With a muffled scream, I sat up and stared blindly around, drenched in cold sweat. The moonless night was brooding.
Taking a deep breath, I murmured…
“I am okay. I am alive.”
The dream had returned, after being blissfully absent for half a year, shattering my inner peace. The potent dread in the pit of my stomach was nauseating. The visuals were continuing to haunt me.
“I know an empty threat when I hear one,” the man had said, continuing to approach like a panther closing on its prey.
“Death is far better than surrendering to you, you bastard,” I had shouted before jumping to my death from the end of the cliff. The pull of gravity had beckoned and the wind had buoyed me. With the suffocating fall, my screams had grown hollow and shrill.
Sinking back onto the bed, I tried in vain to sleep. My husband Milind was sleeping peacefully unaware of the turmoil on my mind. Meeting with Milind had been the only thing that had hampered the dreams until now. And it was just six months ago that he had stormed into my life.
Milind Arora, the celebrated poet, had come to my college to inaugurate our literary club. A mystical switch had turned on somewhere in the obscure corners of my heart, when I had seen him. The whole world had disappeared and it had been just him from that moment.
To be near him, I became a summer intern at the publishing firm he owned. I couldn’t explain my obsession with him even to myself. It was as if I couldn’t breathe without him near. It was as if I had known him forever. It was as if, I was remembering the various hues of him. The way his hair fell over his eyes, the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled, everything had seemed hauntingly familiar.
Milind later confessed how the intern who looked at him with longing had kindled a fire in him. He resisted for long due to the huge age gap between us. I was twenty-one and he was forty.
Age was just a number, wasn’t it?
“Why do you haunt my dreams Ruchi? Come on, no more, come into my life as my wife.” Milind had proposed that day, two months ago, over a quiet dinner in his apartment.
Watching him sleeping, I ran my fingers through his hair and sensing my presence he pulled me close. We were at his ancestral house in Shimla, just back from a long honeymoon in Europe.
Next morning, we set out visiting his relatives.
“I had lost all hopes of his marrying after Nayana. Thank god you came into his life,” said Milind’s maternal aunt patting my cheek.
“Who is Nayana?” I asked, narrowing my eyes, when she went to fetch tea. Milind looked away trying to avoid my question. I persisted.
Nayana was the reason he had remained a bachelor. They had been childhood sweethearts.
“That is her house. No one lives there other than her stepbrother. He loved her like his own and had been devastated after her disappearance,” said Milind.
“Disappearance? What do you mean?” I asked looking at the neighboring house that appeared like a haunted house.
“We were to be married in a month, when she disappeared. I was away in Delhi and no one knew what had happened. These mountains hide many horrors,” said Milind, and his eyes became moist.
Later on, while we walked hand in hand to a viewpoint in the area, the first wave of panic hit me. The same scenes from my dreams appeared before me and I clutched Milind’s hand in fear.
“What is it Ruchi, what happened?” asked Milind and I hit the ground in a fainting fit.
When I opened my eyes next, the man with toad like eyes who had haunted my dreams was looming near and I screamed and scampered away from the cot, running straight into Milind’s arms.
“Ruchi..Ruchi..what happened?” asked Milind, gathering me in a hug.
“Nayana died, Milind. She jumped to her death, right from that viewpoint over there. And he was the reason she did it,” I shouted, gesturing at the middle aged man who had frozen hearing my allegations.
“Ruchi..Calm down. That is Raghu, Nayana’s brother,” Milind said.
“Brother? No. He lusted after me from the time my mother married his father. I had managed to ward off his advances until that fateful day when none had been at home. Death seemed better than surrendering to him,” I said, and my own words startled me. The veil of time had vanished in a flash.
Raghu, my stepbrother from my previous incarnation, shrieked as if in pain and rushed out of the house closely followed by Milind and me.
He jumped from the same cliff, to atone for his sins, the ones he had kept hidden under a shroud of brotherly affection.
Time had come a full circle.