The full moon shone high above in the clear sky surrounded by the stars. Mild summer breeze cooled the temperatures making it a pleasant night. The fragrance from the parijata (night jasmine) tree nearby stifled my senses. A brand new SUV arrived bringing along the smell of burnt petrol. It had a strange allure. When will I be able to buy a sexy car like that one? Sleek and black, it radiated power like a panther.
With a sigh, I scanned the area to make sure all the guards were in place. As the Security Incharge of the famous Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Shamshabad, I held a responsible position. With the news of probable terror attacks in crowded places, the management went into overdrive. They made us work double shifts in the process of securing the airport.
Did they really think it would stop a man from blowing himself if he wanted to? But, I humbly nodded and did my job. It paid me well, not just the salary; but the incentives and tips from the NRIs and foreigners.
A movement near the glass doors caught my eye. I froze in place as my eyes devoured the sight. The red saree pallu was floating in the air behind her as she stood confused. Bright crimson bangles jingled on her slender wrists. With the waist-length hair plaited and adorned with a garland of jasmine, she was a sight to behold- a beautiful mudda mandaram (hibiscus).
Even as I wondered if she had no other saree, I was glad she chose this one. It suited her milky complexion. She looked like a siren with the eyes of a doe. For the past few months, I’ve seen her arrive and wait for someone. She came twice a month- on full moon and new moon nights.
I never saw whom she left with. She disappeared like a mist, a heavily scented mist. I enquired a few security guards about her. They seemed to have never seen her at all. Stupids, all of them; they ogled at the torn jeans and tiny skirts. My tastes were of course, more refined. Nothing like a saree draping the luscious curves to incite a man.
I would talk to her. In my official capability, I had the right to interrogate her if required. Not really, but she looked like she would believe it.
Wonder if she was a new girl on the market. I knew quite a few of them, but I did not want to ask. They were usually jealous and possessive of their customers. There was no point in messing with them if one wanted a decent service.
I decided to talk to her and settle the issue. Assumptions always went wrong. If she turned out to be the terrorist everyone was scared of, I needed to do my part and become a hero. What if she had a belt bomb? Not possible in a saree. Reining my imagination from running wild, I strode towards her. No way I was going to let nerves dictate my life.
“Hey, you girl,” I called out to her.
She turned to look at me with kohl-lined eyes. Her cheeks turned a delicate shade of scarlet matching her lovely full lips. She blew my breath away. Be alert, I warned my thumping heart.
Straightening to my full height of five feet and eight inches, I spoke to her in an authoritative voice. “What are you doing here?”
She shook her head. The moon shaped earrings dangled and tickled her. “Nothing, Saaru. I was curious.”
Ah! Her voice was like music to my ears. Too bad I was already married. Not that it meant much. Let’s see.
“About what? You could be arrested for trespassing.” I threatened. She was no rich girl for sure.
She looked startled. “No, no, Saaru. I never saw a place like this before. The plane, it is so big from here. I am afraid to go through the glass doors. I will go away, Saaru.”
I stopped her by holding her hand. She had soft skin. Must be God’s gift. She didn’t seem like she could afford all the expensive cosmetics. Unless…
With a speculative look in my eyes, I took her to a side. “Tell me your name. What do you do? Why do you want you to see the inside?”
She shivered a little. I resisted the urge to pull her close. I had my job to think about as well.
“Krishnaveni, Saaru. They call me Veni. I heard stories about ghosts here. I wanted to see if it was true. I live in the basti (slum), Saaru.” She told me in a quivering voice.
I laughed out loud. So this girl was one of those nitwits who believed in the ghosts of those dead men.
“There are no such things as ghosts, Veni,” I told her.
She looked disappointed. “Saaru, many people died na? Amma said they were buried here; under the airport.” She rubbed her arms and looked around.
I shook my head. “Nonsense. People died, of course. They opposed the construction of this airport. That doesn’t mean they’ll haunt us. Some lives have to be sacrificed if there has to be any progress. What are a few lives, Veni? See how many others got their lives settled because of the jobs here.”
She stared at me in awe. It never occurred to her. Well, I had very sensible and practical opinions about things. I swelled with pride at the respect in her eyes.
