The Cottage -2

“Are you sure Raul that you want to live in that cottage?” Karan asked as they sipped hot frothy coffee at their old time regular hangout.

‘Yes, 100%”, Replied Raul. He had no second thoughts about it.

“When is your wife coming?”

“Tonight” he said as they paid the bill and walked out of the café into the long winding path.

It was cold and breezy; Raul pulled the zipper up to his neck and rubbed his hands to warm them a little.Not much had changed here, in this little town in the hills. They walked quietly till Karan’s home .Each one absorbed in his own thoughts.

Rabia was elated when Raul told her of his plans over the phone. She always wanted to go back to India. Since their marriage she had spent most of her time writing her thesis etc and then the pregnancy. He on the other hand traveled a lot due to his assignments.

She had met Raul in the university, the talented Indian boy whom everyone raved about .After a few meetings they had fallen in love and getting her father’s blessings was such one more reason to add to her happiness .They loved each other and complimented each other in every way .She a musician and he a painter.

As she lay swaying with the baby in the hammock under the large tree in their London home, she dreamed of the lovely hill cottage Raul had told her about.

Raul waved at his ravishing wife, as she walked passed the security check to meet him .He hugged her and kissed his year old son. He introduced her to Karan, with whom she had spoken many times on the phone.

They drove to their new home filled with mixed emotions.

Rabia fell in love with the place, the moment she saw it.

She loved the huge glass windows, beautiful gardens and the lovely terrace .She kissed and thanked Raul.

Karan watched the happy family and prayed for them silently.

Raul took Rabia on a tour of the cottage and the gardens and the more she spent time their, the more she loved it. Even little Danish squealed with joy as his parents took him around the gardens in his pram.

Many a times the family would go on nature trails near the cottage. Everything was just too perfect.

Time flew and Raul spent most of his time painting, sketching or strolling in the gardens .Many a time Rabia found him standing on the terrace or in the garden talking to him self or lost in rapt attention.

Danish had started school and was full of stories from there.

The date for exhibition was drawing near and Raul spent long hours painting. She glanced at the colourful canvases spread all over his work room.

Most of them were of the cottage and its surrounding areas and many more of a beautiful young woman with lovely expressive haunting eyes. Rabia looked at the woman closely, she seemed to hold her gaze and that disturbed her.

Danish needed a room to himself and on one evening Rabia asked Raul if they could decorate the terrace room for him, which was locked since they moved in .Raul’s reaction took Rabia by surprise .She had never seen him so disturbed by something .After a definite NO from her husband, who seemed to be acting very strange lately, Rabia decided to let go of the topic.

One afternoon, after putting Danish to sleep she was coming down from the stairs, when she heard some noises. Quietly she moved in the direction of the sound .It led her to the terrace room .The door was open.

She watched as her husband spoke to himself in that empty room .She glanced around .Toys closet, a bed for a child, sketches. The room seemed to have been unused for a very long time .Yet there was something that brought her husband there not once but many a times .She remembered Raul standing on the terrace laughing or muttering to himself on many occasions .Rabia almost let out a scream when she heard another voice there ,a voice of a woman .

“The time has come for me to leave Raul” the voice said. “You always asked me how I died so before leaving I thought I should tell you the story.”

“After my parents forcibly took me from here, we shifted to Delhi. I was never happy .I missed my home, my friend, whom they called a bad spirit, and you, though we never spoke to each other.”

“I was put in a hostel. After completing school I decided to take a trip back to this place and without the consent of my family, drove here .I wanted to get here as fast as I could, as if some force was pulling me and missed a turn due to thick fog and darkness .The car crashed into the rocks hundreds of feet into the valley .It was an instant death .they found my body after many days”.

My heart was here so my spirit followed it and here I have been since long. It was a joy to see you the other day, and when you moved in, it made my family complete, but now I need to go with my little friend here. Our time is done here.”

Rabia felt as if she was dreaming, it could not be true. Her husband was, all this time talking to a dead woman. Her head began to spin.

She held the railing of the stairs and quietly came down.

She did not ask Raul about anything, thinking how to solve this crisis.

Raul left in the morning with his painting, for the exhibition. He was going to be away for a few days and Rabia was scared .She called Karan.

He listned to her, with a grave expression on his face and said “Rabia I know about the spirit. We were kids when this girl stayed here .Raul and I used to wave at her from the road .I think he liked her and so did she but they never met .Then the family went off suddenly .This time when Raul came here he saw her again ,I thought he was imagining things but when he decided to buy the cottage ,it was clear something was not right ,but I was told to keep shut .I am sorry but now the pressure is off my head ,I guess you should get some help .”

“No”, Rabia said.” I will handle it but thanks anyways”.

That night, she took little Danish in that room; both mother and son spent some time there looking at the things playing with some toys.

Raul came back, with all his painting sold .She congratulated him and kissed him. He was happy to be back.

For some days he wandered around the place, as if looking for some thing or someone and then one night told Rabia that the terrace room could be used for Danish.

They cleaned it and, redecorated it, retaining some of the original stuff.

Danish was elated and loved his new room, the toys and the terrace.

That night, Rabia confided in Raul about all that she had seen and heard .Raul listened to his wife in amazement. He was surprised that she could handle the thing so courageously .He smiled at his wife and apologized for not including her in his secret. He felt it would disturb her and maybe they too will have to leave the cottage he loved so much .She understood .She loved him.

Raul no more spent his time talking to empty spaces and Rabia silently thanked the two spirits for leaving them.

Rabia took up music classes and life became stress free and happy again.

Danish was eight now, a bright little bundle of joy.

