- A phone call and monsters in the dark
May 21, 2017-Stop playing with my hair!” She screams at me, her face scrunched up into an aggregate of eyes and nostrils that I can’t help but find funny.
“Well... why is it so bouncy, then? It’s your fault!” I stutter out. My voice is still the naive nonchalant babble of a four-year-old as I withdraw my hands from the black curls on her shoulders. “Ugh! Maamu lai bhandim?” She threatens me, but I only smile. We both know Maamu won’t so much as raise a finger on me, she never does.
“Well then I’ll tell everything to Kutuni Budi!” Her last two words send a shiver down my spine, and the toothy grin that seemed glued to my face only moments before suddenly disappears. “You’ll tell who?” “Ah, you know who!” she answers much louder than before, making my heart skip a beat.
Of course, I know the infamous old woman whose tales my sister has been telling me for over a week now. A beautiful girl in her class, once known by the name of Reshma, had mysteriously disappeared a year earlier after being attacked by some nightly monsters. A year later, however, she’s allegedly decided to make an unwanted reappearance as a monster herself. She has aged a hundred years, and harbors an incredible hatred for young boys who “aren’t nice to their sisters”.
Didi makes it seem like a matter of common knowledge how she grabs them by their hair, pins them to the ground and does stuff nobody dares speak of. To make matters worse, she claims she’s allowed her to stay in the locked store room below the stairs of our home, from which she can apparently emerge anytime in the dark.
“Well...You can’t talk to her right now, can you?”, I ask, my voice feeble.
“I can call her anytime I want on her phone; I’ve always been such a good friend to her, remember? Plus, she isn’t scared of anybody, you know?”
I am scared to the point where words barely form in my mouth, but I somehow manage to roll three off my lips: “Not even Baba?”
Didi leans in closer with a devious grin I haven’t yet learnt to recognise. “Not. Even. Baba.”
I go back to my toys for the day--everything from rubber pups to a Bakelite telephone, the whole ordeal about Kutuni Budi blissfully forgotten. But the darkness returns soon, and my plight begins as Maamu calls us from our room to the kitchen. Well, you see, between our room and the kitchen is a passage with an entrance to the store. Ever since I broke the bulb of a lamp on the wall (an accident, mind you), the place has always been dark at night. Normally this would not have bothered me much, but today is no normal day--Kutunibudi is ready to pounce, and I am feeling nervous than ever before.
“Didi, come with me to the kitchen.” I reach out to my sister again, hoping she’s forgotten what happened earlier today. She puts her book down and squints at me. “Is it an order or a request?” She asks, a question Maamu has put too many times for me to not know the correct answer.
“A request, please? I haven’t bothered you since the morning!” She rolls her eyes awkwardly. “Alright, I’ll call her and tell her to stay away. Just for tonight, though. Tomorrow, anything can happen again!” My face lights up. I make a rush to my corner of the room and fetch the little pink telephone before she changes her mind. She picks up the receiver and presses the number 1. A red light glows beneath the plastic surface, and the familiar sound of a man rings through the room. He is asking his sheep for wool, though he can easily shear it away if he wants to. I like how polite he is.
After a while, my sister puts the receiver back in its slot. “Well she isn’t picking up, must be busy. I’ll take you there, come on!” She says, offering her hand forward. And with that, I grab on to her fingers and watch how she strides bravely into the dark, unafraid of the monsters.
My sister has turned 8 today and is about to spend the night at our cousin’s. She is wearing her favourite red skirt and a new hat she just received as a present. Watching her pack her toys frantically in her little bag, even I can tell how thrilled she is at finally being allowed to attend sleepovers. I move over to her slowly and sit on the table beside her bag. “Didi?”
“Uh huh?” She responds without looking.
“I’m glad you’re going to Jaswi’s and all, but what about the night?” She looks at me, confused. “What about it?”
“I mean, with you gone, who’s going to tell the Kutuni Budi to stay inside her room tonight?”
She puts her right index finger on her temple, and starts ‘thinking’. After a good minute and a jolly grin planted on her face (her funny little toothless space clearly visible), she responds: “You see, I already told her to stay away from you this morning. Before entering the kitchen, just make sure to call her on the telephone once. She’ll be alert once she hears the ring, and stay put. Does that sound good?”
“Yeah, okay” I nod, assured that I’m not being attacked tonight. She leaves an hour later with Baba and my aunt, who was here to pick her up. Mamu leaves for the kitchen. As I prepare my plastic warriors for their battle against the rubber bees, though, I still wish there was something better than a phone call to avoid Kutuni Budi tonight.
The telephone rings loud, its sound piercing into my zone of silence. I feel like not picking it up at all, but then again, I’m not exactly in the middle of an uninterruptible brainstorm here. I get up, and pick the receiver up.
“Bhai?” She asks,
“It’s you right?”
“Get used to my voice already; it’s been hoarse for years now for God’s sake!”
“Well what are you doing?” I take a glance at the blinking cursor on my empty word page.
“Not much. Why?”
“I need you to come pick me up.”
“Well the last time I checked your feet were looking pretty healthy, miss. Where are you, anyway?”
“At the bus-stop.”
“It’s not that far.”
“It’s pretty late.”
“It’s just 6:30.”
“Just look out the window.” She orders in her to-be-obeyed voice. I move the curtain to the side and it is pitch black, winter has seeped in without me even noticing.
“You know I don’t like the people here.” She continues. I make no more excuses.
“Okay, I’ll be there in five.”
With this I put the receiver back and put on a jacket. A flashlight in hand, I stride out bravely into the night--thankful for telephones, but hoping she didn’t need them to be safe from monsters in the first place.
For the first time in my life, I wonder what people did to Reshma to make her Kutuni Budi.
Published: 21-05-2017 11:21