A Horror Short
When Gita was a fourth grader, her ma used to feed her breakfast and dinner — she ate her lunch by herself at school. Gita’s ma had this way of getting her to eat every last bit of rice. When the plate had a few mouthfuls left, and Gita would say, “Enough, ma”, her ma often asked her to eat three last mouthfuls — one for ma, one for dad and one for Gita herself.
If she refused any one of those, ma would guilt Gita by saying, "You won’t eat a mouthful for me?", in a sad tone. And Gita would feel guilty as charged, and eat up.
Sometimes ma would just say a nice story and keep Gita mesmerized while successfully feeding her all the food. By the time the story ended and Gita snapped out of the fantasy, the food would be over. Sometimes, ma took no effort with pleadings; she straight up whooped Gita’s ass.
One currentless night, when the rain was pouring harsh, ma came up with yet another way of making Gita eat every last grain on the plate. That night, only ma and Gita were home — Gita’s dad had to work late — and ma made rice with some curry for dinner.
They lit a candle in the living room of their apartment. Ma got the food on a plate and stood next to Gita as she sat on a single seater sofa with her legs dangling over one arm rest, and her back resting against the other. Gita was facing the dark balcony, the black grille of which was faintly gleaming in the candle light.
There were occasional rumblings of thunder which interrupted the beautiful thuds of the rain on the shingle. Gita found such scenarios beautiful. The lack of current and the darkness gave her a feeling of living in a fantasy where she’s stuck in a place with food supplies for hunger, and stationery for boredom — Gita loved to draw. And that's what she was doing as she faced the chill balcony that night.
She was scribbling something with a blue colour pencil on an old ruled school notebook. Ma stood beside her, watching her draw — or scribble, whichever you prefer to call it — and feeding her warm rice and curry.
Food like this gets boring even when the surroundings remind you of fantasy. And so, as four or so mouthfuls remained on the plate, Gita got literally fed up and said, "Enough, ma".
At first, ma said, "Just two more mouthfuls, dear. It will be done".
But Gita didn't believe her. She turned and saw the plate herself, and as guessed, there were definitely at least four mouthfuls left.
When she looked at the plate beside her, in her mother's hand, she caught a glimpse of the bright orb of light cast by the candle on the wall behind them. Ma's shadow was on the extreme right, enlarged to the height of the ceiling. The few flyaways of her braided hair were very prominent in the shadow.
Other than ma's shadow on the back wall, there were shadows of the furniture, but that was all. There was a pretty large incandescent space next to ma’s shadow.
After looking at the shadows and the remaining food, Gita shook her head hard. "I don't want it. Enough”, and she continued to draw.
This is when the genius that is her ma's mind came up with a plan to make her eat. Ma’s plan was to scare Gita into it. Brilliant ma! What a perfect moment she chose to use scare tactics — other than threatening to whoop her ass, of course. This scare tactic was different. It was based on the raw fear of the supernatural.
Every human being, regardless of their age is fascinated by the supernatural. Maybe they do believe in it or they don't, but when you tell your experience of witnessing a possible ghost, every other person in the room will have their own story to share. "This happened to my friend.." or "One time when I was sleeping.." or "I don't believe in ghosts, but one time so and so happened and nobody could explain how".
The children, the adults, the pious, the atheists, the ill, the sane — everyone had a moment of inexplicable horror in their lives. Every kid, regardless of what they grew up to be, has run to their beds after switching off the lights when they were little. In short, everybody feared their own It.
Now was Gita’s time to face that inexplicable horror; to face her own It.
After Gita shook her head, there was a moment's silence in their exchanges. Only the thud of the rain on the shingle, and the scribbling of the colour pencil on the paper filled the air. Then ma spoke.
"Listen", she said; Gita was still scribbling. "Someone's here to take you".
"Huh?", said Gita as she was in the process of turning away from her scribbles and looking at her ma.
"Don't turn!", warned ma.
Gita froze, confused, and moved only her wide eyes from ma to balcony. The scribbling sound stopped too. Now, it was only the rain, the rumble and ma.
"Don't turn. It's right behind me", she said.
Gita stayed still.
"Just finish eating this and it'll go away".
But Gita was skeptical and she was sure that her ma was giggling behind her back. It's not that she didn't believe her ma, but that she didn't want to believe what her ma said.
"You're lying", Gita said, smiling.
But she did not dare to turn. Like I said, it's not that Gita didn't believe her ma, she just didn't want to. But Gita’s heart thudded just as hard as those drops on the shingle, and her mind warned her not to turn no matter what. It had already created images of that blank incandescent space on the wall filled with the shadow of a grinning figure waiting to take her away.
You couldn't tell if someone was grinning or not in a shadow, but you believe it when your mind says so. A grinning stranger, probably a ghost, waiting there, ready to walk out of the shadow with that very grin, hungry in its eyes and creepy in its movement, and take her away.
"I'm not lying. It's true", ma said. "It's waiting. I don't have any control over it. If it sees a child not eating fully, it takes the child away".
"Maaa", Gita dragged in a worried tone, still looking at the balcony ahead of her, not daring to turn by so much as one degree to her right. Apparently, for ma, It was just it — no emphasis, no strain, no fear.
"Just eat all the food. It'll go away", ma said, as if this would calm Gita.
Gita stayed still and quiet, thinking, worrying, scared and her back aching from the frozen position she took. She thought It wouldn't notice her much if she stayed still.
