Mala was afraid. There were many things that she was afraid of. Of the dark. Of strangers. Of ghost stories. Especially, of ghosts. And that evening, as her family was huddled around the fireplace, there had been an impromptu sharing of ghost stories. It was a large family. There were uncles and aunts and nephews and cousins. After an hour or so of hearing fabricated stories of haunted houses and cursed forests, Mala had gotten tired and a little spooked. It was already ten o’clock and it was way past her bedtime. Her parents had let her stay that late because it was Saturday. That meant there was no school.
Mala went to her room that she shared with her elder sister who was at her friend’s house that night. That meant she had to spend the night in her room alone. It was around this time of night that her fear usually visited her. The darkness held possibilities. Of ghosts. Of haunted spirits…
Mala could go to her parents and ask them if she could sleep in their room but she had played that card many times and her parents were firm. She was twelve. Soon enough she would be a teenager. She had to face her fears. No, she decided she wouldn’t go to her parents. She would brave the night, she thought and pulled around her blankets tightly.
Suddenly she felt the chills. Something like alarm rang across her mind. She looked around at the dark room. There was no moonlight. The window was open and cold air was blowing in. Mala relaxed. She got up and closed the window. It was cold and she hurried to snuggle in her blankets. But however warm and comfortable it was, she couldn’t sleep.
Her thoughts wandered to the stories that she had heard that night. There had been discussions of how people who were murdered or killed untimely returned back to haunt the living. She didn’t know anyone who had been murdered so she decided she was safe. But what if the ghosts of her grandparents visited her? They had died of old age. So would they return as ghosts? No, her grandparents had loved her. She tried to block her thoughts of death and dissatisfied, evil spirits and go to sleep.
Then, she realized she had to go to the bathroom which was the outhouse in the corner of the yard. She looked at her watch which glowed in the dark. It was twelve o’clock, sharp. Chills ran down her spine. Everyone knew it was at midnight that ghosts and spirits ran wild waiting for unsuspecting mortals. What should she do? She could no longer hold her bladder. She got up reluctant and scared. To the outhouse. To the darkness. She made her way around the familiar living room. Everyone had gone to sleep. There was no light and she was all alone. She tried to calm her fears and chanted Lord Ram’s name. Ram, Ram, Ram. Lord Ram would protect her and she said his name aloud to scare away evil apparitions.
She was outside now. It was freezing month of January. Mala was all alone and terrified. But now it was just few steps to the toilet. She grappled her way in and locked the door. When she was done, she extended her hands to unlatch the door and then she heard it. Some kind of scratching on the outside. Her outstretched hand froze. There it was again and it was rhythmic. What should she do? It was pitch dark. She was just twelve. She didn’t want to face a ghost. She didn’t want to die. Nobody survived a ghost unscathed. She started to tear up, panicked. I will be good, please lord, save me. She silently prayed to all the Gods and Goddess. Pin drop silence. Then a mew. It was a cat!! Relief flooded Mala. She opened the door and ran towards the house like mad.
In her room, Mala crept inside her blankets and suddenly she started laughing hysterically. There were no such things as ghosts. They were just stories and the idea of ghosts haunting mankind was superstition. And to think that Mala had just about had a heart-attack because of a cat was ludicrous. Nevertheless, she looked at her watch. It was fifteen minutes past one. She breathed a sigh of relief and went back to sleep.