“Have you listened to the news…” Annwita says while gathering her breath.
“Which news…that Mr. DeCosta will be in a foul mood…because he had a fight with his wife…last night…” Ferdouse replied while looking through a fallen leaf with the sun in the background.
“I heard…they had a scuffle…” Dip commented while trying to maintain his seriousness with wrinkle brows.
“No…it might be…the Mukherjees…are they going to hold a party…this Diwali…” Ruby asked.
“No…you all are wrong…it was actually…what was the name…yes…Nayanika…is much more beautiful than you…right Nayan…” A replied while checking on his pencil.
Nayan frowned and leaving a deep breath replied, “why would she give a competition…she might be fair…but I am her competition…and she doesn’t have the front teeth…which I have…see…” she show her gum to everyone.
“Then what the news is…” Ferdouse asked throwing the leave away.
“A ghost had been seen…last night…” Nayan replied with low whispering voice as if she was disclosing some secret that they should only knows and no one else.
“What…a ghost…” Ruby response while looking around in fear and to be sure someone had not been looking at them.
“Hey A…did you listen Nayan had seen a ghost…” Dip chuckled.
“Not me…dumbo…it was the old Granny down the street beside the bakery shop who had saw it…” Nayan replied.
“Old Granny…as far I know she is already one eye with one eye patched to save it from damage by any sort of light…and we all know that and have seen that…” A replied while thrusting his pencil box into bag.
Nayan was going to say in her defense when the bell rang. Everyone settle down in their seats, and as soon as they settle down, Mr. DeCosta entered the class. He was tall lanky man with a grumpy voice contradicting his behavior when he used to be with children which was very much warm and friendly. Children love to be around him and with him. That day, but, he was little disturbed and little bit of blue in his jovial mood.
“So, class…after a weekend we are here…day after tomorrow will be Diwali…so what are the main things…we have to remember…” he asked after the roll-call in his heavy voice.
When the class was in the middle section, their headmaster enters the class room, Mr. Banerjee followed by his orderly and a girl.
Seeing the girl Nayan face discolored. Ruby pushed her and asked her what the matter was. But she didn’t replied. Dip and Ferdouse once looked at Nayan and then move their eyes on A, who was looking at the girl with curiosity and interest—he had pushed up his spectacles up on his nose.
“How the class going, DeCosta…” Mr. Banerjee asked.
“Fine…Sir…I have been giving them lesson on the safety and do’s and don’ts for Diwali…”
“Good…good…very good…okay…class please welcome your new friend…Nayanika…she has come to our Town a week ago or so after losing her mother who used to belong to this Town…she is going to live with her grandmother for the time being…” Mr. Banerjee declared.
“Welcome Nayanika…” everyone shouted in unison with two exceptions—Nayan said it with clutching his teeth and thus losing her first teeth from front while A remain silent as he was looking at the new entrant with more than required interest.
The arrival of Nayanika created a stir in the life of this five-friend group, especially between Nayantara or Nayan and A. It was not long before that five turns to six. Nayanika’s grandmother was the pickle maker down the alley that runs beyond the clock tower. Her pickle was the Town pride. Many girls before marriage visited her to learn the secret of making such a pickle.
All around the Town the newly formed band of six children could been seen on bicycles running around; they never created a nuisance rather they helps in running the errands for the older ones like the old granny beside the bakery shop or for Nayanika’s Granma. Sometimes they played beside the river though A don’t like the spot but still he join them.
At school also they become well known for the unity they show. After few days Nayanika joined the school they came to know of her mother. She was one of the ill-fated victims of the train wreck that had happened three months ago. She had came to visit her mother who was ill back then; Nayanika was left with her father’s sister. Her father lives outside the country and visit them once or twice a year. After the mishap, he never came but let his sister take the little girl to her grandmother until he returned.
The school let her get admitted after she passed the admission test with questions from the half-yearly exams—the toughest ones were selected to test her. She passed with flying colors and surprising Mr. Banerjee with her wits and cleverness and intelligent quotient.
At first Nayanika was shaken and scared but the love and affection of the five made her comfortable, and soon she catches up on the tone the Town speaks a lower yet clear and high voice. She also learnt to swim at the river—Ruby and Nayan helped her; Nayan’s jealousy evaporated when she caught Nayanika sobbing in the toilet on the second day of the school. That day while returning from school they became the friends which turn “bestest” in couple of the days. They were then called Nayan Square—to determine their short name Nayantara remains Nayan while the name Nayanika becomes Nay.
The morning was chilling one. The Town had seen its first snowfall last night so it was white all around. It was the last day of the school before it closes for the winter vacation. Nay enter the school compound and walked to the courtyard. There she found everyone was throwing snowball to each other. Seeing her Ruby threw a ball at her startling her. And then few more follows.
Ferdouse asked seeing her standing, “are you sick…everything is okay…”
“Yeah…actually…it was Granma…” she replied.
