The first rays from the rising sun streamed through the translucent glass window of Raghav’s bedroom. The apartment on the sixteenth floor of the high-rise building in Chennai had quite a spectacular view. Raghav tried avoiding the light by enveloping himself with a thin cotton bed sheet. As the clock struck six, the alarm blared with a shloka that irritated Raghav;
“Kausalya supraja rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe…”
Raghav tossed and turned with his eyes still refusing to open. Fumbling with his fingers, he caught hold of the alarm clock, snoozed it, and threw it across the wall. It shattered to the ground unapologetically.
Raghav’s wife Meena who was busy preparing breakfast came running to the bedroom.
“Raghav! Where did the noise come from? And why aren’t you up yet? You said you needed to leave early today, didn’t you?”
“MEENA…! Will you stop it? I know that better than you. I’ll get ready soon. How many times have I told you not to set the alarm? Now, for heaven’s sake don’t disturb me!” Raghav yelled at the top of his voice.
“Seri Seri*! You probably need to get your BP checked. You and your anger issues,” she said and exited the room.
Dragging himself from the bed Raghav had a quick shower. He picked the neatly ironed white shirt and grey trousers from the cupboard to wear. With a frown on his face, he stared at the mirror and combed his matted hair to look presentable.
“Breakfast is ready dear,” said Meena.
“Breakfast? I’m already late. I’ll skip it,” he said.
“Wait! I’m just packing lunch.”
“I’ll take care. I have to leave now.”
Raghav grabbed his laptop bag, car keys and left in a hurry, banging the door shut.
His car sped from the basement garage.
The security guard stood to greet him but Raghav paid no attention. His accelerating wheels bumped a few flowerpots as he exited the township and in no time he was on the GST Highway.
“Nonsense! Who wants a ‘vanakkam*’ now? Doesn’t that security guard have anything better to do?” muttered Raghav.
Traffic was at its peak. All vehicles were moving at a snail’s pace. The motorcyclists could be seen meandering through the narrow spaces to move ahead. School buses and vans were constantly honking. To make matters worse the sky was overladen with dark clouds and it seemed like there could be a heavy downpour at any moment.
“Damn! Is there no traffic police to regulate the traffic here? The traffic seems to be getting worse day-by-day and the traffic lights malfunction most of the time. A majority of the drivers are pathetic…
The mushrooming IT companies and the extensive sanctioning of lands by the government to construct high-rise buildings are the main reasons for the traffic jams. Add to it, the never-ending road works,” grumbled Raghav as his foot pressed the brake frequently.
“Kadavule*! It’s almost time. My meeting will start anytime now. I better log in from my phone. I hope the signal is good. But the honking- it’s going to be a great disturbance.”
With one hand on the steering wheel, Raghav fumbled with his phone to log in.
The meeting began and Raghav was glad he wasn’t late. He was thankful that this overseas client meeting was online. The meeting with his teammates was scheduled later during the day.
“Yes, Mr. Raghav! When is this project going live?” a client from the other end questioned him after discussing a few updates.
“We are planning to…we are planning on…”
But before Raghav could finish answering, he heard someone knocking at the window.
An angry Raghav turned his face to see who it was. A small boy with unkempt hair and tattered clothes stood, knocking at his window. His tiny hands held a bunch of roses.
Raghav signaled him to go away but the boy didn’t budge from his place. He knocked repeatedly.
“We are planning to go live on the 20th,” said Raghav in a hurry to the client and immediately went on mute.
Raghav lowered his window and yelled at the boy.
“Enne da*? What do you want? Can’t you understand if I tell you once? I’m amidst an important meeting.”
“Ayya*! Please, I haven’t eaten a proper meal since yesterday. My sister is also very weak. Please buy at least one rose, Ayya. It costs just Rs20. It will help me purchase a biscuit packet,” pleaded the boy.
“Poi thole*! How many times should I tell you that I don’t want it? Now, better leave or…”
“Just one, Ayya! I haven’t sold any since morning. These roses will wilt by noon. Buy just one and I will leave. Ayya, Ayya, Ayya…”
The boy’s nagging irritated Raghav and his face appeared flushed with anger. In a bid to get rid of him, Raghav tossed the roses that the boy was holding and quickly raised the window glass. All the roses lay scattered on the road. Meanwhile, what had started as a gentle drizzle changed into heavy rain.
“Ayya! Why did you do that, why…,” cried the boy as he picked up the drenched roses one by one, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
In the meantime, the lights turned green and the car ahead had moved a considerable distance. Raghav heaved a sigh of relief, pressed his accelerator, and drove at full throttle.
