When she reached at the door, she rang the doorbell frenziedly. When Nitin opened the door, she rushed inside, shut the door behind her and pulled Nitin in a hug and away from the door.
“What happened? Are you okay?” Nitin could not understand this behavior. On a normal day, Renuka would not allow anyone to touch her until she had taken a shower after returning from the hospital. She would then sanitize every corner of the house that she may have touched or every tile she may have stepped upon.
“Where is Urmi?” Renuka asked as she scampered towards the bedroom to check on her daughter.
“She slept early today. Will you tell me what is with you? Here, sit down and drink some water first. You are trembling.”
Renuka related the happenings of the night to Nitin. At first, he listened with his mouth wide open. After she had narrated the entire incident however, he sounded concerned about his wife’s sanity.
“You’ve been talking about all those visuals in your head about the deceased patients. Perhaps you are just over-worked and imagining things.” Nitin concluded, trying to vaguely assure himself more than his wife. “You need some time, off work!”
Renuka could not agree more with her husband. However, with the increase in the number of patients everyday and the limited number of staff at the hospital, she knew she may neither get her leave approved; nor did it sound morally ethical to her to run away from the situation at hand. After giving it a lengthy thought, Renuka suggested, “Could you just pick me up from work tomorrow onwards on your moped? The streets get deserted pretty early in the night these days. Just drop Urmi with Veena when you come.”
Nitin nodded. Their neighbour Veena was a very helpful lady. “Okay I can do that. I don’t think it should be a problem for Veena since it is around 9 o’clock every day when your duty ends. But if it bothers you too much, just request for a few leaves.”
A week went by this way. Nitin would ride Renuka back home after her shift. While the patients’ woes continued to disturb Renuka, it was a relief to see Nitin at the end of her day waiting outside the hospital to take her back home. Urmi enjoyed the time she got to play every day, with Veena’s ten-months-old son. Dinner happened soon after she was back home after her parents’ arrival and they would target to hit the bed by 11 p.m.
That night, after Renuka was done with the chores; her eyes fell on the wall clock in the kitchen. Two o’clock? She realized the clock needed to be fixed. She brought down the clock from the wall, adjusted the hands to show 11:15 and mounted the clock back in its place. She slipped into bed beside Urmi and Nitin thereafter, and was asleep in no time.
Things being what they were, nightmares had become a regular phenomenon for Renuka. She woke up with a start, at least twice every night. When the pace of her breathing had calmed after a few minutes, she got off her bed and walked up to the kitchen to quench her thirst with some water. It was just two o’clock.
Morning was still quite a few hours away. Just when she began walking back to their bedroom, the jug full of water which she had just placed on the dining table in the living room fell down with a loud crash. Renuka winced. She turned around and looked at the spilled water on the floor and the next moment tiptoed towards the bedroom and peeped inside it, hoping to not have awoken Urmi or Nitin. Both of them still were fast asleep. Renuka frowned and began to mop the floor impassively. The task took a few minutes. She dried the mop later on the kitchen platform.
As she switched off the lights in the kitchen, she glanced at the wall clock again.
“Still two o’clock? Can’t be! I’ll change the batteries in that clock tomorrow.” She thought and headed towards the bedroom. The clock in the bedroom showed 02:25. “Hmmm… batteries for the kitchen clock for sure!”
A few days passed. Renuka’s day would be filled with so much that she would forget to buy the batteries for the wall clock. While they sat for dinner one evening, Renuka remembered about the same, “I have been forgetting to buy the batteries for the kitchen clock. Can you please get them tomorrow?” she requested Nitin.
“Batteries? I changed them just two weeks ago. They should be fine.” saying so Nitin got up and went into the kitchen to check the time. “10:35! It’s showing the right time” he said and walked back to the dining table and began to eat his food.
“Really? It has been showing the wrong time since a week now. Maybe it started working again.” Renuka thought aloud.
As she wrapped up the chores of the day and headed to sleep, she noticed the clock in the kitchen was still showing 2 o’clock.
“See it’s again showing the wrong time!” she told Nitin as she got into bed.
“Oh! Is it? I’ll go ask for another pair from that shop tomorrow. They must have given me a faulty pair of batteries.”
The next day Nitin changed the batteries of the clock and adjusted its hands to show the precise time. The routine of the family did not change. Nitin would work during the early morning hours from his desktop. Renuka’s morning would be busy in the kitchen as she cooked all the three meals of the day during this time. Her duty at the hospital would begin at 11 a.m. and Nitin would pick her up after her shift at 9 p.m. from the hospital.
