16 December 2003.
Finally my only brother’s birthday has come to an end. It was his first birthday, celebrated at my aunt’s farm house. Her home has always been my favourite place to spend the coldest nights of the year. A grand house, one mile away from the road, protected by walls from the three sides and those further surrounded by the green fields, pictures it as a typical Punjabi villager’s house. If they run out of any resources they have to drive at least five miles to find any neighbours.
Since it served as a party house, it was crowded with my aunt’s joint family and my family. All men claimed two different rooms on the basis of drinker’s and non-drinkers while all the women got together to gossip.
It was too huge to be called a bed room. My aunt arranged the bedsteads in a row just in front of the door. There was a queen size bed placed already where i chose to sleep in the middle so i could hear both of my cousins well. On the right of the bed was a window, adjacent to the bed and when it ends the only door of the room stands locked out.
We all had a good laugh and chat for almost three hours and finally everybody started to fade one by one. I must be the last one to sleep. It usually happens with me that no matter how many times i have slept at a place before, it takes me a day or two to get familiar with the bed.
I tucked my feet in blanket and just held my cousin’s hand so could warm mine. I realized then she forgot to take her watch off and also noticed it flashed 03:25 am. I wanted to sleep as soon as possible because i knew even if its winter, everyone will wake up at 04:30 am and that leaves only an hour for me to sleep.
While i was doing all these calculations i saw someone walked past the window. Though the figure appeared for a few seconds only but the light still gave a clear picture of the person. He looked almost like my uncle but actually an older version of him. My uncle always wears white Kurta, Laacha and keeps a white stall on his shoulder (Punjabi attire) but this man wore the same kind of attire in brown check pattern. He was taller than my uncle and had white hair and beard.
Even though the person was not familiar i did not feel strange but then i heard a knock at the door. I understood its him and expected my aunt to wake up and open the door but to my surprise she did not move at all even when her cot is placed just next to the door. I though everyone is in deep sleep and too tired to react. The man standing outside might felt the same and knocked even harder. This time i really panicked. I wondered what if its only i who could witness or hear all this. Its not possible that none in this room could hear such a loud sound, in fact due to silence all around, it echoed throughout the house. Now this is not normal. I clenched my cousin’s wrist but she also pretended to be dead. I called her name out but it appeared my voice did not hit her ears.
“Am i dreaming? “, I asked myself as trying hard to hide under blanket.
Ohh someone please wake up and open the door so i could believe all is normal.
My prayer was answered, but in a terrified way.
The door got unchained. I could feel the temperature is even lowered as the fog and cold entered along with him. How could every one in my room be still sleeping. Are they also pretending nothing is going around, maybe they are also hiding under blankets but it seems like the man that i am sure is not an ordinary creature knows i am aware of his presence, He did not say a single word, passed my aunt’s cot and stood near the edge of my bed. I literary scratched my cousin’s hand but it did not hurt her at all.
Then i felt someone is trying to pull the blanket off my feet. I kept silent and did not move at all. He continued to struggle but i concentrated my whole weight on my feet so he should not be able to uncover my feet. I was afraid what if he dragged me out of this bed and i don’t think other people are still aware of his presence. I almost died million times in those few seconds. I was sure now, its not a nightmare, people in this room have no idea of this creature but me and i was running out of courage too.
Then suddenly my mind whispered “O Almighty!!!”.
I felt the grip loosens like he quit, later i heard the door’s sound so understood he left and along with him he took the fear and coldness. I felt such a relief and even felt brave enough to peek out of the blanket. I did see the same man walking towards the other rooms. Its has been a minute and i am still in to the same moment.
Shouldn’t i wake up now?
I was still waiting for the moment that someone might shake or pinch me to wake me up and ask were you in a nightmare?
Unfortunately it did not happen and i was still in the reality.
My aunt woke up at 04:15 am. The moment i heard her paying her morning prayers, i uncovered my face. She looked at me and asked if i slept well or not?
I narrated her everything that happened and i was not surprised that she did not believe it, in fact none of them were ready to believe that someone came in the same room and they did not feel his presence. They showed me the door is still locked from inside and obviously there is no other away around.
There was no way i could prove so I thought to let it go.
“Maybe they do not want me to panic and live with fear as i am going to stay for another couple of days”, i consoled myself. I was confused whether i should spend my vacation there or not as it might get worse but then i decided to stay.
To be honest curiosity replaced my fear. I don’t care if other believe or not, i wanted to confirm the truth for my peace of mind.
“He was a stranger but a familiar one……hhhmm…..how could he? i tried to shuffle my memories”, and then the question turned in to a lead to its answer.
“yes !!! Memories”, i whispered and went to my aunt’s room to find the hard copy of the memories. My eyes kept moving through all the books, novels, magazines and stopped when it reached an old photo album. I grabbed it and started looking each pages carefully to spot the familiar stranger in the family crowd.
“The one on the last page.” a voice guided.
“Ohh my love, you scared the shit out of me.” i replied.
My cousin came in and took the album from me, she turned the album upside down and opened the last page.
“He is the one you are looking for dear.” she pointed towards a man in the picture. “He was my uncle and died of a cruel disease. We did not agree with you because we did not want you to be scared”,she explained!
“It is said that once people die, they belong to no one, they have no relation and can hurt the one who they loved the most” she went further. “You better go back.”