'Rooomaa..do you know this place is haunted?' Sabreena calls it time-out as she stands in the middle of the deserted street with her hand on her knees panting like a dog and looking around scanning the area with her shrunk eyes.
'So you believe in the stories?' Roma laughed walking further.
'Stop!' Sabreena cries behind her falling on her bum and then immediately giving up whatever energy was left in her. She spreads herself in the middle of the street not fearing about anything that may come and hit her. Although her throat was drying up and sun was testing her migraine but she felt better. With her arms wrapping her eyes, she lay there motionless.
'Come on Sabreena. Don't give up.' Roma calls out from the distance but Sabreena shows no external signs to prove to her that she is alive. Only when Roma crawled towards her on seeing her belly bloat in and bloat out with a hissing of breath hurriedly escaping her nostrils, she felt relieved. She slumps beside Sabreena on the muddy street in a fussy way, the particles of dust frizzled out from below her seat, twisted up in the air and choked Sabreena. She immediately sat up coughing violently.
'Sooorrryy..' Roma felt guilty.
Sabreena stares at her. Her eyes red and watering with the allergy.
'I think we should leave. The more we relax the lazier we will feel.' Roma suggested.
'You are right but I am thirsty and I don't have energy. Don't you think we should wait for some help.' Sabreena's voice was heavy. She began coughing the moment she finished.
'Look around my dear...do u think in a place like this we can get any help?'
Sabreena and Roma both looked around together but in different direction. And all their eyes could measure was the emptiness. There was mud, lots of mud.Mud on the street .Mud coating on the dilapidated house. Mud that killed the greens and turned everything barren.But inside Sabreena wished,'what if from that muddy broken door a mud colour dog pops out and surprises them. How wonderful it would be to have a company.' The thought was pleasant but reality was like cactus. The only living thing beside them.
Unwillingly, she gets up. Brushes dust off from her dress and reaches her hand out to Roma to help her get up.
'By the way why are we heading in this direction?' Sabreena enquires.
'My sixth sense tells me that this is the right way from where we can get help.' Sabreena stops listening to her and gave Roma an annoying stare.
'It's a joke baba.' Roma giggles squeezing Sabreena's palm which she let go of immediately with a jerk.
'I am in no mood for your nonsense.' She paused breathing heavily.
'When our friends have gone in that direction, then what makes you think that walking in opposite way will be better.'
'Because I had noticed a petrol bunk sign board when we were taking a turn. And to me the distance seemed close. May be from there we can get a mechanic and you can get water.'
Roma displayed her unaligned yellow teeth when Sabreena glanced at her. Further she made no silly excuse and they began walking silently.
For Roma to keep quiet for long was a challenge. It is one of the oddest of her trait where she feels as if she is going to faint if she does not speak for long. And Sabreena however, was right contrast to her. Her throat was drying up and her stomach was growling giving her a sick feeling. If Roma indulges her in a conversation which is very difficult for her to refrain from, then she thinks she might fall right on the road and not know a bit of the world around her. In that case what would Roma do? Would she leave her all alone and walk away? The thought was dreadful and it sent shivers down her spine. Or, will she drag her to the destination? Which doesn't seemed practical.
'Hey, what's wrong with you?' Roma gave an eye of concern to her friend. She grabs her arms tightly, 'Stop shaking.' She said.
'I m fine.' Sabreena lied.
' Doesn't look like.'
'Yes, I am. Was just thinking about the ghost.' The lie prompted out immediately from the fear of being mocked at for the foolish thought she was having. And Sabreena was in no state to bare an insult.
' Who told you about the ghost?'
'What did she say...that an old man who couldn't bare the news of his daughter's death jumped before an approaching vehicle and killed himself. Then this should be the same street where it happened... where we are walking. And that his spirit messed with the life of the people living around here so much that they ran for their life and the whole village shifted somewhere else.'
'Oh! Thats news for me.' Sabreena said a little entusiastically. 'You seem to have extra knowledge because as per what I've been told that I should stay alert and not speak to strangers. Somehow,I was not made aware of the past but yes I was definitely warned. And hey..isn't it the reason why you've got us here?'
Roma laughed but said nothing, that grew suspicion in Sabreena's mind.
'You know your unwanted thrill can land us in trouble someday. What ...someday...it has already landed us in trouble. First you don't have enough practice in riding motorbike. Then you risk our life taking this deserted muddy route...then..'
'Oh calm down my lobi dobi...I knew the route was empty so it would be easier for me to ride.'
'But then the truck came,'
'How would I know about the truck?' Roma reacted a bit furiously.
'Its not about the truck. Its about how you got scared and went out of control.'
'Hey, are you hurt?' Roma felt guilty again.
'Luckily, no. But yes, I want to go back home soon. I don't want to go anywhere with you anymore.' And while saying this Sabreena burst into tears. 'Oh this scratch on my arm is burning. I won't forgive you for it.'
Sabreena's state was making Roma feel terrible because she is one to be blamed but what had happened had happened and she can do nothing about it. All now she has to focus on, is how they can get some help. And for that they have to take little more trouble and reach to the main road. From there if they are lucky enough to find a phone booth then they would call up home and inform their parents about their situation. May be her father can get her bike picked up before someone steals it. 'That would be better.' Roma tells herself as they kept walking.Although on outside she was not hurt but her head was aching on inside. 'A cup of tea at home would do good' and the hope of having it rekindled the dying energy inside her that kept her on her feet.
