And The Wheel Turned and Turned…

Part 1

The car swung to the left and stopped in front of the kiosk.

It was quite annoying to run out of supply in the middle of the night. He had to get one here and now. Luckily for him, his favorite brand was in stock. With shaking hands he peeled off the cellophane and fixed for himself the first cigarette of the day.

He stood aside, drawing deeply and blowing out rings against the sky, gazing at nothing in particular. A few puffs and his hands became steadier. Now the world around him came into sharper focus. That’s when he sighted the cottage set back from the road. It was love at first sight.

Cottage

He called up the first on his list to check on the cottage. There was no response. The second broker did not know anything about the cottage. He had almost given up on the third too when Ramaiya answered.

Ramaiya heard him out and spoke slowly and clearly.

‘Dear Sir, I know about the cottage you are standing in front. It’s a nice one. But

Here a few words of background are in order: Our protagonist was in charge of the construction of an upcoming plant in the town, a project that required him to live here for ten months. The hotel bills were mounting – he had to move out in quick time. The last couple of days were spent in looking at a number of houses from newspaper ads, almost none to his satisfaction. And a few houses that he liked, he found the owners reluctant to deal with him as he was a stranger in these parts. That’s when he decided to go through the brokers. From the hotel staff he got the telephone numbers of a few brokers who could possibly help. Now to resume from where we left off:

‘Listen, I’ll be a little more flexible on the rent if required. I like this place. Get it for me.’

‘Sir, it has been lying vacant for a year now. The owners settled in US are trying hard to rent it out…’

‘Good for me.’

‘No. Sir, it is said to be haunted. That’s why

‘Did you say ‘haunted’?’

‘Yes, Sir. The last occupant was a family from Trivandrum. The man was posted here to promote

‘Get to the point, please.’

‘They said strange things were happening inside the house especially over the week-ends – like vessels falling off from the shelves in the night, disembodied voices, etc. They moved out within a month.’

‘Then you have found the right man to straighten out, my friend. Don’t forget I’m ex-army. I’m sure there is an explanation to all this ‘strange’ stuff. So when do I move in?’

‘Sir, don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

’I’ll tell you what. I see the lights are on. Who is in there?’

‘There’s a care-taker couple in there though I’ve not interacted with them.’

’Very well, if it’s only a care-taker, I’ll go in now and take a good ‘dheko’. You can then meet whoever and close it for me. OK, let me go, I’ll call you later.’

The gate swung back a little noisily on disused hinges.

The cottage was a compact structure that sat in the middle of a small plot abutted by vacant lands on all sides. About fifteen feet away a barbed-wire fence ran around the cottage. The ground was covered with well-tended flowerbeds, clearly the work of a gardener. A few casuarina’s stood along the fence towering over the cottage.

He climbed the steps up to the door and knocked. He was not ready for what he saw when the door opened.

Part 2

A young girl in early twenties stood before him.

Girl

He recovered in a moment: ‘I’m sorry. I came to meet the care-taker. Are you his daughter?’

‘What did you want with the care-taker?’

‘Well, I heard this place was available for rent. In this regard

‘Come on in. You can talk to me. My dad owns this place.’

‘Your dad owns this place? I heard he is in US and you…’

‘Yes, Sir. I have another year to go. Am doing medicine in Pondicherry. Won’t you come in?’

The hall was neat and functional. He settled down in the sofa and looked at her more closely for the first time. A petite girl modestly dressed in muted colors – her gown went down all the way to the floor and her blouse a couple of sizes too big, sporting large collars that were like coat lapels. Her eyes were limpid with a hint of sadness and voice quite feminine and soft – could soothe any baby in tantrums. Her movements were minimal and graceful with an ethereal quality. Perhaps long separation from the family was getting to her.

‘You know, I love this place. In fact I am not sure if I would ever leave this place for anything. I spend my week-ends here – there’s a room on the terrace I keep for myself. It is also to keep an eye on the care-taker. Gardening is my hobby. Those flowerbeds, they’re my passion.’ This time her eyes lit up.

Flower 1 Flower 2
She caught him gazing at it.

‘This scar – it was an unfortunate biking accident in the college campus.’

He quickly drew his eyes away in embarrassment.

‘And where is the care-taker?’

The question was not asked. But she could read his mind.

‘On Sundays the care-taker is off duty. I’ve the house to myself.’

