Geeta sat cross-legged on the thick new carpet her Grandma had recently bought. She had a doll in one hand and with the other she brushed her hair with a comb. She was lost in the world of fantasy when the retiring sun’s rays stole in through the window and spread unevenly on her face. She closed her eyes as if absorbing in the warmth of the last rays of the day. She opened her eyes and turned her gaze upward in absolute hypnosis. The conversation from the other room was feebly audible.
“Meera, I am so glad that you came by to the temple with me. However, I would appreciate if you stayed the night. It’s already late and it will be dark by the time you make it home.”
“It’s not a problem, mother,” said Meera, “you know Samar, and he is such a child. He can cook but he will want us for dinner. You see when he cooks it’s a must for us to be present as connoisseurs.”
The women burst into laughter which broke Geeta’s musings. She rose and brushed her frock and hopped her way into the inner bedroom room.
“Geeta say goodbye to Grandpa and Grandma, we are leaving.” Meera said.
“Here take this torch, it will be of use in the way, the path is dark and muddy and I’m sure you don’t have your torch,” Grandpa walked in.
“Thank you father, I will have Samar return it the next time he comes to the town for work.” Meera hugged her parents and with warm wishes she took leave.
“Take care Mother, and father, please try to avoid sweets,” she said as she got into the trekking shoes.
Geeta was ten years old and kept the doll close to her chest. Her Grandpa kissed her on the forehead, “be a good girl, and yes, don’t forget to pester you momma now and then.” Geeta smiled and kissed him back on the cheek. She hugged her Grandma, who had tears in her eyes. “Geeta my darling, you are a gem so take care of your mom and dad, and visit us soon.”
Geeta nodded in agreement and caught her mother’s hand as they proceeded on the four-mile walk back home. Mussorie was a town and they lived in the outskirts of it. The cold breeze had begun to shape up into a gentle wind. It had rained heavily a few days back and the road was quite muddy. They would walk back the same way they had come, following the rail track. Once on the track, Meera started with her childhood memories, the school days fun, and the adventures on the mountains. The track wound round around the mountain and it was the only way they could avoid being lost. Geeta loved her mother’s stories and listened to them with great intrigue.
She already missed her father back home; I wonder what he would be up to. She thought, what I wonder is for the dinner?
The very last of the rays were gone now, and the darkness had taken the charge. Everything that looked peaceful and serene until now grew evil and gloomy. The tress seemed to wave at her asking her to go back. The bushes, the shrubs, shivered. Strange noises could be heard from unknown sources. The surrounding had suddenly grown so fearsome and menacing. Geeta had no interest to continue further. She tightened her grip on her mother’s hand.
“It’s alright sweetheart, it’s just the foxes and the wolves in the forest.”
There was something invisible to her eyes that floated around them as they walked along the rail. The air was chilling and the ink like darkness seemed so merciless. Looking up at the moonless sky she searched for stars, and suddenly tripped over the chunks of gravel scattered between the ties.
“Let’s take some rest dear, sit down.” Meera guessed her daughter was tired of walking on an uneven path. She sat beside Geeta on the rail keeping the torch on and looked at the city lights down in the valley. She had craved for a city-life all her life and Samar, her husband, tried very hard to find some job there. It was like a distant station and Meera’s train was stuck. One day, one day! She determined.
Her train of thoughts was broken by the sudden squeak of her daughter.
‘What is it dear?’ she asked brushing her hair gently as Geeta sat frozen.
“There is someone else coming, momma.’
‘It’s just your imagination dear, nothing to be afraid of.’
Geeta clutched her mother’s hand as they rose to continue on their way and kept the doll close to her chest with the other hand.
As they walked on following the dark path, Geeta turned back as the sound of the boots grew louder. She gave a squeal and looked at her mother’s face in horror.
‘Somebody is behind us momma. Someone has been following us.’
Meera turned around and shone the torch, ‘see it’s nothing there, just your wild imagination. Now, come hurry up, papa would be waiting for us.’
The owls hooted along and the leaves rustled from the branches of the tress that towered over them. The path was scary and Geeta was baffled as to why her mother couldn’t hear the approaching sound of the hobnail boots.
She screamed as she felt some cold hand brush her hair.
‘Someone is behind us momma,’
Meera once again turned around with the torch and said ruefully, ‘it’s nothing baby, come on see there’s the light from the kitchen. Come let’s go.’
They had picked up their pace and Geeta could see the lights from her sweet home at a distance.
‘Let’s sing the prayer Grandma taught you in the temple today, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.’
Geeta sang along with utter devotion. Never had she felt the fear of unknown. There was something, but it was nothing.
Meera’s singing grew louder with their pace. Suddenly they heard a dog bark and they turned around. A black Labrador leapt on Geeta and they fell down on to the ground. Samar laughed as he approached them.
‘I was waiting for you. You both were dashing towards home,’ he laughed and hugged his wife and then his daughter.
He kissed Geeta and tucked her in bed, ‘goodnight sweetheart.’
Geeta sunk into the pillow with gratefulness. She was finally back, safe and sound. She lulled herself into sleep listening to the faint voices of her parents outside.
“Samar, I heard the steps but didn’t want to frighten the child. I managed to keep singing and swinging my torching around telling her there was nothing. But Samar, just before we got off the track I turned the torch around for one last time and there it was, a few feet away, a silhouette of a large man without a head!