The Accident, The Night

Written in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “This is all my fault.”... view prompt

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Fiction Horror Thriller

The Accident

It was a foggy winter morning in Delhi. Lata looked at the back of her palm. Specks of butter clinging against fine wrinkles of her skin. Was it because of winter, those wrinkles? she wondered as she rubbed the clinging butter to her palms. She smoothed the ball of butter she had churned, bent down and looked out of the kitchen window at the hazy sky. No trace of the Sun. Another day’s wait, she thought, to dry her wheat and get it ground. 

‘Mom, Can I take your car to the college today?’ Arshie yelled from across the living room, loud enough for her mom to hear despite the relentless whirr of the wet grinder. 

Lata had refused to let Arshie drive the last time she had made the same request. And for that she had to bear two days of long faces and curt responses. But she was not sure if that should be the reason to let Arshie drive this time on busy Delhi roads, knowing well that she was still new to driving. Usually, in such moments of indecision, she shifts the onus of decisions to Krish. But he had left for office already. 

‘But she has to begin somewhere,’ she thought, turned the grinder off and said, 

‘OK but go to the college and come straight back.’ 

Lata smiled at the shriek that she got for a response. She was clearing the kitchen shelf when she heard the car engine start. She stopped her work and followed the engine sound till it faded gradually into the din of the streets.  

** 

The warm sprinkle from the shower draining her bare back lulled her to a sleepy trance when Lata heard the faint sound of her ringing phone. ‘A delivery agent’ she thought and turned around to face the jet and closed her eyes to let the warmth work its magic. But the phone rang again. She got out of the shower dismayed, wrapped a towel around, came into the bedroom and answered the phone. 

“Is 7404 white polo your car?” It was an unknown voice. An ominous rush of thoughts flushed her mind, but her answer came involuntarily. 

“Yes. Why?” 

“Madam, there was an accident. They are taking the girl to Gangaram hospital. Please go there.” Lata slumped to the bed, but mustered strength to reply. 

“Is she ok?” 

“Don’t know Madam. Please go to the hospital.” 

Lata could feel her heart and breath grow heavy. Her thoughts were numbed, and she could feel only two things. Her heavy heart beat and her gasps for air. She reeled for a moment but held the bed firmly to recover. She waited a couple of moments to understand her surroundings and recoup herself. Her hand trembled as she looked at her phone. She used both hands to hold the phone firmly to make a call. 

“Krish, Arshie..” Her suppressed sobs could no longer be contained. 

“What happened? Stop crying and tell me” Krish was more angry than worried. 

Lata mustered all her strength to make one statement. “Arshie met with an accident, Krish. I got a call from someone. She was taken to Gangaram’s” 

“What? OK, pick me up. We will go together” 

“Krish, you pick me up. I don’t have the car. Arshie took it.” Lata’s voice choked as she said this. She resisted the thought this long that it might be her mistake for having allowed Arshie to take the car. But when she said it, it felt as though the blame was hers. And Krish did not help either. 

“Wow, you let her take? I’ll go to the hospital.” He said and disconnected the call. 

Lata flung the phone to the corner of the room and flopped on the bed crying. But this time, she cried for herself. Guilt was overcome by pity. ‘After all these years,’ she thought, ‘this is what I get. I cared for them, I bore their tantrums and now, this is all my mistake. Everything gets forgotten. It is as though I don’t matter anymore. My feelings don’t matter anymore. How could he be so rude?’ 

‘Can't expect better.’ She resolutely concluded and walked to her neighbor to request her to drive her to the hospital. 

** 

The hospital was crammed. Lata found a place to sit, while the help desk was checking Arshie’s details. With each passing moment the tragedy worsened in her imagination. Maybe it was a minor accident, she consoled herself. But then she saw a young woman coming out from inside the hospital wailing inconsolably. She wondered, ’What if it is something major? What if it is fatal?’ She got up, more to distract her mind from her wild imaginations and rushed to the help desk and yelled at the counter to check up fast. Her heart beat increased again and her head swooned. Just when she thought she might collapse, she heard Arshie’s voice from behind. Infact, she heard her laugh. She turned around to see that Arshie and Krish were walking from inside the hospital full of mirth and laughter. In that moment, she expected relief, but instead, all her worry turned to anger. She suddenly felt so full of it. 

Arshie saw her mother from a distance and rushed to her to embrace. Lata shoved her and yelled, ‘I told you to drive properly’. She did not know where it came from. She never told her to drive properly in the first place. But that was beyond point. She wondered why she was not feeling relieved at seeing her daughter safe. She still seemed upset. She did not know what was wrong with her. But then, her body could not take it any longer and she collapsed. 

