Name of Participant : Jithin Chandrabose
Company : Aptara Learning Pvt. Ltd.
“Krishna! Wait!” It was Vinayak, my best friend at school calling out to me from behind. I stopped and turned around to find him speeding towards me. “You seem to be in a hurry.” he said panting, “How was the exam today?”
“It was fine but I don’t want to think about all that right now. I am glad it is over. I am super excited about leaving for my village today evening. Aren’t you going as well?”
“Oh! Lucky you. So that was the reason you were hurrying.” he said with a fading smile, “But I will have to wait for another two weeks. We are going late this time.”
“Oh! Sorry for you.” I said, “But you can still have fun here, right?”
“Not much without you. When will you be back?” he asked.
“By the end of May.”
“Wow! Such a long stay at the village for you this time. No wonder you are so excited.”
“Yes. This may well be my best trip ever. My cousins will be there too, and I heard it has been raining a lot there.”
“No doubt then that you will be having a wonderful time there. I will be waiting for the ghost stories you will bring from your cousins. I loved the story of the old priest you narrated last time.”
“I am sure I will narrate to you a lot of their stories this time too. There will be no dearth of spine chilling stories if my cousins are there.”
We were once again talking about the story of the old priest. Suddenly, Vinayak looks at his watch, remembers something and says, “My brother must be waiting for me at the school gate. I have to go now.”
“Okay Vinayak, I also ought to make a move. I have to pack my bags. See you after the holidays.” I said.
“Have a nice journey! Bye.” Vinayak departed.
By the time I reached home, my parents had already got most of the packing done. “How was the exam?” my Mother asked.
“It was very good Amma. Have you kept my books in the bag?”
“I have told you already. There is no need to carry all those unnecessary books all the way to Kerala. You won’t be reading them anyway once you get there.”
“I won’t take many books. Just 2-3 very light weight books. It won’t make much difference.”
“Do whatever you want. You yourself have to carry your bag.”
“That I will take care. Give me something to eat Amma.”
“Yes. Have your bath first. Hurry up. We have to leave at 4 p.m.”
I dashed to my room and picked the World Atlas book, my diary and my pen from the shelf and sleathily slipped them into my backpack. Those were my constant companions wherever I went. Just when I thought that I had half succeeded in my smuggling attempt, I saw my younger brother Arjun standing on the doorway with an ‘I caught you’ smile on his face. “Mom! Krishna is stuffing all his books into the bag.” he yelled out.
“Ssshhh!” I said, “I have kept the Tinkle comics too”.
That was enough to bribe him as he smiled sheepishly and gave me a thumbs up sign.
I looked at the wall clock. It showed the time as 3 p.m. Just another hour to go. I took my towel and ran to the bathroom excitedly. I finished my shower and was all dressed up and ready within the next 15 minutes. I was delighted to find a cup of tea and a samosa on the table for me. I took out the Atlas book from my bag and as I kept munching on the samosa and sipping the tea, I was looking up the route our train will be following towards Kerala. Just then the door bell rang. My brother opens the door. It was our Father who had gone to fetch a taxi. “Everything ready boys? The taxi is here.” I gulp down the samosa and tea and put the book back into my bag. Mother comes out from the bedroom in her saree. We were all set for the journey.
Once we got into the train, me and my brother jumped onto the window-side seats and thus declared our sovereignty over those seats for the next 40 hours atleast, while our parents occupied the remaining two seats in the cabin. We were very glad that our parents had booked our seats in a two tier AC compartment this year as there are only four seats in each of the main cabins in these compartments and also there are curtains which when drawn gives us a feeling of having the whole cabin to ourselves. The only thing we could complain about was that the windows had glass panes, unlike the ordinary compartments which had grills that allowed us to pass our hands through and feel the wind. Anyway, both of us were glued to the windows. I took out my Atlas book once again and started tracing our train’s route on the map from Mumbai to Kottayam. When I got bored with that, I decided to write something in my diary, and for that I needed some privacy. So I told my parents that I was feeling sleepy and climbed onto the upper berth.
I took out my diary and pen and sat down to write. However, I couldn’t go on with the writing after a few initial jottings. I felt an undercurrent of something else going through my mind. I put down the pen for a moment and soon realised that it was about the mysterious priest – the story I heard from my cousins last year. Of the many stories I had heard from them, this was the one which fascinated me the most, maybe because of it’s probability of being true. Although it wasn’t a very horrifying or gore filled story, the very fact that it was about a place quite near to our house in the village gave me goosebumps. I turned the pages of my diary and found the story I had noted down a few months back. I went through it once again:
“Across the stream behind our grandfather’s house is an island, small in area. On that island stands an old dilapidated church, flanked by long coconut trees and large mango trees. Some say that the island was actually a cemetery and that the church was built much later. There was, or as some say, is a priest who stays in the church. How or when he came there, nobody knows. He is supposed to be very old, or as some say, too old to be alive. The only people who claim to have seen him are the fishermen and some evening boat travellers. None of them knows what exactly he looks like. They only know that he wears a long dark hooded robe. None of them who tried to explore the place during the day could find him in the church or anywhere on the island. Some say that none has ever dared to explore the place after dusk, while some others say that some strong peculiar currents allegedly active only along the shore of that island prevents any intruders to the island after dusk. Although no one has claimed to have been harmed by the apparition so far, fishermen and night travellers do complain of having been scared out of their wits when they see a man in long robes standing or walking beside the church. The old priest of the dilapidated church still remains an enigma for the people of the village.”
I was feeling the chill already. Although I could feel a desire of exploring this mystery cropping up in my mind, I decided that I should keep myself away from the place.
