Are you afraid?
By Soumitro Sanyal
“Let us go to a secluded place, you know, somewhere where it’s nice and peaceful, with no one around us to stalk or ogle over us; where it’ll be only you and me.” Cooed in Anisha while we were sitting at Barista in the outer circle of Connaught Place, sipping hot cappuccino on a chilly winter afternoon, and watching the endless traffic crawl and zip on the roads. It was a working day, so more traffic and people on the road.
“Sweetheart, there is virtually no possible place so secluded where people aren’t there except a room,” I winked.
“What if I show u such a place?” contested Anisha.
“Look, there is enough fuel in the bike for us to reach back home. We can’t go to sum name-less place on the highways or farms to enjoy seclusion. Besides within a few hours, it would start to get dark,” I said.
She didn’t reply, just turned her face away from me, abruptly. “Ok fine, what do you have in mind?” I asked her holding her wrist, trying to console her. After a brief period of agonizing consolation and a promise to get her a pack of her favorite dark chocolates, she eventually replied “Sutta (cigarette) Park.”
“What? Where is that? Some club or something that sells nicotine products or what?”
“No silly, it’s just a simple park where we smoke up, I mean me and my buddies, Roshni and Zain,” she replied, taping my head with her fingers. “And it’s also secluded.”
I started laughing, especially on her last statement. “Yeah right!! A park, secluded?!! Why not?” “Look Ani, I can be silly, but not so down right crazy, that I’d believe that a park is secluded, that too in the day time. HAHA” She got up, pulled my hands on the way to the café door, saying, “I’ll prove it!!” “I tried to contain her saying, “But, where exactly is it? I don’t have much fuel remember?” “I need to drop you off as well as return home.”
“It’s in Sheikh Sarai phase 2, pretty near to my place, I can walk home from there. Come now”.
Hesitantly I agreed. There is something about a girl, some kind of a charm that kind of binds your heart to her each and every vague and weird desire. I started my bike and crawled slowly merging with the traffic that was moving out of Connaught Place, and slowly hit the Ring Road.
After an hour or so, we reached our so called Sutta Park. It was a small park located amidst a housing complex in Sheikh Sarai, P-II. The place resembled more of a garbage dump than a park; overgrown bushes and hedges, dirt patches all over with stinking garbage bags and trashes lying here and there. The perimeter wall of the park was cracked and broken at certain parts and the benches were overturned. No flowering plants or any sort of domestic foliage seemed to exist over there only wild bushes and ferns of some weird thorny-category that didn’t register in my mind. It was also strange that neither people, nor even children were seen in the close vicinity of the park. It was peak winters, and people during this time generally prefer to be out in the sun to keep them warm in the radiant, bright yet subtle light of the sun. We eventually entered the park and sad on a pile of rocks that, according to Anisha, she and her friends had collected and made from the surrounding debris. The rock had graffiti of names of their so called “Creators” namely Zain, with his Z extremely oversized than the other letters in his name. Then followed Anisha’s name, even her starting A was oversized, identical to that of Zain’s graffiti. Then followed Roshni’s name and another oversized O, which had black painted interior.
“Nice! But tell me, why are you guys so obsessed with disproportional oversized letters to such an extent, that you even made the full-stop oversized?” I jokingly asked her.
“Mr. Sam, use your so called OBSERVATION and IMAGINATION when it really matters. Don’t you see, each highlighted letter stands for our name abbreviations, and that, (pointing towards the full-stop), is NOT a full-stop, it’s the letter O, or have you forgotten your alphabets now?” she replied.
“Z.A.R.O, that’s what our group-of-four was known as.” “Okay, so why is the O painted black and why aren’t the rest of the letters of the name written?” I asked intrigued. “O stands for Oorja, who (after taking a long breath) is no more with us. She passed away, killed herself, due to family reasons, but details, no one knows.” She became upset after saying all this and stared at the ground. I came close to her, held her shoulders and tried to cheer her up, or at least tried to.
