Well, we all were quite drunk, and as it happens, the topics varied from the latest affairs of Katrina Kaif to the mystery of Bermuda Triangle. We cursed the government equivocally; praised some Russian authors, which none of us had actually read but pretended to be a master in the subject- after all, it’s easy to become a Russian critic. In their books, nothing happens till page 498, when Bolshoi, the farmer decides to commit suicide and in the next 768 pages everyone dies in abject poverty, trodden by the capitalist plutocrats; discussed a few plans of vengeance for the hostel warden- plans, which always were hatched during drunken forays and never executed when sober; and then somehow the topic turned towards ghosts.
It was the last weekend of the last semester. We had submitted our projects to our guides with the flair of Richard Attlee signing the WWII treaty and scampered to the nearest watering hole to analyze things. We all were glum at the thought of parting. There’s no friendship in the world as compared to the camaraderie of engineering students in a hostel. Those grueling hours and stress forge a bond which no other faculty or circumstances can compete with, may be except armed forces. That friendship was going to end. Added to it was that no one was sure if we would be able to clear the BE and land a decent job. From a secure vantage point, we were looking in the dark abyss of future in apprehension, just before our final leap.
Scientists say that alcohol induces a euphoria. May be they are right. After a couple of drinks, we gave a damn to our future and discussed about everything under the sun except that, including those things that we knew nothing about, till somehow the juggernaut of the conversation steered towards the paranormal. Most of our debates take the form of a mini war, with the debaters taking a side according to their whims or moods. In some sensitive debates we were also known to exchange blows. It was natural that we will immediately form groups and start fighting with a gusto in such a debatable topic.
Subhendu said, “In Kasba near Howrah, there’s a Ruby circle. It’s named after the famous Ruby Hospital. They say that exactly at midnight a lady in white XYLO crosses the circle and goes towards Abhyudoy Complex nearby. They say that she’s the spirit of a lady, who died 50 years ago, while returning to her home after meeting her lover.”
There’s nothing like an incredible tale to perk up the interest of a rowdy group of boys. Everyone converged on him.
“XYLO? 50 years ago? Who manufactured it? Henry Ford?” one of the geniuses quipped.
“May be, the XYLO died too and the lady bought it with her ghostly charms.” another scholar offered.
“If we consider all the circumstances, we can safely deduce that the lady in question was in love with a XYLO and died for it 50 years ago. Her spirit kept haunting the said Ruby Circle to steal a second hand one. We may have another ghost haunting the next signal for his stolen XYLO.” one of the wags expounded the theory and everyone guffawed, joshing poor Subhendu. I being the loudest.
Subhendu was a naturally shy and a mild guy, but he lost his temper. Who wouldn’t, when harassed by a covey of buzzards?
“Look guys, if you don’t want to believe, that’s fine. But, I have proof of that. One of my friends mailed me a photograph of that car and the lady. You can see it by your own eyes.” he bristled.
“I’m offering ten to one that the photograph is morphed!” I offered, “Any takers?” There was another roar of laughter and Subhendu got up from his chair, “Fuck you, bastards!” he fumed and left us in a huff. Everybody suddenly went silent.
“What’s wrong with the kid? Can’t take a joke amongst friends?” Jasbir Singh Kohli asked in a lamenting voice to no one in particular.
“Forget it, guys. I’ll talk to him. But, I concede. That was the tallest tale I had ever heard!” I said and we all roared with laughter.
The party ended by 1.30am, when we were kicked out by the bar staff, who wanted to call it a day. We argued with them for a few minutes, just as a matter of principle and then staggered towards the hostel and jumped off the boundary wall to our rooms. There was a gate, but as a rule, we were always too crowded for time to use it. I tore my new shirt in the process and saved 90 precious seconds.
I dreamed that I was sitting in a white XYLO and hurtling towards Ruby Circle at breakneck speed. A stately lady in white was sitting next to me, staring at me with sad and mournful eyes. I was mesmerized! Then I saw that there’s no driver in the car! I screamed loudly, but no sound emanated. I tried to open the door and jump off the moving vehicle, but my limbs were leaden. I looked at the beautiful lady in terror and she smiled mournfully, tears in the corners of her large and beautiful eyes. Then I was suddenly aware of an insistent knocking on the glass window and looked outside. the lady was floating in the air next to the speeding vehicle, laughing like a maniac and knocking at the window of the XYLO with her long nails. Her beautiful eyes were blood red and her lovely features were distorted with wild hatred. I looked beside me. The car was empty and rushing towards the Circle. The cushy seat suddenly turned into a bog and began sucking me inside. I tried fighting it, but my arms refused to move. The knocking was rising to a crescendo.
I woke up with a scream, drenched in cold sweat. Someone was knocking at the door. I checked the clock. 7am. Who the hell can come so early after a wild night of party? I opened the door. Subhendu was standing there, looking haggard. His clothes were dirty and the jeans was torn. There was a massive gash on his forehead, where the blood was clotted. One side of his face was bloody.
“WTF!” I was horrified! “What happened?”
“My bike slipped.” he replied absently and pushed past me.
“God! You bloody idiot! You had to go to a doctor instead of coming here. Come on, let’s go!” I said while throwing a shirt on.
“In a minute.”, he said, sitting comfortably on my cot. “Yesterday you guys didn’t believe me. I have the proof now. I’ll show you that ghosts do exist.”
“Screw ghosts!”, I spluttered, “Are you crazy? First let’s get you treated. What a fool!”
Someone banged at the door. My head was already splitting with headache. I opened the door with an ugly expletive on my lips and saw Jasbir, Rahul and Stephen standing outside.
“What’s it, guys?” I said impatiently, “I’m in a hurry.”
“Did you hear about Subhendu?”, Stephen said breathlessly.
“Yes, I said impatiently. “He’s in here and has told me about his accident. Let’s take him to a hospital. He’s hurt badly.”
They were looking at me strangely. “Pandey, Subhendu met with an accident at Satara-Kolhapur highway and his head was crushed by a truck. He died on the spot.” They peered inside. “There’s no one inside. Are you all right?”
My blood turned ice. I looked back. Subhendu was sitting on the cot, looking at me with a vacant stare. A sad smile on his face, which seemed to mock me. He whispered in his cute Bengali accent, “Pandey, Bhoot shotti e aachhe. They do exist.”
Then he kind of flickered and vanished.