A Stranger in our House
A Stranger in our House8 mins 43 8 mins 43
His eyes were bursting out in fear. He was breathless. The short, 20-foot-something, sprint seemed like his run for life. And, he held me so tight that I felt he was crushing my ribs.
“Maa, there’s someone there in that room,” he could barely mutter with great difficulty. He was shivering. As I tried to check out the room at the other end of the corridor, he held me harder. He wouldn’t let me go.
I sat down in front of my little hero and tried to convince him that there was none in that room and what he felt was just an illusion. It took him long to settle down. I tiptoed a little later to the room and, as I thought, there was nothing unnatural.
It was only a few days since we shifted to this 3-BHK rented apartment in Kolkata. We were yet to get used to the house, the people around us and the neighbourhood. I was struggling to unpack my treasures from corrugated boxes and settling down afresh in a new city with all my memories wrapped in bubble packs. Little did I know then that life was the most precious to be handled with care. And, the rest was a mere burden.
Every day seemed like a tightrope walk for me. On one side, I was thrust upon the onus of running a family without any support from anyone, while on the other, there was a culture gap of being born a Bengali but brought up in Bombay. Life was yet to unfold before me.
We tried to brush off Kunal’s fear from his first encounter with the stranger but whoever it was he met in that room continued to chase him and his sprints down the corridor didn’t stop. Eventually, he turned scared of darkness. We would accompany him to the room, trying to coax him to believe that it’s just his imagination out of his Marvel movies or Darth Vader of Star Wars. We never made fun of him or made him feel embarrassed, but the thought didn’t leave him. It began gnawing me too.
As days passed by, we started living in with Kunal’s stranger. The boy could now walk from one room to another but he needed me to keep talking to him so that he could feel safe. The eerie feeling stayed on in his mind but the unseen someone was not so much of a scare. Probably, they had made friends, and they were not strangers anymore.
A few more months later, one day, Kunal told me that he had conversed with that someone. It was alarming to me. More because I had been battling to hide from my children an increasingly uncanny feeling within me. I was surprised to see my little son was quite comfortable with it.
The previous tenant had stayed in the apartment for some years. They never shared anything like this with anyone in the building. So what could possibly be wrong!
As months turned into years, my little kids grew up to became more of rivals than brothers. Their frequent fights over almost anything under the sun had left me fraught and the thought of the stranger in that room took a backseat. I had to seek assistance from experts to handle my children better. I tried out medical counselling, psychological counselling, studied parenting sites and explored many other options until I reached a counsellor who could address the issue more positively.
I lost more during these years than I gained. I suffered loss of my dear ones and incurred financial tolls. I was tired of endless running around and was left teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown.
I was forced to look for a job to make ends meet. It was a whole new challenge to be a working woman after 17 years of being a housewife. I faced it head on. But a job wasn’t enough. I picked up assignments of translating articles from Hindi to English to beef up my income. A phone, a pair of headphones and my computer became my companion till thick in the night – to be paid per word.
After returning from office and before retiring for the day, I tried to complete as many pages as possible to make a little more earning every day. I would sit in the study – the room where Kunal met his stranger – all by myself, surrounded by a silence where my heartbeats could be heard as loud as tapping on the keyboard.
The entire apartment was dark, all the lights were off, but for the table lamp in the study and the light of my smartphone screen when one day I suddenly felt that someone was staring over my shoulders from the right. He was so close that I could almost feel his breaths. It was so close to me that I felt choked. Everyone in the house was deep in sleep. There was no chance of someone opening the door of the house and stealthily enter the room.
I never experienced anything like this before. It was not only eerie, it was frightening. I felt a chill down my spine. An uncanny numbness had gripped my limbs. I struggled to stand up. I was sweating profusely. The next few seconds were longer than eons. I gulped down the accumulated saliva to regain my composure. All I had to do was – run. Somehow I got hold of my mobile and I scampered through the door, slammed it behind me and bounced into the bed, tucking myself under the blanket like a fried prawn. I was gasping for breaths, my heart was pounding like a time bomb ticking to the zero hour to explode.
Was it the same stranger that Kunal had encountered? Was it a spirit – a good one or a devil? Was it a ghost that stays in that room? Did he intend to kill me? Am I alive? Is Kunal OK? Countless thoughts – incoherent yet pertinent, relevant yet impractical, childish yet worrying – crossed my mind in an insane zigzag. I could associate all the eerie encounters that Kunal reported to us time and again but we failed to address. I couldn’t close my eyes for the rest of the night and waited anxiously for the first light of the day.
The morning came with no difference from any other day. But nothing was the same for me anymore. Four years have gone by since Kunal’s first tryst with the stranger and I kept telling him that there was nothing to be scared – it’s just that the stranger wanted to say something to us and since he didn’t have a body like ours, he simply wanted to use Kunal as a medium. But that frightful night had robbed me off all my courage. I felt helpless.
The shock and worries it brought along pushed me to the brink yet again. I lost my sleep and began losing weight very fast. An uncanny feeling chased me all through the day and night. I was worried about my kids. We held pujas and havans but nothing soothed my nerves. Who? Why? How? Since when? There was no end of questions and no answer at all. As I groped in the dark for a solution, I recalled this psychologist I had stumbled upon a few years back. I contacted him. On listening to the story, he asked me to visit him a few days later.
I waited for the D-day without doing anything that could be a perceived threat or a cause for dislike to the stranger – trapped for years with us, sharing our house or, perhaps, letting us share his, only to say an unheard diegesis. He never harmed us and let us coexist, helping us accept him as a family member. In the intervening days, my fear gradually changed to empathy with a strong desire to help.
The road ahead was bumpy. Hypnosis and various other psychological assessments revealed a story – indeed a heart-wrenching one – as we thought it would be. The protagonist of the story was a labourer from Bihar. The youth had fought against his parents and brothers, who had never cared for him, and reached Kolkata in search of a job. He started working as a labourer when the building was coming up some 11 years back. Although he never had close ties with his family, he became a loner in a new city amid unknown people and with an unfathomable dialect. Loneliness had turned him bitter inside but he maintained a sweet and warm attitude towards his colleagues.
It was pouring that day. Despite being alarmed not to be too adventurous, he tried to scale a wall and fell down. He died on the spot. He wasn’t ready for it. He was stuck in an open space between the brick walls. His body could be taken out of the maze of concrete but his soul remained confined in the walls that now make our study room. For the last 11 years, he has been yearning to be freed. He tried to convey his desire but he failed every time.
We returned home that day with a weird satisfying feeling of being of help as a human for someone not a human. Yes, the stranger was gone – from our room, from our house, from our lives, from our world. He was set free.
We don’t feel walking in a haunted house anymore. The eerie feeling was gone. The mother-sons trio was brave to beat the darkness and walk past the passage with no one following us. There was no one anymore, anywhere sharing our house. It was just us living in peace, with satisfaction and love.