She said that she doesn’t want to talk about this issue anymore and that Oorja was very close to her and she still misses her. I somehow had to suppress the curiosity to unearth more details of this dead girl, but now didn’t seem the right time to do that. So I tried to change the topic to something else. “So, um, you were right. This place IS secluded and no one seems to be around here apart from you and me.” “But, why is it so? I mean, why is this place so isolated, even though it is at the heart of this housing complex, yet why don’t people visit this place?” Anisha replied after a short while of looking all around, “Well, I don’t know, but I’ve heard that this park is haunted” “hahahah hahahahhaha.” “I know a haunted castle, a haunted mansion, a haunted theatre (in London), haunted forest, hotel, home and even lake, but a HAUNTED PARK?? Hahahahaahah” I sat down, out of breath, laughing. Looking at my oger-ly laughter, Anisha just smiled and said that she hasn’t felt anything strange here and that whenever she feels low or is going through a tough time, she visits this place and sits in isolation and smokes up.
“The only thing about this park that is odd is that no dog, no squirrel, nor even birds ever come and sit on the trees or play on the grass. People just dump their garbage from roofs or windows into the park, no one visits this park, at least I’ve never seen anyone.” “So all the better for us, especially girls who smoke or drink, because of such stupid social norms of our country that keep pushing the female down” she replied and sounded agitated.
I quickly interrupted her and said, “No political lectures in the middle of a date, even if you absolutely LOVE that subject, I still don’t want a political debate emerging out at this time.” After sitting over there with her for some more time we decided to leave for home. I kissed her good bye, and started off. One last look at the park before riding off, I saw how the whole park looked so deserted and yet at one corner of the park a tall eucalyptus tree stood there glistening from the rays of the setting sun playing on the dew on its leaves. Somehow that tree didn’t look like being a part of that park, somehow it seemed alive, a contrast to every other thing in that park.
Ever since that day, we used to meet in Sutta Park quite often and nothing felt strange. It was rather peaceful. It relaxed my mind, thoughts and everything as if the environment of the park is slowly easing me out and trying to put me in a deep slumber, a feeling that is similar to that of drugs and alcohols’ effect on the body, only that I never drank and doped in that place or do not remember doing it on the days I went there. Strange silence existed there irrespective of it being day or night. No bird twitters, nor cricket-titters at night. There was no lamp-post in the park and the surrounding houses being close box-shaped provided with no direct or indirect light of any kind hence it used to be pitch dark at night. I somehow liked sitting here for long hours. One day I came back from college, had a mild fever and no one was at home, so I decided to rest at the park itself. My head was hurting a lot and I could feel the fever burning inside. I entered the park and sat on the grass near the eucalyptus tree. I lit a cigarette and puffed out a cloud of smoke, checked my watch, it was 3:30 pm and I had to kill 5 hours before my parents would be back at home. I had the spare keys but didn’t feel like going home. Somehow all this while, I had grown pretty close to this park; a kind of dependence had grown inside me for this park. It always relaxed me more than anything else and I used to be at complete peace over here. So, it was natural for me to think, that my headache would cease and I would get well if I sit in the park, so I was there. I don’t know when or how I had dozed off when suddenly I woke up from an abnormal yet realistic nightmare! I couldn’t remember the whole thing but just recollected seeing the same eucalyptus tree under which I had slept off, the same park, the same time of the day, the same place I was sitting, the only thing that wasn’t the same were the leaves of the eucalyptus trees. In place of leaves on the branches there mere innumerous recently chopped off heads! The heads were or at least seemed to be stuck at each twig and each branch of that tree, and all the heads were of a single female, a female with open hair and eye balls shot-up to her brow, yet it seemed as if (had her eye balls been straight) she’d be staring straight at me with her expression less face.
