“Two thousand five hundred square feet, two bed rooms on the mezzanine, a drawing room and a living room on the main floor, a dining hall-cum-kitchen, balconies, a covered car park, state-of-the-art construction and amenities, what more do we need Chand?” Ashish asked.
Chandrika was silent.
“…and, darling, all this at an unbelievable price! I couldn’t believe my ears at the price he quoted.”
“That’s all fine, Ashu. I know, the apartment and the price are very attractive, but…isn’t it too big for the two of us?” She paused. “And…we don’t have any kids…”
Ashish was forty and Chandrika thirty-six. Despite consultations with innumerable medical specialists, ritualistic religious vows at countless shrines, they could not find a solution for their tormenting problem; Chandrika would not conceive. Apparently, there was no problem with either of them but she just would not become pregnant and consequently there was always an undercurrent of sadness to her persona.
“Don’t worry, Chand. We will have kids… Just say yes. We’ll seal the deal.”
A few moments’ silence.
A few weeks later Ashish and Chandrika moved into their own duplex apartment.
“Going to bed, Ashu. Coming?”
“Got to finish this work, dear. Maybe another hour.”
“Okay, don’t be late.” She kissed him and climbed the stairs to their bedroom on the mezzanine.
Ashish was so lost in his work that he did not hear it at first.
Shuffling of feet. Opening and closing of the refrigerator.
Ashish looked up from his laptop. The main floor was dark except for the soft white night lamp glowing in the kitchen.
‘Chand must be up for a drink of water.’
He heard soft footsteps again. He went into the dining room to check.
There was nobody!
He climbed the stairs and peeped into the bedroom. He found Chandrika fast asleep.
‘I must be imagining things’.
He smiled to himself and went back to his work.
Ashish was chewing toast, butter and omelette hurriedly, sipping sweet tea in between mouthfuls.
“Don’t make me a widow. You’ll choke. Eat slowly.”
“Getting late, darling. Meeting in the morning.”
She caressed his hair.
“Did you come down to the fridge last night?” He asked.
“I thought I heard someone walk in the dining room and open the fridge.”
“No, I didn’t get up during the night at all.”
“Okay, dear, I’ll get along.”
“Come back early. Got to go shopping.”
They hugged and kissed before he left.
The maidservant had just left. Chandrika had finished cooking lunch. She made a cup of strong tea and sat at the dining table reading the day’s newspaper.
She heard sound of a child’s laughter and running feet. It was coming from the mezzanine. Chandrika slowly climbed the steps to the mezzanine and checked the two bedrooms.
There was nobody.
Suddenly, she heard the same sound coming from the dining room. She rushed down to the main floor. The dining room and the living room were empty. She stood stunned in the middle of the living room, not knowing what to do.
She felt someone rush by her to the main entrance. The door opened, the sound faded away through the door, and the door shut itself.
“Don’t say I’m imagining things.”
Chandrika was speaking to Ashish over telephone.
“I didn’t say that, but how can such things happen!”
“They did, Ashu.”
“Is…is the home quiet now?”
“Seems to be.”
“Fine, be careful. I’ll try to come early. Let’s see what we must do.”
“Hmmm.” Chandrika hung up.
An intensive search of the house having failed to reveal anything, they finished their dinner in a semi-sombre mood. Chandrika went to bed and Ashish sat before the TV.
Ashish was jolted out of his slumber by a terrible scream. It was coming from their bedroom. He realised that he fell asleep watching TV. Instantly, he ran upstairs.
Chandrika was sitting in the bed screaming. Her face was ashen and she was shivering like a person suffering from ague.
“Chand, what happened? Chand, Chand…” Ashish hugged and caressed her.
She calmed down after several minutes and spoke in a trembling voice.
Chandrika felt restrained! ‘Restrained? What the hell…’
She was groggy and in a semi-awake condition. She tried to get up, free herself from…from whatever was restraining her.
It looked like Ashish, sleeping next to her, in a foetal position, hugging her, covered completely by a bed sheet.
