It was a small house situated at the end of the lane. I lived in the single room on the terrace that I could access by a staircase built outside the house. A spacious room well ventilated on three sides including a window that opened to the terrace. My office was just 15 minutes away by bike. There was an Udupi hotel at the end of the lane on the main road where I had my daily breakfast and occasional dinner.
I am happy here after a year of living in men’s hostel with smoke filled corridors, long queues for the toilets, the noise till late night and the litter of bottles and wrappers all around in the mornings. I liked the tranquil here, the fresh air from the window adjacent to my bed and an exclusive bath and toilet for me. There was one thing that embarrassed me.
Whenever I tried to start my old motor bike in the mornings, it just refused to come alive in sheer petulance. It needed repeated cajoling and hard kicks. I think I saw every time someone partially hiding behind the window of the house watching and smiling at my failures. Though I have seen on occasions a tall and slim girl of about twenty standing at the door step of the house watching me enter the compound, I had not asked out of propriety, the middle aged couple with whom I had interacted initially, whether there was any other member in the family. I was waiting for disbursement of loan to buy a new one and save myself from the daily derisive grin.
One day I noticed by chance some strange thing. I am by nature a very organized and stickler for order. I keep things at appointed places. I keep in small box things like pens, pencils sharpener, quick fix and small scissor. This morning when I looked for cello tape, I found to my surprise the box at the centre of table displaced from its usual place at the top corner. I was intrigued. There was no way someone could enter as I had the only key. The landlord had said the other key was lost and that I should be careful not to lose the only one I had. I dismissed this incident as possibly a lapse on my part.
A few days later there was another episode that put me off. I keep the daily newspaper neatly folded one over the other in chronological order. It was a Monday and after reading it when I went to keep it on the pile, I did not see the Sunday Times of India but Saturday’s paper on the top with Sunday’s below it. I would have never done it. I was sure that someone was in my room, but that was impossible as the door was secure when I returned. I decided not to ignore it lightly but to unravel the mystery. The next day I put a towel on the mirror hoping if it is the girl, she would certainly remove the towel to see herself in the mirror.
As I expected the towel was lying on the chair signifying that someone had tampered with the lock and entered my room. I went down and asked the land lady ” Mami, did anyone come up the stairs looking for me?”
“Why do you ask? No one came and I would have known from the noise when the front gate is opened”” she replied
“I was expecting a courier. Never mind, may be a neighborhood urchin would have come”
“Is something amiss? No one came to my knowledge” she replied.
I saw the shadow of her standing behind the door and heard a very faint giggle.
“I usually close the window doors shut to prevent dust. They were ajar today and I thought a courier boy would have come. It is not a big thing. Just wished to make sure that I had not missed the parcel.”
“I will keep a watch”
Two days later, I saw a paper torn from a note book with words “Do not be afraid. No ghost here” with a symbol of a ghost.
I wrote beneath it “I know it is no ghost but a beautiful elf that never comes when I am here. May be it will appear on my off day, day after tomorrow on Valentine’s Day”
The next day evening I saw a happy smiley with word “Surely but after dusk when parents have gone to temple”
I was restless wondering whether she would be beautiful, qualified and be a right match for me. I wished to talk to her for long without these fleeting appearances.
It was around 8pm, she appeared outside the open door of my room. What a bewitching beauty and mesmerizing eyes. I beckoned her inside with a smile.
She came and said “Amma and appa would be back from temple anytime. They saw your bike outside and know you are here”
“Tell me first how do you enter my room in my absence when I have the only key?”I asked.
She kept silent and asked me “Aren’t you happy that I am visiting your room? What does it signify?”
Elated at the response I said “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and picked up a box of chocolates and offered her
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you too! Do not bother about the other key. Is it lost?”she giggled mischievously and added “Trust in my capacity to reach you”
“No need. You can continue to visit and leave your foot prints and little epistles. I would be happier if you can contrive to come frequently when I am here. What do you do? Have the chocolates.”
“Let the box be here. It is ours. I have been selected in the campus and hold your breath, it is in your company.”
I jumped with joy and cried aloud “Wow, did you say ours?” even as my hands tried to clasp hers. But she managed to wriggle out and say “Beware, I hear my parents coming. See you later” and ran away in a trice.
The landlord and his wife came up the stairs and entered my room. After being seated, he said “My wife was telling about your doubt whether someone is having access to your room. There is no key besides the one I gave you. This place is very secure and not one theft has taken place within my knowledge in this locality”
“Sir, I think your daughter has not revealed to you that she has the lost key and the mystery is now unraveled “I said with a big smile
“What are you talking, young man? Are you telling me that my daughter has found the key and told you? Did she talk to you and when was this?” he asked in a confused anger.
“Just a little while ago. She ran away when she heard you entering the house, I think”
“I must have noticed as we were coming in. We have no daughter. The one I had committed suicide three years back.Pray, do not ask me why?”
A chill ran through my spine and I fainted
“Wake up, you sleepy head. It is 7.30 am and late for you. I have brought coffee for you,” the young lady was heard telling even as she was shaking my shoulders with one hand and stroking my chin with the other.
I rubbed my eyes and blurted in fear “Are you real? Your parents were here and said…”
She closed my mouth with her palm and said with a big smile “I am as real as you are.. Feel this pinch. They never came here. Stop dreaming. I have broken the news to my parents. They are very happy at the development. Here is the duplicate key I have been using.”
I pulled her close to me and she gleefully moved near..