After patiently waiting for over an hour, my anticipation turned into frustration as there was no sign of the intruder’s return. As the sky outside changed from a faint purple to orange gold, the village slowly woke up. Filled with a sense of urgency, I decided to seek answers from my neighbour, hoping they had witnessed anyone entering my home in my absence.
Stepping outside, I noticed Bobo, the shaggy stray dog, still stationed in front of my house. His tail was tucked between his legs, and he stared at me with a mix of fear and unease. I made my way to Rani Chachi’s house, hoping she could shed some rational light on what I was experiencing. To my surprise, five-year-old Seema answered the door, her innocent eyes brimming with curiosity. I asked if her mother was home. The girl did not reply and I wondered if, like the dog, Seema too did not recognize me. I made a mental note to get a haircut and shave my beard.
In a sudden burst of excitement, Seema smiled and darted past me, embracing Bobo with unbridled joy. Bobo’s tail appeared from between his legs and wagged in a frenzy. His eyes however were fixated on me. Witnessing the heartwarming bond between the child and the loyal dog, I couldn’t help but smile, finding solace in their connection.
I entered the house, hoping to find Rani Chachi and gather some information. However, the house stood empty. She must have gone to get firewood, leaving her daughter behind, I thought. As I turned to leave, I noticed Rani Chachi’s husband, Ramesh leaning against a tree, lost in his own world murmuring something to himself. As I approached him the pungent smell of alcohol and Beedi assaulted my senses and I stepped back. It seemed unproductive to approach him with my inquiries, as it would likely lead to fruitless conversation. Disappointed I turned around and walked in the direction of my home only to find the front door wide open.
Standing at the open door, I scolded myself, slapping my forehead in frustration for once again forgetting to lock the door. Stepping inside, the living room greeted me with the familiar scent of sandalwood, confirming the return of the enigmatic presence that had been haunting me. I walked around once again hoping to catch the intruder but in vain. By now the sun was completely out and it reminded me that I only had two more days to finish my work here.
With a cautious demeanour, I gathered my camera, notebook, and bag, preparing to venture back into the forest. The allure of capturing more pictures and stories enticed me, knowing that I had only two days left before returning to my hometown for an entire month. Thoughts of the impending transition from the secluded village to the hot and humid climate of my hometown played into my mind. Would I be able to adapt to the bustling town after months of living in this serene haven?
As I reflected on my time in Bheemchatti, I realized that I had never felt such a longing for my hometown, a town rapidly succumbing to the relentless pace of development. Its essence—the coconut trees, the pristine beaches, and the charming tiled roofs—was disappearing at an alarming rate. I fervently prayed that Bheemchatti would remain untouched by the unabating march of progress, preserving its slow, relaxed, and tranquil ambience.
By noon, I was happy with my article and the collection of photographs I had managed to click. They would add to the ones I had back in my room. I walked the rest of the afternoon, savoring the warmth of the sunlight. When I sat down to rest on a rock by the side of a slowly melting stream, I saw a little wild flower – soft and purple. Strangely, the flower made me uneasy and I quickly averted my eyes. Then on my way back home, I walked through a patch of tall trees and found pine cones. A smile crossed my face realizing, Dhruvi, my niece would love them. I put them in my bag.
But the intruder kept playing in my mind whenever I let it wander. On my way back to the village in the evening, I carried a long, thick stick with me, a precautionary measure should the intruder choose to attack. However, upon reaching my own house, anger welled up within me as I discovered that the main door was locked from the inside, denying me access to my own house.
Outside, the sun had gone down and the wind had begun its slow howl. Soon there would be snowfall. Peering through the window, I was met with a shocking sight—the mysterious woman, her silhouette pacing anxiously in the living room, her hands bound behind her back as if burdened by impending danger.
My eyes remained fixed on the intruding churail, attempting to discern her identity and decipher the reasons behind her unsettling presence. At that moment, she abruptly halted her movements, her piercing brown eyes suddenly discovering my presence. Our gaze met and I found it hard to look away. Her untamed hair cascaded down her shoulders, and she was adorned in a flowing black gown that accentuated the enigma that surrounded her.
Caught in a state of confusion and uncertainty, I stood rooted to the spot, unsure of how to proceed. The woman’s intentions remained shrouded in ambiguity as she began to advance towards the door. An indescribable sense of danger tingled in my senses. I broke free from her enchanting gaze and ran away from the spot towards the village.
After moving to a safe distance from her, I glanced back over my shoulder. The churail was still standing at the edge, her eyes fixed upon me, her presence lingering like a haunting spectre. A surge of adrenaline propelled me forward, driving me away from the ominous figure and toward the refuge of the village below.
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