It was a cold dark night, with the wind howling and the dogs moaning. Oops sorry.. I meant the wind moaning and the dogs howling. What does it matter, the sounds were scary & our hero was sweating despite it being December .It was a bad idea indeed to have accepted this challenge, I know the bully won’t arrive with his gang for the face-off but my hero the 13yr old Nikhil didn’t of course and here he was... snuggling up to his best buddy Bob as sneakily as he could without leaving any other impression.
“I’m telling you man, he won’t come. He’s a sissy! He just wanted to look cool and tough. And will you stop sleeping on me?” Bob whined for the..let me count.. yeah 5th time in 30minutes. “And how do you know that? I’m not going back tomorrow without proving who won the fight!” teen that he was, Nikhil displayed the trademark stubbornness. Hey I almost forgot to give you the background. Well, there was this fight earlier that day that had got Nikhil involved with the school bully Rahul. In typical filmy style they had decided to have a final face-off later at midnight in the only lonely spot nearby i.e. the graveyard. It was rumoured to be haunted (of course what’s a graveyard which isn’t haunted?) and no one dared to venture there past 10pm. Don’t raise your eye-brows, you did worse things when you were 13 yourself. Now let me continue…
Suddenly it was all quiet. The wind had stopped and the dogs had wandered off. As the minutes ticked, the silence grew. None of them spoke, afraid to break the silence of the night. Then there was a sudden creaking sound that shot through the night. The sound of something being crushed…like bones.
Nikhil turned to Bob-“What’s this? Some midnight feast??” Bob looked up reluctantly from the Kurkure packet he was munching on-“Sorry! But its 12:30am & we had dinner in the mess at 9. I had to bring along something.” “Shh… I hear something!” “What… must be your stomach rumbling with hunger! Here ta..” Nikhil placed his hand over Bob’s mouth and strained to listen. Yes, that was the sound of footsteps not far away. Bob heard it too and his eyes grew wide and fearful as he pointed his finger-“Look..there..”
A long shadow fell across the grave to their left. They cowered behind the headstone of ‘their’ grave and stayed silent, the chips packet long forgotten. “It can’t be Rahul….he’s too short” Nikhil whispered as the shadow crossed over that grave on to the next one. It was gliding as if the person creating it was floating in the air. Bob for once had nothing to say. He just looked straight ahead. The shadow now seemed smaller. The figure of the man appeared soon in their line of sight, a hooded figure that seemed to be seamlessly attached to its shadow. His face wasn’t visible as he was standing with his back to the only street light that illuminated this part of the grounds. He paused at this grave as he had paused at the earlier one.
He kept moving across the rows of graves in the graveyard, gliding so softly that no sound except that of the crickets could be heard. Even his long flowing cloak glided with his body without even a rustle. “It’s him…” Bob finally unstuck his tongue. “Him who?” Nikhil whispered back. “The ghost of the old soldier” “Oh that explains it. The ghost of the old soldier..excuse me, you are the one who’s been staying in Goa since the time you were wearing diapers not me! I don’t know what you are talking about..” Nikhil hissed. Ignoring the jibe at him, Bob explained-“There’s this story about a Portuguese soldier who was killed here in Mapusa, when Goa was liberated by the Indian army. They said he was killed but his body was never found. He wasn’t buried but a grave in his name was dug up here. They say he comes up in this month to look for his grave, hoping they have finally found his body and buried him properly.” “Are you serious? Well, in that case why don’t we just go up to him and tell him-sir, your body went missing in the last century, even if its found now it’d be rotten already. No point in burying an already decomposed body so stop sulking and move on!”
The only response Bob gave to Nikhil’s speech was a long shudder. The so called specter had reached the end of the row. He turned now to the row the boys were hiding in. A bony hand was reaching up from the cloak. “I hope the soldier didn’t have any facial wounds. I hate to see all those disfigured faces..” Nikhil had his hands over his eyes now. A low chuckle emanated startling Bob & Nikhil. “What? He found his body in there?”
“Finally I found the grave. Did he think he could hide it so well? I will take my share and yours too…so when you come back, if you come back you will realize your mistake!” the now hoodless specter was nodding his head in approval. He began prodding the headstone kneeling beside the grave. “He isn’t a real ghost is he?” Bob looked at Nikhil for reassurance. “Of course not silly. My guess is he’s a thief or something. Only ghosts and robbers would prowl around at nights” “Hey, we are neither!” Bob protested. “Shut up will you?” “Beep..beep..beep” Nikhil’s alarm signaled the end of 00hrs. “Oh no!”
“Who’s there?” the ghost-cum-thief roared into the night. “I’m armed, don’t come near me, whoever you are!” “Run….!!!” Bob yelled and they made a dash for it, not even daring to look back. They could only hear the thief yelling out curses at them. Huffing and panting they managed to reach their hostel gate. The hefty watchman looked at them askance-“And what do you think you are doing out of bed and at the other side of the gate past midnight?”
The rest they say is history. After being reprimanded for loitering outdoors the matron finally calmed down enough to listen to their story. The police were alerted and of course the thief wasn’t found anywhere near the grave. However they did find some old coins and stamps that were later found to have been stolen from the museum in Old Goa.
As much as they wanted to have their photos in the newspaper, their headmaster disallowed it fearing it would ruin the reputation of their school if people came to know that the boys were out roaming at night. So Bob &Nikhil had to be content with their medals and cash prize awarded by the museum authorities and of course they never received any punishment for their midnight adventure either, if you didn’t count the cold they caught after running a marathon in winter.