The dead do not die.
Urmi stepped into her apartment. Closing the door shut, she dropped her backpack to the tiled floor. Slipping in an album by India’s melody queen Latha Mangeshkar into her CD player, she walked to the kitchenette to put the kettle on.
It was a long day at the cyber café. Designing and analyzing programs took their toll. It was only in her fifth floor apartment in the quiet suburban district that she could breathe without the tensions that accompany a high paid, skilled job in a private firm.
She stood by the kitchen window while the kettle perked. Urmi loved letting her eyes take in the soothing view of the vast sea with white peaked breakers, shining glossy in the evening sun.
Urmi carried a steaming cup of tea to the living room. Sinking into the cushioned settee, she sighed in pleasure soaking in the music waves as they washed over her body and soul. She sipped the aromatic liquid, letting the day’s tensions slip away. She looked like a lovely figurine in the fawn colored suit, reclining on the burgundy colored sofa. Dark limpid eyes were closed in repose with thick lashes spreading fan- like on her fair cheeks. At twenty two, Urmi had everything a young girl could ask for, beauty, youth, money and freedom.
She shook out of her doze, when the door bell rang. She saw the postman through the half-open door. He proffered a telegram. Urmi took it, signed the receipt and handed it back with a smile and walked over to the settee to read the contents of the telegram.
“Oh no, this can’t be true,” she exclaimed as she read, her face turning ashen in the spreading twilight. She emptied the contents of the cup into the sink, rinsed it and left it on the pane to dry.
She rang her boss and informed him of her sudden trip to her native place. She threw a few essentials into an overnight bag. “I should be on the six o’ clock passenger,” she muttered, locking her flat, and racing to the lift. Spotting an empty auto rickshaw outside the apartment complex, Urmi waved to the driver. As he slid to the kerb, Urmi got in saying “to the railway station, and please, make it fast.”
It was dark when she reached the station. It was just after six. Day light started fading. A cool wind ruffled the hovering black clouds. Urmi could smell the rain as she paid the rickshaw before she ran into the neon-lit railway station.
“One ticket to Mylavaram please,” she said to the ticket clerk. He checked the chart on his desk showing train departures and arrivals.
Mylavaram, one of the millions of sleepy, sparsely populated hamlets of India, was eight hours away from the city Urmi worked in.
“You’ll reach Mylavaram at midnight. I hope someone will come to receive you,” he said, smiling.
“Someone might,” she replied, returning the smile.
“Have a nice trip ma’am,” he said, handing over her ticket.
Meandering through the jostling crowds Urmi got to her compartment barely five minutes before the train’s departure. She slid into the window seat peering at the emptying platform. As if on cue, the sky opened with a downpour drenching the surroundings in minutes. It pattered down the widow glass, blurring the view. Laughing children and chatting fellow passengers greeted her eyes as she took a look around.
The train gained speed. Trees and the surrounding hills attained misshapen appearances in the darkness of the night. Soon, Urmi was lost in the stream of memories.
“I’ll haunt you after I die if you don’t do what I tell you,” Mona shouted at a trembling ten-year-old Urmi on a gloomy afternoon. She looked like a fierce dragon to Urmi’s frightened eyes. After glaring at her the dragon shook her and went back to her room fuming. Just then, Urmi’s mom came out. Seeing her daughter in tears, she asked,
“What happened darling?”
“I have brought the wrong book from the library. She lost her temper,” said Urmi, sobbing, burying her face in mom’s bosom. Mom drew her close and consoled her saying, “Don’t cry love. She doesn’t mean what she says.”
Aunt Mona! What a character! Death hadn’t spared her too, sighed Urmi in resignation.
Mona was her father’s only sister. She lived with her brother’s family after her parents died. Hot tempered and easily irritable, she was a terror to young Urmi and the neighborhood kids. She nagged at them for no particular reason. Urmi had no memory of Mona having a job or studying for a degree as the practice was with older girls. All she did was to mop around the double storied house and wandering in the garden aimlessly. She hated advice. The little reading she did was just an idle passion.
Years rolled, nothing changed in Mona’ life. Well into her forties and almost a confirmed spinster, she’d grown into a sullen recluse mostly keeping to a room upstairs. Urmi had escaped her grumpiness and temper, by shifting to the city for college studies, and later, by finding a job away from home. It was great relief to escape from the clutches of her aunt, who could be described, satanic.
Urmi knew Aunt Mona resented her smart looks and well-paid job in the city. Neighbors confided in her that Mona did her best to stalemate Urmi’s marriage proposals by spreading rumors about her nonexistent love affairs. Her parents tried to check her but she accused them of being partial to their daughter.
Urmi felt no regret or remorse at Mona’s death. It was the suddenness of it that shook her composure. What happened? How and why did she die? Somehow Mona’s sudden demise bothered Urmi.
In her absorption in the past, Urmi hadn’t noticed the emptying compartment with her co-passengers getting off in the stations in between.