"These are just old stairs." I mumbled under my breath, half disappointed at my misadventure. This man has once again tricked me into following him in his vagabond wanderings.
"Did you say something?" He looked at me and smiled. I timidly shook my head quickly to indicate a no.
Yes, I am a bit scared of him, may be I am scared that he should not feel that I am not his little kid anymore and I have grown up. That is my Father, ever enthusiast, the eternal nomad and an avid walker.
I guess it is like an addiction for him, he just keeps on walking through streets and alleys. As a kid he would take me with him and I had to run, gallop and skip to catch up with him. With time the addiction passed into me. Winding through those streets, with a half fear and half thrill of getting lost, only to find a new way back home. It is a funny thing, in the end, you always return back to home; a bit grown up, a bit broken, a bit tired, but then you are home.
"We can go in the house, it looks as if no one was there for a while." father said casually as he scanned the building from ground to its first floor balcony. It was a white abandoned building built probably during the colonial era, It was a time when Gothic opulence was giving way to more practical and economical structure. So, you have pillars, but a thinner one, they lost weight and their loftiness with time. You have balconies, but they were not mystically beautiful anymore. Most importantly there were two floors where only one could have stood. There were three lean and round pillars at the first floor balcony and the railing was masonry with a pattern created by leaving a cube blank and the consecutive one filled with brick, it gave an appearance of an elaborate net. The ground floor was divided in two, One part beside the stairs had a shutter that was pulled down, the other half had a rather detailed wooden door. The shutter might have been a new addition in 1960's or later. the stairs were worn out, but looked reliable to step on, The sides and the concrete railing had some vegetation and algae growth. "It rains quite lot in Dehradun." my father remarked. I was his side kick and was expected to understand the reason behind his remarks. The algae layer indicates a humid climate and the thatched roof extension indicates heavy rains.
Father moved a few steps back to scan the house, yes, it looked pretty abandoned, he then looked down and started walking slowly towards the staircase. He checked the first step by tapping his right feet twice. He went up the steps forward in a slow pace, studying the walls and railings. The walls had outgrown vegetation that had dried as autumn approached, one decay meets another decay. As I followed, I saw cracks on the wall, the railings had given away in small fragments in places. The stair case had an eerie cold feeling to it. You could really feel the chill in the damp air that smelled of years of dust and discard.
"Its colder here." father remarked as he stopped to look back at me. We resumed walking up the stairs and reached the door opening to the second floor. It was a wooden one, worn out, algae and twig infested. The odd thing was it was not locked. As if some one left it there with no hope of return. Someone left it under the unbarred influence of elements. I was not looking at a house, but a corpse of a house laid on the table for a postmortem, by the curious living.
The door creaked with a painful noise as if it is really bothered from being awakened by a deep slumber. We stood back as we were expecting a gust of dust, a few pigeons or bats. I was a bit scared as birds spook me. The beak, eyes and feather form a strange combination and are something from my nightmares. In earnest I was wishing that there are bats rather than pigeons.
As the door opened it surprised us, no dust, no pigeons, no bats, not even rodents. It was eerily clean, as if some one lives in it. My nose hit a sudden smell of damp. Damp air makes me uneasy, it is as if I have not cleaned myself for days. My father turned around and wrinkled his nose, the damp hit hin too and I just lifted my shoulder and tilted my head to the left while upturning my lips in a gesture that confirmed the dampness. There was a desk and chair at the left corner of the room, it was a mix between a hall ans a room, the desk overlooked a window, we tip toed towards the desk. The entire wooden frame on the window was in shambles, the hinges were half broken and the clasps were barely there. I placed both my hands on the desk and looked out, it opened up to the empty field just next to the house. When I removed my hand father said, "Look no hand print, no dust."
I remarked, "The ghost here is sure a tidy one."
We both smirked and father opened the left hand drawer, with some effort. As we opened it we found a vintage lighter, we both looked at each other, father is a smoker and a lighter will obviously interest him. I picked it up and tried lighting it up, it was working. I looked at him and gave a wicked smile.
"No, we are not taking it." he said as a matter of fact. I kept it down and said, "OK."
