The Midnight's Guest
The Midnight's Guest15 mins 295 15 mins 295
That strong smell. Again. As if lavender mixed with fruit pulp. Some bit of it smelt orange, some peach. It was familiar yet foreign. Yavi sat upright in the middle of the bed, nervous, alarmed. The curtains in the window, now pulled apart, opened up the sight of the snowflakes embracing the adjacent lawn in the caliginosity of the night. Even with an ice-glazed window in the room, sweat beads appeared on her temples. In the dead silence, she could hear her racing heart thumping loud and clear. The urge to check the time was irresistible. But the unfathomable awe let her not move an inch. It was 3:13 in the night. She could tell that, even without looking at the clock. It had to be. Something was so wrong with her.
And not just today, but for the past 78 days. The same strange smell was waking her up to the sight of a snow-covered lawn in the dead of night. Yavi clearly remembered she closed the curtains before she hit the sack. Every single night. Like an unmistakable habit. How on earth could they have opened on their own? Or was there an intruder? Was there anyone lurking in the darkness? She felt shaken. Adrenaline rushing through her body, she thought of forcing her eyes to shut and go back to sleep, as she had always done. But the very next moment, she decided against it. How long was she going to put on the pretense as if nothing happened? Why at all was she waiting for such a long time? If it were an intruder, she would better know what he wanted. And if it were her fear, she would better overcome it.
Yavi was only getting down when her toe touched what seemed like a piece of paper lying on the floor. She stooped down. It indeed was. So there was someone. The scintilla of doubt proved valid. She picked it up and unfolded it.
ARE YOU READY? It read. The letters were randomly cut out from newspapers, it seemed.
Ready for what? She looked around. There had to be something more to this. Who, after all, wanted her to be ready? And why? Her eyes darted as she took careful steps towards the window. In the littlest light that came from the bedside lamp, she strained her eyes. Wasn't it another piece of paper lying by the window?
She quickly scanned sideways nervously. No one seemed to be there in the room. It looked similar to the last one. Yavi held the paper open.
TIME TO FACE YOUR PAST. THIRD DECEMBER, LAST YEAR, REMEMBER?
Yavi dropped herself on the wooden floor. So she was being followed by someone for almost a year now, and strangely she never guessed an iota of this. She reread the message. Third December, last year. What could have happened? Where could have she been? Where else than my office? She thought. It must have been a regular day with her following her usual routine. Yavi felt restless. If it was about her past, why didn't she remember anything? Did she go somewhere after work?
A pub, a restaurant, a cinema, where could she have gone! Was she with her boyfriend? She made it a note to ask Jahan about this the next day. Her head was throbbing badly from all the exhaustion, anxiety, and fear. Was it all a hoax? A nasty prank? Or was it her hallucinating again? But how could that be an option? The papers were still lying on the floor. And the smell that she thought was so familiar still lingered in the air. She indeed had a feeling of Deja Vu. A distant scream, a flashing pair of eyes. Yet she could not put a finger on it. She wished she could scream with all her might and shut off the chugging train of thoughts, for once and for all. Yavi grabbed her head in both her hands and rested it on the floor. And when she looked up the next moment, she was petrified with the sight. She would have pinched herself and rubbed her eyes, but she knew it wasn't just a nightmare. The girl, out there in the lawn in her lean frame and draped in a dress half soaked in blood, was way beyond a bad dream. Yavi trembled as the agony in those eyes penetrated her. And her finger pointed at Yavi. Her vision now turning into a blur, and her pacing heart slowly giving up, Yavi knew she was passing out, slipping into the dark.
"Relax, Yavi. There's nothing to worry about."
The man in his late fifties had been listening to her so far, occasionally writing down a few points. Now he closed the diary and looked at her.
"Are you taking the pills regularly?"
"I will increase the dosage then. Let's try that first."
The first thing Yavi did after waking up that morning was getting an appointment with her psychiatrist. She was still on the floor, and the papers too lied close to her when she had called her office and taken the day off. She wanted to call her parents. But then she decided against it. It would only make them anxious and even more worried about their daughter living far away. The best she could think of was a consultation with Dr. Verma. She must have been hallucinating for such a long time now. How else would it have snowed in Gurgaon in mid-October? It's been almost six months since she knew Dr. Verma. It was for the recurrent anxiety attacks that she had started having lately, and one of her colleagues suggested she should pay him a visit.
Yavi mulled over what the doctor had said. A higher dosage of sleeping pills meant she would get the sleep she needed. But how could probably that solve the other mysteries? She had a different plan. She believed, if it had to do something with her past, then she was surely forgetting things. Could it be related to her anxiety attacks? Or even the recent hallucinations? When she asked the doctor, he dived into his thoughts for a while.
