“The house is ready to move, ma’am,” Mr. Desouza said amicably, “my house is ready for its new tenants.”
Shelly nodded, “I am ready too, just waiting for my kids coming back from their boarding school.” She handed over an advance cheque to Mr. Desouza and took leave.
She was not at all feeling happy. She had forgotten how to feel happy after Shane’s death in a car crash. Shane was not only her husband but also her entire world. Now it was Shelly’s duty to raise her two children alone.
Even in the midst of sorrow, she felt God’s grace when a job offer came into her hand. Though the salary was not too high, enough for sustaining three persons in Delhi, the only thing was that right now; she could not afford to hold the same duplex flat, her husband earlier held. So, she decided to move to a cheaper accommodation and finally came to know about Mr. Desouza’s apartment from a newspaper’s advertisement.
Initially, she loved to see its proximity from her office but later realized that the building was a bit isolated and her flat was more isolated because it was located on the topmost floor of the tower.
Neighbors were a bit introvert; hardly bother to mingle with strangers. But, Shelly somehow felt that they were trying to avoid her.
She tried hard to arrange everything before Tina and Tito’s vacation. All of her furniture was old, but she maintained them well. Finally, when she placed an old Christmas tree in her drawing room, tears came into her eyes. Last year, Shane brought it. The tree was almost five feet tall, and he decorated it with rice lights, tinsels, and ornaments. All those items were still packed in her bedroom; she had just planted the tree with its stand over the white tree skirt giving a snowfield like an appearance.
No, it was almost impossible for her to decorate the tree alone. Let’s wait for the children. Tina would definitely help her in decorating the tree. Tomorrow they were coming, and she had almost two more days in hand before celebrating Christmas. Shelly sighed and almost at the same time felt someone sighed too. Shelly turned back found no one except the tree. She ignored the feeling.
Christmas has always been a big celebration at her house. Even after Shane’s death, her family members would gather here, especially for cheering her up. So, the doorbell has started ringing since the early morning. First, her brother Samuel came along with her children, Tito and Tina. He went to Mussoorie for collecting her children from the boarding.
Seven years old Tina hugged her mother tightly; nine-year-old Tito hugged from the back.
“The tree is still waiting for us,” Tina sounded pleased. She always preferred to decorate the tree with her own choices of ornaments.
“First, wash your hands and change the clothes, then have some breakfast before engaging with the Tree and its decorations,” Shelly shouted. She looked at Samuel, who was looking equally exhausted but was looking around the flat without saying anything.
“Bro, do you prefer tea or coffee?”
“Sis, is this the only affordable flat you got?” His first question disturbed her.
“Yes, Mr. Desouza sounded an excellent man and offered the flat in affordable rent.” She smiled sadly, “I know this two bedroomed flat is no match our previous one; but I could not afford it anymore, bro.”
“It’s not about affordability, but I heard from the others that there was a mishap…” before finishing his sentence a large cracking sound made them silent. Shelly ran to the spot and saw Tina was lying on the ground with a huge pile of gift packs, and the small wooden stool was lying on the other side of the room. Shelly realized that her child started decorating the tree, and as the wooden stool slipped, she fell onto the ground. Tito was found nowhere.
Shelly ran toward her and helped her in getting up from the ground. Samuel brought some medicines and asked, “Tina, are you Ok?”
“Yes, uncle, I am alright.” She made faces in pain but still managed to stand.
“I asked you not to do it immediately. Take rest and then start.” Shelly sounded worried, “You did not have enough food since the morning.”
“Mom, I am not weak,” Tina protested, “I just thought to fix these tinsels from the tree, and suddenly saw someone moving behind the tree. It must be Tito. I asked him to help, but he did not respond. It is entirely his fault…”
“Tina, I was in the washroom,” Tito protested. He came out of the other room. “I was not at all near the tree.”
Shelly noticed drenched front hairs and water droplets on his face. The boy was not lying. “I am so hungry that I cannot do anything without having some food.”
‘Well, well…” Shelly stopped them, “It’s my fault. I should offer you two some food first. Please proceed for the dining room.” She suddenly stopped; the house had no dining room, only a small living room which could be used for both dining and seating purpose.
Her children perhaps understood the feelings and silently walked toward the living room. Shelly brought three plates from her crockery cabinet and placed butter toasts, boiled eggs and small pieces of fruitcakes on each of the plates.
“Let’s have some food,” she kept those plates on the small dining table placed at the remotest corner of the room. Tito immediately started eating, Shelly asked about Samuel and Tina, he replied, “Tina has a little scratch on her knee, she is applying a bandage on her wound and Uncle Samuel is in the balcony speaking on his phone.”
Shelly smiled. Her little brother might have a girlfriend, which he not yet disclosed. She went to the kitchen and started thinking about the midday meal’s menu. By the evening, she would receive a couple of guests. Her mother, aunt and two bosom friends of her late husband had promised to visit her. Finally, in the midnight they would be in a nearby chapel for prayer. So, her cooking should be adequate for all.
Suddenly a loud noise of the argument, blaming and sobbing broke the tranquillity of the surroundings.
