This short-story was first published here

Standing outside the black-painted gate of this three-storey house in Srinagar’s volatile Maisuma locality, Junaid moves his hand towards the doorbell. He is perspiring and nervous – a bit frightened, too. It’s mid August and the heat is oppressive. Even though he is under the shade, there is no respite from the humidity. But at the moment Junaid is least bothered about the vagaries of the weather.

A week ago he had woken up shell-shocked to hear that a close friend, Adil, had been possessed by a ghost in Dubai. He was Adil to others but to his close friends he was Syed Adi Official. Syed Adi Official acquired this flamboyant ‘tag’ after he created his fan-page on Facebook by the said name and began uploading his carefully edited photos. His female fan-base amplified fast and so did his male friends’ jealously.

Junaid had met Adil in the Higher Secondary school, Old Hospital, some eight years ago, and ever since they were inseparable buddies. After graduation both of them took different career paths; Junaid went to Law College, Nowshera and Adil to Business School, Kashmir University. But soon Adil realised he wasn’t cut for the field. Having exhausted all his energies in finding a decent job in Kashmir, Adil decided to try his luck in the Middle-East. And after much struggle, he eventually landed a job in one Tele-communication company in Dubai. Everything went on smoothly until the ‘paranormal’ happened.

No one knew how the ghost had entered him but rumours were aplenty. Some said he had pissed under a Palm tree, while others said the ghost, presumably a female, was smitten by his handsome looks. Junaid believed in the latter rumour. Adil was blessed with mirror-shattering good-looks. Any girl, whether in human or ghost form, with an ounce of aesthetic sense would have but naturally found herself appreciating his beauty. But this case was beyond the ordinary.

In Dubai, Adil’s colleagues, spooked by his eerie behaviour, had admitted him to a local hospital. But the doctors, having tried their utmost best at exorcising the ghost through potion and pills, gave up on him and instead advised his friends to consult a witch-doctor.

Unable to fathom what to do in such a circumstance, his friends decided to despatch Adil back to Kashmir. Rumour had it that Adil had tried to hijack the airplane and steer it towards Kandahar. And the alarmed air-staff after much tug-of-war had overpowered him and tied him to his seat. But, clearly it was a hyperbole.

Junaid was in a dilemma about seeing Adil in person. He didn’t harbour any illusion of being a brave man. He couldn’t see a girl in the eye leave alone facing a close friend who is possessed by a ghost. But after much insistence, though, he brought himself to see Adil at his home.

Back at the gate; Junaid rings the bell and after a few seconds the gate is opened. It’s Syed Adi Official’s mother. Junaid warmly greets her and inquires about Adil but she quickly invites him in without saying anything. Junaid quietly follow her inside the house, his hands clasped behind his back. Millions of thoughts are racing through his head: What do I do in front of Adil? How do I behave? Should I say salaam first or recite Ayatal Kursi? What if the ghost finds me more attractive, pounces on me and makes home inside me? But before Junaid could answer any of his fears they reach the drawing room where Adil’s mother ushers him in.

Junaid enters the room gingerly, his heart in his mouth. It feels strangely cold inside despite the Shaitaan fan hanging motionless by the ceiling. It’s a brightly lit room with the CFL bulbs glowing over-head. The walls seem to have been painted recently as the pungent smell of the paint is still hanging in the air.

Junaid tries to make himself sit when he suddenly realises he is not alone in the room. His heart pounds violently and he develops a lump in his throat. Its Adil sitting against a wall, his head buried in his chest. His eyes are open and his gaze is fixed somewhere on the carpet. Junaid is certain he would have known that someone has entered the room and the fact that he hasn’t moved a muscle to know who it is increases his dread.

Adil looks pale and drowsy. It feels as if life has been sucked out of him and his corpse is waiting to be laid to rest. Junaid is still standing, unsure whether to wake his friend up from his trance-like-state or run away, when Fazil’s mother enters the room with tea, and, Junaid, conscious of being caught napping, hastens to sit opposite to his friend.

Junaid tries to strike a conversation with his pal. “Adil seaba waray chukka?” he asks in a quivering tone. But instead of any forthcoming reply he gets a hollow, dreadful stare.

The tea feels tasteless and the sugar is too less for Junaid’s liking but he laps it down, nevertheless, together with a couple of biscuits. Junaid is darn sure if Adil were ‘normal’, he would have munched a few biscuits down his gullet and would have left his unsuspecting mother thinking the guest has a voracious appetite. Over more cups of tea Adil’s mother informs Junaid about her son’s “minor” illness. She says Adil was “Khuuchmut” but was recuperating well.

Junaid finishes the tea and bids his half-hearted good bye to the unresponsive Adil, unsure about their next rendezvous.

For many days after this episode, Junaid couldn’t get his friend’s thoughts off his mind. Every time he felt an urge to relieve in the dead of the night he was reminded of him. Junaid remembered him mostly in the bathroom and on the staircase, invariably at night time.

Months pass by and Junaid once in a while tries to contact his friend through phone but every time Adil’s brother attends the call and tells him Adil “is not home and he would be back soon. Period”!

Then one day Junaid receives a phone call from an international number. He hastens to pick it and hears Adil’s husky voice from the other end. Junaid is pleased to know his friend has made it back to Dubai and the ghost has been apparently rid from his system. The network is erratic after the Great September Deluge and Junaid can’t hear his friend’s voice clearly. But before the call gets disconnected he hears these resounding words from Adil, “Myaha osuy brake aff gomut”!

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