By Dr Naina Dey
Lucy Villa was a beautiful house almost palatial in grandeur and standoffishness. Built on a large patch of sloping land it was surrounded by a once lush garden of myriad fruit trees and exotic flowering plants. Now with years of neglect, the fruit trees had gone wild and the plants that had managed to survive, were smothered by weeds and brambles. No shears trimmed the wayward shoots, no one watered the plants that stood under the scorching sun and waited for merciful rain. The only fountain had run dry, its water trough sickly yellow and green with slime, its stone fairy now decrepit. At night however, Lucy Villa was an elfin realm. Its colourless walls, broad balustrades, wide balconies and layered terraces, gleamed in the moonlight though its tall elegant windows looked dark and forbidding.
Lucy Villa was named after the wife of a sahib who had it built with the intention of enjoying the quiet of this far-flung town and to entertain the occasional guest. Unable to bear the death of his beloved collie and then of his childless wife, the sahib had returned to England leaving the house under the care of a friend who lived in the city. That was more than two decades ago. At present it was under the supervision of an attorney, a little bald sly-eyed man.
When we entered the house, it was still furnished with whatever Hamilton sahib had left behind. Moth-eaten carpets and teak furniture inlaid with delicate floral motifs in brass adorned the living room. The rest of the rooms were bare their dusty floors emanating a suffocating musty smell. The house itself was still in excellent condition despite the neglect barring a few damp patches. The walls had been white-washed for the new tenants. It was a pity that a house fit for a prince was in disuse for this long. It also became evident shortly after we had moved in that this was a house of disrepute.
As I stood one evening under the oleander tree just outside the walls, two Sikh boys on a scooty had screamed raucously – “Bhootiya Bungla (haunted bungalow)!” and sped away as fast as they could leaving me confused and angry. True, the house stood by itself, its high walls and garden isolating it from the rest of the neighbourhood. It was hardly unusual for houses which were once dwelling places of the rich, who preferred privacy, to be associated with strange stories once they had been abandoned.
One such story that I happened to overhear was narrated by Mrs Mohapatra to my mother. A petite, jovial, over-enthusiastic woman, she had introduced herself when we went to buy groceries and my mother took to enquiring for a domestic help. “No one goes there”, said Mrs Mohapatra. “The locals fear that place. Strange things are said to happen you know”.
“What strange things”, asked my mother.
“Oh, nothing remarkable”, said Mrs Mohapatra, “The doors and windows open on their own on full moon nights”.
“What nonsense!” my mother tried to sound unperturbed.
“All hearsay,” Mrs Mohapatra shrugged, “They say one can hear Hamilton’s dog barking in the nights.”
My father had been sent away on official tour for an indeterminate period of time within a week of our moving in. The academic session in the town school was yet to start. The wait in the big silent house was getting intolerable. There were no means of amusement other than the cinema hall at the end of the local market. My mother toiled away as no housemaid could be found. They were too scared of the place! No one came out of it alive they said.
It was all rubbish of course, for Hamilton himself had returned to England safe and sound. Finally, my mother gave up cleaning the house altogether and took to bed occasionally rising for a meager meal of rice and boiled potatoes she would make for us both. Dust began to settle on the floors and furniture of Lucy Villa once more. As for me, I half-reclined on the living room sofa reading The Secret Garden, a farewell gift from a classmate in my previous school, watching the changing colours of the sky, twiddling my toes, my chest tight with an unknown premonition.
I now hear the dog every night. It growls at the intruder scaling the wall near the terrace adjoining the living room. What does he want? We are just middleclass people who are living in a haunted house because it is cheap. I sit and wait for ages for his next move.
My father arrives one day escorted by two policemen and takes away all our belongings. His face is white with terror. Pictures of the house get flashed in the front pages of all the local dailies for a week or so, the only witness to the twin murders.
The room where I sit is surrounded by tall glass doors and windows that almost touch the floor. The moonlight falls upon the terrace and enters the living room without a “May I?” The moonlight filters through the glass making it invisible, flooding everything like a deluge. The doors and windows open as if magically. They need no hand to unlatch them. I laugh aloud at the joke of it – “Of course, it is a full moon night!”
Dr. Naina Dey is Associate Professor at Maharaja Manindra Chandra College (University of Calcutta) and guest lecturer in the P.G. Dept. of English, University of Calcutta. She is a critic, translator and creative writer. Her books include Macbeth: Critical Essays, Edward the Second: Critical Studies, Real and Imagined Women: The Feminist Fiction of Virginia Woolf and Fay Weldon, Representations of Women in George Eliot’s Fiction,Macbeth: Exploring Genealogies and a book of poems Snapshots from Space and Other Poems. She was awarded the “Excellence in World Poetry Award, 2009” by the International Poets Academy, Chennai and twice won the Heart Bytes poetry contest organised by Sacred Hearts College, Kochi. Her recent publication is a translation of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury’s “Gupi Gain O Bagha Bain”
Dear Reader, Please Support Kitaab!
Help promote Asian writing and writers. Become a Donor today!