** 

Lata opened her eyes and saw a bottle of fluid and a catheter connected to her arm. Arshie and Krish were standing nearby. She wanted to call Krish, but then overheard Arshie saying, ‘She never understands me, Papa. Sometimes I just want to get away from her.’ 

‘She loves you, Arshie. But in her own way. Don’t worry so much about how she behaves.’ 

‘She doesn’t care about me, Papa. It is as though my feelings don’t matter. How can she be so rude like that?’ 

Lata closed her eyes. 

 -----------------------------------xx-----------------------------------------

 

The Night

‘Papa, it is hot in here.’ Mitcha said pushing her father further towards the window of the car, making more space for herself. 

‘Welcome to India’ Sam chuckled and looked at Mitcha. But he had to cut his chuckle abruptly short as his eyes met Martha’s, staring down at him. She was furiously fanning herself with a folded newspaper. Sam looked over the driver’s shoulder and saw that the AC was on.  

‘The car was probably parked too long under the sun. It will get ok.’ Sam explained, though he did not owe it.  

He looked outside and wondered if he would find anything familiar. But this place was nothing like the place in his memories. The vast stretches of outback that he once knew were now teeming with buildings. Everywhere he looked, he saw only concrete. He looked at his watch. It was 4 P.M, only one hour since they landed in Delhi, and he already longed to go back to London, which had been his home ever since his parents moved there twenty years ago. It was only one month before that his father had come to India to sell the house but died suddenly in his sleep. Sam could not travel to India then, but now he was here to finish his father’s unfinished task of selling the house and winding up their only connection to their erstwhile homeland.  

It was dusk by the time they entered the village where his house was. He was glad that things had not changed so much here. The well was where he had imagined, though it had been cemented now. He told the driver to take left after the well and stop.  

The car stopped in front of the house with a black gate. Two neem trees on either side of the gate blocked the view of the house from outside. Sam got down and pushed open the gate. It was hard and creaked as it opened. He took two steps inside and looked again at the house. He remembered the porch with the swing, the grilled front door and the balcony of his bedroom on the first floor. Everything about the house looked the same from where he stood except for the cracks on the wall and peeled paint all over. The house in his memories was much more colorful and vibrant. He took a couple of steps towards the porch when he felt someone watching him from his bedroom on the first floor. Before he could look up, he heard a rustling sound from behind the house. 

‘Saab, you have come!’. It was the familiar voice of Kashi, the caretaker of the house. They have spoken on the phone but never met.  

‘Kashi, how are you?’ 

‘I am fine Saab. But I told you, you should not have come’ 

‘Get the bags Kashi.’ Sam did not want to have any discussion then. 

Martha and Mitcha were behind Sam. Kashi greeted them and rushed outside. 

‘How do you expect us to stay here?’ Martha looked at the house and hushed. 

‘It is only a couple of nights.’ Sam said, opening the main door and turning on the lights. Though the house looked dilapidated from the outside, the interiors were still well kept. Martha’s anxieties were eased after looking inside. 

In a few moments, Kashi came inside with the bags and put them in the bedroom downstairs. 

‘Kashi, put the bags in the bedroom upstairs. We will sleep there.’ Sam said. 

‘No Saab. It is not cleaned. Please sleep in this room.’ Kashi said, pointing to the bedroom on the ground floor. He added that he would be serving dinner in an hour 

Sam and Martha followed him. But Mitcha wanted to go around and play. Martha agreed to it but warned her that she should not go outside the house. 

** 

It was a tiresome day and they retired to sleep soon after their dinner. Sam was not aware how long he had been asleep but was jolted awake when he felt something holding him by both his shoulders. He looked around, but Martha and Mitcha were not in the room. He saw someone walking past his door. He shouted ‘Martha’ and walked behind the shadow. He was sure that it was a woman. As he came out of the room, he saw someone from outside the house staring at him through the window. He recognized that face. But his recollections were obscured. Was it Kashi? What was he doing there at that time? He did not have the time to stop and ask him. He followed Martha’s shadow. He did not want to lose her. He was not sure what was happening to her and why she was walking away like that. He could now see her hair. Golden brown strands falling away one after the other and now her hair was all black. He was following the strands, but she was now too far away. He does not know how he got there, but a few yards away, he could see the well, and someone’s legs. Someone seemed to be lying down. It was Mitcha. The black anklets that his father had bought for her. But she never wore them. He could not see her face. The well was blocking his view. So, he walked further and saw someone bent over her face. Oh, it is Martha. But why is her hair black? He could not see clearly from where he stood. So, he came closer to the well. Mitcha was lying down in front of him and Martha was kneeling and bent her head over Mitcha’s face.  