“Saaru, it really doesn’t matter?” She asked in a soft voice.
I waved it off. “No, it doesn’t. Consider it a favor to the country. It’ll be fewer lives to care for. Be practical, Veni.”
She bit her lower lip as she digested my words. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, Saaru. Nijame (true). You are very clever.”
Giving me a radiant smile she turned to leave. I stopped her again.
“Veni, what do you do?” I asked.
“This and that, Saaru.” She replied batting her long eyelashes. She swayed a bit towards me. Her entire body language changed that instant.
Hmm… Well, she wasn’t an innocent. My first guess was right. Time to strike a deal with my alluring Veni. I might hit the jackpot.
“Do you want to see the inside of the airport?” I asked her. Dangling a carrot always worked.
She was totally excited. “Yes, Saaru. Chustanu (I will see).”
She even gripped my hand. It sent tingles over my body.
“I’ll personally take you. But, for a price.” I told her.
She laughed. “Done, Saaru. I’m very good. Before or after?”
I grinned. This’d be interesting. I looked around and saw that no one cared about us. We could escape for a few minutes.
“Now,” I told her.
She laughed again and pulled me with her. “I know a place, Saaru. Very comfortable.”
Thinking it was my lucky night, I followed her like a puppy. She turned into a path I had no idea existed. Thick fog enveloped us. Suddenly, I couldn’t see anything.
“Hey!” I shouted trying to break free of her grip. Did I walk into a trap? My mind went blank.
I forced my eyes open. Cold fingers crept on my skin. I found myself lying right in the middle of the runway! What the heck?
I tried to stand. My legs refused to cooperate. I could see my hands but not feel them. What kind of a trick was this?
“Veni!” I hollered knowing it was useless. She would have vanished by now. What an actress she turned out to be.
“Help!” I yelled until my lungs threatened to give away. My throat hurt like hell.
Where did all those clouds come from? The cold wind hit me in the face. I shivered in fear. Something was wrong. The fog surrounded me forming a barrier between me and the rest of the world.
Veni stood on the other side of the mist. She took a step closer and smiled. Her hair hung loosely over her shoulders. The saree pallu continued to fly behind her. At least forty people accompanied her. Men, women, children of all age groups dressed in dirty clothes grinned and rubbed their hands in anticipation. The glint in their bloodshot eyes chilled my blood.
“Evaru? (Who are you?)” I croaked.
Veni laughed. They joined her in amusement. My ears bled.
“Stop!” I pleaded. I couldn’t even move my hands to cover my ears.
“Don’t you know who we are?” Veni asked.
I shook my head hating the tears that clouded my vision. My balder threatened to explode.
“We are the wastrels whose lives don’t matter, Saaru.” Veni cooed.
“If we did not die, people like you wouldn’t have these jobs. We don’t deserve to live na, Saaru. Isn’t that what you said?” She asked. Her eyes blazed fire. The heat burned my skin.
I cried from pain. How was it possible? Ghosts don’t exist!
“We do, Saaru. Though we are lovingly called Pisachi (flesh-eating demons) by people like you. And do you know what we like? We like revenge, Saaaru.” Veni’s laughter echoed around me.
I tried to close my eyes. Even my eyelids froze.
“Nah, Saaru. You have to see how we torture you. There is no escape.” She said and clapped once.
All the ghosts surrounded me. They pulled and tore at my flesh. They plucked my eyes out as I howled and withered in pain.
I prayed for death to envelop me. But, I was destined to see my fingers and toes chewed upon by the rabid creatures. I was twisting in agony when Veni sat on my chest and used her nails to tear open my skin. I couldn’t even cry anymore. My jaw locked leaving my mouth wide open. I cursed my lust as I felt my heart being ripped open by the beautiful Veni.
On TV News next morning:
“A Security Incharge named Kranthi Kumar of Rajiv Gandhi International Airport is reported missing. The authorities have filed an official complaint. Police are investigating the matter. The angle of a possible security breach is being considered. The locals claim it’s the job of the ghosts. Authorities have dismissed it as superstition. Further details awaited as our reporter is on his way to contact Kranthi Kumar’s wife and kids.”
“The story is a work of fiction. Any resemblence to living or dead is purely coincidental.”