Peek-A-Boo: A story by Sreemati Sen

The newly married girl moved in with her husband soon after the rituals were over. Her eyes fell upon the neatly manicured garden across their house. “A picturesque house.” Astha remarked. 

“Yes, Anya Didi’s house. She is nice. But…mentally unsound…” Her husband informed her. Astha did not probe further.

The next day, she noticed Didi from her terrace, watering the garden and tending the plants with great care. Their eyes met. Anya waved and beckoned Astha to come over. Seizing the opportunity, she ran across the garden.  

“Notun-bou*. I know how lonely it is. Sit down and have chai with me.”

Over a cup of chai and homemade goodies, Astha learnt that Didi had been married for long. A mother of four-year-old daughter, her hands were full. But after the husband and the daughter left, she had ample time in her hands. That day when Astha took leave of Anya, the older woman hugged her.

 “You can always come over, dear sister.”

Chai and conversation became a daily ritual. It continued until it was time for Anya to fetch her daughter from school. The timings worked well for Astha. Her husband left early and came home late.  

Two months went by. Didi was the big sister she had never had. However, Astha was yet to meet Avanika, Didi’s daughter. She expressed her desire. Anya was ecstatic. “Soon…very soon, dear.”

It was late in the evening when Astha heard Didi calling out to her. She sprinted across the garden and found Anya braiding the hair of a little girl. Hearing her voice the child turned around. Long hair neatly braided and clad in a floral dress, she was the loveliest child Astha had ever met. She handed over the chocolate that she had bought for the child. Avanika took it from her, smiling shyly.
After dinner, they decided to play a game of Hide-and-seek. Two rounds were over. It was Avanika’s turn to catch the adults. The women giggled like youngsters, hunting for safe places to hide. “She is very clever,” warned Didi. While Astha hid herself behind the curtain, Didi hid underneath the staircase. The child ran around calling out to them. The women giggled dropping clues.
Astha heard Avanika’s cries in the garden and peeped out. The child stood  near the well trying to peep inside. “Nooo…Not there.” It was too late. The child had toppled in. Astha let out a loud cry and rushed out.

She saw the little body floating in the well. And then she knew nothing.
She woke up to Didi fanning her. “Didi…didi…Avanika….” Didi kept on massaging her forehead. Tears streaked her face. “Ssssh… I know. Look there she is.”
Astha looked up. Avanika stood at the door.

“Sister, Avanika drowned in that well three years ago. No one can see her, except me. She appeared to you today. Cos’ she knows how much you love me. Now get up! We are a team. The Hide-and-seek team! Let’s complete the game.”