The night when this happened, Renuka had had a very tiresome day at work. When it was time for bed, Renuka noticed the clock in the kitchen was hung yet again.
“I think we need to discard that clock, Nitin. It’s not the batteries. The hand just gets stuck when it turns 2 probably.”
“How can that be? It was showing 10.55 when I last checked. How can the hands get stuck at 2?” Nitin said sleepily. “You need sleep Renuka. Good night.”
Renuka was not sleepy as yet and kept wondering about this. She could not resist the impulse of walking back to the kitchen and checking the clock again. It was still showing 2. She tried hard to think. May be Nitin was sleepy!
But he wasn’t sleeping yet. When Renuka returned to their bedroom, he rolled towards his wife, “You know Chandu was beaten up by the police today.”
“What? Why?” Renuka exclaimed. “They didn’t find that naulakkha yet?”
“No. Lata insists Chandu only may have stolen it for dealing with Krishnatai’s medical and funeral expenses. The police summoned him to the police station to grill him about it.”
“How can they beat him up without any proof though?”
Renuka only heard Nitin’s snores in response to her question. She pulled her bedsheet over herself and slipped into sleep in some time. A few nightmares later, her sleep was disturbed. When she opened her eyes, it startled her to watch Urmi staring back at her while sitting on their bed.
Recovering from the shock and while still lying on the bed, Renuka placed her hand on Urmi’s. She found it extremely cold. “What happened beta? Bad dream? Come, go to sleep again.”
Urmi continued to sit up straight in the bed and stared at Renuka before she finally spoke – “Aunty!”
Renuka pulled her hand away from Urmi’s at once. She could not speak. Her heart was in her mouth as she recognised the voice to be that of Suman’s. Instantly she felt a wave of thousands of ants biting the insides of the walls of her chest. She wanted to scream but no voice escaped from her. Her hand felt numb as she tried to move it to wake her husband but realised she could not move.
“It’s in two o’clock, aunty.” Renuka fainted.
When she woke up the next morning, Urmi was still asleep next to her. When she remembered about what she had experienced at night, she scampered out of the bed and ran outside.
“Renuka?” Nitin was seated with a cup of coffee at his desk and working. “What happened?”
Renuka rushed towards Nitin and hugged him. Feeling her heated body against his arms, Nitin got up from his chair, “What happened? You’re down with fever.”
“Last night, you know… Urmi was.. It wasn’t Urmi. There was…” Renuka’s mind was filled with thoughts. Perhaps it was just another dream, she thought. “Nothing… I think it was one of those nightmares again.” She told Nitin.
“Don’t go to work today. Let’s check your temperature.” Nitin told his wife. Renuka did not argue with him, may be a few days away from work would be a good idea after all – she thought. When Urmi woke up, for some time Renuka stayed away from her. She could not believe she was observing her own child with eyes full of suspicion. This changed however, after some time when Urmi seemed absolutely as normal and as silent as always.
Nitin left the house for groceries just before noon. Urmi had been watching TV in the living room. Renuka made herself busy in the kitchen. She had almost finished cooking the meals for the day and was filling up water in the jug. Just then she remembered about the clock and turned her eyes towards it. It still showed 2! A shiver ran down Renuka’s back. With hesitant steps, she walked ahead and alit the clock. She was adjusting the clock when she felt a mild tugging at her night gown.
“Oh! Urmi… You scared me! What is it?” Renuka asked the child who was now looking up at her mother.
“Aunty, I was playing with it when Lata Maa walked into my room. Get it for Lata Maa or Krishnatai won’t tell me her stories.”
The clock fell out of Renuka’s trembling hands and she moved away in a reflex from Urmi. The next moment, Suman’s face flashed in front of Renuka’s eyes. The brightness of the moment weighed upon Renuka’s eyes and she struggled to keep her eyes open. Urmi stood where she was but was fading away from Renuka’s eyes when the voice reached her ears again, “It’s in two o’clock, aunty!”
When Nitin returned home, he found Renuka lying unconscious on the floor. He rushed forward to attend to her. “What happened to Mamma, Urmi?” He looked at Urmi who stood timidly near her mother. Nitin sprinkled some water on Renuka’s face and slapped her face softly to wake her up. When Renuka got back to her senses, she was petrified. She would not look at her daughter. Nitin did not understand her behaviour.
