The Wife and the Ghost – Monalisa Joshi

The soft clay that felt so clammy and velvety against the feet in those paddy fields…Urvija thought to herself while feeling the splashes over her flaxen skin that were coming from outside the French window. This year it had rained heavily sinking Urvija’s heart and soul more. It’s been long…very long that she has stepped out of the mansion. The pendulum clock banged eight times. It was time for her to leave all the humdrum and rush to the humongous bedroom and be ready in her most alluring way. Animoy would come any moment and she needs to be within the room before his arrival. And the door will be shut again for the whole part of the night. This wasn’t bad, nights are supposed to be spent in the arms of a lover who had the vigour to satiate still being in his mid-forties. Animoy Bondhopadhyay her husband was the most renowned Zamindar and barrister within the entire Cooch Behar. She didn’t mind the confines of that bedroom; it was a tiny part of her prison in that entire manor house. She hadn’t seen the broad light of the sun outside that manor except for the virgin rays that cascaded every dawn into that Zamindar Bari and would spread all across the veranda starting from the window of her room first. She still hadn’t seen some parts of that humongous household in these many years and even had met the staff and all the handmaids that worked day and night there. They too had never seen their mistress’s face. She had to stay with her face covered within a veil whenever she stepped outside her bedroom and only a smaller part of that manor house was she permitted to visit. That included a private small garden with a pond, a luxurious washing area and the dining area where she ate on separate timings, aloof. Even her own mother-in-law hadn’t seen her face and she often thought my son has gone berserk over an ugly peasant’s girl and now he hides her away from the world. “Her arms and hands…have you have seen them?” One of the handmaids was once found whispering into the ears of another by the young Zamindar. They both disappeared from the manor house that night.

It was half-past midnight. The large wooden panes of the French window were making creaking sounds every time they were shutting and opening. Animoy’s hand began to search for Urvija on the other part of his king-sized bed. He woke up hastily of being not able to find her on the bed. He sat upright with his eyes probing everywhere into that vast spherical room and was suddenly amazed to see Urvija standing uncovered in front of the window with her long wavy hair falling till her loins. He rushed towards her almost falling a few times and swiftly covered her bare body with a shawl lying on one of the chairs. “Urvi”…He slapped her hard on the cheeks. “Have you gone insane…what are you doing here like this?” He prowled upon her with myriad questions but she seemed to be in a trance, not responding to any of his queries. Not even fearing his wrath like earlier, she stood impassive. She seemed pale and when he touched her forehead it was burning like fire. He lifted her up into his lap and laid her carefully over the bed. Afterwards, this became a regular episode. At midnight Urvija would stand and stare outside the window at that old Banyan tree and would often mumble something inaudible. Six months passed away and Animoy had no clue how to get his wife cured of this bizarre ailment. The news started spreading like fire; the whole town began talking that the young Zamindar’s wife has a ghost friend. She is cursed. The words came to his ears and Animoy who was not willing to allow anyone into the manor house or would take his wife anywhere for getting her cured began to deteriorate gradually from the inside. He felt helpless to see his wife suffering from ghost trouble. “Hey have you heard… the young Zamindar’s wife has a ghost friend whom she talks with every night. And do you know I have also heard that she is a fairy, she is beautiful.” Animoy once heard these words at his workplace and this didn’t allow him to sleep the whole night. He drank heavily and dozed off. The next morning when his personal butler came with a cup of tea and tried to wake him up he found out that his young master has been long dead in his sleep. There were shrill of despair and lament that rose till heaven for many days. The manor house that was a much the quiet place grew even quieter.

“Who is she?” many asked that dawn in the dining area. “Is she the… “Urvija Devi come and sit here”. Animoy’s mother took out the chair of the dining table upon which Animoy used to sit. The children two daughters and two sons who were earlier prohibited from seeing their mother, gathered around Urvija chirping and dancing. In so many days there were lots of guffawing and tête-à-tête that flowed over the breakfast.

“Isn’t she beautiful? Now I know why the ghost has fallen in love with her.” One of the female kitchen staff passed a witty comment while doing household chores. And the other handmaids laughed heartily.

That day passed by in a jiffy after breakfast. Urvija wandered around freely inside the entire mansion. She was seeing many parts and nooks for the first time while being gazed with curious eyes by the other inmates of that royal abode. She could hear their eyes and whispering, they were all talking the same thing. “Oh… is she the young queen… isn’t she? But she is cursed, she has ghost trouble”. Urvija smiled to herself while bidding respect to each and everyone she met that day. Night cascaded gently afterwards. The children who haven’t been allowed to be with their mother from right after being born were allowed to sleep in her bedroom tonight. Their little innocent hearts were already elated and they soon fell asleep listening to their mother’s soft lullabies. Urvija too sank beneath the blanket on that king-sized Ivory bed that was made to order on special demand of Animoy. Sleep engulfed her with ease. At night the giant pendulum clock kept in the alleyway of the manor struck again twelve times. The soothing cool breeze of autumn that has begun flowing in Cooch Behar entered through the French Window of Urvija’s bedroom. Urvija whose eyes were now wide open began to feel the chills on her supple skin and she got down from the bed. Wrapping her silken night coat around her body she went near it and staring at the old Banyan tree outside the window for a while, a deviant smile played upon her face. She closed the window and went back to sleep. The ghost didn’t bother her ever…