She squinted and looked around. The bedroom was dark except for the faint wash of moon light through the open windows.
‘The open windows! But I shut them and drew the curtains before getting into bed! Ashish must have opened them.’
“Ashu, Ashu…” She tried to wake him gently.
He did not stir. The pupils of her eyes having adjusted to the ambient illumination, she realised that the figure next to her looked too small to be that of Ashish. Slowly, ever so slowly, Chandrika reached out and pulled the bed sheet away…
…and was shocked…
The wraithlike form of a little girl leapt from the bed and disappeared through the open window! The bedroom reverberated with the laughter of the ghostly girl.
The silence was overpowering and the tension palpable in the drawing room of Sankara Iyer’s home. The coffee cups lay untouched on the coffee table. Mrs. Iyer was twirling the pallu of her sari.
“Why didn’t you tell us before we bought the flat, Mr. Iyer?” Ashish accused the broker who had negotiated the sale of the apartment. “That’s why it was sold at a throwaway price, I see now!”
Chandrika was witnessing the uncomfortable situation silently.
“What can we do now? Where can we go? We have sunk our lifetime’s savings in this.”
Many years ago, the apartment was witness to brutal domestic violence. Having illegally ascertained that his wife was carrying a girl, the husband and his family nagged her to undergo MTP. The wife kept refusing but kept her family in the dark about the daily beatings and abuse. One day, the husband beat his pregnant wife so brutally that she died on the way to the hospital. The eight-month old unborn baby died in the mother’s womb. The husband and his parents were languishing in the jail.
They lay in bed discussing the matter, as sleep would not come easily.
“We can’t move from this house, Chand. We can’t pay the EMI together with the rent for another house. We’ll try to sell it quickly and move into another house. Okay?”
Chandrika understood the situation.
“Okay, as you say,” she said, rolled over and embraced her husband.
They found blissful release from the previous days’ stress in frenzied lovemaking; it was as though they were possessed.
‘Mummy, I love you, mummy. I am coming to you soon.’
They were sipping their tea in the balcony, basking in the warm rays of the early morning sun.
“I had a strange dream last night.”
“What, again?” He sounded alarmed.
She gave her characteristic irresistible smile. “Not that, you dolt. Listen.”
After their nocturnal romantic escapade, both slipped into deep slumber in each other’s arms. The bedroom gradually lit up with a ball of incandescent glow hovering over them. Inside the glowing sphere, Chandrika could see a little girl whose laughter echoed against the walls. Slowly, the brilliant sphere descended and rested on Chandrika’s abdomen. The touch was gentle, soft, and warm. Suddenly, the sphere penetrated her stomach wall and slowly disappeared into it.
Chandrika felt a sensation of fullness in her body and soul as well.
“Are you serious?”
“Of course, Ashu, that was exactly my dream last night. Don’t you believe me?”
“Darling, you won’t believe what I am going to tell you.”
“I had a dream, too.”
“Yes, and it is exactly the same as yours!”
A stunned silence descended between the couple for long minutes.
“What does it mean, Ashu?”
Next few weeks saw all their efforts to sell the apartment end in failure. A couple of times the buyers backed out at the last moment. It was obvious that they had come to know of the apartment’s history and the goings on inside.
“It is as though the house has its own will and it doesn’t want to part from us, Chand.” Ashish concluded.
Chandrika was silent and seemed to be lost in thought.
“What are you thinking? Don’t worry, Chand, we will sell it sooner or later.”
She said abruptly, “Don’t sell the house, Ashu.”
She interrupted him. “She doesn’t want us to sell.”
“Who?” Ashish was perplexed.
“The girl whom I saw in the house.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“No, really. Don’t sell because…”
“I see her in my dreams. She says she is coming soon.”
“Chand, are you all right? You are getting me worried.”
“I am fine.” She paused for a few moments. “I have good news for you.”
“What is it, Chand? Has anyone agreed to buy?”
“No, not about the flat.”
Chandrika was silent for a minute.
“I am pregnant.”
‘Mummy, I am inside you now. I love you mummy.’