After a few seconds of that frozen silence, ma brought a handful of rice to Gita’s mouth. Gita looked at it from the side of her eyes, careful not to catch a glimpse of the wall behind. And she budged. She opened her mouth and her ma fed her the first mouthful of the remaining food.
With Gita’s heart racing in her chest, her breathing became heavy, and she chocked a bit on the food as she swallowed. She started coughing and ma tapped on her head to bring the food down.
"No..", said ma. "Let me get you some water". And she hurried off into the dark hallway to the left, out of Gita’s sight and into the kitchen. There was only a faint light coming from the kitchen into the hallway from the small lamp ma lit there while cooking.
In that moment, Gita’s cough was intense and her concentration was entirely on preventing death from choking. Gita never thought much about death. Death was a distant alien for a kid her age. But in that moment, with a burning sensation rising up from her throat to her brain, she couldn’t help but think about death, and forget about everything else.
So, when she heard a faint sound behind her, she immediately turned to look without any second thought. But no sooner than she turned to face the wall, the terror of the past few minutes struck again, and she turned back, coughing more violently.
Ma hurried back from the kitchen after that split second and handed Gita the glass of water. Gita drank it as ma continued tapping the top of Gita’s head with her palm.
The food went down. And Gita started breathing normally. One, because she managed to unchoke and prevent death, and two — this was important — because in the split second she turned to face the wall, she got a glimpse of it, and there was nothing extra there. The wall was as it was when she first got a glimpse of it that night — the huge incandescent space, the shadows of the furniture and the shadow of ma with her flyaway hairs.
"You don't have to eat. It's okay", ma said, looking concerned at Gita and wiping off the food around her mouth. "You ate enough. And I asked it to go away. It knows you're a good girl".
Ma pinched Gita’s cheek lovingly. Gita just stared, feeling warm in her heart. With that, ma took the glass to the kitchen and started washing the vessels. Gita could hear the faucet turned on and the clank of the vessels in the sink.
She felt good about herself for not falling a fool to her ma's stories; for handling the situation with cool, and for bravely turning to look at the wall. What a phony she was! She was smiling at her own fake bravery when a horrible realisation struck her like a dagger through her chest. Her heart pumped harder once again.
During that split second when she had been coughing and had gotten a final glimpse she will ever have of that wall, Gita had seen the same shadows as she first saw when she looked at the plate in her ma's hand — the huge incandescent space, the furniture and Ma. Ma's shadow had been there on the wall. Except ma hadn't been in the living room with her. She was busy fetching water in the kitchen for her choking child.
Then whose shadow was that? Was Gita’s mind playing tricks on her? Was she just imagining it? Did she even turn to look at the wall or did she imagine that too? Could it have been something else?
But Gita saw what she saw — shadow of Ma, with her flyaway hair, large as the ceiling's height when her ma was actually in the kitchen. The smile on Gita’s face completely faded. The sound of the rain and the clank of the vessels faded; only the pounding of her heart filled her ears.
Just as she was processing the image, Ma came from the dark hallway into the living room; she was smiling, no, she was grinning. The clank of the vessels continued in the kitchen though. Because ma — the real ma — was still in the kitchen, cleaning the vessels. In the living room, with Gita, was It, grinning as wide as it can, with eyes so bloodthirsty that Gita couldn't even find the voice to call out for her ma.
She kept swallowing spit, and even in that cold weather, her forehead started to sweat. In those moments, however, Gita’s hand continued to scribble something on her notebook as she looked at It, dumbstruck with terror.
"So, you didn't eat everything", It said in a voice so eerie and so different from ma. She heard the voice of It on her inside, the way she heard her heart. Gita knew only she could hear It.
Gita didn't like It taking the form of her ma. Gita’s eyes started to water, and the rest is an enigma, except in Gita’s case, it was never solved.
On that night, when ma came back to the living room after cleaning the vessels, she found the sofa empty; Gita’s book with its scribbles lay on the empty sofa on which she sat a few minutes ago. On the notebook was the colour pencil she used.
Ma first called out to Gita by her pet name. Then she started searching the entire house and called out for Gita by her birth name. Ma then panicked, banged at the neighbours' doors in the dark and screamed for her child. The neighbours came out of their houses, the police arrived in their jeep and Gita’s dad rushed home on his bike.
The only thing left of Gita from that night was the conversation with ma and of course, the scribbling on the notebook. When ma saw the notebook, she wept harder than ever.
When It had stepped out into the living room, looking like her ma, Gita’s hand had started to scribble “It” on the notebook as she failed to find her voice. As she put down the vertical line of "I" and was about to follow it with two dashes on top and bottom, like they taught her at school, Gita saw something.
She saw her eminent fate; and she knew this was going to be her last moment in that house. She didn’t want her ma to come back from the kitchen and rescue her. Gita had given up on life and was unwillingly welcoming death. Gita didn’t want ma to meet It; she thought It might get ma too. Gita wanted her ma to be safe.
So instead of writing "It" and making her ma feel guilty for the rest of her life for scaring her child with a story, Gita put down a small diagonal line from the top of the first vertical line and wrote out "Ma".
"Ma" was Gita’s last word — not the worried drag she gave when ma told her a story about It taking children away, but a loving, compassionate and sweet "Ma". You can't tell her otherwise. The last touch with her ma was the gentle touch of her ma’s hand on her cheek. And her last word to her was, “Ma”, even if it was written and not really vibrated through the air to her ma’s ears.
With that memory, Gita vanished into whatever darkness lay ahead of her. She faced her It, but she never lived to share her story with anyone.