Adila’s mother’s last rites were performed. Her husband had come. Towards lunch Adila and her daughter left along with her husband. Ria hugged her best friend and the two of them cried a lot. Ria didn’t know how long would it be before she saw Adila again. She made Adila promise that she’d stay in touch regularly.
Mayur came in the evening. Ria’s father had gone to pick him up from the airport and had briefed him about Adila and her mother on the way. They went straight to the hospital where Mishti looked a lot better already. She hugged her father and begged him to take her back to grandpa’s home. The doctor said she was a lot better and that she could be discharged but her diet had to be strictly monitored.
Ria’s mother made some bland soup and fed Mishti and put her to bed. The rest of the family had dinner and they all retired to bed early. They had had a really long day.
Ria went in to take a shower. She turned the shower on and stood under it. The hot water felt good. She closed her eyes and she felt someone hug her. She turned and it was Mayur. “Hey I thought the door was locked”, she said.
“Well, I dissipated”, he said kissing her.
She laughed and kissed him back. They made love in the shower and then she wrapped a towel around her and opened the bathroom door and let out a gasp. Mayur was fast asleep in the bed. She turned to see who she was with her in the shower. The bathroom was filled with steam. But she could make out a silhouette vanishing laughing uncontrollably.
Ria was shaking like an aspen leaf in the wind. She quietly got dressed and lay down beside her daughter. She was sweating profusely. She was too scared to lie there in the dark. She turned the light on.
Mayur opened his eyes a little irritated. “What?”, he whispered.
“I am scared”, she whispered back.
“Huh?”, he asked
“Mayur, I am scared”, she repeated shivering.
“Of what?”, he asked squinting his eyes.
“I… Mayur.. I am being haunted”, she said.
“Say a little prayer and then go to sleep. Nothing will happen”, he said and pulled the sheets over his face irritated and turned the other way and was asleep almost immediately.
Ria felt like crying again. She realized that she had been crying very easily of late. She didn’t feel like sleeping. She remembered that she had not checked her emails in a long time. She opened her laptop and checked her office email id first. There were a few updates from her team. Barring that there was nothing else. She then checked her personal mail. Her boss had mailed her enquiring about Mishti’s health. She closed the mails and played some games on her laptop. She felt less scared with the lights on. At about three am she felt a little sleepy and turned in. She heard the bicycle again in the distance but she chose to ignore it and was asleep in a few minutes.
The next morning she sat on the porch sipping her coffee. She looked over at Adila’s house. She thought she saw Naisha in the garden smiling at her. She walked up to the common fence that the two houses shared and Naisha was gone. Then Ria remembered that Naisha was dead. She stepped back. This she was sure she had imagined. She looked at the big padlock on the front door and missed Adila a lot. How many afternoons and evenings she had spent in that garden playing with Adila and her kittens. She turned back with a sigh and sat on the door step sipping her coffee again. Mayur was usually a late riser. And here he was pampered to no end. Mishti was already up and had gone for a walk with her grandfather against her grandmother’s wishes. She saw the two of them some distance away examining flowers and butterflies. She smiled looking at how tiny Mishti seemed next to her six foot tall hefty grandfather. She looked up at the sun. She no longer felt scared. She thought to herself how powerful the sun was. Though she had turned the lights on last night, she was still scared. But when she knew that dawn was fast approaching she had no problem falling asleep.
She decided to go for a walk by herself. She left the cup on the doorstep and walked out. She walked aimlessly. She went to the bakery that Adila’s father once owned. It was locked. She wondered if someone had taken over the bakery. The ice cream shop was no longer there. She took the little turn that led to Sanjay’s house and looked at it from a distance. His mother was still there on the porch. She looked a lot more frail than Ria remembered. His father’s old scooter was still standing there by the gate. A tall girl came out carrying a bag and waved to her parents and went out. Sanjay’s sister. She had grown so big already. Ria turned and walked on.
She came to the hole in the wall. No one had bothered patching it up in all these years. She walked to the other side and went on to the lonely road. She walked on till she reached the grove. She crossed the fence and went in. She walked to the pond and sat there on the stone. How many afternoons they had spent here together. She still remembered fondly the day he had sat on the stone and sat her between his legs and had put his chin over her head. They had had their first kiss here. She missed him terribly. She stood and walked over to the pond and looked at her reflection there in the still clear water. She wanted him back so bad. She just wanted him alive, if not back in her life. She thought of his father and hated him bitterly. What kind of a man was he. She wondered if he even grieved at his son’s loss. She thought of Adila and missed her too. Why was life being so cruel all of a sudden?
She was lost in her thoughts when she suddenly noticed another reflection in the pond. Another face peeping over her shoulder. Sanjay! She turned sharp and there was no one. A strong wind blew and a piece of paper flew on her face. She was about to throw it thinking it was some rubbish left behind by someone when she recognized her handwriting on it. It was a poem she and Sanjay had written together. Most of it was hardly legible except for the last few lines
(She) – And I’ll stay forever in your heart
Until death do us apart.
(He) – My love is so deep and true
Should death fall upon me
I will still come back for you.
Ria felt a chill going up her spine. She stood rooted to the ground. Then she felt it even more strongly now. A warm breath on her neck. And a voice in her ear “Ria. . . . Come”
“Come where?”, she screamed. There was no response. Ria thought it would be best to head back home.
