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Oh no, I cannot stay alone in the flat at night!
Sudip and I had been friends since our childhood. We lived in the same town, went to the same school , same college and thereafter he went to Mumbai to join an industry whilst I took up service in a Bank in Kolkata. However we kept in touch with each other and our friendship remained as strong as ever.
Sudip was the only child of his parents. His father died in a tragic road accident years ago when he was only two years old. His mother worked as a Teacher in a school in that area. An elderly lady was employed to live in their house , take care of the child and do all the household work.
Sudip used to come home from Mumbai whenever he could to see his old mother. During festive occasions, when we had some leave , we used to return to our hometown to be with our family and then we all friends used to meet at the club in the evenings. Sudip asked me many times to visit him at Mumbai , even for a day or two , but for one reason or the other I could not go. When his mother died I was down with chicken pox and so I was unable to attend the funeral. Sudip understood my problem. With passage of time our communication with each other became less and less as both of us got engaged in work having new friends in new surroundings.
One day, I do not know why, I kept thinking about Sudip. I phoned him up but there was no response. My letter to him came back undelivered with Post Office’s remark 'Addressee could not be located' . When I contacted his Office I was told that he had resigned about six months ago and that his whereabouts was unknown to them.
Rakesh, our friend, was working at Pune. One day he phoned me up to say that he had last seen Sudip at Bangalore Railway Station at night about a fortnight ago but could not have any word with him as he appeared to be in a hurry and soon disappeared in the crowd.
Then one day there was a call from Sudip unexpectedly. I was fast asleep and it was just midnight.
He had been like this, enjoyed phoning up his close friends when they were in sleep ! .
‘Sorry to wake you up my friend. Can you remember my voice ?’.
‘You are Sudip, who else will phone at this time of the night . Well, at least you have remembered me and it is indeed a pleasure. How are you ?’
‘Not good at all. I feel so lonely. I miss you and all my friends.’
‘What about your job, where are you working ?’
‘I will tell everything when I come to your place.’
‘But when will you come ?’
‘Hope you will phone me before you come’.
‘Yes I will. But I tell you I shall only come and spend the night at your place and push off very early in the morning.’
‘Why the hell for only a few hours and that too after so many years ? What is the hurry ?, well you come then we will discuss. ’
‘My friend , in no way I can be at your place for more than a few hours, Please don’t misunderstand me, I have reasons which you will know later. Your spare bedroom will be just fine for me.’
‘How do you know I have a spare bed room ?’.
‘Ask me what I don’t know. I know everything, the place where you work, the place you stay and what your rented accommodation looks like - everything. You can say that I have people to spy on you, ha ha ha. Well , I will phone you one day, now go back to sleep. Sorry I have woken you up.’
The line got disconnected.
I could not sleep that night thinking about Sudip. He must be in some big trouble, but what could that be ?
One day my uncle told me ‘ The other evening I was on my journey to Chennai from Bangalore. As the train just started to leave I saw Sudip sitting at far end of the Railway Station on a concrete bench all by himself. He had tattered clothes and looked so untidy! I am sure it was him. He also recognized me and smiled. Poor chap! ...God only knows what happened to him!’
It was a Sunday. A few of my colleagues were invited for dinner at my place in the evening. Since afternoon the Cook, I hired, got busy with the preparations and I occasionally went to the kitchen to do some sample tasting. We played some music, had good chat over drinks and then had our meals. By the time everyone left it was about 11 PM.
The Cook had his meal , he cleared the table, washed the dishes and other utensils and left after I thanked him for excellent preparations and paid him his remuneration .
About fifteen minutes gone past, I was in the bathroom having a wash when the phone rang. It was almost midnight.
Who it could be I wondered. I quickly came out , ran to my bedroom and answered to the call as quickly as I could,
‘Hello my friend, will it be O.K. if I come now ?’
I recognized the voice, it was Sudip. I was excited ‘ Of course, I shall be too glad to see you, but where are you and how long will it take you to reach here ?’.