We rummaged through the drawer and picked up some vintage pictures. All of them had a little girl of ten, with striking eyes. Though black and white, you could tell that her eyes were either grey or blue in colour. She had dark lashes and brow and a look of prominent mischief. I felt she looked at you with an intention to harm you. I shuddered as I went from one picture to the other. With each picture, she became more lively, as if each passing picture added some sinister magic and she came back to life every second. Her casual frock, unkempt hair, hair stance, her hands ready to play and fondle, every thing grasped me in a kind of dread, but I could not keep my eyes off her. It went eerily silent, as if all the sounds of the world was cut off.
Then it happened, a flap of wing and a pigeon came and sat on the window ledge, it looked at me and I stepped back all of a sudden. there was a door at the end of the room in the middle and I saw a clear impression of a person, passing by. I froze and looked to my side. No one was there. I gave my father a scared look. He rushed towards the door to see, what it was. I ran behind him to stop him. Bravery at times can be injurious to your health. The door opened to a corridor, we hurried into it, there were two rooms on each side. I entered one and he another. We could find nothing. It was an empty room with a half door opening to the right, I breathed heavy sigh and was about to go out when I heard the door creek. I froze as I heard a shuffle.
"It's me and who are you?" boomed a voice of a middle aged woman. I turned around to see a petite middle aged woman, Little hands that are up to something, sharp blue eyes that force you to look at them, hair half grey in strings, wearing a heavy woollen cloak gown, hands more wrinkled than face. The sharp eyes exhibiting a hint of crow feet, sharp nose and a fuller lip.
"You are the girl in the picture." I mumbled
"Yes, I am and you are the girl who is trespassing." she said with a kind smile that reached her eyes.
"I am sorry, I thought the house was abandoned." from the next room came a footstep that came towards this room. "We thought...its my father over there."
"Oh lovely! a man in my bedroom and neither am I scared nor excited." she said smiling again. Now, I see where all the mischief finds its outlet.
There was a window, on the wall beside the half door, she stood, there, in front of the window and said, "Here is the kitchen and that room over there, where your father is that is my bedroom. I live alone now, do not have visitors so, I like to keep it minimum, I like to keep it clean, and I cannot afford the maintenance of the house."
My father came in the room and was a taken by a little surprise to find the woman.
"Surprise I am the host you are the guest." she announced smiling.
"I am sorry, I thought the house was abandoned." he said apologetically.
"Do not be sorry, it is all right. I do not have many guests so, you are welcome. Let me make you some tea. Please be seated." she said with a gesture of hand to make us sit.
"No, it's all right, we will take your leave, it was so kind of you to offer us tea." my father said and gestured to leave.
"Oh please! I am an old woman and I will not mind a company, It is all right, I do not have much to do either." She said with her eyes straight at us. It was hypnotising but we both stood there, she rushed to the other room and brought to garden chairs and placed them and gestured us to sit with a smile. She went into the kitchen to make tea.
"She is an educated lady, look at her manners." father said.
"Or may be she was raised well, books are not proportionate to mild manners." I put forward my point and Father smiled in agreement.
We felt a certain chill in the air, we looked at the window, it was twilight, the woman came in with tea and some snacks. I was a bit hungry so, helped myself first, while she went on narrating her story. Her father was a lawyer in this city, good fortune made them build this home. She was educated in a convent and later worked as a teacher at a local school. She had a lover once, but somehow things did not work out so, they remained unmarried and very much in contact. She had lost her mother in early twenties and apparently chose to be with her father, rather than to marry. She stayed and her brothers went abroad. By the time her father died of old age, the entire concept of marriage seemed lost to her. She felt that the way they were together for years mattered more than a flimsy ceremony. She retired, managed her savings and auctioned off rest of the furniture, to keep it simple and now survives on bare minimum. She is still in contact with her man.
Time passed and night came down, she had to light a candle, to bid us farewell.
As we got down the stairs and started walking on the road father remarked, "Did you notice that the woman cast no shadow even though she stood blocking the light at window?"
I smiled and said, "Yes, I noticed, guess she is a real tidy and organised ghost with real good manners."
We walked our way back figuring out what explanation should we give to mother about our delay.