The Morning Cup
The Morning Cup15 mins 462 15 mins 462
Sheena opened the lock of the outhouse with a click and a stale smoky smell hit her senses. She made a face as she stepped into the minimalistic abode that she was coming back to after six months of traveling around. She had been touring across the northern part of India for her latest book’s promotion, but now she was back to her favourite place. She had rented the outhouse around four years back when she had decided to take a plunge as a full-time writer and now after three books published there was no looking back. The outhouse was located in a beautiful and majestic coffee estate nestled in the Western Ghats a few hundred kilometers from Bangalore.
Sheena brushed off the dirt from the sofa and headed towards the kitchen. The dawn was about to break and having traveled in the not-so-comfortable bus, she needed a hot cup of tea. She entered the kitchen as the first rays of the sun touched the window pane, a gentle but hardly perceptible light filled the surroundings.
To her surprise, there was a hot cup of tea next to the stove with a note next to it – “Welcome back”.
She smiled and thought that it had to be the landlady, Mrs. Sudha. She sipped the warm tea from the cup. It had a different smoky flavor. She had just taken a few sips that there was a soft knock on the door.
“Please come in. The door is open”, Sheena said without looking into the direction knowing that it would be the landlady. She squinted outside the kitchen window, while still standing in the kitchen somehow enjoying the weird taste of the tea. The window panes were covered with dust and she really had to strain to look past the brown patchy layer. She thought she saw a pair of eyes staring back but soon assumed perhaps it was her own reflection.
Sheena was startled by the unfamiliar voice.
“You must be Sheena, the famous author”, the owner of the voice was a beautiful young lady standing in the middle of the hall.
“Sorry?” Sheena silently chided herself for not checking before letting the stranger in.
“No…no, I am so sorry. I am Kiara, Mrs. Sudha’s daughter. Returned from the States a few weeks back.” She stood there, picture-perfect against a lackluster backdrop.
Sheena couldn’t help but appreciate the kohl eyes and the auburn tinge of her hair looking angelic against the milky hue of her skin.
Kiara didn’t smile – she had a worried look.
“I have only heard about you. Mrs. Sudha never could stop talking about her talented daughter.” Sheena invited her to sit on the not-so-clean furniture, making a mental note that she needed to make this place liveable after months of gathering dust.
Kiara was silent on hearing her mother’s name.
“She left us a month back for the other world,” Kiara mentioned with grief.
Sheena was taken back by the sadness of this news. Tears instantly blurred her vision and she could barely hold herself together. She got up and embraced the grieving daughter.
“She was so nice. My best buddy when I was here. Can’t imagine, she is no longer with us!” was all she could say.
Sheena couldn’t really do much work for cleaning up her house. Her soul was depressed, and she felt as if a huge loss had overwhelmed her life. She had lost her mother long back and for the past few years, Mrs. Sudha had been her confidante. She was furious with herself that she didn’t send any postcards or write any letters to Mrs. Sudha when she was travelling.
The evening brought in an eerie stillness with no breeze. The milieu was extremely silent with not even a cricket singing nor a leaf moving. Sheena decided to go for a walk before the sun did his last bow. The coffee estate sprawled across acres with her outhouse in one corner and Mrs. Sudha’s huge bungalow at the centre of the plantation. There was a dense forest full of silver oak trees next to her outhouse, a tall boundary guarding against any intruders. A walk within the estate was itself a few kilometres with all kinds of vegetation breaking the monotony of the coffee laden landscape. Sheena threw a shawl over her shoulders to beat the evening chill as she stepped on the stoned path towards the bungalow.
The sound of Sheena’s footsteps echoed and cut though the deafening silence as she moved towards the front of the bungalow. She thought she could meet Kiara and share her grief as the morning meeting had ended quite abruptly when Kiara had rushed back to the bungalow.
A few knocks on the door didn’t yield any response and Sheena realized that indeed it was ajar. As the door creaked open, a soft golden light from the kitchen welcomed her inside.
“Kiara, Are you home?” she spoke to nobody in particular, hope it would reach Kiara.
“Yes, madam” Sheena was startled by a male voice right behind her. It was Ramu, Mrs. Sudha’s driver.
“Hello, Sheena Madam. I saw the light of the outhouse today morning. Good to see you back madam” Ramu continued.
“Umm. Is Kiara there?” Sheena enquired.
“Yes, madam is upstairs but will be here soon. She was planning to go to the temple and I am waiting for her” he answered. “Do you want tea? I will bring some for you from the kitchen. Kiara madam generally makes some”.
Sheena sipped the smoky flavour slowly, liking the bitterness. She looked around – most of the sofas were covered with a white sheet to protect them from the dust. The huge staircase cut through the middle of the hall before transforming into an ornate balcony leading to the various rooms on the first floor. A dull yellow light trickled on the passage that lead to Mrs. Sudha’s room to the left. Sheena wondered how it would be now with the occupant gone.
She felt sad. She looked at the balcony hoping Kiara to come from one of the doors whichever was hers. Instead, she saw Mrs. Sudha standing against the wall, her form, a bit hazy because of lack of light.
