“Its Good, freshie,” said Parul reading the last page of the report submitted by Jyotsana, on the disappearance of their cleaning lady. It was Friday night, after supper. All the four girls of Room 5 were sitting on their beds. Most of them were anyway. Parul, clad in light green pajamas with her dark hair falling over her spectacled eyes, sat propped up against the wall on her bed reading the four page typed report. Jyotsana was also reclining on her bed, twisting strands of hair on her index finger, waiting anxiously for approval.
Lata, looking faintly irritated and tired, sat in her chair, leaning on the table, totally absorbed in putting the finishing touches to the sketch of a woodpecker for her art class the next morning. Shiksha, in her red pajama suit, lay on her bed with eyes closed.
“Girls, ‘she now said, her eyes still closed. Her three roommates looked up, as she continued, “I see something strange every morning….well not exactly bright morning, its four in the morning…”
“Beats me why you get up so early?” Parul observed setting the report aside, ‘You can’t have so much to study now. It’s been only a week since college has begun.”
“Being a history major is tough! And my history lecturer thinks that we should know everything about Indus Valley Civilization…” said Shiksha looking at Parul.
“Haven’t you done it already?” Lata queried looking up from her sketch.
“Yes,” said Parul, “we all know about your forgetful brain Shiksha.”
Shiksha paid no notice and continued, “But I’m afraid I don’t have your excellent memory, Lata.” She paused and then said, “so I am getting up at four in the mornings to brush up on Ancient Indian civilizations and then I see it….it is puzzling since I know that nobody goes there that early….even….”
“See what?” Jyotsana interrupted eyes widening with interest.
“I can see the window when I sit at my table…” said Shiksha.
“So?’ asked Lata examining her sketch critically, “It doesn’t seem right,” she murmured.
“Quiet please,” said Shiksha now sitting up. “And the window faces the old wing…”
My dear Shiksha” said Parul polishing her glassas. “We know all this. Get to the point please! What do you see? Bats?”
“I am getting to the point, ‘said Shiksha. “And don’t keep voicing your stupidity Parul. I find it in very poor taste.”
Jyotsana sighed, thinking, “Why don’t they just kill each other?”
“‘If you will just let me continue,” said Shiksha primly, “I will reveal all. Well…I see this light.”
The three girls stared at her clearly waiting for more. Lata looked up from the sketch with a puzzled frown on her brow.
“So?” asked Parul yawning loudly.
“But you don’t understand,” Shiksha said opening her hazel eyes.
“Please,” Parul said putting on her glasses, “make us understand. Make us also see the light.”
“Will you kindly shut up?” Shiksha snapped.
“People please,” said Jyotsana. “Lets just listen.”
“Thank you Ms. Patel,” said Shiksha now yawning. “It’s four in the morning- everyone is still asleep. And I am sitting by my desk studying and look up suddenly and see the vague shape of the old church and a light shining inside…” She waited expectantly looking at everyone.
“Are we supposed to say something?” asked Lata slowly.
Shiksha threw up her hands in the air saying, “Why do I bother telling you people?”
“Now that is a very interesting question,” said Parul.
“I am warning you Parul,” said Shiksha slowly. “Shut up!”
Jyotsana cleared her throat and said, “Maybe somebody left it on….”
Lata looked at Jyotsana and said, “I always knew you were the brainy one in this room.”
But Shiksha apparently did not agree. “Don’t be stupid Jyot,” she said. “No one goes in there after twelve noon. So who is there at four in the morning?”
“It’s a church -- maybe somebody wanted to pray,” Lata suggested.
“Don’t be absurd,” said Shiksha. “If someone did want to pray…they could go to the chapel downstairs in the main building…..why go to that old building in the dark? It is creepy…..and the light is something like a small light…”
“A torch?” suggested Jyotsana.
“Exactly,” said Skisha. “And it shines in the lower part of the building…in the basement…”
“Never knew that the Old Church had a basement,” Parul muttered.
“Exactly,” said Shiksha again. “So it is kind of scary…”
“Could it be a ghost…” this was Lata pencil poised in mid air.
Parul glanced at her and said, “ Where do you get these ideas?”
“Well,it is an old building…” said Lata shrugging her shoulders.
Shut up,” Parul snapped running her slender fingers through her hair. Then her thin face brightened and she said, “Or maybe someone is searching for something.”
“At four in the morning?” questioned Shiksha. “Wouldn’t it be better to search for it in broad daylight?”
“Don’t know…” this was Parul yawning again.
“Maybe I should ask Matron about it after all it is college property within the college,” mused Shiksha aloud.
“Yeah, she’ll take care of it,’ said Lata. “Hey, what do you think of my woodpecker?”
The three girls looked at the scrawny shapeless bird, whose only distinguishable feature was a long pointed beak.
“It looks like a live woodpecker,’ remarked Parul slowly. “Shiksha come on, don’t look so worried.”
“I am worried!” said Shiksha. “ Who could it be in the basement of the old church shining a torch searching for something at four in the morning? It is scary…”
“I guess that means it looks awful!,’ observed Lata looking down at her sketch. “After I spent nearly the entire evening laboring over it!”
“Interesting,” Parul said sitting up straighter. “You actually did hard labor to draw that thing?”
“That thing,” said Lata, “happens to be a sketch of a woodpecker. At least I am trying…”
Jyotsana got off her bed and went to her desk. Picking up the sketch she said., ‘It is good -- life like! I drew a pigeon for my biology class and my teacher said it looked like a hare…”
There was a spurt of laughter.
Parul added, “I remember I drew a cockroach for my Biology practical and was told that it looked like a bat! I had to redraw it again….finally I redrew it ten times, before it even began to resemble a cockroach.” She paused and then said, “By the way Jyot what did Rajini want with you?”
“She wanted me to sing the national anthem on the intercom tomorrow morning!”
“Very Patriotic,” said Parul grinning, “Shiksha, come on…”
“I wonder who it is?” said Shiksha frowning.
“Don’t play Hercules Pirot, for God’s sake,” said Parul. “Tell Matron and she’ll see to it…”
“I guess so….” Shiksha said doubtfully. “I have a history test tomorrow on Indus Valley Civilization…”
“The root of all evil,” said Lata getting up from her chair. “If it wasn’t for Indus Valley Civilization -- you would not have got up at four in the morning and seen that dratted light?”
“Well,” said Shiksha, “Now.even you are worried!”
“Sure, I used to wake up at four in the morning the whole of last year to study and never saw a flicker of light anywhere on the paths or in any of the buildings…the lights always came on by half past five or six in the morning, when the Sisters headed to the main building chapel for their Morning Mass!”
“Something funny is going on,” said Parul fluffing her pillow. “Shiksha have you read Jyotsana’s report on the disappearance? It is quite good and clear, precise! I wonder where she got all that information?” She turned to the younger girl, eyebrows raised questioningly.
Jyotsana hesitated before saying, “I asked the Chowkidaar when I went to speak to the police on Wednesday…”
“And he gave you…” this was Parul.
“Well….I did speak with Shalu…” Jyotsana defended.
Shiksha yawned hugely. “Why don’t we go to bed?” she said.
“Hey, wake me up when you see this light,” Lata said. She climbed into bed. Shiksha stuck her tongue out and rolled over as Parul leant forward and switched off the light.
To be continued......