Shadows In The Garden
Shadows In The Garden
Sayra looked at the lovely tulips growing in her garden at that time of the year. They were of varied hues and textures and yet gave the garden a uniform look of bloom. She felt chirpy as she strolled across the lawn, her feet feeling the warmth of the soft damp grass. She loved her daily walks in this part of the property which was her favourite. She always thought that she could never leave this place, whatever may happen in the future. She had in fact long decided this, without even discussing it with her husband.
Sayra and Nikhil had got married a decade ago and shifted to the north-eastern town of Cherrapunji as Nikhil’s job needed him to be there. Moving from Bombay to this obscure wet town was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Sayra. Those were the times after the national emergency was lifted, and things were still settling down - law-order and economy. Nikhil said that he didn’t have much choice but to follow the government’s orders, even if they sent him to the other corner of the world.
But Sayra fell in love with the place much to her pleasant surprise – the dreamy rolling green hills, the gentle winding paths, and the dancing waterfalls welcomed her with open arms wherever she went. It was just a contrast from the sultry concrete city that she came from. Soon Sayra and Nikhil became an integral part of the bourgeois. Their presence was immensely appreciated and looked forward to by the other officers and their wives in their social circle. Sayra enjoyed the attention any new bride would get both from her husband and his colleagues. They had, in fact, become the talk of a good part of the town if not all of it. They were indeed a very handsome couple who were visibly and undeniably in love.
Most parts of the year in this town was mystic, with thick grey clouds crowding the vision. Nikhil had a tough job as he worked in the agricultural department for the government and had to travel to small villages having farmer problems. Sometimes he had to stay with them for days and days while Sayra waited for him without knowing when he would return. Although it used to be worth the wait, as once Nikhil was back, her surroundings would fill with the stories of his visit and experiences. Sayra loved so much to hear him narrate them with exuberance and pride, that she never complained how much he was missed while he was away. Nikhil was the perfect life partner she could have asked for. He showered her with affection and attention, making her feel special.
Years of bliss passed by, till off late Nikhil’s tours to the nearby villages increased with added responsibility at his job. For the past year, she had not seen much of Nikhil and she longed to bring the time back when they had shared beautiful cherished moments together.
But life has a strange way of making one subconsciously adapt to the changes so that it would seem as if nothing has changed. The same happened with Sayra. She found refuge in the neighborhood and her small walks around the valley and sometimes in the wilderness that led to small rain-fed rivulets and double bridges. She made friends with the staff around as not many people from Nikhil’s office stayed in proximity for her to just walk up to them and chatter. She explored the fauna near the valley and was intrigued by how the sun and clouds changed the colours around the valley.
It was that time of the year when her garden was at its best and she could sit for hours and hours, day and night in her living room and look through the French window that opened into the garden. This year especially the spring bloom was phenomenal. She used to occupy the creaky rocking chair with her favourite book for a late-night read and look at the bushes shimmering in the moon light. Nikhil had been away for more than two months now.
Initially, she had got a few letters from him but then they had stopped all of a sudden around a month back and to fill for that absence she read all his past letters over and over again at least once every few days. Initially, friends from Nikhil’s office called to convey about Nikhil’s wellbeing but for the last month or so that had stopped too. She did pick up her phone and call them sometimes, but they were not able to give her satisfactory answers. And for the past week, her phone had gone dead – no tone, no voice, all silent.
Her daily help had not been regular as well – not that there was a lot of work. Anyway, how much work was needed to be done for a single person, she wondered. She was self-sufficient and content – just waiting for Nikhil or any communication from him. That day was not different – it was a late night and the breeze had moisture in it. She could sense the rains just on the verge of arriving which would be followed by days and days of living in the cloud. Indeed, it didn’t rain in Cherrapunji, it was as if the clouds just walked around you shedding buckets of water every few minutes drenching the surroundings and by the time everything around soaked in that water, the clouds would walk past by again. The visibility dropped near to zero even in her garden and the sun would hide behind as if accepting its defeat without even attempting a fight. She was used to this phenomenon now.
The chair creaked under her weight, its wood slowly withering away with age. She read for an hour without even blinking – drinking in the thrill of the story. It was gripping and every time she read it – the twists of the plot surprised her. Suddenly as if to beat the surprise that she felt by reading, a movement startled her. She focussed her sight at a distance trying to look past the bushes, as the French window gave her a distant view – of her garden and the slopes beyond, which led to a deep valley.
There was certainly something moving – she could see shadows on the grass in the moonlight. A chill ran down her spine. She mentally evaluated all the doors and windows of her house – they were all latched. She was safe within these walls and she didn’t dare to step outside. She squinted again trying to look beyond the bushes as far as her vision could reach – she thought she heard the shadows whispering.
