The lady in the White

  –Aparna Chatterjee

Another busy day at the bank and handling the pension section is complex. Every day, there are cases where the grandmas and grandpas cannot even understand what they should do. Yes, I treat them like Ajji and Dadu, so they come so openly with their problems. Not many children look after their parents after a certain period, and if most of them were so well educated, this problem wouldn’t have arrived.

“The birthdate on your Aadhar card does not match your PAN card. According to your birth certificate, it is 6/9/1955 and 6/11/1955 on your Aadhar card. You need to change it.” “But beta, they told me to give the Aadhar card number, see the letter from my son,” face-palm in my mind (obviously now). “Ok! Why don’t you take my card and tell your son to call me, or it’ll be better if he can come and help us out?” “Only if he really could, he says.” And that’s why I need to participate in the situation like I am their daughter. At least, I try to.

“Sanjana! Are you done with those passbooks?” It’s past noon, and it’s only getting busier. “Excuse me, I wanted the information of this account number, if you may?” I looked up, and now you don’t get many grandmas speaking so calmly. A beautifully aged lady in a plain white saree looked through me with those dense black eyes. I am 28 and couldn’t come close to her mastery of applying winged eyeliner. I took the passbook and searched the transactions. They were ancient. It was as if nobody had used this account for 5-6 years.

I filled out her passbook and gave it to her. Read the immediate transactions. “I wish to transfer the amount to my account and close this account. My husband expired a few years ago, and the account remained untouched.” Ok, good children; I guess they didn’t let her feel alone. “I am so sorry to hear that. You will have to submit the death certificate with a sample letter to the branch manager (I pointed out), and that will be all.” “Beta, I didn’t get my pension this month.” She gave me the warmest smile with the coldest and darkest eyes I had seen. For some reason, it left me unsettled. I thought I had more important things to look at than those eyes.

Being a corporate bank, we work the whole Saturday. It’s almost 5 p.m., and the main entrance has been closed, but the work through the door at the back continues. I started packing my stuff when suddenly I noticed a handkerchief, with its border stitched in red chains and the name RAVIRAJ embroidered. Yes, the name from the lady’s passbook must be hers. I folded it carefully and kept it in my bag. I will surely return this to her on our subsequent encounter.

Driving back home, I get a text from Maya, my roommate. I guess we got an invitation to some club. That is the only time we get a chance to do something recreational, yet we decide to drink and sleep on our issues, and yet we call it a happy life? But anyway, I am free, plus I am not letting Maya get wasted again, so I am surely going. I decided to wear an lbd. Otherwise, it will rot in my closet. I choose boots over stilettos anytime, and my favorite turquoise jewelry will give it a divine touch. Roar Maya starts the car, and I sit inside carefully, looking for any see-throughs. As Maya accelerated, I saw someone standing at the side where our car was parked. When I looked back, the watchman was standing there. But.. “So, are you open to relationships yet? Coz I think we will have some handsome company today, giggles.” “Amm, if he believes in aliens, hates Trump, would want to change our education system, why not?” “There, sis, there! Too many intellectual skills to test, don’t you think.” Nope, I don’t; it’s the basics, I believe. Why would I invest my time anyway, then? That shadow-like thing I saw wasn’t the watchman. But what else might it be? I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“We are here! Am I looking good?” Maya asked. “You are, and isn’t that a question to ask before we, you know, leave?” And before I could hear anything she said, my ears filled with music, “Jaiyen aap Kaha Jayenge. Ye nazar laut ke fir ayengi..” That’s not usually a song played in a club unless it’s themed or requested. Nonetheless, I do like it. I do not know the lyrics, but I start humming the tune. Then, slowly, my right ear started filling with some EDM music, and then it was as if I had just traveled to some parallel universe playing the golden hit, and now I transcended. I started remembering whether I had a drink, but I didn’t; I was sober. Thinking about all these things, the white shadow, the song, I am on the floor the next thing I know. Someone had pushed me badly. “I am so so sorry! Miss, are you ok? Here, let me help you.” A pleasant-looking guy was helping me out. I couldn’t move my legs for some reason. He pulled me towards him and helped me get a seat at the corner. “Hey, what happened? We just entered, and you are wasted already?” This girl embarrasses me in front of hot guys all the time. “Naah, he pushed me ‘by mistake.” “Of course, by mistake; I am so so sorry! Are you alright? Can I get you something?” “Grey martini, if you can, please?” Ok, now I will admit that that isn’t the case usually. But he seems to be friendly and all. We will find that out soon.

