Short Story – Ghost-House
Eshan was busy watching the final few overs of a tight ODI match between India and West Indies when he heard the familiar sound of his mother calling him inside. He tried to ignore her, focusing on Virat Kohli, who was expertly taking India to an improbable win. Finally, when she called him again he had to force himself away from the television screen.
“What happened?” he says as he reached the bedroom, irritated.
His mother turns towards him. “It is almost 10 P.M. Don’t you have to pack your bag for school tomorrow?”
“Right now? Kohli is in his 90’s, ma,” he tried to divert.
Eshan frowned, ambling towards his school bag. He reached out for the bag and started pulling through books he needed for the next day. As he holds his copy of Julius Caesar, the expression on his face changes. He thumped on the nearby chair, living through an inexpressible loop of an incident.
Eshan shakes, as if waking up from a dream. “Huh. Uh, nothing.”
He goes on to pack his bag, his movement a little more tired, and burdened now. He moves around painfully, clearly lost in his thoughts. Everything feels amplified. Every book is heavier. Every sight brighter, hurting his eyes.
“Stop being a lazy sloth, Eshan,” his mothers’ words jostled him. “Get this done quickly. We need to sleep, too.”
He looked at his mother. His silence fighting hard to win, but words piercing through that silence to give voice to his concerns. “Ma,” he said, “what if I stay home tomorrow?”
His words found a long, dreadful silence in response. He did not look at his mother for a while. Finally when he did, he found her blinkless gaze. After a long pause she finally spoke.
Eshan gulped. “Just. I don’t feel like going,” he said unconvincingly. “Just one day. Please.”
She shook her head. “No. No way.”
“But why not?” Eshan demanded.
The mother replied hurriedly. “Because your board exams are next year. Remember?”
“I will study at home, pakka.”
Another shake of the head.
Eshan frowned, walking away from his mother. Another glance of his geography book. Another rush of memories. Another silent gasp.
The young morning sun was growing to its apex when the bell rang. It was the geography period. Eshan, sitting in the corner, quickly bowed down to get his geography text book out. He did not want to lag behind anymore. Not after his performance in the last unit tests that saw him performing quite poorly.
He opened the book and started reading the chapter they were to cover in this class. Meanwhile, his classmates made a euphoric sound, playing games in groups that Eshan had no interest in. He did not have a lot of friends. He saw school as a workplace. A place he came to for studying. Friendship was for the evening when he spent time with folks his age, often playing Playstation or watching a football match together.
All he wanted was to be left alone till their geography ma’am came in. He tried to focus on the words he read, but the sound of his classmates seemed to be coming closer, as if cornering him into a place from where there was no way out. As he looked up, irritated, he noticed much to his alarm, that a few of his classmates – the cream of the class – were indeed looking at him.
They came near him, their mischievous eyes hinting at what was to come. Eshan curled, but he could not escape him.
Soon enough, one of them flipped his book.
“Ae, idiot,” Pulkit said, “what are you reading?”
Eshan tried to reply but could not utter anything more than a stutter.
“Huh. Speak properly, no,” Harsh chuckled.
Before anyone else could speak, Jai got hold of his textbook. Pulkit took out a pen and started making a cartoon-figure of Eshan. Around his face they wrote words and phrases that equated his alleged sexual orientation as a thing of joke; of ridicule.
Eshan desperately wanted the geography ma’am to come now, but she remained absent. Eventually, words turned into a blur for him. It was like being stuck in a dark loop. An endless cycle that came with a promise of getting worse the next day, and the day that follows.
When you are bullied once, there is no coming back from that, he said to himself long after the next class began. It was as if the floodgates had opened. This will never end. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Never.
Eshan looked at his geography text book again seconds before zipping his bag. He saw those words, that cartoon-version of himself, and sighed painfully. He threw the bag away and jumped on his bed. His body trembling with a feverish cramp. As he carefully came close to falling asleep he kept reliving that horrible memory of the day.
He knew his mother was right. He cannot abandon the idea of going to school entirely. But he cannot pretend like nothing had happened, either. Minutes before he finally dozed off, he pledged to do something about this. Not run away like a scared bird, but face the fight. Do something concrete about it.
I will talk to Kripa ma’am, he said to himself, thinking of the one ma’am who seemed to have some sense of control over the students. Someone who invoked both a sense of dread, and admiration in students.
I will tell her. He went on repeating. She will help me through. He sighed before closing his eyes. I will not let school become a ghost-house. He slept with a determination that could change everything for him. One day at a time.
By Rachit Raj