Am I Her ?
Am I Her ?9 mins 543 9 mins 543
The door opened and she was ushered in with a broad smile. There was a party going on in full swing and as she walked in, men and women turned towards her with broad welcoming smiles. "Welcome home Sheryl," some said as they lifted their glass to her in salute. She felt good, she felt beautiful and little Robbie was laughing as he held her hand. The grand staircase was decorated with green vines and blooms of flowers cascaded down the railings and from beautiful vases placed all over the room. Suddenly Robbie left go of her hand and darted into the crowd. "Robbie, Robbie darling… please come back," she said as she followed him through the crowd. She saw Robbie run up the grand staircase and she followed him.
Suddenly, the bright sunny day started turning gloomy and the wind howled through the windows. She could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. All the flowers on the staircase had faded away and the wood looked old and weathered. She was breathless as she searched for Robbie along the dark corridor. Her blood ran cold as she heard a woman scream. Clutching her diary to her chest she frantically opened door after door and when she came upon the last door she saw the woman lying on the floor, blood pooling around her and her assailant holding up a bloody sword, standing over her. The number MV02KF09 glinted off its sharp blade.
She staggered out of the room and the assailant followed her. She ran along the dark corridor till the edge of the carpet caught her foot and she went sprawling down. She looked back over her shoulder only to see the bloody sword rise up in an arc and come crashing down…
Charu sat up on the bed, a scream trapped in her throat. Sweat pooled off her forehead and her limbs were trapped in the sheets on which she had been writhing. Her breath came in gasps and she tried to calm her thundering heart. Not able to overcome the adrenaline that still pumped through her, she switched on the bedside lamp and walked over to her desk. She took a pen and the writing pad and tried to write down what she had dreamed about.
Party welcoming Sheryl Varghese home.
Small boy Robbie with Sheryl
Dead woman - hair covering her face
Bloody sword with the number MV02KF09 on it
There was one other thing Charu felt was important, but she could not remember the detail. She thought for a while and then gave up. She recognised the grand staircase. It was the central staircase of the Kochi museum, which made sense as it had been converted from Sheryl's home. But what made no sense to her was this feeling of deja' vu. Was she to go against her scientific beliefs and believe that she was a reincarnated version of Sheryl Varghese. If yes, why now? Sheryl lived a long time back and if she had been murdered, as her dream suggested, then her assailant would be long dead too. So the revenge plot was out. Charu leaned back on her chair and decided to take one thing at a time. First thing tomorrow she would talk to Martha and then she would head to the museum again. Maybe being at "Home" would provide a clue to the crazy scenario she now found herself in.
The next day before Martha could swoon again, she quickly explained that she was not Sherry, but she was Charu and showed Martha her childhood photos. She then went on to ask why Martha had reacted the way she had. Martha shuddered and said, "You have haunted my dreams for the past 50 years. I thought you had come to haunt me in person."
"What !" exclaimed Charu. "I have never set eyes on you before! How could I have possibly haunted you ?"
"I don't know if it is you, or it is Sherry, but you feature in my nightmares. You beg and plead and say, "Chechi, where is he? Where is my Robbie... Please find him...Please, please help me... find him." I can't bear her pleading voice and I cannot help her as I don't know who she is or who Robbie is. Waking up from the dream always sends me into depression"
A chill ran down Charu's spine. So there was indeed a boy called Robbie who was missing. But what was their connection to Martha ?. She tried to question Martha again, but Martha had stood up.
"Please my child, leave me alone for some time. I cannot bear to relive that dream," said Martha as she walked back inside the house.
Charu sighed and got up too. She made her way to the Kochi museum. All that she wanted was one clue. Just one proper clue which would tie up things together. For now, all the clues lead down different paths and she had no idea which path to take. As she neared the museum, she decided to observe it carefully. If it indeed was Sheryl's house, then there would be a favourite room, a favourite nook, or something which Sheryl liked. Charu hoped that it would provide the required clue.
Charu decided to follow the path which she had taken in her dream. She walked into the hall and eerily the past began to mingle with the present. She could hear laughter bounding through the walls and sometimes heart-rending tears. As she walked up the staircase she felt buoyant and happy and after a while deflated and sad. She had to accept that Sheryl had gone through a lot of upheavals in her life. She finally reached the end of the corridor. Each of the rooms she had passed had been converted into rooms of the museum, but her steps had led her to the one at the very end. The door was closed and the handle was dusty as if the housekeeping people never bothered with it.
