A few years ago, I was holidaying in Kerala. One of the many journeys found me reaching the sleepy little town nearest to my home late in the night. The last bus to the village had left three hours ago. A couple of auto-rickshaws waited languidly for weary passengers. I was not weary and I decided to walk. The few drinks I had just had along with a light dinner roused up the romantic spirit in me. I thought of the winding village road lined with a variety of trees on both the sides.
The sound of cicadas kept me company as soon as I left behind the lights of the town. There were very few street lights. Fireflies danced mirthfully teasing me. The moon shone brightly in the sky and the beams filtered through the leaves of the trees casting weird patterns on the road. Occasionally a dog barked from some veranda and then went to sleep again.
The village cemetery lay a few hundred metres from my home. As I passed by the cemetery I saw a figure standing in the middle of the narrow road bathed in the moonlight. It did not move at all. The whisky was still playing with the spirits within me and I felt unusually enthralled by the moonlight.
“Hi,” I said. “Nice moonlight, eh?” Whisky has this magical ability to strip one of inhibitions.
“Hi,” the man responded. His voice sounded metallic. I continued to walk but was stopped by what he said, “What are you searching for?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I’m going home.” He came and stood right in front of me. It was then that I noticed his face. It was positively ugly. Menacing. Diabolic. Or maybe I was mistaken. Was it anguish that distorted his face thus? Pain can warp one’s facial features beyond our imaginations.
I smiled at him. I have this habit in my genes. I smile at almost anybody and everybody. I can smile at stones too.
“Aren’t you frightened?” he asked.
“Well, should I be?”
“I am a ghost.”
“Oh, glad to meet you,” I stretched out my hand for a friendly shake. He reciprocated with a growl that revealed his misshapen teeth.
“I am a ghost,” he repeated.
“I suppose you are. Can I help you?”
“You are supposed to be frightened of me.”
“OK, if you wish ... I’m feeling frightened.” I tried my best to look frightened. I had a strong belief in those days that no creature on earth could be more dangerous than human beings. I didn’t know how an immaterial spirit could be dangerous.
“If you are not frightened then what use am I as a ghost?” he said that more to himself than to me.
“Is frightening others the only purpose in the life of a ghost?” I asked.
“Ghosts are used to that. Used to people being frightened. If you don’t feel frightened by me, then I must feel threatened by you.”
“Why?” That was a strange logic but it struck me as quite rational.
“One being’s fear is another’s sustenance.”
“Why don’t you go to sleep just like other human beings who are...?” I changed the topic intentionally though I couldn’t bring myself to use the word ‘dead’. “Why do you walk around instead of...”
“I don’t know. That’s why I need your help.”
“How can I help you to find out what you’re searching for?”
“All my life I was searching.”
“Not knowing what?”
He did not answer. Isn’t life a futile search? I wondered.
“What’s it like ... after ...” I didn’t know how to put it.
“After death, you want to say?”
“Exactly.” I patted his back to alleviate the pain possibly caused by the word. His back felt like icy mist. We had sat down on the low wall that separated the cemetery from the road.
“I don’t know,” he said rather helplessly. “Unless I end my search, I may never know.” He paused a while and then said, “But there’s something I can tell you that you’ll find interesting. The secret of happiness in life. It has something to do with search.”
“Tell me,” I said without concealing my eagerness.
He groaned. Somewhere a cock had crowed. Kalan kozhi, I said to myself. The crow of the cock at an unusual hour in the night is a herald of the god of death, according to the folklore in the village.
“I have to go now. Come tomorrow night. I will tell you the secret.” He vanished in a moment.
I forgot the whole incident the next morning and failed to keep the rendezvous in the night. But the night after that the crow of the Kalan kozhi reminded me of the ghost. I got up from bed and walked towards the cemetery. And waited for the ghost. He did not come.
PS. Publishing this story under the hashtag theme of Indiblogger: #incompletestory. The story is incomplete. I can’t complete it unless I meet the ghost again and there seems to be no chance of that.