Silence

by: Yasir Sulaiman

Hi everyone. This post is different. It is a short story or rather or part of a book that I have published. The book is available on Amazon in the name of “Who is there”. But it is poorly formatted and hence didn’t do well.

Request everyone to read this story and share it if you feel it is worth. I have been working day and night and am sick right now. Any small contribution in the form of funds will be welcome. You can forward it to DailyWisdomWords in my name. A part of it will be given for charity. Please do support. Here goes…..

The story begins…….

Payal watched out of the window of the car, that they were travelling in as her little brother of 10, Purab slept beside her, with his legs on Payal’s lap and his head on their’s mother’s, who was alos seated in the back seat. Mr. Sourabh Khanna sat in the front along with the driver of the company cab that they were travelling in. No one spoke a word to each other, as they made the journey. This wasn’t a trip they wished for and was in fact a trip of compulsion. Payal went back to staring out of the window and got lost in her thoughts, as she thought of the incidents of the previous week.

Being a small family with just the four of them, they were living a humble yet cheerful life in Nagpur in the state of Maharashtra. Payal was a girl of 14 years old who was just completing her 8th grade and her brother Purab, about to enter his 5th grade this year. They both studied in a government school, as their father worked as a supervisor in a government factory supplying ammunition to the armed forces. Their mother, Mrs. Preethi Sharma was a housewife, with being a beautiful one at that. The four of them together were one perfect small family living their lives with gaiety, until a week back…

Mr Sourabhh Khanna had returned home tense one evening, after his day at work. He had harshly knocked on the closed door and when Mrs. Khanna opened it, he just threw the briefcase that he was carrying, to one side and slumped on their sofa, closing his eyes. When Mrs. Preethi saw Payal and Purab watching their father with fright, she asked the both of them to go to their rooms, as she wanted to speak with their father privately. Not wishing to argue, Payal and Purab did as they were told and retreated to their rooms. But with their curiosity overpowering their obedience, the both of them attempted to listen to the conversation between their parents, through their bedroom door which they had left slightly open.
They were further shocked when they saw their parents get into a verbal brawl after a few moments and scream at each other. Yet they couldn’t understand what was being spoken. All they could make out was a few words of them ‘moving away’, ‘another school’ and ‘good place’. Though the brother and sister couldn’t make out the meaning of those words, they stared in confusion at each other. ‘Were they moving? Why? What did this mean?’

Just then, they had to move back as their mother came storming towards their room. As Payal and Purab moved away from the door, Mrs. Preethi swung it open and went towards their cupboard. Both the children got more bewildered when they noticed that, their mother was crying. Payal went closer to her and asked, “What happened Ma?” Mrs. Preethi replied amidst sobs, “Pack your bags. We are leaving next week from here.”

“Why? Where are we going?” Payal asked, almost on the brink of tears. Later when their mother’s tears subsided, they learnt the entire truth. Their father, Mr. Sourabh Khanna was a honest person who believed in certain principles and did his work with a lot of sincerity. He couldn’t tolerate any form of betrayal or corruption. So when such a man discovered that some people in his factory were meddling with the raw materials that they used in the factory, to produce goods at a lower rate, he was outraged! He immediately took punitive action against them, and got them suspended until an inquiry was complete. But unfortunately for him, he was hit back with his own sword. This was because the men whom he had got suspended, were influential with some political acquaintances. As a result the hunter became the prey and Mr. Khanna got punished instead. But owing to his superb record and invaluable experience, his seniors weren’t willing to suspend him despite orders from their bosses. But they had to do so, to save their own skin. So they found a middle way and got him transferred instead.
As Mr. Khanna told his wife this much, she didn’t react much as she felt there was more to come. And she was right! The main crux of their plight was not on Mr. Khanna getting transferred; it was where he was getting transferred to. As they were living in government quarters, they had to move wherever Mr. Khanna got transferred to. They were comfortable with the place that they currently resided in, and hoped that any new place that they had to move to, would be as good or at least close to it. But they were in for a shock, as the place that Mr. Khanna got transferred to was a remote village named Badnera! It was a tiny place on the outskirts of Nagpur which, very few would have even heard of until now. And, the only sign of development in that area was the government factory over there, where half of its residents worked and a hospital with some shops near it, selling some basic amneties. Now they all had to move there. Mrs. Preethi and the children vehemently protested against this, but they were helpless and finally, they succumbed to fate and began their journey, not knowing what their future had in store for them.

*-*-*-*-*

Payal thought about all that, as she sat in the car now. Purab was too young to keep it in mind for long and after his initial dejection of leaving his school and friends, he forgot about it and instead was filled with excitement, in thinking how their new home would be.But Payal on the other hand, never felt so bad, ever before in her life. She was born in their previous home and studied in the same school until now. The friends in her school were the only friends she ever knew and the only friends she ever had. Now she had to leave all of them and go to some unknown place and live among unknown people. But she couldn’t do anything about it now and her disapproval wouldn’t change anything. So finally accepting defeat, she did all that she could do now; wait and hope that her new home too would be a beautiful one.

“We have reached, saab!” The driver of the car announced, as the pulled into a small colony. The colony was a small one, mostly filled with government quarters, as this is where the staff of the factory stayed. As the family stared at the new place that they were going to live in, the same thought crossed the mind of each one of them. This place was…weird. Nevertheless, they still couldn’t place what exactly they found strange here. Like the rest of the village, it too was small with very few homes and shops and very poor infrastructure. But there was nothing surprising about that, as it would be something that anyone would expect in a small place like this.

That was not the reason, and there was something else about this place. As all of them thought about it, Purab surprised them by suddenly remarking, “This place is very…quiet!”

‘That’s it!’ Payal thought. ‘That’s why this place seems weird. This place was just too silent. If anyone walked around closing their eyes, he or she wouldn’t have known that there was even life here in the first place. The few people they saw on the way spoke to each other only in whispers. There was not a single sound of a television or radio being played anywhere. People even walked slowly, so that their footsteps don’t create noises. And strangest of them all, was the fact that their car was the only vehicle in the area! There were no other vehicles, be of any size and thus no motor sounds too.

Mr. Khanna was thinking alone the same lines, but he didn’t wish to show it openly, as he felt this would not only elevate his wife and children’s disliking for the place, but also instill a new fear in them. He tried to bring humor to the scene and at least assure himself that everything was okay, by remarking, “What is this? No one lives here or what? Guess we have the whole place to ourselves now. Lucky, aren’t we?”

But no one laughed and Sourabh silently let the moment pass. Within moments, the driver announced, “We reached your home, sir!”

After waking up Purab, they all got out of the house and scanned their new home. The first reaction of their minds was to go blank, as they didn’t know how to react. This was nothing like any of them had expected. Even Sourabh was startled. He had been informed that as there were no vacant quarters left, he would be provided a private house to stay and the rent and other expenses would be met by the necessary authorities. But this!

Sourabh, Preethi and their children stared at the house in front of them. It was more than a house; it was actually nearly a palace. After Mr. Sourabh Khanna tipped the driver of the cab and unloading their luggage, the driver left in his cab as the family stepped up the pedestal to their new home. After saying a short prayer, Mr. Khanna placed his hand on the door know and tried to open the door. But it didn’t budge. Placing down the bag that he was carrying, he placed both his hands on the door knob and applied more pressure, partly leaning against the door.

