Jubilee was trying her best to quell the rising sense of panic. Everything inside the bathroom seemed to be still now. She held the door handle again and furiously tried to yank it open. To no avail. It stayed locked.
“Who’s in there?!” she shouted, banging on the door a few times but all her calls were met only with a stony silence from the other side.
She strained her ears to the door again. All was quiet. She breathed a bit normally. Maybe she was just imagining things.
Just then she heard someone hum. A female voice! Jubilee stepped back abruptly as if an unseen hand had slapped her.
It was a sad melancholy tune and the person humming it seemed to be in some untold grief.
The voice drifted out slowly, wrapped in mystery and Jubilee could feel the hair on her arms bristle and stand erect.
“Ira, is that you?”, cried Sarita in alarm. No sound came from behind the door. Teenagers sometimes behaved in a weird manner. Did her daughter have a fight with someone at her in-law’s place? Or had she been bored and come back early? If that was so, then where were the others?
“Ira, open the door for God’s sake!” she almost yelled in the empty flat. She thumped the door a few times, with an unknown fear increasing its grip on her with every passing moment. “What happened sweetheart, why are you crying?!”
For a moment everything went absolutely silent. The rain seemed to be falling at a distance and even the thunder had gone quiet.
Then just when she thought the crying had stopped, it started again. This time it was louder, more painful and heart wrenching. Who was it inside in so much agony?
An involuntary chill passed through her body, making Sarita shudder and go absolutely still.
Jubilee stood in the hall now where she was relaxing only a few minutes ago. She had run away from the bathroom door, no longer able to withstand the fear.
A dozen questions were slamming her head from all directions. Who was inside the bathroom? From where had a chair come inside it? She cast a quick glance across the hall and then the bedrooms. No piece of furniture seemed missing.
The drifting voice had instilled a sense of fear in her which she had never experienced before. There was so much sadness in it, yet it was chilling. She quickly remembered to dial her hubby’s mobile. A beep and then an engaged tone greeted her. He must be busy at work. Damn!
She gingerly started to step back towards the bathroom again. Her hand trembled as she got hold of the wall for support.
Just then she heard a loud thud come from behind the door. It was as if a chair had been toppled onto the floor with a crash! In the empty flat the sound reverberated like a bullet shot.
A sea of blackness swept over Jubilee as she fell unconscious to the floor.
The rain was pelting now. It had reached a crescendo and was being punctuated in between with shards of lightning and thunder.
Sarita could not hear a thing. She nervously put her head against the door again trying to catch any sound. By now she realized it was not Ira. Her daughter would not behave nor sound like this. Moreover, she could not have come back alone without her father and brother.
So if not Ira then who was it? Just as she moved to collect her mobile from the hall to call her hubby, a blood curdling scream pierced the night trailing off into the wet darkness.
Involuntarily Sarita put both her hands onto her ears and even as she stood in shock disbelief, the enormity of the fact hit her squarely on her senses.
(tap to play)
The girl had jumped off from one of the bedroom windows to her death below.
One Year Earlier; Bur Dubai, 6 pm
Surubhi was humming her favourite tune as she dragged the chair slowly across the bathroom floor.
This tune was a song which both the sisters had learnt from their father. They had grown up hearing it countless number of times until it had been imprinted on their minds.
When they were kids, Surubhi piggy backed on her beloved father’s shoulders and younger sibling Suruchi clasping her hand in his, walked alongside.
He would take them to the nearby park and along the way he would be humming this tune. The only difference was Surubhi always had happy memories associated with this melody.
Now as she hummed it, the strains had a ring of deep sadness around them.
This was because her best friend and her soulmate – her dear father Mohan had passed away under the most shocking circumstances. He used to run a shelter home for destitute women and their children back home in India. It was named Sewa Ashram. This year the local MLA had been invited for flag hoisting on Independence Day.
It was then that trouble started for her father and his sacred Institution.
The resident women of Sewa Ashram had recited the National Anthem and presented a short skit on the Independence struggle. Some of the children had presented a colourful song and dance routine. Overall, it had been a satisfactory affair. This was followed by a short speech from the MLA in which he praised Mohan Babu’s shelter home and the noble work he was pursuing.
What he did not mention was that he had already noticed a couple of women who had caught his fancy. His roving eyes had quickly taken note of their physical attractiveness and their mental vulnerability.