I stood up from that place not yet out of my sleep; I staggered to the pile of rocks with ZARO graphitized on them. I sat on it trying to recollect and distinguish between the nightmare and reality. I double checked the tree; it had innocent green leaves on them. My headache had grown but the fever had receded. I lit another smoke and stated to puff huge clouds into the air. Yes, I was scared, even though it was a nightmare or should I say daymare. It was sometime in the evening and I was lost in my thoughts and hadn’t noticed the presence of a young girl near the tree. I looked up to find her standing, looking straight at me. She was slim, a teenage girl, jet black hair tied into a perfect pony. She was fair, unnaturally fair. White as a vampire (I had seen Twilight recently, hence the comparison). She wore a long thin white gown that frilled near her legs, covering her feet. She was beautiful yet a sad morbid expression on her face, that would cause sympathy to anyone who saw her. Her hands beside her, as if in attention position. My headache was becoming unbearable, I held my head and looked down. I realized the girl walked near me and stood at a distance of no more than five steps. I looked up again, no change in her expression. The fact that her chest rose and fell implied that she was breathing and that she was human, otherwise I could have sworn she was a robot.
I tried to start a conversation, “Hi. What’s your name?” No reply came from her. I tried again, this time in Hindi, maybe she didn’t speak English. “Tumhara naam kya hai?”(What’s your name?) Yet no reply again, so I just gave up and ignored her. After a little while, she asked me “Are you having a headache?” I looked up and stared into her eyes. Her cold stare sent chills down my spine; I couldn’t look into her eyes and started looking down. “Are you not well?” another question from her. I replied to her that I’m fine, just a minor headache. Who likes to speak the truth about his problems in front of a beautiful girl, especially a stranger girl at that? Man is always looking for prospects you know, even if he is committed to someone else. Maybe, it’s just the feeling of pride when he realizes that so and so girl likes him or is interested in him. Whatever be the case, I replied a minor headache to her and asked her to sit with me if she likes to. She didn’t respond. “Do you want me to massage your head? I know some traditional ways of head massaging which I learnt from my mother, who was an expert at this.”
I couldn’t believe that this silent girl had actually spoken the longest sentence till now and that too without a pause. I declined her politely saying it was ok, but she insisted again that she believes she can take out the pain within the next five minutes; and if she isn’t able to then she would stop and go away and will not disturb me further. I looked at her face for some time and I really felt substance in her words and agreed. She came near me; I could smell a nice mild fragrance of sandal ittar (Indian traditional perfume). She asked me to close my eyes and try to relax. I did as advised and then she touched my forehead with her frail yet firm fingers. I almost shook at her immensely cold touch, as if there was no blood flowing in her veins. (I would have called her cold blooded but to me she didn’t look like an insect) she started her massage and pressed on the vital pressure points like a professional masseur. I slowly could feel my pain inching away from my head, and felt her gentle breath on my face. While massaging, she asked “Why did you get up from your sleep so abruptly?” I opened my eyes, looking perplexed and immediately held her hand and counter-questioned “How do you know I was sleeping and that I woke up in an abrupt manner??” She smiled and replied, “I was looking down and saw you sleeping and then you suddenly woke up as if you had seen a bad dream. Then you stared frantically up at the tree.” “What had you seen in your dream?” I chocked because I was sure that I hadn’t noticed any presence of a living soul in the vicinity when I was sitting under the tree. She could’ve come when I was asleep, but how can it be that when I woke up I hadn’t seen her anywhere where as she had seen me, so closely that she had even noticed I looked up frantically at the tree. “Where had you seen me from? I know that no one was there before or after my sleep, yet you seem to have noticed quite a bit.” She smirked and pointed towards the tree. I gasped. Then she smiled at my expression, and replied, “You see that window on the top floor?” I looked at her pointed direction, and across the tree branches on the top of the corner most building I saw a dark window. “Yes,” I replied, my voice quivering. She said “I was looking down at you from there.” Saying this she broke down into laughter. Her sound though melodious, yet something on the treble side of the balance, and too shrill for a girls natural voice. It sounded like voice emitted from an unbalanced microphone. “Why are you laughing?” Taking a deep breath she replied, still with a big grin on her face, “You looked scared?” “Are you scared?” I looked at her once and replied “yep, you got me! I really got scared” “Especially after the nightmare that I got back then, while I was asleep.”