In a snap the door opened, thus making Mr. Khanna fall forward, as it swung into the house. Getting back to his feet, Mr. Khanna dusted his pants and shirt as he surveyed the room that they entered. The children suddenly shrieked in fright as they heard a loud wail and something passed them. Again they stared in awe, as the front room was a huge hall with it’s ceiling at least 50 feet high. It was wide too with the hall again measuring 50 feet in length and breadth. There were three rooms on either side with their doors shut. In the centre of the hall, there was a wide stair way which ascended to the top floor.

“Wow! Cool!” Purab commented as he ran across the hall to check the rooms one by one. “Well here we are.” Sourabh said with a smile, which Preethi did not replicate as she was still mad at her husband, and she still didn’t approve of the new place they were in. Even so, she had to admit that the house was good; infact it was too good though it did appear a bit spooky as it was an old building and the paint on the walls looked very shaded. Hence she didn’t say anything, but just silently helped her husband place their baggage carefully in a room. As the rest of them got busy in their own way, Payal too went around finding something to do. As she carried her small personal bag filled with some of her books with her, she decided to find a room for herself. Keeping in mind that the rest of the family was surveying the rooms on this floor, she decided to check out the rooms upstairs.

Payal slowly climbed up the stairway, with her bag clung to her back. The hair at the back of her neck stood up, as she was momentarily taken aback by the creaking sounds the stairs made, while she climbed on them. Then finally reaching the summit, Payal gazed around for a while, before walking across the line of rooms that were there. She took an entire circle across the upper hall, when she noticed a narrow corridor leading to somewhere more inside, at one corner of the hall. She cautiously walked towards the entrance of the corridor and glanced inside. It was completely dark, with nothing being visible. Payal felt the walls with her fingers searching for any switch and when she finally got one, she flicked it on. Three overhead bulbs immediately got lit and though were dim, cast enough light for anyone to pass through. At the end of the corridor, Payal saw another door. With many questions in her mind and her curiosity gaining, Payal set her foot forward towards it. Just then, she heard her mother calling her asking where she was. She ran back to the summit of the stairs and informed her mother that she was upstairs.

“Did you find a room for yourself?” Mrs. Preethi asked her daughter.

“I…” Payal looked around in confusion not knowing what to say. Then her eyes fell on the room that was next to the mysterious corridor that she had just seen. She immediately made up her mind and replied, “Yes ma, I have found one. “
“Good.” Mrs. Preethi went on. “Then come down and help me arrange your things. First have some food. We can take your things up there, later.”

“Okay ma, I am coming.” With one last glance at the dark corridor, Payal ran downstairs.

*-*-*-*-*

It took them until night to arrange each member’s individual belongings separately. After this they had to arrange each member’s belongings in the respective rooms that they had chosen. Payal and Purab got their individual rooms, while Mr and Mrs. Khanna shared a master bedroom upstairs. One blessing in disguise for them was that all the rooms were already furnished, with cupboards, sofa sets and beds.. Thanks to that, they didn’t have to purchase any new furniture and all they had to do was to arrange their things in order, on the already placed there. Finally all work was completed by night, sparing Payal who still had to take her belongings to her room. Hence for this, Payal and her mother lifted two bags filled with goods and made their way upstairs. As Payal was younger and she carried a lighter bag, she raced upstairs first and threw her the door of her selected room open, when she reached it.

Payal’s eyes immediately sprung wide open, as she screamed in fright!

“AAAHHH!” In front of Payal, were two red eyes staring at her. As Payal continued to scream and shiver in fear, Mrs’ Khanna and soon her husband as well as her son reached Payal. “What is wrong Payal? Are you okay?” Still trembling with fear, Payal pointed her finger at what she was seeing.

When the rest of them saw it, they too got alarmed with Purab also screaming and peeing in his pants. Trying to bring the situation under control and find out what it was, he placed his hands on the room’s wall searching for a switch and turned it on. Immediately an overhead chandelier was lit, thus making everything visible. The next moment all of them, including Payal laughed. Those red eyes were that of a painting colored in complete black except for those red eyes, which were colored in glittering paint which made them shine in the dark.

“See! There is nothing to worry about.” Mr. Khanna exclaimed which was in fact indirectly assuring even himself that there was nothing to fear about. Then after Mrs. Khanna giving Payal hug, and making sure she was okay, Mrs. Khanna took Purab to his room to change his pants, while Mr. Khanna returned to his room. Laughing in between sobs at her own innocence, Payal sat on her bed for a while to recompose herself before looking around the room. On her first look itself, she had to admit that it was a very well kept room. Of course there were cobwebs in many places, as the room would have been unused for several years, perhaps even a century seeing the outer appearance of the house. But otherwise, it was very tidy with things neatly arranged and placed where they should be. She further saw that there were several other paintings around the room, hung on the walls. All of them were masterpieces and it was difficult for her to pick up the best among them. But something that was persistently knocking her mind was that, all the paintings no matter what picture they showed, were always painted in dark colors. This in turn diluted some joyful paintings as well, as the joy shown in them was always clouded by darkness. And another point she noted was that each painting had some sort of untold story in them. Though not clear, it was there in between the colors and the expression of the people in them. It was as if the artiste was trying to tell something with those pictures.

Payal thought of letting in some fresh air and so went to open the windows. When she brushed the curtains aside, she once again jerked her head back in shock. The window was covered by some wooden planks placed on it. Payal then rushed to another window in the room and then another. All were boarded with wooden planks.‘Strange’ thought Payal. Perhaps this room was meant to be for other purposes, other than as a bedroom. Then just shrugging, Payal lay down as she was very tired that day and wanted to sleep as much as she could before she join the government school here, a few days later. Hence she closed her eyes and dreamed about how her life would be in this place…

*-*-*-*-*
Payal woke up with a start. She slowly lifted up her body frame and looked around in the darkness. She switched on her bedside table lamp to get her a better view. It still took her a couple of minutes to realise where she was and that she had been sleeping. Slowly it came to her, why she had woken up. She had heard some sound; someone singing softly. As she didn’t hear anything when she listened, she figured it would have been just dream and she lay back on the bed, once again closing her eyes. After a while, she heard it again and this time Payal immediately sprang up. Now it was clearer and she was sure she wasn’t just dreaming. Picking up a hand torch, Payal got out of the room trying to make out, where the sound came from. Within a few seconds of getting out of her room, she knew! Payal hesitantly moved her head towards that mysterious corridor. The voice was coming from there.

Holding the torch with trembling hands, Payal walked there. As Payal got closer to the room, she could make out that it was a male voice singing. Though she couldn’t make out the words that he sang, she felt that he was singing about sorrow and pain. Praying to God and using all her guts, Payal placed her hand on the door knob and tried to open the door. She made a irritating noise when doing so and immediately the singing stopped. Panicking, Payal tried to open the door again but it was locked and wouldn’t relent to her efforts.

Payal stopped and took a deep breath before letting out and relaxing herself. She would look into tomorrow as well as tell her dad about the windows. Thinking about it, Payal went back to sleep.

*-*-*-*-*

A month passed with the Khanna family getting to know more about the place and also getting to know their neighbors. As Badnera was only just a little more than a village, it didn’t take them that long to know the people around them. Payal and Purab joined their new school and Sourabh took charge in his new work place. As she was free initially and didn’t have much to do, Mrs. Preethi used to walk around and explore the place. She and the rest of them gradually began to see the beauty of the place and even found the other residents of the town very warm and friendly. This was okay as far general atmosphere of Badnera was concerned. But their colony still mystified them with their ‘silence’. Their neighbors in the colony had of course welcomed the Khanna family to the place. But they still always spoke in whispers, especially when they were in front of the ‘khanna’s’ home. And what was more perplexing was the fact, that none ever entered their premises. Though he was oblivious to this at first, Mr. Khanna later observed that whenever their neighbors were invited to the Khan’s home, the former always made some sort of excuse and got away.