When her father had been away for a few weeks- he had spent a fabulous holiday with Surubhi and her children in Dubai- the shelter was left in charge of a Manager.
The Manager had been easily bribed by the henchmen of the politician. Initially it started with a couple of the women being forcibly taken away to a nearby guest house and dropped back the next morning. However, the carnal temptations of the politician and his coterie were too deep and their desires limitless.
Soon this started happening every night, leading to a chain of physical abuse and mental agony for the women until one of them gathered enough courage and called up their guardian Mohan Babu in Dubai. He had immediately taken the next available flight and landed at Sewa Ashram.
Police cases were filed and soon the shameful events were all over the media. Despite knowing he was up against powerful forces, Mohan knew he had to stand up for his inmates and bring them justice.
However he watched in dismay as not only the MLA managed to pull strings and get away unscathed but also the Manager pleaded not guilty shifting the entire blame onto Mohan. Some of the women inmates, threatened of dire consequences to them and their children by the MLA’s henchmen, became hostile witnesses turning against their beloved Mohan Babu.
His entire life’s dedication and hard work to a social cause lay in shambles. His own neighbours bayed for his blood. News reporters went after him demanding the strictest punishment possible.
On the morning of the incident a large mob had gathered outside the shelter home. A by-stander recorded the entire event on his mobile phone and it was soon viral on all leading Tv channels. Both sisters watched in shock and agony as their father was dragged out of his home by the crowd and beaten mercilessly. Who could dare to reason with a mob that had lost hold of their senses?
By the time the police had arrived and taken a bleeding Mohan to the hospital, he had suffered internal haemorrhage and was declared dead on arrival.
It had not even been 48 hours since her father’s death, that Surubhi’s husband had spoken of divorce. His family no longer wanted to be associated with a daughter-in-law of such ill repute. She had to pack her bags and leave Dubai. She had to sever ties with her only child too.
She knew life would never be the same again.
Now as Surubhi balanced herself on the chair inside the bathroom she closed her eyes for one final moment. She paused before taking the next step. Her father had gone the same place two evenings ago; she would follow him there- into the darkness, into oblivion- until she would meet him. Then there would be light.
She pulled the red dupatta around her neck and tightened it against the hook on the bathroom’s ceiling. This was her guillotine. The hang man was ready.
The humming stopped as the chair swayed once before crashing onto the floor.
One Year Earlier; Mumbai, 7.30 pm
Her elder sister had promised her it won’t hurt. It would be like entering into a dark tunnel but there would be light at the end of it and soon she would be re-united with her entire family- Surubhi, their mother and above all her beloved father!
Suruchi stood almost on the edge of the window ledge. City lights twinkled far below her and when she looked up stars sparkled gently in the night sky above. Soon, she would be there.
She had celebrated her 19th birthday with her college friends last week. There was a double reason for celebrations as in the same week she had landed an Internship at a prestigious firm where she would learn her craft. Life could not have been more perfect!
She had excitedly shared her happiness over phone with her dear father. During her birth, their mother had passed away. She no longer remembered her. For Suruchi her father was not only both parents, but also their buddy in whom she could confide all her fears and happiness.
How had their entire world come crashing down in the past 48 hours? Her father was gone; she still found it difficult to believe that. Surubhi would soon be gone too. Both sisters had agreed upon a common time to exit when they had spoken over the phone today.
Yes, she had to go now. The time had come. She was the youngest and they would all be waiting anxiously for her above.
Her mind was numb as she took a step forward balancing herself on the 6th floor window ledge of her Mumbai apartment. She had a mini statue, carved of sandalwood of her favourite deity on her study table. Suruchi whispered His name once.
She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and jumped.
Present Day; Mumbai
Sarita lay slumped against the wall in front of her bedroom. The storm had subsided. The rains were gone but they had left behind tears which now welled up in her eyes.
Even as she watched, the bedroom door slowly and silently swung open, revealing the darkness beyond.
Reader's Corner 1) Do you think Surubhi's and Suruchi's spirits would appear every year on the same day and in the same rooms where they took their lives? 2) Would the killers of Mohan would ever be punished? If yes, would both sisters get the redemption they deserve? Do leave your comments and thoughts on the story.
This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, student of NIFT, Bhubaneswar. Both her sketches done specifically for my story add heft to it. I hope you will agree.
phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