“Laya... I saw her again,” screamed Richa from the other end of the phone. “And she knows. She knows me, Laya. She knows who I am. She is going to come and get me. From the look on her face, I am certain that she knows that I know her too. I know it now. My every move is being watched. I don’t think I can ever free myself from her malignant presence.”
“Richa, will you please relax for a minute and tell me what’s going on?” I asked.
“That woman. I saw her again,” responded Richa. “The woman with silver eyes.”
“Richa, I have told you a hundred different times,” I replied in an angry tone. “There is no such woman. You are just imagining things.”
“I would love to believe you, Laya,” cried Richa. “But you are wrong, completely wrong. I knew it from the very beginning. She has been watching me from Day One. Because, she knows. She knows that the best way to torture me is to make me feel guilty of what I had done that day. She wants me to live the rest of my life in constant fear of confronting her. I just can’t stand this anymore, Laya. I think I will go mad any minute from now. If I don’t go mad, I know I will commit suicide. If not that, she… she will kill me.”
That was the last time I heard Richa speak. Not that she got killed by her imaginary killer. Neither did she commit suicide. But as she had predicted herself, after that incident, her mind got completely deranged. To a total stranger, she might even appear sane. But when you tried to get to know her, you would understand that she simply wouldn’t want to talk to you. She might look at you when you speak to her, but then after some time, you would realize that she is just looking through you. She wouldn’t like your company if you are a strange woman, and in case you try to exchange a few dialogues, the conversation in all its probability would start with her shriek of disapproval and ends with your scream.
Richa and I were batch-mates during our B-school days in Mysore. Though we were not the best of friends, since we were both from the same town of Cochin, we would drive home together during long weekends, and so, were pretty much comfortable in each other’s company. Richa, I must say, was a very unconventional girl who never waited for anyone to take any decisions for her. Whatever she did was based on her own comfort and convenience and little did she care about what others thought or told of her. She, for the rest of us, was in fact the ultimate flag-bearer of self-dependence.
Despite being such a strong woman, if someone asks me how Richa has reached the state she currently is in, I simply do not have a ready-made answer for that. I think it has been a series of events. The prime reason perhaps was the blow she received on New Year’s Day in 2015 when she came to know of her real identity, that she was an adopted child of her parents. After that, she stopped talking to her parents for a while and even didn’t go home during the semester break in April. I had heard from others that there were times when she would lock herself up in her room and not come out for days, not even for food. Such an impact, that revelation had had on her. During those times, it was through me that her parents knew about her whereabouts. Though my initial pacification efforts reached nowhere, slowly, with the help from her other friends, I was finally able to convince her to go back home and have a word or two with her parents. Since October 2nd of that year was a Friday, we decided to go home for that long weekend. Like usual, we decided to take turns to drive for the eight-hour journey; I drove from Mysore to Coimbatore and she would drive for the rest of the journey. It was at that instance, when she actually started driving, that I realized that Richa was still not back to her normal self. No longer a swift driver that she used to be, the anxiety and frustration that she had in meeting her parents was quite evident from her rash driving. Though I wanted to stay awake for the rest of the journey, I somehow dozed off in between. But it didn’t take me much longer to come back to my senses when, according to Richa, a dog had leapt in front of the car and she had to turn around the car so fiercely that I nearly got thrown off from my seat. But I found it difficult to believe her when she said that the dog was unhurt. Because, though I was asleep, I could feel the car hitting on something and on top of that, there was dried blood near the headlight when I checked the next morning. Maybe she had hit that dog but didn’t want me to know about it. I too didn’t find it appropriate to nag her with my doubts. The rest of the drive that day brought out all the apprehensions that she had had lately, that I had to ask her to stop the car and to let me drive it. Though I never expected her to oblige, she agreed almost immediately as if she had wanted me to ask her from the moment I had given her the steering wheel. Dropping her home that day, I never realized that it would be the last time that we rode home together. Richa never drove any vehicle after that.
Though she made it up with her parents, Richa was slowly getting transformed to a completely different individual. The change that had come over to her came as a shock to most of us who had known her. Since she preferred to go home by train during weekends, we rarely got to see each other during our final year in college. But since we shared common friends, I was aware of her occasional emotional breakdowns and the frequent fits of anger that she started to display. Once, she even created a commotion by arguing that a newcomer girl had tried to kill her.
After college, most of us got placed in reputed companies in different parts of India and abroad. Both Richa and I were placed in two different companies in Hyderabad and since both our offices were nearby, we became roommates as well. We rented an apartment along with two other girls who worked with Richa. Since I was aware of Richa’s past, I was prepared to handle any possible situations that might reveal her vulnerable side. But the other two girls sometimes found it difficult to cope up with Richa’s mood swings. There were times when she would wake up from sleep in the middle of the night, screaming. Though initially, she didn’t bring up any of her problems to me, gradually, she started confiding her fears to me. She told me about the recurrent dreams that had haunted her, wherein at the end, a woman always tried to kill her. And this woman she saw, she was no ordinary woman – she was a very peculiar woman with sharp silver eyes. The theme of her dream might change every other day, Richa said, but the woman and her silver eyes would remain the same in all her dreams.
It might have been because of these strange dreams that she had, Richa was never comfortable with strangers, especially stranger women. As if to emphasize this fact, all hell broke loose when Indira, a Tamil writer, moved to an apartment two floors up. The woman who had come down to meet us in person had to confront a sudden outburst from Richa who screamed at her for being the woman with silver eyes who ended up killing her in all her dreams, although Indira had eyes the color of charcoal. Though I felt sorry for Richa, I felt even more sorry for this woman who had lost her husband and child a few years back. I simply couldn’t imagine what all she must have gone through in her life, but still there was a state of calm about her which I really liked. Richa, however, hated Indira as much as I liked her.