Mrs. Khanna too noticed the strange behavior in people on seeing her, whenever she confronted any of their neighbors while she was on a shopping trip at the local grocery store in their colony. Also, most of them all including the shopkeeper used to stare at her with fright in their eyes. Payal and Purab on their side got admission in the government school of Badnera, which was in the same colony. But even they faced a dilemma. Despite their repeated efforts to mingle in their new school, the teachers and their classmates remained aloof. Of course, they didn’t say or do anything rude. But that was the point! They hardly said or did anything to Payal and Purab.

But Payal did not misjudge their behavior immediately, as it was not arrogance that she saw in those people’s eyes. It was fear! She found no time or place for mingling with her friends and coax them to changing their attitude. This was because there were no places to play, or simply relax in their school. There were no play grounds and not even a separate period for ‘play time’. Even in the class, the teacher always spoke in a low monotonous voice and scolded her students, if anyone of them raised their voice.

Back at home too, Payal and Puirab nearly dies out of boredom. It took them nearly a month to get a cable connection and even then, there were almost no channels that they could have enjoyed watching. None of the neighbour’s kids came out to play and so, that too wasn’t an option. But a good news for Payal was that her father had recently uncovered those wooden planks pasted on her window and now she had fresh air and bright sunlight coming in to her room.
The room looked even tidy in this way and the sunlight transformed the darkness of the paintings in her room and made them less harsh. However she wasn’t able to open the door in that mysterious corridor, as her father couldn’t find the key. Mr. Khanna brushed the topic aside by saying that it was probably a storage room and there perhaps would be many such rooms around the house that had been locked for years. Payal wasn’t convinced with his reasoning as the voice of a male singing softly, still echoed in her ears. But she didn’t argue any further, but still kept her little secret to herself at tha back of her mind…

*-*-*-*-*

Exactly 40 days after they had moved into the house, Mr. Khanna rented a DVD of a movie, which himself and his family could watch over the weekend holidays, as he realized that the cable television was not of much use. Once the movie started, all of them went numb and concentrated on what they were watching. As the movie went on, a strange feeling crept up Saurabh Khanna’s spine. He couldn’t place why, but an inner voice warned him that danger was getting close. He looked around the room, to find out what was bothering him. ‘Everything was just fine…then why did he feel so?’

After a couple of minutes, Sourabh couldn’t restrain himself any longer and went out to stand in the balcony, making an excuse to the rest of then that he had to make a call from his mobile phone.

Once Sourabh stood on the balcony, he knew what would have been bothering him. Though all the lights of the other homes were switched on, there seemed to be no sound at all emanating from them. The other peculiar thing in this colony was that after 10, everyone switched off their lights and left the area in total darkness.

Sourabh didn’t find it odd at first, but later had to rethink as he saw that even the few street-lights which were in the colony, went off after 10! In addition to this, he got further petrified right now, when he noticed that almost all the residents of the colony were standing on their balconies or even come out on the street. All of them seemed afraid, as the eyes of each one of them were set on only one thing; the ‘Khanna’s’ home. Getting anxious to know what all this was about, Sourabh put on his robe and sprinted downstairs towards the main door, alarming his family as he did so. When he opened the door, he turned speechless…

A small crowd of people were standing in front of him; their faces showing a mixture of fear and even anger. Sourabh worriedly asked them, “What’s wrong? Why are you all standing here?”

A baldman of about 40 years of age, who stood among those people came forward and harshly whispered, “Turn off the television. You are creating a lot of noise!”

“W-hat?” Sourabh stammered in confusion. By then, Preethi and her kids came to the door to see why Sourabh had gone out so tensely. And when they did see the issue, nothing could describe best the looks of shock on their faces.
The bald man went on telling them, “First of all, you aren’t allowed to even use a television in this place. And you add oil to the fire by raising the volume to such a high extent!”

Sourabh regained his composure and tried to maintain his dignity as he retorted, “This is our home and we have a right to watch television here, if we wish to. And for the matter of the volume, I don’t think it is that loud to create much of a disturbance. Then what is your problem?”

The bald man was going to shout back at Sourabh when one of his companions pulled him back and whispered something in the former’s ear. The bald man then said through clenched teeth, “I am not saying anything, because I can’t and not because I don’t want to. The same words and my voice also will ultimately lead to my doom only, if I speak anything aloud. And you also better be cautious, if you care for yout own life and that of your family.”

“What nonsense? Who is going to attack me?”

The man came closer and told Sourabh in a voice that was barely audible. “Haven’t you heard? This place is haunted!”

Sourabh smirked and said, “Haunted? What rubbish?”

The bald man continued, “He had been sleeping until now, but with the noise that you made today, you surely would have irked him and woken him up. Better run away when you can, before it is too late.”

“Stop it. You are frightening the children.” Mr. Khanna said glancing at the kids, who hurried around their mother.

A big explosion was then heard as the transformer in the colony burst into flames. Many of them, including both adults and children shrieked as they turned aghast in shock. This was followed by a power cut and as a result, the t.v along with all the lights in their home got turned off. The children screamed and Preethi put her hands around them to assure them of her presence. Out of the darkness, an old lady who was standing in the crowd that stood before their home, came forward and said, “You have woken him up. He will come here soon and he will be angry. Escape! Run away and hide now itself. OR else, mark my words….You are going to seal the fate of not only yourself but that of the entire colony, very soon.
Sourabh and Preethi stared at each other, as they didn’t know what to say. The both of them; especially Sourabh didn’t believe in such superstitions. But when he saw the look of horror on the old lady’s face and heard her words, a little fear unknowingly crept into his mind!

*-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-*

During that night, the colony where the ‘Khannas’ resided in, seemed to have become even more silent than it was before, if that was ever possible. Almost all lights except that of the Khanna’s home were tuned off. It would have seemed to a visitor that the Khannas were the only ones who stayed there and that the rest of the colony was deserted. It was that dark and silent. Mr and Mrs. Khanna continued to watch television that night, but with the volume turned much lower. Though he didn’t believe a word of what that old woman had prophesied, Sourabh surprised himself with what he did with the volume and also the silence that himself and his wife kept in between themselves, as they sat in front of the ‘idiot box’.

Purab and Payal on their part, couldn’t tolerate sitting in too much silence and darkness for that long. Their minds played eerie tricks with them and also, they were dying out of boredom. So, the both of them went for a walk through the colony’s streets. They silently walked with their heads put down and no particular plan in mind, when they came to confront that old woman again; the same old woman who had claimed that they had unleashed something very eerie and frightening, and thus digging up their own graves. She seemed to a beggar, as she was now seated in front of a small bonfire on a mat strewn upon on the pavement. She seemed weirder now than when they had first seen her, as she was muttering words under her breath that made no sense.

They slowly seated themselves beside her, and kept staring at her for some time. After that, she noticed them and asked with a haunting smile, “Afraid, aren’t you kids? You better be. He has woken up and he will be coming soon.”
“Who is coming?” Purab asked her. “And why would he hurt all of us?”

“Aman…Aman is coming. And he is angry because you and your parents made a lot of noise. He doesn’t like noise and only wants silence all the time. He was sleeping in peace all these years as no one in this colony made noise. But now…”
Payal then asked in no more than a whisper, “Who is this Aman? Why does he hate noise?”

