by Nirupama Akella
Continued from previous page
She decided to walk around the grounds after reading the hostel notices and then go to class. She hurried towards the hostel and quickly scanned the notices. There were no real major changes, just changes in the meal timings! She dutifully copied the new timings onto her pad resolving to stick them onto her table in her room.
She emerged into the bright warm sunlight and started walking about, noting the changes brought about to the buildings. She blinked and continued her walk, briskly and cheerfully and came to the Old Wing. She had always found it to be a place of great mystery and suspense. She had told her cousins once, that the Old Church was the perfect hiding place for treasure -- in fact she had invented an imaginary tale of secret rooms and precious jewels. She stopped at the entrance and stared at the imposing tall structure with fresh red paint, entranced and mesmerized. “This,” she thought tucking a stray hair behind one ear, “was a sound place to commit a murder and then remove the body unseen.”
The Sisters, she knew and felt sure the entire college was aware, visited the Old Church only at nine in the morning for their Prayers -- the cleaning lady went once a week and the college girls went in four or five times during the year. Shiksha shrugged, but then what did she know of committing murders and murderers and, disposal of bodies. She shivered slightly and then checked herself, as she saw Shalu Brar emerge from the depths of the building with a bucket, mop and cleaning materials, wearing a harassed and concerned expression on her craggy weather beaten face. Shiksha was quite popular with the cleaning staff owing to her gentle and sympathetic manner. She hailed the cleaning supervisor, “Hello! How are you?”
Shalu Brar managed a weary grin, as Shiksha continued pleasantly, “Extremely hot, isn’t it? How come you have been cleaning the Old Wing? I thought Shanta was in charge of that -- or has there been a shift in the duties?”
“Oh No! Nothing like that,” setting the bucket and the rest of the materials on the stone steps, Shalu hastened to clarify, “It’s just that Shanta has …. not been …..coming.” She paused triumphantly -- clearly pleased at her clever usage of words.
But Shiksha frowned, noticing the pregnant pauses in her reply, and decided to pursue, “Not Coming? Why? Is she ill?”
“No!” pat came the reply.
“Then…is one of her children ill?”
“No,” Shalu was now getting agitated. She was thinking, “didn’t this girl have lectures to go to -- but then maybe she was just being nice and sweet!” Shalu sighed and said -- her left eye twitching, “Disappeared!”
Shiksha stared -- she had not expected to hear this. It seemed implausible and for a brief second she seriously wondered if the cleaning supervisor had been drinking! But Shalu Brar looked more sober and serious than she had ever looked in her entire life. ‘ “Yes!” she assured the bewildered Shiksha dramatically, “She has disappeared….no one knows where she is….and what’s more…everyone thought that she never came to work yesterday…..but she did come…”
Shalu’s voice rose, “She did come…..someone saw her….and now she has disappeared… I tell you, something is wrong…not like Shanta at all to go away like that without telling her neighbor and her family…I tell you it is fishy,” she pronounced, eyes glinting brightly.
Shiksha shook her head, “Maybe an accident…” she murmured helpfully.
But Shalu vigorously shook her head, “No! She disappeared inside the college…so something must have happened to her inside the college….I have told Matron but….I am going to find out…”
Shiksha shivered thinking, “people disappearing within the premises of the college did not bode well!”
She glanced at her watch and exclaimed, ‘Goodness! I must go -- have a lecture -- …..hope you find out that she is safe and healthy,” and she broke into a run towards the main building.---- To be continued...Continued from previous page Back to Serial Novel - Main page