(150669 words)

1

Koena had been deprived of her sleep for last two weeks. Forty winks were all she had wanted for herself for past many days but she saw a big herd of monsters and heavy beasts speeding up towards her whenever she closed her eyes.  She had always felt frightened to death after looking at the sight of these monsters and beasts. She noticed that she had been shivering with fear. She was completely soaked to the skin in perspiration. But, every time she would open her eyes to wake up, all those monsters and the beasts will always stop short of hitting her. The figures of the beasts will turn into a human face the moment she closed her eyes again. This was a countenance she had forgotten shape and identity of long ago. She would always have the growing feeling of the face coming closer, in fact too close to her own face. It was almost breathing on top of her nostrils.  The face so appearing would shroud her entire body into its fold. It made her feel suffocating and strangulating. She felt this evening very terribly scared again. She was once again anxious of closing her eyelids to put herself to sleep. She did not want to be crushed by these fiends while she was asleep or by that giant of the face, which would appear after the creature were gone.

She reclined on her back taking the support of the extra pieces of comfortable cushions spread on the sofa. She had very recently taken to this habit of going into some of her pre snooze rest on the sofa for a while, instead of straight away hitting the bed and then keeps counting the stars thereof. She had pulled a small blanket on top of her to cover her legs with it, as she felt the numbness of winter chill getting into her. She could feel the gush of wind blowing at a very high velocity outside the windows of her bedroom.  Such a strong gust of wind had been ruffling the branches of the trees laden with leaves very harshly in the compound below. The high volatile movement and activity of tree leaves simulated itself through shining lights of the moonlit night. It formed wraithlike shadows on her rooms’ windows panes. All these reflections on the sheet of glass appeared too ethereal and phantomlike to her.  She felt as if the face which comes into sight in her images has broken itself into many live organs. These body parts so displayed on the windowpanes appeared eager to enter into her sleeping room. She was horrified that all those grotesque descriptions had been knocking on the transparent window glass to break it.  Some of those contortions appeared too creepy. They were making the reverberating blare of heavy breathing. She was very scared and her body had gone stiff with the exposition of their irrepressible anger towards her.

She sensed as if all these evil spirit were beckoning her to open the windows and doors of her space for them and let them allow entry into her safe and secure world inside her sleeping room.  The bizarre ghosts while knocking on the window panes were also making wild gestures by their hands and feet. They all howled loudly while vocalizing very scary expressions. She covered her face with the soft blanket quilt and closed her eyes to hide herself away from their defiant stare and threatening of these wacky figures. She slid herself further deep down into the dark comfort of the coverlet as she tried to protect herself by cutting off all noises. She wanted to keep the frightening voices away from her by placing and pressing pillows on both of her ears. She could feel her bosom jumping up and down in trepidation.  Soon her own heavy breathing comforted her inside the quilt and she dozed off in the warmth of her own body.

She was woken up from her disturbed slumber by the sound of a still louder and shrieking shrill. “May it be that some of the street dogs are howling outside in a distance due to pangs of hunger”, she thought.  But the sounds that had been piercing her ears with their cries of their high-pitched agony were different from the raucous lament of street dogs who have been wandering the streets of the neighborhood in search of some morsel to eat.

She realized soon that it was the noise of the telephone ringing in the sleeping room that had disturbed her. The telephone had been drumming continuously for a long time. She removed the cover from her face, rubbed her eyes softly, picked up her spectacles from the side table and put them on.  It seemed to her that she was getting too old lately.  She felt as if her age seemed to have been catching on with her. She was finding it difficult to read the figures of the quartz watch from even a shorter distance. The watch on her wrist showed ten minutes past two ‘o’clock. The ring of the telephone carried on. “Who could it have been at such an unearthly hour?  Gautam her husband could not have dialed the home telephone number unless he wanted to stay back overnight at the club which was quite unlikely.  He seldom preferred staying out of home whenever he was in town. He would always come back home from no matter when the party got over. Any one of her children too could not have dialed this phone, as they knew that their mother did not like being disturbed after she went to sleep, unless of course it was some kind of absolute emergency. There were standing instructions to Gautam’s office also to not to ring him up at their residence at night; “whatever the emergency, it will be dealt with the next morning” she would often tell her family members.  She picked up the receiver from the cradle; hoping and praying “I hope there is nothing serious matter with any of my near and dear ones”.

“Hello! May I speak to Mrs. Sehgal?” the caller spoke from the other side “I am calling from Toronto Canada.”

“Toronto is on the other end of the globe. Who could have called from such a distant place at such an unearthly hour”, Koena did not immediately recall having any living relative residing in that part of the world. “Unless of course it is some kind of business call for Gautam, but there too they never proffered discussing business from their residence at such late in the night”.

“I think you have dialed a wrong number. My name is not Mrs. Sehgal, I am Koena Rajdhyaksha”. She wanted to cut him short.

“Please Madam, do not disconnect this phone call” the caller pleaded as if he had read her mind over the lines.  He sounded desperate.

“It is some foreigner,” Koena could make out the French accent in his voice. She was not sure whether she should take this call but she had already started the conversation so “I might as well listen to him for a while”.

“I am sure I am talking to the right person “, the caller continued, “This is about Ranjit, Mr. Ranjit Sehgal”.

“My God!” thought Koena. She was stunned and petrified, “was that the face of Ranjit that had been tormenting her all these days”.