The old woman looked up in the air at nothing in particular and said, “It all happened some 12 years back. Aman…Aman Kapoor….”

*-*-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-*-*
“Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor were one of the wealthiest couples in the entire city of Nagpur. Mr. Kapoor ran a very popular chain of departmental stores and Mrs.
Kapoor was the proud owner of a beauty parlor for ladies which were frequently visited by cinema actresses as well. They both were acquainted with the city’s most elite, wealthy and influential citizens. Hence the birth of their first child was no ordinary event and was celebrated extravagantly in a function that was even attended by the Chief Minister of that state. Adding to the frenzy more, was the fact that Mr. And Mrs. Kapoor were now the proud parents of a boy.

The tiny infant boy that Mrs. Kapoor held in her hands for the first time was very beautiful indeed as he inherited the beast features of both his parents and they were sure that he would grow up to be a very handsome man someday. But they felt all their dreams and hopes about their new born son being assassinated, when the doctor who attended Mrs. Kapoor’s delivery, came out with his report on the health of the baby.

“I don’t know how to put this to you, Mr. Kapoor.” The doctor told Mr. Kapoor. “I will try to convey it straight without bending around any fences. Your son has a severe neurological problem which would make his emotions exaggerate themselves. That is, he feels anything in the superlative like for example, when he is happy, he would be very happy. When he is sad, he would cry a lot. If he loves something or someone, he is ready to do inflict anything upon himself for their sake. But the most outspoken in every human being and especially your son is anger. If he ever get’s angry, let God save those against whom his anger is directed at. This is because he would attack them so mercilessly, even if the cause wasn’t that serious. You have a devil in your son, Mr. Kapoor and I advise you to keep him away from other people and not let him socialize much. Legally, I am supposed to instruct you to admit him in any institution where they take care of the mentally disabled. But I am not doing so, as I know how it will affect your status and respect in public life. I am taking a big risk for you, Mr. Kapoor. Hope you remember that.”

Though heavily shaken at the doctors news, Mr. And Mrs. Kapoor didn’t make this cause any hindrance in the way they looked at their son. They did listen to the doctor’s advice and never let their son, whom they had named Aman, go out into the social world. But what they did instead was, move Aman to a place far away from the busy life of the city. They moved here to Badnera and bought a home here, which was one of the only scant few houses back then. Literally no one else lived in this area at that time. Since they couldn’t take Aman to the outer world, they instead brought the world to him. They purchased whatever he asked for, while growing up and brought it to him. They even used their influence to arrange for teachers to come and teach all the subjects taught at a normal school, right at their home itself. In this way, Aman was educated without even going to school. But a shortcoming he had with such an arrangement was that he never had any friends. His only friends were his father and mother as even the teachers who taught him at home, hesitated to come near him owing to his aggressive emotions. His parents did all they could to not to make him feel isolated and for this, they bought him many goods of entertainment and sometimes even played with him.

But the steps they took to protect him had its consequences too, which were worse than what would have happened, if they just let him free. As Aman grew up totally protected and isolated from the rest of the world, he grew up to be such a person too. By the time he had turned 14, he began to enjoy his isolation too and would always overreact in uncertainty, if someone whom he didn’t know earlier came to meet him. He never liked strangers and always reacted violently to them. He once even brutally attacked one doctor who had come to diagnose his present condition at that time.

Also another habit he developed from being in his quiet and dark room most of the time, was that he eventually was addicted to these features. He preferred sleeping in a pitch dark room and got wild each time he heard a sudden sound or any noise more than comfortable decibels. This was not a problem at first as Badnera itself was a very quiet place and though some more residents had come to live there, it still remained calm as those residents were just simple people with not much ‘over-displaying’ activities in their life. Hence Aman remained untouched for a long time and the Kapoors began to relax a bit.

But a problem arose close to Aman’s 15th birthday as another family originally hailing from the city, built a home near the Kapoors’. They had constructed a home here solely as a place of solace, where they could come for vacation during the summer.

Badnera was chosen by them because it’s silent and calm atmosphere was ideal for them to ignore the harsh realities of a city life, for a while. But unfortunately, though they changed their places, their minds remained the same. For they behaved here too in the same way they behaved back at the city. Here too they spoke loudly and raised the volume of their T.V and radio sets to annoyingly high levels. Aman didn’t like it, but bore it initially with just throwing curses at their new neighbors. But their noisy activities didn’t finish and they instead created more noise with the banging of drums and irritatingly non-stop sounding of their car’s horn.

Aman couldn’t remain a sitting duck to their offensive provocation, and he showed his anger on often, only to be tamed by his parents before anything serious happened. But to vent his uncontrollable fury, Aman created havoc in his own home by tearing and throwing around different items there, including furniture, clothes, glasses and even their television set.

Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor finally had to use sedatives by force, to bring Aman back under control. A couple of weeks passed without any incident, as Mr. And Mrs. Kapoor didn’t leave any stone
untouched in their attempts to not let Aman become violent again. They asked him to remain in his room and even gave him soft ‘ear-puffs’ with which he could cover his ears and thus avoid any loud noises that he didn’t like. But even such a dramatic measure failed at the time of the festival of Diwali. The neighbors of the Kapoor family burst a lot of crackers including the so called ‘hydrogen bombs’.

Aman again began to get violent and started growling ferociously. Nothing which his parents did was successful in stopping him as he overpowered them when they tried to inject sedation into him, this time. And making hell out of a forest fire was the fact, that the electricity supply too was shut down which in turn led to a lot of darkness with thunderous bursting sounds all around. Aman couldn’t bear it anymore and flinging his parents aside with force, he stormed outside the house.

Aman saw the Kapoors’ new neighbors burst crackers wildly and he strangely became still. He even loosened his muscles as he slowly made his way to where the neighbors stood, lighting the crackers and bombs. Then, Aman came face to face with the main man of the neighbor’s home.

The latter smilingly invited Aman to join them and passed a lighted stick to Aman. But he never would have even imagined what Aman would have done next. Aman cocked his head to one side and then very rashly poked the lighted stick into that man’s open mouth! All of them stared in shock at Aman. They were shocked even more, when they saw Aman in person. His face was convulsing his rage and his eyes were red blood in colour; Aman had turned into a monster. When other neighbours and the people around there ran furiously towards Aman, he startled them once again by throwing flaming crackers at them. His fury knew no limits and it terrified everyone over there, including his parents. Finally his actions were put to a stop, when one of the colon’s residents over there saw no other way out and brought down a steel rod strongly on Aman’s head. Screaming in his last voice, Aman fell to the ground and in moments, lost his life.”

The old woman ended her narration of how the wrath of Aman had originated and then went on to say, “After that Mr and Mrs Kapoor moved out of the house and Badnera completely, as they were too shattered by what happened. They lost their only son and that too in a very much gruesome manner. Once again, Mr. Kapoor used his influential contacts to let the matter rest and not get them entangled in a legal mess. But that made no difference to them, as they never could remain the same people ever again. Mr Kapoor sold his chain of supermarkets and Mrs. Kapoor sold her beauty salon. After that they disappeared somewhere and no one has any idea until now, where they have gone to.”

Then she looked at Payal and Purab with an odd expression in her eyes. “The home where you are staying right now was the home of the Kapoor’s ten years back. He had donated his home to the government and that is how your father got it. And the room where Payal sleeps was Aman’s room. Take care Payal….Aman is watching you as he sleeps in that room even now.”

Payal and Purab stared speechlessly at each other.