Sheena’s hand trembled and a few drops of hot tea spilled charring her skin. She turned around to find Ramu next to the door watching her intently.
“I…I…Did you see there? Sudha aunty”, Sheena quickly got up and pointed towards the balcony.
“Where madam? Must be a figment of your imagination. We would have been really happy if indeed Sudha madam was there. Unfortunately, she is no longer with us.” Ramu said gloomily.
Sheena’s heart hammered as her mind panicked. She was sure she saw somebody, and the form looked like that of Mrs. Sudha, but she didn’t have the courage to find out. She simply put the tea cup on the centre table with a thud and ran towards her outhouse, with Ramu’s voice following her “You have not finished your tea, madam!”
Sheena was tired having run all the way back. She decided to catch up on her sleep, assuming that the lack of it may have been causing her to see what was actually not there. She had to also get back to her writing, the reason of her being there.
A long nap gave Sheena some peace and calm and finally she woke up at middle of the night to the sound of rustling of leaves next to the kitchen window. It may have been an animal trying to break it – it did happen last time when she had put some bananas near the window and some monkeys tried to be mischievous.
With a dull headache, caused by skipping the dinner, Sheena decided to get something to eat. She generally had a well-stocked kitchen, but the house had been shut for the past six months and she doubted anything in her kitchen would be edible at all. Sheena finally got up mustering all the energy and involuntarily looked towards the bungalow which was in her line of sight from her living room window even though her outhouse was quite far from the bungalow. The light in one of the rooms on the first floor was on and she could see a huge shadow standing against the backdrop of bright light. Sheena felt the shape reached till the ceiling which was odd as nobody could ever be so tall. Finally, not trying to make out who would that be, she blamed it to optical illusion, may be the lighting around was playing tricks. With the curtain drawn, she headed towards the kitchen. A familiar smell effervesced from the kitchen and Sheena found a hot thermos of tea on the kitchen shelf with a note kept next to it.
“Fresh tea for you, as you couldn’t finish in the house – K” – the note was written in beautiful handwriting as if somebody had printed it on the paper. Kiara coming in her house was not impossible as Mrs. Sudha had one pair of keys.
As Sheena stood next to the kitchen shelf and poured the tea with the familiar smoky smell in the huge cup, there was a knock at the door. It had to be a miscreant, she thought. Nobody would turn up at midnight, so she decided to ignore. She wanted to feel safe within these walls and nobody could make her step outside inviting unnecessary trouble. The events of the day had jolted her to the core – how could she see something which was no longer there. She never believed in apparition as that was for the weak-minded.
Another knock at the door, followed by one at the kitchen window, confused her. She turned back to check the source of the sound in the kitchen and there they were – a pair of eyes – tired, old, translucent staring at her. She stared back for a second making sure she indeed was not imagining. The pair didn’t blink and slowly the whole face became visible. It was Mrs. Sudha without any doubt.
There was a banging on the front door and with that Mrs. Sudha’s face let out a shriek.
Sheena jumped with fright as she ran towards the main door. She opened it with a jerk and Kiara was standing in front of her – pale and tired.
“I saw somebody around your outhouse. So, came to check,” she said trying to peek inside.
Sheena was panting for breath before she could finally find her voice – “I…I...I saw your mother, from…from my kitchen window”. She stammered goosebumps all over her.
Kiara rushed inside the outhouse towards the kitchen. “There is nobody here. But, I do admit sometimes I too feel that she is next to me. My doc had said that it can happen because of sudden loss.” With this she hugged Sheena tightly to calm her nerves.
Kiara spent that night at Sheena’s house.
It was a calm and serene night with no sound around whatsoever. Finally, after a lot of tossing around, Sheena eyes surrendered to sleep.
The next morning was dull with ominous and dark grey clouds capturing the sky, not letting the sun see the land. Sheena woke up very late because of the disturbing events of the night. Kiara had already left the outhouse by that time and Sheena busied herself with cleaning the house, not letting her mind meander towards what she had seen yesterday.
The clouds were threatening to pour heavily, and Sheena wanted a break from the strenuous work which she had been doing for the past couple of hours. She took her mackintosh and stepped out for a long walk towards the neighbouring estate. She needed to talk to somebody and possibly make a call as her landline was out of service. She decided against going back to the bungalow, her heart still pacing at the very thought of Mrs. Sudha standing next to the balustrade.
The thunder pierced through the thick vegetation on both the sides of the small concrete road that let outside the estate. Sheena speeded up her pace as she approached the gate. There was a small light on in the lone cottage that otherwise looked abandoned with unruly wild plants covering the compound wall.
Sheena had never bothered to meet the neighbours when she was here last time. All she had done was immerse herself in writing and the result had been beautiful and loved by her readers. She attributed her success as an author mostly to this place where her writing skills had burgeoned into successful manuscripts. She had made friends with Mrs. Sudha who used to visit her quite regularly and talk about life in Chikmaglur. She had told that her daughter was well-settled abroad and seldom paid any visits. Mrs. Sudha had been quite close to her daughter till one day she had found a guy, fallen in love and announced that no longer would she stay with her mother. She wanted to build her own house, a life of her own. Sheena knew that Mrs. Sudha was unhappy at the sudden turn of events and Kiara’s thoughtlessness.