She ran to the living room from where the noise was coming and found Tina was blaming her brother for having the boiled egg, which was on her plate. Tito denied the allegation. He had finished his breakfast long before Tina’s arrival and became busy with his video game. Tito confidently said that he felt someone entered and sat on the chair; he thought that it might be Tina. So, he did not bother.
Samuel came out from the balcony and supported Tito; he also saw that Tina sat on a chair and was eating breakfast. On the other hand, Tina nodded her head strongly and refused. Shelly scolded her mildly but gave another boiled egg later on. “If you falsely blame your brother again, I’ll not give you anything extra. Tell me directly, if you want a second helping.” She noticed Tina was feeling insulted, tears came into her eyes, but remained silent.
Shelly felt bad for her daughter, but she had no evidence in her side. So, it would be better to remain silent.
Her guests started coming one by one. Aunt Martha and her mother, Cathy, visited in the afternoon. And, in the evening her late husband’s friends came along with their wives and children. Finally, it was decided that only the adults would visit the chapel in the midnight and four children would stay back.
Susanne and John’s daughter Ella was eldest of the four; she took the responsibility of looking after Tina and Tito along with her own sister Pamela.
It was forty past eleven when Tina again felt the presence of another girl of her age in the living room. However, Ella and Pamela were fast asleep in the next room, and Tito was also sleeping on the sofa.
Tina silently walked into the living room and surprised to see that the pile of gifts which her mother kept under the tree was not only unpacked but also scattered across the floor. It must be Tito’s work. She was about to scream but stopped to see a bizarre scene.
The shadow of a girl was moving across the floor. A pair of invisible hands were tearing the wrappers of the gifts and unpacking them with great curiosity. No one was there except a shadow. Tina screamed loudly.
“Tina,” Ella stormed into the room and got angry to see Christmas gifts scattered across the floor, “What have you done, Tina?”
“I….I did not do, Ella….” She tried to say.
“Again, you are trying to blame me,” Tito shouted from the room, “I did not even touch the Christmas tree.”
“No one is blaming you, Tito,” Ella coldly said, “Tina, I am sorry; you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no one except you and me in the living room, and I came only after your yelling.”
“Ella,” Tina composed herself and tried to say what she had just seen a couple of minutes ago. However, Ella did not listen. She started scolding; after all, it was her duty to look after the children.
Tearful Tina looked away from Ella’s angry face, and her glance fell on the life-size mirror of her mother’s wooden dressing table standing at the corner of the living room. Mom did not get time to place it in her bedchamber. She gasped to see a fade image in the mirror. A girl of her age was standing under the Christmas tree.
Ella also noticed that image and stopped scolding, “Who are you?” She shouted in trembled voice.
The reflection vanished. They felt someone move across the living room and tried to hide behind the crockery cabinet. The lights of the living room fluctuated. Ella caught her hand, Tito ran toward them. Tina felt cold sweats on her face.
“This house is haunted,” Tito said timidly.
The shadowy spirit was just behind the cabinet. Tina felt that the girl was afraid of them too. Suddenly Ella suggested, “I know how to lock an evil spirit.” She ran toward her room and returned with a wooden cross in her hand. She walked slowly toward the cabinet and placed it on its door.
Violently someone jerked the cabinet yielding tinkling sounds of ceramic plates and cups, but the spirit could not come out from it.
Ella smiled, “My grandmom taught me ages ago, evil spirits are afraid of the Holy Cross.” She brought out her mobile phone and started dialing a number. Tina nervously looked at the wall clock; it was half-past twelve. The Prayer might be over.
Ella smiled and informed, “Tito, Tina, no need to worry about. Uncle Samuel and Aunt Shelly are on the way; they will come within minutes.”
Her assumption was not wrong. Shelly stormed into the room and hugged her children, “I’ll leave this flat too. My kids are not secured here.”
“That is what I wanted to tell you, sister,” Samuel thoughtfully said, “When I told about your new residence, one of my colleagues informed me that the apartment has a history. Five years ago, a couple came here to live along with their seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. The girl was also named Tina; she died accidentally while playing with friends.”
“What exactly happened?” Shelly asked.
“The girl draped herself in her mother’s sari and wanted to run down to the staircase. Accidentally the loose end of the sari tied around her ankle and she rolled down. She received fatal injuries on her head, and before admitting in any hospital, the little creature passed away. After that, the family left this house, but whoever tried to live here always felt the presence of a little girl.” Samuel finished his story.
Shelly looked around. The cupboard was still teetering mildly. She went to the kitchen and came out with a big ceramic plate full of fruitcake, candies, and chocolates. Then placed it on the center table and walked toward the Christmas tree where the little ghost had created a mess. She picked up a toy train and wrapped it again. With a sweet smile, Shelly placed it just next to the plate and finally lifted the wooden cross from the cupboard door.
With a whispering tone, Shelly uttered, “Tina, please come and celebrate your Christmas with us. Today onward, you are one of the members of my family.”
Shelly felt a cold wave passed. The cakes, candies, and chocolates on the plate got disappeared in the thin air, scribbling a few words on the wall “Thank You.” She did not see anyone, except Tina’s pencil in the midair.