*-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-*
Purab and Payal didn’t say any of these things to their parents, as they knew that Mr. And Mrs. Khanna wouldn’t believe the old woman’s story. But though they were convinced, they had no idea what to do now as they were trapped. Purab told their parents that he wished to sleep along with Payal in her room tonight; making the excuse that he was frightened of what had happened last night and felt he would be safe with Payal. Mrs. Khanna agreed as she knew all of them were completely shaken by those mentioned incidents.

Like that, Payal and Purab lay on the big bed that was in Payal’s room, with both of them staring at the moving fan on the ceiling. Though they didn’t exchange a single word, both of them were thinking about the same thing. ‘Will Aman come tonight?’ They were wondering about it, when Payal suddenly sat upright. “Did you hear that?”

“What? Hear what?” Purab asked looking around, anxiously.

Payal rose up from the bed and moved swiftly moved out of her room. Purab too soon followed her and asked her ‘what happened and what sound was she talking about?’ Payal didn’t reply and moved with speed but yet silently, through the corridor that was next to her room. She was sure now that she was hearing that voice from down the corridor and as she moved further inside, she was convinced that this wasn’t a hallucination of hers; she really was hearing someone singing. “Can’t you hear it?” She asked Purab.

He reached the end of the corridor and saw that she was now in some sort of art gallery as many paintings were placed around here. As the room was too dark, she switched on the light. To her surprise, there was only a dim bulb of red color in the room. Instead of making the room more clear to her eye, it made the shadows in the room seem more deep.

Another thing that made the hair on her skin stand up momentarily, was when she felt a shadow suddenly glide across the wall in front of her and then disappear. With that, the singing too instantly stopped. Payal and Purab looked around the room, without searching for anything specific. Payal once again glanced at the paintings, placed throughout the room. Though the paintings on them weren’t clearly visible owing to the dim light, Payal thought they were equivalent to masterpieces. In fact, she felt they looked more beautiful now, than they would have in bright late. She had the feeling that the nearly zero-visibility in the room plus the very dim red and incandescent light light in the room, added an extra dimension to the paintings that would not have been visible in normal light. Purab complained about the poor lighting and ran his hands across the shady walls, searching for another switch.

Payal stopped, as one particular painting caught her interest. It showed a young boy covering his ears with his palms and with his eyes closed tight shut. Around him was a fusion of several bright colors. Payal figured this must be a painting which Aman had drawn about himself and his inability to bear huge sounds. But that was not what pulled Payal towards this picture. It was a locket with some letters engraved on it. Payal moved her closer to the painting to study the locket.

Purab called out to her from somewhere else in the room, claming he had found a switch. “Ok Purab. Now come back here and stick with me. This room seems very frightening.” Payal replied to her younger brother and got back to reading the words on it. The first letter was a ‘P’…then an ‘A’ and after that….

Suddenly the room lit up as Purab had found the correct switch. Now Payal was able to read what was written on the locket. It was written P-A-Y-A-L; Payal!!!” Payal froze in shock and soon had to come out of it as she heard Purab scream in pain.

“PURAB!!!” Payal also screamed, calling out his name and went to find him. When she found him, her skin turned pale with fear. Purab’s hand was on an electric wire and he was getting electrocuted! Doing the first thing that came to her mind; Payal picked up a wooden rod from nearby and thrashed her brother’s shoulder harshly with it. This made Purab lose contact with the electric wire and he collapsed safely on the ground, though he lost consciousness as a result of her blow. Payal immediately lifted Purab in her arms and carried him back to her bedroom. She laid him on the bed, just as their parents entered the room, inquired what had happened with concern.

Payal’s eyes swelled with tears as she explained that Purab had been electrocuted. “WHAT???” Her father asked in shock and kneeled beside Purab in panic. “Purab, speak to me. Are you okay?”

Mrs. Khanna started weeping loudly, wondering what had happened to her son and cursing herself for not taking better care of him. Mr. Khanna angrily told her to shut her mouth and fetch some water. Payal said she would get it and she hastily got a bottle of water from the fridge. Once she delivered the bottle to her father, Mr. Khanna opened it’s cap and sprinkled some water on Purab’s face, while slightly slapping Purab’s face with his other hand at the same time. Finally Purab came back to consciousness by coughing vigorously and even vomiting a little. Mrs. Khanna sighed heavily in relief as her husband momentarily smiled and then picked up his son. “We have to go to the doctor. Get the car keys.” Mrs. Khanna went to do as she was told and Mr. Khanna carried Purab all the way to their car. Payal was instructed to stay back as, someone was required to be back at the home in case someone important called their landline. She was furthered ordered to lock the doors and not to open unless and until they were back. With that they rode away, and Payal cast her eyes up the stairway, thinking deeply.
*-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-* *-*-*-*-*-*
Payal sat on the couch in the living room, in front of the television. Her favourite programme was being telecast on air, but she was paying no attention to it. She couldn’t blindly ignore whatever happened recently as mere coincidences. Her discovery of the
mysterious corridor at first, then hearing that strange singing voice of a boy, then that old woman’s claim and the accident that happened to Purab today; though Payal didn’t mention it to anyone, she knew that what happened to Purab was no accident. Someone attacked him purposefully.

After her parents rushed out taking Purab to the hospital, Payal had gone to that dark room back again. It was once again dark and the light which Purab had switched on, was now switched off. Payal searched the walls for the electrical wire, which Purab had laid his hands on and had electrocuted himself. She found the exact spot, where she was almost sure that Purab had stood at that time. But there was no wire there! There was not even a switch. Payal flashed the light from a torch that she carried then with her, to make sure that she hadn’t missed noticing it by any chance. She checked and checked, again and again all around the small room. But there was only the switch that turned on the incandescent dim bulb. She quickly checked the painting on which she felt that her name was painted too. Even that was missing now. But instead there was another name there now. It read, “Pari.”

As Pari now sat on the couch in front of the t.v, she wondered what it meant. ‘Was someone trying to tell her something? Was the soul of Aman even now in their home right in her bedroom? Was he trying to tell her something?’ All such thoughts passed through her mind, when she suddenly heard the singing voice again. This time Payal didn’t hesitate and immediately jumped off the couch, running all the way upstairs to the hidden corridor beside her room. When she reached the door of the dark room, Payal could very clearly hear the singing now. An instrument too was being played.

Buried in silence,
Enveloped in darkness,
Lay here I did lost in memories…
Lost I was then, now and will be forever,
with the visions shown by my hand on canvas paper,
being my only mates, giving my voice an ear.
Yet, awoken I have been from my deep slumber,
to an unknown world with harsh light and noise everywhere.
Saw you I then did,
and of my love remind me you did.
So, call out now I do to you…
Listen will you to this lost soul?
Hear out my truth will you in whole?
Help me in my quest and let me rest in peace too?

Payal cautiously opened the door then and her eyeballs bulged out of their sockets, from what she saw. ‘There was an young boy seated on a settee in the centre of the room, with a guitar in his hand and he was singing. The settee on which he sat was placed right in front of the painting that Payal saw hours ago, in which a boy was painted covering his ears. Payal tenderly walked towards the boy as he continued singing. But when she reached his side, she suddenly shriked in fear as he was semi-transparent and she could see through him.

Payal continued to stare in shock, as she saw the boy get alarmed by her uncalled for shriek, float up in the air dropping the guitar down and disappear behind the painting he was seated opposite to. Gaining back composure, Payal breathed out to calm herself and then called out, “Hi…Aman…aren’t you Aman? Where are you? I mean no harm. Please show yourself.”

