The engineering college was on the outskirts of the city in the vast expanse studded with isolated old houses of what was earlier a village. The boys and girls were ferried by buses. There was hostel separately for boys and girls. The college was not high in the list and was a haven for boys and girls who could not score highly. It was notorious for ragging with an inept management unable to control the few unruly students. Complaints were often made but the concerned students with power and influence behind them had no fear.
Raghav a timid boy in the first semester and born with four sisters from a family of ordinary means was scared of these bullies and gave them a wide berth. A puny boy, studious in habits and given to obedience, could evade the rampant ragging thus far. It was his bad luck that on this day the lecturer taunted a few students when Raghav answered a few questions correctly while many blinked. Word went round to the seniors during lunch time about the humiliation of the back benchers. That was his nemesis and he was marked instantly for ragging.
As he came out of the class in the evening, three bullies from the senior class ambushed him and took him away from the bus stand to the rear of college building.
“So you are a show off. You wish to expose the other students with your intelligence. But you don’t have the guts those boys possess. What do you say?” one senior asked him with his hand holding his collar.
Raghav’s throat went dry with fear and he kept silent. This infuriated another bully who gave him a hard slap.
The third one said” If you are that gutsy and smart, why don’t you go into that house you see yonder and wave your hand from the balcony? Unless you do it, you will not be allowed to go home” even as the one who slapped took away his bag and things kept in the pocket.
The house on the rear was for long lying unused and was rumoured to be haunted by a violent ghost. Nobody ever tread into the sprawling ground. Even the daring boys kept away as people talked of unnatural deaths and mental wrecks for those who dared. Into such a house the poor lad was pushed into. When he stood near the broken gate the bullies threw stones at him making him go further inside. He gingerly moved on the pathway that was littered with dry leaves and dirt. Stones were hurled at him whenever he lingered. He gathered courage and stepped on the verandah. The bullies gesticulated him to go inside the house.
The door was covered with cobwebs and dust. He tapped the door gently and was shivering in dread. The bullies were watching intently. The door slightly opened to reveal an old woman in white gown who seemed tall but shriveled. Her eyes were sunk deeply and there was a white tooth with a skin that was drawn tightly on the face looking a skeleton. Raghav could not utter any word and was sweating profusely.
“Come in. Do not be afraid. What brought you here? No one comes. Are you in trouble and seeking refuge here? Tell me without fear” the lady spoke.
Raghav mustered courage and narrated the trouble he was put into and said “I had no mind to trouble you. They threw stones at me to trespass into your compound. They insist that I show up in the balcony for them to release me to my home”
“That is easily done. Come on to the first floor” she said. They went up the creaky stairs and waved their hands at the boys with old woman’s hand on Raghav’s shoulders.”Call the boys here and as they enter the verandah ,you run away by the rear door. Do not stay here after they enter” the woman added
Raghav signaled the boys to come telling “It is nice here and there are fruits. Do come”. They saw Raghav smiling and talking to the old woman.Curiosity took better of them. They decided to have some fun and came rushing. Raghav ran away through the rear door as fast as his legs could carry.
When he neared the outer gate, he heard loud screams and shrieks from his college mates as if there was a murderous assault on them. He did not linger and ran away
The next day there were crowds of students, lecturers and staff outside the building. There was a police van.. He heard from them that the three boys who had ventured into the forbidden building the previous evening were behaving strangely with fear in their eyes and talking to themselves incoherently like lunatics.
Raghav looked at the balcony. He felt there was a slight movement of a figure in white clothes