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The Eucalyptus Grove – Epilogue

That afternoon, there was a mysterious fire in the eucalyptus grove and the entire grove was burnt to the ground. People didn’t know if they ought to feel happy or even more frightened. Was that a good omen or bad, the hut people wondered. 

A few months later the MLA’s son claimed the land and built a club there for the people of the township. There were no more “happenings”. People soon forgot about the haunting and lived like nothing ever happened.

Mishti inherited her grandfather’s property when she was eighteen. By then the township had grown to a very big industrial hub.  She would do her MBA and put her education to good use in the newly developed industrial town. 

Mayur did not marry again. He loved Ria far too much for that. It took him quite sometime to overcome her sudden demise. Half of him wanted to believe Sanjay had something to do with it but the other half of him was stubborn in not wanting to believe paranormal involvement. 

….. Until one day the wind brought with it a withered eucalyptus leaf amidst the dust and debris. As he tried to pull the window shut , he felt a cold hand on his, a cold breath on his neck and a whisper in his ear, “Mayur…… ” 

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-25

The house wore a depressed look. Mishti was sick the whole evening. She threw up a few times and by evening she was even running quite a temperature. Ria wanted to take her to the doctor, but she decided she’ll put her on her medicines for the time being and if her condition didn’t improve by the next morning she’d take her to the hospital and get a complete checkup done. She in fact was in no mood to do anything. She was traumatized and scared. Her stomach was in knots and she could barely eat anything. She felt very restless the whole day. She kept walking around the house aimlessly. All she could think of was getting back to Mysore where life would be limp back to normality again. 

Mayur set about clearing the house of unwanted things and  chanced upon an old Whisky bottle in his father in law’s cabinet. Tired and sullen as he too was, he washed it down his stomach with dinner. He was pretty tipsy by the time he got to bed.

Ria was woken up by Mishti that night. She sat up and looked at the clock. It was half past two. “What is it baby?”, she asked. She felt her forehead and it was very warm.

“Ma, Nana and Nani are sad without me. They want me to come”, she said.

Ria looked at her petrified. “Who told you that?”, she asked.

“Nana was here, he was crying and he said ‘come Mittu I miss you so much. We are alone here’.”

Ria hugged her daughter. “No, they are not alone, they are with God and they don’t miss you”, she said. 

“Ma, I want some water”, she said bursting into a fit of cough. She woke Mayur up. “Keep an eye on her, I’ll get some water”, she said. But he rolled back into his slumber.

She went into the kitchen and jumped. Sanjay was standing there his face lit by the moonlight. “Why are you doing this to me?”, she asked.

“Come”, he teased.

“No”, she snapped. “Leave me and my family alone”, she said.

“Mishti’s Nana and Nani miss her”, he said with a sarcastic smile. “Sanjay don’t touch my family”, she said sternly. She heard Mishti cough again. She ran to the room. Mayur was fast asleep. She gave Mishti some water.

“Mama”, she said in a whisper.

“Yes baby?”, she said stroking her head. 

“I… can’t b..reathe”,she said her eyes rolling up. 

She held her close and shouted out to Mayur. But he didn’t seem to hear a word. Mishti’s body was burning with fever. “MAYUR”, she screamed shaking him. But Mayur slept so soundly. She wondered if someone could actually sleep like that 

She could hear a hysteric laughter. She looked around but could see no one. She shook Mayur again but he was out cold. She remembered that Mayur was quite drunk when he went to bed that night. She cried helplessly. 

She called the ambulance but there was no response. 

She saw two eyes peering at her. “Come”, he said holding out his hand to Mishti this time. 

She looked at her daughter helplessly. Her face had gone pale and her eyes were rolled up. Mayur seemed oblivious to his wife and daughter’s condition. She hugged Mishti and cried and begged for mercy. 

Sanjay kept holding out his hand. Ria close her eyes, took a deep breath and fell on the bed, her hand wrapped around Mishti’s palm.
Dawn was breaking. Ria walked to the eucalyptus grove. She reached the fence. Sanjay was standing there facing the other way. Her heart felt light. She felt a sense of calm and peace within her that she had not felt in a very long while. She was happy to see him. She walked up to him. He turned when he heard her come and held his hand out and smiled at her. “Ria, Come”, he said. She went over and held his outstretched hand. She looked behind for one last time, she felt guilty but she knew she had done the right thing.

He gently tugged her hand. They walked hand in hand along the old familiar path strewn with the dried eucalyptus leaves. They walked towards the pond and slowly disappeared into thin air.
Mayur was woken up the next morning by Mishti. “Papa, Mittu hungie”, said Mishti. Mayur kissed his daughter’s tummy fondly. He looked at Ria who was still asleep. “Mamma is sleeping, so come we’ll make breakfast for her and surprise her”, he whispered to Mishti. 

He tip toed out of the room and made breakfast for the three of them. Mishti’s appetite seemed to have improved enormously. She ate well. Her fever had abated and she showed no signs of having been sick. Mayur then took a tray of breakfast and coffee to the room and called to Ria. She didn’t open her eyes. He shook her and still she didn’t wake up. He was a little surprised since Ria was a light sleeper. He shook her again and bent down to kiss her when he realized he couldn’t feel her breath.

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch -24

“We’ll go back”, she said to Mayur. Her parents’ last rites were performed and Ria was even more disturbed than ever. She feared for her daughter and Mayur more than she mourned for her parents. She didn’t want to lose the only two people left in her life now. “Yeah, we’ll sell this house and go”, he said.

“We’ll do the selling from there, let’s get out of here”, she pleaded. He looked at her and stroked her head. “Ria, we will get out of here, but we’ll get out of here for good, we’ll wind up everything and then leave”, he said in a firm voice.

