‘Ritu, There is a call for you at the reception.’ the warden told Ritu who was all covered in paint.
‘Yes, I am coming in a minute.’ said Ritu rubbing her hands on a cloth kept beside a huge canvas. Ritu was in the second year of painting. She has been in love with this art since her childhood. The love grew even stronger after she lost her parents in an accident. It was like a mechanism to cope up with the loss.
‘Hey Ritu here, may I know to whom am I talking to?’ she asked in a casual manner looking at spaces between her fingers which were still carrying paint.
‘Madam, I am from the insurance company your brother was working for. There is a very bad news….Avinash is no more.’ the man on the other side said, ‘You need to come to the city to receive the body’.
Ritu dropped the receiver and sat on the chair next to the phone. She remembered how she fought with her brother two years ago for opting arts. Her brother wanted her to take admission in a science college and believed it would give a more secure future for her. Tears rolled down her cheek as she repented not talking nicely to him for these two years. All they talked about was money. Even when Avinash tried to know about Ritu’s well being all she did was cut the line. Now that Avinash was gone, Ritu wanted to tell each and everything about her life,her college , her paintings to him.
Ritu went to her home the very next day and did all the rituals. Her brother’s colleagues helped her arrange things. Avinash was buried in the nearby graveyard where their parents were buried.
Ritu was left with some land property her parents owned and some money Avinash left behind. The land was in the outskirts with no good communication with the central part of the city and so it was difficult to sell the land. The money that she had was also not enough to continue her college. So she had no choice but to drop the year.
She decided to do freelance painting job to earn some money for living. She intended to save some cash to continue her college the coming year. She also needed a place to live since she didn’t get to stay at her Hostel and the quarter that her brother lived in was taken back by the company. Now finding a decent house in the crowed city seemed like the toughest task for Ritu. She neither had a stable job nor did she have good amount of money.
‘But the rent is too high, I do not have that much money. Please help me sir… please..’ she begged one owner.
‘I can not compensate with this house but I have another house in the next block which I can give in the price you want but…’
‘I will take it sir,’ Ritu jumped up with excitement.
‘But the house is …’ the owner stopped as of calculating whether he should tell her the truth or not.
‘What is it Sir? You can tell me without any hesitation. I will not change my mind whatever be the problem with the house’ Ritu assured him.
‘I do not know whether it’s true or not but I have got complains from the previous families living there that they have felt something spooky in the house. I bought the house some twenty years ago but the seller didn’t mention anything. Since then I have rented the house about three times and every time they have left saying it is haunted. That’s why I was reluctant to show you the property but if you need an accommodation at such small amount that is the only place that I can arrange.’
Ritu never believed in spirits and ghosts. She even didn’t believe in God so it was easy for her to make a decision. She took the house and was quite happy with the space. It was bigger than any other property she visited. It seemed quite old. She believed that since the house was so huge and old, people might have made stories to ruin the business of the old owner.
Ritu now wanted to focus on freelancing to get good money and make her savings. First two or three days went great she got some great deals in her freelance and house was not that bad except for the long and dark passages. The lighting in the house was also not great.
But then things started to get strange. Things were often getting misplaced, sometimes Ritu would be awake at midnight hearing some sound which she could not hear after waking up and sometimes wind would blow madly even when the windows were closed.
‘Hey…I heard you live in the haunted house. Don’t you feel anything yet?’ a lady asked Ritu while she was in the vegetable market.
‘No. The house is fine.’ she seemed annoyed.
‘But you should not live there. I have heard someone died in the house many many years ago and his spirit roams in the house.’ the lady whispered.
‘Oh! Good…I have company then. Its good to know I don’t live alone.’ she put on a fake smile and went ahead. The lady seemed puzzled seeing her reaction.
The moment Ritu opened the lock of the house and went in, a mouse went over her feet.
‘What! Mouse?’ she jumped on the table kept in the centre of the room.
‘So this is the ghost? A mouse…’ she sighed and laughed to herself.
Every night she used to set her canvases in the middle room which was like a dining hall and paint. After she finished the pieces she left them to dry, ate her dinner, put some bread in the corners of the kitchen for the mouse and went to sleep in a smaller room adjacent to the hall. Though the strange sounds which would make her awake every midnight didn’t stop but she did stop searching for sounds and believed it was the mouse. But she did notice that the intensity of sound increased day by day.
