It was pitch black when I opened my eyes; so dark, that I could not see my own hands. I lay there on a thin mattress on the cold mud floor for some time, and stared up into the darkness. A faint sound came from a distance and I held my breath for a while, to focus all my senses. 

– “Amulyaaaa! O Amulyaaaaa!”

It took me a few moments to figure out that someone was actually calling me by my name, and when I did, I sat up with a sudden jerk. My head felt immensely heavy and my eyes were itchy from the residual smoke. They were also pretty useless in this total darkness, so I attempted to sit up while feeling the ground and extending my arms cautiously to see if it touched something that I could hold on to. I took a couple of steps and felt the cold mud wall of the room and getting at least a sense of direction, I followed it to finally get a feel of something colder and metallic. It was the iron latch on the wooden door of the hut. I pulled at the door holding onto the latch and with a slight screeching noise, the door opened for me. It was almost equally dark outside, as I looked up at the sky and concluded that it had to be a new moon night. And then I heard the call again;

– “Amulyaaa! Ohhhh Amulyaaaaa!”

I followed the sound and circumspectly walked on, while trying to narrow my eyes and adjust to the darkness. There was a voice inside me, warning me against proceeding further, but my body was not keen on taking instructions. As I kept walking, the visibility got slightly better and I could make out the trees and the shadows a few meters away. The calling had stopped, but what I heard next sounded like a woman weeping at a distance. As if pulled by some sinister magnetic force, I kept walking till my eyes caught a slight movement ahead and it seemed like a ripple on the surface of water. Indeed, there was a pond in front of me and despite the darkness, I could make out the fading wavelets stirred by the soft breeze. And then, I spotted the silhouette of a human form, squatting on its rear, facing the pond. It was a woman and she was sobbing softly!

I swallowed hard and even in the cold of the night, my forehead felt moist, as beads of sweat emerged from nowhere. But I couldn’t stop myself from walking on till I was a couple of meters from the crouched human form. Then, she turned towards me and called my name again. This time, I realised it was none other than Kiran, my sister in law, the wife of my younger brother. She stood up and started walking towards me and I noticed something she was carrying in her hand. It seemed like a bucket!
I took a step back as she walked towards me;

– “Bou-ma?” [Sister-in-law] I barely found my voice. 

She stopped for a pause and spoke out;

– “Shudhu tui amake banchate parish! Ora keu parbe na!” [Only you can save me, none of them can!] – She said, and then with one quick movement, she jerked the bucket at me and cold water hit my face and upper body, as I panicked and screamed with all the power I had in my lungs. 

I was still screaming when I opened my eyes to the equally scary sight of Bihari Baba trying to stretch open my eyelids, to check if I was conscious. Another person was holding my arms and trying to shake me up, as I found my face wet from some water they had splashed on my face to wake me up. 

– “Good that you are finally awake. The train will reach Sealdah in ten minutes. Get up and get ready. We have a long day ahead!”

Bihari Baba said with a smile on his face, as he handed me the small brass water glass, which I drank up without a word. I looked around and realised that I was in a train and it was pretty packed as well. Every single passenger was looking at me with a combination of fear and curiosity. I turned towards Baba, 

– ”How long was I asleep?”

He answered with a smile, “long enough to get you some rest”

The train reached Sealdah and we alighted with the other passengers, since this was the last stop. We walked to the bus station, from where we took the bus no. 12C which would take us to Behala, our bus stop, in about an hour and half. Walking next to Bihari Baba was pretty awkward, as his attire would attract a lot of attention from all the people around us. To make matters worse, he insisted on holding my hand for most of the remaining journey. I have no memory of how I had landed up with him in this local train, and my last memory ended at that meal which I couldn’t complete. I was now pretty convinced that the food was drugged, for better or for worse. 

During the bus ride, Bihari Baba leaned towards me and asked me softly;

“That dream you had, was it her?”

I was astonished at his accurate guess, but still tried to make it less obvious and questioned back; 

– “Who?”

– “Your sister-in-law!”

I nodded my head, impressed that he found it out so easily, only for him to respond in a dismissive voice;

– “It was easy to guess, you were shouting ‘Bou-ma!’”

At this point, the thought of what might be going on at the house in Behala, suddenly came to mu mind and made me very anxious. I was wondering if my brother was able to handle the situation and if Kiran’s status had worsened, in the close to thirty hours that I was not around.  

Once we reached the Behala bus stop, we decided to cover the rest of the way to the house on foot, and I could feel all the eyes on us as we slowly marched back to the house. About fifteen meters behind us, a small crowd had gathered and they had started to follow us, keeping that distance in between and with every few yards we walked, that crowd was growing in size. I could hear a few murmurs, but somehow  had refrained from looking back at them, when I heard someone describe us;

– “Yes yes, that is the man from Bhoot Boudi’s [Ghost sis-in-law] house. But who is this scary man with him? Sadhu or Kapalik?” [Sadhus were generally perceived with a positive image of an ascetic, while Kapaliks generated a sense of fear, as they were associated with blood, skull and dark arts]

[End of my father’s narration, back to my own narration]

It had been four full days, since my father had left us in our state of helplessness, one fine morning. While the whole house had been worried about my aunt for so many days, there was now an added anxiety about the whereabouts of  my father. Since no one had a clue, they would tend to ask my uncle, who had little knowledge about it. And these persistent questions made him doubt himself, and gradually he started getting irritated and defensive. My mother did not have too many people to share her problems with, and due to her fear that something bad might have happened, was often found to be weeping by herself in her solitude. My Jethu [elder uncle] had now assumed the position of the head of the family, due to his seniority, and as expected, faced many questions himself. But he remained pretty unfazed by all this and along with the smoke from his ‘bidis’, blew away all the questions that were aimed at him. People soon realised that not only did he know nothing, but there is a likelihood that he will never know anything about what is going on.
The only person who remained composed all through was my grandma, who would cheerfully announce that everything will soon be over, a positivity most others did not really share. 

The condition of my aunt, meanwhile, had remained pretty much the same during these four days. She was being given food and sedatives more often lately, as her fits of aggression had become far more frequent in the first two days after my father had left. But over the last 24 hours she had been violent only once, compared to a regular four rounds on most other days. But there was no incident in specific, to report during these four days of my father’s absence.  

Barring of course, the fact that the local police had paid us a visit on the second day of my father’s departure. They made some enquiries, mostly with my uncles and the landlord and even chatted with the local guys from the nearby club, to hear their version of the story. After taking down a detailed report, they took a peek at my aunt who was sleeping at that point, and decided to come back later, to check out the so called evil manifestation.  

Coming up next: CHAPTER FOURTEEN

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