Why did I have to have a fight in the middle of the night? Janhvi cursed herself for the eleventh time in the matter of a mere five minutes. And to make matters worse, the AC had broken down when the summer heat of the night was unbearable. It appeared as if every thread of her nightdress was soaking wet with her sweat. Yet, she could not let go of the blanket. If I moved even a finger, they’ll know that I am awake. Then, they’ll certainly make a move. Tightening her already white-knuckled grip on the blanket, she tried to think of a survival strategy.
The snores from the next room interrupted her train of thoughts. Listen to him. He came late from the office, and that too inebriated beyond an acceptable limit. He broke my heart, and yet, here is: blissfully unaware of my imminent heart attack. Janhvi squinted her closed eyes and chanted the sacred Gayatri Mantra to scare away the dead. Finding a little comfort from the chanting, she decided to let go of the blanket, walk towards the dressing table, and reach for her phone. If I saw any distorted face with hollow eyes staring at me or a scary figure on top of the closet like the one in “Conjuring,” then I’ll have a heart attack. Then, Sahil would pay the ultimate price of sleeping before apologizing to me. Am I really ready to die for his epiphany? Of course, the answer was a big and strong “No.”
Thus, she discarded the “race to the dressing table” plan. Although the fan was spinning at all its might, the heat was overwhelming. If I had known AC would stop working, I never would have had this thick blanket on top of me. You know what, to hell with the ego, I am calling a truce with Sahil. I will continue the fight in the morning. The fight between summer heat and fear of the unknown had lasted long enough. It was 2 AM, and she could not wait until the morning. Janhvi had been afraid of nights ever since she started watching horror movies. She stopped, once she realized the side-effects. By then, however, the paranoia was deep set in her heart and head.
Finally, she decided to be courageous and shout Sahil’s name. “Sahil, come back to bed! I can’t let you sleep on the couch,” Janhvi shouted from under the blanket. The steady sound of Sahil’s snores continued. Excellent! Now, my blanket would be ripped off my hands. The gig is up. They know I have been pretending to be asleep. Suddenly, something crashed on the ground, and she screamed at the top of her lungs. She felt hot tears flowing down her cheeks. She could still hear a peculiar sound on the floor. I am gonna die. I am gonna die. Please, let me just die with a heart attack. Don’t show me any disturbing face. I don’t wanna hear a ghost’s voice. Why didn’t I learn Hanuman Chalisa by heart? Oh God….
It seemed as if hours had passed since she started sobbing when the doorbell chimed. She remembered a famous “real” story that her sister, Tamanna, had once told her. According to the story, very dangerous souls roam around and ring people’s doorbells after midnight. If anybody opens the door before three bells, that person dies instantly. I must stop Sahil. He would open the door and I’ll pay the ultimate price of nagging him every day. Oh, how the mighty has fallen. The doorbell chimed again. “Don’t open the door, Sahil. Not yet!”
As she reached near the door to stop Sahil, she bit her lips in frustration at the sight of the room. Two empty packets of Lays Chips, one packet of Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujia, and five bottles of Kingfisher Strong beer were right next to the couch. Oh yes, the same couch on which Sahil was still snoring away. And the doorbell rang for the third time. Janhvi put her hands on her rapid beating heart to calm her nerves. She threw one packet of Lays Chips on Sahil and shouted, “For God’s sake, wake up! I am dying here.” It was as if he had passed out. He made no movement to remove the Chips packet that was now on top of her soundly moving chest. She shook him briskly until he woke up. Just then, the doorbell rang again. Fourth Time!
Despite his intoxicated self, he immediately went into action. “Don’t just open the door. Check through the peephole,” Janhvi impatiently rebuked. Sahil looked through it and opened the door. It was their neighbor, Shlok. He had heard a strange noise and wanted to check up on them. Sahil convinced him that everything was fine and thanked him. As soon as Sahil locked the door, Janhvi hugged him from behind. “You have no idea the hell I went through. There is someone inside — or maybe, many someones. I don’t know. Someone threw something on the floor,” Janhvi blurted out in one breath.
“Don’t worry, Avi. I am sure it’s only your paranoia,” Sahil replied while marching down toward their bedroom. Janhvi was right. There was something on the floor. It was her cell phone lying face down on the floor. Thank God for tempered glasses, right! Anyway, Sahil lifted the phone to see five missed calls of Tamanna. “Sweetheart, your sister always finds ways to rub salt to your wound. You must have put your phone on vibrate-only setting. When she called, the phone vibrated and fell off the dressing table. And my little chicken-heart baby got scared. Come here, you!”
“I didn’t, Sahil. I know I didn’t,” sobbed Janhvi in Sahil’s arms. “It must have been by accident then. Don’t feed fear to your already terrified head,” Sahil calmly said and jumped on the bed for a good night sleep, finally. Yet, Janhvi knew she hadn’t changed the setting of her phone. She just knew.