The end of the lane which thrust out a signboard of the village was shrouded in darkness. The moon was peeping out unleashing its glow over the earth. I drove past in my car, alone, focusing on the road which started to get muddy and had lost the lustre of smoothness like the highway had.
It was approaching 10 p.m. which a glance through the corner of my eyes confirmed. I slowly pulled down the window shield, taking in the breath of fresh air, the aroma that was predominantly held as a heritage by the village, making my long curly hair strands flutter, partly hiding my vision. After tucking them under my ears, I heaved a sigh.
“I shall take a temporary stop at any nearby lodge,” telling that to myself, I slowed down the vehicle, and my gaze fell on a man, who was clad in a thick black blanket throwing suspicious glances at me.
“Hey, are there any lodges nearby?” I asked.
I heard a snicker, followed by a smirk, “Lady, what are you doing here at night? You should be at home!”, I could sense the twinge of astonishment laced with arrogance in his coarse voice.
“I guess, that shouldn’t be bothering you! You have an answer?” I asked returning his smirk, forcing to reek off equal stubbornness.
“Mm, no, there isn’t any. But there is a tea stall few metres from here,” he told.
“Thanks”, tearing off my gaze away from him, I gripped the steering wheel, revved the engine, and sped off.
There was no need to explain to him that I was a tourist, which was inviting danger towards me. Lost in thoughts, I drove.
I saw a whiteboard lit in neon colours, it read-‘Nighthouse Tea Stall’. I pulled off my car opposite to it, and as soon as I opened the door after adjusting my kurti, I saw a boy smiling at me.
“Welcome to our tea stall, sister.”
“Thank you, kid. But what are you doing here at night? You should be at home,” I said, smiling at him.
“Nah, this is my father’s tea stall, I help him during vacations. Sometimes I hold the board so that the passengers can see and visit our place,” he was grinning, as he stood near me. “What would you like to have?”
“Let me reach the stall, and sit, shall I?” Giggling, I replied.
“Hehe, it’s to prepare food fast and fresh, like my father always says that customers are our God! Today’s special is hot bread.”
“Ok, kiddo, I’d like tea and bread, do you guys make bread here, or just order from outside?” I asked curiously.
“We serve what we make, hygiene is also important,” he replied, grinning.
“That’s great. I will sit on the chair outside.”
We crossed the road and he rushed inside, as I sat on the chair, gazing at the throngs of people at the place, who were leaving the stall while inhaling the aroma of tea floating in the air around me.
The leaves of the banyan tree opposite to the stall under which I had parked my car was swaying in the cool breeze that was kissing them in affection. There was this tingling deep down my mind, once where there was chaos, there was peace now with everything that happened in my life.
I saw a man with a lean physique walking with a trembling torso, come near me. He sat down beside me with a plastered grin, enough to make anyone feel creepy.
To be honest I was uncomfortable not because of his appearance but due to his murmurings. He was constantly looking at the banyan tree. Following the direction of his gaze, my eyes squinted at the well near the tree, which was now in ruins, a thing I had missed earlier.
“Hello, what’d you like to order?” A boy’s voice pulled me out of the trance.
“Hey, I have already ordered, thank you,” I smiled and replied.
“Okay then.” He moved to another customer.
My eyes again fell on the man, who had stopped now and his mumblings had collapsed into the abyss of silence.
“What are you looking at?”, intrigued, I asked him.
“Oh, you don’t know?” he replied.
“It’s an old tale, wanna hear? Everybody knows that. So I was searching for someone new to say it. I love telling stories.” He grinned.
“Years ago, a little boy went missing. Everyone started searching. His friends said that they were playing hide and seek, and one friend remembered that he saw the boy heading towards the tea stall but nobody had seen him here.” The man sighed.
“You should’ve reported that to the police.” I said, sounding wary.
“The police won’t even come to our place, let alone reporting,” I could see the fury his eyes dripped.
“They won’t come here because of the infamous haunted story circulating about our village of hearing noises late at night which wouldn’t be coming from a known source. Everyone ended the search after a few weeks. His family started forgetting him. Then one day an old man of the village said in reference to the village haunting that he had heard cries from a well. As he had hearing problems everyone ignored him. Only the missing boy’s friend followed the lead and searched each and every well of the village,” the man breathed a long sigh, “he finally found a skeleton in that well, which was covered with a big rusting iron lid.”
“Oh my!” Deeply shaken, my thoughts abruptly stopped.
“Later investigations proved that the boy must’ve slipped into the well accidentally and somebody might’ve closed the lid unknowingly, which only applies if the boy was unconscious due to the fall,” he closed his eyes, pausing for a moment.
“Here is your order,” the boy who came earlier when I sat here, had brought me tea and bread.
“Where is the kid whom I had given the order?” I asked, looking inside the stall. The stall was deserted, leaving me and the boy alone. As I was immersed in the story I had forgotten about time.
“Kid? There is no kid here! Only me and the owner of this tea stall work here.”
Instantly the man near me stood up and strolled away, wrapping the blanket he had in his polythene cover. That took me by surprise, as it rendered the flash of the man I saw before coming here. Although I hadn’t seen his face clearly, the blanket had white stripes, which I identified.
“Who’s that man?” I asked the boy.
“Oh, him, he comes here every day, and looks at that well for some time where his son died,” the boy replied.
“Somebody called Raj Pradhan, that man’s rival had taken revenge by taking his child’s life. He always says that the lid was intentionally closed. Who knows the truth!” Shrugging the boy went inside the tea stall.
My throat was parched, words got stuck in the haze where I found myself drowning as I recalled few childhood memories where my mother used to tell me stories of children who went missing in a playful way that I adored much.
Hastily, I put aside the tea glass and sprinted across the road, but a force suddenly grabbed me and dragged me towards the well. As my gaze traveled from the small legs to the dreary face of the little boy, a shudder ran across my spine, chilling my nerves.
“Leave..” I was numb. My voice acted as if it never existed. My eyes were clenched tightly, but I didn’t leave, forcing my release from his grip. But everything went in vain, as I was being pushed into the well, and the last thing I remember was the moonlight before the iron lid closed.
A glint in the eyes of the man sliced through the darkness as he hastened his steps. An identity card from Wipro industries dangled on the dashboard of her car, it read-’Sonya Pradhan’!