It was getting dark, it was twilight and the purple radiance of the setting sun had painted the sky, and one could watch the approaching darkness of the night, creeping through the eastern part of the sky. I was feeling better and it was time for me to go home, so I stood up and asked her whether she is going to stay or go back home. She became serious and said that there was no one at her place and that electricity connection, in her apartment was disrupted due to the fuse switch going off, hence the darkness; she pointed back towards her dark-window. I asked her whether her parents would be back anytime soon, to which she nodded in a negative saying that her maternal cousin had expired and her family members had gone to their place and only she stayed behind due to her examination. I asked her about her school, friends and also her name. She looked tensed for some unknown reason and as soon as she started her voice trailed of into emptiness, she hurriedly said that she would tell me everything but currently she has to make arrangements for fixing her electricity problem, and asked if I would know how to repair a fuse. I replied in affirmative and asked her to take me to the fuse box. She started walking, leading the way; I followed her from behind thinking, what a strange girl she is. I definitely hadn’t met anyone like her in my life so far, but I had nothing to suspect her with and so I took her for a simple girl who was in need of a simple help, and kept walking behind her. We reached her four-floor apartment and started ascending the stairs. She told me that the spare fuses and torch were kept in the emergency closet, which was in her room so we would need to fetch them first. As we were climbing the stairs the gloomy staircase was filled with stinking rodent smell and all the doors on the other floors that we passed were locked up from the outside. It was weird, but I thought of the possibility that people were on vacation and some floors must be vacant due to lack of tenants. We finally reached her floor, she twisted the door knob and the door clicked open.
She asked me again, “Are you scared?”
“Off what?” I asked.
“Of the dark,” she replied.
“Um, no not really.”
“Good, because my world is full of darkness.”
I stood still at the door step. “Your World?” She looked back and smirked, “My room. My world is my room, and it’s dark because of the electricity disruption.” “Oho, ha-ha!! Nice one” I appreciated her good humor. We went inside. Pitch dark and strong pungent smell of rodents and don’t know what else. I asked her, “doesn’t this house smell funny? Something unusual?” She replied that she didn’t smell anything unusual. That’s right, you never find anything inside your own home, your domain, unusual even if you see an E.T sitting on your bed reading a Playboy magazine (I wonder where its bulge would be, but then, this is just me you know). She opened the door of her room, I couldn’t see anything, I could just make out the movements by the reciprocating sounds. I heard her calling me inside, I stumbled upon something hard, yet I managed to limp across towards her room. I found the door, as soon as I entered the room, I couldn’t locate anything else apart from the window across, on the opposite side of the wall. It was half open.
“Where are you?” no reply came. “Stop playing games man, where are you?” I asked louder this time. No reply, not even a single movement. I felt weak suddenly and managed to fetch my cell phone from my pocket and switched its display light. Although, it wasn’t really helping but I could find my way. I somehow reached a shelf. I focused my cell phone on it and luckily found a torch. I switched it on and again shouted, “Where ARE you??” I looked around but she was nowhere. GONE, VANISHED, VAPOURIZED. I looked everywhere, suddenly a sound came from outside.
“I’m right here”
But I was shocked, because the sound came from outside the window! Outside the GRILLED window! I rushed up towards the window and as soon as I focused my torch light outside the window at the tree, my torch fell down and the light went off.
There she was hovering in the air, staring straight at me but the eyeballs lost in her brow, and a noose around her neck which hung to one of the tree branch nearest to the window. Her open jet black hair came down alongside her face. The same expressionless pale face spoke again, “I’m right here, don’t be afraid.”
Soumitro Sanyal is a student of English literature at Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi. He is also an aspiring musician.
Thumbnail photo: Serene Poetry