“There you go. Miss?” “Sanjana, Sanjana Sharma. Thank you.” I took the glass and started checking it. Sober or not, this one thing needs to be checked. I stirred my finger in it. My nail enamel did not change color, so we are good with this guy. It’s not like I dated douchebags. But they sure turned into one over time. I took a careful sip of the martini. “Thanks, Mister, for helping me out there. I zoned out somehow.” “Call me Jai. My name is kind of big, so let’s stick to Jai chuckles.” “Why, what is it?” “Well, you see, my grandpa wanted to name me. So he chose Jayeshkumar Abhiraj Raviraj Singh. But I prefer people calling me Jai, and you can tell why.” “That is a long name. Thanks, Jai, then laughs.” “So, do you wanna dance?” So that’s how most of the stories from the club started. It’s not like I’m not too fond of it and all. I love dancing, and he seems to be good. It’s just I might know how things end. I always know, at least most of the time. I know stuff. I probably would have been good without knowing it. Most of the time, it becomes a burden.

I guess this is why people like clubbing. You drink, and the music fills your mind, so there is no space for thoughts. You live for that moment, for yourself. Your body reacts to the beats as involuntarily as breathing. Submission. To ease yourself from the power of making decisions and saving yourself from its consequences. “So, should I drive you home? If Maya doesn’t show up?” “laughs. No, thank you. She will show up.” At times, you can use some mothering yourself. “I had a great time today. Am I going to see you again?” He asked with that deadly look. He sure does have a charm of his own. “Why don’t you give me your phone, and I can save my number, and we will see whether we can meet again or not?” “Haha, please.”

I am sleeping peacefully in my bed. I guess I didn’t mind changing my dress. I see the time is 3:10 a.m. I don’t usually wake up at night. I fetch myself a glass of water. “Maya! Maya?” I look next to myself, and I am alone. Where did she go? I try to remember whether it was her that drove me home. Jai appeared in front of me with a glass of water. “Oh, you’re up? Here, have this.” “I drank water. What are you doing here?! Was it you who drove me here?” He chuckled and leaned towards my ear. Just when I was about to retract, he clenched my face with both hands, and all I could hear was the golden hit from the club, “Jaiyen aap Kaha Jayenge. Ye nazar laut ke phir ayegi.. Ye nazar laut ke phir aayegi..” My eyes blurred, and everything turned reddish and then dark. I woke, my mouth gagged, and my hands tied behind. The lady in white from the bank today came to me. “Where am I?! What are you doing?!” I try to scream through that cloth. She came and looked right through me, just like in the bank. She took her handkerchief from my bag, wrapped it around my neck, and tried to suffocate. Kill me. I gathered all my strength and tried to scream, “Maa!”.

I opened my eyes. Maya held me tight as if she shook me to my consciousness. “Sanju, it’s just a dream!” She screamed. “Ok, I am fine.” She handed me a glass of water. “No, I had water.” “When have you been sleeping since we got here?” Shit. I do feel like I just had water. Ok, games of the subconsciousness. I sipped water anyway. Maya looked terrified. “What happened?” She asked. “A bad dream. Like this lady was trying to kill me.” “I told you not to watch psycho thrillers! It fucks your mind.” “I do not know whether it’s just that.” There was pin-drop silence. Maya glared at me with fear. “Is it happening again?” “I don’t know, babe, I don’t know.” We slept, holding each other tight.

I woke up in my bed, all safe and sound. I couldn’t sleep well, of course. How could I? Maya is still holding me tight. She is not strong, but she tries to be for me. This little girl has been with me through my highs and lows. Be it a failure, breakups, family issues, or the ghosts from my past.

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