One morning she found the mouse dead in the hall where she left her paintings. The room was filled with the obnoxious smell of the dead rat but she still managed to get close to the rat and found that it had blood all over it’s body.
‘May be some other rat killed it. The neighbour has a cat which could also kill it.’ she talked to herself. She was still in sleep and as usual felt tired due to the interrupted sleep.
She went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. As she spitted the gargled water she saw a man standing behind her in the mirror. She at once turned back but could she no one. Each and every part of her body was shaken. She froze for a second. When she got hold of herself she searched the whole house for the man but could not find anyone.
‘Madam did you see anyone coming out of my house?’ she asked the lady next door who was busy watering her plants.
‘No my child,’ she answered in a very sweet manner. ‘Did you see someone in your house?’ she asked.
‘Yeah…Actually I am sleep deprived for many days, I think I might be imagining things. I am…’ Ritu was interrupted by the lady.
‘You must be careful. The spirit does not like anyone living in his house.’
‘There is no ghost or spirits. I am sorry for bothering you.’ Ritu was disturbed. She knew she saw someone but could not agree upon the ghost story. Though she felt something in the house but she was stubborn enough to ignore all the strangeness in the place. That house was the only option for her and whatever was the cause she was ready to fight it.
That night as usual she was awakened by the strange sound. This time it was louder and didn’t stop when she woke up. She traced the sound. She started to walk towards the hall were she put all her paintings. The sound could be heard louder. As she entered the hall the sound stopped. There was silence. She looked around. All her paintings were torn and distorted. All her paints were scattered here and there. She looked at her paintings with tears collecting in her eyes. She walked forward and saw something written on the empty canvas. ‘Go away’ it said in red ink. Wind started to blow madly in the space.
‘It’s my house!’, screamed Ritu. She now lost all control over her anger. Tears rolled from her eyes. ‘I do not care who you are…Or what you are but I won’t leave this house. How dare you ruin my paintings? What do you think of yourself? You are going to kill me now? Go ahead. I am not afraid because I have already lost many things in my life. You ruined the paintings…I was supposed to ship them tomorrow. Now …What…Will…I…’ Ritu started to become unconscious.
The next morning she woke up on the floor of the hall. The door bell rang constantly and probably woke her up. She got up from the floor, dusted herself and looked around. The paintings and the canvases stood as if nothing happened. Ritu was confused. She went through the passage to open the door convincing herself that all that happened the other night was nothing but a bad dream. She opened the door. The packers came to take the paintings.
After they had gone Ritu went close to empty canvas and brushed her fingers over it. She picked up the brush and took a generous amount of the red colour and started writing.
‘Are you here?’, she wrote with each letter showing the fine tremors her hand was having. She waited patiently . She kept rewinding the moments she went through the other night in her head. ‘Was all that my wild imagination?’ she whispered to herself. ‘Am I losing it?’
While thousands of thoughts ran through her mind she looked at the canvas. ‘Sorry’, was written below her question.
‘Who are you?’ asked Ritu aloud looking around the hall.
‘Anil. I used to live in this house with my family’ answered a husky but firm voice.
‘ So you can communicate with people?’ Ritu was anxious.
‘Yeah…If I want to. I never did in these years but you seem different.’
‘I don’t have much knowledge or experience regarding spirits and…’
‘Please stop calling me a ghost or spirit. It has been a long time I am talking to someone and it feels so great.’
‘Then why did you scare away the people who came here earlier?’
‘Agh!! They were a bunch of annoying persons and did make a lot of sound. You seem to be interested in painting. You are a great artist and sorry for ruining them.’
‘But you did correct them and so it’s okay.’ Ritu answered with a smile. She was excited for the fact that she was talking to a spirit. ‘So we are sharing the house then?’ Ritu asked with nervousness reflecting in the shrill of her voice.
‘Yeah sure. I won’t disturb you.’
‘Can I see you? I mean is it possible to…’ Ritu was now running out of breath.
‘If you are comfortable then yes but promise me you will not tell anyone about me. I want to live peacefully in my home.’
‘I would never disclose anything. I promise…’ Ritu stopped talking. She was startled when a tall man with a sharp face appeared in front of her. It was Anil smiling at Ritu.
‘You are so young. How did you…’
Anil looked at Ritu and then turned to the window. ‘I was sleeping in my room. Its the same room where you sleep and suddenly I don’t know how a massive fire broke into the room. I struggled hard to get through but failed. The next thing I know I am stuck here for about twenty years now.’
