Before I could address her, my classmates started filing in. Rahul was unusually quiet. He wasn’t depressed or sad or anything. He was just behaving as normally as everybody else. It felt odd, but I ignored. I would care about it when his ignorance gets to me. Right now, I am in paradise.
Once the room was crowded, I couldn’t feel her anymore. I smiled as Radhika entered, ready to give her the news of uncle’s arrival.
I went to visit Alisha. Her voice was stronger this time, though her image was always that of a girl wearing a pink frock. I didn’t tell her about those three figures in the washroom, but I had a tiny doubt that she already knew about it.
“Your uncle came?” she asked. “Yeah, I guess you must have seen him. He is a wonderful man,” I chirped. “He won’t be staying here,” she said. “Why wouldn’t he? He always stays at our house when he visits,” I said. She said something after that, but my mind was too filled to receive anything, so we dropped the topic.
When I went back home, I realized that uncle’s luggage was still in the hall room. “Why wouldn’t you stay here?” I asked before anyone would tell me anything about it. Every one of my family members looked at me, puzzled. Then it struck me, how should I have possibly known about it? So I corrected myself, “I thought you wouldn’t be staying ‘cause I see that your luggage is still out.” That convinced my family. Then my mother said, “You were right though. Your uncle won’t be staying here this time. He wants to take an apartment elsewhere because he ‘thinks’ that it would be inconvenient for us to keep him,” and she looked at him, annoyed. “It is nothing like that Lalita. I will be staying here for longer. Moreover, this apartment that I am going to will be nearer to the client’s place,” Uncle insisted, still trying to convince mother. “I don’t understand,” I announced.
Ramya took me into the room, saying, “Will tell you later.”
Finally, it was decided that uncle would stay at his apartment in the duration of his stay. I was curious about uncle’s place, so Ramya and I decided we would visit him the coming Sunday.
Having gotten over the terror of those three shadows, I continued visiting Alisha for the days that followed.
I was very excited when Sunday came.
Uncle picked us up at four in the evening. We bought some food from a restaurant and went straight to his house. It was a very small apartment on the top floor of the building.
“… and it was funny because both of us kept quiet so as not to scare the other,” I completed narrating an incident and started laughing. Uncle and Ramya laughed with me. I was feeling light-headed. We had been talking all evening, and our talks never ended even when we started dining. “I guess it would spook you out largely when you encounter a real one,” uncle chuckled as he put a spoonful of rice into his mouth. I thought of Alisha, she was real after all. “Hmm,” I said as I stared at the food on my plate. “Are you full?” Ramya asked, so that she could have more of it if I was done. “No,” I laughed, “I am very hungry, and this is very tasty, and I am not going to share any with you,” and mocked. Uncle laughed again, and not just him, even my sister. I really was planning to eat the whole lot. My stomach had just turned into a black hole. “If you get any stomach problems, your mum is going to tear me apart,” uncle warned. “Nah she won’t. I will tell her that you weren’t powerful enough to stop me,” I winked. “Ah, she can easily catch that lie,” uncle laughed again.
The food was getting cold. “Chat after you finish,” uncle said as he stood up with his empty plate. “Yeah yeah,” Ramya mumbled through a mouth full of rice. She didn’t want to be the last one to complete. I, on the other hand, didn’t mind being the last one. While I was still skimming of the remains from the packet, she announced, “I am done! Kitchen sink, here I come,” and dashed off into the kitchen. I smiled as I chewed.
I looked up at the fan, it was moving in the same speed as before. But I kept staring at it until I was completely sure. Then I looked at the window. It had been kept open since evening. I shifted on my seat, and my appetite vanished all of a sudden. I was feeling very uncomfortable. I tried eating the last bit but it felt like I could allow no more into my mouth. I frowned. “Puh! This is when I hate my stomach,” I complained to myself, slapping my tummy. I could hear the sound of plates. Ramya was probably helping uncle. I hated wasting the food, but at this point, finding the source of discomfort was very crucial. It was really getting to me. I touched my temple with my free hand in frustration. My head was aching slightly. Oh yeah, it was the effect of excessive eating. Maybe I was sleepy. I closed my eyes.
It turned out I wasn’t alone in the room. I froze. I could feel a pair of eyes watching me from the direction of the window. I turned to look at it, but there was no one. I turned back and looked thoughtfully at my plate. Should I try seeing again? No answer came to me, so I took it as affirmation. I closed and looked. It was ‘someone’ with piercing eyes under dishevelled hair. My uncle’s words rang through my mind-“… I guess it would spook you out largely when you encounter a real one.” She wasn’t nice, no. I was sure about that. But the way she looked at me, she felt dangerous. Nothing came in my mind as I kept looking at her in my mind for quite some time. The world had become silent instantly as I was mesmerised by her. Something stirred in me, and I knew what was coming. I hoped she was just an image from my brain, and at that very moment, she grinned.
With no second thought, I dashed towards the door. I struggled and finally succeeded in opening it. Once that, I started running downstairs without another look behind my back. I wasn’t going to stop ever. I would keep running and running. I could hear someone calling me from upstairs when I was almost out of the building, but I never turned to look. My mind was blank.
It was probably uncle. After that, I guess it was Ramya. I wasn’t sure, but I kept running. People stared at me, not sure whether to stop me or let go. I wanted someone to stop me, and wondered why no one was. But I never slowed down.
It wasn’t until someone caught me from behind and I struggled in his arms for a while that I finally calmed down. It was uncle. I didn’t look at him or my sister who caught up with us and started asking something. I panted, and without warning, burst into tears.
“I don’t want to be here… I don’t want to be here…” I kept moaning until uncle finally agreed to take me home. But I didn’t want to go home either. It meant being closer to Alisha, and the thought was already freaking me out. “Either it is home, or upstairs,” uncle said sternly.
Maybe she was gone. Maybe I could go back. Maybe she was there because I was all alone. After a lot of struggle internally, I agreed to go back into the apartment. I convinced myself, now was the time some elder should know about this whole business.
“Why did you run like that? What happened?” Uncle asked once we were all settled in the hall. She was nowhere to be seen, and I was relieved.
“I think I am mad,” I said slowly. I wasn’t joking or lying. I was almost sure about that by now.
“No one is getting mad here unless you tell us what is going on,” Ramya said firmly. Her sentence didn’t make sense but I decided against correcting her.
“I can feel ghosts,” I had finally mustered enough courage to let that out. Everyone was silent for a strained moment, until uncle broke the silence, “I was waiting for you to say that.”
I looked up at him. He wasn’t annoyed, puzzled or troubled. He looked calm, the same way he had been when in the car. “Better late than never,” Ramya smiled. I looked at her, shocked. It seemed both of them knew about it all along. I needed lot of explanations before starting with expressing my problems.