After few minutes of non-stop silent walk, Sabreena said, 'can you hear it?'
'No....wait...yes. Infact I can see them.'
Sabreena looks in the direction where Roma was pointing her finger at.
'Should we ask them?'
'Didi...yahan mechanic ...garage..kahan hoga?'
The ladies looked at each others face as if they were strange to the language of mechanic and motor.'
'Didi..gaadi ka mistri..' Roma tried to explain. The ladies nodded with the face half hidden by the duppata on their head and the edge of dupatta tucked tight between their teeth.
'We know nothing about what you saying. Get out of our way, we need to reach home fast. It is going to be dark soon and you girls should leave too.'
'Shoo..'.the other woman jerks her friends arm.
'Lets go.' She said.
'Its not safe..leave quickly.' The woman screamed as they began to walk.
'Where are you heading to? ' Roma enquired.
'To the next village.' Although not very far but still Roma couldn't understand why the woman was shouting.
'Can we get a gaadi over there that can ride us home?'
'Thanks.' Sabreena said pulling Roma by her arms.
'Are you sure the spirit is of a male?' Sabreena began walking briskly.
'Yes...that's what I am told.'
'Good then. Cause I had enough for the day.'
'What say ...should we ask the shepherd who is coming?'
'No.' Sabreena didn't even raised her head up.' Remember he could be anything.' She warned.
Roma laughed thinking how silly Sabreena was behaving. But you don't see ghosts like that is what she thought and waived at the shepherd.
'Do you know from where we can get a mechanic. Our bike skidded in the mud and we need help.'
'Oh ho.' He looks at them with pity. 'Wait, my son is coming, he will help you out.'
Roma took a sigh of relief.' Thanks,' she said nudging Sabreena with her elbow and she stretches a fake smile at him.
'Look, here he comes. Babu take them to Pannu ki dukaan.' The man asked his son, who in his first appearance appeared to them like a shy child. Roma doubted if he can really help.
'You can tell us the route, we will walk on our own.' Roma insisted.
'Madam this is a lonely area, I insist you take him along.'
' Do se bhale teen( three better than two)' Sabreena murmured and they began following the boy.
'So Babu...how far is your Pannu ka dukaan?' Roma enquired.
'Not very far didi. A kilometer to max.'
'Great.' Roma cheered feeling hopeful.
Babu went quiet immediately and Sabreena looked not interested. If they could indulge in some kind of conversation then may be their way would get shorter is what Roma thought and she initiated one.
'So Babu tell me...what's the story behind this village. I mean...why are people behaving so odd..asking us to leave before its dark?'
Roma opted to go with the ghost story because it would add thrill to the trying journey.
'I know nothing about it didi.' He said his head still bowed down.
'I came to know that this place is haunted by spirit of an old man looking for his dead daughter. He used to knock every home at night, asking for her, which forced the villagers to fled .'
'Oh ..that..its an old tale. I don't know the truth behind it. But that definitely attracts lots of tourists. Are you one of them?'
Roma and Sabreena giggled, ' yes, you can say so.' Roma said.
'Then I am sure you must have read the sign before entering the area. It says,'DO NOT STAY AFTER SUNSET.'
'Yes I read that.' Sabreena said. 'But is it really haunted is what I am curious to know?'
'It is didi..but not with the spirit of old man. See, we are almost near the dukaan. There you can get a doctor too who can give you first aid.'
'Thanks.' Roma said.' So what were you saying?'
'Nothing that important didi.' And he points them in the direction where bulbs were twinkling. 'That's Pannu ki dukaan. Tell him my name and he will arrange everything.'
'So sweet of you Babu.'
'Thanks dear,' Sabreena said.
'You can go now, from here we will manage.'
Babu smiled turning around then something clicked to him and he turns back again.
'Didi,' he calls them.
Few years ago, there were a group of friends, basically tourists like you people who were out for an adventure ride in this haunted village and met with an accident. People say they were hit by a truck. Four of the friends were unhurt and left immediately but there were two girls who died on the spot. I heard they had no visible injury. Strange, isn't it? That time my brother was in the van that took them to the hospital and on reaching there the doctor declared them brought dead. He said it was because of shock. Didi, I would say you are lucky that you are out before dark otherwise it is said that the girls can be seen after dark and they knock each and every door asking people to help them tp get home. That is what made villagers to leave their home too. Ok didi..I think I should leave now, Baba must be waiting for me. But please don't get scared and don't talk to strangers. Since we are out of the danger zone I thought I would tell you everything. God forbid if the girls would have heard me telling you their story, they would haunt me all my life. So take care didi, I better leave.
'Sure Babu,' Roma smiled.
'Thanks once again,' Sabreena said.
'Oh Roma, what did you do?' Sabreena cries pulling herself out of the weight of the bike. Her arms were hurting. Roma wriggles beside her. Although Sabreena was on verge of loosing her consciousness but somehow she managed to pull her friend out.
'Are you okay?' Sabreena was worried.
'Yes, I am okay but my bike doesn't look okay.'
'I think we need to get a mechanic.'
'Where would we find one?'
'May be we should ask the shepherd?'
'We should not talk to strangers, Roma. Ritu warned me before coming.'
'Great. But I think we can talk to his son then. Do you remember him?'
'Babu.... ofcourse I do.......'