It was a Wednesday morning. As I was climbing down the stairs of my flat, my vision suddenly became bleary, the stairs disappeared behind a dirty white curtain and the fear of tripping over and rolling down raised its ugly head. I stopped with alacrity and rubbed my both eyes. This had happened quite a few times; the last was on Sunday.
It wasn’t long ago. That Sunday I was going out for a movie with my friends when the eye affliction hit me. I had sat down on the stairs itself with both eyes firmly closed waiting for my vision to clear.
Then I heard a child’s voice which made me open my eyes.
She was standing near the foot of the stairs and looking up. A young girl under ten years, I presume. Her long dark hairs, cascading up to her shoulders, were open and partly hiding her face. She was wearing a pretty little pink dress.
Seeing me open my eyes, she said, “Hello Uncle… why are you sitting on the stairs with your eyes closed?”
I was now feeling fine. Coming down, I replied, “Hello!” “Who are you and what do you want? “
“I have lost my way, Uncle…” she made a face, “Can you help me? ‘
I glanced at my watch, it was getting late for my movie, but I just couldn’t leave her and go away. I also didn’t have the choice to take the help of my two neighbors who were out of town.
I scratched my head, slightly unsure, then finally decided. Taking her hand, I climbed up the stairs and opening the flat took her inside. After a call to my friends telling them of my change of plan, I turned my attention towards her.
She was sitting demurely on the sofa, both hands on her lap. I sat next to her and asked, “What’s your name? How did you get lost? I will help you to find your parents.”
As I waited for her to reply, I noticed, particularly, her intense brown eyes and a large black mole on her upper lip.
But she was looking around my small room little absent-mindedly and didn’t reply. I said gently, “I am asking you something!”
She turned towards me and said, “Twinkle… I am Twinkle” and got up and wandered through the room and finding the glass door to the balcony open, went out into the balcony.
I waited a minute or so looking at WhatsApp messages in my mobile after which I got up and followed her.
But a shock awaited me. Entering the balcony, I didn’t find her. The girl had disappeared! I looked around and downwards in nervousness. But she was nowhere to be seen.
My mind went into a whirlwind since my flat was on the second floor…nobody could escape from the balcony…. not that small girl! I couldn’t understand all these at all. This was downright spooky. A sense of fear started to creep inside me.
Later, when I tried to tell my colleagues in the office they just laughed at me…it was my hallucination.
That Wednesday, I was about to sit down on the stairs but refrained myself. Last Sunday’s memories were too horrifying. Instead, I climbed back tentatively with limited vision. Fortunately, I had come down just three steps so, that didn’t pose much problem. Standing on the top of the landing across my main door, I found that my vision was clearing.
Then, a little fearfully I looked around hoping that everything was fine. But no! My heart missed a beat when I saw a young boy, must be about 7- 8 years, standing outside the garden gate and looking up at me. I saw his face very clearly… the freckles topped by short brown hairs.
Instantly, sweat broke out and a stifled cry of panic came out of me … turning I took out my keys and opening the main door literally jumped inside my flat and banged the door shut. After holding my head in hands for some moments, I gathered courage to go out to the balcony to look at the gate. There was nobody there anymore.
This was becoming too much for me to tolerate. What was really happening? My friends had laughed at me and even I was getting some doubts about these incidents. Was I getting mad?
I didn’t go to my office and instead decided to visit a doctor that early evening.
Her name was Dr. Smriti Pradhan. She was a well- known psychiatrist, quite young, and her chamber was not too far away from my flat across the main market in South Mumbai. Her receptionist in the clinic requested me to wait. But my mind was deeply perturbed and the wait seemed to prolong till eternity, when I was called in. Opening the swing door, I went inside and saw her sitting on the chair against a gleaming white table. She smiled, looked at her pad and said,” Yes, Mr. Pritam; please sit there; tell me your problem.”
As I took the chair and saw her from close quarters unexpectedly I felt that my throat was drying up and a quiver started in my chest … the fear of that Sunday was returning. I gasped and continued to stare at her. To my horror, I found that the face of the doctor looked familiar… very familiar. It was the adult version of the girl I saw that day……the same brown eyes… large black mole…. she was Twinkle… It was uncanny! Before I could say anything, my vision again became bleary… a dirty white curtain was wiping out the brightly lit room…involuntarily I rubbed my both eyes. But something more was happening, I was losing my consciousness… the white curtain was changing to a black one… eternally black. Then I remembered nothing.
