The Verma family was on its way to Calcutta, they were travelling from Patna by car. They had started early and had travelled the whole day, stopping only for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was eaten in the car itself. Ankita’s nani had packed dal filled pooris, besan bhujia, peetha, mango achar together with these there were egg-and-cheese sandwiches, cream chops, fruits, biscuits and coke cans.
Ranjeet & Reena were seated in the front with Ankita, Saurabh & Julie in the back. Julie was the Verma’s trusted santhali maid.
Lunch was taken at a roadside Dhaba and dinner at a small inn, in a town on the way. Reena wanted to stay the night at the sweet little inn, called “The Dreamboat Inn”, but Ranjeet wanted to cover some more distance before nightfall.
“Sahab, drive a bit fast now so that you can reach the next town by eleven o’clock. The drive between this village & the next town is uninhabited and lonely, and I don’t want you to linger here for long. It is already 9 o’clock. Have you got your petrol tank filled and got your car checked?”, asked the owner, in a concerned voice. “Oh! Yes! Don’t worry Ahmed Sahab, everything is fine”, said Ranjeet.
“Don’t you think we should have stayed back, Ranjeet? I am a bit worried”, said Reena. “ Come on mum. Don’t worry. We will reach the motel before eleven”, chorused the children. It was nearly a quarter to eleven when the car suddenly stopped. Ranjeet and Saurabh got off with torches and after a bit of checking around, the engine started.
They still had to cover a few miles and it had taken Ranjeet nearly one hour to start the car. They were going smoothly. Reena’s watch showed five minutes to twelve and still no sign of the next town approaching. Again the engine spluttered and stopped abruptly.
After opening the bonnet, Ranjeet found some serious damage. The car was overheated with hot fumes emanating from the engine, Ranjeet was suddenly worried as he wiped his forehead on his shirtsleeve. Half an hour later, the car still refused to budge. Reena, Julie and Ankita were really scared now. They were tired, sleepy and wanted to settle down for the night. They locked the car and started walking with torches in their hand.
“Papa, what will we do now? You should have listened to mum and stayed back at the inn. I am feeling scared!”, said Ankita. “Come on beta, be brave. I am sure we will get help. There has to be a farmer’s hut somewhere nearby and we can get shelter for the night there”.
They had walked for about half a mile. Julie was so frightened, that she was sobbing quietly. “Julie, keep quiet. We are all with you, don’t worry”, said Reena. Suddenly Saurabh spoke excitedly, “There is a dim light flickering towards the left Dad. Let’s investigate, someone might be living there.”
All of the neared the light source and saw a small mud house, with a single light source hanging from a crude wire connection over the front door. As they moved nearer, they saw it was a lantern. They knocked on the door, softly first and a little louder when no one answered.
Five minutes passed. Saurabh knocked again. “Is there anyone inside?”. Please help us, we need shelter till the morning only.” At first, there was no response, but just as they were about to move away, the door slowly creaked open and an old man stood there. “Oh! Please sir, can you let us stay in your house for the rest of the night? We are very tired and sleepy”, said Reena.
The old man raised the lantern, as though to catch a glimpse of the intruders, but said nothing. Then he turned and went inside motioning them to follow. They heaved a sigh of relief and followed the old man, who was covered from head to toe with a blanket. He took them to a room, which had a few cots with blankets & water in a surahi. He then disappeared to another part of the hut.
The Verma family settled for the night, with Ranjeet and Saurabh sharing one cot, while Reena and Ankita occupied the other. Julie slept on the third rickety cot, which seemed to be breaking with the slightest bit of movement. Somehow the night passed and they got up at around 7 a.m., nicely rested after a deep dreamless sleep.
Ranjeet got them together and went about the house looking for the old man in order to thank him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Reena kept a hundred rupee note for the old man, under the surahi and then they were on the road, walking towards the next town.
When they reached the motel, Morning Dew, Ranjeet told the manager about the night’s mishap. The manager, Mr Sharan laughed,” But there is no hut, house or cottage for miles around and certainly no old man lives anywhere near.” “But, Mr Sharan, I can take you there and show you. Come we will all go and you can meet our unknown saviour of the night before.”
Mr Sharan agreed, thinking how foolish these city wallahs are! A few locals joined them, they all kept saying there is nothing but a wasteland for miles around and no one goes there or stays because of the wasteland which is barren.
They travelled miles backwards but saw no hut or house. At last, they reached the car and were surprised to see the hundred rupee note pressed between the windscreen and the wipers. “This is the note I left in the hut for our host”, said Reena.
The villagers told them there used to live an old man in a small house about 50 years back, who was very lonely and used to help any and everyone.
He used to give food and drink to all passersby but had been killed by one of his guests, who thought the old fellow had money hidden somewhere. “Babuji, he must have helped you last night.” Julie started screaming,“ My God! Memsaab, we stayed at a ghost’s house. What will happen now?” “Shut Up Julie!”, said an exasperated Saurabh, “You are still alive aren’t you?”
As the Vermas’ car moved towards their destination, each of them was left wondering whether they had dreamed up the entire adventure…
Contributing Story Teller: Amita Sinha enjoys writing stories, poems and spiritual thoughts. Get in touch with her at [email protected]
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