The Bizarre Shadows-Part 2
by Geetashree Chatterjee
(New Delhi, India)
Back to Part I Short Story - The Bizarre Shadows - Part 2
There was nothing in common between us. I knew we were the targets of many a jeers of wagging tongues. The Haughty (she) and the Dowdy (me) were the ones that took to the fancy of the local gossip mongers the most. As the nicknames implied we were poles apart in nature as well as station in life. I had come to accept my age and average appearance for a long time now. She always had a nose-in-the-air stance which did not go favourably with her critics. She almost led a life of a recluse and seldom attended any community programmes or gatherings. I had embraced celibacy by conscious decision after a mishap, early in life, but was a part of a large, cheerful extended family which in addition to my parents and a horde of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, also included four servants and three dogs. In normal situation, we would have shunned each other's company but for an overly social and caring disposition of my father who made me pay weekly evening visits to "The Villa? to give company to the one and only single woman residing all alone in the vicinity having nobody to look after or care for her. It wasn't in me to disobey the dictates of my patriarch however mildly and placatingly intoned.
Hence, I the Good Samaritan and the late afternoon tête-à-tête over fragile cups of tea seasoned with spooky tales of the "silent watchers". On earlier occasions, I had tried to either ignore or rationalize on these creepy anecdotes to the icy contempt of the gory story teller. By and by I relented to her staunch conviction of their benign presence around her and just listened in silence to the drone of her litany. At least there was something to listen to as otherwise the monotony of conversation would veer around monosyllabic exchanges.
But today it was different. The sky was deepening into more somber shades of grey. The exiting sun played a weak peek-a-boo behind the dark clouds in the horizon. The breeze blew in the garden-smells and the sounds of the insects gearing up for their nocturnal adventure as night approached stealthily. It grew chillier as the colourless afternoon melted into dusk, dusk into early evening and the evening shadows gradually deepened in anticipation of the approaching night.
I prepared to leave. The social faux pas had extended a little too long. I was about to bid her a cheerful good night when she muttered, "The other night they were all there standing in a row pointing gnarled, bony fingers at me while I was preparing to retire to my room after dinner. It seemed they wanted to tell me something?" "Did they?" I could not help but ask, wanting to sound casual but the question to my utter surprise came out as a hoarse whisper. "No", she sounded impatient. She had this most annoying habit of not making eye contact while talking and always had a far-away or seeing-beyond-you look while addressing people. At this moment, she was staring at the far end of the garden.
It gave me a start. I was about to get up when my left leg caught something under the table. I floundered and would have fallen headlong but for the tea table inbetween. I straightened the table with one hand but could not prevent the tray with its varied mix of cutlery and eatables from toppling over. The crash resonated in the stillness with increased frequency. She did not move. Her vacuous eyes were staring at the horizon as though she were not there. I picked up the shards of the broken china now inextricably intermingled with the scattered pieces of snacks and cookies, mumbling an embarrassed sorry. Courtesy demanded that I put the debris back in the kitchen bin. But the house had such an unwelcome air about it, that much to my own uneasy astonishment, I could not make myself crossover the threshold and walk inside. I decided otherwise and stood up to go. My knees shook a bit which I attributed to the initial stages of arthritis and bade her quick adieu before staggering out by the garden path.
As I shut the garden gate behind me I had the odd feeling of being watched over. I turned back. The curtain on one of the first floor windows was slightly drawn apart, softly moving to and fro in the cold evening breeze, allowing a slit of a space to sneak in between. The room was dark beyond and though nothing could be made out, nonetheless, I had a strange feeling that a pair of unseen eyes was staring at me from behind the billowing drapes.
I brought back my gaze forcefully down to the verandah. She was still sitting there erect and unmoving, her eyes fixed at a point far beyond human vision. Her lips were moving slowly as though in conversation with somebody invisible standing next to her. At that moment I had an uncanny feeling that all was not well with her and it was quite possible that the restrained grace and poise of her demeanour concealed a mind wavering on the realms of the real and the unreal, if not completely deranged - a bitter fall out of a traumatic past and untimely loss of near and dear ones.
The path to my house ran along the circumference of "The Villa". Though born and brought up in the hills, a brisk trot up or down the hill made me out of breath very soon. I was therefore given to sedate walks. But today I had an unexpected desire to run the distance. As I tried to traverse the spherical bend as quickly as possible, night descended with a speed as though competing with my gait.
It was just the beginning of winter. But the cold had spread early. It was a very funny cold, which crept up through the ground below, freezing the bones and arresting movement. The over laden sky, the silent echo of the hills, the rain soaked pine forests flanking the pathway and a fast deepening cold night lent credence even to the most unbelievable, bizarre drama.
It was an hour's walk to my residence, taken up as a deliberate exercise to shake off some of the calories which fondness for good food accumulated. Somehow the walk seemed longer tonight. The first quarter was taken up to circumnavigate the bungalow. As I walked past it, the dark unlit windows followed me with veiled curiosity, sending a shiver down my spine.
As I turned the final bend which obscured the bungalow from sight, the moon popped up and the stars twinkled. The hilly path shimmered with a silver sheen. I looked up to find a clear sky. Nature?s whim had made the clouds saunter by leaving the night colder. I trudged along...........I had to reach my destination fast.The End