The girl who loved Pranjal had smiled for the first time in her entire day. She was finally going to talk to him about their relationship. Somehow, she knew how it all was going to unfold. Somehow, she knew that the relationship was going to end for good. Somehow, she was happy about it. Her smile must’ve been because of one such ‘somehow’. It was way past 6, her usual time to leave the office and was getting darker by the second. She had stayed for an extra couple of hours in the office. For the first time in her life, she had gotten this late, being the last one to leave. However, she was least bothered about it. She was glad that at long last, she was going to have an actual discussion about her relationship with him. There was no point in avoiding the obvious.
He was the first and only guy she had ever come close to. Someone she had loved with all her heart, mind, and soul. Because she had no one to compare him with, she had accepted him as the embodiment of perfection. She had acceded to the fact that no other man could be better than him. Gradually, the feeling subsided. All her life she’d thought of herself as a strong, independent woman, but with Pranjal, in all his decisions, she just went with the flow. He was her biggest flaw.
She had exited her office building and was walking on the main road when she arrived in front of that dreadful unmetalled road to her home. She had completely forgotten about it. When she decided to stay till late in the office, she did not consider two vital points:
1. It was cloudy, so there was little moonlight.
2. She had to cross that macabre stretch of road on her way.
Now that she’d left the streetlights, she realized how dark it was. She couldn’t even make out her own hand. The wind was blowing at its pace, making the sound it does. Tree leaves rustling as the chill of winter engulfed her. She had a strange, inexplicable feeling, and tried calling Pranjal. No one picked up her call. She called again and the computerized voice from the other side informed her that the number she was calling was switched off. She called twice again – same voice, same message!
The darkness seemed disturbing, claustrophobic. She wanted to avoid that stretch, and could easily take the longer route home, but it would’ve taken half an hour more. There were no autos or rickshaws. She thought of calling a cab, but the nearest cab would take an hour to reach her, so she decided against it. She let out a sigh and opted to walk on that stretch. Dark or not, a road would do her no harm, she thought. Besides, it was only a few minute walk home. Switching on her phone’s flashlight, she started walking – careful of the stray stones and rocks, her eyes firmly fixed forward, and a resolute mind thinking about all that was going to transpire with the man she loved.
Halfway down the road, she felt something. It was an abnormal uneasiness. Her stomach churned as she sweated profusely. A chill swept her spine. Something was terribly wrong! She waved her flashlight in front and then behind her. There was nothing but hollow darkness everywhere. Her feet came to a halt by themselves and she stood still for a few minutes, frozen in her place. It was silent. An eerie silence with the exception of her breathing and a faint rustle of the leaves. She kept standing for some more seconds and finally tried putting one foot forward to walk again.
And then, from behind her, she heard the last sound she would ever hear.
She turned around and could feel every microsecond. Time had slowed down. The darkness, the clouds, the hidden moon. She saw all of them at once.
And then, time stopped…
Three days later, the local police would unearth a big, dirty trolley bag.
The contents of the bag were deliberately kept a secret from the locals and onlookers.
The person who informed the police about the bag would go on to say:
“It looked like a woman’s hair. I think there was a woman in the bag.”
A month later, in Gurgaon, Pranjal was going to a hotel. As he walked toward the bus stop, he noticed a beggar who limped with his polio-stricken legs, asking for alms from the passers-by. His face was dry and wrinkled. Pranjal walked toward him until he stood in front of him, only two feet away. The beggar recognized him from before. He was the man who had fed him and given him some money the other day.
Before he could open his mouth to speak, Pranjal took out something from his pocket, held the beggar’s hand, and placed that thing on his palm. It was a bundle of currency notes. He then looked deep into the beggar’s eyes, as if staring down his soul. Putting his right forefinger on his lips, he signaled him to stay silent.
The beggar obliged. He was too scared not to. He stood in his place, unmoving.
Pranjal walked away. The beggar kept on looking in his direction. The man who had just given him 2 lakhs was just a silhouette now. He was walking perfectly well. But just as he disappeared out of sight, the beggar felt as if he had limped for a step or two.
Minutes later, as he would go to his regular food stall to eat, the beggar would tell the stall owner:
“I have seen what a monster looks like.”