There was an air of silence for a few moments after which Payal was able to hear Aman speak for the first time, though he still sounded tense and doubtful. “Who are you? What do you want from me?”

Getting encouraged that he at least gave a response of some kind, Payal spoke to him again. “I am new here and don’t have any friends at all. As a result, I am very lonely. Will you be my friend?”
The soul of Aman peaked out slightly from behind the painting. “Why do you want to be my friend? No one wants to be my friend. Everyone hates me.”
Payal softened her voice and expression as she said, “I don’t hate you and I really want to be your friend. But please come out of your hiding. How can I be your friend, if I don’t even see you?”

An infinite silence returned to the room again as Payal waited for Aman’s response. He then slowly came out from hiding and became completely visible. Payal saw a slim and very fair boy, aged about 14-15 years. He had a lot of hair on his head and would have been pretty handsome when he was a living person. But an odd feature in him that contrasted to the other aspects of his appearance was his eyes. His eye reflected unvent anger and hatred and thus appeared very monstrous. His nose and chin were held uptight too, which as a result would make anyone run away from him on first sight. But Payal didn’t…
Payal in fact moved closer to Aman’s spiritual form, as he stood defensively in front of that particular painting. She was filled with fright and felt that she would scream any moment, as she stared through his ‘semi-transparent’ body. But she didn’t let the feelings of her mind show on her body and she boldly faced him. “Hi Aman, my name is Payal.”

“I know your name. I have been watching you for the past few days and nights. You look beautiful in your sleep.”
Payal felt a little self conscious But she tried to change the subject. “What are you?

The visual image of Aman remained silent for a few seconds. His face seemed devoid of any expression. “I…don’t know. I have been like this for a very long time. All alone; no one to speak to. Will you be my friend?”

The soul of Aman peaked out slightly from behind the painting. “Why do you want to be my friend? No one wants to be my friend. Everyone hates me.”
Payal softened her voice and expression as she said, “I don’t hate you and I really want to be

your friend. But please come out of your hiding. How can I be your friend, if I don’t even see you?”

An infinite silence returned to the room again as Payal waited for Aman’s response. He then slowly came out from hiding and became completely visible. Payal saw a slim and very fair boy, aged about 14-15 years. He had a lot of hair on his head and would have been pretty handsome when he was a living person. But an odd feature in him that contrasted to the other aspects of his appearance was his eyes. His eye reflected unvent anger and hatred and thus appeared very monstrous. His nose and chin were held uptight too, which as a result would make anyone run away from him on first sight. But Payal didn’t…
Payal in fact moved closer to Aman’s spiritual form, as he stood defensively in front of that particular painting. She was filled with fright and felt that she would scream any moment, as she stared through his ‘semi-transparent’ body. But she didn’t let the feelings of her mind show on her body and she boldly faced him. “Hi Aman, my name is Payal.”

“I know your name. I have been watching you for the past few days and nights. You look beautiful in your sleep.”

Payal felt a little self conscious. But she tried to change the subject. “What are you?

The visual image of Aman remained silent for a few seconds. His face seemed devoid of any expression. “I…don’t know. I have been like this for a very long time. All alone and having no one to speak to. Will you be my friend?”

Payal did not how to react or what to do at that moment. She decided to just go along with the conversation. “Sure. But how can I be friends with a stranger. I do not know you nor can I even feel you.”
The illusionary image that is the alleged ghost of Aman gave a sad smile and replied. “No one properly saw me or felt me even when I was one of you….Except for Pari.”

Payal immediately felt more was going to be revealed and that they were reaching somewhere. “Who is Pari?”
Aman’s face lit up instantly and he seemed almost real. “Pari was my only friend and the love of life. She looked a lot like you do right now.”
This took Payal by surprise. Then she
recollected the painting which had displayed her name at first before replaced by a name that stated ‘Pari’.
Maybe this was why Aman’s soul was visible only to her. Maybe this is why only she could hear him singing. Aman was trying to tell the world something through his paintings. Payal wondered what role Pari had to play in the incident that shook Badnera more than a decade back. And why did Aman mention quest for peace’ in his song?
“I also wish to be your friend”. Payal commented. “But for that I have to know you better. Who was Pari? I mean how did you know her? And what about this story about you hating sounds and destroying everything in sight?”
Payal then wished she hadn’t said anything like that as Aman instantly turned darker. Fury could be seen in his transparent eyes.

“Yes I hated sounds or let me clarify; I seriously hated loud noises. But there is more to the story regarding what happened back then and Pari played an important role in it.”

“Will you tell me?” Payal asked.

“No. Well I mean not exactly. Aman replied. “I will show you.” Without any more warning, the spirit of Aman suddenly flung itself at Payal getting mingled with her body. His soul and Payal’s soul became one. Payal felt a massive jolt in her body; like a thousand volts of electricity passing through her. A lot of images appeared before her that didn’t instantly make much sense. ‘There were images of Aman in the street, loud sounds and crackers;. Aman calling out Pari’s name; faint screams from some place. Then Pari’s face; a beautiful young girl of Payal’s age and someone who looked so much like her! This Pari’s face suddenly changed from a cheerful one to someone screaming for help in terror. There was blood on her head and a black eye. Images of three evil men with cracker sticks in their hands; they were laughing. One was bending down and tearing Pari’s clothes; Aman entering the picture and getting furious. He attacked those men with the same cracker sticks. Aman suddenly was hit with a rod and THEN….

Payal woke up with a start. She was panting heavily and needed some water. What was the time and where was she? Payal frantically searched the walls for a clock. There was light so it helped her find a clock in a few moments. It was 7 in the morning.

Payal tried to recollect the events of the past night. ‘Meeting the old neighbor of theirs, understanding the story behind their haunted home, hearing about Aman Kapoor, meeting his spirit directly; Aman’s spirit revealing there was more….’ Then what happened? Payal couldn’t remember anything.
She looked around again. She was on bed in her room. How did she get here? She met Aman in the dark room at the end of that corridor right? After that? Who brought her here?’
Payal got from her bed and made her way to the rest-room. She opened the tap on the wash basin and soaked her face with handfuls of water. Once she felt her eye sight was clearer, Payal looked at herself in the mirror. She was in for yet another surprise…
Payal looked different. She couldn’t determine the exact change, but she somehow looked like a different person. It still was her in the reflection yet seemed like another person. Especially those eyes…

She was bought out of the delusion with someone knocking on her door. “Payal! Wake up! You need to get ready for school!” It was Mrs. Khanna.

“I am coming, ma”.

*****
Payal got ready and went downstairs to join the rest of the family. Her mom, dad and brother were all sated at the huge dining table in the centre of the room. All of them were having breakfast silently without a word. Payal took her seat and Mrs. Khanna served her some of the dishes.

It was Mrs. Khanna who first broke the ice, yet she spoke in a low voice. “You seemed to have slept well, Payal. Got settled in the new house?”

Mr. Khanna looked at Payal expectantly and he was pleasantly surprised when she replied that she was beginning to get curious about their home. Mrs. Khanna and Purab looked at Payal, bewildered. ‘It was nice that Payal got settled after her previous objection and especially after that incident last night; but this much interest?’

Purab inquired if Payal was feeling okay. He also commented that she was looking different this morning. It was then that Mr. and Mrs. Khanna also noticed the same. She seemed a little taller and there was more weight in her hair. Yet the main difference was in her eyes. Something was not right in it.

“Are you okay Payal?” Mrs. Khanna moved closer to Payal placing her palm on Payal’s temple and then her neck to check for any increase in temperature. “I think you should take leave from school today. We will go to a doctor if it becomes more serious.”

