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“Hush, my child, it’s time to sleep.”
She seemed to hear her mother’s voice, its soft comfort filled with love and warmth, but she was cold.
“Where am I?”
The damp smell of dirt seemed strange.
“Mom?” she called, her dazed mind searching for her.
“Rest in peace, my beautiful one,” her mother cried, her voice cracking with emotion.
“No,” she screamed, weakly, struggling to find her way out of the haze of darkness, as her mother’s voice faded away.
The darkness prevailed, seeming to entrap her then suddenly a light shone, illuminating a path. Her eyes flew open and she sat up, stung by a blast of cold air. She looked around, but no one was waiting for her, she was alone in a place that was not home.
The creepy silence sent a chill through her body, and in desperation, she now called for her husband,
“Dev, please help me! I think I’m lost.”
There was no answer.
She called for him, again, “Dev, where are you?”
Still no answer.
A knot of fear formed in her throat, not seeing anyone, nor hearing their voices.
“Mom…Dev…” she called, her voice trembling.
“They can’t hear you,” a little voice said behind her.
She turned around, startled and saw a little girl, in a white frilly dress, holding a bunch of flowers in her hand.
“Why? Where am I?”
“You are not of their world anymore,” she said softly and placed the flowers on a grave at her feet.
“Your final resting place, Priya.”
Priya looked down and gasped, shocked to the extreme.
She was looking at a grave with her name carved on a headstone.
“I died?” she asked incredulously, “I died?!”
The little girl said nothing, a sympathetic look on her face and turning, she walked, a short distance away to a smaller grave. Priya looked at her, icy cold fingers gripping her senses, as the realisation hit her that she was in a cemetery and the little girl was a departed soul like she was now.
She sat down, her head buried in her hands, trying to get her confused thoughts together.
“How did this happen?”
She had not been ill, she had not been in an accident, nor she had no serious problems with anyone.
“How then, did I die, dear Lord?”
The last thing she could remember was coming home from the mandir, making a cup of tea, that she had drunk after taking a bath and lying down to sleep.
“Those were the final moments of my life,” she recalled, “There’s nothing else which means I never woke up.”
Priya opened her eyes, her thoughts deeply troubled and she saw the little girl, sitting beside her.
“He wasn’t sad.” The child said.
“Your husband.”
“What are you saying?” Priya asked, now perplexed.
“I was looking at him when they brought your body for burial. He wasn’t sad and his mother had a hidden, little smile on her face.”
Priya stood up and walked around restlessly, feeling as though she had been caught in a freak thunderstorm. There was no doubt now, something bad had happened to her from someone who had put a devious plan into play, someone who wanted her dead.
“When did love turn to such hate?” she questioned, bitterly.
A dignified and virtuous young woman, she had been, from a Hindu family, close to her religion and culture. She had graduated top of her class from a business school and met her husband just six months after starting to work. Their courtship had lasted a year before they got married with the blessings of both families.
A beautiful couple they had been with wonderful plans for the future, but two years after tension started to creep in when she could not get pregnant. Tests proved nothing was wrong with her and the doctors assured her it may take some time.
A traditional Hindu home, like her in-laws, hardly blames the husband for any wrong and even though the fault is not always the wife’s, she was blamed for it. Priya had tried over the time to take the insults and caustic remarks from her husband’s family in good stride, given her kind nature and she prayed daily for something positive to take away the problems and tension. But, it got worse when Dev, instigated by his mother began behaving aggressively towards her, that many days left her in tears. She had wanted to leave, to end the marriage but her parents, staunch Hindus had disagreed with her decision, telling her a good wife does not leave her husband and her home.
Those words now seemed to mock at her, for her body was lying, lifeless in the cold earth.
“I obeyed you, father,” she said in deep agony, “And this is my reward. What great advice do you have for me now?”
She had never been comfortable with the rules and laws of traditional homes where the woman has to suffer.
“This is so unfair,” she expressed bitterly, “For we give our hearts and soul to home and family. We love and honour our husbands and yet a kind word or a smile to say ‘Thank you’ is asking too much.”
Life for her got no better when her husband’s late hours became more regular, and the different scents of perfume on his clothes told her what words wouldn’t, that he was seeing other women.
It had felt like a knife wound in her heart and when her in-laws too voiced their disapproval of a divorce, because it would be a stain on the family’s name, she had felt trapped and helpless. But she never gave up her faith, praying for something to free her.
“I never thought it would have been death.” She cried with agonised screams and the dogs in the village across the trench howled, aware of a haunted soul’s presence and her pain. As her anger subsided and she sat there crying, quietly, the little girl touched her hand in comfort.
“I used to cry every night too.”
Priya raised her head, after a short moment and looked at the child, seeing for the first time, her pain and sighing deeply to calm her anguished mind, she asked her,
“How long have you been here?”
“Three years.”
“What happened?”
The child looked at her hands, not answering then she looked up, tears in her eyes, “A bad uncle took me away from our home when my mother was at work and he hurt me. I never saw my mother, little brother and sister again because I got lost in a dark place until the angels came.”
The child’s tragic story was like another stab to Priya’s heart.
A young innocent life mercilessly interrupted. Will it ever end?
She hugged the child and asked, puzzled,
“Why are you still here?”
“I did not go with the angels because I cannot leave my mother, she’s too sad.”
“No, Anne,” Priya said to her, “You have to, for you’ll be God’s little angel in Heaven.”
Anne shook her head, biting her lip to stop from crying.
“She’s at a mental hospital, she needs me, I go to see her every night to help her get better and I have to look over my brother and sister.”
Priya watched the child leave, and she thought of her own grieving mother and father, her husband who was not sad and a killer who had left no prints.
“I will find you though,” she vowed, “and not until then would I leave, for my life was my own and you had no right to take it.”
The little girl came back, an hour before midnight and Priya said to her, “I need to find my way home.”
Anne stretched out her little hand and said, “Come with me.”
They walked down the cemetery path, two unseen beings, woman and child of another world.
As they neared the roadway, their spiritual forms materialized into the living and an approaching car stopped. The driver was on his way home after a hard day’s work but he could not leave, a woman and child so late on the road.
“Where to?” he asked.
Priya gave instructions to her husband’s home.
On the way, the cab driver shivered a little at the sudden chill in the car and noticing the tense silence of the woman and child, he said in casual conversation,
“It’s a sad thing, the home you’re going to, the man’s wife died a week ago.”
“How did she die?” Priya asked, her voice just above a whisper.
“It is being said she committed suicide.”
“Sad, indeed.” She agreed, in a sarcastic tone.
The driver looking through the rearview mirror could not see her face clearly through the thin veil of shadow and realizing she wasn’t interesting in talking, he turned on the radio. A little while later, he turned off the main road, into a street, stopping at the second corner.
“Your stop,” he said turning and saw to his surprise, the child was not in the car.
“Where did she go?” he asked, puzzled.
“She has returned to wait for me.”
“What? How did she if I did not stop anywhere….” His voice trailed off, confused.
Priya pushed the hair away from her face, the shadows lifting and words died in the driver’s throat as he looked into her, cold, haunting eyes, her voice, a hoarse whisper.
“This was my home, I have returned to see my husband.”
To be continued…

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