Raoji leaned forward in his chair and keeping his elbows on the table said: “ I never knew you had returned from the US until you called. You sounded agitated. What’s the matter?”
Viswamurty turned pale. His eyes were sunken showing that he had not much sleep for the last so many days. He was thinking as to where and how he should begin.
Raoji lent back in his chair signifying to the caller that he could take all the time he needed. He began to think as to what could have caused so much tension in his client who had returned from abroad recently.
“What would you like to have,” Raoji asked pressing the buzzer. A servant came in. Taking out a flask from his pocket Viswamurty said: “If you don’t mind … I’d like to take a swig from this!”
The servant withdrew discreetly.
“I am a rationalist,” Viswamurty began but a lump rose in his throat. He cleared it noisily with a effort and continued: “I saw a ghost.”
Raoji waited patiently for his caller to continue.
“Perhaps it was a mistake to leave my business here for so long to be abroad.”
“I’m sure this is your brand,” Raoji said offering him a cigarette.
He accepted it and Raoji held his lighter to the cigarette.
“Do you know Ramanath?”
“I met him once…” Raoji didn’t want to say anything more.
“Forgive me, Raoji! I’ve done something, which I shouldn’t have done. Perhaps there are ghosts.” Said Viswamurty.
“Even those who proved that those believed to be ghosts are not ghosts, didn’t assert there are no such things as ghosts. To that extent what you said is all right.”
“Raoji, you are my confidant. Mine is a peculiar problem. It’s not a court matter. Please help me. This is life threatening. If you don’t mind…” He once again pulled out the little flask from his pocket.
“No, it’s all right. I have a beautiful and understanding wife. Perhaps it’s her goodness that made my villainy possible.”
Raoji cleared his throat. Perhaps Viswamurty interpreted it as a warning and began to speak fast.
“I came here to tell you many things. You must come to my rescue.”
“It’s my duty to care for my clients. After all I’m a human being and it is my duty to help the innocent. I’ve known you for the last ten years and you know you can trust me.”
“I came with that confidence. You don’t know Kamakshi, my driver’s sister. For both Ramanath and me she’s been …”
Raoji understood and said: “I understand, go ahead!”
“Ramanath is no good for a woman … but he is a voyeur. When Kamakshi would be with me, he’d hide… Six weeks after I’d left for the States, Ramanath told me that he was confounded when Kamakshi told him she had been with child. He somehow assured her and then she had to yield to his odd …..”
“One day she committed suicide. He told me that on after my return. He also told me that he had it hushed it up after secretly burying the corpse in our backyard.”
“Isn’t Ramanath married?”
“He did marry.”
“Where is his wife?
“A woman of means, she deserted him to marry again.”
“Ramanath convinced him that Kamakshi had eloped with someone. He gave him some money and sent him away to Bezwada.”
“What if Ramanath had lied to you?’
“There are no secrets between us two. I know everything about him and he knows me through and through. Then there is another thing. The skeleton was dug up from our backyard when they were digging for the foundation for an extension of my house. Even before the skeleton was found, Ramanath had told me about it. Since then, she has been appearing now and then – as a ghost. She died pregnant and then unnaturally. I may or may not believe in ghosts but how about my sin? I may be a rationalist but I cannot escape from the mental torture for the sin. When I told Ramanath about the ghost he laughed it away and said it was my conscience that was bothering me. I know he is not a psychologist. But then he is a heart patient and I can’t bother him with my problems. There are many like Kamakshi for him to satisfy him: for, which street-walker wouldn’t like to be paid for nothing?”
“When did the digging take place?”
“I returned about three months ago. Ramanath told me of Kamakshi immediately after my return. We started digging the foundation two months ago. About a month ago the skeleton was found. The hair is surely Kamakshi’s. No doubt. My grandfather built this house. The corpse in the backyard…”
“No, the skeleton… The workers stopped working. The contractor put another gang to work. One worker actually became mad. I sent her to a doctor. Another went nuts out of shock. The thing reached the police and I have been spending money to hush it up. Even my wife came to know about the ghost. I’m terribly frightened that she would come to know about Kamakshi also. In the meanwhile the tax people raided our house. I am at my wit’s end. I should have gone out. There are flames all around. How to get out of the muddle?”
“Did the police register a case?”