‘But why are you stuck? Was there any incomplete work or dream that you had? I have read in books that if someone has some incomplete work it might be difficult for him or her to leave.’
‘I know. I have been thinking about this for the last twenty years but I don’t know what is the thing which I have left incomplete. My parents passed away two years before me. I lived all by myself selling clothes. I had no other ambition or hobby. Its tiring now. I am living in nowhere.’ Anil sighed.
‘I bet it might be something like photography or learning guitar or owning a bike.’ Ritu suggested.
Ritu and Anil talked for hours that day. They shared their life experiences. Ritu would someday rent a guitar to teach Anil. They even tried photography. They spent time painting, reading and doing whatever came to their mind but nothing worked. It was about two months now they had become good friends. One day the door bell rang at the afternoon when Ritu was finishing one of her paintings. Ritu was not expecting anyone. The shipping guys usually came in the mornings. Ritu was irritated at the odd timing of the door bell ringing. She washed her hands and went to open the door cursing the person the other side of door.
‘Hey, I am Meera.’ a girl in her mid-thirties stood at the door carrying a small child.
‘Do I know you?’ Ritu asked looking at the baby first and then looking at the lady.
‘No. I was passing by and my son really needs to use the washroom. I am sorry to bother you but would you please let my…’
‘Yeah sure. Please come in.’ Ritu said.
‘What a lovely house! Who do you live with?’ the lady asked looking around as if searching for something.
‘l live alone. I moved here about two months ago. There’s the washroom’. Ritu showed her the washroom.
Ritu was startled by Anil again.
‘Who is she?’ he asked.
‘Don’t know. The boy needed to pee so I let them in.’ she looked at Anil and smiled.
‘Meera!!’, Anil cried.
‘You know her?’ Ritu was puzzled.
‘To whom are you talking to?’, Meera seemed even more puzzled.
‘She is my sister. She eloped with her boyfriend a year before our parents passed away.’ Anil told Ritu.
‘Do you know Anil?’, Ritu asked Meera who was still looking for something in the house. ‘Do you know him?’.
‘How do you know about him? Where is he now? How is he?’ Meera asked in one breath. She became more impatient each moment.
‘Ritu please ask her how is she…Is she happy? Is she still with that man? Please…’, Anil begged Ritu. ‘I promised mom and dad that I will find Meera and make sure she is happy. How did I forget my little sister!’
‘Meera …Are you happy with your life?’ Ritu asked Meera with tears in her eyes.
‘First tell me who are you? I came here to see my brother. Please tell me something…Please’, Meera broke down. Her baby was too little to understand why her mother was crying and he too began to weep.
‘Your brother is dead. He died in a fire but he is still here Meera. He is watching you.’ Ritu looked to Anil. ‘And now I know why he could not leave this world. All he wants to know is whether her little sister is doing good in her life.’
‘I am very happy. I have two kids with Harish and we are a happy family. I want to see you brother. I want to apologize about my deeds. I am sorry. Please talk to me…’ the desperate sister cried madly.
‘Your sister wants to see you Anil. She is happy and’, Ritu turned back but Anil was nowhere. Anil was gone forever.
Ritu took a deep breath and held Meera.
‘You set him free! You set him free Meera!’ Ritu cried joyously. Though she lost a great friend but still couldn’t be more happy for Anil.
The next day Ritu went to Avinash’s grave. She wanted to apologize to him for every harsh thing she said to him when he was alive. She wanted to make sure that Avinash was not struggling like Anil.
‘Ritu’, a soft female voice called from behind. As she turned back a young girl hugged Ritu tightly.
‘I cannot believe I finally found you!’ the girl sobbed and laughed at the same time.
‘I am sorry I didn’t recognize you…’ Ritu asked.
‘I am Swati. Avinash’s girlfriend…He was so excited about my meeting with you and now that we are finally seeing each other…he is lying beneath the soil’ she sighed. ‘I searched for you everywhere but failed. Why did you leave college? What have you been doing all these days?’
‘I didn’t have the money to pay this year’s expenses in college so I decided to drop this year…’
‘Avinash and I have been saving money for your college. He wanted you to follow your passion. He said you are the best artist he had seen in his life. You would not drop this year Ritu. I promised Avinash that I would take care of you and I will keep the promise.’
‘You loved him so much?’ Ritu asked Swati. Her voice was choking and her throat pained.
‘I still love him and you know what he loved someone more than me…And it was you!’