"What have you done to yourself Aliya!"
Mom was shocked to see me as I returned home a day prior to the New Year's Eve party. Her concerned eyes slid through my weary face, swollen eyes and dark circles around them.
"It's because of work, Mom." I said as I stepped into the parlour and seated myself on the sofa, "I have to work for hours at a stretch to be able to meet the deadlines. And in the bargain, I didn't get much time to sleep. That's why...!"
"Promise me Aliya that you will sleep at least 8 hours a day, otherwise I am not going to let you go back to that hellish office of yours in Mumbai." Mom said as she jumped next to me on the sofa, " How am I supposed to get you married when you look 50 in place of your 25 years."
"I promise you that I will never keep up till late Mom," I said as I smiled. "In fact, it is my new year resolution too."
"Thank God!" Mom heaved a sigh of relief and said as she made her way to the kitchen, "have a bath quickly and come down for dinner. And then make it straight to the bed. No more late night movies."
I cuddled under the warm comfort of my quilt after having a sumptuous dinner both of which aided sleep to find it's way towards me. I didn't even know when I drifted into sleep.
I saw myself as a girl of 5 roaming about in a palatial house.
"Ashish," I called out smilingly, "where are you? I am coming for you."
I ascended the stairs and walked into a long corridor. There were many bedrooms on either side of the corridor. The door of one of the bedrooms was slightly ajar. My eyes twinkled at the sight. I flashed a knowing smile as my eyes became riveted to the door. I tip-toed towards the bedroom and peeped in through the door. The room had gaunt green coloured wallpaper fixed on it's walls. The words "RAIN" was printed in white all over it. I saw a tall and sturdy man in the room who was tapping on the bricks of the wall. He heaved a sigh and I saw relief flooding his face as he assured himself of something. I couldn't make out what it was. Suddenly his blood shot atrocious eyes turned to me and I woke up gasping out of terror.
"What a dream it was!" I said as I struggled to catch my breath.
It was already 6 a.m. and from the noises coming from the kitchen downstairs I could easily decipher that Mom has begun her preparations for the party tonight. The dream came again to my mind as I was brushing my teeth. That house seemed too familiar to me but I had no idea where it was.
'And the name 'Ashish,' I thought as I stepped into the bath tub, 'that too seems familiar. But then, there is no person named Ashish whom I know.'
'Why was the word 'Rain' printed on the wallpaper?' I thought as I absent-mindedly stirred my tea the three of us were having breakfast.
"Have it before it cools down." Mom's voice jolted me out of my thoughts.
"Mom," I said, "I had a really strange dream last night."
"What was it about?" Mom stared me quizically.
I told her everything that I saw in my dream.
"Oh, don't you remember Ashish?" Mom smiled, "he was your friend during your childhood days. It was his house you are talking about."
"How can you be so sure Mom?" I was absolutely baffled.
"Because of the wallpaper."
"Wallpaper?" I looked at her in utter disbelief, "but how?"
"You said the word "Rain" was printed on it right?"
"Hmm" I nodded.
"Rain' stands for Rajeev and Ina - Ashish's parents. They got the first two letters of their names printed on the wallpaper of their bedroom."
"Oh, I see," I smiled back at Mom as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
"They were one of the happiest couple I have ever seen." Mom smiled but then her face fell, "until Rajeev suffered a huge loss in his business and took refuge in liquor. Ina tried to pull him back but he was not willing to. They started having fights every day and then..."
"What happened Mom?" I was pertified by the intense look on her face.
"Ina went missing one day."
"What happened to Rajeev Uncle and his son?"
"Ashish is a software engineer and is well settled in the US but Rajeev is in a mental health center."
"Who lives in their house now?"
"Nobody," Mom let out a dolorous sigh, "Rajeev wants to sell the house through your Dad's Real Estate Agency.
"Can I see the house Dad?"
"Why?" Dad smiled, "do you want to buy it?"
"I don't know, Dad." I shrugged. "But I have a feeling that the dream was trying to convey something to me."
"Let's find out."
The three of us set out for the house. Dad stopped the car in the lawn in front of the house and we stepped down. Dad turned the key into the locked and ushered me in leaving me absolutely bewildered. The house was exactly the same as I have seen in my dreams. I ran up the stairs closely followed by my parents. I walked straight towards the third bedroom on the right side of the corridor that I have seen in my dreams. Dad opened it for me and a chill ran down my spine as I read the word 'Rain' printed on the green wall paper which has faded as the years passed by and became coated with thick layers of dust. I walked straight to the wall opposite to door and tapped on the brick as I had seen in my dreams. The wall was hollow.
"Dad," I said as I turned to him, "there is something inside it."
On my insistence, Dad called some labourers and they broke the wall. Inside it we found a skeleton. Dad immediately called the police and they took it for a forensic analysis. Their report revealed that it was that of Rajeev Uncle's wife. On being questioned, he confessed killing his wife in a fit of rage when she cajoled him to quit drinking. As he was mentally unstable, police couldn't take any action against him. Ashish was called back home for her cremation according to the rituals.
"Thanks," Ashish said as he shook hands with me before going back, "I have been worrying about my mother since the day she went missing. Finally, you have found an answer."
"Don't worry Ashish," I patted him on the shoulder, "her soul has found peace now."
He gulped down a lump and stepped into his car. He looked out and waved us all a good bye before driving off.