“You stay back here and wind up whatever you want, my daughter and I are leaving”, she said and got up to go to her room. She stopped outside the door. She saw Mishti standing by the window talking to someone. She went up behind her and saw someone leaving in a hurry.

“Mishti, who were you talking to?”, she asked squatting in front of her.

“That same man who was here yesterday”, said Mishti.

“What did he want now?”, she asked sternly.

“He said Nana and Nani are missing me very badly and want to see me. Where have Nana and Nani gone mamma?”

“They are with God baby. They are with Dada and Dadi”, she said pulling her close to her.

“I want to go too. That nice uncle said that they are in a happy place.”

“No, you cannot go there. And what have I told you about talking to strangers?”, she chided her.

“He said he was your friend from school mamma. Sanjay uncle.”

Ria stared stupified. No, Sanjay was not going to take her only child away now. She hugged Mishti. “Baby, promise me, you will never ever talk to anyone unless I say so”, she said. 

“Ok”, said Mishti. “Can I talk to daddy?”, she asked naughtily. She patted her and nodded.

She heard laughter inside her head. She was very very worried and even more scared now.

She could not sleep all night; she kept looking at Mayur and Mishti to observe if there was anything unusual. She fell asleep a little after day break but woke up within an hour.

She was very jumpy the whole day. She never let Mayur and Mishti out of her sight. Mayur was calling a few real estate agencies and trying to get a good price on the house. “Just sell it to anyone”, she said. “I don’t care even if we don’t sell it, let’s just lock this place up and leave”, she said her voice shaking.

Mayur could sense his wife was on the verge of a nervous breakdown now and he didn’t want to take any more risks. He called the travel agent to book tickets. 

“We have no tickets till Tuesday”, he said covering the mouthpiece.

“Today is what, Friday, ok tell him to get us the earliest possible flight out of here”, she said.

Mayur nodded and got back to his travel agent. 

Ria cleaned up the house and packed all her things and Mishti’s things. She went into her parents’ bedroom and looked around. She sat on their bed and remembered the numerous nights she had sat there listening to stories that her parents told her. She saw the white board and remembered the lessons her father used to teach her during exams. She looked out of the window at the garden her mother had so tenderly nurtured. She ran her hand over everything they had touched when they were alive. Such love they had for each other. Her mother had passed away in the hospital. Mayur had called her father to inform him, when the call didn’t go through he had texted him and her father had died instantly of a heart attack. What an idiot Mayur was! Such a delicate news and he dropped it like a  a bomb on her father. She had never seen anyone love another person as much as her parents loved one another.  She doubted if she loved Mayur to this extent. She looked at the computer through which her parents used to chat with her every day. She had such fond memories of this house and now she was going to leave all this behind forever. 

She sat there in the room crying. Mishti sat beside her looking at her helplessly. She had never seen her mother cry so much. Her mother, once rosy cheeked and bubbly had turned into a  a pale dark circle eyed frail, weak woman who was always crying and irritable. She wanted her mommy back. She wiped Ria’s tears with her tiny fingers and kissed her over and over again. She didn’t know what was wrong and didn’t know what else to do to console her mother. Ria hugged Mishti and cried even more. Mayur walked in and saw her crying. He held her close, there was nothing else he could do to console her either. He knew it was best to let her cry as much as she wanted, she would recuperate faster that ways. 

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-23

Ria and her father went home a little after lunch so that Mishti could take a little rest. Mayur stayed back in the hospital. 

Ria had a quick shower and put Mishti to sleep. Her father also took a nap. She went to the kitchen and started making dinner. She and her father decided to stay in the hospital that night while Mayur and Mishti would be at home. 

She heard her father talking to someone over the phone. She strained her ears to make out what was he talking. But he only seemed to be saying “Yes, yes.”

She went to the living room just as her father put the phone down. He looked at her. 

“What is it Papa?”, she asked.

“Ria, come”, he said in a hurried tone.

“No, I WILL NOT COME”, she screamed and threw a water jug in the direction of her father.

“What is the matter with you?”, he scolded.

“I will not come with you”, she said menacingly.

“Your mother has opened her eyes, Mayur called to say that and wants us over at the hospital. What do you mean you will not come?”, he asked.

She felt a little stupid.

“Is everything alright?”, he asked. She nodded, but she knew nothing was alright. She was shaking all over. Her father looked at her feeling very sad for his daughter.

“Ria, if something is bothering you, please tell me”, he pleaded. He could sense his daughter’s state of mind just be looking at her face. 

“I am fine”, she said.

“No you are not. You think I have not noticed it? What is it Ria?”, he coaxed.

She buried her face in her father’s chest as her tears threatened to pour out any minute. 

“It’s Sanjay isn’t it?”, he asked.

She nodded, her face still hidden in his chest.

“I know all about it, your mother told me last night. It’s hard to believe, but I can see what it is doing to you. We’ll find a way out of this , don’t worry. Let’s go see your mother for now and we’ll find a way out, maybe we’ll all leave this place and go elsewhere”, he said. She felt comforted.

“I was telling Mayur too papa, that lets all get out of here, we’ll all go to Mysore for good.”

“Ok, calm down now go wash your face and let’s go see your mother”, he kissed her forehead.

“I’ll get the car out, you get Mishti ready and meet me outside.”

“It looks like it will rain”, she said looking at the sky that was now overcast. 

“Yes, let’s hit the road before it pours”, he said.

Ria went in to get Mishti ready. She could already hear the thunder. She saw streaks of lightning light up the sky as well. It suddenly became very dark. She debated if she ought to take Mishti in this weather. But she couldn’t even leave her here. She missed Naisha very much, had she been here, she could have left Mishti with her. 