“These hopeless migrant workers and their children! Where do they even come from? They are here to spoil our mood. ‘Ayya, please buy a rose’- huh! Who’s in a mood to buy a rose now? Besides, who will I give it to? Serves him right! All the roses that he was holding fell. He must have learned his lesson. He will not irritate commuters like me anymore.”
Raghav reached his office just in time for the next meeting.
“Hey, Raghav! Late again? Today, what’s the excuse?” asked his colleague.
“Don’t blame me. Blame the terrible roads and traffic. Chennai’s traffic is getting hopeless,” replied Raghav.
It was another hectic day at the office that involved meeting deadlines, testing, and multiple meetings with teammates to discuss the ongoing projects.
Finally, Raghav logged off at 6 pm and left the office. As he was about to start his car he noticed a rose on the seat next to him.
“Hmm! It must have fallen off the small boy’s hand in the morning,” he said, picking it up to toss it out through the window.
“Ouch,” he shrieked. A sharp thorn from the stem pierced his index finger and blood gushed out.
“This is the reason I hate these roses,” said Raghav as he searched hastily for a Band-Aid in the glove compartment. Luckily he found one and put it on.
“Does it hurt?” he heard a faint voice speak to him.
“Who is it?” asked Raghav, wondering where the voice came from.
As he glanced at the rearview mirror, for a moment he felt he saw someone. But as he focused again, it disappeared.
“Strange! There was someone, I’m sure. But not now.”
Raghav then drove home.
Upon entering the house, he tossed his shoes, socks and crashed onto the sofa.
“Habba*! It was one hectic day at the office. Meena! Can you get me a cup of hot coffee?” he said.
As he picked up the newspaper to read, he noticed a vase with roses on the side table.
“Meena! You bought roses today? What was the occasion?”
“Oh! No occasion. These roses were mistakenly delivered here. It was supposedly meant for our neighbors. But since they are not in town, I decided to put them in a vase instead of letting them wilt. They look adorable, don’t they?”
“Adorable? Really? Anyway, now just get me the coffee.”
Meena hurried into the kitchen.
“Adorable roses, aren’t they?” Raghav heard someone say as he was catching up with headlines in the newspaper.
“Who is it?” exclaimed Raghav, dropping the newspaper that he was holding.
“One rose, two roses, three roses, four,
If you wish, you may buy more.”
Raghav heard an eerie voice singing the song. And the glass window in the living room banged shut.
“Who is it? Tell me, who is it?” Raghav stood up and yelled.
Hearing Raghav yell, Meena came running from the kitchen.
“What happened Raghav? Whom are you yelling at?”
“Didn’t you hear someone singing now?”
“No Raghav! There’s nobody here. I didn’t hear anyone singing. “
“The window banged shut too. Why did you leave it open?”
“I never opened that window Raghav. Then how would it bang shut? Is everything ok with you?”
“I see. I’m perfectly alright.”
“Maybe you are just too tired. Why don’t you rest for a while after drinking coffee?”
“You are probably right. I’ll take a quick shower and rest.”
Raghav gulped the coffee and decided to take a quick shower.
As he showered, he couldn’t stop thinking about the eerie happenings. It appeared like flashes and the song that only he had heard kept playing inside his head in recurring loops.
“Shut up, shut up!” Raghav shouted forcing to clear his agitated mind.
Suddenly he saw a sketch of a rose being traced on the foggy transparent glass shower door.
A cold chill ran down his spine and as he gazed through the sketch of the rose that had cleared the shower door, he saw an apparition at a distance.
“Who are you? Why have you been chasing me?” His voice was quavering.
“One rose, two roses, three roses, four,
If you wish, you may buy more.”
Raghav heard the same eerie song that he had heard before. And soon, a lot of roses were being traced on the shower door.
Raghav froze in terror for a few moments. He could hear his thumping heart. And then with a rush of adrenaline, he wrapped a towel and stormed out from the bathroom.
“Meena! Come here. Chase it away, chase it away.”
Meena came running.
“Raghav! What’s gone wrong with you?”
“The roses. That eerie song. There’s someone…something… in there. Go, have a look.”
“But there’s no one inside the bathroom Raghav. You have left the shower running.”
“Look at the shower door. The roses…”
The shower door appeared fogged completely by the steaming hot water from the shower.
“I swear I saw roses traced all across the shower door. Now they have disappeared…”
Meena was perplexed by his behavior.
“Raghav! Ever since you came back from the office you have been acting strange. You are not your usual self. I suggest you go to bed early tonight.”
“Nothing is wrong with me, nothing. Anyway, I’ll just sleep now.”
Raghav had a pulsating headache. He swallowed a painkiller and went to bed. Soon he drifted off to sleep.