After a 40 hours long train journey and then a 2 hours long bus journey, we reached the main junction of our village. The road ahead was not in a good condition after the heavy rains. Although we were almost exhausted after this tiresome journey, the beautiful scenes that surrounded us eased our walk. “We will have to walk some distance before your grandfather comes with the boat to pick us up.” said our father. “Wow! A boat ride straightaway.” my brother exclaimed. We were very happy at the wonderful start our trip has had so far. We had walked for about 250 metres when we saw our grandfather paddling a beautiful wooden boat towards us through the stream running parallel to the road. He was very delighted to see us. “Hello! Who do we have here!” he said planting a kiss each on both of our cheeks, “Come, get in. Your grandmother and others are waiting. Your cousins will be arriving tomorrow evening.” We placed our luggages onto the boat and got seated. Our father took the spare oar on the boat and the father-son duo was guiding our boat through the stream towards our house. Glistening melodious waters, cool breeze, arching coconut trees, greenery all around – I was blown away by the world around me.
I was brought back into this world when my eyes got stuck at the sight of the old dilapidated church – the church in the story of the mysterious priest. There was something gloomy and depressing about that place, as my mind which seemed to be in the spring season a while ago suddenly changed to autumn. Although I was curious I didn’t feel like asking anything about the place to my grandfather. Once we got home, I forgot all about the priest and the church due to the attention and pampering we were receiving. Our grandparents were feeding us all kinds of sweets. In the afternoon we enjoyed the classic combination of tapioca and fish curry for lunch. As was promised, our father took us for a boat ride in the evening and taught us how to use the oars. I spent a lot of time paddling the boat within the small canal in our backyard. As the water here was very shallow and safe, I had the permission of using the boat within that area as much as I wanted. “But don’t go out into the main stream alone,” my mother warned me. So I continued paddling forth and then back within the limits of the canal. I was getting bored with this routine. So I slowly started extending my limit and going a bit farther each time. I felt as if I was expanding my empire with each expedition.
When I was thus paddling through the canal, I reached a point from where I saw a magnificent sight – the sun was setting, the horizon was ablaze and the waters had turned into golden streams. The birds calling it a day and the trees moving in the breeze added to the beauty. I took out my camera to capture the natural masterpiece unveiled before me. I felt tempted to move a bit farther into the stream to get a better view. When I paddled some distance, I realised that giving in to the temptation was worthy enough. I was mesmerised by the scenes around me. I put the camera away and let myself rest in the glory of nature. As my eyes were savouring the visual treat all around, it stopped at a certain direction. The old dilapidated church was once again within sight. Although it looked quite spooky and haunting, it had a strange beauty of it’s own. I have observed that such stories and places evoke a peculiar feeling in me – a feeling I often fail to decide whether it is pleasant or dreadful. I kept looking at the church for a while as the setting sun enhanced it’s beauty or perhaps it’s spookiness. Undesirably, a part of me was also looking for the apparition or the enigma, the old priest. It was getting dark and I realised I was still on the boat, strayed much far into the main stream. I felt an urgent need to get out of that eerie atmosphere I found myself in. I took out the oar and plunged it into the waters. I had to turn my boat to the opposite direction to get back home quickly. Paddling backwards won’t be a good idea as it was already getting dark. I got nervous with the realization that I wasn’t very good at turning the boat. The wind was getting stronger too. But the central fear was the fact that I was now very close to the dilapidated church and also perhaps to the apparition.
I tried everything I could remember to make the boat to turn around but it didn’t improve the situation at all. I was now panting and perspiring as the atmosphere around me was getting more and more dark and scary. In desperation I started screaming out from the boat “Acha! Amma!” to my parents. I was sure that they would come looking for me as it was getting dark. But suddenly a thought of keeping mum came into my mind so as not to invite the attention of the apparition. ‘But have I already done the damage with those screams?’ this thought made me panic. I was stranded. I felt an impulse to turn around and look at the church. Although a part of me was begging me not to do so, I ended up looking back. I consoled myself that there was no apparition there. My eyes kept looking at the church and I refused to believe what it showed me. There he was, a form in a long robe with a hood covering the head. I was dumbstruck. Was he watching me all this while? I sat still restraining the slightest movements. I found that he too wasn’t moving at all. He stood there like a stone. I slightly moved my eyes to look at my watch but I wasn’t really in a position to figure out the time the watch was showing. When I looked back at the same spot, he had disappeared.
Just when I thought I could catch my breathing for a moment, I saw him again – on a boat this time. I was literally shivering now as he appeared to be guiding his boat towards me. Then suddenly he turned to the left and kept repeating that. I soon realized that he was moving in a circle. Was he mocking me or enacting that I was in a trap? I was fully alert and watching all his movements now. A thought arose in me suddenly, ‘Was he trying to show me how to turn the boat?’ I kept looking at the way he was using the oar. I took a deep breath and held the oar firmly. I tried it the way he was doing and soon I found that the boat was turning. I was doing it right. I felt a new lease of energy and courage. I started believing that he didn’t mean me any harm. I kept on working with the oar while throwing a few glances in between at him. He was watching me. I could see his eyes now. I am not sure whether it was sadness or compassion I saw in them, but they were incapable of harm. I was now headed towards home. I found myself composed now. I gave him one more glance – only his eyes were communicating with me now – and continued on my way back. I looked back once again, but he had disappeared. It didn’t take long to reach our backyard canal. I remained on the boat looking at the church hoping to see him once again. And I did see him standing in front of the church. Who or what was he? “Krishna!” I felt as if I woke up from some trance. “Its so dark. What are you doing there. Enough boating for today. Get back now.” It took a while to realise that it was my mother. I somehow managed to get out of the boat and walked back to the house. I stopped and turned around to have a glance at the backyard once more before entering the house. Darkness had thrown its veil of unknowing all around. The same sights which looked simple and enchanting in daylight now looked impregnated with mystery.