Mrs. Bakshi's Wraith
Mrs. Bakshi's Wraith11 mins 411 11 mins 411
On a full moon night, I was strolling along a lonely, deserted country path on the outskirts of Landsdowne. Walking amidst the pine and cedar trees, I was humming a tune to myself. The fresh pine-scented air suited me and it was just what the doctor had ordered. Surprisingly, the wind wasn't blowing today, as it usually does on the hills on cold nights like this one. So, the trees were silent and their leaves showed no activity. Even the distant howling of dogs had stopped. In the stillness of the night, only my heavy footsteps could be heard in the vicinity as I ambled along the dimly lit road. I did not mind the darkness nor I was afraid of being in solitude. In fact, I preferred living aloof in a quiet environment in the company of nature.
At that time, I was living with an aunt of mine. She had a two room cottage near the bazaar. Being seventeen years old now, I was capable of looking after myself, but my father had forcibly put me up with her, so that she could keep an eye on me. However, Aunt Gita does not take her job too seriously. She has a small business in the bazaar which keeps her away from the cottage for most of the day. So, I spend the mornings studying for the college entrance exams, the warm afternoons dozing off on the couch, the pleasant evenings kicking a football on the maidan and the nights strolling on unfrequented country paths. I had just returned after spending seven miserable years hustling and bustling at a school in Delhi. This regime was a great one as it provided me freedom and a certain peacefulness.
Absorbed in my thoughts, I was sauntering along the path when I heard a soft, low voice which broke my reverie. Listening hard, I could make out the voice of a woman. It seemed like she was sobbing as if she was in some great distress. It was coming from further up the road. Being a thorough gentleman, I hurriedly paced up the road to help the woman. I spotted her sitting in an awkward position in a dark corner of the road. Her thin, bony hands covered her slender face and her long, black, matted hair lay disheveled. She wore a plain red cotton saree over her alabaster complexion and appeared quite middle aged. And, she was weeping bitterly. This deserted road was no place for a woman at this hour. Nevertheless, I went up to her.
' What happened, aunt? Why do you cry so bitterly?', I asked, politely. I called her 'aunt' for she must be about twenty-five years older than me. The woman stopped wailing and looked up. I took a quick glance at her face. Her arched eyebrows knitted over her teary eyes with a small, sharp nose in the centre. With pink, contemptuous lips there was a smooth, round chin accompanying her beautiful face. Immediately, she wiped her tears with her hands and grinned at me. I got a good look at her uneven, white teeth.
' I am in great trouble, son.', she coughed, pointing to her right leg. 'I have a bad leg and I can't walk much without support. Will you help me walk to my home? It's very near.'
'Sure, aunt', I said. I helped her onto her feet. Her hands and arms were freezing cold which made me shudder. They were colder than anything I had touched in my life. Together, we started for her home. We went slowly as she had difficulty in walking as well as remembering the directions to her abode.
'My name is Aman. What's yours, aunt?', I asked, conversationally.
' People here call me Mrs. Bakshi.', she replied.
' So, you are married. Doesn't your family live with you?'
'Sure, they do. But my husband died five years ago and I live with my two sons, now. They are about your age. My dear Suresh and Rakesh.', she smiled as she said their names. She loves them a lot. But why don't they reciprocate her love? Why can't they come to take their mother home themselves? Why does she have to cry on the road and ask for assistance?
The poor widow must have sensed my thoughts. 'Please do not think so meanly of them. Everyday they help me to the bus stand. I go for work and return at night. And, they are always there to take me home. Its just today that they have not turned up. Something must have happened.'
'Hope they are not in some danger', I said.
'Oh, they we'll be fine.', she said.
By now, we had ventured far from the country road where I had met her. We were on the edge of the forest when I saw the towers of a large old mansion rising above tall cedar trees. Still far from the mansion, the woman turned to me and said,' Thank you, son. I can now go by myself '
' No, aunt. It's too much distance which is left. Besides, how will you walk without support?', I objected.
' I can manage it. Don't worry about me. It's getting late and your family must be worrying about you.', she assured me. Still, I persisted, adamant on helping her while she kept turning down my proposals. Finally, I agreed to her when she became uneasy and also, a little angry with me.
' I'll visit you tomorrow, then', I said, turning back. She nodded and waved to me as I retraced our steps back. But, I did not go back. I hid behind some dense bushes to view her secretly. From a distance, I saw her carefully looking around and then disappearing into the forest slowly. Quickly, I followed her on tiptoe. It was a long distance and it took her over an hour to reach the old mansion. The night was so still that I had to hold my breath on various occasions to make sure she does not sense my presence. I was completely exhausted by the time we reached her house.
It was a large mansion with four towers, each on one corner. There was a low wall surrounding the mansion but the front gate was missing. In the darkness of the night, I could not make out much more than this from my place behind a cedar tree. I saw Mrs. Bakshi entering the mansion grounds. Walking up to the front steps, she knocked at the door which opened promptly. A bright glimmer from inside blinded me and I closed my eyes. When I reopened them, she had gone.
Slowly, I trudged back to my aunt's cottage. It was nearly one in the morning and my aunt was sitting on the couch with her hands folded when I entered the cottage.
'And, where had you been, young man? You are not allowed stay out till this late', she asked sternly.
' Taking a stroll near the forest, that's all', I said, casually.