“Aww!” Purab groaned. “Why only Payal? I was also at home yesterday. Even my sleep was spoilt. Shouldn’t I take rest too? Feel my skin…I think I too have a temperature.”

Mr. Khanna laughed at Purab’s antics. “That’s enough young man. You get ready for school. I will drop you. Payal can take a day’s rest and join her new school from tomorrow.”

Mrs. Khanna asked Payal in a whisper if she was having her periods. “No ma!” Payal retorted in a higher tone.

“Okay, Okay”. Go to your room and take rest. You can come down whenever you feel better.”

Payal needed no more encouragement and retreated to her room as advised. Purab was whining but Payal’s mind was elsewhere. She had other reasons to stay at home. Some voice was beckoning her. She had to find out more.

********
Payal went to her room and lay down on the bed for a while to convince her parents that she was resting. Mr. Khanna went to work dropping Purab at school on the way. Payal then slowly made her way inside the mysterious corridor. She switched on a few lights and finally reached the hall. Her eyes fell on those paintings.

There was a story in each one of those paintings. Most spoke about pain and loneliness. Yet these paintings included several untold tales. Most of them were of a young boy being alone mocked by several others. In some, he was afraid of people but this made them fear his presence.

There always seemed to be fire in his eyes. Common elements in all these paintings seemed to be a lot of noise and untidiness everywhere. Payal suddenly paused in her study of the paintings. She felt someone speaking to her. Payal got frantic and turned around to see the person. Yet there was no one.

The voice seemed to be coming from within her! It was just a whisper, but yet she could clearly make out the words. ‘Someone was crying’. “Who are you”? Payal shrieked. “Is that you Aman? Come before me. Please don’t frighten me like this!”

The voice became clearer then. Aman said, “Hear the voice of your heart Payal. I am inside you.”

Payal closed her eyes for a few moments. Aman’s voice continued. “Move ahead a few steps and turn right. Payal did as she was told until she was instructed to stop. ‘Turn right and then open your eyes’.

She opened her eyes to find a painting of a young girl in front of her. That girl looked so much like Payal! On closer inspection, Payal discovered that the facial features of this girl were like Payal. But she seemed to belong to a poorer family. She was sitting in field surrounded by birds of different species. Payal recognized a swan among them. On part of the painting was scribbled the name, ‘Pari’.

Payal remembered the painting from that night when her name was scribbled on it. It was clearer today and had the name Pari on it. ‘Aman was trying to tell her something’. Payal then moved her attention to the door at the end of this corridor. She stood next to it but remembered it was locked.

“The key is behind Pari’s painting”. Aman’s voice came in her mind again. Payal slightly moved the painting to check behind it. There was a small dent in the wall and it held a key!

There was no looking back. Payal took the key and opened the door…

‘A gale of wind hit her and the world started spinning. The surrounding changed and she was transported to another time. The room was dark on all sides except for a small bulb at the center of the room. A young guy was playing beautiful music on a grand piano and a girl was seated on the floor beside him. That young guy was Aman and the girl was Pari…’

Aman’s voice came in Pari’s mind again. “I was locked from the rest of the world. Had no friends and no one to hear my side of the story. I had only three releases from this prison. One being my canvas on which I painted, the next being my piano on which I composed songs and the third being the person who inspired me to draw, sing as well stay alive; Pari.”

Payal was taken aback when the girl named Pari got up and started dancing to A man’s tunes. That music spoke a thousand tales; of loneliness,

of pain, of humiliation, and of love…

“Come you did into my lonely world
Lighting the sky and adding rhythm all around, So many tales I wanted to tell you,
Yet fear I did if you would call me crazy too….

Paint I did what my heart wanted you to see, Sing I did what you meant to me,
Leave I did the rest of the world entirely,
In my world, it was just Aman and Pari…

“She was the daughter of our housemaid. Young and lively. Yet she felt alone in this large house; just like me. Her mom and my parents would ask her to not visible when guests came as we didn’t the neighborhood to think that we were employing children. My father was very much against that. Hence while she wandered away from eyesight she heard me playing the piano and came to my room.

I was first taken aback by this sudden intrusion. No one came near me unless they wanted to feed me some vile medicine or show half-felt pity on my condition. But Pari wanted to hear me play. She said my music was beautiful. Encouraged by her, I played more and more everyday and began to sing also.

Pari saw a few of my paintings and asked to also to paint more. No one had been that kind and encouraging to me. The whole world said I was mentally ill or cursed by a witch. Only Pari saw that I too was a normal human being with simple desires. A peaceful and neat place; that’s all I wanted.”

Payal was listening to all this and watching the magical performance in front of her. She suddenly asked the Aman inside her, “Why do you hate noise so much? Of course everyone gets irritated, but this much anger?”

Suddenly all lights were turned off except for the small bulb over the piano. No one was there. No Aman and no Pari. Payal had come back to the present. Aman’s spirit spoke from within her again. “The same reason why you hate this place; I too don’t belong here. There is a lot common between us, Payal. My father also brought me here despite my objection. I was much better in the city. Everything was kept neat and people didn’t raise their voices for each instance. Besides, none of these crackers! Now my soul has got stuck in this place forever because of what happened to Pari. I need your help Payal.”

“What happened to Pari?” Payal asked as she knew this was the key to the whole mystery behind their haunted house.

But there was no reply. Payal checked her watch. It was nearly 5 in the evening. She had been upstairs for hours. Payal got up, freshened herself and went downstairs.

****************
Payal was cheerful for the rest of the day surprising the rest of her family. Purab was disgruntled when he saw that Payal was fine and was enjoying at home, while he had to go to school. Another aspect that surprised everyone was this was the same Payal who had vehemently opposed them to Badnera and the same Payal who had screamed in fright a few days back.

A couple of weeks passed in this manner. Everyone did notice that the attitude of Payal was not the only thing that changed. She looked different and even dressed differently. Payal opted for more traditional clothes when at home or going to the market as that was the only place for recreation.

She was getting more and more close to Aman. It may have been a teenage infatuation, but to Payal it meant much more. She felt there was a deep connection between her and Aman. Yet she couldn’t see him and she couldn’t touch him. He was an important part of her now. Aman started singing songs for her also. But the difference was she was still Pari to Aman. Payal didn’t complain. She loved being near Aman and loved hearing his music.

School too wasn’t that bad a place for her or Purab. The main setback was that everyone or everything was too silent. Payal knew the reason and part of the story behind it, but she still wished things could have been slightly different.

There was another issue also…

Badnera was a small town; almost the size of a developed village. Hence the distance to the school was less and Payal went by walk to her new school along with her young brother. Mr. Khanna went to his office in a government jeep that picked him up.

There was a small liquor shop close to her school. And the men there didn’t seem good. Especially a dark skinned bearded person who smelled like a dead rat! He had more than once made a provocative gesture at Payal. Another strange fact she noticed whenever this happened was that her head would boil up and she felt more energy added to her body. ‘Aman was protecting her from inside’.

Payal would then unexpectedly growl at that man and his drunkard accomplices. On their part, they were shocked to see such reactions and backed off; at least temporarily.

And Aman! Payal spoke to him every night. He had started appearing before Payal again; but only at night and only in that secret room. This happened every night after Purab had gone to sleep. Mr. and Mrs. Khanna had no idea that all this was going on in the roof of their house. But Aman spoke no more about his past. He was happy spending time with Payal as Payal was with him.

But one day, Payal brought the topic to one of their late-night meetings. “What happened to Pari? Where is she now? Why have you stopped speaking about her, Aman?”

