“What happened?” My brother shouted in his half-sleep.
“I think there’s someone.”
“Outside the window.”
The room door slammed.
Later the same year, my father and I were searching for a new apartment to shift to before my mother and brother shifted to Nagpur after his 10th boards.
Nagpur has a totally different vibe during the month of February. A chilly night, soothing sunshine, breezy evening and everything just repeating till hot summer arrive in March itself. In this season, all you need is a cozy room to yourself but here we were house hunting. House hunting is really haunting.
Before we go ahead, I’ll brief you about how I landed in Nagpur. The day my board exams ended, my father’s boarding letter for transfer arrived and Nagpur it was. For us, it came as a shock but my parents thought it would give a new way to our studies and career ahead. My brother was still in class 9th. My parents decided on a temporary split up. They decided for me and my father to shift Nagpur before, later followed by my mother and brother after my brother finishes his boards.
Before Mumma and babu (I call my brother babu) were to arrive, I and papa had to finalize a new house to shift. Since we were still new in the city and didn’t know much, papa asked his colleagues to help in the process. Finally, one of my father’s colleagues suggested his uncle’s home and arranged a visit for an evening.
The house appeared ghastly. The structure looked sad to me while I got off papa’s bike. The bricks were wilted as an old bread gets covered with fungus. It had turned grey and gloomy or it was the sunset that made it that way, I couldn’t decide. The house was surrounded by trees all around except the entrance. It was good to see lots of greenery around but somehow it was menacing. However, we went inside to meet the owner who was an old man, in his 60s with a depressed wife and a sickly dog, Ruby. He had a daughter who was a special child and she was the only one who looked cheerful. We sat in the living hall and engaged in some nervous talking. I was quiet as usual.
While everybody was involved in the discussion, I was busy checking out their home. From childhood, I have a hobby to check out beautiful houses and understand their interior and this house was really beautiful, from inside. While I was looking around, my eyes got fixed at a photo. Hung on the wall with a garland hung on it.
“Umm, who’s she?”
“She is our daughter, middle child.”
The pain could be felt in her voice, the wife of the house owner.
I looked at the photo again and the “To” date mentioned was 20 years back. The more I looked at it, I felt it looked back at me.
“Come beta, let’s go and see the flat.”
My attention got diverted when papa called me while everyone took us to have a look at the flat before we finalized it.
Though it was a 2 BHK flat, it looked bigger as compared to the houses we had visited. Especially in the hall. The rooms were big enough for four of us. As usual, my concern was the bathroom which was spacious. I liked the house except for the pungent smell which was very strong when we entered the flat and it got stronger when we came closer to the bathroom.
“We’ll get the house cleaned before your shift.” The house owner promised.
We too agreed and in the first week of April, we started shifting to our new residence. I was happy that we were finally together. Standing on the terrace, I was looking down where shifters were unloading the boxes but mostly appreciating the sunset. The air was silent and this silence broke with a from terrace door that grabbed my attention. I thought my brother came up to accompany me but all I could see was an amorphous figure at the edge of the door. It was steady and so was I. I swallowed a dry spit, gathered courage to move. It moved too, towards me. I was petrified and screamed so loud that papa came running up, crossing that dark figure. I held him tight. It dissolved in the air.
We were happy that we were finally together. Everyone in the family was shifting things, arranging the new house, trying to recreate it as own.
That was our first night in our new residence, papa managed to fix the cooler only in the hall and we all decided to sleep together. The mattress ware laid, sheets were spread, cooler blew breeze and we all set off to sleep. But I was still awake, thinking about what I saw earlier. I rolled over the bed in confusion when I felt as if there was someone in the bathroom. Maybe the tap was open or someone was taking bath but I could hear water running.
“You might be dreaming or it was cooler.” My mother laughed at my story.
I felt silly but deep down, I knew there was something.
Slowly everyone got busy with their work, papa with office, me and babu with school, and maa got involved in beautifying the house. She was done with every room but the adamant damp in my room, right above my bed was irritating her most.
“Bhabhi ji, that damp is still there.”, Maa was socializing with the owner’s wife.
