Monday, January 3, 2011

Merchant of Soul

I hated travelling in planes. They always made me sick. I looked at my co passenger, Mahesh, who was busy reading a magazine. I had shared the routine pleasantries with him and asked him the boring usual questions about what he did for a living. He turned out to be a bank branch manager at some place which i dont remember the name of anymore. He seemed a boring unassuming person who did not have much excitement in his life. The only thing I had found interesting about him was the fact that he was unmarried inspite of being around 40 years. That intrigued me because I had never heard of a 40 year old unmarried banker before. Bankers are conservative folks. They like to have a wife and kids as soon as they could. Maybe this guy was not as boring as I thought he was. I felt like striking a conversation with him. As if reading my mind he asked

"Where did you get that deep gash on your cheeks from"

"That was from a bungee jumping accident I had a few years back. The rope that was tied to my legs got cut and  I crashed to the ground" I replied

" I m sure you never tried bungee jumping again"

"Never. It did a lot of damage. I lost a few of my teeth. These front teeth you see, they are fake. And I was in the hospital for around 4 months"

"Its lucky that you survived. I hope you know that"

"I know I m lucky. It was a harrowing experience. I was very close to death. Its a good feeling to be alive"

"I know what you mean. It feels great to be alive"

"Why? Did you come close to death as well?"

"In a way. Yes. I could have died as well"

"Tell me about it. I m all ears"

"I havent told anyone about it. Its too personal"

"Hey. This is not fair. I told you about my experience. And now u need to tell me about yours"

"Well alright. if you say so. But its a pretty long story. Do you want to hear it?"

"Sure. I like stories. If its good I may even write it" I said.

"It goes a long time back. Around 20 years. I was sleeping in a place that I rented a few days prior to that day. And in the middle of the night, I woke up suddenly. I m a light sleeper. Then I saw a white translucent light creeping around my cupboard. And the weird thing was that the white translucent light had eyes"

"You mean it was a ghost?" I asked him.

"Yes. Thats what I mean"

"Surely you are pulling my leg. But anyways carry on if you will. It sounds pretty interesting. I might as well have a listen"

"Well, the ghost seemed surprised at me waking up all of a sudden. It started panicking, and in the panic, it started swirling round and round in search of a hole to escape"

"Gosh. Really you saw a ghost?. You must have been freaked out"

"Oh yes. I was freaked out out of my wits. I shouted and screamed till my flatmates next door came running to my room to see what had happened. All my books and all my belongings were scattered all over the room. She, the ghost did it while swirling around the room."

"This seems to be out of a Ramsay brothers movie. Are u sure you dint dream it. Maybe you slept-walk and in your sleep you must have disturbed the room while imagining the ghost"

"In the beginning even I had come to the same conclusion. As the windows were closed and the door was closed. I thought I must have hallucinated and slept walk as you suggested. Thats why I dint even leave the place for another one. But I had not imagined it"


"Because I saw her again the next day as well. The ghost. I was reading a book the next day and there she was staring at me. This time she seemed comfortable when she noticed me looking at her, she just kept looking at me. sitting in a corner. And neither did I scream. Even I kept looking at her. Her stare was almost mesmerizing. She never talked. She just stared"

This banker was saying the most incredible things. He dint look like a raving lunatic. But he definitely talked like one. He spoke as if he was talking about an unexpected roommate rather than a ghost. I was not believing him but I was piqued enough to know more.

"This is creeping me out. Are you sure you are not delusional?" I asked rather honestly.

"Maybe I was. Maybe I was not. But you havent heard the creepy part yet. After that day I really wanted to leave. But somehow I also wanted to see her again. See her eyes again. Her figure was not easy to discern, but her eyes were really prominent. When she looked at me, I could see adoration in her eyes"

At these words, I could not help laughing. This was developing into a love story. And the weird part was that he was saying it so seriously.

"I cant believe you. You are acting as if the ghost was in love with you. Which is totally unbelievable"

"Sure, the ghost was in love with me. You got that right. But its not the love you are imagining. Even ghosts become lonely. And she was very lonely. When I discovered her, it was an escape from her intense loneliness"

"I have no words to say. But please carry on"

"We had a few more staring sessions that week. She would appear suddenly. I would be tying my shoelaces and there she would be, staring at me. You have no idea what I went through at that time. I was going crazy. I used to imagine she was around even outside that room. I could sense her around me all the time, even though I could not see her. I did not say it to anybody, fearing that they would put me in an institution or worse, take me to a psychiatrist. I had to bear all this alone"

He was saying it so seriously, I couldnt help symphathise with him. I really felt he needed a trip to the psychiatrist though and I thought it made sense that he dint tell his story to anyone.

"Why dint u change the room?" I asked

"Thats the thing. I just could not do that. I did not want to go away from her. I wanted her to leave me but i dint want to let go of her. It was really comforting to see her staring at me like that. But I used to feel messed up after she vanished. I felt like a Junkie does. Desperately wanting to leave the habit but just did not have the control to do it. I started changing. Started getting paranoid and felt that everybody was staring at me. Staring like her"

What he was saying was shaking my whole foundation of reality and rationality and yet there was a tiny part in my brain that wanted to believe him.

"Why dint you signal her to leave you alone. If she cared for you, she would have left you alone. Instead of driving you nuts like that"

"Oh yes. I begged and pleaded. She would not appear for a few days and then after a few days, I would see her peeping at me from the corner of the room. And you know what, I used to feel relieved when she would arrive because I was going crazy without her too. Then one day, I could not take the  whole thing anymore. While she was staring at me, I took out a knife and acted like I would slit my veins if she dint leave me. But she seemed pleased that I was going to kill myself"

"Is it because if you died, then you could join her as a ghost. Is that why?"

"Yes. I guess. That smile in her eyes deterred me from killing myself. I thought if I killed myself, I would still not be able to escape from her. That, coupled with the fear of dying, ensured that I dint kill myself. Or else, I would have"

"I m creeped out of my wits. You are scaring me like hell. How did you finally manage to get rid of her. I hope she was not too hurt when you left her"

"Who said anything about leaving her. I never left her. I can see her even right now. She is right behind you"

I looked back quickly. I could not see anything except passengers removing their seatbelts.

"What" I asked him almost in a stutter. I was totally psyched out and I was clutching wildly at the handle of my seat.

"Oh my God" he replied " You are sweating profusely. Listen it was just a joke. I was playing a prank on you all along. I m so sorry. The plane seems to have landed. We have to part ways now"

"Not funny Mahesh. Not funny at all." I said. He just waved at me and smiled while moving towards the exit.

I would have believed him that he was playing a prank had I not seen him wink at someone right behind me.  There was nobody I could see behind me.

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