There were a few moments of silence. Then Payal felt her nerves tighten and heartbeats rise

as the spirit of Aman inside her got tense. “This is where I need your help. I want to save Payal.”

“How and from whom?”

Aman continued, “It was that night of Diwali…I had locked myself in my room and had covered my ears with whatever I could find. Yet I wished I could be near Pari. Then none of these sounds would have mattered. I went downstairs shielding my mind against those horrendous Diwali crackers and noise.

My parents were out and there were only the servants including Pari’s mother watching the Diwali celebrations in front of her home. I made my way to the field next to Pari’s home. I heard some girl crying and screaming…It sounded like Pari. I rushed to the spot and was shocked! Pari was on the ground and there were some goons over her! They were tearing her clothes and manhandling her. These goons were raping Pari!

I especially remember a dark skinned person with a lot of beard. The things he was doing to Pari….I couldn’t stand one more second of this. I rushed to the spot. Those people stopped on seeing me. Pari pleaded to me….I just walked
to one of them and banged my head against his face.
The others started attacking me. I was on rage doing whatever I could to save Pari. The monster inside me came out. I even bit that dark skinned man’s ear off. Pari was standing there in fear. But I was clearly outnumbered. There were more accomplices to that dark skinned person. These people were having crackers in their hands.
Hearing the commotion, some neighbours of Pari also arrived at the scene followed by other residents of Badnera. As a last resort, I snatched a cracker stick from one of the accomplices and attacked the dark-skinned person with it.

I shoved it into his mouth. The villagers who came thought I was attacking those people and it was me who had raped Pari! They attacked me with sticks. I returned their attack and even used the liquor bottles that were lying around. Something sparked and fire was ignited. As the place was a field, the fire spread quickly; everywhere fire.

Pari was screaming again! She was half kneeling and her clothes also had caught fire. I tried to rush to her but someone hit me hard on the back of my head with some kind of metal rod…..

I fell down to the ground seeing Pari for one last time. She was being burnt alive and I couldn’t help her…..

I need your help Payal. I need revenge. Help me find those people who had troubled Pari.”

************
Payal was beyond words in the coming days. She knew the secret to the past of Badnera but she couldn’t do anything about it. She was a totally different person in school these days and mostly kept to herself. Her parents and brother noticed this but didn’t make much of it as they felt it was her way of getting used to the new place.

As for Payal, she silently listened to Aman’s performances on the piano and songs every night. She now could see another side to all the sorrow and pain in his music. Payal now really wished she could help Aman; help him find the men who had tortured Pari.
But it came sooner than she thought and the occasion was just right. The time of Diwali was only a few days away, but no one in Badnera dared to celebrate it. They were still frightened that the spirit of Aman would attack them. Speaking of whom, Payal noticed that Aman too appeared lesser these days.

Everyone was silent except for those drunkard guys in the field on the way back from school. In fact, they were even beginning to burst crackers; but on a smaller scale. Payal tried to avoid them as much as she could. Having Purab along with her was somewhat of a comfort though it couldn’t do much. Purab was too young. She hated those men and particularly loathed one dark-skinned person. Payal then recollected Aman’s words…

“Pari was on the ground and there were some goons over her! They were tearing her clothes and manhandling her…. I especially remember a dark skinned person with a lot of beard”

Payal had found the men who killed Pari!

That dark skinned man unexpectedly came in front of Payal and confronted her. “Hey, I have seen you before. You look very familiar. Whose daughter are you anyway?”
“Get out the way. Let me go”. Payal told the guy.
“Hey mister!” Purab quipped. “Don’t mess with my sister!”
That dark man was amused. “Oh my! I now feel scared! Look at this little fella. He is threatening me because I spoke sweet words to his sister. Now what if I touch her?” With that the dark skinned man held Payal’s hand and pulled her closer to him.

Purab tried to intervene and thus attacked the man. But one of his accomplices pulled Purab back, restrained him and laughed at the intervention. He told the other accomplice to start enjoying.

Payal could feel her blood start boiling as that person came closer. Something was changing inside her. And memories were spinning inside her head. Some visions…they were shady and without any proper colour. Payal recognized Aman screaming and rushing towards her.
In the nearby vicinity, someone was exploding home-made bombs as a part of the Diwali celebration.

That dark skinned person kept his hand on Paya’s bosom and was beginning to tear down her blouse. Payal stood still. Her voice turned rougher; almost like that of a male. “Take your hands off Pari.”

“Hey! Why are you changing your voice? But I like it! It is sexy.” The dark skinned man lit a cigarette to increase his ecstasy.

One of his accomplices then brought a liquor bottle closer to Payal. “Let us give this girl some medicine. Maybe it will help her…”

That stink, the noise in the background, the man’s untidiness….
Payal suddenly screamed in a man’s voice much to the shock of the dark skinned man. She grabbed the bottle from his accomplice and smashed the accomplice’ head with it.

The dark skinned man moved back in shock and his second accomplice came forward to attack Payal. The next incident was unpredictable in the wildest imagination. Payal jumped on to the man, wrapped her legs around his waist and bit his neck. Her teeth grabbed the man’s tonsils and pulled it out!

That dark skinned man dropped his cigarette and fell to the ground in fright. Payal then turned attention to him. She spoke but the voice that came from her was Aman’s!

“She was a young girl who meant no harm to anyone. Always smiling; always cheerful. How could you even think of hurting her?”

“Who??? Who are you talking about???”

Payal picked up the cigarette stub dropped by the dark skinned person. “That girl…” She said pointing at someone who was at the back of him.

The dark skinned person turned his head to see the spirit of Pari there!!! She was smiling sadly. Her eyes were filled with incomplete dreams and a question…’why?’

The remains of the bottle smashed on accomplice’s head were lying there. Payal threw the cigarette stub on it and the immediate surrounding caught fire.

The dark skinned man screamed in terror as the flames caught on to him and soon engulfed him. Payal watched him being burnt alive with satisfaction. Aman’s quest to take revenge was complete.

Payal suddenly felt something pulled out of her. She then saw Aman’s spirit walk in front of her and move closer to the spirit of Pari. They hugged shedding tears that had no proper form. Holding Pari in his arms, Aman looked at Payal. “Thank you.”

Payal just nodded her head. For something unexplainable, tears dropped from her eyes too. Purab came closer and hugged her.

*******

In the next days, Payal explained everything to Purab. She told him the story of Aman and Pari. Purab tired to understand whatever he could.
After that, they didn’t speak to each other about these incidents nor did they mention it to everyone else.

Payal and Purab started enjoying their life more in Badnera. Mr. and Mrs. Khanna felt content about this and felt everything was coming back to normalcy. Payal let it that way as it was best for everyone. She also showed Purab the room at the end of the hidden corridor in the upper floor of their home. She showed him the piano that stood alone now as well as the various paintings.

Purab in fact took a liking to those paintings. He used to spend a lot of time in front of them.
Payal didn’t understand but she felt it was his innocent way of coming out of the bad memories they had. One day, Aman wasn’t seen for long. Payal went searching for him in
all rooms and finally found him in Aman’s secret chamber. Purab was painting the picture of a girl.

“What is this Purab?” Payal slowly asked. Purab started singing a very familiar song.

“Paint I did what my heart wanted you to see, Sing I did what you meant to me,
Leave I did the rest of the world entirely, In my world, it was just Aman and Pari…
“Aman???”

Purab’s expression changed and a bright light appeared in his eyes. “Boo!”

****************THE END****************

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