'Near the forest!', she gasped. 'You could have been kidnapped. What will I tell your father, then?'
'It is safe.', I said. 'Besides, I am old enough to take care of myself'
'No more night walks for you', she announced and stormed out of the room. I was much tired and fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. The next day, I slept till late noon. When I woke up, Aunt Gita had already left for the bazaar and she had made hot paranthas for me. I ate my brunch with great relish. After that, I was all settled to revise an important concept of mathematics, when last night's happenings struck me. I had promised Mrs. Bakshi that I would visit her today and I had to keep that. So, I put on an overcoat and scarf and locked the cottage. Again, I found myself walking through the same country path where I had found her. This time, it was humming with life as various people went about their businesses. But, the last stretch which was in the forest was still lonely and deserted. I found it quite strange that not a soul was about. But, it had a reason. There was hardly any sunlight penetrating through the thick canopy. Only a few specks reached the forest floor. It gave the forest a dark and gloomy look.
Finally, after a long, exhausting walk I found myself in front of Mrs. Bakshi's mansion. In the broad daylight, I could clearly get a glimpse of her abode if it looked like one. The dilapidated structure, built of limestone, had plaster peeling off in several places, the windows were plumes of dust and huge cobwebs had taken over the facade. There was a nameplate on the entrance to the mansion grounds which covered with dust. I blew the dust off and the words 'The Bakshi Mansion' were engraved on it. Her garden or a jungle I should call it because it looked like it had not seen a mower in about thirty years. It was so much overgrown with wild bushes and plants. The front steps were badly broken as I walked over them. I knocked on the door and waited.
I again knocked but no one came. Giving a loud thumping on the door, I called out, ' Mrs. Bakshi, Mrs. Bakshi. Open the door. It's me, Aman.' Still, I was ignored. I tried to open the door but it was locked. Then, I went around to the back of the mansion and there was the kitchen door. Despite my desperate knocking and repeated calls to Mrs. Bakshi , no one answered the door. Then, I tried the ground floor windows, but they were jammed and the iron badly rusted. Eventually, I gave up and walked back. Wandering back on the road, I wondered about Mrs. Bakshi. Was she in real? Or it was I who was hallucinating last night?
I cannot hallucinate, I told myself. The memory was crystal clear in my mind. There had to be some explanation about it. I had to ask someone who might know the mysterious lady. The person had to be old and a resident of our town. My aunt Gita might not know her and she would fly into a rage if she knew about the incident. Then, I thought of old Charan Singh, who used to be a milkman when I was just a little boy. He would certainly know Mrs. Bakshi.
Reaching his house, I found Charan Singh, lying on a mat in his verandah, smoking a cigarette. He looked very old now, on the wrong side of 60 and his face was a criss-cross of wrinkles.
'And, how have you been doing, Aman?', he asked.
' I am doing fine, uncle', I replied. I asked after his health before enquiring about Mrs. Bakshi. He seemed a little startled. 'Why do you want to know about her? Poor widow. She died thirty years ago.'
'Tell me her story', I demanded.
'Well, it is a sad one. But, I'll narrate it to you since you insist.', he sighed.
Taking a deep sigh, he began, 'Once, a rich, young businessman, Bakshi by name, came to our town. I was fifteen at that time. With all his wealth, he constructed a large, magnificent mansion in the forest and settled there. He was liked by all the people for he spent freely and gave money to the needy. I myself worked as his milkman. He paid me more than what I asked for my milk. A few years passed and then, he married a young, beautiful woman, our nearby village headman's daughter who was all but lame......'
'Lame!', I gulped.
'Yes, lame but the businessman loved her. Everyone called her Mrs. Bakshi. And, a year later, their two sons were born.', said Charan Singh.
'What were their names?', I asked brusquesly.
Charan Singh thought for a moment. 'Suresh and Rakesh, I think.'
'Are you sure?', I enquired.
'Yes, fine lads they were too. Full of life and magnanimous like their father. They helped everyone in need. There mother loved them a lot.', answered Charan Singh. ' But then, tragedy struck when they were twelve........'
'What happened?', I interrupted.
'Mr. Bakshi, all of forty-five died due to a severe attack of malaria which shattered them all. The whole town came to mourn for him at the Bakshi mansion. Mrs. Bakshi and her sons cried bitterly, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. After his death, Mrs. Bakshi ,despite, her bad leg decided carry on his business. She would take the bus each day to the workplace and return at night. Her sons would help her walk to the bus stand in the morning and take her back in the evening. This thing continued for five years when the two boys suddenly disappeared.'
'Disappeared! How?', I gasped.
'Alas! That's the puzzle. No one knows where they vanished. It was a usual day when Mrs. Bakshi went to the bus stop in the morning escorted by her sons. But, they never returned in the evening to take her back home. She kept on waiting for them.', he continued.
'What did she do then?', I asked, curiously.
'Of course, she tried to walk home herself, but it was a very cold night with snow falling on the hills and she could not get far with her limp. She died on the on the road.', replied Charan Singh.
'Died! Mrs. Bakshi died.', I exclaimed.
'Yes, she perished in that cold night. Next day, the people found her covered in snow on the road. We went to her house to call her sons but there was no sign of them. She was buried in the local church graveyard and then her house fell into ruins. But, that was thirty years ago. And, who told you about Mrs. Bakshi?'
I did not answer him because I was already walking away. No more night walks for you, I told myself.