She ran till the broken end of the wooden bridge and jumped off the edge. Did I see it right? I couldn’t believe my swollen love locked eyes, and I was sure that whatever I saw a minute ago was the side-effect of the break up. Shaking my head, I climbed off the moss-covered railing of the bridge, switched the torch on and was starting to walk away from ‘the scene’ when I saw a white dupatta floating on the black waters of the lake. Without giving a second thought to it, I ran to the said end and dove into the icy cold waters. Thank God for the glasses, I thought.
I swam to a distance but I had to swim back to the surface as I had no gills after all. Again I put my head back in the water but failed to find the girl. Dejected, I climbed back onto the bridge and lay my wet body on the planks that formed the bridge- which has been bearing many a failure like me for three centuries now. I was disheartened, and I closed my eyes to stop the tears that were accumulating at the corner of my eyes, from trickling down.
“Are you dead or what?” said she. I sat up straight and saw the said girl standing in front of me. “Whoa! Didn’t you jump into that lake a few minutes ago?” I said as I stood up and shook some water out of my hair. “I come here every night to take a swim. Although tonight I did come out of the waters a bit too fast, now don’t ask me why.” She is pretty. I couldn’t resist getting lost in her light blue eyes. Her eyelashes were perfectly curled and her hair was as black as coal, I felt like running my fingers through those locks. The water droplets were shimmering on her dusky skin under the flickering lights of the street-lamp. She is beautiful. She is a dream. I have seen her before, but where could I have seen a girl as flawless as a photo and not have remembered the place? Only in my wildest dreams, I thought and smiled. Like an idiot.
“Do not get any wrong ideas in your head. You didn’t think that I had committed suicide, did you?” she said raising her right eyebrow.
“I… I was just trying to help.”
“Thank you for your concern,” she grinned and continued, “but I have miles to travel, villages to adopt, lions to pet and promises to keep.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you jump into that icy cold lake at such an hour?”
She looked at me with eyes that seemed to have given up, and then she replied while she kept on staring at the rippling waters, “That is my destiny.” And then she looked up at me and smiled.
She took my leave and started walking away from me and into the darkness when I called out to her, “Wait!”
She stopped and looked back. “I did not get your name,” I shouted.
“You don’t need to. Take care and stay away. Or…” She started walking again.
I screamed, “OR?”
She turned her head, her blue eyes glinting under the moon light and she whispered, “Die.”
As soon as I heard her last word, my feet turned stone cold. If there wasn’t a cage guarding my heart, it would’ve flown out of my chest. It wasn’t what she said that creeped me out, but it was how she pulled it off.
Late into the night, I was still tossing and turning under my sheet, analyzing the event, deducing and trying to make sense out of the whole situation.
I literally had to scream at the top of my lungs to be heard by her, but all that she did was whisper and it felt like she was standing next to me.
Lost in her thoughts, I fell asleep. I was dreaming about her – she was sitting on a bench in a park, when my eyes fell on her comely visage. She was dressed like a beautiful autumn morning, her hair coiffurred with a floral tiara, and her skin had not one blot to diminish her beauty. Her enticing laughter bewitched me and started pulling me closer. I did not struggle, I melted into her aura. She kept on laughing, she kept on smiling. I was moving closer and closer. She turned her bare back on me, and I felt heavenly when my eyes zoomed in on the mole on her back. I was about to caress it when she turned her blood-marred face to me and screamed, “DIE!” as she pushed me into the same lake.
I woke up with a start. I was panting heavily. My throat had gone dry. I started sweating like a hippo, even though the temperature had fallen below 10. I started shivering. I knew it was the side effect of the prescribed medicines that I was taking. But all I could think about was the face of the girl and her eerie connection with the bridge that dated back to the Mughals.
All of a sudden, I felt the urge to return to the bridge.
Under the clear sky and the full moon, I did not feel the need to bring my torch. I walked over to the part of the bridge that had not broken down into a nightmare. I opened Archie, and was about to hit the search engine when I heard her voice.
“Are you a night stroller, too?”
“Why are you here?” I asked her, avoiding her query.
“This is my abode, my place. This is where I belong,” she replied as she looked at the vast lake that she seemed to own.
“It is three in the morning. You should not roam about at night. Aren’t you even a tad bit afraid of this place?”
“What should I be afraid of? This is where I rule. At every other place, people want to rub my existence off this earth. But here… here, no one comes. Every single living creature is frightened of this place, my haven. No matter how far I go, I always come back to my home. I am not afraid,” she turned her moist eyes at me and said, “You should be.”
“I need to tell you something. I know that I’ve only met you last night, but I think you are the missing piece of my puzzle of a life. You are what I have been looking for. Even last evening, I was down with depression until I lay my eyes on you. I think you are the remedy to my madness. I just seek your permission.” I rambled on like an idiot. And then I opened my eyes to spot her sad face.
What mystery does this face hold that I can’t take my eyes away from it? What is so melancholic in that smile that my heart wants to bring joy to? She must be thinking I am crazy. I need to back off. I want to. But I can’t. My legs and my mouth seemed to have a control system of their own; I am stuck in this myriad beauty of a person.
“I am Roopkumari,” she uttered guiltily.
“Roopkumari, it was a pleasure to have met you. I am known by Alexander.”
“The feelings are mutual, Alexander. And, please, remember me by Roop.”
“Remember? We will meet again, Roop.”
She gave one of her enchanting smiles and walked away. As she reached the end of the bridge, she whispered, “Kumari Mahal.” And simultaneously, I saw her lose herself into the sudden rise of fog. As the fog lifted, my heart sank with the moon. But a big conundrum started doing rounds in my head. Why did she mention the Kumari Mahal?
I ran. I ran like the wind – past all morning walkers, past all rickshaw pullers, past all police patrol vans, past the rising sun. I breathed only after I reached the Kumari Mahal.
There was a scroll at the entrance of the hall, which read –
The Kumari Mahal is the most mysterious place of the city. It was the home of the Kumari Princess- one of the most beautiful women on this earth. She is said to have been in love with an English officer. One week into the marriage, she heard her man cursing in the middle of the night. With a curious little head, she peeked inside the room only to see her husband making love to a British commoner. Seeing her, the officer got furious and made her watch the whole act of immorality. Unable to bear her crying gags, he mocked at her dull complexion and insulted her by saying that a man of his stature could never stoop to love a whore like her.
Unable to bear all the pain, she killed herself by jumping into the lake – Neer. Her body has still not been found. Legend says that her spectre still rises from the waters and roams about the Mahal the last two days of the month of October.
I looked at my mobile, the calendar read – 1st November, 1990. My body felt numb. I suddenly felt breathless. As I entered the hall, the photo of the Princess moved me to tears. Under the frame, the nameplate read – Roopkumari.