Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The intruder

Five days after K lost his younger brother M to a speeding truck, he began seeing a tiny boy in his bathroom. The boy was around 4 or 5 years old and alternated between hip summery colours and sombre shades of grey.

At first, K thought it was an illusion. Perhaps the memory of his younger brother was making him "see things". But as the frequency of the sightings increased, he noted that the boy hardly looked like M. To begin with, M was much leaner than this apparition. He was also much shorter. If he was not M, K asked himself, who was this kid trawling his bathroom with abandon? What the hell did he want, K racked his brain?

Despite dying to tell Mother about the boy, K wasn't sure for the first few days. She had taken M's death very badly. She had lost her appetite and spent her time morosely looking out of the window. K and M's father's death in an air crash two years ago had left an indelible mark on S. If she had carried on, it was only for the sake of her children's well being. But M's death was the final straw. S could not reconcile the cruel dichotomy of being an overprotective mother, especially in the aftermath of her husband's death and fate dealing her such a raw turn on the one day she allowed M to walk to the school himself.

Like most days, K woke up early that morning and went down to prepare his tiffin. Later, after making his mother a cup of tea, he returned to his room to get ready for school. As he was taking out his uniform, he felt a cold hand brush his elbow. He turned in horror, and saw, near the window, about five feet for him, the same little fat boy dressed in a black t-shirt and off-white shorts. His hair were neatly parted at the side and he smelt of baby powder. He was the least scary ghost one could have fathomed but suddenly, after reining himself for several days, K felt an urgent need to scream.

He rushed out of the room, and leaning over the railing, shouted out, "Mother, mother, this is real. I have actually seen one in the bathroom."

Mother came to the base of the staircase and called out, "What? What are you saying?"
"There is a boy in my room, a ghost. He has been there several days."

"K, what are you saying? How can there be someone in your room?" S struggled. "Go back and get ready. You'll be late for school."

Having waited so long to tell her, K was not going to let this pass. "I am serious, ma, I have seen him many times over. But I am telling you only now."

S, unwilling to engage herself in an argument, began climbing the staircase. Resignation marked her crease as she pulled her way up each step. Seeing her approach, M was reminded of the expression on Mother's face when M's body had first arrived home. More than anything, K was struck by the glass in her eyes. He saw the same tiredness define her persona presently.

K felt a terrible fear of failing to prove himself. "What if the boy didn't appear this time?" he wondered. Mother's every step came like a giant slap on his fragile peace. His fear of mother's disappointment was greater than that of any ghost.

"No," he said to himself, "she must see him. He must come. He will."

He returned to the room, and stood near the bathroom door in the same position that he had done when he saw the little apparition a minute back.

"Please," he muttered under his breath, "please come back."

Mother had reached the end of the flight of stairs and was inching towards his room. He saw her frame move forward in slow motion as if the tape of life was being prevented from rotating at its natural pace. He could not quantify the terror he felt at the possibility of the wraith not appearing.

She came into his room with a look that asked "What? Where?" He shouted out to her to come nearer, unnecessary, he thought, considering the size of the room.

"There ma, there he stays," he pointed out the corner of the bathroom where the ghost normally plodded.

She peeked inside the bathroom. Presently, the space K pointed out smacked only of a white bucket and a phenolic smell.

"There is nothing, K. Now will you stop making stories and get ready for school?" Mother said, and turned around to go back.

But K had seen something, and retorted, "There it is, ma, just look."

She turned, and sure enough, a little boy in blue trousers and pink shirt passed through the bathroom door. He wore polished leather shoes and a striped tie. He looked at them with studied indifference, as though they were routine diversions on his stroll.

S let out a gasp of horror and they both stepped inside the bathroom to check out. But the boy had vanished in the nothingness that lay beyond the dimensions of the bathroom door.

Mother was nearly giddy with disbelief. K tried to grasp her in his arms when she mumbled, very softly, "He looks just like you!"

"What ma?" K asked, though he'd heard.

"When you stood first in Class V, those were the clothes you wore when you went up to the stage to collect your Cup."

"Really, ma? You aren't kidding, are you?"

"No, no," she spoke, almost to herself.

"I don't believe this. It just sounds crazy. Are you saying that boy is me?" K was incredulous, not only on account of what Mother had said, but also by her surprisingly relaxed demeanour.

"Don't worry about him, he won't trouble you," she said. "Sleep with me from tonight."

As she began descending the staircase, K was still eyeing Mother with suspicion. What had gotten into her, he wondered? Just as he was about to say something, she turned.

"And come down soon. I am making us both a cheese burger, and let's drop you to school today, all right?" she smiled.

K, scratching his head dumbfoundedly, returned to the wardrobe and began arranging his uniform.