“No, thanks to Ramanath he hushed up the thing. But this ghost…”
“Now let me hear all about it.” Raoji sat back in his chair all attention.
“Ever since the corpse…”
“Corpse or skeleton?”
“Sorry. Skeleton.” That day, I couldn’t sleep. My wife was fast asleep. I came up the terrace. I stood looking at the trenches for the foundation. There was faint moonlight. Suddenly a shape appeared. It appeared to be clad in a sari. I could see it was Kamakshi. She was looking at the terrace. I heard the tinkle of her bangles. I am not easily frightened and still less by a ghost because I never believed in the nonsense. I came down and went into the backyard towards the foundations. She heard the footsteps and slowly began walking out. I heard the anklets. She disappeared just near the outhouse.”
“Can I come and see your house? I’d come at about five-thirty. So in your view …?”
“It is a ghost. If it is not, it couldn’t have escaped the bullets from my revolver.”
“Do you remember Kamakshi so well?”
“She slept with me for years!”
“If it is really a ghost what do you expect me to do?”
“If you too say it’s a ghost, I’d go to you a witch doctor.”
“I’m a lawyer. Who suggested to you to seek my help? “
“My wife. In her parental home, several years ago they had a problem and she had told me you solved it. Calling him on the long distance, I verified the statement from my father-in-law yesterday.”
“So your in-laws are at Amalapuram.”
“Do you know rifle shooting?”
“I learnt at college in the NCC and have been practicing ever since. I have fire arm licenses for both a revolver and a gun.”
“On that day did you use your gun or the revolver?”
“All right, I’d come in the evening. When is Ramanath likely to be back?”
“Possibly three or four months.”
“After seeing your place, I can tell you if I could be of any help to you.,” said Raoji rising.
When it was getting on to six, Raoji started to Viswamurty’s house. The lady of the house welcomed the visitors. Raoji was surprised as to how his client fell to a woman like Kamakshi and told himself there was no accounting for human folly.
Viswamurty made his appearance and took the visitors upstairs.
“This is Vasundhara, my cousin and associate,” Raoji introduced his companion to Viswamurty. On the way he explained the entire case to Vasundhara who listened to it patiently and asked him some clarifications. The first question was about Ramanath whom Viswamurty trusted beyond normal limits. Was Ramanath making Murty a scapegoat? Whose skeleton was it? Was Kamakshi done to death? Was the ghost real, or just the figment of a guilty mind? If the shots were fired, they must have hit something around. Raoji explained to Vasundhara what she had to do.
“Did Ramanath see that ghost at any time?” Raoji asked looking around from the terrace.
“No, like me he did not believe in these things. But he believes that I am bothered by my guilt-ridden mind. He asks me just to forget it. But now I hate myself for having had anything to do with guilt. I wish I could sell this house and shift somewhere. But Ramanath asks me not to be hasty. He’s no able to understand my agony. He doesn’t know how much I suffer.”
Viswamurty was very near tears.
Raoji kept looking at him. But he was thinking of something different. He was trying to imagine the conversation between the friends. In a minute he proposed: “Let’s go into the backyard” and led the way.
“Does this backyard have an entrance from the rear?”
“It does have one but it has never been used at all.”
“Whose house is that?’
Raoji looked meaningfully at Vasundhara.
“Whose house is that on this side?’
“Some marwadi’s. Ramanath tried his best to buy that house but the marwadi was too intelligent for him and he acquired it for himself. It has been Ramanath’s dream to own that house. Poor fellow, though he has none to succeed him he is fond of property, especially that house.”
“There’s no telling about the oddities in people. Can I see the revolver once? And your gun too. Is this outhouse where you said Kamakshi’s brother, the driver, used to live?”
“Yes that’s it. The keys are downstairs.”
“Vasundhara, you go along with him and have a look-see.”
When the duo left he began to look around. He kept looking at Ramanath’s house. Was there some rivalry or enmity between that marwadi and Ramanath? I see Ramanth and the marwadi had their compound walls of the same height.
When the outhouse was opened, Raoji too went in. The whole shed was dust covered and evidently it had not been opened for a long time.
“A closed door cannot stop a ghost. The ghost appeared to have gone right through it.”
“Of Ramanath and his other neighbour the marwadi who has more likelihood of being an enemy to you?”
“What a question! Ramanath is a friend and confidant. For that marwadi there is no need to acquire my house.” Viswamurty replied.
