FICTION - Ishita Saikia
“Come, hop on your bicycle. Ami roi asu bahirot.”
The summer holidays were the perfect time for Anisha and her group of 12-year-old Enid Blyton fans who were always on a quest to unravel the big mysteries of the quaint little town.
“Let’s go to the Burha Bungalow today. Let’s see for ourselves what lies inside,” exclaimed the most enthusiastic kid of the lot, while the others hesitated, thinking of the repercussions it might have at their homes, as their parents had strictly warned them to stay away from the Burha Bungalow.
Although dubiously, the rest of the group followed suit, and they reached the top of the hillock, on which the century-old bungalow was perched. Thankfully, the gatekeeper was nowhere to be seen and they had an easy entry into the compound. As they got in through the unguarded gates, they couldn’t stop marvelling at the magnificence of the bungalow and the lush manicured gardens that surrounded it, enough to spark up the playful glint in their eyes and their hunger for adventure. The old garage housed a vintage Willys jeep, which according to the townsfolk, dated way back to World War II.
“Look upstairs, I see a girl, probably the owner’s daughter?” – Anisha shouted, pointing at the Burma teak white window, overlooking the sprawling lawns. As her friends reached the spot to have a look at the mystery girl, she vanished into thin air, nowhere in sight.
“But Papa had told me that the owner has only one child – a son, who had been sent to some boarding school in Dehradun. You might be mistaken, Anisha,” said one of her friends.
“So, are the rumours about the bungalow actually true? Is it really haunted? The didi who comes to help Mumma told me that they often hear the cries of a girl here, after dark,” the youngest in the group said.
As they were busy mumbling among themselves, the gatekeeper emerged out of nowhere, charging violently at them with a bamboo cane.
“What the hell! Who let you inside? Etiyai uluaa, before I hit you with the cane.”
Already terrified at the apparent ghost sighting and the vicious nature of the chowkidar, the group went scurrying in different directions, still uncertain what they had encountered inside.
The pandemic had taken a heavy toll on the life of the students across the country and Anisha was no different. She had to be back home, even before completing the final year at college. They were the highly unfortunate ‘Corona Batch of 2020’, who had to miss out on all the ‘Lasts in the Campus’ – the last look at the favourite spots and tapris in the campus, the last class together, the last group picture with the entire class and the list goes on. Nevertheless, connecting virtually was the new thing and people had to keep up with the times.
Having finished her finals online, she decided to look up for some internship opportunities nearby to enhance her skills and to up her CV game. Her distant uncle told her about some new openings at the Saloniguri Tea Estate, which might suit her qualifications. She checked the website to find that they were in the need of a new intern, specialising in legal matters. Thrilled to find a paid internship so close to her home, she rushed through the application process and got shortlisted for the opening by the HR team a few days later.
One thing led to another, things were kind of a blur, and it all happened so fast that a very important thing skipped Anisha’s mind – the owners of the Saloniguri Tea Estate lived at the enormous Burha Bungalow, their childhood mystery house.
A part of the Burha Bungalow had been converted to an office as the main office building lacked room to accommodate the new hires. And lo and behold, Anisha was to report to the new office in the bungalow.
Anisha felt a rush of adrenaline through her spine as she walked up the road to the hillock on her first day. A concoction of fear, nervousness and thrill engulfed her as she remembered the last time they were shooed away from this place, ten years ago. Not much had changed over the years in this sleepy town. Flashbacks hit her like the breeze as she felt a sense of déjà vu sweeping over her. She had missed this fresh morning air of her hometown over the years. There was a nip in the air and the sunlight streamed through the trees as the wind whistled a merry tune. The town is more than a tack on a map. This place is an adventure, a memory and a real-life scrapbook. A few establishments had come up on the road upwards, but the vines of bougainvillea still adorned the outer walls of the Burha Bungalow – in their bright shades of pinks and violets, with splashes of gold and yellow – soothing enough to be a visual treat to the weary eyes of a traveller.
(To be continued)