Hiren walked into the Cafe and looked around. At the far right corner of the hall he saw her sitting at a table for two. He walked towards her hurriedly, watching her so intently that he was about to hit a table occupied by two ladies. There was an exclamation from one of them which alerted him in nick of time to avoid the collision. Cursing under his breath he reached her and without a word or any greeting he pulled the other chair and sat down.
He glared at her!
Hiren’s aggressive attitude seemed to have no effect on her. Her face, which , even in his anger he had to again admit to himself, was one of the most beautiful and alluring he had ever seen. It was a wonderful combination of black and fairness. Her raven hair, curved eyebrows , curling eyelashes and black eyes contrasted with her alluring skin tone.
She stared back at him steadily, wordlessly.
Hiren called the waiter and ordered coffee for himself, she refused to have another cup, and leaned back, arms folded, “ Sunayana , first I must apologize for keeping you waiting for so long, and my behavior.”
He shook his head and appeared to take hold of himself.
“I couldn’t control my temper. I will be frank with you, I have nothing against you, it is my father who without asking me has gone ahead and decided my marriage with you. This is what I vehemently object. He cannot take me for granted, and more so in such an important milestone in my life. “
He leaned forward, “ Don’t get me wrong Sunayana, we have known each other in our college for many years , but that does not mean that somebody else will take my decision about you and I. Also I am entitled to my choice.”
Sunayana who was silent till then, spoke in a low husky and melodious voice, matching with her beauty.
“Hiren, I can understand your feelings, we all know in the college about your emotions, your infatuation with Shimpi. The only girl in the college with the brown eyes- that is her attraction. But our parents don’t know that, they can only think about your and my happiness, they think that our marriage will bring just that.”
Hiren frowned, “ Did your parents ask you about this? “ Seeing her imperceptible nod he continued, “ Well, I guessed that. But I think that it is my decision and nobody can force it upon me, even if it is my father.”
She stared at her hands for some moments, obviously not liking the topic, “What should we do now, it is very difficult for me to talk to my parents to call off our marriage since I have already given consent; I suggest please take it up with your father and let our parents ultimately decide”.
Without waiting for any reply she abruptly got up and walked out of the Cafe. Hiren stared – even in this moment of disagreement he secretly admired her. Not that he was seeing her for the first time but the circumstances now were totally different.
The week passed without any development since Hiren’s father had gone to London on some business work. It was a matter of some concern to Hiren that he couldn’t meet Shimpi as she had gone to Mumbai for some family function; no one from her family, whether her brother or younger sister was willing to divulge about her whereabouts. There was no call from Sunayana either.
It was Tuesday morning. After the Business management class, Sunayana came to him and asked him to come to the Cafe at 4.00 pm that afternoon.
Unfortunately Hiren totally forgot about their meeting as he became preoccupied with his father’s business guests. When he remembered he instantly sent a SMS requesting her to come to the Cafe at 9.30 pm that night. There was no reply which he assumed was okay with her.
He reached the Cafe on time. At that time of the night it was virtually empty. He saw Sunayana at the usual table and went to her, a little curious as to the reason for this meeting although he guessed that it was about their marriage.
As he sat down, he was stuck by the absence of her normal impeccable demeanor, her eyes were red and her cheeks had streaks of dried tears. She looked at him listlessly.
“ What happened Sunayana ? What is wrong? You were fine in the morning. “
Bursting into tears she bent forward and hid her face in the crook of her arms. Her body wracked with sobs.
With much cajoling Hiren was able to somewhat calm her down.
Little later, in a choked and tearful voice she said, “Hiren, I have done a very big blunder …I have , I have …. “ her voice faltered, “ …I have killed Shimpi …by mistake…to save myself.”
She again covered her face in her palms, “ Please help me Hiren, ….please help me, stand by my side. ”
Hiren sat stunned . He didn’t know what had hit him. This he would never have imagined, never in his worst nightmare. Now Sunayana needed his help. How could he do that? He might be caught along with her as accessory to murder.
And Shimpi – she was dead. That poor girl.
Hiren’s eyes became moist, his mind seemed to struggle with these unexpected revelations and happenings.
Soon his throat became parched in nervousness. He wanted a glass of water. The waiter came with water and went away with a strange look in his face. Perhaps he would tell his restaurant manager.
Hiren sat there thinking. Without knowing the complete details he wouldn’t be able to decide how he should react. He had to know first.
Sunayana was still covering her face. He leaned forward, held her hand and said softly, “ Please don’t cry, do tell me the details, take hold of yourself.”
Removing her hands from her face she looked at him.
“ I wanted to meet you first, but you were busy. So I confronted Shimpi directly; it was a tense moment; I told her that I wanted to marry you, both our parents have also agreed, so she should step out of our lives and let us marry. She listened to me for long and said that her marriage had already been fixed in another city. This was a great relief to me. I felt happy that she had no problem about our marriage.”
“But then,” she shuddered in the thought, “ as I relaxed, I saw her suddenly pick up a knife and lunge towards me to stab; it was unimaginable, nightmarish, I had to save myself; we had a furious struggle and during that …,” She started crying again, “ …her own knife went into her throat … she collapsed, bleeding…dead!”
