The strong wind due to the thunder storm probably broke some window panes. It probably snapped some overhead power lines. The electricity went off and there was darkness in the house. The storm also brought torrential rains with it. Chandra struggled hard to close the glass windows against the strong winds and rain. She wanted to go to the kitchen and find some candles.
It was a rare weather for a place like McCluskieganj, where they had shifted recently. She tip-toed through the vacant house feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Suddenly she heard some footsteps behind.
Her husband had gone to Ranchi for some work and she knew that he would only return the next day. She felt uncomfortable in the new surroundings of this vast mansion. She managed to find a torch kept on a sideboard, after fumbling in the darkness. The sound of footsteps kept on getting nearer and she could feel someone breathing close to her. Should she turn around and see? There was no alternative anyway. Where would she run away in that darkness? She finally gathered all her strength and turned , focusing the light of the torch. She got the shock of her life as there was nobody to be seen. But she could feel the hissing sound of another presence breathing in and out, the sweet smell of her perfume permeating the air.
She cleared her voice, pulled up all the courage she could muster and asked, “May I know who are you? Come out and tell me what do you want?”
Out of nowhere, she noticed a moving shadow of a woman in white. She repeated her question. The shadowy lady spoke to her, in a voice that seemed to come from afar.
“This house once belonged to me. That was when I was alive!”
Chandra could not believe what she heard. She was a modern woman and never believed in the supernaturals or spirits or ghosts. Was this for real? The shadowy lady came close to her and then vanished once again, but her singsong voice kept on describing the entire floor plan of the mansion. Chandra asked her what she wanted.
The voice shook a little. It almost pleaded. She wanted Chandra to listen to the story of her life and assured that she would not harm her. Chandra sighed. What was her alternative anyway? She went to the kitchen, lit a candle and settled down after pulling up a heavy chair at one end of the marble topped mahogany dining table. The spirit appeared like a hazy shape and took a chair at the other end. Her shadow kept on simmering on the other side of the flickering flame of the candle. Chandra felt as if she was hypnotised by her influence . It was something beyond her understanding and control. She felt like a puppet in a chain.
From the fruit bowl on the table, Chandra picked up some grapes and offered them to the shadowy spirit. She expressed her desire to have some red wine. The spirit guided her to the beautiful bar counter curved out of ebony with Belgium glass mirror fitted on it. Chandra could only see her own image and the image of the flickering candlelight, while the singsong voice kept guiding her. She poured some wine for the spirit but the spirit requested her to take a glass for herself too.
They went back to the dining table and settled with their respective wine goblets and the spirit started telling the story of her life.
“This was the house where I grew up.” She said. “Each wall of the house stood as silent witnesses of my happy childhood and the days of sadness later.” She narrated how she used to play with her friends in the beautiful garden in front of her house. And then one day, a handsome young boy came to her life. Although he was poor, he seemed to be intelligent and ambitious with dreams of making a good life. She fell madly in love with this boy called Rohit and he too wanted to marry her.
“I was the only child of my parents and my father did not approve of the relationship. He was against the marriage. My father was a self made man and everybody knew that I would eventually inherit his fortune. I knew my dad had chosen someone else for me and he would never let me get married to Rohit. So I made plans to run away with Rohit.” A gasp of wind flew around, raising a storm.
But Rohit did not turn up on the day that they planned to elope. Her name was Romila. She was heart broken by Rohit’s betrayal and ended her life.
Chandra felt sad for Romila. What a waste of a life! Out of curiosity she wanted to know what happened next. Romila took a sip of wine. “My father could not withstand the shock of his daughter’s death and had severe heart attack. He, however did not die. He was crippled for life. My mother, who was always supportive about my love for Rohit was devastated and helpless with nobody to help her in that hour of crisis.” Romila remained silent, as if remembering her mother with regret and fondness. “However, she was a brave lady. With lots of courage, she continued taking care of her ailing husband and looking after the business single handedly. But gradually her health also deteriorated. At this point of time Rohit started visiting my mother once again extending a helping hand.”
Romila’s face wasn’t visible, but Chandra could feel the tension building up in her voice.