Once my eyes opened I found that I was lying on a bed in the clinic and Dr. Smriti was holding my wrist and checking my pulse. Seeing her my eyes widened in fear but found that she was completely different looking than what I had seen.
“How are you feeling Mr. Pritam?” She was saying.
I tried to sit up and then saw a young man standing near the foot of my bed. He had boyish looks and was in white overalls; must be Dr. Smriti’s assistant. Nothing unusual, but as my eyes stayed on his face for few moments, my heart again started beating painfully… again a white curtain dimmed my vision…. my consciousness was leaving me for the second time. The face of that man was the adult version of that boy whom I had seen outside the gate of my flat just hours ago… the same freckled face with brown hair.
They must have given me a mild tranquilizer. When I woke up I found myself in my house with my friend Rupak standing near me. Behind him was Simran. Both were my office colleagues. It was late night; the time was 11.39 pm.
“What is this happening?” Rupak was saying, “…. You have fainted twice in Doctor’s clinic.” He touched my shoulders with his firm hands, “Buck up”.
I blinked and tried to smile when Simran came forward and patted my hair, “You are all right Pritam… don’t worry… you will be fine.”
The next day was Thursday and I again didn’t venture to go to the office. It was raining incessantly since last night. Along with the rain, my thoughts were also bleeding… I was not able to fathom as to exactly what was happening. It all looked very ghostly and thinking about that made my mind contract in horror.
I needed to talk to somebody who would believe in me and not think that I had become a psychological case.
Picking up my mobile I called Simran. We had been working together since last twelve years and in those years a sense of closeness had developed between us. It couldn’t be termed as love but it wasn’t too far away. Who knew someday I might propose to her.
She said that she would come to my flat after office hours around 7.00 pm.
It was evening; Simran was sitting on the sofa across me and sipping a cup of coffee. My coffee cup was on the center table. It was virtually untouched. We had been talking since past hour or so.
Seeing my worried face, she leaned forward and said soothingly, “I feel that this problem has something to do with your past. Do try to recall some incident which may have a connection with this unusual phenomenon….”
I tried to pull my senses together…. my mind became tense… but with no success … at last I gave up.
Following morning I was getting ready to go to office when I saw a small news item in the newspaper. It was about a Honda car colliding with a Maruti 800 in the driving rain last evening after which the Honda had sped away. Unfortunately, the two occupants of the Maruti, a father and his young son had succumbed to their injuries. The Police was searching for the driver of the Honda.
Perhaps this type of news was so recurrent that apart from a shadow of sadness one wouldn’t have thought any further.
But somehow this started a chain of thought …. with palpitating heart, I was remembering… …. many years ago, there was a car accident …. the winter fog of Delhi was at its worst …. visibility had dropped to a few feet… I was going to office… in a tearing hurry, when tragically I had collided against a Fiat making it topple on the sloping edge of a road.
Thoroughly unnerved I didn’t stop and sped away without a backward glance.
That was not the end yet. I heard the news that all the occupants of that car had died; there was the mother and two children… a girl aged 09 and a boy of 07 years. There was a dog which too had perished.
Some hours later I had managed to visit the hospital and see the dead bodies. Even the dog’s body was there. It was a horrid experience and my emotional turmoil knew no bounds. But that didn’t give me the courage to surrender myself to the police; God knows they could never trace me. Nor did I tell anybody. As the years moved on, my life continued; I had forced such nightmarish memories to fade away….
But that Friday, as I thought about it, my mind seemed to remember the faces of those dead… and then a horrifying realization started.
The girl and the boy who had materialized before me could be those two dead children!
My world became a petrifying whirlpool.
But I had to overcome it, find a way out.
It was lunch time in my office when I called up my journalist friend in Indian News and told him about the accident which happened in Delhi ten years ago; the date I recalled now, was 3rd January 2007. He had covered the accident without knowing that I was involved. I said, “Deepesh… I want the address of that family who had died… perhaps the father is still around.”
A little later he gave me an address and telephone number in Mumbai. The gentleman was Sanjeev Rungta and he was the father of those unfortunate children.
As I dialed the number, somehow, I was feeling in my bones that he could save me from these bizarre incidents. I was also feeling uncomfortable that after ten years I was revealing myself …. What would happen to me now? Would he go to the Police? Was I making a mistake?