One evening Raul and Rabia sat in the garden when they heard a thumping sound from inside the house .They immediately left the tea and went in .The sound was coming from Danish’s room .Raul’s heart started to beat faster and Rabia was scared.

They found Danish hammering a nail into the wall.

“What are you doing Jan?” Raul asked him gently.

Danish turned and gave a dimpled toothy smile and held out a painting to his dad.

Raul and Rabia looked at each other .It was a picture of a young woman and a girl with golden floating hair.

“This is a parting gift from my friends .They said good bye to me and gifted this. Isn’t it lovely abba”?

“Yes it is”, both His parents said in unison.

The Cottage

The drive to the cottage was a beautiful one .Tall pine trees on both the sides, sloping valley, like a green carpet dotted with flowers, on the left side and rugged cliffs jutting out of the mountainside on the right .The road was smooth and well maintained.

The Rathor family had bought the cottage at a cheap price .It was a two story cottage with a huge garden and a servant’s quarter on one side .When Tarun saw the add in the local newspaper, he just could not believe his eyes .immediately Tara and he decided to grab the deal .They were sick of the pigeon hole they currently lived in.

He smiled at his lovely eight year old girl, who was jumping on the front seat of the car, excited about the new place.

The cottage was well painted; furnished and carpeted .They moved in and loved to explore areas around it. Both, Tarun and Tara, worked in a add agency and had busy shift duties .They called Tara’s younger sister to stay with them. Tanvi was delighted; she loved the company of her aunt, who was a fun person to be with .A college graduate looking for job.

Karan and Raul noticed that the cottage had new occupants. Every day on their way to the convent school at the next turn, they would stop to pluck apples from the tree near the boundary of the cottage .Today, their hopes dashed when they saw the little girl and her parents moving around the gardens .Raul liked the girl and would always find a way to catch a glimpse of her, through some large glass window of the cottage .She too had noticed him and sometimes smiled or waved at them.

Tanvi spent most of her time in her room, near the terrace, sketching beautiful pictures. She was a good artist for her age.

She would collect all her drawing in the evening and happily show them to the family, chatting continuously about the Jim Jam cookie party, she and this ravishing girl friend of hers had .She would narrate in detail all that they did together. According to her ,the girl spoke excellent English ,which was difficult for her to comprehend at times and made conversation difficult but they managed to convey their thoughts always .she spoke a few words of Hindi in a way that made Tanvi roar with laughter .She would imitate and say those words ,which puzzled her parents . She also mentioned that the girl lived in her toy closet and could come out through the closed door.

The parents were concerned, because the pictures showed a girl of about ten years of age, wearing frilled, high collar, full sleeved frock, very old fashioned boots and her hair fell over her shoulders, in curls and curls of golden waves.

It was surprising; the way Tanvi drew the details of her friend’s clothing and accessories.

Surely, the friend Tanvi talked about and drew so accurately, was not of their times .She seemed British and Tanvi had never seen any pictures or read anything about the British times .The child looked absolutely at ease and happy with her imaginary friend .

Life went on and every day some new story about the friend would come up in the evening .Tara asked her sister to keep a watch on the little girl.

One afternoon, as Tara was tending to her rose garden ,her sister came rushing through the glass doors ,her face white as a chalk .Tara dropped everything ,as Jahnvi dragged her through the lawns ,into the house ,on to the second floor terrace room of her daughter .

There ,in full view of them ,sat Tanvi surrounded by her toys ,dolls and other stuff ,The place in front of her ,in that circle of toys ,was empty .Enough for a small child to sit .Tanvi was happily chatting to someone sitting opposite to her .She offered her imaginary cookies and giggled at some joke .

Tara squeezed her sister’s hand, both the women were frozen at the doorstep of the room .Tanvi did not notice their presence and kept playing .Tara listened hard, she was terrified when she heard a soft musical voice of a girl speaking in perfect British English .She couldn’t trust her ears .She watched her daughter, with eyes filled with unknown fear .Her mouth was shut, but the voice of the girl kept ringing in Tara’s ears.

She turned to look at her sister, who had gone white in the face and looked sick .She did not have to ask, to know that she was not the only one who was witnessing this strange presence of the spirit in her house.

She brought herself to reality and rushed inside the room .Picking Tanvi up in her arms, she rushed out, followed by her sister, who by now was sobbing uncontrollably .Tanvi kept kicking and protesting that she wanted to spend some more time with her friend, but Tara threw her in the car and drove off to her mother’s place along with her sister.

They never returned to the house again .No one bought it after them.

It stood there, majestic as always.

Tanvi walked about in the gardens around the home, where she played and danced and spent some memorable moments as a child .After so many years, the place still looked breathtaking as usual.

The room, where she held her Jim Jam parties, was dusty and full of cobwebs, but exactly the way it was left that day.

She was happy and loved her home.

The convent was celebrating its annual X-mas festival and had invited old students too.

Raul, now a painter by profession and Karan, a photographer, were also invited.

Walking down the familiar path, Raul felt a pang of nostalgia hit him.

The cottage looked unattended but as lovely as ever.

He glanced through the gardens and windows and there he saw her .For a moment he thought he was imagining things .She was beautiful and was smiling .With her was another small girl with long golden hair .He stared at the window in disbelief .

Nah, he thought, it was just a hallucination .But then she waved at him.

He turned to Karan, who was clicking some pictures.”Did you see her? How beautiful she has grown?”

“Who?” said Karan.

“The girl who lived in this cottage .She is back. There she is at the west window.

Karan looked at his friend .He could see nothing except an empty cottage and an unkept garden.