3

Strange! I had completely forgotten about the medal! I showed it to Brindavan; everyone in the house took it in their hands and examined it.

I returned to my own home late in the night and lay down to sleep. I have already mentioned that apart from me, there did not live anyone else in the house. I had noticed that immediately after leaving Brindavan's house, some kind of fear had gripped me. When I entered my own house, the fear seemed to grow. I had slept in this house so many times in the past, but I had not experienced any fear then. No! I was really ill! A weak body bewilders the mind.

I turned off the light. There was a large window by the side of my head; looking out, I could see the orchards and the wood beyond. The moon threw down a silvery light. I had kept the window open for air. I had fallen asleep for how long I can't say - but not more than a few hours. I suddenly woke up with a creepy feeling that someone was standing outside the window. Perhaps if I raised my head I would be able to see that person; this thought so scared me that I could not lift my head. Yet, there was no reason why I should be afraid; it was a strange fear! Although I could not make myself lift my head and look out of the window, I had an uncanny feeling that the person was standing with his hands resting on the window frame and gazing at me with intense eyes.

I squeezed my eyes tightly shut; nothing would induce me to open them. It seemed as though there was a dead rat in the room; the stench of rotting flesh permeated the room. The house had remained vacant for a long time, and obviously the person whom I had employed to look after it in my absence had neglected his duties.

Something deep inside me urged, "Open your eyes; see who is standing outside."

Some strong influence appeared to have pervaded the room - an evil, savage, and fierce influence. I can't aptly describe it. It was as though I was in deep danger; a danger that could lead even to my death.

No, I will not open my eyes! I will not look out of the window!

I heard some kind of sound from the window.

It was an unusual sound! It was as if someone was tapping on the window frame in order to attract my attention. Once .... twice .... thrice. My heart pounded in fear. Should I shout out for help? Should I look at the window? Then I recalled that a mongoose had created its burrow near the wall outside; I had seen it that very evening. It must have climbed up to the window sill to catch insects; it must be the mongoose making that noise.

This recollection allowed me to breathe easy. I felt my courage returning. Ooh! But, what a fright! It had made me perspire! If the body is sick, the most trivial things can scare you. I turned to my side with a sigh of relief and tried to fall back to sleep. But the relief was short-lived. I couldn't shrug off the feeling that I wasn't alone; there was someone else present; that someone was staring at me with unblinking eyes, and would not allow me to sleep.

I fell asleep but woke again with a start. Again I coaxed myself into sleep and yet again I woke up. This cycle continued. But not once could I pick up enough courage to open my eyes and look at the window, or to sit up. And, sometimes, I heard that unusual sound of someone tapping on the window frame .... a faint tapping sound which seemed to be mocking, "Hey, open your eyes; turn your face to the window and see what is beyond."

It was very warm, and the bed cover was wet with my perspiration. Finally, the sun came up. Daylight and the sound of human voices drove away my fear; I remained lying till 9am and then, after taking tea, set out for a stroll in the neighbourhood.

An incident occurred - an incident which I dismissed as insignificant then; but when I recalled the incident later, I realized it was most strange. As I was walking I came upon the "historian" uncle I told you about. I had carried the medal with me last evening with the intention of showing it to uncle; but owing to a late supper at Brindavan's house, I could not visit him. Uncle was the first to see me. "Hello Suren. I hope you are well. I saw you last evening, but it was so late then that I did not think it proper to call you. Were you were returning from Brindavan's house? I was walking on the terrace of my house; it was so warm last evening! Besides, you had a companion, so I did not wish to disturb you. Who was that man? Very tall .... it seems he hails from the northern parts of the country. Can't get to see such features among Bengalis. A friend of yours?"

That came as a surprise. "A tall person accompanying me last evening, uncle?" I asked in suprise.

Uncle was more surprised than me. "Do you mean to say there was no one with you? You were walking alone? Has my eyesight become so weak?"

I laughed off uncle's mistake. "Yes, you must not have seen clearly, uncle. Happens with age ..... besides, the shadow of the mango tree in front of your house might have prevented you from seeing clearly. Such mistakes occur."

Uncle was bewildered beyond words. "How astonishing! How can my eyes play such a trick! When you approached the mango tree you turned on your torch, and I saw the tall man just behind you. Then you switched off the torch; yet, in the moonlight, I saw the man following you. He was a head taller than you. Of course, I couldn't see distinctly because of the distance and moonlight. I even thought of calling you and asking you about the man."

I reiterated that I was alone last evening and, so, it had to be visual error.

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