It all started off when we decided to play hide and seek in the neighboring house. I remember the occupants had just left, making that house an ideal retreat for snoopy kids like us. We spent our time trampling that house, running amok in the compound and prodding every nook and corner to discover unknown secrets. It was then we came upon a very strange corner of the house, which was wilder and spookier than our vibrant imagination could ever describe. It was their little shed in the backyard—well, not a shed, actually, that would be a disgrace to that room in the back…it was a huge room, and if one peeked in through the window, one would get a clear view of the bizarre and unworldly….and I know the thrill of terror I experienced whenever I stared through the window, it felt like looking into that horrible darker realm that I believed existed. Now, if you were an adult, you would have found nothing to be scared of, but we whispered in hushed voices, and the room remained our topic of discussion for many days.
I don’t know who started the rumor. It would be better not to find out, but we firmly and secretly belived that room was haunted. It was always locked, you know, and we had our reasons to believe it was haunted. If you peeped into the room, even you would find out. It was a very dusty room, which looked like it hadn’t been opened in centuries, with an old family portrait hanging meekly from one wall—we had never seen that family inhabit this colony, we had never heard of them, we didn’t know if they still existed, which made things all the weirder, of course. Unsolved mysteries appealed to our growing minds and we were just beginning to understand the joy of discovery. And then there was this black, horribly old sofa set in one corner of the room which seemed to have been abandoned for quite a few years…the look of it, with a huge gash in the center made us reason that it was literally ripped apart by ‘the ghost.’ There was a chair too, nothing too charming about the chair, it was made of plain wood, but we were grateful it was not the rocking kind, because we were sure that we would hear it creak in the middle of the night, and crumbling, infested walls…we were scared. Well, after spending many an afternoon staring blankly into that room, imagining all sorts of horrors, nothing exciting really happened, the room remained untouched, and soon was assumed to be unworthy of attention.
Most of us gave up, but this avid ‘bird-watcher’ considered ‘room-watching’ as the most noble honour any kid could be blessed with. What more, she had a wonderful side-kick who believed in everything she did, and trusted her beyond belief. My friend Shruthi and I made this ‘room-watching’ an compulsory and routine event, as we were sure something exciting was bound to happen, and we took out time off, introducing every child in the colony to the ‘spooky house.’ We wanted more sentries, but we never got them, no one believed us, so we spun some fabulous lies, and grander tall tales which were quite convincing, but no one was brave enough to accompany us, and that is why we found ourselves so lonely on solitary afternoons.
You should have seen the ways we discussed our theories, which seemed so wonderfully probable then, and which look utterly stupid and hilarious now. My god! The detailed discussions nearly drove me mad with wild explanations, but believe it or not, after month long of waiting, our patience and hard-work did pay off, because something exciting did happen. Something which explained everything, anyway. Someone moved into the house. It looked like a disaster, but we still snooped around the house, finally, we did enough snooping to be noticed, and no one quite appreciates and welcomes the idea of a group of two girls mysteriously prowling around their house for no apparent reason. The house-owner was observing us; he even introduced his daughter Preeti to us, but we continued prowling around, hungry for some news, frenzied with curiosity, and finally, he was irritated enough to talk to us, puny little girls.
“You want to look into the back-room, is it not? Come, I’ll take you there,”
We followed hastily, it felt like dream come true. Somehow, entering into that dark hell of the room, which was always locked, blocking our entry had given in. After so many months of staring through the mesh-window, we were actually inside, right there, the only two girls in the entire world who were entitled to enter that room! It did strangle our curiosity, it dimmed our interest, after having finally understood there was nothing extraordinary about the room whatsoever. The man stood around scratching his head,
“What a mess to get rid of! People preserve all kinds of unwanted things here…it’s going to take me time to clean it all up!” The window had never given us a complete view, but now, the room looked paler than before, and most unattractive. We were enraged that our time had not payed off. He opened the wooden shelf in the corner, which too was stashed with unwanted, broken articles, he raised his eyebrows, picked up something, dusted it, and said,
“Here, you want this?”
It was some yellowed and illustrated book named The Tales of Odyssey, and we accepted the prize and looked into it, and tried reading. The pages were missing, and the story was too uninteresting and complicated with a tiny print for us to read, and we gave it up for good. But we preserved it because it was our reward for guarding that room. And we triumphantly showcased it as a souvenir of our endeavors, and most of our friends grew envious, now that I think of it, that book was even unworthy of envy! It could have been picked easily out of an old paperwaala’s cart! Finally, we ended up loosing the book, it too disappeared due to carelessness, but it spurted more of our interest, and we spent our time once again, murmuring that a ghost has returned to claim it’s book! Remembering this makes me think of how mischievous and incurably hopeful kid I was as a kid, my mischievousness has evaporated and I have grown out of that attitude faster than I can wispher ‘ghost’ in someone else’s ear.