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Watching Over Mia – Ch 3

Aaron gave me a beautiful funeral. I never knew I looked so pretty. I looked like I was asleep. After the guests had gone I followed Aaron into Mia’s nursery. She lay there in the crib like a little angel. Aaron knelt beside her and cried like a baby. I so wanted to hold him, hug him and tell him that I was right there but I knew that I couldn’t. So I didn’t even try. I just stood there and wept. How much he loved me!

 

I was there beside Mia all the time. Aaron took to working from home most of the time so that he could keep a careful watch over her. She grew by leaps and bounds. I always had a feeling that little Mia could see me. Whenever I was beside her she would look at me and point her finger at me or smile at me. That was enough to send me alive albeit in the afterlife. But alas – I just couldn’t touch her or hold her close to me. Aaron never understood what was she pointing out to but he always admired her.

I watched everything of Mia – it was like my dreams unfolding before my very eyes. Her first steps – she fell over and let out a wail that would send pigeons flying all over. I wanted to lift her and hold her close to me – but I couldn’t even touch her. My hands would pass through her like in thin air. However, Aaron was always there for her. Mia started speaking and her first words were – ‘mamma’. Well it sounded more like “mmma”. I cried out of joy. She started going to school when she was three. What a joy it was to see her go off with her head held high in pride. She didn’t cry like other kids did. She was a matured child right from the first day. And boy – how she bossed over the other kids. It was a great joy to me to sit beside her in class and watch her.

Once the class bully ate her cookies. She questioned him about it and he asked her to go take a walk. You should’ve seen her lips curl and then she started crying. Oh I felt so sad for her, but at the same time I couldn’t help notice how cute she looked when she did that.

Mia was growing up to be every bit like Aaron. But her hair was like mine – deep auburn.

Now with Mia going to school, Aaron could concentrate on his work better. But he ensured that he spent quality time with her and helped her with her lessons and took her to the park or to the swimming pool. He played with her and read to her and tucked her into bed. Oh it was so nice to see them both. I missed being a part of their lives.

After Mia was asleep Aaron would go to my picture that was in Mia’s room and look at me with so much of love and sadness.

 

Watching Over Mia – Ch 2

Two years later my joy knew no bounds when I discovered I was pregnant. I vowed to myself to give my child all the happiness I never had. Aaron started working extra hours while I dreamed about my baby all day. I dreamed of the first time I’d look at my baby, what would he or she look like, the first bath I would give it, its first words, its first steps, its first day at school etc. The days seemed to be filled with dreams dreams and more dreams. Aaron employed a full time maid to cater to my needs. He left no stone turned when it came to spoiling me.

One bright August morning my little daughter came into the world. She was such an angel. She was the split image of Aaron. She had his intelligent eyes, his sharp nose, his chin, his lips…

But my happiness was short lived. The doctor announced that I had internal hemorrhage and that I didn’t have too long to live. He also added with a sad face that he hated breaking this news to me. Yeah right!!

I was so lost; I didn’t know what to do. What had I done to deserve such a life? I couldn’t even spend a few  years with my daughter. Aaron had gone to buy some medicines. I took a scribble pad from near my bed and wrote a letter to Aaron telling him how much I loved him and that I was very sad to be leaving him. I asked him to take care of little Mia – that is what I wanted to name her, with all the love in this world. I asked him to please let Mia know about me.  Next I also wrote a little letter to Mia telling her how much I wanted to be with her and about all the dreams I had for her. I told her that no matter what I will always be by her side. All that she had to do was close her eyes and look into her heart. I couldn’t finish the letter. The next thing I knew was I was choking and then I felt like someone was putting a vacuum cleaner through my heart and sucking me out. I came out of my body feeling clean like never before. I felt so light and nice.

Wasn’t I supposed to go into some light or some tunnel or something like I had read in some books? I didn’t. I stayed on wondering what next. I looked around thinking I might have missed the tunnel or the light or some white stairs. Nothing!  So I just hung on beside my body and waited to see what would happen.

 

Watching Over Mia – Ch 1

Ch-1

I am – Well my name is not very important. All you need to know is that I am a mother, who loved her daughter very much. Perhaps, a lot more than mothers usually love their daughters.

 

When I was a kid, I was brought up by my step mother. My mother died while she was giving birth to me and my father re married immediately – like he was waiting for half a chance or something. My step mother was a very cruel woman. So cruel that she made Cinderella’s step mom look like an angel. She was a total bitch. She had two kids of her own and a huge fortune she had inherited after her first husband had died. So the kids flaunted all the wealth they had, they had the best of everything. The best education, the best school bags, the best bikes, the best toys, the best clothes and what more. And I – I had all of those too – though not the best. I went to a school in the neighborhood, had an old satchel for a school bag – and toys – the brooms and the mops were my toys. I had to do all the cleaning and mopping and laundry after school hours and before school hours. “Why waste a penny on a worthless maid while we have a sturdy girl in the house?”, my step mom would say. My father was a business man and was seldom in town. And when he was , he only had time to hide in that wretch’s bosom and drink  away to glory. Some say she was perhaps a witch and had bewitched my father.

 

Life changed after high school. I was 18 when Aaron fell in love with me.  Seriously I do not know what did he see in me. I still don’t know. I was a very plain looking girl and invisible to everyone’s eyes. I was above average in my studies. I could’ve done better if only I had the stamina to study after all the chores at home. Aaron was the neighbor’s son. I had never seen him before he proposed to me at twenty one. And I don’t know why but I blindly said yes to him. I just wanted to get out of here at any cost and I believed Aaron was my only straw.

 

We were married the following year. Aaron was a software engineer in some big firm and they paid him well. I wanted to work too, but “You’ve worked enough. Its time you sit back and enjoy life. However whatever I earn is all yours” he’d always tell me. He loved me like no one had ever loved me. He treated me like a queen. He transformed me into a new leaf. And after we were married I never stepped into that hole of my step mother’s ever again. I was happy. Ecstatic!

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.