It kept happening, again and again. Like I’m walking home from work, and I’d hear footsteps. The sound of the footsteps would grow louder – until I realize it wasn’t just me who was walking. Someone was behind me, I’d feel it. And sometimes I’d hear a voice, as if someone was calling my name. I’d swing around and make a desperate attempt of finding my mysterious stalker. But I’d fail, every single time.
I work for an NGO that works with children – surrounded by poverty, illness and despair; trying to help them through welfare, healthcare, and most importantly education. Every year we enroll out-of-school kids from different slums around Dhaka, mainstreaming them into formal school, bringing hope in their lives, so that they can win their battle for survival. I teach them mathematics and science. I don’t get paid much. But I and my mom adjust with it. Just the two of us left in the family. Dad died years ago. Cancer, we tried a lot of treatments, spent all the money we had. I’d get job offers now and then, but I never left this job. I’ve always loved children. But that is not the sole reason, my mom wanted me to do this job. She keeps saying that I’m doing something noble. She says we’re doing fine with whatever we have. She says that I’ll be famous someday and get an award or something. I laugh, every time she says that. So I kept doing this job, with a little salary but full contentment. Every day I’d go to work, teach the kids, then walk back home after I’m done. The place isn’t that far from home, and also I had to save money, so I preferred walking. The path I usually take is mostly deserted, but I’d use it as it was a shortcut, thus it’d take less time. I had been following this routine of mine for 2 long years – nothing unusual ever happened, nothing like this one. I kept walking, ignoring the footsteps. The pace of the footsteps was growing like wildfire. I glanced back. No one was there. There couldn’t be. My imagination is way too wild, I told myself. I continued to walk. I tried thinking about something else, for distracting my mind. I tried thinking about a future, where I’ll have enough money and I’ll be able to buy mom a house, so that she wouldn’t have to be in that poor excuse of a home we live in. No, it hadn’t stopped. I swung around and caught a glimpse of a shadow escaping around the corner. It made me terrified. I started running, like my feet were born to travel. I didn’t stop until I reached home.
“Today we’re going to learn subtraction”, I shouted loudly, as there were a lot of noise in the classroom; some were talking without stopping and some were screaming and laughing. It wasn’t actually an ideal classroom. The wall was yellowed by time. The floor was wavy, made of concrete. The roof sagged and the cedar shingles stuck up in places like wonky teeth. The windows had no glass in them and they seemed not to be quite rectangular anymore. There was no electricity, so no need of fans or lights anywhere. The entire room seemed to have collapsed inwardly on itself somewhat, like a loaf of bread taken out of the oven too soon.
“Silence!”, I shouted again.
“Can we play today instead of reading? Please teacher”, Zaman said, he’s one of the wild ones, but he was pretending as if he was as innocent as a lamb.
“Okay, but at first we’ll solve some maths, it won’t take long, then you can all go and play”, I smiled at him.
Screams of joy floated through the whole room. I gave them some time to celebrate. Then I started teaching them, the basic rules of subtraction. After I made sure that they understood all the rules, I wrote two basic subtractions on the blackboard and asked them to solve those. Sabbir, the brightest boy among them, finished first. Then another boy, then another girl. Zaman was having some troubles, so I had to help him. After a while, everyone was done.
“Now you can go play, just don’t break anything”, I told them, while laughing.
And as they were running outside, I noticed someone new. A girl, a little girl. Her hair was flaked with snowy dandruff. She had the perfect eyebrows and puzzling eyes, and behind those eyes laid secrets deeper and darker than the mystery of a sea. There was a bronze flare around the pupil that looked like a solar eclipse. I had never seen her around. She was standing in the corner and looking right at me.
“Who’s the new girl?”, I asked Sabbir, who hadn’t left yet.
“Who? There’s no one new, teacher”, he said.
I looked where she was standing and she was gone; as if she had disappeared into thin air. Sabbir was looking at me with questions in his eyes.
“Never mind, my mistake”, I said to him. He left, but he didn’t seem convinced.
I went to the registrar after lunch, asking about that new girl. He had the same answer as Sabbir. I didn’t bother anymore. I figured it’s another one of my wild imaginations.
I was walking down the street. The street was abandoned as usual. I had to work late and finish some paperwork; so it was quite late. The lingering light was obliterated by the rapidly falling night. The once salmon and purple sky transformed into a vast expanse of jet-black. There’s a slight breeze, but not so much as to envisage an oncoming storm. It was my birthday, a smile rose on my lips thinking about that.
My smile faded away. I glanced back. No one. My rising heartbeat interrupted the eerie silence. I continued to walk, thinking nothing of it.
My pace increased. I did not want to know what was behind me. My breaths swirled in the wind in tiny wisps. All I could hear was my own steps and my thudding heartbeats.
Pit Pat. Pit Pat –
I turned around. It was that little girl, the girl no one knew about.
“How did you get here?”, I asked her.
She just kept looking at me, not uttering a single word. I felt an urge of taking her back to the center.
“It’s late night, you have to go back. Come with me”, I told her.
And as I was trying to walk her back, she said, “Your father was a good man.”
“What? What did you just say?”, I looked at her, astounded.
“He was talking about you in his final moments”, she added, “He said that he was proud of you and always will be.”
“How do you know all this?”, I asked, while giving her an angry stare.
“Because I was there, I witnessed it”, she stated with a straight face, no emotions.
“It’s not something to make fun of, this is not nice”, I was feeling outraged at this point.
Her expression didn’t change.
“You haven’t figured out who I am yet”, she remarked.
I kept staring at her in incredulity as she kept talking, “I am death”
“But..but you’re just a little girl”, I laughed, thinking that she made up all these bizarre things.
“I’m not, I’m whoever you imagine me to be”, she stated with a calm voice.
I looked at her with utter disbelief. But then I looked into her eyes and saw it, all of it. I saw darkness formed from some primeval hatred and the collective despair. I saw a foggy road, and it had no end. I saw the gates of hell, made of fire and brimstone. I saw endless tortures and sufferings. I saw a river, clear as crystal, flowing down. I saw streets made pure gold, like transparent glass. I realized she wasn’t lying. I could feel the sweat drench my skin, the throbbing of my own eyes, the ringing screams vibrating in my ears, and the thumping of my heart against my chest. I was petrified. I started running, away from her. I wasn’t going to stop for anything.
I had come a long way running. I had lost my breaths. I looked back, I couldn’t see her. I had lost her, I assumed. I held my hands on my knees, while taking longer breaths. I heard a sound. I looked up. She was standing right in front of me.
“You can’t escape me, you know it”, she said to me.
I tried running away again. But I couldn’t, as if my feet were glued to the road. I was stuck. I kept trying to be free, but it was all for nothing. Then after trying uncountable times and realizing that I was confined, I stopped trying.
“My mother….”, I mumbled.
“She’s going to be fine. Her grief will never end, but it’ll wear off as time goes by, trust me. ”, she tried to console me.
I let out a long sigh.
“How will it happen?”, I asked her.
“In 6 minutes time from now, a car will pass by this road. A couple, and their young boy, will be on it. The husband, driving the car will be drunk. You will be knocked to the ground by the car, and it’ll drive away without stopping.”
She takes a pause. Then she adds, “I’m not here to scare you, I’m here so that you can prepare for it, I’m here to help you through it.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I decided to be silent.
Then she asked, “Would you like to hold my hand? It might help.”
I nodded to her, affirmatively. I was trying to prepare myself mentally. I took a deep breath, held her hand, closed my eyes, and then kept waiting, for my death…..the inevitable.