She rummaged through Mishti’s suitcase and cursed herself for not getting her jackets. She wrapped her in her jacket. It engulfed her but it didn’t matter as long as she was well covered.

“I am a monster” she growled and charged towards Ria. She laughed for the first time in days. 

“Mom, you are  supposed to be scared”, she said pouting. “I love this little monster, why would I be scared?”, she asked kissing her in her tummy as she squealed with laughter.

“Is Nani going to be ok?”, she asked.

“As a matter of fact, she already is. She is asking for Mittu”, said Ria combing her hair and tying it with a Dora rubber band. She put a little hairband to keep the hair from falling into Mishti’s eyes. It was time Mishti had a haircut, Ria thought. 

“I want to see Nani”, she said.

“Yes we are going to the hospital now to see Nani”, she said. She lifted her and went out. The car was nowhere to be seen outside. She went into the garage, her father was sitting in the car, motionless. The cell phone in his hand was lit up.

“Papa”, she called out. 

There was no response. “Papa”, she called out again.

There was still no response. The car door was locked. Her father was staring at the road in front of him , his eyes cold. She left Mishti by the car and ran in to get the spare keys. She came out to see Mishti talking to someone. She ran out but by then the man Mishti was talking to left. “Who was that?”, she asked her

“I don’t know. He said Nana and Nani have gone to a happy place and he asked if I’d like to join them. I said Nana is in the car, he laughed and walked away when he heard you come.”

Ria felt a chill run through her spine. She opened the door and her father’s motionless body fell over her. The cellphone in his hand had a text message from Mayur, “Ma no more.”

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-22

She saw Sanjay standing by her.

“Why are you doing this? What do you want?”, she asked. “Come”, he said. “Come where?”, she asked.

“Come to me Ria. I need you”, he said.

“I am married now Sanjay, can’t you see? I have a baby. I can’t just leave my life behind and come.”

“I told you I’d come back for you.”

“I never said I’ll come with you”, she said more scared than ever. She tried to sound angry.

“You want to”, he said.

“I don’t want to”, she snapped back.

“I’ll make you want to”, he said slyly.

“Never, I will never come with you”, she said sobbing.

“Ria, Ria ,RIA!”

Ria woke up. Mayur was staring at her. “What happened to you?”, he asked.

“What? Is this you? Who are you?”, she asked. She didn’t know what to believe now, was this her husband or was it Sanjay again. She felt thoroughly muddled. Wasn’t she talking to Sanjay a few moments ago. Was Mayur possessed too?

“You fainted and then you started talking .. who is Sanjay? Where do you or don’t you want to go with him?”

“Huh?”, she asked.

“Ria, are you ok?”, he asked shaking her.

“Sanjay, where is Sanjay?”, she asked.

“Who is Sanjay Ria?”, asked Mayur.

“He.. he … oh Mayur I am scared. He’ll kill me”, she sobbed.

“Who will kill you?”, asked  Mayur losing his patience.

“Sanjay, he said he will take me with him.”

“Who is this Sanjay, where will he take you and why does he want to take you with him?”

“Sanjay ..we both studied together in school.”

“Ok.”

“And then, he .. he died and now he wants me to go with him.”

“Where to?”

“He wants me to die.”

“Ria, you were dreaming, come on, you’ve gone all blue with cold, pull on some clothes and try and get some sleep.”

“No Mayur, he was here, he comes like you at times. Twice, once in the shower and once now.”

“If he were dead how would he come Ria?”, asked Mayur trying hard to keep his voice low and patient.

“He.. is dead but he has come back. He is a ghost”, she whispered as if she didn’t want to utter the name loud lest he appear again.

“Tut. Come on Ria you of all the people never believed in ghosts. Please don’t go around telling people they’ll call you mad.”

“Mayur you have to believe me. How do I prove this to you?”

“It’s ok, you need not prove anything to me, just go to sleep”, he said tucking her in. 

Ria opened her mouth to tell him more but he put his finger on her lips motioning her to be quiet and he lay down and fell asleep.

Ria tossed and turned unable to sleep. She kept looking at Mayur expecting him to turn into Sanjay any minute. But he didn’t. 

The next morning Ria was grumpy due to lack of sleep. She kept getting irritated with Mishti’s pranks or if her parents or Mayur said something to her. She kept grumbling at every little thing. She jumped at every little noise and kept looking at people in a very curious way expecting each of them to turn into Sanjay any instant. She had grown very weak. She had dark circles around her eyes from lack of sleep and her palms were often sweaty and they kept shivering. 

She even shouted at the milkman and the newspaper guy for ringing their cycle bells. Ria’s mother was wondering what had gotten into her. She fought with Mayur a couple of times over something silly. She even hit Mishti once for pestering her. 

“Go for a walk and come if you want”, her mother suggested.

Ria decided that was the best thing to do, get away from everyone for a while. She went straight to the eucalyptus grove and sat there by the pond and started crying again. She felt a hand on her head. She turned and there was no one. 

“Go away”, she cried. “Just leave me alone. Go away”, she shouted. She was going to be a nervous wreck if this continues she thought.

There was silence for some time. Then the trees started swaying. Dry leaves started flying everywhere. 

“What?”, she asked practically to no one.

“Come”, she heard a whisper.

“I don’t want to Sanjay. Did your death knock the brains out of your head? I am telling you I don’t want to come with you. I am not in love with you anymore understand?”, she said.

“How you lie”, he said and laughed.