“One rose, two roses, three roses, four,
If you wish, you may buy more.”
He heard the same eerie song. Only, this time he saw an apparition that was a little more visible. It appeared like a small boy in tattered clothes. He was severely injured and his blood-stained face was giving him a cold stare.
“Who are you? Why are you disturbing me? I haven’t done anything to you,” said Raghav gasping for breath.
“Me? Don’t you recall? Today morning, at the traffic jam…” he asked.
“Hold on! Aren’t you that small boy with roses?”
“What did I do to you? I just tossed the roses you were holding and they fell. You were disturbing me then, and now. Go away, go, go, go…”
Raghav woke up from his sleep with a jerk. His body was sweating profusely and his pulse raced as he sat up gasping for air.
“Raghav, Raghav! Stay calm. Have a glass of water. You were mumbling something in your sleep. Tell me, is anything bothering you?”
“Today morning on my way to the office, I was caught up in a traffic jam. A small boy nagged me to buy roses. And then…”
Raghav narrated the entire incident in detail to Meena.
Meena listened patiently for Raghav to finish.
“I think all solutions to your behavior lie in the highway where you met him. Let’s go there tomorrow to meet that boy. Let’s hope we meet him there,” comforted Meena.
Raghav had a disturbed sleep throughout the night.
The next morning Raghav woke up and got ready. He was anxious to find answers for all the strange happenings that had put his mind for a toss.
Raghav and Meena went to the highway. Raghav parked his car along the curb and fervently searched for the boy. There were children selling roses and other knick-knacks but he couldn’t spot the boy he was looking for.
Then a beggar sitting on the road questioned them.
“Sir! Whom are you searching for?”
“I’m looking for a small boy who sells roses. I met him yesterday.”
“There are many children here who sell roses. Yesterday, a small boy selling roses was hit by a speeding lorry and lost his life. Poor boy!”
Raghav and Meena were shocked.
“Does his family live anywhere around? I would like to meet them.”
“Yes! Do you see those huts across the road? The boy’s mother and sister live in one of those huts.”
Raghav and Meena visited the huts one after the other inquiring about the deceased boy. Finally, they reached the boy’s hut.
They saw a lady and a small girl mourning. A boy’s picture was garlanded. It was the same boy Raghav had met.
“I’m sorry for what happened. When did the accident happen?”
“Mani was desperately trying to sell roses yesterday morning. I was keeping a watch over him from the other side of the road as he went from one car to another. At one point when he was speaking with the driver of a car, his roses fell. He bent down to collect them. By then it began raining and the lights had turned green. I shouted at him to come back. But he could not see or hear me. He was…he was hit by a speeding lorry,” the lady said, in between her sobs.
Raghav didn’t need any more explanation. He connected all the dots and so did Meena.
“He had so many dreams- dreams to go to school. He worked hard and tried to help me as much as he could. But it all happened too soon… But why did you come here?” asked the Lady.
Raghav remained mute for a while. He was overwhelmed with emotions;
Paavam*! How I wish I had bought at least one rose from him. Instead, I tossed the roses out of anger and haste. And then one thing led to another. How am I ever going to forgive myself?
Raghav could not stop himself from speaking. He narrated the previous day’s incident in detail and the eerie happenings that followed.
The lady burst into tears.
“Ayya! You could have lied about the incident. Instead, you chose not to. I don’t wish to blame you. Anyway, it’s not going to bring back my son. His soul probably wanted you to know what happened to him. At least now, don’t consider people like us to be cheap-minded. We are forced to do menial jobs to get at least one square meal a day.”
Raghav was moved by her words.
“I can never forgive myself and feel responsible for your loss. I have learned a lesson but I know that is not going to help you in any way. Let me at least bear the responsibility of educating your daughter. I can get you a job in my office too- as housekeeping staff.”
The lady thought for a while and then replied.
Meena could see that the incident had shaken up Raghav. After spending some time with them, Raghav and Meena decided to head home.
Raghav did not experience anything eerie that day.
Raghav went to bed- his conscience was still pricking him. He could not stop thinking about the boy.
In his dreams…
The boy appeared again, holding roses.
“Take care of them. I need to go now,” he said, smiling and waving at him.
He then disappeared.
Raghav woke up feeling much better. The incident had impacted his life in many ways. But most importantly- it had transformed him into a better person.
The translation for the words in the story have been listed.
- Kausalya supraja rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe – Sanskrit shloka
- Seri- Ok
- Vanakkam- greetings
- Enne da- what?
- Kadavule- God
- Ayya- Sir
- Poi thole- get lost
- Habba – Gosh
- Paavam- Pity
- Nandri- Thank You
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