Until dawn

V climbs up the ladder which goes straight up to the water tank in that haunted building. While watching his steps, he looks around very alert, all dark…not a single moving soul to be seen. He has been climbing these same ladder steps every Friday, since twenty years now. He knows these steps so well, that he can climb them blindfolded. Every time that he climbed, he would excitedly wait for N to come. He knew she would follow him. She liked spooking him up by shaking the ladder while he climbed them.

Twenty years ago, was the first time he climbed those ladder steps. It was not by choice that he did; he had to prove all of his strong rounded friends, how tough he was. Some anonymous man, a few decades ago, had climbed up these same steps and jumped from the water tank, the man is believed to be haunting the place since then. But what choice did V have? He was a misfit in the group of well-built teenagers; he was just a fragile eleven years old, but he had to win this dare at any cost.

Nevertheless, he started climbing those steps, his legs refused…but his mind told him that he had to prove himself. His so-called friends were watching him approach his misfortune. They were rolling with laughter as his legs wobbled while climbing. Suddenly there were some mysterious noises. Did somebody whistle, or was it just the tricks of wind, the boys (V’s friends) wondered. The sound grew stronger, sharper and shriller. All of them grew so scared of the noise; they sped up to their houses, leaving poor V shivering alone.

V didn’t even have the courage to climb down. He froze, when he saw a light flickering nearby. A tiny shadow loomed around the light. He started chanting all the mantra’s he knew. He started promising all sorts of things to god, “I won’t hide my food under the cushion, I wouldn’t hide N’s toys from now on, I will be kind to the cat that N has…” and on and on he went with his promises.

The noise had stopped now but the light started moving towards him, and he could see a small figure now, with a long pigtail and he could recognize the outlines of frock. “Pigtail… Since when do ghosts have pigtail and wear frocks,” wondered V. The figure flashed the light right into V’s eyes, hurting his eyes. He looked away quickly, and whispered, “Go away please go away.”

The light moved away from V’s eyes. As he now could see the figure clearly, he recognised who it was. He jumped down the ladder. “You little trouble, I will strangle you to death…how you dare scare me,” shouted V and acted as if he was going to strangle N. She laughed and laughed, until V actually had to clasp his hand over her mouth, to stop her from laughing.

“You should be gratified, I was saving your life…you should kneel before me and worship me for the rest of your life,” said N. Both of their families have been neighbours for decades now. They have been practically living at each other’s houses forever, spending all of their time playing cat and mouse.

“Come lets climb up to the water tank,” said N cheerfully. V clasped her hand and tried dragging her back home; however she was not someone who could be stopped. She broke free of his grasp and climbed the stairs hastily and speedy. He could not keep up with N’s speed. Eventually poor V had to follow her; he could not let her go there alone.

After fifteen minutes of climbing, they reached the water tank. There was nothing there, no ghost, no man, no water in the water tank…everything was empty. “Are you satisfied now, let’s return, it’s late” he said. She turned towards him with a twinkle in her eye, “I want to watch the daylight…my mom says its magic, I know it’s not because I am pretty good in science now so no one can fool me.” V as usual had to bow down to her requests. They sat down, in the small space filled with moss. They both were cold, N was the one who caught cold pretty fast, V hugged her protectively, he didn’t want her to fall sick…he didn’t want anything to happen to her.She wanted to be awake, until dawn.

They both talked about the nasty relatives who don’t give money when they come home, teachers who make them stand as murga in class, the boy who keeps picking his nose, the dhobiwala’s son who doesn’t go to school…and they kept talking until the darkness was going away, filling the sky with bluish light where orange was scattering slowly.

“Madam, let’s go now or else both of our ma and baba would find out and since I am the elder one they will cane me,” said V cautiously. N agreed to leave, however she wanted a promise from V before they left. “Promise me that we will come here everyday…okay not everyday but once a week, so since today is Friday… let’s come here every Friday, promise me first,” said N. She refused to move until her promise was taken seriously. V agreed, like he agreed to everything she said, always.

With her he felt secured and he was glad that she scared those bullies away.  He held her hand protectively, and both of them went home. She tried climbing up her window, but her legs were short for that; he stood watching her struggle wriggling up the window and laughed. He held her up and pushed her inside, through the window. She turned at him, made faces and closed the window. He smiled with relief and went back to his house.

Dedicated V fulfilled his promise. Every Friday night he would sneak out of his house, sneeze in front of N’s house, and without waiting for her, he would start walking. He knew this irritated her and he liked irritating her. He would walk, she would run after him…when he started climbing the ladder she would shake the ladder and he pretended like he was going to fall, and she felt relieved as her revenge would be taken.  Every week, Friday, for twenty years he kept his promise.

However, this Friday, after twenty years he broke his promise, he went to the place but without her. He climbed up the stairs, but returned halfway…nothing seemed pretty without her and nothing felt the same.  He walked away. The window of her house was closed; he missed pushing her through that window. He missed her making faces at him.

No longer does he need to sneak into his house, he can ring the bell and go in, like grownups. Someone is walking towards the door, slowly; he can hear the softness of her walk, he can sense the carefulness in her steps. “You came back, I thought you won’t be back until dawn,” she said clutching gently to her baby bump. V said, “You didn’t shake the ladder today, that’s why.” She made a face at him, as usual, smiled and walked away…they talked as usual until dawn.

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