“I am not lying you fool. I don’t want to die. Please Sanjay don’t do this to me. I am happy the way I am. Let me be”, she pleaded.

“I died for you, because of you, and I will take you”, he said sounding angry now.

“Whatever!”, she said and turned to go.

Invisible hands held her and pulled her. “Let me go”, she screamed. “Come with me”, he whispered into her ear. “I have a child. Think of her at least Sanjay. I can’t leave her”, she said.

She could feel a hot breath near her ear. “Is your child the only reason preventing you from coming to me?”, he asked.

“Well, WHAT? I don’t want to come to you”, she said.

“Why Ria, why? Have you forgotten all those wonderful years we spent together? What is Mayur giving you that I haven’t? Surely you do not love him more than you love me.”

“I do”, she said resolutely.

“You lie”, he spat.

“I don’t. I love Mayur, I love Mishti, I love my parents. And I do not want to leave them”, she said trying to wrench her hands free.

She felt a push and she fell down. She got on her feet and ran out of the grove. She knew running out of the grove was not the solution. She had to escape from Sanjay for good.

She went home and called her mother aside. “Ma, let’s go to that temple you were telling me about”, she said. “Ok beta, go freshen up and we’ll go immediately after breakfast”, said her mother.

Ria went to freshen up and she heard a loud scream from her mother’s room. She ran into the room to find her mother lying unconscious. 

“Don’t touch her”, Mayur said.

She looked at Mayur questioningly. “She had an electric shock when she put the geyser on”, he said.

An hour later she was sitting outside the ICU where her mother was admitted. The doctor told her that her mother had gone into coma. Ria thought of her encounter with Sanjay that morning and shuddered when she thought if Sanjay had something to do with this.

Mayur held her as she cried uncontrollably. “I want to go home”, she sobbed.

“Yes, you go and rest a while, I’ll stay here”, he said.

“No, I want to go back to our house Mayur, to Mysore. We’ll take my parents along with me as well”, she cried.

“We can’t take your mother in this situation Ria, nor can we leave her here all by herself. Let her recover and I promise, the day she is discharged we’ll go home, we’ll take your parents along too – for good.”

She nodded.

“Listen, you go home and get yourself some rest. Come back in the afternoon”, he said.

“No, I’d rather be here”, she said. She felt safer here in the hospital. She sat on a chair outside the ICU. Mayur sat beside her and held her hand.

“Don’t worry, she’ll be fine”, he said. She nodded feebly.

“Ria, I know you are going through a lot lately. You can never handle stress as it is, but I suggest you try Ria, look at what you are putting yourself through. Look at yourself, I can barely recognise you anymore with those huge dark circles around your eyes and you’ve become so short tempered and jumpy and you are even talking in your sleep.”

She sat there expressionless. 

“Can I ask you something?”, he asked.

She looked at him with a blank face.

“Were you and Sanjay .. very close to one another?”

She didn’t know what to say. She looked at the floor.

“You keep talking about him, to him rather in your sleep. That is the only name you call out every night. Is there something I ought to know?”

She sat there quiet.

“Were you two lovers? Look there is nothing to be ashamed of. All of us have a past. As long as that past doesn’t interfere with our present or future I am not bothered. But it seems to be interfering a lot Ria. It’s troubling me knowing that you are holding something back from me, especially when it is disturbing you so much. You can tell me Ria, I can help you out of it you know.”

Ria took a deep breath and told Mayur everything from the time she met Sanjay till her mother’s accident. He listened patiently.

“So you think a ghost is trying to spoil our lives??”, he asked. She nodded. “Ria, you know there are no such things as ghosts right?” “Thanks for helping me out”, she mocked. “Hey, no, you are misunderstanding me.”

“Forget it , I knew you’d never understand, nor will my father.” “Ria, that is not what I meant. I meant, maybe you are having a nervous breakdown, you are so mentally disturbed so..”

“Might as well call me mad Mayur”, she said and walked away from him while he sat and looked at her helplessly. He knew for sure it was the pressure , first Mishti, then Sanjay’s death, then Adila’s mother, and now her mother, it indeed was a lot for a person to take. But he didn’t want to argue with her at this point of time.

Her father was sitting a little distance away from them with Mishti sleeping on his lap. Ria went and sat beside her father and placed her head on his shoulder. He stroked her head. “She will be fine”, he said. He looked withered with age.

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-21

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.”

Ria nodded. 

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

silent whispers

sweet nothings to speak

late hour, no power

and no moon light

huddled together

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?”

She fainted.

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-20

That night Ria and her father decided to stay in the hospital with Mishti who was supposed to have an enema the next morning. Her mother had gone to be with Adila. Ria was dozing off on the guest bed while her father was sitting and listening to the late night news. She heard a loud laughter and woke up with a start. She looked about her sleepily. Her father was glued to the TV. She assumed that the laughter must have come from the TV. “Papa will you please reduce the volume a bit?”, she asked.

“Oh sorry sorry”, he said and reduced the volume to a minimum. “I wonder why they keep the TVs so high in hospital rooms. You have to literally sprain your neck trying to watch something.”

“It’s kept that ways so that the patient can see it lying down Papa”, she said managing to smile.

“Sad thing that has happened to that Adila girl. She has no one now.”, her father said.

“Hmm”, said Ria remembering the day’s happenings. She too was in shock.

Her phone rang. She was relieved to see that it was Mayur. She choked upon hearing his voice. 

“You ok?”, he asked. “No Mayur. I want to see you. Please come back”, she cried.

