by Lekha Dey.
There was very little time. There would be a knock on the door. Soon. The downstairs wooden door had no bell to ring. “It’s classier to be old-fashioned,” husband had said. The heavy, ornate, metal knocker, hinged to the upper part of the chestnut board had to be tapped gently and the sound would reverberate around the house. Echoes could be heard all the way up to the upper floor. One could walk to the window or to the balcony and look down to catch a glimpse of the guest.
“Guest. Ghost. God knows. That could be practically anyone,” we would say in happier times. And we would look down to catch glimpses of heads in varying degrees of hair-loss.
There was the postman Robin who had a shining pate with tufts in a half-moon much like the lake beyond the balcony with shrubs lining one of its banks. He held letters in one hand and the wrought iron-knocker in the other and within a span of seconds, proceeded from extremely gentle to unbearably loud.
There was Lolita on domestic-duty who boasted of her long, luscious hair but had little to show for it now as she waited impatiently, uttering inaudible expletives and muttering under her breath. “Too cheap to get a door bell,” my husband heard her saying once.
“In my youth my hair was the talk of my village,” she said between sips of tea after work. “My braid was so thick that a boy once said, ‘if you don’t marry me, just cut off your braid and give it to me so that I can use it as a rope to hang myself.’ He could not live without me. So I married him. Now I think I should have just cut off my braid and handed it to him.” After thirty years of marriage, the fifty-year-old is a mother of four and a wife of one who has a penchant for drinking and the company of women with rope-like long-braids.
“He doesn’t earn a thing. He is a good for nothing. He is only good at romancing. And all four sons are growing up to be exactly like him. From seven to seventeen. All they do is chase the girls. I tried to send them to a government school which is free and all they did was chase the girls. I want to throw all five of them out but then I look at them and feel bad.” Sometimes she wears flowers in her thin, stringy braid. She steals glances of herself in the mirror on the dresser while dusting. Strands of hair barely cover her head. “Stress has taken away all my tresses,” she jokes.
From the balcony I can see her walk away to the end of the road and disappear into a lane. I can see the postman cycle away. In the silent sunlight.
But now, in the misty moonlight, I wait and watch from behind the drawn curtains of the bedroom window. White, lacy cotton gently sways in an unseen zephyr. The candles flickered down to the last ends of wicks. I had long turned the lights off so as not to be seen. Can anyone see me from outside? Can I see anyone from inside?
Only a shadow. In the moonlight. In the distance. Walking slowly up.
The visions of the entity formed over time. I heard the voices earlier. And initially there was only the vibes.
Long ago. Long long ago.
“I found it first, give it back,” the little girl was screaming.
She was seven. I was seven. She held onto the round, golden container we found in the rubble behind the old palace of an ancient land where our families had taken us for a vacation. We were playing in the forlorn meadow that stretched for miles along the kingdom of yore. In the distance was a river. The parents and children and siblings picnicked on the banks. Tuna sandwiches and lemonade. Lots of laughter and living. The setting sun reflected off the chipping yellow paint of the poor, deserted cosmetic case and my friend and I spotted it.
“What’s that?” She said.
“It must be hidden treasure,” I said.
And I thought of kings and queens, princes and princesses. They must have once dwelt in the now empty vastness. They must have walked and talked. Can sounds of footsteps linger when the walking stops? Can the whisper of voices remain in the sweeping, swishing wind long after the talking has stopped? Did angels and fairies dance and fly through abandoned spaces?
Or when they disappeared into thin air, did they just vanish? Did no one want to stay back and remember? Was no one so attached, so unfulfilled as to want to return?
“Let’s look,” said my friend.
I fished out the golden globular thing from the pile of broken bricks and stones and the discarded, plastic water bottles and glass alcohol bottles left behind by visitors.
I was inspecting it when she tried to grab it from me. “I saw it first. It’s my treasure. Give it back.”
I held onto to it with all my might. I didn’t say anything but gritted my teeth and struggled to hold onto it.
The tussle must have lasted an eternity. A tug of war for an earthly treasure.
And then I sensed something behind me. I turned around and saw nothing. A gust of wind swept past. I was still holding onto the earthly treasure. I turned back to face my friend, now my enemy. Behind her, standing there, looking unwaveringly at me was something. Today I can only recall it as a light, through which I could see.
“It’s mine,” she was still screeching. “Let go.”
“Let it go.” I heard even after I loosened my grip and let go. Even after my friend-turned-enemy, my frenemy, snatched it from my hand and started to run wildly to where the parents, children and siblings picnicked. I heard the whisper in the disappearing light. “Let it go.”
“Come back now,” my mother was shouting from the river bank. “It’s time to go.”
And I ran wildly to where the parents, children and siblings picnicked.
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