It was a clear sky and a full moon night. It was 6PM and a cold wind blew across Tobu’s face.
Darjeeling was cold even in summer. Tobu and his friend Debu stood in front of Mandeville – a duplex construction on the edge of a cliff overlooking the hills and a distant Kanchenjunga.
Tobu and Debu had just finished their higher secondary final exams and were completely drained, mentally and physically. They desperately needed a break from their routine which allowed only 6 hour sleep cycles. The plan to visit Darjeeling had struck Tobu while submitting his final answer sheet on the last of exams.
Summertime usually saw half of the Kolkata population land up on Mall road.! So hotels were certainly going to be full and expensive.This trip almost didn't materialize because of a tight budget situation.
Aunt Preeta had chosen Darjeeling as her second home. Her husband had died pretty early in her married life. She worked hard to survive and taught in a convent school, where one day she met a British couple through a common acquaintance. Preeta was a good ,knowledgeable and intelligent conversationalist.Within a few days they became good friends and a many such interactions later, she moved in as a paying guest at their house Mandeville.
Years later, the bonding between Preeta and the couple took a tangible turn. They willed Mandeville to Preeta since they did not have any children of their own. Aunt Preeta had taken care of the house and lived there alone for almost 23 years now. For aunt Preeta solitude was her comfort and only companion. She would leave them behind each year to visit the extended family in Kolkata for a few days.
Aunt Preeta offered her residence to save Tobu and Debu some money on lodging. Tobu couldn’t believe his luck.
‘What a perfect timing.’ Debu exclaimed.
‘yes aunt Preeta ,I will take care of your house in Darjeeling, while you are here’ justified Debu with an innocent naughty face…almost Dennis like.
‘yes my dear.’ Aunt Preeta nodded sensing Tobu’s excitement.
‘But how will you go alone? Won’t you get bored? After all, beyond a point there is not much to do in Darjeeling’ inquired a concerned aunt Preeta.
‘Oh but I have already taken care of that aunty. Debu is travelling with me.’ Retorted Tobu…almost too quickly, giving away the fact that it was probably pre-planned, and not something he came up just randomly.
Aunt Preeta, gave a knowing smile and said ‘good – then I won’t be worried, the two of you can take care of each other’. Tobu’s parents had frowned but it was too late to get into an argument now.
‘Oh it's gotten dark so quickly, damn ,dont even have a torch light – I can barely see the key numbers’ said Debu.
‘which one is the key to the main door – Tobu?’
‘just keep trying.’ Said Tobu rather seriously.
A light smell of wet earth wafted in...‘hmm it must be raining somewhere..but now ? summer has just set in..that’s odd.’ he pondered as Tobu's eyes looked up in the sky.
‘Debu noticed the seriousness in Tobu’s voice and prodded again.
‘so what’s the matter with you? Why are you so serious?’ ‘I certainly don’t want to spend the night freezing on the steps here. so please help me find the right key’ Debu trailed off.
Now the Mandeville mansion, was a classic European stone chip design home. Nobody quite had the exact record of when Mandeville was constructed,but old locals called it the phantom since early 1900's.Teak was amply sawed, iron was minimally fit, marble was intricately carved, and elegance was personified. The entrance to the house had a huge arch with a log wood designed door.
‘Hey Tobu – will you please help me here, instead of just staring at the sky ? Debu turned around to see Tobu pointing to the sky.
What he saw next,was inexplicable,as realization set in,Debu’s mouth dried. He clenched his fingers and suddenly the cold was more than he could handle. He started to shiver.
Smoke billowed out of the lone chimney at Mandeville.
The two boys were silent and didn’t know what to do or say. One of them said ‘Tobu lets go back to Kolkata you know’ this doesn’t seem right.’
‘I know it doesn’t and that’s why we need to find out.’
‘this is what I hate about you Tobu – you just never listen to me.’ After getting their bearings Tobu looked at the key ring once more.
'Here, this is the key,' as Tobu handed over the single ,silver plated key to Debu.
Debu took a closer look at the key and saw the embedded metal writing - key number RV18.
As he turned the key the door unlocked with a loud click. As the door squeaked open Tobu whispered into Debu's ear..
'Step aside Debu...I think he wants to go out..don't block his way...'
'wh-what wh-who ? wh-where I don't see anyone..It's dark, lights are switched off...' before Debu could finish his sentence...a cold gush of air hit him hard, so hard that he fell down rolling from the steps.Tobu got hit as well in the process.They both fell in front of the door beside the stair case.
'what was that all about ? .....you know what - I am getting out of here Tobu - you keep your aunt's house to yourself.
I am better off at my house in Kolkata' - Debu said shivering uncontrollably with cold and fear.
'Don't be a fool, we haven't come all this way to just go back...we are going in.'
Gyanban Thoughts -
- What happens next ? Who was inside? Why was smoke billowing from an empty house? find out the answer in the continuing episode. Is it a burglar, a ghost or nothing at all ? Why was the key numbered RV18.
- Read Episode II here.
- Who were the British couple ?
- Yes, Mandeville - pronounced Mandayvilla - still exists today,albeit with a different name.
- Yes, this is partly a true story ,needless to say all names are fictitious.
- Read Tobu's previous experiences in the Accident Incident. and The Walk of Life.