Scary. Crimson hues of late evening underlined the sky, as I wandered alone trying to master all the courage I had. The distant light was a hope, the last hope I had for a sane shelter at night. I quickened my steps scampering towards the light, and a dimly visible… can I call it a house… Well it was turning out to be one... at least some water, may be a cup of tea, my hopes soared high..
A sort of house I have seen in Himalayan travelogues. Thatched roof, wooden stairs and was that…yes a lantern…Day’s fatigue loomed over me as I tried to bridge the gap between me and the doorstep yelling....’ Someone inside’ …I threw my backpack at the door step, banging on the door now.
‘Please help. I lost my way…on to a hiking trip. Just a place for the night’
I could hear the noise of the bolt…finally.
Well from a B Grade horror movie a lady appeared with a lantern, only twist being she wasn’t the old witch style white outfitted one nor the strikingly pretty damsel who seduces you out of nowhere. I found myself staring at the bespectacled eyes of around.. .difficult to guess a woman’s age really well let me settle at fifty.
‘Come in’ The steady eyes studied me for a moment before stepping aside.
My whole body crumbled under fatigue as I settled myself on a mat I could find on the floor not daring to touch the nicely made if it could be called bed, a piece of timber supported by four legs, nevertheless a mattress, a pillow , a blanket…I stared enviously. She came with a glass of water and a jug, waited patiently as I gulped down a couple of glasses, asking for more.
She handed me over another mug of water, ‘Manage with this to wash your hand and face… water is scarce here’
I obeyed her and then fidgeting for my sanitizer went in for a surprise as she handed me one. The fire beneath the mud chulha and sound of steaming water bubbles…tea it will be, somehow resisted licking my tongue.
Well tea and dry chapattis. I mumbled thanks and gulped one with another hungrily, remembering to smile at her in between in gratitude. She was kneading the dough for more chapattis as I finished hungrily how many I lost count and licked the last bit of mango pickle she served me. I was coming to my senses, this woman in the middle of nowhere roasting chapattis for me with her not-so-deft hands…
I gulped the left over tea... ‘You saved me’ I smiled.
‘I think I did’ She smiled back. Was she pretty when young…pretty and hot…
My eyes did a quick X Ray as head kept abusing…’ Pervert’
‘Thanks a lot, that will be enough I guess’ I pointed to the heap of dough, ‘For now’
‘ Sure?’ She handed me two more , ‘ Some more tea then’
I was taking in the room now, actually wanted to take out my cam and click. But refrained because of… may be her formidable nature or may be already burdened with gratitude. Her neatly kept bed, well not too neat if you look closely. A newspaper with a half solved SUDOKU…interesting, books…some regional language not sure which, an English classic, a small radio beside the bed, a suitcase cloths scattered over it, some utensils, a bucket, a pair of slippers, a pair of sandals and some more books peeping from another bag, antacids, straps of medicines.
She came in with two glasses of tea now and a blanket for me.
‘Actually I lost my group after we started in morning, kept clicking’
‘Himalayas… if she calls you.. you just follow’ She smiled mysteriously
For a moment she was taken aback… ‘No’
I stared at her. In college days there would be this talk ‘what-you-notice-about –her’ and if someone dared to say eyes, the entire group shrieking yelling with laughter, would tear his hair off. I felt like saying ‘ eyes’ now, behind glasses, clear, amused and lost at times.
‘I am here because… wanted to be alone and in clear terms did not have any place back there’
Abandoned by children kind…she didn’t look so old though, I didn,t know what to ask so chose to wait.
‘Just got bored ' She appeared amused at my perplexity ‘Of the world...husband, daughter, parents, in laws, work, colleagues…’
‘In that order?’
A smile lit up her face… ‘ Hmmm’
‘And all this is easily manageable?’
‘Not really. Some villagers give me the supplies. A boy comes from village with water for the day and some days I walk up to the spring. I know a driver in the village who drives me to the city once in a while, sometimes daughter pays a visit loading me with stuffs I don’t need. Not very comfortable but it isn’t supposed to be.’ She paused.
‘But why here… I mean there are other places...’
‘I am not religious’ came the reply ‘ So that strikes off most of the options’
‘Interesting really’ Was she sane…for that matter I hope she is a real human.
Well apparitions don’t roast chapattis.
‘What do you do whole day’
‘Cook, clean, read, walk...sometimes walk to the village for some lessons to children. Tune my radio.’
And I had to put in the obvious...’ Don’t you long for company?’
‘Who doesn’t?’ She rose.
‘And I have one tonight’ another mysterious smile.
That smile must have caught many in her prime time, and that hint of amusement cum subtle flirty throw..
‘You take rest, I,ll make dinner’
I was happy she left , too much for a day, Himalayas, getting lost, this ghostly lady with the lamp, I slumped in the mat with the blanket over me, wanted the bed, her bed.. I was losing out...I simply wanted to sleep in her bed…
All sort of nightmares or dreams I could not make out…could see Jayathi my on and off girl friend struggling to get into the tiny bed with me, me staring at a young woman smiling mysteriously, a hungry woman… hungry for me. Villagers yelling ‘ She is a witch , witch… run, run for your life, she will have you’
I tried to shriek, could not connect to my voice chord, gestured frantically... finally with a jerk woke up. My eyes shot at the empty bed above.
Noo… I covered my head with hands … .Witch , ghost.. that’s what I encountered… huh pay the price for straying.. carry this terror all my life.. I got up in distaste and disgust.
Almost dark outside, or we can call it dawn.. a stray bird chirping occasionally, the terrifying empty bed and all other assembled stuff, I dragged myself out of the door.. Damnn.. i wasn’t in my senses last night…but another part spoke out Robin Hood kind of witch. I blinked in the semi darkness outside… run Kunall run...i remembered Tom Hanks in Forest Gump, my throat dry, senses numb with fear.
I licked my lips nervously as I stared back at the mysterious gloomy house, my fingers white clenching the strap of my back pack.
What was that…. I think I will faint now… a shadow appearing from backyards… not any more please… But as it was I stayed glued there...Himalayas when they beckon…who told me that..
The witch appeared in person, emerging out of darkness a bucket and a mug in hand!
I admit ‘Good morning’ was the last thing in my mind then.
‘Actually here you finish the routine tasks early in the morning, almost end of night’
Seeing my utter numbness she spoke again
‘You know open spaces...’ For once she too seemed unsure what to say.
She stared at my backpack.
‘I thought.. I mean if I start early… will give me time to find them’ Words stumbled one after another.
Her brows joined for a second. ‘Sure’
‘ May be I can leave after some tea …and the ‘ tasks’” I smiled impishly.
She smiled and went in.
I left after an hour.
‘Do you … wait for someone?’
‘ I wish I could’
‘Are you … what they call .. detached?’
The deep eyes clouded for a second; ‘No’ She looked at me... ‘If there’s an odd knock at any odd time, for a moment..’ She smiled… ‘ I would think here is a man.. I would talk to, tune my radio together, listen to old songs, or sit quietly and listen to the rain drops and….’ The mysterious smile again ‘Many things… which is quite out of detached category’ she concluded with a wide grin.
I could not but grin myself.
I joined my group later in evening. Something stopped me to burst in excitement …. reveal my ‘ encounter’. Only in some weird nights I would remember the tiny cosy wooden bed and dream of its occupant.