She looked away teary-eyed,” I will never understand why she wanted to kill me when her marriage had been fixed elsewhere. I can never guess why a sweet girl like her had such homicidal – killer attitude. ”
Hiren’s mind was absorbing the facts. This was unthinkable; in these circumstances he had to help Sunayana, she needed his help desperately. But what about Shimpi? Somehow her sudden demise was not hurting him like he expected. Why did she behave like a bloodthirsty maniac? How could jealousy be so deadly? It was so difficult to understand human nature! God help all.
He cleared his throat and said, “ Sunayana, everything sounds like a nightmare, but we have to face the facts, we will do it together, I will help you.”
For the first time she smiled, a wan smile, and held Hiren’s hand tightly.
They got up and went out of the Cafe and sat in her car contemplating the next move. The Police would have to be told, by now the body of Shimpi would have been discovered.
He offered to drive her car.
The Police station was about five kilometers away , the road passing through a forest area in the town. It was already 10.45 pm., the roads had become virtually deserted, the street lights in that area were not working, the forest on both sides of the road appeared dark and foreboding.
The car was moving on the road sedately, its twin headlights were cutting through the darkness, when without warning, before them, an intense halo of blue light appeared out of no-where.
Hiren stopped the car, alarmed. The blue halo was gradually taking a shape , a female form was materializing, the facial contours were becoming clear. The apparition was walking towards the car.
He suddenly felt scared, very scared, his heart started beating wildly , so hard that a pain started in his chest, his nervousness returned- sweat formed on his face.
Then his eyes widened. The face of the female form was recognizable , it was Shimpi ; she came near the car and stood in front of it. There was no noise, absolute silence prevailed. Then she seemed to glide at the side and was near the window – Sunayana was sitting that side. Hiren turned to look and found Sunayana’s face contorted in fear, eyes dilated … then she screamed, opened the door and ran out unsteadily towards the dark forest.
After which, before his horrified eyes the ghost of Shimpi started fading away. There was a high pitched female laughter which echoed and echoed- became faint…followed by dead stillness.
Hiren stumbled out of the car, his mind was going blank in terror, but he had to save Sunayana.
He started running towards the forest where Sunayana had disappeared but the intimidating and deathly shadows lurking in there seemed to hit him; his courage left him; abruptly turning he sprinted away on the road as if his life was at stake. His breath came in bursts.
A car was approaching from the front, its headlights lighted up his scared face. Hiren virtually ran towards that car. It stopped with alacrity. Reaching near the headlights he fell on the road – unconscious.
Shortly he regained his senses in that moving car. Some Samaritan was taking him to the hospital .
He sat up and tried to marshal his thoughts. The sense of fright came back to him but he controlled himself and decided to first inform the Police. At his request he was dropped at the local Police station.
Inspector Singh was before him. Before his disbelieving attitude Hiren explained his hideous experience of the last few hours.
Before concluding he pleaded to the Inspector, “ Sir please search the forest, we have to save Sunayana without any delay, and please check out from the family of these girls, you may get some cue as to these bizarre and ghostly incidents. ”
Hearing this plea at least, the Inspector seemed to be convinced. A police party left for the forest immediately. But their concentrated search yielded nothing in that locality.
Reaching the house of Shimpi they were surprised to find that everything appeared normal. Her mother said, “What are you saying Inspector? Shimpi and her friend Sunayana have gone out for a night’s visit to a common friend, out of the town. They left by car around 5.30 pm today. She went directly from her college. You can call her mobile.”
On calling her, the mobile was found switched off.
Inspector Singh and Hiren then went to Sunayana’s house. Her father’s reaction was similar; but the calls to her mobile remained unattended.
Dejected Hiren returned home. Inspector Singh promised to investigate further the next day morning.
But he somehow couldn’t accept Hiren’s description about the ghostly halo.
During the rest of the night Hiren remained awake. All the happenings were unexplained – paranormal. Other than that what puzzled him was why did Sunayana disappear in the forest? Did the Ghost of Shimpi eliminate her? Where was she now?
Next morning Inspector Singh called him. He said that a massive search had been initiated by the Police for those two girls.
The unexpected happened thereafter. During the late afternoon Sunayana walked in Hiren’s house. There was nobody there, except Hiren.
He was taken aback on seeing her.
Without any other words, she came near him and touched his face, “ Will you marry me Hiren? Please tell me yes….yes!” Her eyes were in tears, pleading.
He looked into her eyes. They were brown in color… not her beautiful black eyes but brown eyes – like that of Shimpi!
How was that possible? It was very queer.
At that moment the land – line telephone rang.
Hiren, his mind in a whirl, walked back step by step and then rushed towards the instrument.
It was the Inspector, “ We have traced these two girls, rather their dead bodies in a car, it appeared that they were in some sort of lethal fight- they seemed to have killed each other yesterday, at a guess during early evening between 6.30 pm to 8.00 pm.”
That meant when he met Sunayana in the Cafe last night she was not alive! It was her ghost!
The hand set of the instrument slipped from his hands. Hiren slowly and fearfully turned around.
Sunayana was not there! Or was she Shimpi? The empty hall was never so frightening!
Both girls wanted him during their lifetimes. Now both wanted him after their lives. But nobody would get him.
4th May 2016.