A was standing beside Ferdouse and was shaking off snowflakes of a ball that Nayan had threw at him. He asked, “what had happened to Pickle Granny…”
Seeing the three standing and talking, others stopped their game and came up to them. Nay replied in low voice, “she is not fine …I think…she had been complaining of some shadow at the night…for last few nights…”
Ruby asked, “there are no robbers or thieves in this Town…it might be someone who might be looking for the recipe of the pickle…”
“They are not there for the recipe or the pickle…they just crossed our house as if they are going to somewhere…I tried to remain awake last night…but I fallen asleep…and Granma was so scared she was not able to gave out a call to me…”
“I think we should pass this away some figment…” A opined.
Nayan snorted and said, “I told you guys once…a ghost is lurking around the town…”
Dip was a silent guy but when he speaks or say something everyone listen to him. He says, “there were reports of such shadowy figures for last couple of weeks…father was speaking of this few nights back at dinner…Mr. Roy our Mayor is concern of this…but he had said until something happen—mishap or bad—there should be no reaction…no action should be taken…”
“I don’t know of that…though Dad never speaks of his works at home…but still my elder brothers should have known of this…and should have scared me…they are not keeping eyes on me even they had kept for long after that swamp thing…” A replied.
“What is this swamp thing you are speaking of…” Nay asked.
“A ghost of a boy had told a forgotten story to our dear A…” Ruby replied.
“Oh…acha…I want to hear that…but shall be done with the spirits…” Nay replied.
Dip replied “father was saying it might be Mr. Rakshit…after her wife and dog died this monsoon, he had been found roaming around the Town…at night now it seems…”
“H’m…why not we catch this ghost…” Ferdouse asked.
“No…it is too dangerous…” Ruby replied.
“It’s a good idea…let’s chalk out a plan…” Nayan replied, “Ruby, you’ve not to participate in this if you want…”
“Yes, I will not…” Ruby said looking around.
They were going to sit down to chalk out a plan when the bell rang and they heard the voice of Mr. Banerjee in high note instructing the students to go back to their respective class rooms. He was standing at the balcony of the one-storey school building.
The winter night was clear. A constellation of stars could be seen high up the sky. The fog was there but it was not dense, and it would be dense at the end of the night. A was awake while his small brother sleeps soundly. The small brothers sleep in one room while the elders one have a separate room for each.
A wild owl hoot was heard after the Town tower clock chime one declaring it was twelve thirty. A got up from the bed and opened his window to the road. Dip and Ferdouse were standing there; the hoot was given by Ferdouse. He can mimic the voice of almost all that speaks even his little sister voice; later in the teen age he could even mock his father’s voice.
A was ready. He wore the socks and put on the dark brown colored muffler over his head. It was planned beforehand they will wore dark color clothes. He came down through the window by crawling on the branch of the trees that was outside his bedroom.
Near the intersection they met with Nayan and Ruby also. The second one surprised them because she was not supposed to be there. Nayan later says Ruby came to her that evening and remains back at her house taking her parents’ permission. Nay said she would be at home, awake, and when the spirits will appear she would follow it from her house.
They took the alley beyond the tower clock. The moon that was hidden behind a cloud came out at this moment shining all over the Town. It was full moon. The five take positions as they had planned.
Nayan hides in the narrow alley beside the Pickle Granny’s store, Ruby joined her as she was not assigned a position due to being rejecting from this mission. Ferdouse hides in the alley besides the jewelry store on the other side of the road. Dip walks back and hides beyond the statue of the Hunter Rakshit statue where he found Rakshit was sleeping—snoring highly. A hide beyond a boundary wall at the other end of the alley.
Ferdouse hooted again and other replied in some failed toned scaring the sleeping birds and few insomniac souls around. Rakshit stopped snoring and looked around while being in the position and he turn around and started snoring again. Everything becomes calm.
The clock again chimed one echoing its heavy tone through the winter chilled calm Town breeze. And at that moment from the other alley beside the Pickle Granny Store comes out a shadowy figure. It was alone. The moon at that moment again gets covered by a passing cloud. Ferdouse hooted again, but, there was no reply. He remains where he was; he felt a chill down his spine. He was known for his courage at this early age of ten but even he couldn’t move. He heard a tom cat wailing somewhere and at one he knew it was A.
Nayan came out of the alley with a white faced scare Ruby beyond her; they were moving dragging their back to the wall. Dip also had come and his touched startled Ferdouse. He was going to scream but Dip pressed his hand on his mouth and signaled him to do the same. The figure was moving in a rapid paced but still slow if it had been compared to fast walking. It had not been looking around but walking keeping face straight.
The curtained moonlight and the rising fog had created a hazed curtain. The figure at times was becoming a hazed one in this light. They joined A who was waiting for them. It seems it was he who was not scared at all.
After the alley ends, the road becomes verdant with mountainous tall tree on the both side—at first scattered and then dense. Ruby clutched the hand of Nayan and tried to stop her because the road leads to graveyard.