Turning behind I saw nothing. 'Must be field rats' I thought, looking at the rice fields behind the house and kept walking .
A small room led to a big hall and it was here that the smell was more prominent. My torchlight illuminated heaps of cardboard boxes lying on the floor all packed with dolls. So this was Raghu's godown, I told myself. Did he live nearby or his friend had misguided me ? As the light shone on one of the boxes, a barbie doll's face peeped from inside the transparent cover.. I could recognize the company's logo instantly. As I began to open the top cover an uneasiness gripped me . Then I realized this one had a different face. And also a different body.
This was ridiculous. It was an older version of Nisha, in fact an old lady wearing a gown and not a young girl wearing fancy dress . Her skin was shrivelled of age and hair dry and unkempt. Out of curiosity I took the doll in my hand and watched it open its hazelnut brown eyes. Wondering why it wasn't introducing itself, I checked the battery holder. It was empty. Suddenly the lips of the thing quivered and I clearly heard it say 'Go back home. You still have time to save your wife and daughter. Go before it's too late'. It was then that I noticed the identity card worn around her neck. It had also got shrinked from its normal size and I had to strain my eyes in reading the name Sister S. Gomes, St. Mary's Convent School, Ballygunge. I didn't knew whether I was in a trance, seeing and hearing things, but suddenly I wished I could fly back home.
There was a load shedding in my locality and the street and houses were all shrouded in darkness when I returned. It was 2:30 AM in the month of December and a few stray dogs were barking from cold. I called my wife's name a couple of times, but there was no answer. When banging didn't yield results, I tried the backyard, hoping to find the rear door open .. if by any chance my wife had forgotten to close it after the maid left in the evening. But I found it locked too. Now the only way inside was to climb the water pipe like a thief and steal into the terrace of my own house. The bang of the terrace door was not working and it was my only chance.
When I reached the top the terrace was flooded with moonlight. The house was so quiet that it appeared to be deserted. I kept calling out my wife's name in low tone as I tiptoed through the living, hall and dining, noiselessly like a cat. When I reached the kitchen I found the oven still warm with few cups and dishes scattered in the sink . A peculiar smell filled the entire house, like of burnt plastic. I took out a kitchen knife from the counter for my safety and walked back to the passage.
When I came infront of the store room, it was locked from outside. Sliding the hatch bolt open I flashed my torch inside. There was no one in the room except the remains of the abandoned dolls on the rack. Unlike the day when these inanimate, crippled figures fetched pity and laughter; now in the dark they acquired a ghastly look. It seemed they were all alive and my torchlight had awakened them from their sleep. I could bet I saw one of them flash their eyelids.