Instead of focussing on the show I had to roll out, I spent precious minutes pouring over news articles and trying to find a picture of Suvarna. Intermittently, I typed my script on the software designed for the purpose and browsed through bytes to add structure to my stories. But by the end of it all, I still hadn't found Suvarna's photograph - not even a grainy two-tone one. As my shift came to an end, I felt weary to the core of my bones and I missed the exhilaration that overwhelmed me customarily at the end of a successful show. And then it struck me - journalists may not have been allowed to use Suvarna's picture but her parents would have released an obituary ad with her image. Feverishly, I started browsing through obituaries following the date of her death and at last, I struck gold. There she was - all delicate features and innocence. The woman in Shayan's portrait had been exactly that - a woman. And yet, I had no doubt that it was the same person. Shayan wouldn't either once he saw my evidence. I took a printout of the obituary, hoping that nobody would peek at my print in the few seconds I took reaching the machine. But people always do pick up your prints when they are personal or embarrassing. Like the time when I took a print-out of a mock cover for my mock novel and found my boss peering at it curiously. And there was no escaping the fact that it was mine. It had my name as the author, you see. Yet, this time, I was lucky. Suvarna was spared yet another pair of prying eyes. And I put my well-earned evidence carefully into my bag.
I came home late as I always do and I knew I ought to have waited for more decent hours before I sprung the photo on Shayan but I gave in to my impulse. That's how I found myself at Shayan's door, fatigued from work but pumped with adrenaline as I anticipated Shayan's reaction to my precious evidence. For a while, I thought he had dropped off to sleep even though it was just past eleven - early by city standards of slumber. And then the door opened and there he stood - half his body cast in darkness and the rest partially illuminated by shadows. If I were a filmmaker or a cinematographer, that is the very lighting I would choose to portray evil. "I'm sorry the light switches don't seem to be working," Shayan said, fiddling with the switchboard next to the door. I fiddled with my bag instead while I looked around and tried to hide my discomfiture. Why hadn't he invited me inside yet? As if on cue, Shayan gave up on the switchboard and said, "Sorry, come on in." He reached for my arm to guide me to the lone chair in the room and the touch sent a shock of electricity zipping through my veins. I let my bag slide to the floor while I sat on the edge on the chair and Shayan settled himself down on the ground as though he were my disciple.
"So, are you going to tell me a scary story?" he joked. I smiled. "No. I wanted to show you this." I couldn't look at him while he inspected the photo. "Wow she does look a lot like the woman in my portrait!" he exclaimed and I sighed in relief. But it lasted just for an instant. "But it's obviously just a coincidence. They aren't even the same age." I closed my eyes and waited for the frustration to subside. Then I leaned forward and put my arms on Shayan's shoulders. I looked earnestly into his eyes and I said, "Listen to me Shayan. It's not a coincidence. You are living in her house and you drew a portrait that looks exactly like her. Either this place is haunted or it's playing tricks on your mind. Whatever the case may be, I want you to sleep at my house tonight. And find a new house tomorrow." I prayed for him to believe me but when he didn't respond, our nearness became nearly as uncomfortable as it had been shuffling on his doorstep. I leaned back and stared stupidly at my lap. "We are not on the same page," he said finally and I felt my hope ebb away. "But even if it is true, I don't want to leave. I'd rather let this play itself out." I wanted to call him insane but I couldn't. Truth be told, in his place, I might have wanted the same thing. "Fine. I'll go then," I said shortly and picked up my bag, heavy with god alone knew what.
--To be continued--