“Was it a coincident that, after almost two decades someone is giving her this call about Ranjit”,

“Yes go ahead please, what it is?”

She heard her own unvolunteered weakened and meek voice. She felt that she was trembling with fear in her own home. She did not know why she could not disconnect this caller there and then. Her fingers were fiddling with the glass full of water kept on the bed side. The trauma of hearing that name once again in her life affected her so much that the strength of picking up a glass full of water had been drained out of her. She felt her throat was getting dry and parched.

“Madam we have been given this contact telephone number to get in touch with you. However we were not certain if we will be able to get to you so soon. Now that you have been contacted I think it is my duty to inform you about my client sorry my deceased client Mr. Ranjit Sehgal. Mr.Ranjit Sehgal has left behind a large fortune and estate that needs to be settled, hence this call.”

“What do you mean? What has happened to Ranjit? Where is he?” she could not hold her  words back and was surprised to notice that she was concerned about his welfare even after a gap of  so many years. She stopped playing with the telephone wire.

The caller continued on the other end, “Mr. Ranjit Sehgal passed away on December 24th and as per his last WILL which has been authenticated by a notary from Canadian courts, we have been appointed executors for settling the claims on the vast fortune left behind by the departed. We are the representatives of   the company known as Tudors and Tudors. The large portion of Mr. Sehgal’s estate has been bequeathed to you. Sorry, to Koena Sehgal. Can we fly down to India to see you in this regard?”

Finally she helped herself with that glass of water. She finished it all till the bottoms and gained strength to speak.  He was dead after all.

“No! No! No! Please do not come here. Let me think over it. Will you please leave your contact telephone number with me? I will get in touch with you.”

“Yes Madam. We are aware of the fact that you are now known as respectable Mrs.Rajadhyaksha. We will be very discreet in our dealings about this affair. Our meeting with you will remain absolute private and confidential.  We can assure you that”, the caller had said.

“That’s very nice of you. But I think I have not been mentally able to absorb what you said just now. I have noted down your number and I will get in touch with you”.

Koena Rajdhyaksha, the wife of the CEO of one of the largest corporate conglomerate in India had completely been disturbed by this call. She sat thinking in her bed. Now she realized why she had been distressed in her sleep for many previous nights.  She knew she would not be able to have her peace of mind henceforth for a long time to come. She put off the control knob of the heat blower, as she started sweating profusely even in the severe cold winter night.

“Why after all these years he has come back, after his death”. She had completely erased all memories of past many years. Even the name Ranjit did not evoke any response or emotions in her. She had completely cut off that part of her life.

Yet she felt anxious today. She was certain she did not have any interest in the large fortune of the man who had passed away many miles afar from her life and world. He had virtually been dead for her for a long time as it is even when he lived. This news about his actual demise too could only add troubles to her peaceful and well settled life. She wished she could have told the caller, “You have got a wrong number or maybe the wrong person. I am not the one you have been looking for”. Yet she took the call.

“What will Gautam have said? How can she explain this to her children?”

She wished “it were a dream”.

She however looked at the slip of paper on which she had written the telephone number of the caller from Canada. She tried memorizing the number, so that she could tear down the slip. The exercise proved too much for her tired soul. She looked around for her purse to keep the slip away from the eyes of her husband. She wanted to get back into the dark and secure world of her black blanket and close her eyes to the monsters she has been afraid of all this while.

However soon she realized that the strong storm that had been disturbing her sleep into the night outside had been converted into heavy downpour. Those strong droplets of rains had also washed the fog away from the window pains of her bedroom.  She could hear the sound of the horn of Gautam’s car   at the outer gate. He was back from the club.  The electronic horn of Gautam’s car had always sounded melodious to her ears as it announced his arrival home.  But it was such a day today that she did not want to hear any sound. Koena hid the slip under the mattress and moved over to open the door.

“You are still awake. It is surprising to see you awake at such late into the night” Gautam asked her as he threw over the car keys on the bed. She made no effort to stop him from doing that. Otherwise it was an almost daily effort on her part to correct his habit of throwing things around the house. She would often tell him to hang the key bunch on its proper place so that he could find them easily in the morning, so it was with his other accessories e.g. handkerchiefs, belt, neck tie  and wallet etc. etc. .

“Have you been watching a horror film?  Your face looks so pale and drained out as if you have seen a ghost of some sort”. Gautam held both of her hands in his hands and kissed her lightly on her cheeks “I terribly missed your company at the club.  You must at times come along to club with me just to add a bit of luck to my game of cards. You know all my friends from the card club often tell me, “A lucky man in love is always unlucky in cards” but I want to prove them all wrong once at least. You know whenever you sit by my side I can turn the dame luck in my favor.  Just come with me to the card room once my love! I am sure with your luck favoring me; I too can make my fortune”.

“Gautam you know how I hate the game of cards where men try to pit their wits against each other just to prove they have better brains than the idiots sitting in front of them”, she wanted to tell him but the mysterious telephone call hung heavy on her thoughts. She made no comments.

“Don’t you feel bored and tired watching that idiot box all the while? Oh yes, there was a call for you at the office this morning. My secretary told me that someone from Canada wanted to speak to you. Did he ring up here?” Gautam had casually mentioned while changing into the night gear. He still looked quite athletic even at this age, but Koena’s mind was elsewhere. She had not answered him. She could not even hear him snore as at that particular stage her physical self was hanging within the space of timelessness even though her brainy functions were conveying her to a different time. Koena closed her eyes and lay down thinking.

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