‘ Please keep some meal ready on the table because I am very very hungry and just keep the spare bed room ready for me. After meal I just cannot keep my eyes open. I am already on my way and shall reach your place very very shortly.’
Enough excess food was there, I kept the meal all ready for my friend , kept the spare bed room all tidy , changed the bed sheet and pillow covers and eagerly awaited his arrival.
The doorbell rang. As I ran and opened the door Sudip made his entry very fast , sat on the sofa, smiled and said ‘ Well then my dear friend . I am here at last. ‘
‘ So nice to see you Sudip after so many years, but what is the matter, what have you done to yourself , why are you looking so tattered and exhausted ? where are you coming from and how have you come ?’
‘ Well if I tell you everything now there will be no suspense, you won’t be able to sleep thinking about me, you will know everything tomorrow morning. Please wake me up at 4 AM.’
Saying this Sudip smiled again , quickly washed his hands and sat at the dining table. I sat on the other side. He ate the meal quickly to his hearts content, thanked me for the meal , drank a glass of water and stared at the cigarette packet I left for him on the table.
' Your brand Sudip, come on have a fag ' .
' Thank you , I would love to smoke but I am scared. Fire frightens me' .
' What are you talking about ? Shall I light one for you ?'
' Oh no please don’t do that ' .
‘I shall not ask you too many questions at this time of the night but tell me only one thing , what is wrong with you , are you having some trouble of any kind ?.’
‘Ha ha ha, no trouble my dear friend, I am just lonely , terribly lonely, I have no future at all, only the past which is making my present meaningless.’
‘I don’t understand what you mean. ’
‘You will understand later , No more questions please. Let me tell you, I love you and all my friends. Now please allow me to leave and sleep.’
Hurriedly he went inside the bed room , said Good night and closed the door.
I was too tired , I went to my bed and fell asleep quickly.
I had forgotten to set the alarm clock but surprisingly when I woke up it was almost 4 AM. I went to the kitchen, made two cups of tea and called Sudip. There was no answer. I knocked on the door again but still there was no response. The door was unlocked from inside and it opened as I gave it a push.
But where is Sudip ? The bed seemed to have been untouched. I searched everywhere but Sudip was not there. Again I went to the bed room. Could it be that he is hiding somewhere for fun ? Mr. Roy, the landlord who lived upstairs, was about to go out for his morning walk. I opened the front door which was locked from inside and wondered how could Sudip disappear just like that. Mr. Roy came in and heard everything. Both of us then entered the bedroom again and found a piece of paper underneath the pillow which read as under :-
' Dear Joy,
My love to you all. You have no idea what happened to me. If you knew you would not have invited me to come to your place. Please could you dig out an old newspaper - The Statesman of 25th January and see my picture in page number 4. Don’t be scared, I shall never do any harm to you. I do miss you all a lot.
Mr. Roy said ‘ Come upstairs with me , I think I may have the paper , Its only last month’s issue, I should have it.
It didn’t take us long to find the newspaper and then we both turned over to Page No. 4.
Yes there was the photo of Sudip’s dead body lying on the railway line with a small report that ' the incident occurred on 24th January, about a kilometer away from Bangalore. Whether it was an accident or a case of suicide couldn’t be confirmed.'
My eyes filled with tears. I asked Mr. Roy if what we just read was right how could Sudip come, talk and have a meal here in front of me ?
Mr.Roy kept quiet for a while, placed his hands on my shoulder and said ‘ Incidents like this happen my dear. I am sure your friend Sudip came to see you after his death. By the way, tell me one thing, did he shake your hand ?’
I said ‘ No.’
‘Well there you are ! What about the handwriting ?’
‘Yes it is hundred percent Sudip’s handwriting.’
I was shuddering with fear.
Mr. Roy looked at me and said ‘ You better stay with us upstairs for a few days till you can bring someone to stay with you. You must not be alone my dear, especially at night. When you will talk to people about what happened, many of them will laugh at you, wouldn’t believe you. I wouldn’t have believed you had I not experienced presence of ghost or spirit whatever you say and not just once but about five or six times in my lifetime. Occurence of some of the incidents in life can always remain a mystery!'