“There is an age for love. It’s when you are in college. Everything seems good and pleasurable. You seek for new adventure…new faces…new people in your life. And that’s when love happens. It may lead you to a beautiful reality or a dark nightmare.Not at this age…I am thirty three. Now is age for saving money, making life more secure, searching for a good decent life partner. Love never is a priority at this stage of my life.” Said Shiv holding a glass of chai in one hand and taking a puff from the cigarette held in another. He stood at one of the many tea stalls lined up outside his office. Shiv a bearded man with a peeping tummy from the bottons of his shirt was a stressed overworked IT employee.
“But what about the concept of true love? What if there is a special someone out there? What if the concept of the one is true?” Asked his friend Som. Som was Shiv’s junior in office. A non smoker with a cute face wanting to argue with Shiv on love.
“Huh…true love. A concept to misdirect the youth…tell me…who has time for this? I work my ass off here, go home freshen up, cook or order whatever the mood is and then sleep. Neither do I have the energy nor the time to get on a trip of finding my true whatever.” Shiv looked exhausted at 11 in the morning. He finished his cigarette and threw the burning butt in the drain. “One more cup…bro.” he ordered the owner of the stall.
“I think we should rush, bhaiya…” Som said looking at the clock. “It’s almost half an hour…”.
“You go…” Shiv seemed irritated. “Go butter the boss.”
Som left without any argument this time. He knew he would never win an argument with Shiv.
Shiv did the work in the office with a grumpy mood and headed home quickly after submitting his work status. He generally took a cab to his home but that day he was compelled to take the bus seeing the price hike of the cabs. The buses were generally crowded during that time of the evening due to which Shiv preferred a cab but the bus that Shiv took was quite empty. He immediately got a seat when he boarded. The bus was a very old dusty bus. With foam coming out of the seats and rust on the iron bars. He sat near a window after properly dusting the seat. He was planning of wearing the same pants to work the next day. Though the roads were good the ride to his destination was quite bumpy. He took out the earphone from his pocket, played his playlist and continued to look out of the window. The shops were closing their shutters and the people were heading back to their houses. Like Shiv the city seemed tired too.
Suddenly Shiv noticed something weird happening to his hands. His palm got sweaty and numb. He got scared for a second. Then he noticed a vein engorging in his left wrist. This time it pained a lot. It seemed like the vein was getting lifted. Shiv got even more scared. He felt a bit dizzy. He removed his wrist watch quickly, put it inside his bag and pressed his left wrist with his right hand. He waited for a moment. Then he removed his hand to have a look. It was completely normal. Shiv was relieved. He took out his water bottle and took a sip. His heart was still racing but he pacified himself thinking that all was his imagination. He knew he needed rest. “It’s alright…Shiv. Wait for the weekend. I’ll get some chilled beer and I’ll be good!” He talked to himself. The co-passengers were probably too engulfed in themselves to even notice Shiv’s weird behaviour.
After about an hour Shiv reached his apartment. It was a small apartment with one bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. He used to live with a roommate but about a year ago his roommate got married and left the apartment. Shiv didn’t even bother to look for a new roommate and share the rent. His company paid him enough. He was eventually loving living alone. He kept things wherever he liked, he could use the bathroom for whatever time he wanted and could sing songs aloud. There was nobody to give any objection and he could be himself. He threw his bag on the sofa, went straight to the fridge, took out a canned cold drink and switched on the A.C. He lit his cigarette and enjoyed it till the last puff in silence. He then went to freshen up…changed into his tee and bermuda, took out the stale noodles from the fridge. He heated it in the microwave and ate it with the cold drink. He finished the food in hurry, put the bowl in the sink, threw the can towards the dustbin but couldn’t aim. The remaining drink in the can spilled over the floor. He didn’t care. The maid would clean the mess the next morning.
He went to the fridge again. The door had a sticker which read ‘STAY HYDRATED’ in beautiful golden bold letters. He looked but ignored. He went for the beer he had stocked. Usually he would finish up a bottle or two but this time he couldn’t. His doctor had warned him about consuming too much alcohol. He remembered the strange hallucinations in the bus back home. He took two sips and put it back to the rack.
He went to his bed. The bed was filled with papers and books, data cables, his laptop, clothes all over the bedsheet and gritted biscuits were spread everywhere. He tutted looking at his bed. He pulled a t-shirt from the pile of clothes and dusted the bed till he was satisfied. Shiv switched the lights off, got into the bed, adjusted the pillow to a comfortable position, took out his phone and started clearing the pending mails and messages. He didn’t realise when he fell asleep.