"Might be. Mind is a domain of unpredictability, you see. Every mind is unique in the way they function," he said, "It's very much possible to hallucinate things you have experienced before that relate to a strong stimulus. For your case, it can be the smell you were talking about or even the time. The snowfall, which is no doubt your imagination, can be related to either of them. It might not surface right now, but it is still in your subconscious."
And the girl? The blood-smeared robe? Were they real? Or my imagination? Are they too lying deep in my subconscious? Wondered Yavi.
And what about the date, third December?
Yavi put aside the hesitation and suggested what she had been considering for some time now, "Doc, do you know hypnotism?"
A smile appeared on his face before disappearing the next moment, "I do. And I prefer using it when utterly necessary."
"Is it safe?"
Dr. Verma chuckled, "As long as you're in good hands. May I know why you're asking this?"
"Because, Doc, I believe, this will find its root into my past. Third December, I don't remember much about the day. The smell, the snowfall, the indistinct screams, and that lady, could they be all connected? Do you think hypnosis can help?"
His narrowed eyes now focussed on hers, "Hypnosis can indeed resurface memories, Yavi. But are you sure you want to do this?"
"Anything to put an end to this torment, Doc."
"In that case," Dr. Verma pointed at the armchair on the other side of the room, "Take that seat and relax. Focus on your breathing, Yavi, and absolutely relax your mind."
Yavi gulped down a glass of water, looking around, and calling out her boyfriend's name. She had thought he must have gone to use the restroom. But when he didn't show up even after a few minutes had passed, she crawled out of bed and peered into the attached bathroom. Jahan was not inside. Yavi checked the time. Where could he have gone at three at night, leaving her all alone in the room? Could be with the other male colleague, Parth, she had told herself. The three of them were still on duty. The gala ceremony in Shimla to recognize the Indian Tribal Culture, that they came all the way from Gurgaon to cover for their newspaper, had kept them on their toes the whole day. They had returned exhausted to the homestay quite late.
They had been lucky enough to have found this place that belonged to a lovely lady, Bimla. She was still in her late twenties. The cheerful young woman had invited them over dinner. Yavi could not thank her enough. She deserved a gift. Maybe she could send one to her address once they reach Gurgaon, Yavi wondered as she opened the door and stepped out on the open terrace. They had occupied both the rooms on the first floor, while Bimla stayed on the ground floor. There was a separate entrance for the guests staying over. She checked the other room where she thought Jahan could be with his friend, but to her surprise, the door was locked from outside. Yavi neared the spiraling staircase leading to the garden. It was drizzling. Snowflakes landed on the tip of the meadows as if a princess was wearing a crown on her head. She draped the blanket closer to her body. She had to bend down a little from the stairs.
Distant waves of laughter came somewhere from the garden downstairs. Strange, she thought, what could the boys be doing there, at this time of night? Yavi came down looking for them. Now that she was in the garden, the voices were distinct. Yavi stopped for a second. Did she hear a woman cry? She had goosebumps at the thought of what she believed it could be. She hurried to the side from where the sound seemed drifting off. And what she could see buried her legs deep into the ground for a moment. Jahan was standing with her back to her, the camera in his hands. Whom was he filming? Bimla, who was lying on her back on the ground half-naked and hands tied together?
The other guy was busy stripping off the last bit of clothes from her shaking body. Soft sobs escaped her mouth stuffed with torn clothes. Yavi thought she was going to throw up. Whom was she dating for years? A criminal? Jahan was a criminal, wasn’t he? Must be. Or even worse. Must be a beast. Only a beast could laugh at the sight of a woman being raped by his friend. And who knew, he could have raped her too? For a second, Yavi did not know how to react to what she had seen. But the next moment, she regained her sense and yelled out. All three pairs of eyes were now on her. Now that she was there, Bimla moaned loudly, seeking her help. Jahan did not waste a second as he came running to her. Before Yavi could do anything, he grabbed her by her hand and dragged her to the room upstairs. For once, she could manage to look behind. The other guy, Parth, was now following them back up the stairs. Was he scared that Yavi could disclose who he was at the office? Was he sorry? Could a monster like him ever repent? At least he had left Bimla, Yavi felt partially relieved. Once they were in the room, Jahan locked the door and hissed into her ears, "You have not seen anything. Do you remember that, Yavi? Do you?"
"Here... take this."
Dr. Verma offered his handkerchief to Yavi. She could not stop the tears oozing out uncontrollably.
"You must have seen something grave. Don't worry. There is absolutely no need to tell me anything. Just relax. Take deep breaths."