After a few seconds, an abrasive voice came in, “Hello, Sanjeev speaking…”
I gulped and introduced myself, then said, “It must be shocking to know that ten years ago by mistake I had hit your family’s car and sadly your wife and two children died…. All these years the Police couldn’t trace me…. but now…. I want to apologize for whatever happened that day… I am sorry…”
I stopped, I couldn’t go on, but forced myself to explain.
There was a long silence at the other end, then he said, “Apologize?” There was a sneering rough edge to his voice but still civil enough.
“Can you please come to my house… I am ……. near the main market?”
After a long pause, he said “Yes … at 8.30… tomorrow evening”, and abruptly disconnected.
It was Saturday; our off day. The cloud cover was so thick and dark in the afternoon that it seemed to be evening. Then the heavy downpour began. To add to the wet atmosphere there was a continuous strong wind blowing from the north.
I was feeling depressed and gloomy. All sorts of foreboding thoughts were crossing my mind making my life miserable. But I could do nothing till I met that gentleman.
Then around 4.35 pm I got a call from Simran. She was saying, “Pritam…. How are you now, dear? I want to come to your house around 5.30… ok with you?”
I couldn’t have been more thankful; I needed somebody to be at my side during this difficult day of my life.
She would be arriving soon.
But as the minutes ticked by, merging into an hour…it was 6.33 pm, there was no sign of her. She was not taking my calls. Often, I went to the balcony to check…. I thought that she was getting delayed by the traffic. Was she in her car or coming in public transport?
Where was she?
Time ticked on and on.
It was getting late and I was worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. There was only a drenched street dog lying down miserably near the gate. Rain water had puddled, a breeze ruffled the trees in the courtyard and thunder resounded in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….
But while turning, suddenly, my eyes focused on that street dog…. the street light was on it. From the distance, I could see that it had a white longish patch running between its eyes… this sent a faint signal to my memory…. I narrowed my eyes and then remembered in a flash. My God, it was the same dog which had died in the car accident… how could it be here? My heart sank fearing the worst…
Then I heard the soft knock again…
Forcing myself, I went to the door… the clock in the drawing room started chiming… it was 8.30 pm.
Opening the door, I was confronted by an unknown man; he was of slight build, less than average height, but very fair with a French beard and a mass of black hair. His clothes were soaking wet. He had no umbrella.
I understood… he was Sanjeev Rungta. But when did he enter through the gate?
“Mr. Sanjeev? Do come in.” I said hesitantly.
He stepped into the room and looked around. Water was forming a small pool around his feet.
He said in a coarse voice, “While coming here there was an accident, just a kilometer away from this house. A lady who was walking on the road has died … I stopped to check her mobile which was in her purse…. Her last call was to your mobile… I know that number… I have spoken to you in that number.”
At that moment, I knew that she was Simran…. that woman I always wanted to be at my side…. whom I wanted to marry…
She was dead!!
Then, my legs became weak… I couldn’t stand… unsteadily I sat down on the nearby chair. All these were becoming too much for my tortured mind… I couldn’t bear it any longer…my mind went into a haze.
In that mist, I heard that man’s voice, “I am sorry… but my car had hit that lady…. But I did not run away.”
I knew that when I would come around neither would she nor would he be there!
A curtain was coming down on the episode!
I closed the manuscript after having finished reading it aloud and looked at my Director, Mr. Uday Johuri, a well-known figure in the short film genre.
“Do you like the story, Sir, for your next short film?” I asked hopefully.
“Well, it seems you have something there. A paranormal hit and run story. I will get back to you soon. Thanks.”
When I came out of Mr. Uday’s bungalow, it was 9.37 pm and the infamous Delhi’s winter fog was swirling around greying out the entire environment. Even the street lights were dull glow of grey, which barely could illuminate.
I turned my car out of the drive way, switched on the fog lamps and drove on the main road. It was a double track road without a divider. A few minutes into my drive I perceived that another vehicle was coming from the other side; very fast; it had no fog lamps; before I could swerve away, my car hit the other car against its side. In that split second the driver’s door caved in while my right headlight was smashed…. but I didn’t stop.
My mind was not able to grasp this sudden catastrophe as I drove on…
Then I stopped my car and bent my head on the steering wheel, eyes were closed. My right shoulder was hurting badly.
But what had happened to the other car?
I switched on my car, thankfully it was not badly damaged, and took a U turn…. the other car wouldn’t be too far away. I didn’t want to relive that incident of 3rd January 2007!
3rd October 2017