It was the last week of October. The pandemic confined Sumitra and Sudhakar rao to their home with very rare visits outside. They have been living in Boston for more than 10 years. The weather was getting cooler, the leaves were changing their colors and some falling announcing the onset of winter soon. They were on a long drive towards North to see nature’s beauty in many of its transient forms. The trees were lined up on both sides of the road with their leaves in various hues with scarlet and gold dominating the landscape. Little the trees were aware that they would soon be naked waiting for spring to clothe them again. It might be a refreshing change the couple thought from the dull home and duller routine of working all day.
“Why are you morose, Sumi? Watch out the captivating scenes outside. We came out primarily to watch the nature in its splendor,” asked Sudhakar rao.
Sumitra did not reply but looked at him intently wondering at the question.
“I know. You do not have to explain. No point in grieving over things over which we have no control. Our son Sundar came in our lives like a fleeting star only to vanish away. I know it is a less than a year. Have fond memories of him but do not grieve,” Sudhakar consoled her.
“In another three days we have Halloween. He used to pester me for different types of costumes each year and remind me of the candies to be bought. I will miss him going along with his friends in his costume. If he is a bit late, his friends would be knocking at our door,” she said in sobbing tone.
“Let us stop on the way back at Target to buy some candies for the children. Let us not deprive them of their joy and expectations because of our grief,” suggested Sudhakar.
Both of them lost interest in the scenic drive and started driving back home. There was total silence till they found a Target store open. When he went near the candies section, she went to Halloween costumes section to relive her last visit to buy costume for Sundar. There were many kids and moms with their masks keeping distance from each other.
The shelves featured costumes in many varieties mostly in loud black, red and yellow to appear as skeletons, witches, ghosts and in many other scary designs. Last year Sundar wanted a skeleton costume in ghost form but she insisted him to take a fire fighter costume. After much discussion, she agreed to his compromise proposal for a firefighter disguise for the year and the extra one in black and red skeleton to be used in the subsequent year. He was jumping with joy at his acquisitions and also made sure she bought Eclairs, his favourite along with other candies. Unable to bear the torment of sad memory, she came away quickly from costume section.
She found her husband waiting with packets of candies. “Have you bought some Eclairs? Sundar loved them so much,” Sumitra enquired.
“Oh I am sorry, I didn’t buy. Let me get it,” he said as he rushed inside.
Three days later it was Halloween day. Not wishing Sundar to miss the fun even when he was no more, she bought two carved pumpkins with lamps inside to be lit in the porch. She had kept baskets filled with candies ready even before dusk when the kids usually visit homes.
It was 7pm.Sudhakar was busy in his room chatting with some of his cousins when she heard the door bell. She rushed to see five urchins in their costumes with their faces hidden except for eyes and mouth. One of them looked like Spiderman, another a hair-rising monster, yet another but short figure as a bunny rabbit along with another looking like a witch. A little behind she saw the fifth figure in skeleton costume in black and red resembling a ghost identical to what she bought for Sundar.
She hurried inside and brought the baskets of candies for them to help themselves. She asked the fifth boy standing behind the four ,”Why are you standing behind others? Come forward and stand in line with your four friends.”
“Mrs.Rao, we are only four. In fact, we wished to take Sundar with us as he normally accompanies us. Is he not well or what?” said a boy turning around to see only four including him and added” I think you are imagining,” with all the three others affirming in chorus.
“No, I see clearly the fifth boy in the skeleton robe before me as clear as the palm in my hand” and asked the boy in the disguise of skeleton, “Why don’t you come forward? Have you taken the candies? You seem shy,”
When she heard the fifth boy asking in squeaky voice,” Where are the Eclairs? You know that I love them so much?”, she almost fainted crying,” Are you my dearest Sundar? Won’t you call me mom and speak to me?”
The bewildered American boys looked at her in utter disbelief while one of them pressed the bell bringing Sudhakar into the scene.
“Sir, we are only four but Mrs. Rao insists that we are five and that the fifth is Sundar. Do you see him here by any chance?”
“No, I see only four of you. As we lost our son Sundar, may be she is overcome by grief and imagining. She will be fine in a short while. Thank you for pressing the bell,” explained Sudhakar. The four boys said sorry in unison and quietly left.
Meanwhile she rushed inside to Sundar’s room and opened the closet looking for the skeleton costume she bought extra last year at Sundar’s insistence to be used subsequently. Lo! it was not seen at the place she had kept. She searched the closet completely only to draw a blank. Many questions like “Where had the costume gone? Who could have taken it? Is it not the same one worn by the fifth boy? Is it Sundar as he asked for Éclair?” tormented her to no end as she wailed in grief.
Sudhakar, no wiser than the baffled boys, put his arm around Sumitra who was inconsolably crying and led her to the bedroom.
“Who was the fifth boy Sumitra saw in identical skeleton robe and who asked for Eclairs?” haunted his mind too with no answer.