Home, Not Alone

Home not alone

“Play something else yaar, I’m sick of Bon Jovi now,” I sighed in exasperation. It was perhaps the millionth time I’d heard Ankit play the same songs from the same album. “Sharanya, you’ve got to train your ears to listen to the beauty of-”, but before he could finish I threw my pillow at him. “No. It’s my life,” I taunted cheekily. “Oh my god, did you just make a Bon Jovi joke? I…”, he said as he placed his hands on his heart and mimicked an exaggerated surprise.

Ankit and I were best friends ever since we were 5. We’d gone to school together and had been neighbours even prior to that. There was not much to do in the eerily quiet Pondicherry locality we lived in. According to Ankit’s grandmother, not much had changed since the time she was a child – the yellow houses with their green shutters, almost fully swallowed by bougainvillaea flowers, retained their charm regardless of the fact that they were constructed over a century ago. The cobbled street still looked as beautiful and inviting as it did when it was first laid out by the French and the high compound walls running along either side of the road were adorned with century-old post boxes and street lamps that even in today’s modern world occasionally saw oil and fire.

Living in such a place, we weren’t like those fortunate enough to have tons of exposure to the rest of the world. That didn’t strip us of our adventurous spirit and we dreamt of seeing every nook and corner a human could visit through our own eyes, just as we’d seen on Instagram throughout our entire life. In fact, next week we would both be off to college in different states – the biggest adventure of our lives!

I tied my wavy hair into a ponytail and lay back on the plush bed in my room. I stared at Ankit as he slid through his playlist searching for another song he could play. “I’ll miss this room so much, I think I may not be able to make it away from home for so long,” I said, as I sunk into my thoughts. Ankit looked bemused and stated, “What’s there to miss? Your room is the most drab thing I’ve seen my whole life. Just a bed, nice windows I’ll admit, but they overlook such an eventless street, a few posters of bands you barely listen to anymore and random designs of… What are they again?”

Of course Ankit didn’t know what they were. I didn’t tell anyone what those streaks of purple and green really were, because of the fact that I was embarrassed about what I did. Given that Ankit and I wouldn’t see each other for a while, I felt overly emotional and chose to confide in him. “Well, you know how I felt after my sister passed away right? How I blamed myself for her death?” Ankit’s face was overcome with solemnity, as his brown eyes pierced through mine empathetically. “A few months after that, I read somewhere about a method of raising the dead’s spirits. My wish to rid myself of the weight on my shoulders was growing stronger with every passing day so I decided to try it. After all, there was really nothing much to lose. It had something to do with drawing those designs and chanting a few slogans at the cue of midnight on some specific day or something. It was a childish urge which obviously did not pan out, but…”, my voice trailed off as I looked outside the windows at the dark, bleak sky.

Ankit got up and came towards me to hold my hand. He nodded slowly as he said, “I hope after all these years, you feel better now. I want you to know that you can talk to me at any time about anything and that I will be there for you, yeah?” I gratefully smiled in acknowledgement.

It was then that things began to go south. The electricity suddenly flickered off and a gush of wind slammed the windows shut. I felt Ankit jump off the bed in fear as I stayed paralysed where I was sitting. It was just the timing of the event that had caught us off guard. “What’s happening?”, I quavered. “Okay, calm down, it must be just another regular electric fluctuation,” Ankit responded. I panicked as I tried to accustom my vision to the dark. A creaking of the floorboards outside my room, presumably near the staircase sent a shiver up our spines. “Ankit? This isn’t funny,” I said praying that it all was a prank. “Sharu, I promise I have no idea what is going on,” he said as he sunk back slowly to hold my hand. The only noise apart from the constant nearing of the creaking floorboards was our rapid fearful breathing.

Our eyes by now had adjusted to the darkness and we saw the doorknob begin to turn slowly. Both of us shut our eyes and screamed in horror only to open our eyes to the sight of my mother coming in with a candle. “Children, children, it’s just me! I shorted the house’s circuits by mistake, it’s okay, do not panic, it’ll be fixed soon,” she said soothingly as she walked towards us and kept the candle by the bedside table. “Oh my, it is stuffy in here!” my mother exclaimed as she went to open the windows.

All of a sudden, the candle went out and the door slammed itself shut all over again. Ankit and I froze in fear, but my mother tried to rationally explain it, “It must have been the wind.” That was when the three of us heard the creaking of floorboards all over again. “Mom, is anyone else at home?” I asked hopefully. My mom sighed and smiled reassuringly as if she suddenly remembered something. She nodded and said, “Oh, of course! Just Rithika, who came back one random midnight a few months after I thought I’d never see her again.”

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