Ramya stepped out of the verandah onto the grass outside. The drizzle that had been dogging them throughout the evening had stopped. The sky was clear without a trace of the clouds that had darkened it for the last few days. A cool breeze was blowing. She shivered as she pulled her duppatta close to her. She was not sure if she should stand exposed like this to the weather. After all it was not even a week since she had recovered from malaria. She looked quickly inside the banquet hall. People were busy with the party. She could see Raghu deep in conversation with someone. Thank God for that!! If he saw her now standing outdoors like this he would come out and start scolding her..!! Anyway, what was the use of coming to a sea side resort for a party if all that one did was to stay indoors she asked herself as she started walking on the cobble stone path that led towards the private beach attached to the resort.
She could hear the sound of the waves as she approached the beach. The moonlight had cast a silvery glow around. The casurina trees in the grove along the beach were swaying in the light breeze as though nodding their heads in answer to some un answered question.
Ramya walked quickly through the rows of the trees towards the shore line. She could see lights bobbing along the sea.. catamarans with lanterns on them for night fishing..!! Across the farther end of the coastline she could see the lighthouse with its revolving lights lighting up the waters every now and then.
“When did they build the light house?” she wondered as she started walking towards the waves. The casuarina trees seemed to whisper an unintelligible answer. She shivered now with a strange sense of something that she could not explain. Her feet seemed to be walking faster towards some unknown destination. Faster and faster they walked until they stopped at the boundary wall indicating the end of the private beach. She clutched at the wall panting and looked out beyond at the darkness. There seemed to be a fishing settlement there. A few huts.. and no more! “What happened to the houses and the temple?” she found herself wondering aloud.
“Lost in the cyclone” said the voice startling her. She jumped with a small scream. But she need not have worried, he seemed a decent enough man. Middle aged like her, he had a shock of white hair and thick glasses.
“I am sorry I scared you like this” he said apologizing as he walked towards her.
“ It is okay. I was not aware that there was anyone else here besides me” she said.” But tell me how do you know about the temple?” she asked.
“I have been coming here almost every year ever since I first chanced upon the village . I am a marine biologist” he said.
“Oh.. okay. How long has that been?” she asked him.
“Oh many years ago. I do not remember. I saw this village from on board a catamaran. ‘ he said quietly.
“But there seems to be no sign of any life here. Why are all the houses deserted?” she asked.
“Legend has it that there was a terrible cyclone that washed the entire village out about fifty years ago. There were no survivors. It is supposed to be haunted. So no one has had the guts to rebuild the houses and live there” he said
She shivered. Was it her imagination or had the wind picked up?
The moon suddenly decided to move behind a passing cloud casting the entire vista in front of her in darkness.
She wondered if she should go back. Raghu might be looking for her. She turned around towards the resort.
“I think I should go..!” she told him fully intending to move from there. But her feet seemed to be stuck to the ground, refusing to move!! Why?
“Come, I will walk you to the resort” he said putting out his hand. Like a person stuck in quick sand she reached out to hold it. It was dry and wrinkled like a very old man’s.
She walked with him holding his hand. The moon came out of the clouds and the casuarina grove once again turned into a land of silver.
They were reaching the gate of the resort now. There were a few people standing in the lawn. She pulled her hand out of his quickly hoping that no one had seen them walking like this hand in hand.
“Thank you Mr…..” she said waiting for him to introduce himself.
“You do not remember me Anjalai? I am Naveen.” He whispered as he turned away from her and walked back towards the grove. She kept watching his retreating back until he disappeared among the trees.
She opened the gate and slowly walked inside.
“Ramya, where on earth were you?” asked Raghu his face suffused with worry. “Don’t go wandering away like this in strange places. It can be quite dangerous” he said covering her with his jacket.
“Now wait here while I bring the car. It is quite late. People are beginning to leave” he said as he began instructing the valet to bring the car to them.
Ramya joined him as he made his way towards their host and hostess thanking them for the evening. “We are so glad you could both make it . I hope you enjoyed yourselves” said Meenakshi her hostess giving her a hug as her husband shook Raghu’s hand.
Ramya got into the front seat and fastened her seat belt as Raghu maneuvered the car out onto the high way.
She looked out of the window as the car passed the ruined houses of Periyakuppam. Anjalai… he had called her. Why? Who was she? Her mind refused to give her any clear answers. All that kept flashing by were some strange images. Images, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that refused to come together to form a complete picture. She closed her eyes trying on focus on the images.
Anjalai, the dark skinned beauty of the village walking along the shore with a basket of fish balanced on her head. Anjalai with her head full of jasmine flowers praying at the temple. Anjalai drying fish on the beach and explaining about each variety to a handsome stranger. Anjalai, being done to death by her brothers for daring to fall in love with a city bred marine biologist! She could hear almost hear the thunder crash as she felt them strangle her with her davani on the beach. Her hand went involuntarily towards her throat.
“Is your throat hurting?” asked Raghu looking at her.
She shook her head. It was more than her throat that hurt now. The picture was almost complete. She looked back one last time at the village across the road. Among the ruined houses was a shadowy figure looking for something that he seemed to have lost.