“He is a busy man with his own taxis. He has a good wife and four children. He is a contented man and he has no enemies.”
“Who is living in Ramanath’s house now?”
“A distant relative, a very old woman and some servants whom he cannot send away. There is none youthful there.”
“How long have you been friends?”
“Right from the elementary school. He is affectionate. He cannot keep a secret from me and I too cannot hold anything from him.”
Vasundhara came up to join them after having a word with the lady of the house. She came saying: “the electric supply wouldn’t go off this night.”
Viswamurty was taken aback and asked: “Do you know the future?”
“Yes, she does. It’s not just she alone. I too know it. Today the ghost comes again. But you must hand me over your gun and the revolver. You should not carry any firearm. You give me your word.”
“I give you my word of honour. I’m really sorry for that poor woman. My going abroad led to all this. Had she waited, I’d have found her a husband in good time.”
“That’s all right. For this night if you don’t go on any adventures, from tomorrow I hope you’d be rid of the ghost and the bother too.”
The two took their leave and walked away.
Viswamurty was unhappy that he had led them into his secret. Was it right? He began to wonder.
“Let’s go to a movie,” said he to his wife.
“Who are those two? For some reason I feel uncomfortable.”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. Where are the children?”
“They are out to play and I don’t know when they’d return.”
“I’m sorry we all have been going leaving you at home. It wouldn’t be like this hereafter.”
“You speak strangely today. Is anything the matter?”
“Come, let’s go out for a while.”
“No, there is none at home and both the servants are on errands. Let’s be at home.”
At half past ten Viswamurty came on to the terrace. His wife couldn’t be taken into confidence. He was all confused. How did Raoji predict that the ghost would make its appearance? Why did Vasundhara make a forecast about the electricity? Would Raoji be of any help, after all? Is there anything he could do?
“What are you doing here?” She asked him in surprise.
“You are fast asleep and I couldn’t sleep so soon.”
“All right, we’d sit here for some time.” She was about to fetch the chairs.
For the first time Viswamurty grew suspicious of his wife. Did she smell a rat? Did Ramanath foolishly let the cat out of the bag for Kamakshi couldn’t come back alive again? There is some change in her.
“Look, my dear, you go down and go to bed. None would eat me. Children are alone. After a little while I’d join you.”
When she was going back, his suspicion grew strong. He remembered the gait of the ‘ghost’. Is she really capable of such play-acting? Was this the reason why Raoji asked him not to hunt the ghost with a gun?
After a while he went down. His wife was sleeping peacefully. He came out of the room, bolted the door from the outside and went up the terrace.
Kamakshi or her ghost was there. She was draping herself in a sari. The bangles were tinkling, Then there was the fragrance of flowers. The rhythmic tinkle of anklets was approaching.
He switched the light and four lights flashed.
She was Kamakshi. There could not be any doubt. He dashed forward downstairs. He ran into the back yard.
Kamakshi was going back slowly.
The breeze was bringing in a soft woman’s wail.
“Hello! Mr Viswamurty! Did you see the ghost? It is not a ghost, it’s a vampire of lust.” Raoji said.
“You missed it by a second! You too could have seen it.”
“I can see it again,” he said an d a little louder said, “Today it wouldn’t rain!”
“What!” Viswamurty was astounded.
When Viswamurty was about to run towards the outhouse, Raoji held him saying: “Don’t be afraid. Come here, Vasundhara!”
Vasundhara approached from the shadows.
“Did you see me only today? Didn’t you see me yesterday?” She asked lifting her thin veil.
“But then where is the ghost?” Viswamurty was flabbergasted. It was an insult to his intelligence. Who has taken him for this ride?
“It’s your common friend, Ramanath’s and yours. Its none other than your Kamakshi. It has been a ruse, an attempt to make you sell the house. Come vampire, let’s make our exit.” Raoji took his associate’s hand.
“I have only one doubt. What happened to the bullets I fired from my revolver?”
“They are blanks. It’s only after checking that that Vasundhara gave me the coded message which was also meant to mystify you. Your servant and Kamakshi have been the actors and the director of the play, your confidante, Ramanath.”
There was a loud knocking from inside.
“Your wife seems to be worried. Go in and have a good night’s sleep. You can think of everything else in broad daylight. Good Night!”
Raoji and Vasundhara disappeared into the dark.