Yavi felt broken. How could she have forgotten that day altogether? How was she still with that same guy? She knew the girl. The girl she saw on the lawn last night, the girl who pointed at her as if she was blaming her. Was she real? Or her subconscious? But if the messages were real, the sender too ought to be. How could she sneak in, though? And how could she not wake up with a stranger walking around her room? Must be the sleeping pills, she thought. But why was she taking sleeping pills? Why would Dr. Verma prescribe sleeping pills for treating her anxiety? Did the intruder know she was on sleeping pills? Did that make it easier for her to sneak into her room? Did she know about her anxiety attacks or even the random periods of hallucinations? But how could she? Unless… she glanced at the doctor from the corner of her eyes while wiping the tears off. Maybe she was overthinking, she told herself. She was returning him the handkerchief when she noticed it. B.K. The initials were sewn with blue silk thread at the corner. It certainly did not stand for Yogesh Verma. She smiled, thanked him, and returned the handkerchief.
"Call me whenever you feel like, Yavi."
Dr. Verma assured her repeatedly as she bid him bye. She smiled at him curtly, a distant smile as if her mind drifted to some other place. She knew she had to stop taking the sleeping pills.
That night Yavi had not taken the sleeping pills, as planned. Yet she had dozed off lately. Luckily the footsteps, soft and measured though, awakened her. She kept her eyes shut and pretended to be fast asleep. The footsteps once came close to her bed, then drifted off to the window. Yavi held her breath as she heard the curtains being moved apart. So some parts of what she had thought she was imagining were real. When the footsteps moved to the study table across the bed, Yavi trusted her instinct and opened one eye. She was relieved to find her facing the wall, bringing out something from a bag. Must be the perfume, she thought. She remembered the smell now. She had asked Bimla for the brand while they had met over dinner that night, and she had said she would give her a bottle in the morning. The morning that never came.
The girl with the perfume in her hand froze at her place when she turned back. Yavi was awake and sitting upright on the bed. The next moment, she picked up her bag and strode towards the door.
She was leaving when Yavi called out her name, "Bimla, wait. Won't you gift me the perfume?"
The girl stopped at the door and glanced back, "Justice in return."
"Justice, of course," Yavi continued, "And now that I remember everything, every single thing from that night, I will do what I should have done a year back. But, will you tell me something?"
Yavi waited for her to respond. When she did not, she went ahead, "Bimla, I know, you and Dr. Verma are together in it. Who is he? How is he related to you?"
"Justice," Bimla smiled and turned away. Yavi knew she was leaving. She knew she was not going to chase her for the answer though.
It was half-past two in the afternoon when Yavi boarded the cab from Shimla. She was on her way back to her home, exhausted from the day's journey. After Bimla left her place last night, she had booked a cab for the early morning. She had returned to the place she had visited last December, almost a year back. She had spent her day at the police station, convincing the police to lodge an FIR against Parth Khatri and Jahan Rustogi, both working as journalists for a reputed newspaper in Delhi, both involved in a grave crime like rape she had witnessed herself.
Still, there were mysteries unsolved, and she knew who exactly had all the answers with him.
He dialed her psychiatrist's number, and when he picked up, she asked him for an appointment that evening.
"Make it tomorrow, Yavi. I am out of the station. A seminar, you know."
"Or a celebration for a long yearned victory? You are in Shimla, with Bimla, aren't you, Doc?"
Silence prevailed on the other side.
Yavi felt restless, "Please, Doc. I have done my bit. Don't you think I deserve to find the missing links?"
"How do you know?"
"How do I know what? About you and Bimla? Just a wild guess, you know. She must have known about me, the sleeping pills, my anxiety attacks and the hallucinations, and maybe a lot more. She knew how to exactly approach me, how to push me on the verge of breaking down where I would convince myself to seek your help. And then I saw the initials on your handkerchief. The same printed initials were on the pages she used to write me the messages. B stands for Bimla. I wasn't sure about the K."
"Bimla Kahar, her full name," Dr. Verma spoke, "Bimla and my son...they loved each other. My son killed himself after he came to know what had happened to Bimla. You were the sole eyewitness. But your boyfriend, that rascal, had taken you to a psychiatrist to manipulate with your memories. Yavi, if hypnosis can bring your memories back, it can take away too. Luckily, that psychiatrist, an old friend of mine, saw you at my chamber later when you started consulting me. He told me everything. So see, it's a sheer fortune that we crossed ways. My girl will get her justice now. And my son...we pray he rests in peace," his voice almost choked with tears.
Yavi's phone buzzed for the umpteenth time with a call from Jahan. And yet another time, she rejected. The cab was waiting at a crossing when the driver turned back.
"Madamji, dekho to, I forgot to give you this."
He handed her a drawstring cloth bag.
Yavi moved it from side to side, checking for a name, "Who gave you this?" She was still examining the bag, with hand-crafted applique work all over.
"Malum nahi, madamji. A madamji came and left it for you when you were still at the police station."
Yavi drew the string and opened the bag. Inside it was a tiny bottle with a cork. She removed the cap, and the air instantly filled with the strong aroma as if lavender mixed with fruit pulp. Some bit of it smelt orange, some peach.
Yavi looked out and smiled. The dusk was painting the sky red. Yet another night was arriving with the promise of a new dawn. And promises... are meant to be kept.