Copyright © 2018 Anubha Mehta
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PART 1: The Vagaries of Fate
The darkness was chilling my bones. There was not a single star in the pitch black sky. It must have been past midnight when I tossed in bed one more time, enveloped in an odd uneasiness. The light from the electric lantern that hung in the veranda was dancing on my bedroom door. Wizards, elephants, knights. But none could rescue me from the silent shadows inside. Even the garden crickets were silent, as if in anticipation of my decision.
Finally, exasperated by my lack of sleep, tucking my shoulders snugly under the folds of my shawl, I stepped out onto the lighted veranda. In spite of the heaviness in the air, out of nowhere, a strange wind had picked up. The wind’s whispers brought with it the fragrance of jasmine, which was in full bloom between the shrubs.
For a moment only, an insipid moon dribbled from behind a dense cloud. I stretched my hand over the edge of the veranda, where the concrete steps met the garden, to feel for rain. But there was none. I plunged into the cane settee, trying to focus on the winding croton stems, but my concentration was broken by a strong chilly draught flying between the cement grills and heading straight towards the muslin drapes of my open bedroom. Spellbound, I followed it in and lay down.
In the darkness the whispers grew louder. It was a frail, feminine voice, almost an echo, calling out from the dark corners under my bed. I shivered and sat bolt upright.
Was someone there?
I strained my ears and this time I heard the words, distant but clear, “Mayaaa … Veeeer.”
The hair on the back of my neck rose. I did not blink and I could not move. It was definitely the voice of a woman. Within moments she started laughing. Her deep, throaty laugh pulled me into a murky bottomless pit. I couldn’t breathe. As I dug my nails into the edges of my bed to keep from falling, its wooden splinters pierced my figures. A heavy blanket of stillness descended from above and with it came a stench of rotten eggs.
And then from the corner of my room, behind the muslin drapes, she rose.
Merely a grey drift. But I saw her.
Her long black hair blew over her beautiful ashen face as her dark eyes looked directly at me. She wore an jade green dress with a peacock feather on her sash.
Oh! I had seen that face before, the colour of her skin, the curve of her jaw, those large doe eyes … yes, I am sure of it.
In a flash she started circling my head, working up to an angry frenzy. Her hair knotted up around her bloodshot eyes and her face turned green like fungus.
I was trapped. I had to get out. Through my tears I saw her reaching for my wrists. My palms were drenched in dark terracotta henna designs of vines and flowers that were to bring luck for the bride, but, instead, their tentacles slithered from the centre of my palm, winding their way around my throat. With the very last breath of life left in me, I moaned, “Help!”
Suddenly, the wind died down and I opened my eyelids. A divine smell of sandalwood replaced the
earlier vile odour. I sat up. What a terrible nightmare. So real, so close, so sinister.