Her father snatched the phone from her. “Hello? Mayur? Papa here. Arre, nothing to worry beta. Mishti fell sick again and Ria got worked up. You know how sensitive she is and she gets worked up even if Mishtu sneezes..ha ha ha.. no no nothing to worry. Yeah yeah I am here beside her of course. What’s that? Oh ha ha ha no no, that is ok. Yeah. Yeah. Ok then. I’ll see you soon. You take care of yourself ok. Yeah, ok beta. Bye.” 

He stared at her. “Why must you do that?”, he asked angrily. “Mayur is so far away, you cry on the phone and ask him to come, you have any idea what you would put him through? He is not even in the country. Don’t do that. Always play it down. Haven’t I taught you anything?”

“Sorry”, she said sniffing. 

“Wipe those tears now. He is coming tomorrow”, said her father grinning. Ria’s eyes lit up. That was the best news she had heard since she had come there. She thanked god.

“Try getting some sleep now”, said her father. She got up and went next to her father and hugged him. “Papa”, she said.

“What is it beta?”, he asked stroking her head.

“I am scared”, she said.

“I am scared too.”

“Of what?”

“Well, for you. The way you were acting last night, I didn’t want to bring it up, but beta you seem to be very disturbed of late. Your behavior last night nearly tore my heart”, he said.

Ria saw tears in her father’s eyes for the second time. The first time was when she was getting married. He had lied to her that they were tears of happiness but he was sad that his daughter was leaving him. He had remembered what he had heard years ago that once she is married she would no longer be his little girl. He had cried like a baby again that night. And now, he was very worried about his daughter. He didn’t want any harm coming to her. She just hugged him and they both sat that ways for a long time. She fell asleep in his arms and he sat all night watching over his daughter and his granddaughter.

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-19

Ria woke up next morning in her bed. She had vague recollections of the previous night. Her bed was empty. She sat up and looked at the clock. It was half past eight. She brushed her teeth and went into the living room where her father and her daughter were watching TV and her father was reading the newspaper. Her mother looked up at her and smiled. 

“You ok?”, she asked.

“What happened?”, asked Ria.

“Nothing. You just blacked out, perhaps you were stressed out with Mishti’s health and all that. Coffee?”

“Yeah”, said Ria following her mother into the kitchen.

“Ma, what happened?”, she asked again.

“You tell me what happened.”, said her mother in a fierce whisper.

“What do you mean?”, she asked. Her head was throbbing.

“I ask you to close the window and you black out and you start talking and blabbering about … well, I had to put Mishti in our bedroom lest you disturb her. And then I came back to check on you and you were still talking .. to someone”

“To whom?”, asked Ria

“You tell me. You sounded like you were answering questions and asking questions and you kept saying you didn’t want to go.” Ria looked at her mother puzzled. “Ria do you want to talk to me about something?”, her mother asked her. Ria burst into tears. Her mother hugged her. 

“Shush shush. Come lets go out to the porch and you can tell me everything”, said her mother taking her hand. Ria wiped her tears. She didn’t want her child to know she was crying. She was too inquisitive about everything. She was in that age where she asked questions about everything – even if Ria sneezed she’d ask why.

She and her mother sat on the porch and Ria told her everything that happened right from that afternoon in her office till the previous night. 

“But why?”, her mother asked.

“Ma, back when I was with Sanjay I once remember he told me that if he died he’d come back for me. I thought he was being a romantic fool back then. I never knew he was serious about it. I am scared ma”, said Ria breaking into tears again. Her mother hugged her.

“Ok calm down”, said her mother though she was herself shaking from head to foot. “Listen, there is a temple a little distance away and the priest there is known to be an exorcist and a witch doctor and all that. Maybe we can go there and he’ll find a solution to it.” “Daddy would never allow that ma”, she said still crying. “We’ll find a way to go without your father don’t worry about that. I can tell him that I am taking you to … my friend’s house for a kitty party. He’ll never suspect a thing. We’ll leave soon after breakfast.” Ria nodded.

“Wipe your tears, Adila’s watching”, her mother said. Ria looked up and Adila was indeed watching, and so was her mother. Adila gestured asking if she could come over. Ria nodded in approval. Both Adila and her mother came over. “Everything alright?”, asked her mother. “She’s been … you know those happenings, she’s been affected by them”, whispered her mother. Adila’s mother clutched at a talisman on her neck. “Ya Allah! “, she said.

Adila sat down beside Ria and held her close. “You want to talk about it?”, she asked. Ria repeated the entire story to them. Adila’s mother kept clutching at the talisman and repeating “Ya Allah!” the entire time. 

Ria’s mother got more coffee for all of them. “What are you women folk talking about?”, her father asked from inside. “There’s a kitty party in Mrs. Mehra’s house today. So we were planning for that”, her mother lied. “Oh not interested”, said her father turning back to the TV. “Listen will you take care of Mishti until we are back?”, she asked.

“I was going to tell you that myself, to leave her with me. Don’t contaminate that little brain of hers with your kitty parties and other lady stuff.”, he chuckled. 

Ria’s mother sighed with relief. She went out and told them that the plan had succeeded. Adila and her mother offered to come with them too so that they could be with Ria and so that her father didn’t suspect anything. 

They had their breakfast and Ria and her mother left along with Adila and her mother. They had barely left the township when Ria’s father called on her mobile saying Mishti had fainted and that she was to return immediately. They had to turn back and rush home.

Mishti had indeed lost consciousness. Her father had summoned the doctor but the doctor could not find out what had happened. He asked Ria if Mishti had been unwell and she said that she had had a bout of food poisoning. He prescribed a scan immediately and asked them to admit Mishti to the hospital. 

“Aha!”, said the doctor looking at the scan report. “I thought as much. She has ring worms”, he said.

“But we gave her a deworming a week ago”, said Ria.