Sam extended his arm to touch the shoulder of Martha. He wanted to know why they were there and what had happened to Mitcha. But before he touched her, she turned her head. It was not Martha. Sam jolted and fell back. He lost his breath for a moment, but he soon clambered on his knees, recovered and ran. He knew that face but could not utter her name. She was smiling and had blood all over her mouth. The same hair. The same smile. The faster he ran, the faster she seemed to be catching up. The black gate. Yes, he reached home. But the gate was closed. He pushed and shook the gate vigorously, but it would not open. He could not muster courage to look back, but he felt her closing in. He climbed up the gate and jumped into the house and rushed towards the porch. That is when he saw the person looking at him from the window. It was not Kashi. It was his father looking at him. It was the look of a helpless and defeated man. His father then turned his head, looked at the thing following him and then looked back at him. His father never spoke, but he could hear his father say ‘Give up. We have to pay for this.’  

Sam could not give up. He had a chance. He could escape. He ran towards the stairs and reached the terrace. But he knew it was following him. He ran towards the parapet wall and climbed over it. He looked down. There was a neem tree. May be its branches would stop his fall. It was only the second floor terrace. He might still survive the jump. Now, he had no time to think. She was right behind him now. He had to jump. And he moved to jump, but just then someone held his hand and pulled him back on to the terrace.  

The breeze was cool, much different from what he had been experiencing before. Everything seems to have transformed around him, as though in a different world. He could see the moon. There were stars. He could not understand why he was there, on the terrace lying down in Martha’s lap. 

‘Sam, what happened to you? What were you doing?’ Martha was holding him by his shoulders and crying.  

‘I don’t know Martha. Where is Mitcha?’ He asked.  

He got up at once and ran down to the room. He felt relieved to see Mitcha sleeping. And she was wearing the same black anklets.  

** 

Martha was packing the bags in the bedroom when Kashi came with the morning tea. Sam was in the hall looking at the ceiling, deep in thought. Kashi put the tea plate on the table, picked up a cup from it, handed it to him from close and spoke in hushed voice. 

‘Saab, I think she killed him.’ 

‘Kashi, don’t talk nonsense with me. He died of heart attack.’ 

‘I saw him, Saab, there was blood from his mouth. She killed him Saab’. 

He had not completed his sentence when Martha came in.  

‘Who killed whom, what’s going on Sam? This is freaking me out.’ She was distraught and flopped on the sofa.  

‘Kashi, you leave now.’ Sam dismissed Kashi. 

‘What is going on Sam? Something is not right here. I can feel it.’ Martha said, sobbing. 

‘This is all my fault, Martha. There was a girl who lived in the village. Her house was on the other side of the well. One day she came to me, to the bedroom upstairs, and told me that she was carrying my baby. I told her that I would figure something out. But my father overheard us. So, he took her to a hospital and got her to abort her pregnancy. But the doctor was not competent. She bled and died. So, we left the village for good. I saw her in the dream last night.’  

‘Sam, we will not stay in this wretched house even for one moment.’ She stood up saying and called out to Mitcha. But Mitcha was not around. She yelled her name twice. Hearing the loud screams, Kashi came running. At the same time, Mitcha came down the stairs. 

‘Oh, why did she go upstairs alone, Saab?’ Kashi got worried and took out his amulet from his neck and rushed to tie it around the girl’s neck. But Martha lunged forward and threw the amulet away and told Kashi to get a car for them to leave. The car arrived in an hour. Sam took one last look at the house but could not muster courage to lift his head up and look at the bedroom. After Martha and Mitcha sat in the car, Sam shut the door and walked across to the other side of the car. Before Sam could get in, Kashi held his hand into his. Sam felt something rough under his palm. He looked into Kashi’s eyes and saw what loyalty looked like. Their eyes spoke like their words could never have. Sam took the amulet that Kashi was trying to pass. Kashi’s eyes assured him that he did the right thing by accepting.’ 

**  

The flight to London was cruising. Sam was fast asleep.  

‘Mom, can I go to the toilet.’ Mitcha said. 

Martha took her to the toilet, made her sit and came out telling her to call her when she was done. She closed the door and waited. She was glad that the nightmare was over and was looking at the airhostess preparing coffee when she heard Mitcha giggling. Martha quietly opened the door and saw that Mitcha was still giggling. Martha was amused that at least Mitcha was not affected by the events at the house.  

‘Hey Mitcha, are you done? Remembering Peppa Pig?’ she asked mirthfully. 

‘No Mom, I am playing with Mallika.’ Mitcha said. 

‘Who Mallika?’ 

‘She is my friend from Papa’s house.’ she said looking innocently at Martha. 

Martha rushed to Sam, shook him and asked him ‘What was the name of the girl, Sam?’ 

‘Which girl?’ He asked. 

She did not reply. She just looked at him sternly.  

‘Mallika, why?’ 


September 24, 2022 19:55

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