As the white human form approached, the rhythm of my heart beat as if it will burst out of my heart. My thoughts went hither and thither.
“You seem to have lost your way.”
The voice sounded as sweet as honey to my ears, breaking the chaotic upheaval around me. “Y..yes,” I stuttered nervously.
I took deep breaths to ease the constriction in my chest. “I returned to this place after a long time. It has changed a lot.”
“Yes, it did. And so did you.” The sweet female voice strangely comforted me that all my earlier panic seemed like a fanciful imagination. The petite woman moved closer and I can make out the beautiful serene features of her face in the moonlit. But her voice rang a familiar note in my brain. As if we know each other but I still could not figure out. Do I know her? Maybe I do. Does she know me? Definitely. She talked to me with my first name.
“Come, I will show you the way. No need to get worried.”
“I was not worried err….”
“You do not remember me, do you?”
“Well err…,” I stammered feeling utterly embarrassed.
“It happens if you are fully into your busy life for last 10 years.” She stopped talking but we kept on walking veering from the hospital campus. “Do you remember a chubby shy girl in your neighborhood whom you used to tease when you were a little boy?”
I stopped walking and shamelessly looked her from head to toes unable to believe that the little mousy girl has grown to this beautiful petite woman. “Jhilmil. Is it really you?”
“Finally. You remembered me.” We laughed. “Yes, you are right, Jhilmil. Many things has changed here. I feel like a stranger in my own place.”
Reminiscing our childhood memories we both trudged on until I noticed walking in a dangerously slippery path cut across a neglected farm. Looking at the surrounding the same unease came over me and I became quiet.
“You are quiet.”
“Nothing. This place feels strange,” I replied carefully putting my foot over another slippery patch in the path.
“Yes. This place is strange and dark and bloodthirsty,” she replied. Perplexed I looked at her eyes asking her what she meant.
“A few months ago, a young widow was beaten and raped by her two of her manipulative and demanding in-laws near the hospital campus. They were forcing her for over a year after her husband’s death who was 30 years her elder. She became the owner of various properties and current assets as per her husband’s will much to the shock and anger from his greedy family members. She fought them off for a year but never did she imagine they would act so inhumanly towards her.”
“Wha…what happened to the widow?” I rasped.
“Nobody heard her screams and pleas. All were lost in the heart of darkness. Later they strangled her throat and thinking her dead they carried her body to these unused swampy farms to dump her body. Nobody came to her rescue even then when she struggled to climb out her weary and bruised body out of these swamps. When the body was discovered two days later her face was not identifiable at the first look as her face and upper body was bloodily infested and swollen by the leeches swarming in these swamps.”
I choked unable to utter words through my dry throat. My eyes misted thinking about the pain and betrayal the young woman went through.
“And what happened to the culprits? Did the authorities catch them?”
She gave a strange smile to my questions. “Oh they were caught but after they were found dead in these same swamps bloodied and eaten by the leeches. People said that the ghost of the widow took her revenge upon them and they avoided taking this path claiming to be haunted.”
We left the slippery tracks long back but my heart was chilled from what I heard and felt at that place. I did not feel like talking anymore and Jhilmil also kept quiet.
“Look there, your house is alighted with lots of candles.”
Her exclamation broke my weary thoughts and I let out a breath of relief looking at my ancestral house. I turned to thank her but she was not there. I called her out name. But she simply disappeared in the darkness without any trace. Did I spend too much time in my ruminations that she left without any word? I shook my head and went ahead to my house. The entire journey was wearing me down and my senses have started reacting rather strangely.
“This is not a joke, dear nephew. Oh why did you take that accursed short-cut through the hospital? What would I do if something happened to you? Promise me you will never take that path again. Promise me.”
“What? Don’t be silly Mausi*. Nothing happened to me. I came back to you in one piece from that accursed place guided by a beautiful woman,” I added grinning.
“What? Which woman are you talking about?”
I never thought that Jhilmil’s name will make my aunt go pale and frightened. I tensed and grabbed my aunts’ cold hands soothing and coaxing her.
“You did not meet Jhilmil. It is not possible. Do you know, that Jhilmil is dead for last 6 months. She was brutally murdered by her in-laws near that place you came through.”
My aunt now ran her hands over my pale face. Now everything made sense, her sudden appearance in that place, her detailed description of the inhuman bloody encounter and her sudden disappearance. Jhilmil was telling me her own story. And that day was 6 months anniversary of that accursed day
*Mausi – Mother’s Sister/Aunt