I had hoped to reach early that afternoon but the inordinate delay in the train schedule turned my plans upside down and I ended up at the railway station in the dead hours of an unusually stony December night. The waiting rooms were full the platform lounges were laden with people and luggage, stretching in all shapes and directions. My hopes of getting home safely at this odd hour seemed darker than the dark night. Caught off guard with the cold hostility that now lanced me, I froze there pulling my knees against my chest leaning on the bench that felt like an ice slab.
My thoughts now roamed around Renu my protagonist whose mind raced with my pen, she had been hounding me like a psychopath for long and I decided, it was time to call her shots off! It was the turning point of a brewing suspense and such plots often unfold lucidly before me in the afterhours when mundane humanity takes to rest. I jumped up and scribbled a line or two and then ducked back blanketing my arms around me, waiting for a hint of daybreak amidst sounds of howling strays and an occasional caw of a lost bird. I kept pondering about the storyline but I do not know when but my determination to dunk into the dark night was defeated and I had dozed off until I was jolted awake by the startling hullabaloo of panicky porters and passers-by. They were frantically trying to wake up the Hawaldar. The sleepy cop finally sprang into action and took to his walkie-talkie shoving curious onlookers aside.
Rubbing my eyes I pulled myself up from the backpack that had served as my pillow, I could vaguely infer from the people that it was a lady in her late-twenties and had left no note behind, I watched in horror trying to conceal the goose bumps on my hands as the chaiwala narrated how he had seen her simply jump off before the speeding train almost without any remorse!
Losers! I thought sipping my tea but my hand still shivered.
I headed to the rickshaw stand, just as I was about to board _ a veiled woman who looked tattered and bruised came running and handed me my bag that I had left behind in the hubbub. Thanking her immensely I started off to my new home that Chandru had arranged. Thick black strings of smoke snaked behind as the tri-wheeled fury raged off in the desolate stretch, soon the engine sounds were subdued by the wailing chill winds that stroked my ears like icy studs.
Finally the rickshaw pulled aside near a rusty gate that had not smelt paint in years, behind which stood a cluster of similar looking moss covered buildings that now stared at me. I plodded unscrambling into a labyrinth of twists and turns that finally led me to a fleet of flaked stairs. On reaching the topmost floor I was welcomed by Mrs.Mani, the owner of the house.
My new home was the bifurcated portion of a large house with a glumly antique living room with old ornate windows that were all shut, an old fan _ a veteran in this room hung precariously from the high ceiled wooden parabolas echoing a creak as I pushed open the windows letting some air in. Tshe bed room now grinned with a pungent breath of dampness, the mosquito net looked like an old hag’s skirt, only a faint streak of light emerged from a dingy corner that opened into a balcony where the blue ocean like skies overlooked the green clouds of lawn beneath with such seamless solitude that I could envisage mazes of fantasy on a starry night.
It seems to me, a perfect place with a splash of quaint antiquity and a gallery of wafting fresh air that churned newer fantasies. Heading back into the room I threw the bag on the Mahogany sofa but still felt something heavy on my back, Gosh! I have my bag right here on my back! Then whose bag is this that I took!? I quickly poured the contents of the mysterious twin bag but all that was there was only a tattered Chiffon veil with crimson blots, a broken strand of pearls, a child’s rattle and a fat book “by Dr.Kini” it read. There was no sign of any address or identification but the fact that somebody was reading my book made it an interesting dig, maybe someday I shall return this bag to its rightful owner I thought and threw it up onto the loft.
I laid down feeling jerky as if I were still on train, my mind roaming in those aisles of the train that I had never taken and saw clearly unknown faces that slept in the topmost berths.
Dhadak dhadak! Dhudum dhudum!
The doorbell rang! It was Mrs.Mani.
“So how do you like your new home”? She enquired placing the tray; her silver hair gleaming under the sunrays that was now spreading like a hand fan.
“I got some coffee and Idlis for you! I have also informed the newspaper and laundry guys to get in touch with you, let me know if you need anything else, I have to rush back”….
“Thanks Auntie but…” she was already gone….
I polished the casserole and dozed off. When I woke up it was already noon, I lay there for a long time staring at the abstract artwork on the paneled angular walls sequencing the characters of my story, suddenly the walls began to uncurl opening into a room made of ice that was fast melting, a veiled shadow banged beneath the icy walls helplessly and the icy walls turned a cobalt red! I blinked and the icy room vanished, the walls angled back and the room was aligned like before.
I have somewhat got used to these swinging hallucinations and swaying forms that often accompany me in my illusory world of thoughts.
The leading lady in my story was getting suffocated now, so very much like my room; I opened the balcony doors to rid the stuffiness. Chill gusty winds blew tumbling off the brass vase that spew a molten web of slimy beings that swarmed into the walls loosening the rustic mural that now skewed creakily.
