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