The doctor took Mishti’s temperature. “Well, let me see what I can do”, he said and left the ward.

The nurse came in to set up the IV. “Too many people here. Please leave. Only the mother and one other person can stay”, she said in a heavy Malayalam accent.

“I’ll be out if you need me”, her father said and left the room. Adila and her mother were waiting outside. 

Ria broke into tears again. “Ma I feel he is doing this on purpose”, she sobbed.

“Shush.. you’ll wake Mishti up. Don’t worry, I’ll be right back”, she said and went out of the ward.

She called Adila’s mother to a side and asked her if she could get a talisman or something to keep Ria safe for the time being. Naisha took off the talisman she was wearing and gave it to Ria’s mother and asked her to tie it around Ria’s neck. 

“I’ll go home now and get you all some lunch”, said Naisha.

 “So sorry for the trouble”, said Ria’s mother.

“Come on, no trouble at all. What are neighbors for?”, she said and turned to go. Adila went in to say bye to Ria when she heard a scream. They ran out to find Naisha lying at the bottom of the stairs her neck twisted in an awkward position. She had slipped down the stairs and broken her neck. She died instantly. Adila was too shocked to even move.

Ria’s mother immediately tried to tie the talisman around her neck. Adila fainted. Ria pushed her mother aside and ran towards Adila. The talisman fell out of the window and was lost. 

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch – 18

That night Ria and her father sat out on the porch after dinner. Mishti had gone to sleep and her mother was putting all the left overs in the fridge and cleaning up the kitchen, something she insisted on doing herself all the time. She was never comfortable with anyone, even her daughter working in the kitchen when she was there. She made an excuse that Ria had come there for a break so she was not to work in the kitchen except perhaps make tea or coffee occasionally. But Ria too knew her mother too well and never forced herself into her mother’s space. She was like her mother too, fiercely protective of her space and privacy.  

“Mishti is very adorable”, said her father. “It feels like it was just yesterday when I held her for the first time in the hospital. She was so tiny and she grasped my thumb so hard.. ha ha ha … and today when she was so shy to come to me, I was worried for a moment that she’s never going to come and play with me. Very friendly kid. Very smart”, he said his eyes brimming with love for his grand-daughter.

“Yeah, she is like her grandpa”, said Ria. 

Her father laughed, his now big belly shaking. “You bet she is. Smart kid. Very smart.”

“So dad, do you know how did it happen?”, she asked.

“How did what happen?”, her father asked back

“You know, err… Sanjay’s ..”

“Oh that. Well, sad story actually. The day you went to meet him, you know during your exams, I told you to..you know, his father saw the two of you and went back home and beat up Sanjay black and blue after which he sent him away to stay with some relatives to finish the rest of his education. The boy returned after his studies to work in my office. He was not in my department, but yes I often ran into him but he acted like he never recognized me. He was always indulged in his work and never spoke to anyone. He kept to himself. Even ate his meals on his own. Never had any friends. He was a changed boy. Not the Sanjay I knew as a kid. Then one day I smelt alcohol in his breath when we went to the cafeteria for our tea break. I asked him if he drank but he just walked away pretending he didn’t hear me. That night, he probably got drunk again and was on that old road by the eucalyptus grove. Nobody knew how but he got run over by a train on those old tracks. No train ever runs on that track but that night… nobody knows how or why. The police tried investigating, and well you know people , they said they were running a test ride on the engine and wanted to use a track that didn’t obstruct normal rail traffic and all that. So the case was closed. I heard Adila’s father happened to see it. He saw the boy trying to cross the track and his bike stopped right in the middle. He had tried starting it and Adila’s father heard the train and tried warning him but it was too late.”

Ria sat silent. She wanted to cry but she couldn’t cry in front of her father. She wanted to talk of something else before her tears fell out.

“Dad why isn’t anyone doing anything about that grove or that road? I mean, that road’s been there ever since I can remember, and someone had put a fence around that grove, so it must belong to someone right? But I don’t remember seeing anyone be it on that road or that grove. Not a soul uses that road.”

“Well, that grove belongs to one Mr. Narendra Gowda. He was the MLA here once upon a time. He had bought that piece of land long long ago and wanted to build his farmhouse there. That was why he even got that road built and got some laborers settled there for construction of that farmhouse. Then there was some dispute regarding that land, the laborers found petty jobs here in the township and didn’t want to move out of that place.  Mr. Gowda passed away couple of years ago. His son claimed ownership to the land and tried putting it to good use, but then these people here, I don’t know what came into them, they started spreading rumors that the place was haunted and even the son said he … experienced things. These people, you know how they talk. Well, Annamma always used to tell us that the place was creepy and she wanted to move out of there but her husband never agreed to it. Now after Sanjay’s death, the stories are only getting more fuel added to them.”

“What stories?”, she asked.

“Well, people say that they often hear someone shouting in the middle of the night or in the afternoons, they say they hear a bicycle on that road but there was usually no one in sight. Or whoever entered the grove felt like they were being followed or like someone tried pushing them and things like that. I don’t understand how that educated boy, the son of the MLA also believed in such things. Perhaps there is more to that piece of land, maybe he has some motive behind his intentions regarding the land, whatever his intentions are, and he started spreading the stories. And these simpletons would believe anything.”

Ria sat there and nodded. She had had her own share of experiences to believe every word now. But she didn’t want her father to know it. He’d think she was lying too, or imagining things. 

“So when is Mayur coming?”, he asked.

“Uh.. I don’t know for sure, he said he’ll call me about it”, she said snapping out of her thoughts.

“Well, I think it’s time to turn in, what do you say?”, said her father.

