“I don’t know the name of the place,” he mumbled.
The frail young man was walking with a stick. His face was hidden by a cap.
“I will ask you to drop me off when we get there.”
It was half an hour past midnight. I was travelling alone on the highway when this weird man stopped me for a lift.
He did not answer my questions and was very thoughtful. In the middle of a dense forest, he asked me to stop.
“Here?!” I exclaimed, applying the brakes.
Four hours later, I reached Naraganj to attend a cousin’s wedding. An army of uncles, aunts and others welcomed me.
In the evening, the ladies’ sangeet ceremony started.
In this custom, women sing and dance on the day previous to the wedding.
The small veranda was noisy and full of guests.. I was enjoying myself in spite of tiredness.
Then my phone started ringing. I excused myself and went to an isolated place behind the house.
As the call ended, my eyes found someone in the distance.
He was there for a moment before limping off into the forest.
Next morning, the Haldi Hath ceremony started in which the bride and groom are covered in turmeric paste.
I had slept badly all night and woken up with persistent headache.
My younger cousins kept pestering me to join them.
With much difficulty, I managed to be left alone by my hosts. Soon, my thoughts were my only companions.
I am very lucky in one way. Noise, bad thoughts and new places never affect my creativity.
I can work anywhere because writing always transports me to another world.
I got up and started my laptop. Soon, my novel was at the climax.
My devil had lured his blind victim into a trap… After an hour, I was sleepy and satisfied.
I shut the laptop, lay down and immediately fell asleep.
“Die. Die. So that I can live.” These words, uttered in a soft familiar voice, roused me from my slumber.
Cold sweat rolled down my forehead.
“No!” I breathed, looking up. There was no one else in the room and still…
He was here!
My hands started trembling. I grasped my head and rushed out of the house.
Those who have suffered bouts of high fever will understand my condition.
I had no control over my thoughts. I rushed around the village and ultimately, outside it.
The marriage house was in total chaos when I returned five or six hours later.
“Die… Die.” The words continued echoing in my mind.
In the same feverish state, I ran to a cousin and asked if something terrible had happened.
But fortunately, no!
What had happened was very hilarious. The men had gone to the police to report me missing.
After my arrival, everyone crowded around me. I was embarrassed, trying to give different narratives to explain my disappearance.
It took them a long time to leave me and go back to their own work.
The marriage ceremony took place that night. Sick of the light, crowd and noise, I crept out and started wandering around the bushes in the dark deserted back-alley.
I leant against the truck of a large tree and stared at the full moon.
I shivered. Someone was walking closer to me, from behind. Stealthy footsteps on the grass.
In slow motion, I turned. It was the same man: “I told you… I told you to die.”
His eyes flashed red.
Before I could defend myself, he held up an iron rod and started hitting me mercilessly. I was in extreme pain!
Laughing gleefully, the man kicked me in my knees.
I collapsed on the ground among the thorny bushes.
Then, I saw two cousins coming. I managed to say through my gasps –“Did you see that man who was beating me?”
“What! There was no-one. Why were you dancing like that?”
“NO! Look. I am injured…”
I raised my arms but there were only cuts made by bushes. I got up and staggered into the darkness. The man was gone.
Helplessly, I began asking people if they had seen someone with a hat, carrying a stick or a rod.
On the other hand, the story of my peculiar claims spread like wildfire.
Before the crack of dawn, I fled back homewards. While driving on the highway it struck me that no one else had seen the man.
Who was he?
Or was he there at all…?
Name: Aniruddha Aloke