Sayra remained glued to the chair – she didn’t want to move lest the shadows caught her movement. She concentrated on her book for another hour while feeling all the time that somebody was indeed watching her very intently – was it an apparition? She had heard many ghost stories during the early years of her marriage. Slowly she dozed off in the same chair only to be woken up by the bright morning sun, a fresh new day with the night left far behind.
The incident didn’t occur again for a few days. Sayra longed for Nikhil to come back. There had been talks in the town that Nikhil might have been abducted by miscreants of the village where he had been posted, by those people who didn’t want him to do the welfare work. Sayra had stopped moving around in the town as people had stopped talking to her. She knew the police were looking for him. There had been a deluge in the lower plains, where the village was, with rains already in full swing in that part of the state. She felt assured that one day he would be back in their house within the secure walls with her.
Nights again fell, and her routine continued. The shadows had again started appearing every night as if time bound and would look at her from behind the bushes, sometimes taking different forms. She was not sure if they were a figment of her vivid imagination and for that, she wanted to blame the thriller she had been reading lately. But she didn’t altogether rule out the possibility of shadows lurking trying to peek while Nikhil was away. She was determined not to be perturbed by them, she had to be there and wait for her husband. She decided to discuss the shadows with Nikhil, once he was back, even though she was nearly sure that he would laugh it away.
That night, as she reached the last part of the thriller, the chair creaked loudly as if sensing the adrenalin rush brought to her by the story. It was then that she noticed from the corner of her eye that one of the shadows was trying to move towards the house. She went very still. She held her breath not knowing how to react. She knew it was watching her – her every expression – she could sense being watched. She wanted to move away from the French window. Suddenly she felt very exposed. Her limbs did not seem to co-operate her mind and she felt as if the chair was holding her tight with arms around her. After a few minutes that seemed like ages to her, the chair creaked softly while shadows seemed to move away for the night giving her the much-needed relief.
Sayra was determined not to change her daily routine. She felt as if staying away from Nikhil was taking a toll on her. Gradually, it became a habit to sit on the chair every night thinking about Nikhil and watch the shadows watching her. They never tried again to make their way towards her again and she never had the courage to move past the window at night – the white sheers rhythmically swaying to the tunes of the night breeze as she sat watching. Her heart would race ahead of the rhythm, but she felt very still – it was a strange mixture of fear and awe.
It had been a month now since the shadows had arrived and Nikhil had not been back. This was the longest hiatus he had to date and she didn’t know when he would be back. She had written many letters and put them in the post-box just outside her house. It had been raining incessantly for the past few days and the postman had not been coming to collect or deliver the letters. She had to wait until the surroundings were clear for anybody to visit her. Despite the mist all around the house, Sayra had the strange inkling that the shadows had been inching towards her every night especially since the rains had started. She was worried about leaving the house and her safe haven because of the haunting shadows.
But it was inevitable – it was difficult to fight these forces. And finally, that night one of them came very close to the French window. Sayra wanted to hide. It was a familiar shadow – it had a faint smell that reminded her of Nikhil. She wanted to get up and run towards it to solve the mystery, but suddenly there were strange noises – loud and muffled. She couldn’t understand much while the French window started shaking violently as if somebody was trying to break in. Sayra’s head started pounding with confusion while she still put a brave face looking at the various hazy forms around her house, vision blurred because of rain.
Sayra peeped through the closed glass and there it was - eyes known but the colour with a tinge of red. She recognized it and was taken aback – she didn’t want him to be a shadow. She wanted Nikhil to be back as he was before but after looking into those eyes, Sayra realized he would never be back. He now belonged to a different world. Sayra ran into the house – into the confines of her room. The walls didn’t seem safe anymore to her and, Sayra buried herself in the pillow crying with frustration and hopelessness.
Nikhil would come daily to his bungalow and watch the house and the movements inside. The rocking chair, the sheer curtains – they all looked full of life. For a month, he had moved around the garden, sometimes accompanied by his friends. They never let him break-in. They had heard strange noises coming from the house. One day, one of the gardeners had even heard the rocking chair creaking. He had never come back again. That night, Nikhil couldn’t hold back anymore – he tried opening the French window, but it was all futile. He could sense movement on the rocking chair. Sayra’s favourite book lying on it. The window was jammed, and no amount of banging helped.
Finally, his friends took him away saying the house was haunted and he should leave the premises before going insane himself. They believed that Nikhil was on the verge of a breakdown, disheveled hair and red eyes since Sayra had been found dead in the valley a month back. That night was no different, only that after banging the French window, Nikhil had heard weeping sounds inside. The next morning, they had called the fire brigade and finally got an inspection of the house after breaking open the window. There was nothing found of Sayra – even Sayra’s favourite book, which he was sure he had seen the previous day, was missing. He would never be able to reach her – she was in a different world than his!