The Lady in White by Ruskin Bond
(An extract from Mr Oliver’s Diary)
A ghost on the main highway past our school. She’s known as Bhoot-Aunty—a spectral apparition who appears to motorists on their way to Sanjauli. She waves down passing cars and asks for a lift; and if you give her one, you are liable to have an accident.
This lady in white is said to be the revenant of a young woman who was killed in a car accident not far from here, a few months ago. Several motorists claim to have seen her. Oddly enough, pedestrians don’t come across her.
Miss Ramola, Miss D’Costa and I are the exceptions.
I had accompanied some of the staff and boys to the girls’ school to see a hockey match, and afterwards the ladies asked me to accompany them back as it was getting dark and they had heard there was a panther about.
‘The only panther is Mr Oliver,’ remarked Miss D’Costa, who was spending the weekend with Anjali Ramola.
‘Such a harmless panther,’ said Anjali.
I wanted to say that panthers always attack women who wore outsize earrings (such as Miss D’Costa’s) but my gentlemanly upbringing prevented a rude response.
As we turned the corner near our school gate, Miss D’Costa cried out, ‘Oh, do you see that strange woman sitting on the parapet wall?’
Sure enough, a figure clothed in white was resting against the wall, its face turned away from us.
‘Could it—could it be—Bhoot-Aunty?’ stammered Miss D’Costa.
The two ladies stood petrified in the middle of the road. I stepped forward and asked, ‘Who are you, and what can we do for you?’
The ghostly apparition raised its arms, got up suddenly and rushed past me. Miss D’Costa let out a shriek. Anjali turned and fled. The figure in white flapped about, then tripped over its own winding-cloth, and fell in front of me.
As it got to its feet, the white sheet fell away and revealed—Mirchi!
‘You wicked boy!’ I shouted. ‘Just what do you think you are up to?’
‘Sorry, sir,’ he gasped. ‘It’s just a joke. Bhoot-Aunty, sir!’ And he fled the scene.
When the ladies had recovered, I saw them home and promised to deal severely with Mirchi. But on second thoughts I decided to overlook his prank. Miss D’Costa deserved getting a bit of a fright for calling me a panther.
I had picked up Mirchi’s bedsheet from the road, and after supper I carried it into the dormitory and placed it on his bed without any comment. He was about to get into bed, and looked up at me in some apprehension.
‘Er—thank you, sir,’ he said.
‘An enjoyable performance,’ I told him. ‘Next time, make it more convincing.’
After making sure that all the dormitory and corridor lights were out, I went for a quiet walk on my own. I am not averse to a little solitude. I have no objection to my own company. This is different from loneliness, which can assail you even when you are amongst people.
Being a misfit in a group of boisterous party-goers can be a lonely experience. But being alone as a matter of choice is one of life’s pleasures.
As I passed the same spot where Mirchi had got up to mischief, I was surprised to see a woman sitting
by herself on the low parapet wall. Another lover of solitude, I thought. I gave her no more than a glance.
She was looking the other way. A pale woman, dressed very simply. I had gone some distance when a thought suddenly came to me. Had I just passed Bhoot-Aunty?
The real bhoot? The pale woman in white had seemed rather ethereal.
I stopped, turned, and looked again. The lady had vanished.
(“Excerpted with permission of Rupa Publications India from The Whistling Schoolboy by Ruskin Bond”.)