“Yeah you go on, I’ll come in a bit”, she said.

“Don’t stay out for too long”, he said kissing her goodnight.

Ria sat there for a bit and then started getting a little scared and went in. She debated if she should sleep with her parents, but that would seem too cowardly. Besides there wasn’t enough place for both her and her daughter to sleep in their room. She closed the windows and turned on the night lamp and lay down to sleep. Her cell phone beeped. She hesitated for a bit before checking it. It was a text message and to her relief it was from Mayur saying he had reached Singapore and that he’d call her the next day. She replied back with a smiley and a “Miss you”. There was a gust of cold breeze. She shuddered as she turned her phone off and hugged her daughter. 

For the very first time in her life she was scared to go to sleep. She kept looking about her and by the window and at the mirror. Any shadow or any shape made her jump. She kept turning the light on to check what the shadow or the shape was. 

“Is everything alright?”, her mother called out.

“Yeah ma, was just checking on Mishti”, she said.

Her mother came into the room much to her relief. “What happened?”, she asked.

“Well, Mishtu was not keeping well when we came here. So I was making sure if she was alright”, she said

“What happened?”, her mother asked again.

“The doctor suspected food poisoning”, she said. She had totally forgotten to tell her parents about her. 

“Oh, you should have told me earlier. Ok I’ll take extra care of her diet from tomorrow” said her mother stroking the little girl’s head. “She is such a sweet child”, she said as she watched Mishti turn and put her little hand under her plump cheek as a pillow, open her rosy little lips and take a deep breath. “She’s dreaming. See, her eyelids are moving.”

Ria smiled fondly at her daughter. She didn’t know if her mother’s presence in the room was comforting her or scaring her out all the more after the day’s incident.

“Do you want me to sleep in here with you?”, asked her mother. 

“Oh I don’t want to cause you any inconvenience”, she said still unsure if she should say yes or no. What if her mother got possessed again at night. 

“Tut tut, look at you talking, being all formal with your own mother. I’ll sleep here with you”, she said.

Ria nodded. “Ma leave the night lamp on”, she said. “Yeah alright. You sleep now. And wake me up if you need anything, I am a light sleeper but still you know.”

“Ok ma”, she said. The moonlight was casting a weird light on both her mother’s and her daughter’s face making them look ghostly. She was scared to turn the other way as well. She was feeling so restless. She wished she were back in Mysore in the comfort of her own house. But then, things happened there as well. 

She closed her eyes but kept opening them from time to time to see if there was anything strange in her room. She fell asleep a little after midnight.

She again dreamt of that road, she dreamt of the MLA and his son. She dreamt of Annamma saying something to the MLA’s son and he was nodding in agreement. They were walking together in the grove and Ria was there too. But they couldn’t see her. They were whispering something. Then there was the sound of a bicycle. Someone rang the bicycle bell. Ria was standing on the road waiting for someone. Annamma was staring at her with suspicion. Then someone comes fast and almost hits her. She tries to regain her balance when someone holds her hand and says “Ria”.

Ria woke up with a start. She looked around her room. There was nothing different. Her mother and her daughter were fast asleep. The window was open. She distinctly remembered having closed it. There was a cold breeze blowing. She was wondering if she should close the window. But she was too scared to get out of bed. Mishti coughed a couple of times. Her mother opened her eyes. Ria looked at her mother. She just patted Mishti and went back to sleep. 

Ria couldn’t bring herself to sleep no matter what she did. The wind was blowing stronger. Mishti coughed again. Ria turned the light on and gave her some water from the jug on the bedside table. 

“Close the window beta.”, said her mother.

Ria was scared to go and close it. She was scared to leave it open too. Mishti coughed again. So she decided she’d quickly close it. She left the light on. She took a quick look out of the window. There was no one. She bent over to close it and she heard the faint sound of a bicycle some distance away. She forced herself to think it must be one of the workers returning after a late night movie. She closed the window and the electricity went off. The room was pitch dark. She quickly fastened the latch and turned and bumped into someone. She instantly knew who it was, gave a gasp and blacked out.

The Eucalyptus Grove Ch-16

Ria sat for a while lost in her thoughts. Then she cried herself to sleep. 

She was woken by the doorbell. She looked at her wrist watch and smiled. It was time to see the expression on her parents’ face. She ran and opened the door. Her mother screamed like a little girl when she saw Ria and hugged her. Her father lifted her up like she was a little girl, kissed her on her cheeks. “Where is Mishti?”, he asked. Ria told him that she was in Naisha’s house and her father ran over to get her back. Ria’s mother could not stop hugging and kissing her daughter. Her father carried sleepy little Mishti and her mother ran to her and kissed her. Mishti woke up thoroughly confused. She wanted to go back to sleep but these people were stifling her. She was about to cry when she recognized them. She grew shy and wriggled herself free from their arms and hid behind Ria. 

“When did you come here?”, her mother asked her while Ria made three steaming cups of coffee for herself and her parents. “I came here the day before yesterday”, she said grinning.

“Then why didn’t you tell us?”, her mother asked stroking a lock of stray hair from her forehead. “And what? Miss this look on your face?”, she asked handing her mother a cup. Her mother kissed her.

Mishti was overcoming her shyness and was playing with her grandfather. Ria gave her father a cup of coffee and sat beside him. He put his arm around her and kissed her forehead. “So, how come you decided to come all of a sudden?”, he asked.

“Well, Mishtu fell sick and the doctor said she needs a change of air. So I thought I’d bring her earlier than intended.”, she said sipping her coffee.

“And Mayur?”

“He’s gone to Singapore on official duty. He’ll join us soon.”

“Naughty as ever”, her father said squeezing her tight. 

