Home is never the same without you.
I took a stroll, the smell reminded me of you, strong and vivid, and I could feel it resonate with my breath. I missed you, it was like you were there watching but I couldn’t see.
We were twelve when we made the promise, ‘to be on the lookout for each other no matter what’, we blew the candle in the darkroom, creating the eerie atmosphere you wanted for dramatic effect. Since then we always searched for something evil, you said it will be a demon but I believed it to be something unknown like the stories you hear from the people of our town.
Last Friday Parth, the new boy from school visited me. He looked urgent and said that Shaziya had some kind of power that can help them to reach you.
It could have been a cruel joke but I believed him.
I was desperate and guilty to find you that I let a total stranger take control over it and also Shaziya. She has always been weird, weirder than us, so there would be a possibility of her tracking you.
She stood rooted on the ground, hands on her hip and eyes fixed at the lake. They call it the crossroads, the place you meet the demons but she called it the door. Once it was nothing but our lake house.
I read and reread the book she gave, it was the same scratched out content from the internet with added notes of her grandma’s scary tales.
‘Turn it, she said.
The page that followed contained choppy drawings of monsters lurking around the lake. I have read the mythologies and they do mention bizarre accountings of creatures unknown to humans.
‘That’s all a lie we see on TV’, one that would run us into trouble’, Parth said and poured me a glass of peppermint tea from an old hip flask and looked at us with an unflattering smile.
We took a sip and sat on the new wooden bench for an hour in silence. I pulled my leg to rub the foot while Shaziya continued to stare into the lake. We walked from school, barefoot, the road was rough, marred and broken, we were careful on not to step on the stones but the heat was unbearable, it felt as if our feet were sealed to ground.
The place looked the same. Shaziya’s grandma mentioned thunder, rain or some cracking laughter of the evil but our lake was calm and silent, almost like a Buddhist monastery.
I let my legs feel the ground. It was soft like the warm sands of a dessert and I felt light.
It didn’t feel like Earth but somewhere else, somewhere between, like the door of earth and heaven or hell or another world, it was hard to say but it felt pure. It was not at all demonic, the air got warmer and I felt drowsy and deep down I felt you were near me, somewhere close, closer than ever.
Remember how we would walk, half scared, half thrilled, for there was something out there all set to change our lives, we knew deep down that someone or something was watching us, waiting for one of us to be alone to jump and take the other one away.
It was the same old story of heroes slaying the monster and saving the world. We wanted that because it will make us the heroes, whom people revere, the one where they will talk of the brother who saved his sister or the sister who saved her brother. We wished for that.
The demon was to take you and I will come to fight the demon and save you. It was not the kind of dream a thirteen-year-old would have but I had, and for years I fancied the thought. That’s when I knew our promise will be broken.
Three months later on a Friday afternoon Sania from school ran to me, in broken words and lost breath she told me what happened on the basketball court. For a brief second, I felt something inside me, something churning within me, an unnatural sinister sensation, the desire I had for evil to lurk behind you and take you away.
Right away I denied, for it scared me.
I loved you, I still do and I will always love you.
Parth had wrapped some rolls in the bag. Shaziya said he was being over-enthusiastic. He pulled the meat roll for Shaziya and gave me the one with egg and tomatoes.
‘Mayo free’ he said to Shaziya.
The roll was greasy and tasted bland, I rubbed my fingers on the dress, it was the faded pink jumpsuit, the one you said I looked good on, I thought the dress could bring in some sort of luck, today, of all the days I was willing to suck in every good superstition.
‘Dip it in the lake’ Shaziya said with a look of disgust.
‘It’s safe’ Parth chipped in.
Parth had only been in school for three months but he and Shaziya seemed well acquainted. There were times I wondered whether they knew each other, it was odd.
I thought of you and wondered why they cared about you. I know this was not what we wanted, but I felt it was appropriate. Shaziya could be the Knight, and I would be her coward squire, this was supposed to be our thing but this little game of ours will not make sense to the world.
The day you went missing, I dialled mother to tell about the demon, half scared she will yell through phone, but she didn’t, maybe she too felt the presence or maybe you told her, when the evil lurked behind, you felt it but didn’t tell me. It was supposed to be our game, the one with unsaid rules which we both understood, the one you and I promised to play, where we had each other’s back yet I failed somehow, somewhere, maybe I was not brave enough.
It was half-past seven and there was no sign of anything, some bug bit me or I am allergic to Parth’s roll, red rashes formed on my skin, it was light, I scratched a bit, it started to swell. My fingers pulped up and I didn’t know what to do, Shaziya was in a state of trance, it was risky to wake her up. Parth stood silence looking at Shaziya, his eyes almost twinkled.
I felt numb, I should have been scared or anxious, maybe even thrilled for there was a possibility of finding you, a strange set of creatures did walk around me, harmless I felt for they didn’t bother to attack they seemed too concerned about something or someone.
What are you, I heard a voice deep within me, was that the demon or my different self, I tried to think but my head hurts badly as if it was hit by something heavy, the drowsiness still held me, strong. I longed for a cup of coffee, maybe with an extra pinch of sugar to balance the bitterness. Bitter coffees were once my favourite for it reminded me of myself, the stronger, and the bitter but today I don’t feel I am strong, I feel weak.
There was some smoke, or maybe mist, something foggy around me, covered by a cloud. I looked for Parth but he was not there. By now I am sure it is the demon, so I looked for you in the cloud, maybe you too hung there somewhere on that weary cloud waiting for the fall. They say its hell down there but I fear the worse.
Nothing happened. Parth and Shaziya stood there murmuring, a spell maybe I thought, I waited, a minute passed, two minutes passed another minute passed.
I tried to focus, I tried to find you, I saw nothing but our house, the same old rooms with yellow paint and cracked walls, the same smell of jasmine and coconut, the same laughter of yours and mine mixed into a symphony that grandma said the fishes from the lake loved.
It is for you I came, and I think I found you.
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