Looking around furtively, she slowly turned the handle and finding it surprisingly unlocked, slipped in and closed the door behind her. Two things hit her at once. One, a deep sense of foreboding, and the second, the huge painting on the opposite wall which had goosebumps blooming on her skin. It was the same abstract painting of the lady that was on the cover of the book she had picked !!
Her mind conjured up images of the dead woman on the floor and the murderer, but it was not clear. She could see a dark stain on the faded carpet and she assumed it had been the blood that had not been cleaned. Charu rubbed the chill off her arms as her steps unconsciously took her towards an old writing desk that was sitting under the portrait. It was covered with dust, but it was as familiar to Charu as her own desk at home. She put her hand under the desk and pulled a hidden lever that made a secret drawer suddenly pop out. She gasped as she saw the diary and the old set of fountain pens lying inside.
She picked up the diary and stood next to the weak light filtering in from the grimy windows. With trembling fingers, she carefully opened the weathered pages. She could hear muted sounds from outside the room as visitors walked around the museum. Her first instinct was to take the diary home with her, but once she opened the book, she could not stop reading.
Jan 1st, 1940
A New Year, a new diary, and a new beginning in so many ways. There is an air of change as we hear the slogans of the revolutionaries everywhere and the British soldiers look jittery as they patrol the town. Anthony has been so wonderful last year and the hotel, O my gorgeous mountain, Mount Varghese is being built. I will never be able to repay him for his goodness, but today I have very special news to share with him. I have his heir growing in my womb. Oh, he will be so very delighted.
And Dear Dairy, yes, you are new, but can you feel the pen flowing across your pages and not the scratching of the quill? Yes, that's because Papa gifted me a set of fountain pens. What a wonderful invention. He hopes that I can now stop scrubbing the ink off my fingers. Papa is so thoughtful and kind and generous. I am glad that Anthony is just like him. Anthony loves the sword that Papa gifted him for our wedding. It hangs above the fireplace in the living room.
The next few pages chronicled her journey through her pregnancy and her overseeing the building of Mount Varghese. She wrote sporadically and apologised to the diary that she was too sick during her pregnancy to write. There was one jubilant entry as she wrote about the birth of Robbie and then again just a few entries as she grappled with motherhood. She mentioned that though she had a procession of nannies, she preferred to be a hands-on mother. And then an entry caught Charu's eye. The handwriting was not as confident as before and it looked a bit shaky.
March 8th, 1943
Dear Diary, whom can I lament to, but you? Papa and Mama are so far away and I don't want to trouble them. Anthony says that motherhood has stressed me out, but then Robbie is the sweetest boy ever. It is Anthony who is the cause of my distress. I have reason to believe that he is involved in some nefarious activity but I do not have proof yet. He spends all the time at the hotel and rebuffs me when I gently question him. Oh, what might he be up to? Is he with the revolutionaries or on the side of the British empire? Or is he involved with something completely different? or someone? Oh, I wish my mind would stop playing tricks with me. He is my husband and I love him! Yes, I do…
Mar 31st, 1943
A new event has now occurred. Anthony has a code engraved on the sword and he refuses to divulge its meaning. Why would he hide it from his wife? Is it a code for the illegal activities he seems to be conducting? The code is MV02FK09. After many sleepless nights, I have come to the conclusion that MV stands for Mount Varghese and FK for Fort Kochi. But what do the numbers signify? Oh... I am going quite mad!
April 5th, 1943
That man has damaged my prized possession. He has written the dreaded code on the photograph of my villa. I was searching for it, only to find it tucked away in the study of his drawer.
The handwriting in the next entry was unclear as if it had been written under great duress. The ink was spread out in places as if water had spilled on it or maybe tears? Charu strained her eyes in the growing darkness to see.
March 15th, 1943
I can't believe what I just saw. Oh, why is it so difficult to write? Why can't I stop my hand from shivering? Why, why… what prompted him to do this? I deduced that 09 may be a room at Fort Kochi and I went there today. I knocked on the door and when it opened, Anthony was… Anthony ….
Charu gasped and turned around as she heard a sound right behind her….