“Hey dad?”

“Yes?”

“Umm.. Did you ..umm.. know about Sanjay?”

Her father’s face became hard as stone. “Yes”, he replied. “Why didn’t you tell me?”, she asked.

“I don’t know. I thought it would be best for you to find out on your own. Or maybe I didn’t want you to find out at all. I didn’t know how you would react. I didn’t want you to… I don’t know Ria I don’t know”, he said growing restless. 

“Dad”, she said.

“What?”, he asked.

“Nothing”, she said. She heard her mother coming and turned on the TV. 

“Ria, come here”, her mother beckoned to her. Ria got up and went with her mother while grand-daughter and grandpa watched cartoons. 

“Look what your aunt gave me”, her mother showcased the heavy silk saree that she received for the wedding.

“Oh mom this is beautiful”, said Ria feeling the heavy fabric with her hands.

“You like it?”, she asked.

“Yeah I love it”, she said.

“Here’s one for you too”, her mother said giving her another unopened packet. “Well, you can take which ever you like of course”, said her mother.

Ria looked at both, felt the fabric and its weight like her mother had taught her. “Well they are both beautiful. You take which ever you liked mom”, she said.

“No no, its your choice baby”, said her mother.

“Ok I’ll ask daddy what he thinks”, she said. She got up to leave the room when her mother pulled her back.

“I want to talk to you about something”, her mother said. “What is it ma?”, asked Ria. “Your old friend Sanjay.” “Yeah I know mom. My friends told me. But why didn’t you?” “Oh Ria, such horrible things have been happening here. We didn’t want you to come over at all. We thought it was best if you were away”, said her mother.

“Why what happened?”, asked Ria frowning.

“I don’t know how to describe it Ria”, her mother said wringing her hands together. Her forehead had beads of perspiration. 

“Come on ma, you can tell me”, she said.

“Well, people used to take that the road near maid Annamma’s house… they heard weird noises especially in the afternoons. I didn’t believe them at first. Annamma used to come and tell me every day. She even considered shifting her house from that street. Then the grove, I heard stories about the grove as well, but I was not sure what to believe and what not to believe but Ria, things started happening here as well.”

“What things ma? Can you tell me more clearly?”, asked Ria holding her mother’s sweaty hands.

“I heard bicycle bells Ria. I always dismissed it thinking it must be some kid outside. Then I heard someone by your room window. I heard someone persistently ringing the bicycle bell. Every time I go to check, there is no one. Your father never admits it, but Ria it freaks me out. And once, when I was sleeping at night, I felt someone standing by my bedside. I opened my eyes and saw a tall thin boy. I thought I was dreaming. He then called out your name and disappeared.”

Ria’s hair stood on its end. 

“Things are not the same anymore Ria. I am scared”, her mother said beginning to cry. Ria debated if she should tell her mother about her experiences, but she knew it would only freak her out even more. So she kept it to herself.

“Ria you must go back immediately”, her mother said. “But ma, Mishti needs to be here. She is not well. Besides I want a break too. I want to be with you. I am not going to let some old wives’ tales scare me out of here”, she said trying to sound brave though she was crumbling from within. 

“Oh Ria Ria”, her mother said.

“Don’t worry ma”, she said patting her mother’s hand. She turned to leave the room with the sarees in her hand when her mother caught hold of her hand. She turned around and her mother smiled at her.

“What is it ma?”, she asked.

“Come”, said her mother.

“Come where ma?”, she asked.

“Ria come”, her mother repeated. Her face had visibly changed, though it was still her mother’s face there was something different, like there was the silhouette of another face within her mother’s face. 

Ria froze.

“Ria come”, she repeated and laughed a deep unnatural laugh. Ria wrenched her hand free and stood glued to the floor. Her mother looked at her in a very disturbing manner. Ria screamed out to her father, but her voice never left her throat. Her mother came and caught hold of her neck and tried to strangle her. Ria tore free and ran out of the room. Her father and her daughter were not in the hall. She turned to see if her mother was following her. But her mother was standing looking stupefied. Ria went out of the front door to get some air. Had that just happened?

She saw her father and his precious granddaughter a little distance away. Mishti was trying to look for Jiminy cricket amongst the flower beds. She walked quickly towards them turning back all the time to see if her mother was following her. 

“Papa”, she said gasping for breath. 

“Oh this little girl here thinks I am a bad boy and need Jiminy cricket to set me right, she’s looking out for him”, said her father laughing merrily.

“Papa, I think you ought to check on mummy. She is not well”, said Ria.

“What? What happened?”, her father asked.

“Uh I don’t know, she is acting weird”, she said.

Her father ran into the house. Her mother was unpacking her suitcase. “Are you alright?”, he asked.

“Yes why?”, asked her mother.

“Ria came to me saying you were not keeping well”, he said.

“Me? No why”, she replied innocently. 

Ria was standing behind her father.

“Ria, what happened?”, her mother asked.

“Uh .. well.. you said you… well.. I don’t know ma, you were all sweaty”, she said. She was not sure if her mother was aware of what happened.

“It’s summer, I am working, I am obviously sweaty”, her mother said sounding casual. Ria made sure Mishti was nowhere nearby. She stood behind her father and said, “Ma, you were acting weird.”

“What do you mean weird?”

“Err… you… your face changed and you were asking me to come with you.”

Her father looked at her puzzled. And so did her mother. Ria thought it was best to leave it at this.

“I .. never mind. I thought you were not ok”, she said managing to smile. Her mother smiled back at her still puzzled.

“Say, which saree do you think will suit our Ria?”, she asked her father. She was behaving like nothing had ever happened.