Born With the Veil
by Elizabeth Menon

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An old friend of mine told me this story long time ago. Joseph was travelling through a remote village in North India accompanied by his wife, Sara. He was on his way to take up his new post as the medical officer. It was a very cold winter's day and the air was misty, though fragrant with the lovely smell of jasmine and wild roses. They both enjoyed the beautiful scenery and Sara started to sing her favourite songs and Joseph joined in the fun. As the roads were narrow and winding, they covered the distance very slowly.

It was getting very dark even though the time was only 4'o clock in the evening. The dense trees on either side of the road made a beautiful roof over the narrow road. It was almost like travelling through a thick forest. Joseph and Sara were quite accustomed to the hilly terrain as they both grew up in a hill station. They decided to continue their journey till they could find somewhere to stay for the night for they were aware of the dangers of travelling after dark. They also knew that it would be difficult to find a guesthouse or hotel in that stretch of the country. Joseph had no choice but to continue with the journey, as there were no signs of any guesthouses. He was rather worried about Sara and her back; she suffered from back problems and he knew only too well that long journey always made it worse. Sara, knowing what was going through Joseph's mind told him that she was all right.

They travelled for almost two hours when Sara thought she saw a flicker of light among the trees far away. They followed the road till the faint light was very close and then they saw a dilapidated old house in front of them. The building was badly in need of repair; but that was least of their worries at that moment: all they wanted was something to eat and a place to sleep! Joseph stopped the car and they both went to the front door covered in cobwebs. He knocked at the door and a young man holding a kerosene lamp opened the door. The flickering of the flame formed shadows on the walls; a cold shiver ran through Sara's spine! Joseph put his arm around her as if he himself felt it; but then they both could always feel what the other person was thinking.

The boy explained to them that hardly anyone stopped by, as the house was located away from the main road. He told them that his name was David and welcomed them into the parlour. There was a huge fireplace that probably has not been lit for a very long time. They sat on the chairs and David started lighting the lamps on the walls. The room slowly started to take shape; the high ceiling and the floral curtains with golden tussles gave the room an elegant look, though the rugs on the floor had seen better days!

David soon had the fire going and brought a tray with steaming cups of tea. They finished their drink and then asked him if he would prepare dinner, as they were quite hungry. He explained to them that he did not stock up the larder regularly, as he hardly ever had any visitors. He went on to say that they would have to wait till he got the supply from the next village. He made another pot of tea and then showed them the room where they would be sleeping. He promised them that he will be back soon and ran to the next village to get chicken and some vegetables.

They could hear the owls in the woods nearby; Sara thought she could hear foxes too! Sara slept on the chair, as she was scared to go into the room alone. Joseph was lighting his cigar and she knew better than to ask him to accompany her to the room. Joseph did not tell Sara what he felt when he entered the house; it felt spooky! He sat smoking his cigar looking into the darkness lost in thought. His mother had told him that 'he was born with the veil': apparently the midwife had to tear the membrane off his face after he was born! His butler had told him that such people have the power of seeing or feeling the presence of ghosts. He did not believe in the spooky tale; but he always boasted that he could see and feel the presence of ghosts when he entered a haunted house. He was tired after the long drive and before long, he too was asleep.

Joseph was woken up and when he opened his eyes he saw a very old man with white beard smiling at him. The old man explained to him that his son was delayed and somehow he managed to cook dinner with what was there in the larder. He told him that dinner was on the table and closed the kitchen door behind him, saying "good night": Joseph woke up Sara and they both had their dinner. They went to their room to get some sleep, as they had a long journey ahead of them.

There was a knock at the door and Joseph opened the door. David stood there apologising for taking such a long time to get the dinner ready. Joseph quickly closed the door behind him and came out to speak to David. Joseph could not understand what David was talking about; he told David that they had their dinner while he went to get the groceries. David then asked him "who served you both?". Joseph replied "an old man with a white beard". "Oh, that will be my father who died many years ago; he does that sometimes!"

Joseph went into the bedroom and woke up Sara. He then told her "get your things; we are leaving right now". Sara knew that there was something wrong by the tone of his voice; but before she could ask anything, Joseph had her in the car and they were away! They drove in silence for some distance and then Joseph told her about the mysterious 'old man with the white beard'!

© E Menon



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