strange things happened.
As I kept walking, there was an unfamiliar jolt. The place became eerily quiet. I felt as if someone threw a handful of sand at me. Goosebumps triggered. I fumbled with the candle as I desperately tried to save it. Phew! That was close. The flame almost burned out. Although wanting to turn back and run as fast as I could, the objective of my cause kept me going. My sister’s life depended on it. I was the man of the house, and I had to do it. Even if it meant faking bravery. Testing to see whether I would be hurled with more sand, I prodded one leg forward. When I received no reaction, I moved along. Even a tiny rustle of a leaf, and I was dead stop. Another minute to deliberate. And then one more step. Just ten yards away from the tamarind tree, I sought refuge behind a stout stem of a nearby jackfruit tree. I looked hesitantly. Why were ghosts attracted to this place? Why did the leaflets fold at night? Why did cats howl here? Were they detecting something that I didn’t? They say only some people are gifted (or rather ungifted) to see ghosts. It surely was not me. At least not till now. And I thanked God for that.
I recognized the low branch which was my favorite spot. The slight asymmetry at the base of the tree and the bend of the stem towards the old well. And then, my eyes melted onto something hidden among one of the higher branches. Some amorphous thing. I shook my eyes, to make sure. Well, that cannot be a ghost, can it? What if it’s a piece of cloth? Or some unknown species…like a white chimp? The stern rock of skepticism was melting away into the water of fear. The first thing in my mind was to blow off the candle. I pinched myself to see whether I was in a dream. I was not. That thing was sure perched in one of those branches. I closed my eyes with both palms of my hand and clutched my rosary cross. There I sat, trembling.
Seconds passed to minutes, and my heart was pounding. Impatience took the better of me as I lifted my head cautiously and peek through the web of my ring finger and the middle. There, I saw it again. The arms gliding. The legs floating. Why was she doing that? Did it detect me or not? Was it waiting to communicate with me? I could not tell. The air was ready to be pricked and someone had to call the bluff. My secret plan was to disappear from there. So, I mustered all the courage and went around with paw-steps. My Adams’ apple was throbbing. Another moan from a pack of dog now sounded like a bloodcurdling noise. Sweat breaking on my eyebrows. My thumb firmly clenched within my fists to guise it as a weapon of self-defense.
…I clutched my chest and bowed down into meek surrender. What was scarier was that from one corner of my eye, I saw ‘others’ appear…..
As I crawled past her, everything went smooth. It seemed to be harmless. What was I thinking? Ghosts can be peaceful only if we let them be that way. As I passed it, suddenly it turned around and rolled the whites of her eyes! The long curly white hair sprang into the air into a furious revolutionary motion. I was stunned but managed to scream. To my dismay, it was drowned by her even louder shriek that reverberated in the night. There, I stood paralyzed and my gut was mince-meat. Then she started prancing menacingly from one branch to another, as if to call someone, as I clutched my chest and bowed down into meek surrender. What was scarier was that from one corner of my eye, I saw ‘others’ appear in a solemn march. The ground was thundering. And now they were appearing in numbers. Headless men, old warped bodies, faceless children. They were closing in. I wished that I evaporate right there, when I heard a muffled voice from far behind.
‘Are you there?
She was yelling standing at the door. I turned around and ran as fast as I could.
‘Did you bring it all? she asked again.
‘Yes, sis.’ I panted.
‘Yes, everything. Except for one.’
‘Never mind’ she said. I’ll ask mom to fetch it.’
At least you got the rest of the clothes before it rained.’
I sat huddled in the corner, and I was in no mood to attend her ordination ceremony at Cassia church, the next day.
Author: Newton Dsouza- USA