It was midnight when suddenly his eyes opened but he couldn’t move his body. He couldn’t breathe. His chest felt heavy. He was in panic. He was frightened. He wanted to shout but his voice was not coming out. He looked above. It appeared as if a shadow of a man was peeping into his eyes. His quickly shut his eyes and tried to calm himself. Few seconds passed. He gasped as he was finally able to move. He sat on the bed thinking about the horrific experience. It was not the first time when he experienced sleep paralysis but each time it was pathetic. Shiv’s doctor had told him to sleep early, eat healthy, stay away from caffeine and excess alcohol but these things seemed in no control for Shiv. But the thing that made him more frightened was the hallucination. He had never seen a person or figure in his previous attacks. It was new. Shiv tried to get to sleep again but failed. He was too worried of another attack of sleep paralysis. Though he knew it would not harm him physically but still it was too much to handle. He slumped on the sofa in the dinning room and waited for the morning. He felt a strange weight over his body.
It was seven when he decided to get up and freshen up. He yawned all the way to the washroom. He wanted to take a day off from the office but he needed to save his holidays for his visit to his parents. He was thinking all these things when suddenly he noticed his veins on his palm engorging again. He rubbed his hand vigorously and shook his head.
“Why is it happening? Am I loosing it? These hallucinations won’t let me…” He talked to himself but stopped suddenly when he felt a tap on his shoulders from behind. He was startled and looked behind at once.
A fair and handsome young man stood behind with an anxious face. He wore a checked red shirt unbottoned over a white tee shirt and a loose brown trousers. His big spectacles seemed too old fashioned.
“Who are you? How did you come in?” Shiv asked in a strained voice.
“I came with you last night. I am Nikhil.”
“What rubbish. Don’t try to be smart mister. I am calling the police.” Shiv dashed to reach for his phone. He was really alarmed that a stranger was in his house.
“Don’t call anyone. I just need your help. Just help me once and I promise I won’t bother you again.” Nikhil almost begged.
“You mannerless brat. You enter a house without permission…no actually sneak in and have the guts to talk to me like that. I won’t spare you….just watch.”
“You can’t reach anyone now. Relax…just calm down …hear me once. I won’t harm you. I promise.”
Shiv tried dialling the emergency number but his fingers froze. He couldn’t move his thumb. His chest thumped up and down in frustration.
“Ahhhh.. what…” Shiv cried and hurled the phone to Nikhil. The phone passed through Nikhil’s body and hit the opposite wall. The screen shattered into small pieces. Shiv sat on the floor at once seeing Nikhil stand still. Shiv was calm for a moment. He felt cold.
“What…what ar..are you?” Shiv uttered.
Nikhil stepped closer to Shiv and sat down. Shiv tried to move back with each step Nikhil took. Shiv was shook to his core.
“I won’t harm you…I promise you would not see me again. I just want you to go to a place. That’s it. Please.”
“But I have to reach my office…I..”
“I just want your one hour. Nothing else. Please.”
“What do I have to do?” Shiv was too afraid to deny to what Nikhil was saying. He just wanted it to be over.
“First dress up. We will have to go to a place…you should be properly dressed” Nikhil smiled at Shiv. Shiv ran to the washroom, got a quick shower, pulled out his suit from the wardrobe and put his most expensive shoes.
“Hmm..you look good.” Nikhil complimented. Shiv didn’t know how to react to that. He was still hoping that all this was his weird imagination.
“Where do we have to go?” He asked in a shaking voice.
“Hire a cab and I’ll tell you where to go.” Nikhil replied in a calm tone.
“But I broke the phone…how will I book a cab?” Shiv shivered as he was talking.
“I am sorry for that…I was responsible but I can’t help you. We can get a regular taxi from the stand.”
Shiv and Nikhil got out and looked for a taxi. After looking for a while they finally got one. Nikhil gave directions to Shiv and Shiv conveyed to the driver. Many things were going on in Shiv’s mind. He decided to get to a doctor once he gets finished with Nikhil. He had never encountered a ghost or spirit in his life. He had only heard stories which were not very good and which always ended ugly. He prayed each moment. He questioned each second of the day.
“Tell him to stop!” Nikhil said. The degree of restlessness can be measured by his tone.
They got off the taxi. Shiv looked at Nikhil. “Now what?” He asked.
“You see the red gate there…” Nikhil pointed out to a house. “Go there and knock on the door.”