After a lot of pestering, Renuka opened up and narrated the whole incident to Nitin. “At first, I thought it was a dream last night, but it wasn’t. Urmi was talking but it’s not her. It’s Suman!” It took her time to get her husband convinced but strange incidents had happened several times in the last two weeks after Suman’s death. The couple thought pensively about the incidents and discussed over them for the whole day. It could not be a co-incidence that the words Renuka had heard from Urmi’s mouth mentioned something about two o’clock and the clock getting stuck at that hour every now and then. They concluded that Suman was definitely trying to communicate with them.
“What was she saying she was playing with?” Nitin thought aloud as they lay awake in their bed that night. Urmi had slept a few minutes ago between her parents on the bed. Renuka was worried about her.
“I don’t know Nitin. She said it’s in two o’clock. The clock broke open but we didn’t find anything in it. I can’t think what she was trying to tell us. And why is she telling us? Whatever it is, she could have told her parents, right? Why us?” Renuka pondered.
Urmi woke up just then and looked at her parents while she rubbed her eyes sleepily. “I could not find my way back home, aunty!”
Nitin and Renuka jumped out of the bed from either sides of it. Urmi continued, “Aunty I followed you that day from the hospital. Please tell Lata Maa it’s in two o’clock.” Saying so, Urmi crept back under the bedsheet and fell sound asleep.
The next day, Nitin and Renuka decided to visit Mr. Deshmukh. As Urmi played in the garden in front of Mr. Deshmukh’s lavish bungalow; the couple confided in Mr. Deshmukh about all the incidents that had happened with them chronologically. The story that the couple had narrated was not something that a villager in India would not believe. Mr. Deshmukh and Lata exchanged looks. He got up from the wooden swing he had been sitting on and stared at little Urmi as she played.
A sudden thought struck Renuka, “You know what, possibly it is Lata’s naulakkha? Is there some clock in your house that’s not functioning well and is stuck at two o’clock?” she asked Mr. Deshmukh.
Mr. Deshmukh turned around to face her and started to walk inside his house, “Let’s see, come along.” The four of them took a tour of the bungalow checking every room for a broken clock but all the clocks in the bungalow showed the right time.
“Could it have been two o’clock when Urmi hid the necklace – may be it is in one of these clocks itself.” Nitin suggested.
Mr. Deshmukh instructed his servants to get all the clocks in the living room. One by one, they opened all the clocks’ battery boxes to check if they found anything. After they had checked all the desk-clocks and not found anything even after thirty minutes, they felt heavily disheartened.
“We’ll take your leave, Mr. Deshmukh. Sorry to take your time but believe us, we are really worried about Urmi.” Nitin spoke with disappointment.
“Wait! Mr. Deshmukh, was there any clock in Suman’s room? We didn’t check her room since you have locked it up now.” Renuka said impatiently.
“There was no clock in her room. We keep her room locked since she passed away.”
“Please don’t mind, but can I still see her room? I think if a child had to hide something, they will always hide it in their own safe space.”
Mr. Deshmukh and Nitin both nodded approvingly.
Suman’s room was full of colours. The child had used her crayons to scribble and doodle on almost all walls of the room. Her toys had now been shelved in her cupboard. Even with the colours, the room had a very austere vibe. Renuka glanced around the room. No clock. With a heavy heart after looking around the room for a few minutes, she began to walk towards the exit of the room. Just then her eyes fell on her own reflection in the mirror of the dressing table in one of the corners of the room. Something struck Renuka.
If Suman had the naulakkha, the child may have been trying it out on herself in this mirror!
“Mr. Deshmukh, can I please check the drawers of this dressing table?” Renuka felt a strong pull towards believing her instincts.
Mr. Deshmukh obliged.
Amongst the many vibrant accessories that lay scattered in one of the drawers, Renuka soon found a tiffin box that lay deliberately buried. She took the box in her hand, threw an excited look at Mr. Deshmukh and opened the box at once. The glittering naulakkha inside the box brought a smile on Renuka’s lips. Lata ran forward and snatched the necklace from her hands, “Phew! Finally.”
“I’m glad. Mr. Deshmukh please inform the police about this so they do not bother Chandu anymore.” Renuka said, disgusted with the woman who showed no further concern about the events that had leaded to them having found the lost piece of jewelry.
Mr. Deshmukh gazed at Urmi with tears in his eyes as she waved a good-bye to him and walked away with her parents and out of the gate of his house. The tiffin box in his hands felt warm as he held it closer to his heart first and then looked at it, teary-eyed. The box had a picture depicting a clock showing the time of two o’clock on it.
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Categories: Reading Nook