It was difficult to see through the murk of that winter evening and absolute quietude had engulfed most of the village quite fast. The road I was walking down with the fastest pace and a pounding heart seemed to be stretched far. Though the distance wasn’t much to reach my quarter and I could see the distant dimming light which meant that it would hardly take a few minutes to enter my residential quarter, I was somehow feeling uncomfortable to cross this distance.
After a hectic day at the government hospital of this small place called Bilaspur located within the village named Deoria in UP, I was feeling exhausted. Though my actual quarter was adjacent to the hospital, yet for some renovation work, I had to move to a distant quarter for the time being.
Being the only residential lady doctor of the hospital in the village people were extremely kind and considerate towards me. After a few days of handling some of the critical patients from the village, the people there were not only deferential to me but turned dependable on me related to serious ailments even when I was just a few months old to that place.
Generally, I never get that late, but while I was leaving the hospital, a villager with his wife critically ill came to me and requested me to save his wife. As the other two doctors had already left the hospital, I had no other option but to treat her. It took some time to make her situation stable as I had to push intravenous to minimize her acute stomach-ache caused due to food poisoning.
It was already dark and so the care staff asked me whether he would escort me to the quarter as the road ahead wasn’t safe after evening and that the office car was also not available due to technical issues. But I told him not to worry as it’s just a few minutes of walking distance to the quarter. There were street lights in the village but they were mere bulbs and some of those are not even working, I realized this while I had already covered some distance. There was no point in getting back as I was carrying my torch that was of much help in frequent power cuts.
I assured myself that most of the people of this village know me and within a few days they even got familiar with me. Some invited me too to their home and some always showed up with vegetables and fruits from their farm. So, I was confident that there was nothing to fear about the place and as per the venomous reptiles were concerned, I broke a slender tree branch for protection.
As I continued to walk with all desultory thoughts brimming up my mind, I heard steps behind me as if someone was following me. As I turned behind, I saw no one. I thought that must be my assumption because I was too tired due to the hectic day, I had but I was wrong and the sound of the steps came closer adding horror to my already feeble self, impelled my imagination to run wild. I somehow managed to turn around again only to find a shadow behind the tree just a few meters away from me. I froze, yet gathered the last pieces of courage left and continued to walk at a faster pace, and ultimately, I found myself running through the thick darkness as if I had been intoxicated and had no idea of where I was heading to. Suddenly the torch I was holding tight fell as I stumbled over a stone. Hurting myself wasn’t bigger than the dread that had engulfed my sanity, I tried to reach out for the torch lying a few steps apart with trembling hands. To my dismay, a man was standing full covered in a blanket, right in front of me. I knew that there was no escape but on the spur of the moment I somehow gathered all my fortitude and screamed the hell out of the situation. I was at my wit’s end and had nothing to defend but to let out a piercing shriek that must have penetrated through the darkness, travelled miles and acted as my last resort. I saw him disappearing into thin air.
In a few moments, some villagers gathered to find me in an utterly wretched condition. Two or three women tried to make me feel comfortable as they hurriedly brought water for me. But before I was inquired of what had happened, I fainted!
In the morning I found myself sluggishly lying on my bed of the quarter. Namita, my maid brought tea for me and enquired about yesterday’s night and warned me that it wasn’t suitable of me to walk down the quarter all alone. I explained to her that I was dead tired and must have hallucinated. Though it was frightening for me I showed no such reactions. I got ready and left quickly for the hospital.
After a day in the hospital, I decided to return early to my quarter and as I was leaving the hospital in office car, I suddenly saw that same gallant stature, the man who was stalking me yesterday night, just beside the hospital gate covered in a full blanket. I instantly asked to stop the car and chase the man. My driver got down and caught the man. Though he tried his best to escape but couldn’t.
My driver and the guards of the hospital brought him inside and a guard recognized him to be one of the villagers. His name was Satish and he was somehow mentally unstable.
I asked him, “Why were you following me last night?” To that what he answered was surprising. He addressed me as his daughter and said, ” How could I leave you alone at night Madhu? What if they attacked you again? It wasn’t clear to me what he meant by all these but then one of the guards explained to me, ” Madam, he had a daughter who was extremely good in studies. His daughter wanted to be a doctor but then one dreadful evening when she was coming back from her tuition, she was brutally raped and murdered. It was the biggest shock for him and from then onwards he lost his sanity. Yesterday he must have imagined you as his daughter and so he is addressing you by his daughter’s name”.
When the guard asked him, “Do you know madam got scared because of you yesterday?” Satish’s fatherly concern was all that was visible. He told the guard in muddled sentences, “look my daughter has become a doctor. How can I leave her alone in the dark?” In an excited and proud tone of a father he clapped and exclaimed, “She needs to treat the villagers. See my daughter is a good doctor and she can treat all of you.”
I stopped the guards from being rude to him as I knew how it feels for a father to see his daughter fulfilling her dreams, my father also dreamt the same for me and once told me that I must serve the poor people who need medical facilities, mostly in the villages. But before I could let him know that I have cleared my medical entrance, he passed away.
Days elapsed but I somehow got so attached to this village and its people that I continued my journey here. In the meantime, I tried my best to set up enough lights and took help from the local authority to maintain safety for women of the village. I also persuaded NGOs so that the girls here can easily continue their education and that no father’s dream may remain unfulfilled.
The shadow behind the tree was the shadow of a father that truly guided a daughter for a more promising task ahead in life.
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