As I alighted from the bus, the chill of the night punched hard on my face. I pressed the button on my Chinese watch and 3:30 am flashed in a fluorescent glow. It was dark everywhere; more so because someone had turned off the lights in the sky. I stood there contemplating where I should go.
A tiny bulb, the only light, was trying hard to light up the shelter nearby. Shivering, I moved into the shed and found a street mongrel curled over a heap of garbage. The dog opened his left eye, glanced at me, and sensing no threat carried on with his sleep for the night. I had two options then: wait for the first bus in the morning, or walk the five kilometres to my village. I found it convenient to walk those five kilometres of dark than to sit there and have canines struck all over my body.
I took the road by the left bank of the river. It was barely visible. And it twisted through gloomy trees looming on the left side and frightening undergrowth on the right. This was not my first time through it, but I had never covered it by night. The lights from the houses on the opposite bank made patterns on the calm water of the river and a grey mist drifted over it. Those reflections of the lights were my guide for the night.
Suddenly it dawned upon me how many cremations would have taken place by the river bank, for cremation ground is what it was. All the haunting stories of Dancing Pisachas, Twisted-feet Chudails, and the Aatmas crying by the cremation grounds took hold of my mind. I decided not to look at the river, as it had suddenly turned ugly from beautiful, and rather focus on the road ahead. The night was mostly silent except for the sound of the wind now and then. With the rucksack on my back and hands in the woollen jacket, I covered my head with the hood to protect my ears from those screams of Bhoot & Pisachas which were slowly building up in my head. Inside the jacket, I could feel my heart racing like a leopard.
I walked silently, making no clatter of my footsteps so as not to bother the evil things sleeping about. As I trudged the curves of the mountain road, I had a feeling that something was following me. But my courage failed me to look back. In the dark it could be anything – a white cladded woman with untidy hairs, or an ugly-faced man slurping at the extra pounds on me. The only courage I could muster was to stop for a moment and see if the thing strikes me from behind; but as I stopped so did the thing following me.
The silence of the night was terrifying me. So many wicked thoughts crossed my mind. And I could do nothing but walk faster and faster. Tiny droplets of sweat made through majority of the pores of my body, and the winter ceased to exist. I started chanting all the Mantras I could remember without caring for their meaning. I asked God for forgiveness of my sins, intentional or unintentional. As I increased pace, the evil thing increased too, as if it was set hard one me.
I had no idea when the road by the cremation grounds got over and I was soon crossing the bridge to the other side of the river. As I walked the length of the bridge, the light from the temple compound reached me through the mist. My heart rejoiced and my body regained its lost strength. I stopped, turned back, but nothing was visible except the white fog. Was the evil just a fancy of my mind?
I entered the temple and thanked almighty for protecting me. Having exhausted myself, I sat by the footsteps of the temple. The dawn had just started to break. The area, though covered mostly in fog, was glowing white. I looked at the bridge. Engulfed in the mist it seemed like a tongue of a white giant. And huffing across it came the mongrel I met at the rain shelter. A smile grew upon my face and I imagined that the dog must be the evil thing following me, or was he protecting me all the way, or…well what difference does it make?
If the night belongs to the evil, the morning sure must be of the divine. I took my backpack and walked happily towards home. Of course the mongrel followed me again.