The chirping of the birds on the lone tree near the door rose to a shrill cry as he turned the key into the lock. A thousand things played on his mind as his gaze caught a rather dreary looking cat jumping over the wall and disappearing on the other side. A few ruddy looking chicken played hopscotch nearby. Not the kind of neighborhood that he would want to stay in, but real estate was pricey. This was the only setup he could get. Afford.
I hate empty rooms. I have always hated them. They don’t scare me; they only make me uncomfortable. I remember the first time they had asked me to stay in one; I had probably been around seven years old. Young enough to be not taken seriously, old enough to remember every detail. It was in my mother’s village and we had gone there to attend a funeral. My parents decided to stay in one room and asked me to sleep in the other one which was vacant. I had decided not to complain and sleep in it. I slept pretty well and woke up to a bright and fresh morning. Everything was perfect; until the moment I overheard some elders saying that it was the same room that Shashi chacha committed suicide three days ago.
The room opened up and drowned him in a sea of dampness. He stood for a while surveying the place. The landlord, it seemed, had tricked him. Nothing complicated though. He had told him that the room would be his. Only his. And here he was, standing, looking at someone else’s luggage. He was sure that the house had been sold to the other guy with the same assurance. There was no use fighting about it; he just might lose the only abode that he had finally managed to get. He would have to figure it out with his new found roommate. He was a little disappointed. But more than that, he was happy. It wasn’t an empty room.
While growing up I always avoided empty rooms. They always reminded me of the room that I had spent the night in at the village. Once, during recess, as we played hide and seek, I went and hid in one of the empty unused classes. Some kid noticed it and latched the door from the outside. I screamed for about half an hour before fainting. The next memory I had was of four hours later, sitting with my parents’ worried expressions boring down on me. Obviously, I did not tell them anything.
“Hello! Will you be sharing my room?” a voice called out behind him as he stood there with his bag still slung over his shoulder. He turned around to see a decently built guy, sparse hair and smooth expression in place, standing at the door looking straight at him. “The other guy”, he thought. Half his problem seemed to have been solved. The other guy had taken him to be his roommate without even being asked. The landlord had probably given him a different story. No problems.
“Yes, looks like it”, he said finally, after doing a quick run through in his head. He would stick in now, and ask the landlord later. Not that he was complaining about the room not being empty. But the matter had to be sorted, sooner or later.
After we came back from the village, I could never sleep alone again. My mother never figured out the reason but she made it a point to sleep with me everyday. One night, she promised she would come in a bit. She was crying for some strange reason. She never did.
Did I tell you I hate lies?
I went and confronted the landlord, just as the sun decided to splash out of sight in the distance and drowned the whole place in darkness.
“What are you saying? There is no one in that house! The last guy who was living there passed away some two years back. Nice chap he was, well fed, looked from a good family! What a loss!”
I did not say anything. Strange, you might add. But I will tell you what bothered me now. If he was not staying there, it only meant that I was the only one. It also meant there was no one staying with me, which was kind of obvious. I tried my level best to take the supernatural angle out of it.
It meant the room was empty.
He slapped his knee, throwing back his head in a jerk and laughed. “ He told you I was a ghost?” he asked, eyes shining.
“Yes” I said defiantly. I was not used to having spirits laughing at me.
“And this guy, you said, rented you this house. His name was…let me remember, Manohar?”
“Ofcouse!” I replied, starting to feel a little irritated with his behavior now.
“The wit of that guy! Why don’t we go along and have a quick chat with him yes? Let him say that on my face! I hate people calling me a ghost behind my back!”
We walked to the door of the house where I had the conversation with my landlord the previous evening. He went boldly and knocked the door. A lady, in her mid fifties came out. He folded his hands and greeted her. She returned the greeting.
“Doesn’t look like she thinks I am a ghost unless she is one herself!” he whispered in my ear and asked her loudly, “Manohar ji hain?”
She nodded her head and seemed to looked through me. Then she looked straight at me and questioned at length “ Did he ask you to go and stay with this boy?”
“Yes” I replied, a little bewildered. “ I met him about three days ago at the very spot where we are standing!”
“He prabhu!” She said and looked up, paying her respects to someone in the skies. “ It’s high time he stops renting out the house to people when its already occupied!”she sighed.
“After all, it’s already been five years since he passed away!”
[ Another successful writer's meet down. New writers, newer writing, an overcast sky, the steps at Habitat Center...if you are in Delhi, you wouldnt want to miss this!The story above was written to the prompt of "an empty room". Also, add Disturbia and Devil's Advocate to the weekend affairs. More writing soon!]