“My mother was ignorant of the real cause of her daughter’s death. So my affectionate mother, without any hesitation, allowed him to come back to the house. After all, he was the one who her darling daughter loved. Gradually Rohit started gaining her confidence more and more. Little did she knew about the ulterior motive behind the support he provided.”
Romila’s voice was angry now. And the wind outside seemed violent. It banged against the windows. Chandra got up to close them, allowing Romila and herself a well deserved break.
“My mother lovingly trusted Rohit and started discussing the matters of family property. Who else was there for her anyway? She entrusted him with the responsibility of running her estate. But the cunning young man slowly started taking advantage of her unconditional love. Within a span of few months my mother gave him the power of attorney and the authority to take important decisions on the family estate.” Romila’s voice was shaking in anger now. “My father was incapable of cautioning my mother since he had already degenerated into a vegetative state. By the time my mother realised that the estate was squandered, it was too late. She confronted Rohit.”
Chandra wanted to serve water. But Romila wasn’t ready to be interrupted. She spoke in great rage. “Rohit was nonchalant. Sweetly he assured her, saying that whatever he did was for the benefit of the family and the estate. He considered my parents as his and would never harm them. He would take care of them till their last breath. Rohit’s promises melt my mother again, to the extent that she was happy to ignore everything that was evident before her. Why would she be bothered anyway? who would she protect the property for? She wanted to resign, and so she did.”
A gripping sadness had taken over the evening. Even the storm outside had come to a still. Not a leaf moved. The flame of the candle stayed long and straight, swaying gently.
“After a week the old couple mysteriously disappeared from the house, during a period when Rohit had gone on a tour to Ranchi. He returned to McCluskieganj two days after their disappearance from the house. Even the servants had no clue where they were. How can an old infirm lady with a crippled old man just dissolve in thin air without anybody’s knowledge, is a question yet to be answered.” Romila took a deep breath and stopped for a while.
Chandra was engrossed with the story ,and she wanted to know more. She asked her whether she really knew what had happened to her parents. Romila said she knew it all but could not prevent the harm that Rohit did.
Her parents, Mr. Rathin Sen and Mrs. Reena Sen died of embolism. A local doctor was employed and given a lot of money to carry out this planned murder without leaving any proof. Their bodies were cremated on the same night, to avoid anyone’s attention. They left no evidence for anyone to expose this heinous crime. Thus the man whom she loved and for whom she gave away her life, turned out to be a destructive crook as was originally suspected by her father.
“Do you know the whereabouts of Rohit?” Chandra couldn’t help asking. Romila suddenly started laughing loudly. She asked Chandra about the time when she got married to her husband and the name of her husband. Chandra said her husband’s name too was Rohit and they got married a month ago and this is the new house he bought for her.
Though nothing was meant to be related, Chandra started feeling very uncomfortable. She was sweating, through the weather was cool and stormy.
Romila kept quiet for a long time, taking the last few sips of wine. She asked Chandra to follow her. Chandra carried the candle with its simmering light and walked behind her through the darkness of the rooms. She was totally under her spell and felt a trusting bond developing between her and the spirit. She felt no fear as she walked with this shadow, who probably had been a beautiful young lady once upon a time.
Romila lead her through a narrow passage, illuminated only with the candle light she was carrying. She had never got to explore this part of the well spread villa. They ultimately stopped in front of a door at the end of the passage. Romila mentioned, this was her room. They both entered after opening the heavy door. It made a creaking noise. The spirit pulled out an old discoloured envelope from an old dusty drawer of a desk and showed her the photograph of her beloved, Rohit. Chandra could not believe her eyes and rubbed them in disbelief!
How could this be? Romila’s Rohit was the same man she had married! Her head started reeling and she fell on the ground with a thud. All went black and she lost her consciousness.
She never knew how long she was unconscious. When she woke up, she found herself in her bed with her husband by her side. It was broad day light.
The memories of the previous night will probably go on haunting her. She was not sure whether it was a nightmare or something beyond the logic of human understanding. She did not dare to think about it any further. What she’d do with her life now? That, only time would tell.