She offered him tea, inquired about his background and took him around on a tour of the cottage. Two bedrooms, a hall and a kitchen were more than adequate for him. Plenty of fresh air and sunlight. He liked what he saw and wasted no time in pushing the matter further.

‘Look, I like this place. I wish for a twelve-month lease. You may continue to use the room on the terrace. I’ve no problems with that. The terms are acceptable to me though a bit stiffer than I had expected. Yes, the payments would be made by checks, you’ll appreciate. Now if it is agreeable to you, kindly get the lease agreement done. My broker will come down around seven in the evening and settle the matters?’

‘That would be just fine. The agreement will be done and ready. Once you move in, the care-taker will go – there are other properties to look after.’

‘I’m glad we got that wrapped up quite quick. Well, there’s one last thing I wish to clear up.’

‘What is it?’

‘I hear strange things happen here during week-ends?’

‘Strange things?’

‘Yes, utensils falling off the shelves, taps turning on their own, lights going off and on

‘Is the care-taker telling you these stories?’

‘Oh no, I never met him.’

‘There’s some truth in the stories.’

‘Eh?’

Part 3

‘Don’t worry, it was me playing some harmless pranks. There’s nothing more to it.’

Seeing his quizzical look, more explanation was offered.

‘You know the lady, the wife of the last tenant, wanted to replace the flower-beds with vegetable patches. Can you imagine she wanted to grow cauliflowers and pumpkins? I couldn’t let her have her way. So, the pranks, to keep her mind away from the flowers.’

Flower 3Bees

He wasn’t buying it.

‘Ok, here is the low-down. The man was an undesirable character engaged in activities not entirely lawful, I suspect. He had to go. I couldn’t bring myself up to confront him on his face as he appeared quite menacing. So, the week-end pranks. Luckily for me, it worked. The lady’s nerves went to pieces and they packed off within a month.’

This was more plausible.

‘I assure you I’m a law-abiding citizen. So, no pranks with me, my friend.’

For the first time she laughed.

He took leave of her feeling easy in the mind. Stepping out of the house he called up Ramaiya.

‘I met the daughter of the owner and have settled the matters with her.’

‘Settled the matters with the daughter?’

‘Yes. And don’t you worry, I’ll pay you for closing the deal and the paper-work.’

‘It’s not that. I know I’ll collect. But

‘Now, what?’

‘I had warned you, Sir. In fact that’s the reason the owners wanted to forget and get away from it all.’
His voice turned cold.

‘Will you please talk some sense?’

‘Sir, their only girl died in an unfortunate bike accident in her college a year back.’

‘Wait a minute. I just now met her in flesh and blood.’

‘I meant what I said,’ he sounded miffed at his advice being ignored.

And the line disconnected. Attempt to reach Ramaiyya exasperatingly failed.

He stood there flatfooted unsure of the next steps.

But the world continued to spin.

The door opened startling him. His instincts told him to run for the hills. Somehow he stood frozen. Perhaps his army-bred bravado was asserting itself.

It was the girl.

‘By the way, you didn’t tell me who is your broker. I need to know.’

‘Ramaiya.’

‘You kidding?’

‘Eh?’

‘He was the guy who brought in my last tenant and I had strongly ticked him off for that. He was upset with me. So much he weaned away several prospects subsequently. I know this for a fact. ’

‘Oh, that’s easily explained. After all, business comes first. He must have buried the hatchet, as they say. And, mind you, this was my choice.’

‘What is buried is more than a hatchet. The police suspect it was a murder over some business deal that had gone sour. He died over a month ago.’

The world was not the only one spinning.

‘So kindly come over in the evening. Once we’re done, I’ll be happy to host a dinner for you. A simple meal, nothing fancy.’

The door closed softly on him.

End
.
Credits: openclipart.com (rejon, Machovka, Gerald_G, Johnny_automatic, sheikh_tuhin) and wackywits.com.

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9 Responses to And The Wheel Turned and Turned…

  1. amazing story raghu. just loved it! its one of your “THE” bests!

    Like

  2. sagarika says:

    Loved it.. still guessing which might be true…

    Like

  3. Shyam Maheshwari says:

    Hell with the care taker. You take care. You were not in Army.
    Nice stuff Raghu. I am spinning.

    Like

  4. dont stop writing! please dont starve us for too long.

    Like

  5. Asifa Zunaidha says:

    chilly.. nice one 🙂

    Like

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