Deewan reluctantly opened the gate to his new home.
There were rows and rows of three-storey houses separated by boundary walls in the housing society, where each storey was an independent family floor. Deewan had been allotted a ground-floor accommodation by his organisation. His residence had a lush private backyard with an enormous mango tree in it. Each of the three bedrooms came with attached bathrooms and spacious balconies.
However, Deewan’s stubborn mind was not willing to appreciate the appeals of this place. He was still seething with his transfer to Dehradun from Delhi. He had not accomplished his MBA degree from a prestigious institute to move to a small town, and that too a hill station!
“It is company policy that all new Management Trainees are sent to the field for two years to get a feel of the ground. Sitting inside the glass doors here at corporate won’t teach you any lessons,” his manager had dismissed his protest.
So Deewan found himself stuck in the big house with the private garden and mango tree.
“Sir, don’t worry about the bags, I will take care of them. Here’s a piping hot tea for you,” said Hukum, the runner provided by the Company for his requirements. Hukum was a tall man in his late-thirties with deep-set eyes and a distinct scar that ran parallel to his nose till the tip of his upper lip.
“Thank you, Hukum,” Deewan said gratefully. “I am tired, even though the journey wasn’t that long.”
“You belong to these parts?” Deewan made an attempt at conversation.
“A local lad.” Hukum proudly said. “Have been working here ever since this nice society came up three years back.”
Deewan took a sip from his cup.
“You like the house, Sir, I’m sure?” Hukum asked after a pause.
“Seems large enough,” Deewan replied. “I wonder, though, why there isn’t a single window here.”
“Window, Sir?” Hukum asked.
“Yes, windows. Of course, one can open the doors leading to the balconies, and there is the utility balcony if the kitchen gets stuffy. But I would not want to open doors every time for ventilation. A window would have been nice.”
“I had never thought about it, Sir,” Hukum replied.
“Hmm,” Deewan responded while taking a generous sip of his tea.
Hukum hastily departed from the room. He didn’t like not having answers to questions thrown at him.
Deewan sat in the garden chair. A thick haze covered the air, and he could barely make out the well-manicured grass. The cacophonous sound of the birds returning to their nests was music to his ears. There was a charm in having a private backyard, he admitted to himself. The thought of making his Facebook friends jealous felt him with glee.
He was about to go inside when his eyes spotted a figure in yellow afar, coming in his direction. The lady seemed to have appeared from thin air. As she approached nearer, Deewan could make out a resplendent woman in yellow top and palazzo with matching hoops and, wonder of wonders, carrying an open yellow umbrella to boot.
The Umbrella Lady slowed down as she crossed his garden to open the gate of the building adjacent to him.
“Hello. So, you are the one for whom Hukum was cleaning this ground floor flat yesterday?” she asked him.
“Must be,” Deewan replied after finding his voice. It had not occurred to him that the lady will notice him. He got up and moved to the edge of the boundary wall, closer to the Umbrella Lady. The distinct aroma of her perfume made him draw his breath.
“My name is Oindrilla,” the lady said in a pleasant sing-song voice.
Oindrilla with the umbrella. “How appropriate,” Deewan uttered before he could stop the words from coming out.
“I am sorry?” Oindrilla asked.
“A beautiful name,” Deewan hastily said. “I am Deewan.”
“Sounds regal. Are you from a royal family?”
“Nothing so glamorous, I am afraid,” he laughed. “Completed my MBA from IIM-Indore and got placed with the Company that is providing me this accommodation.”
“IIM! How exciting. This is the first time that I am speaking to an IIM grad.” Her voice held new respect, and Deewan felt that all those hours he spent burning the midnight oil to crack the Common Entrance Test was worth it.
“I have heard that there are no problems that a person from IIT or IIM cannot solve, ” she continued.
“Well, I don’t know. I certainly can’t claim to know everything.”
“We’ll see now. Maybe you can repair this umbrella for me?”
“Err… what?” Deewan asked, flabbergasted.
“I am not able to close this umbrella. The latch in the stick just doesn’t work. I had to return early from my sojourn because of this, unable to carry an open umbrella in closed spaces.”
She looked expectantly at Deewan.
Though the problem was neither Deewan’s forte nor had anything to do with management skills, it was a matter of prestige for him. Oindrilla handed over the umbrella to him in a swift motion. Deewan examined the shaft and was surprised to find the fabric wet in this dry weather. He pulled the flap down, and it got effortlessly closed.
“How marvellous,” Oindrilla said in delight. “You are a genius.”
“I don’t even know what the problem was,” Deewan said.
“Don’t be too modest,” she said. “This is my favourite umbrella, and you have done me a big favour.”
“Come and have dinner with me,” she suddenly said. “No, I won’t listen to anything. It will be a pleasure for me to know my neighbour better.”
“Thank you, Oindrilla. I will be glad to join.”
“Great.” Oindrilla clasped her hands in excitement. “See you in another hour then.”
She started to move inside her house.
“Your umbrella, Oindrilla,” Deewan called out after her.
“Oh, thanks.” She flashed a 1000-watt smile that lighted countless lamps in Deewan’s heart.
He stood staring at the retreating figure till it disappeared inside. An hour had never seemed this long.
Deewan whistled as he stepped inside his home to get ready. Dehradun wasn’t proving to be so bad after all.
“Hukum,” he called out. “Please don’t prepare dinner for me tonight. I am going to the house next door.”
Clannnnng. The noise was deafening as multiple utensils skid down from their echelons to the kitchen floor.
Deewan hurried to the kitchen, where a shivering Hukum stood standstill.
“Are you alright, Hukum?”
“The house next door, to the right, did you say?” the manservant asked him in a strange manner.
“Yes. Why?” Deewan inquired.
“How will you have dinner in an empty house?”
“Empty house? You are out of your mind. The Umbrella Lady, I mean Oindrilla, has invited me to her place.”
“Was this lady decked in yellow from top to toe and offered you her umbrella to mend?” Hukum asked.
“How do you know that?” Deewan demanded.
“This is not the first time, Sir, that someone has seen her ghost. Lived in the house next door, she did, with her husband. She liked talking to people, which made her husband jealous. He murdered her one night. The next day, her body was discovered, dressed in yellow with enormous ear hoops and an open, dripping wet, yellow umbrella next to her bed. No one has lived in the house since.”
“What nonsense!” Deewan’s face was ashen.
Hukum ignored him and continued, “Many around here, especially young single men, have been paid a visit by the Umbrella Lady. She comes out of the air and offers her Umbrella for repair.”
“Nooo,” Deewan whispered.
“If you don’t believe me, you can go and check the house for yourself,” Hukum concluded.
Deewan strode to his courtyard, crossed his turnstile, and opened the gate to Oindrilla’s yard. The house looked dark and ominous. He noticed the neglected garden with overgrown weeds as he ambled to the entrance. It took him some time to locate the doorbell of the main gate. It did not ring when he pressed it.
Deewan was about to give a vigorous nod at the front door when he noticed a large, rusted lock adorning the door handle. No one would have disturbed the lock for ages.
Deewan turned and bolted from the haunted house of the Umbrella Lady. This was the fastest he had run in his life.
He whipped the sweat off his brow upon entering his living room.
“Hukum, would you mind staying here with me tonight, please?” he asked, surveying the house for any signs of an alien body. His eyes went to the wall that stood between him and the house next door.
‘Thank God for no window in this house,’ Deewan murmured.
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