Shiv looked at the gate.”Who lives there? And what do I say to the person?” He asked.
He got no reply. He looked around. Nikhil was nowhere. Shiv moved his foot towards the house. It was a gloomy day. The overgrown plants in the neighborhood made the path darker. He reached the red gate. Slided the lock and opened it. The garden was well maintained. There roses, lilies, jasmines bloomed and the fragrance was very capturing. He gathered all his courage when he walked through the garden and finally reached the door. He sighed and lifted his hand. He finally knocked on the door. His heart was racing and he didn’t know what to anticipate. Nobody opened the door. He knocked again.
This time the door opened. An old woman stood smiling.
“I am sorry…I kept you waiting. I am too old to walk quickly.”
Shiv was relieved seeing the old woman but was more confused.
“Come in my child,” the woman invited Shiv before he could even say anything. “Nikhil sent you here?”
“How do …” Shiv was speechless. He repented entering the house.
“You stay here. I’ll just come. Please be seated.” The lady went to the other room saying this.
“Is this Nikhil’s home? Maybe the lady is his mother?” Shiv thought to himself. He noticed some photographs kept in the showcase. He went close to take a look. The photographs were black and white and stained at some places. There were many photographs. He could recognise the lady from her single portrait and was completely fascinated by her beauty. He then shifted his focus to a group photo. It seemed like a college group. This time he could spot Nikhil standing beside the lady. Both looked happy, holding each other’s hand. He looked up and saw a certificate hanging on the wall. The name was ‘Mary Joseph’.
“That’s my college degree.” The lady entered the room with a cake in his hand. Shiv was nervous.
“I am sorry …I looked into the…”
“It’s okay my child. I know you are confused…” The lady kept the cake on the table. Shiv noticed ‘Happy Birthday’ written on it but he curbed the desire to ask anything. He went closer.
The lady cut a generous piece and gave it to Shiv. “You must be hungry.”
“Nikhil…I saw him. He is a gh…”
“We were in love…” The lady interrupted. “Yes…you saw him. Is he still so handsome?”
The lady teared up saying this. Shiv didn’t say anything. He just listened.
“We were together in college. We fell in love. But he was a Hindu Brahmin and I was a Christian and that time it was a huge deal. Our parents didn’t allow us to be together. We didn’t want to upset our parents. So we decided to give them time…we hoped one day they will understand.” The lady sighed. “They didn’t.”
“Did Nikhil kill himself?” Shiv asked.
“No…he was brave…he fought for us. We fought for us. But…”
“An accident. Nikhil was badly injured. My parents allowed me to meet him in the hospital one last time. He was in the bed lying helplessly but still smiling. He smiled as he promised he would wait for me. I cried as I promised I would wait for him. He died that very night.”
Shiv sat on the chair near him and continued to listen.
“It’s been thirty years. He never forgets my birthday…he makes me realise…that he’s still waiting!” She cried and smiled at the same time. The wrinkled face lit up once again as she thought of Nikhil. “What’s your name Son?”
“Come I have something to show you…” The lady took Shiv to another room. Shiv was amazed to see some twenty-thirty cakes kept on a large round table.
“People like you who were approached by Nikhil send me these every year! Kind people like you. People who believe in love. You tell me…do you have a special someone?”
“I didn’t believe in love…” Shiv paused and looked up at her face, “But now I do!”
The lady smiled. “Tell me…did he also promise you that he’ll never bother you again?”
” Yeah..I was too frightened. I didn’t know who was he. But didn’t he ever come to meet you after his death?”
“I don’t know actually. I always feel he is with me. Maybe he doesn’t want to see me as an old woman!” Mary laughed. “People say spirits approach only those who are depressed or tired… You must be late to work. I have my orphanage to take care of. The children give me strength. They enjoy the cakes with me and turn this old lady to a small girl.”
“I couldn’t have believed your story if I hadn’t seen it. I was wrong. Love has no barrier. No age. No religion. No world.”
“You will experience it soon I guess…just don’t loose hope. Don’t stop loving. One day will come when you’ll meet a person whose one glance would knock the door to your heart!”
Shiv spent the whole day with Mary and the children in the orphanage. He played games, laughed like a child and ate the cakes without any worry. It was evening when he decided to head back home. He got on a bus from the street nearby. He soon realised it was the same bus he took that night from the office.
“Hey, may I sit beside you?” A sweet voice called from behind. A beautiful lady with an innocent smile stood infront of Shiv. His heart skipped a beat.
“Sh…sure.” he stammered.