The winds passed inside the frame blowing the silken hair of the gorgeous lady in the mural whose flawless face was still hidden beneath the wavering veil.
I laid down again imagining the flow of the story as the veiled lady in the mural seemed to stare at me, a faint jingling sound seemed to emerge from above, it could well be a neighboring wind chime I thought and continued to float in my imaginary world but this time a heavy thud interrupted my thoughts, someone was knocking hard at the door.
A little girl with blue eyes stood there, south Indians and blue eyes I mumbled…
“I just came to say hi”, squeaked a voice…..
Oh! Come on in! I said…
“My name is Oorvi what about you?” she queried as she jumped on the sofa..,
I am Dr.Kini
“Are you a doctor?”…….
No! I am a writer……
“But you just said you are a doctor!” she exclaimed shaking her leg, the jingling sound emerged again as if to match her restless leg shakes.
“Uncle! You a writer… Then tell me a story!”
Sure but not now…
“Can I come in the evening”?
No Oorvi! I am heading out in the evening I will be home in the mornings the next few days so maybe…hmm….
“Uncle could you pick me from the main gate tomorrow where my school bus drops me, granny’s knee hurts, you could tell me a story on the way back”.
Okay but you need to check with your granny if it is okay if I pick you up I said tucking few chocolates into her pink little hands.
The evening was bitterly cold the devilish dark clouds drifting gloomily shoved down the sun spilling a bloody crimson onto the sky. I sank into my cane swing sipping hot ginger tea that turned ice cold in no time. The suspensions from the ceiling creaked noisily with every little oscillation, the jingling sound began, I looked around it was coming from the loft I rushed to the room, pulling a ladder I looked up the loft. It was the rattle, peeping out, the silly thing probably rolled every time the wind blew. The loft door magnet had snapped, I put it in the deepest pocket and shut the doors quickly to witness the dusk. As I glanced around, my eyes halted at the adjacent balcony. A tall thin frame with hennaed hair, kohl laden hazel eyes with protruded cheekbones that matched the cherry sky, stood there gazing fierily at me. I was dumbstruck and a little embarrassed too that I could not look away from her. The jingling sounds resurfaced, it was only getting louder but I could not blink my eyes and persuaded myself that it was only ringing in my mind.
Kini uncle! The sudden voice shook me that I almost spilt the tea, I turned back, and it was Oorvi.
No! Not now! I am busy Oorvi…
“I came to tell you that you can pick me up tomorrow”,
When I glimpsed back, the woman was gone. The twilight was soon enveloped in racing dark clouds casting a black spell — the night befell, as I sighed heavily in the hazy air my breath formed white clouds in the dredging darkness that collided and struck me like lightening.
The rattling sounds emerged, Oorvi! Do you hear any sounds?
No uncle, I go back to play now, bye!
It was coming from the loft, I pulled the loft door wide open, the rattle was out there again but how did it pop out? Was it a silly rat playing a spooky witch? I climbed a little higher and peeked into the storage flashing my torch in the dark, a strange bubble emitting dim light erupted from the corner, and I froze in cold blood! My pupils still dilated in disbelief from what I saw. The modular loft grew into an endless expanse that seemed like a fleshy tunnel whose walls pulsated, slimily dripping with something very cold and musty. The beige hued tiny light bubbles now kept erupting wherever my eyes took me. The place lit up dimly when they drifted and turned dark when they exploded. Amidst the flickering flashes of brief light I saw agonized and bruised infant faces and beheaded toys, a heart like something wriggled in a toddler’s cradle, above which hung a rattle that I thought I had seen earlier. I scrambled deeper into the mysterious attic which was a world in itself, a nauseating stench surrounded the area, just then a gentle hand grabbed me and said how do you like this place uncle?
I almost choked to death. “How the hell did you get here Oorvi”?
“This is my play area, don’t you know our attics are connected, if you get down from the other side it leads into my room” she said playing with her glittery slime.
What?!! Our rooms are connected?!!
I was still trying to recover from the jolt the little brat had given me. I got down wondering if it real or was I lost in the spell of my story?
But I had seen Oorvi for real! I scrunched my eyelids tight and began my writing but the rattling sounds began yet again with its decibels only increasing menacingly. The beads of sweat streaming my forehead now transformed into bubbles of fire that swirled and swarmed around as if to burn me. Dizzy with fear I ran like a fire emitting dragon under the cold shower until I turned blue but the jingling vibrated in my ears, I slid under my pillow pressing it tight against my ears but the shrill clangs echoed in my trembling body.