As the days dragged by, there was considerable shift in Richa’s behavior, but unfortunately, it was for the worse. It was not just her personal life which was getting impacted; Richa started having trouble at her workplace too. That was when the rest of us decided to take her to a psychologist. With her approval, the plan would never work out, so in the pretense of going to a friend’s place, we took her to Dr. Ram, a clinical psychologist.
Meeting a psychologist would only count when the person who needs help is ready to open up. But in Richa’s case, she was not at all co-operative. Dr. Ram later told me that Richa was trying to hide something that she wants to forget from her life, but unfortunately that very thing was coming back to her again and again. When I told him about the issues Richa had with her parents, the doctor asked if I could bring Richa’s parents to Hyderabad so that she could stay with them for at least a few weeks. Her parents were more than willing to come, but convincing Richa was the difficult task. Maybe because she too longed for their presence, Richa agreed to move in with her parents. Though there were free apartments in the building that we stayed, Richa decided she wanted a change in atmosphere and moved to a building three blocks away from where we resided.
It was just three weeks since Richa moved in with her parents that she called me in that dreaded state. I really wonder what had happened in that time span which made her call me up in such a state. She still believes that there is someone out there who is trying to kill her. Are these just based on her imaginations or does such a woman really exist? And what did she mean when she said that the best way to torture her was to make her feel guilty of what she had done. I mean, what exactly did she do? Like Dr. Ram said, what was she hiding from all of us?
I was just weighing all the possibilities in my mind when I heard the calling bell ring. It was my journalist friend, Shikha at the door. After receiving her in, I was about to close the door when Indira Swaminathan, the Tamil writer who stayed two floors up appeared on my doorway.
“Hello Indira, come on in,” I welcomed her.
“No Laya. I am fine here,” Indira said. “I will be returning to my hometown today. Thought I would come and say good-bye to you. I heard about your friend. I will pray for her speedy recovery.”
“Thanks Indira,” I replied. “That is so nice of you. By the way, where is your hometown?”
“Coimbatore,” said Indira.
“So, what were you doing here?” I got curious. “Were you working on your new book?”
“No Laya,” Indira explained. “I was in search of someone for the past three years. I got an information that this person was now staying in Hyderabad. Though I could locate that person long ago, it was only a few days back that I got a chance to come face-to-face with her. Now that I am done, it’s time for me to go back.”
“You mentioned this person as ‘her’…” I stammered. “Do I know her?”
“I need to leave now, Laya,” Indira shrugged. “Hope our paths cross again.”
Indira then approached the stairs to return to her apartment, when she stopped and told me, “When your friend is back to her senses, tell her that I have forgiven her.” And then she was gone.
I stood there in bewilderment having heard something I never expected to hear. It was only after Shikha came to call me that I realized I was still standing by my doorway looking at the stairs Indira had taken to get back to her apartment.
Seeing the perplexed look on my face, Shikha asked, “You alright?”
“Hey, listen,” I ignored her concern. “Shikha, you are a journalist. What do you know about this Indira Swaminathan that I don’t know of?”
“I know she writes poems and stories in Tamil,” Shikha began. “Her works are mostly based on…”
“No,” I stopped her. “I am more interested in her personal life.”
“Oops. I don’t have much information on that,” Shikha said. “I know that her husband got killed in a car crash some five years back. And then, her son also died in an accident. I think that was some two or three years back.”
“Three years…? Can you find out exactly when and how, her son had died?” I was getting impatient.
“I remember it was a case of hit and run,” said Shikha. “And the killer was never identified. And for the date, let’s Google.”
Shikha took out her mobile phone and started searching for related news. And then she said, “Here we go. That day, Indira’s car’s tyres had burst and since there was no network coverage in that place, she was trying to change the tyres herself. Her five-year-old son was standing near the car when another car lost control, hit the boy and sped through without stopping. “
“Here, in another report, Indira says it was a woman who had driven the car,” Shikha continued. “It says, both Indira’s and that driver’s eyes had met, and Indira has confirmed that she would be able to identify her son’s killer without any trouble. But I don’t think that case has reached anywhere. That killer seems to be still living in peace. Hmm… Anyway, this accident happened in the wee hours of 2nd of October 2015 in a secluded place near Coimbatore. And it’s mentioned that if the boy was taken to the hospital immediately, he would have even survived.”
October 2nd, 2015. Now everything makes sense. So, this was the secret Richa had been hiding from all of us. She told me it was a dog and it was unhurt. But she had known it all the time. She was lying. She was simply lying. But her dreams. They never lied to her. There did exist such a woman. And that was Indira. Their eyes had met during that accident and it was those eyes that never let Richa sleep. The only lie her dreams told her was the color of the eyes of the woman who had haunted her. And, Indira... She was searching for the woman who was responsible for her son’s death all these years. Although she had met her in person, she never thought of doing any harm to her. She was even benevolent enough to forgive her and wish for her recovery. Now, when I think of it, Richa has also suffered enough in life. And if I tell her that Indira has forgiven her, I am sure she will be healed. It appears too strange to realize how one incident has toppled the lives of two entirely different women from completely different walks of life. And now, it has become my responsibility to make sure that this secret will never reach another soul.
“Laya, there is one touching write-up about Indira here,” Shikha told as if to wake me up from my train of thoughts. “Originally, this Indira’s eyes are silver in color. And that’s something her son loved about her appearance. But after her son’s death, she puts on black lens to cover her eyes because she doesn’t want anyone to see her eyes which her son cannot see. What a doting mother she had been.”
A very sharp chill went down my spine.