Sheena steered through the grass blades that nearly covered the whole of the path, as she moved close to the cottage. She banged the door, now getting restless as rain drops had already started falling. It was late afternoon, but the darkness engulfed the area forcing the sun to call it a day pretty early. She stood in front of the door hoping for a response but there was none. Finally, she noticed that a huge lock adorned the latch.
Sheena was disheartened. She couldn’t walk more, and this meant that today she had to go back to her place or probably visit the bungalow again if she wanted to reach to anybody outside. Or if she could get hold of Ramu, the driver, she can go past the wilderness into the town and try to contact or may just board a bus back to Bangalore.
Sheena was not sure if she was overreacting. All this could just be a figment of her imagination, after all, Kiara had also said that the doc had mentioned she may be hallucinating because of the sudden loss of her mother. This instilled some confidence in her and she started her journey back to the outhouse in the rain and under the shield of her raincoat. If not anything this walk had cleared her head and she found herself looking forward towards starting her new book. Thoughts started jumping inside her creative brain and stories started taking shapes. She could not wait to reach her place and switch on her computer.
With this in mind, Sheena found herself near to her outhouse soon and she unlatched her door, she found a form similar to Mrs. Sudha approaching her. She was transfixed with fear at the possibility of an apparition. She wanted to run away but she was rooted at the spot, her mouth wanted to scream but no voice came from inside.
“Sheena” – the form spoke in a hoarse voice. It was now next to her and it was Mrs. Sudha.
Sheena thought she would faint. She was drenched in sweat and her body was shivering at what she saw. Mrs. Sudha’s eyes had very dark rings and her cheekbones looked very prominent. Her lips were greyish, and she didn’t look less than a cadaver.
“Sheena”, Mrs. Sudha repeated expecting a response.
“Are you alive?” Sheena said in a whisper not sure if the voice reached to Mrs. Sudha at all.
“I need your help. Please Sheena. I am very happy that you are here.” Mrs Sudha said and with this she opened the door to the outhouse, pushing Sheena inside. Sheena felt like a zombie moving towards destruction.
“They are after me” Mrs. Sudha whispered, looking around as if trying to find somebody.
Sheena looked at Mrs. Sudha with all her courage. She looked very much alive. She was confused why Kiara had mentioned that her mother was dead. Was there any misunderstanding or was it foul play? she wondered.
“Who is after you?” she inquired hoping to find an answer.
“I cannot tell you like this. You will not believe me. I have called my doctor also. I want him here too so that you believe me. I have been waiting for you for the past four hours. Where were you? ” Mrs. Sudha asked.
“I had gone to ask for help…” Sheena started explaining but their conversation was interrupted by a loud knock at the door.
“Mrs. Sudha, are you in here?” It was the doctor.
Sheena opened the door. The doctor had a worried look.
“She should not be roaming around that too in this weather. She is not well. She has not slept for days.”
“But I want to talk to both of you.” Mrs. Sudha insisted. Sheena became a bit restless just looking at Mrs. Sudha. Her sight was not pleasing to her eyes and she wanted her to go back to the bungalow. She wanted to clear her mind, think, go over the incidents before any conversation with Mrs. Sudha.
‘Why did Kiara say she was no longer with us. It didn’t make any sense.’ Sheena wondered again.
“Mrs. Sudha, you need to rest now, and I will again visit late in the evening. Why don’t we talk then? I am not going anywhere. I have a car and I will come again. I have to attend another emergency right now.” the doctor told the old lady sweetly but assertively. “Another few hours will not harm.”
“I agree with the doctor. Please.” Sheena agreed.
“I would like to have Sheena as well with us when we talk.” Mrs. Sudha looked at the doctor with solemn eyes, her eye sockets even more prominent in the evening light.
“I assure you,” said the doctor and hurried out indicating Sheena to accompany him.
“You need to be careful. She has hallucinations that she sees her dead daughter.” The doctor said to Sheena.
“Dead daughter?” Sheena repeated, shocked.
“Yes, Kiara died a month ago when she met with a car accident. Mrs. Sudha’s driver who I think was called Ramu, was on the wheels. It was an instantaneous death for both of them. Since then, Mrs. Sudha has lost her composure. She says her daughter leaves a cup of tea for her every day. The tea has a weird bitter flavour the way Kiara used to like.” he continued while walking towards the car which was in the driveway next to the outhouse.
Sheena didn’t move. She was glued to the spot, her breath stuck in her throat and her head felt light on her shoulders.
The doctor did not look back. He opened the car door and sat at the backseat, giving Sheena a comforting look from the window. The car purred to life and Sheena’s gaze followed the sound. The car crawled a few inches as Sheena saw Ramu staring at her from the driver’s seat, an eerie smile transfixed as he drove the doctor away.