She was climbing over the fence when she heard the loud wail from inside the grove like someone was crying out in despair. She tripped and fell on her face right on top of a piece of rock that was jutting out of the ground. She got up and took to her heels. A little before she reached home, she stopped, waited for her breath to return to normal, cleaned her dress, brushed back her hair and walked back home slowly.
Her daughter and her father were sitting on the porch and talking to each other. Mishti had grown very close to her grandpa in a very short while. The two of them were inseparable now. And her father was very patient with Mishti answering every little question of hers and listening to her nonstop babbling.
“What’s happening?”, she asked sitting beside them.
“Ma, Nana said if I get well soon he will take me to see Ice Age.”
“That is wonderful”, she said kissing her.
“What happened to you?”, asked her father looking at her face, his eyebrows crossed.
“Why?”, she asked back
“Your forehead is bleeding”, he said.
“Oh, I tripped and fell, there was a small rock and I hit my head over it”
Her father called out to her mother and asked her to get the first aid kit. Mayur had just woken up and he came and dressed her wound. She smiled at him and took Mishti inside leaving the two men out to enjoy the crisp morning weather.
She was distracted the whole day. She spent most of her time in her room pretending to be reading.
A little before lunch her mother came in to her room and closed the door behind her.
“Where were you this morning?”, she asked.
“I ..err.. just went out for a walk”, she said.
“Where?”, her mother asked again in an angry tone.
“Just around the township. Why, is anything wrong?”, asked Ria sitting up.
“Don’t lie to me Ria. Here I try to safeguard you and I worry myself sick about you and you .. why did you go to the eucalyptus grove?”
Ria was silent.
“Ria please don’t go there. You know what is going on no? Please beta please don’t go there again.”
After her mother left the room Ria felt a little restless. She went to her old study table and sat there looking out of the window. Her things were as they were years ago. Nothing was disturbed. She opened the draw and found her pens, geometry case, some papers everything the way she had left it. She took out the papers and smiled. They were her poems that she had written when she was in school. After her tenth she had totally stopped writing poetry. She read each of them and remembered each day when she had written them. Even Adila’s poem was there amongst those papers. There were a few written by Sanjay to her. She ran her hand through his handwriting and held it close to her chest. She felt so very heavy from within. There was one amongst them all that she had loved the most.
lonely walk, rainy day
thoughts of you
on my way
wish you were here
by my side
no umbrella nor raincoat
no place to hide
high in spirits soaked to our skins
“splash” in a puddle
our feet would rinse
wet hair wet clothes
hot tea to drink
warmth of your cuddle
into it I sink
distant rumble, lightning streak
sweet nothings to speak
late hour, no power
and no moon light
in candle light
stroke my hair, kiss my ear
touch my cheek n catch a tear
hold me tight, rock me slow
like a cradle to and fro
into dreams, falling deep
sit by me and watch me sleep!!!
There was an envelope that was unopened, addressed to her. She opened it. It was another poem sent to her by Sanjay after they had parted.
I didn’t know how to be in love
Until I first met you
I didn’t believe in god above
Until you loved me too
I didn’t know what it was to dream
Of a tomorrow I was yet to see
I didn’t know what “hope” did mean
Until you came to me
I didn’t know I could ever laugh
Until you smiled at me
I didn’t know any grief or pain
As long as I saw you happy
I didn’t know what it was to die
Until you left me now
And I still don’t know how to cry
‘cos you never showed me how !!
Ria could take it no more. She cried the whole afternoon. Mayur came in once and tried to comfort her, he didn’t know why she was crying. He saw Adila’s poem lying on the desk and assumed Ria was missing her best friend.
After lunch he forced her to go for a drive with him. He took her to the city and bought her an ice cream. With some effort he managed to calm her mind.
“Mayur I want to go back to Mysore”, she said.
“I know how you feel, but it wouldn’t look good Ria. Your parents would be hurt. You’ve come here after so long. They are seeing Mishti for the first time since she was born. Don’t hurt them Ria. Besides I am here with you.”
Ria nodded. She wished she could tell Mayur everything about Sanjay but she was not sure how would he take it.
That night Ria went to bed a little early. Mishti wanted to sleep with her grandfather. Few minutes after Ria had gone to bed, Mayur came in too. She grew a little nervous after the previous night’s experience. He lay on top of her and kissed her nose. She tried wriggling away from under him. “You ok now?”, he asked. She nodded. He kissed her on her lips and looked into her eyes and said, “I love you”. She smiled and said “I love you too”. She then proceeded to push him away. “What’s the matter?” he asked. She didn’t respond. But the harder she tried to push him away, the more difficult it seemed to be. “Mayur, I … I am not in the mood”, she said. He proceeded to kiss her neck. She got a whiff of alcohol. Her feet turned cold. “Mayur,” she protested, now not even sure if it indeed was him. He had never forced himself on her before. She kept trying to push him away, but he only got heavier and stronger. She tried to scream. He glared at her angrily. She was too scared to do anything. “Sanjay?” she whispered hoarsely.
He smiled at her and kissed her again. He rolled over. She felt the heavy weight lift off her. She turned and lay down side ways too scared, too traumatized to open her eyes. She was scared to close them too. It was dark and she couldn’t see his face clearly but she could make out the contours of his face. She heard her room door open and she turned to see who it was and let out a gasp – it was Mayur. She turned to her bed and it was empty.
He looked at her and smiled. “What are you doing naked in bed? Waiting for me?”