The cane swing creaked, the morning mist cleared, while I was drowned in my racing thoughts wondering if what I witnessed was real or a reverie. But my hair was still wet from that shower, and my body shivered like in hypothermia, I don’t remember when and why I slept in the balcony. In spite of my panicky condition a tingling yearning grew in my pit; I craved for her gaze, “what am I doing? I should go to the city library today” I thought and stood up, the hazel eyes were staring at me. I was now burning with passion, my body had become like the wavering weather of Bengaluru that behoved like a moody adolescent _ bright and bubbly for a while and before you realize she was already ice cold and frowning at you.
In the afternoon I reached the bus stop to pick up Oorvi, I saw her come in a train, “Dhadak dhadak dhudum dhudum” but it wouldn’t stop I struck my hand to get Oorvi but my hands were elongated and wound around the train dragging me along the moving train. I blinked; my elongated hands were writing in my scrapbook that I had left open in the balcony, I blinked scrunching my eyes but this time my hands were dripping with blood. I rushed home and washed several times but the water going down the bowl was crystal clear.
I shrugged it off and resumed writing at the balcony, my favorite place. My lead character Rachel was similar to the mysterious beauty next door, I began writing “she stood there in a crimson velvet gown revealing her sensual feminine form”, and just as I wrote these lines there she was _ my hazel eyed beauty standing stunningly in a crimson velvet gown! Shuddering, I stared jaw dropped as an acute tickling pain deep inside my stomach began piercing my spine atrociously… Blink! Blink! I was unable to distinguish between reality and reverie but I loved the fear, I loved the pain.
As the night grew the rattling sounds seethed furiously, I climbed the loft but tonight it was just a normal shallow empty loft. The toys! The expanse! — Was it all a hallucination?
I continued writing “she shadowed him clanging the bells of revenge” the pages turned as if someone was flipping it forward, I began writing pressing my hand against the book hinge, the rattling resonated along with low dribbling sounds of something knocking against the inside of the loft doors.
Annoyed I clambered again and pulled out the backpack — a heavy book fell knocking me down to the floor, the broken strand of pearls loosened one by one bouncing down fiercely emerging bigger and higher with every pitch rolling like giant balls in a death chamber.
The book had scarred my forehead leaving me bleeding and dizzy. Blood stained bubbles like sore wounds trickled off my forehead and drifted around me bursting a terrible stench. The winds flapped open a page that I had never written!
It read “you ruined my life with your writing”.
I saw the giant pearls pitching murderously heading for me, I blinked and dashed my eyelids but they were only growing bigger and bigger! Gathering myself I crept on my knees hurriedly towards the exit but stumbled on something that crackled under my knees piercing an excruciating pain into me.
“You love pain isn’t it”! A gruesome voice echoed….
I dragged myself and scurried out with my heart throbbing in my throat, my legs jingled tremulously as I drifted in pain. I scanned my wound it was still bleeding a tiny sliver of the rattle seemed trapped in my knee. At the far end I saw that the rattle lay still and broken but the sounds jingled inside me now echoing in the biting cold night as if to match my footsteps. I could walk no more, I sat down in pain and bewilderment just then I heard somebody sob bitterly, I followed the cries with my jingling footsteps, I panicked if my legs were clanking aloud like jingling anklets or was it ringing only in my ears? My hair plastered to my scalp as beads of sweat splashed down my face suffocating me like in a watery grave, I kept climbing, and the sobbing sounds seeped into Oorvi’s house.
Mrs.Mani opened the door with risen brows to find me at this odd hour. She gestured me to come in and I followed her quietly, my searching eyes halted at a painting it was Oorvi hugging the hazel eyed beauty wearing a pearl necklace.
This is my daughter Renu, began Mrs.Mani…. She loves kids and is going to be a mother soon,you know! She has painted her yet to be born child and even named her “Oorvi”! This room is full of toys awaiting Oorvi. Last she called was from the railway station, she said she could not come home as her life was weirdly being driven by some writings and that she would soon reveal her faceless perpetrator to me. But Dr.Kini what brings you here at this hour?
My knees quivered, the pearl necklace in the painting broke loose; beads flying one-by-one pitching murderously like giant balls in a death chamber, I plunged out descending the flaked stairs that now disintegrated rapidly and disappeared throwing me down into a frenzied free-fall, I was dropping fast, I saw the blotted veil cascade above me, squirming I clinched onto it but it swirled and encompassed me into spiral grid of bloody blots that vibrated with deafeningly clanking sounds exploding my eardrums, the bloody rattle spun until my thoughts reeled out of me, there was no time to blink! A mysterious blue set of eyes with little pink hands seized the rattle and hammered it till I dropped flat — inches away from a speeding train.
A hysterical voice reverberated “Loser”……..