“That has been there since many years. We also tried removing it but it reappears every time.” She explained.
“Your interior is beautiful Bhabhi.”, the owner’s wife took my mother on a small tour inside her home.
“You daughter. How it happened?”
Maa got curious after seeing the photo frame.
“It was very unfortunate. She died of diarrhea. That day was observed as Bharat Bandh due to which she couldn’t get medical assistance on time and left us.” She cried while telling the story.
“How can a person die due to diarrhea?” Maa narrated the story while serving dinner.
“Oh god! Not again.” Maa exclaimed loudly.
“What happened?” Papa asked while watching T.V.
“Every day the food is getting rancid. Such a waste.”, Maa complained.
“It may be because of weather. Don’t worry, we will manage with what is good.”
Papa consoled maa, called us for dinner and we had regular dinner conversation.
I had complaints too. Still I wasn’t sure if I could discuss with them
Something kept on hitting my back every time I jumped rope on the terrace. The night bulb of my room always goes off at midnight. While I’m used to study late at night, it is never peaceful around. I always felt that there is someone around me or above me, on the terrace. I heard someone jumping, running. Down the stairs, knocking the door, and running back. I could hear it all.
Whenever I was in that washroom with the same pungent smell, I could see a disfigure in my reflection.
Every night I felt someone sneaking in my room. I started getting up at 3 a.m. every single day with the sound of a weeping child.
Despite all the creepy experience, I couldn’t dare to talk to anyone as I thought nobody will believe me and think I am making excuses to avoid studying.
And, the worst was yet to happen.
A night before my class test, I was breaking my head with a chemistry book. Already my brain had too much of chemical reactions to comprehend, when I heard a bang on the window next to me. It was too loud and scary that my heart almost popped out. It was not enough when a sharp squeal like someone crying out of pain caught my breath. I was panic-stricken. I wanted to run away but was paralyzed. I was trembling and could hear the silence after. I turn to the left. There was a short hazy figure at the corner of the hall. Before I could figure out, a fainted voice crossed across my neck, “Will you be my friend?”
The horror ran across my body. I screamed, ran to the room and shook my brother off his sleep.
“What happened?” He shouted in a half-sleep voice.
“Someone is here with us!”, I whispered due to fear.
“Outside the window.”
“The road’s outside. Maybe someone passed by.”, my brother came to all senses when he saw me quaking.
We both sat down with hands together; he tried comforting me.
“Have you ever felt anything different in the house?” I asked my brother in a trembling voice.
“It’s not the best time to discuss. Please, I don’t want to scare you more.”
I’m aware that he knew something but was hesitating to share it with me.
“Please tell me, babu.”
He sighed. “I have seen a figure. A girl. I see her every night, standing by your bed, staring at you with dreadful eyes.”
I could see the fear in his eyes.
"What does she look like?"
I need to know more to understand what I saw in the hall.
"She is short, just like you. Looks sick."
As he spoke, we heard a bang at the door.
We both were terrified. My brother started chanting Hanuman Chalisa and as soon he began, our door opened and slammed so hard that even the stopper couldn’t help it.
We screamed with our lungs out and ran to our parents’ room.
“Why are you both screaming?”
Maa kept on asking but we couldn’t utter a word. Babu jumped on the bed and held her tight. I was still standing near the bed, horror-struck. Before she could understand anything, all the doors of every room slammed harder, spreading a dead silence after.
“What just happened?” Maa was unable to analyse the situation.
I felt a jerk, pushed on the ground too hard to make me faint.
The next day, I’m burnt with fever and puking too. Everyone was worried, I vomited even if I sip water. A doctor visited me. He gave me some medicines and asked my mother to wipe my body with a wet cloth to lower the temperature.
Maa took me to the bathroom, took my clothes off to bath me but the view tormented her. She cried for papa after what the horror she just witnessed.
There were large fingerprints on my body and bruises at the back of my neck.
I looked myself in the mirror and saw her smiling at me. A breeze crossed my neck again and I heard, "Will you be my friend?"