That Old Man
(concluding part-please see my post of 27th Sep for first part of the story)
The doorbell rang.
“Now what?” he muttered.
He opened the door. It was Ranjeet who was at the door.
“Why are you so upset?” Ranjeet asked. He had sensed that Pratap was angry and flustered.
“Did you see that old man?” he asked abruptly.
“I didn’t see anyone?”
“How can that be? He just left my place. You would have passed him in the corridor or stairs.”
“There was no one in the corridor or the stairs. I would have seen him if someone had been there.”
“How is that possible? He could not have gone out in a split second.”
“But why are you agitated? Who was that old man? What did he want? Did he say anything?”
Pratap told everything about the old man.
“I can’t believe it. Someone came to meet you; he said he was a ghost and that he lives in the house you have bought.”
“Yes. But I am sure that someone is playing tricks with me, some dirty game.”
“Why don’t you call Ajay Lal?” Ranjeet suggested.
Pratap called Ajay Lal. After usual chit chat he made a polite query about his grandfather.
“Actually my grandfather passed away when I was a small child. But I recall that many years later my father had once told me that he suspected that his father was poisoned to death by someone my grandfather totally trusted,” said Ajay Lal.
“Do you perchance have any photograph of your grandfather?” asked Pratap
“I don’t think I have any such photograph. But why are you getting interested in my grandfather?” Ajay Lal asked.
“Oh! I was just curious about the person who built that beautiful house,” Pratap ended the conversation.
Ranjeet had been listening attentively.
“We are no wiser than we were. Let us go and check for ourselves.” Ranjeet said.
“Check what?” Pratap asked.
“Check if anyone is living in that house?”
“I have twice inspected that house. It is a deserted place; no one has been living there for years.”
Pratap was getting suspicious about the whole affair. He was sure that there was something fishy about the old man who claimed that he was a ghost. But Ranjeet insisted and, unwillingly, he went with him.
The main door was locked. Pratap had a key. He opened the door. The moment they entered the house Pratap felt that someone was in the house.
He heard some noise coming from somewhere inside the house.
“There is someone in the house. Did you hear that noise?” he asked Ranjeet.
“No, I didn’t hear anything.”
When they entered the bedroom Pratap was shocked to see the old man who had come to meet him.
“What are you doing here? How did you enter the house?” Pratap asked the old man.
“I am packing my things. I have to leave this place now that you have rendered me homeless. I will be done shortly. I don’t own very many things,” old man replied in a sad voice.
“Whom are you talking to?” Ranjeet asked. He was shocked and bewildered by Pratap’s behaviour.
“He is the man who came to meet me today,” Pratap replied pointing to the old man.
“Are you in your senses? There is no one here except two of us.”
“Don’t you test my patience, Ranjeet. This man who is packing his things in this room met me today. He is trying to trick me with his nonsense,” Pratap said in anger again pointing to the old man.
Ranjeet was now scared. He could see no one in that room. He almost shouted, “Let us leave this place, right now.”
He literally pushed Pratap out of the house.
“What is wrong with you?” Pratap asked.
“Don’t you understand? I didn’t see anyone in that room. And still you insisted that there was an old man in there. Same man who came to meet you and claimed that he was ghost.”
“So what? I don’t care, it’s some dirty trick.”
“Pratap, he is a ghost. He is perhaps unhappy with you because you have bought this house. He has made himself visible to you and not to anyone else.”
“That is nonsense.”
“Then why could not I see him? Why could not I hear him? You were talking to him but I didn’t hear his voice, I did not see him.”
Pratap was about to say, “It is a sinister conspiracy and even you are a part it.”
But before he could say anything he saw the old man leaving the house. He was looking forlorn and sad. Slowly, rather mournfully, he walked towards Pratap. For the first time Pratap felt uncertain.
Old man said, “I am not a vile ghost; don’t be scared. I don’t mean any harm to you. I love this house. Please take a good care of it. I wish I could continue to stay here. But it can’t be. All my life I didn’t hurt even a fly. Still someone I trusted poisoned me. When I became a ghost I did not bother even a child. Still I have been rendered homeless.”
He suddenly left without waiting for Pratap’s reply. Pratap’s face turned pale. Ranjeet looked at his friend and a cold shiver passe through his heart.
“What happened? Did you again see him?” he asked Pratap in a tremulous voice.
“No,” said Pratap. He rushed towards his house. Ranjeet had to literally run to keep pace with him. An uneasy silence followed them.
The moment they reached Pratap’s house, Pratap said, “I think I will not buy that house.”
Even before Ranjeet could say anything Pratap entered his house and locked the door from inside.
© i b arora