INTRO 00:00:00 Welcome to OBSCURUS, your weekly dose of paranormal fiction. Every Wednesday OBSCURUS features new short stories and serialized novels written by novelist, screenwriter, and voice-over artist Biswajit Banerjee. The realm of the paranormal stretches far beyond the usual horror story. So, while you will get to listen to lots of ghost stories on this podcast, there will also be many tales of lesser known paranormal themes. To get us started, here's your host Biswajit Banerjee.
HOST TALK 00:00:47 Hello, and welcome to OBSCURUS. I am your host, Biswajit Banerjee, and what a pleasure it is to be presenting this show to you. Please catch up with the earlier episodes on whichever podcast platform you are listening to this show through. All the OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts are also available on the blog of my website, biswajitbanerjee.com. Also, you could visit obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast, where you will find all the OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers. If you are enjoying this show, please subscribe and spread the word about OBSCURUS.
Now it’s time to get down to the story. Our hero fell in love with his mathematics teacher as a schoolboy. And now, he has an opportunity to revisit the school twenty-five years later. Will he find his love? Let’s find out.
STORY - MY FIRST LOVE 00:02:13
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"Were you a student of Father Santos Convent, Sir?" The cab driver asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I thought so, Sir."
The vehicle moved up the serpentine spiral. Countless pines with spreads of aroids, ferns, and pipers on the hills brought back images of my childhood adventures. Colors peeped from every possible angle -- these highlands had always been famous for their orchids. A little ahead, the sun played hide-and-seek through the thick canopy formed by the arching trees. Occasionally I spotted gibbons sitting high in the cover of leaves. My understanding of birds was limited, yet I felt their incredible variety in Sir Brown Hills. The Crested Finch bills and Green-tailed Sunbirds played games in their virgin habitats.
Fresh waves of air swept around my face when I rolled the window pane down. Paradise ... paradise indeed! The charm of those hill forests was the same as twenty-five years ago when I traveled that road last after the warm send-off by the convent. Tears formed in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks -- not because my school life had come to an end, but because I wouldn't get to meet Ms. Eleanor Smith again, or at least not as often as I did as a boarder in the school.
Mathematics had been the weakest link in my studies. My performance at equations, algebra, polygons, trigonometry, and coordinate geometry was somehow poor before the arrival of Ms. Smith. Few weeks after our beautiful teacher took over, my interest in the subject had grown manifold. The extra attention I received from her during free periods and sometimes after the regular school hours helped me understand what earlier appeared quite obscure. With my growing command in mathematics grew another feeling -- love. No matter what one might call it -- 'attraction,' 'infatuation,' or even' immaturity,' -- my heart and mind were immersed deep in that sensation. Often as she taught me, either exclusively or as a part of the class, I always pondered my possible future with her. "What's the matter with you, Aniruddha?" She once noticed my fleeting concentration.
A day after our matriculation examination results were declared, I was heartbroken. The fact that I was among the toppers in the State and that the government granted a special scholarship to me for the inspiring performance lost its luster when the news broke about her engagement to a local businessman. For days together, I cried silently, hidden from all eyes, or so I thought. I could remember there was a day when she asked me to follow her to her little cabin after finishing a class on complex numbers.
"What is the cause for your distress, Aniruddha?" Ms. Smith asked.
"It's you, Ma'am." My heart thundered the reply for only my inner being to listen.
"Tell me what's wrong?"
"Ma'am, I am not keeping well."
"Are you sure?" She looked in my eyes.
In another year's time, she got married to that businessman. The couple visited the school once soon after the wedding. Her husband was handsome, no doubt, but my heart wouldn't admit they made a sweet couple and offered a million reasons for me to hate him. Well, I hated him for sure but never for once stopped loving Ms. Smith, who, by marriage, had become Ms. Bailey.
Despite the pangs of heart, I did well in the Senior Secondary School Board's examination. I cleared the entrance examination of one of the country's top group of engineering institutes. My success was mainly due to her exemplary teaching. When I shook her hand on the day of the send-off, my heart grieved. Although she was married, I could see her at school. The school's final day practically marked the end of even that bit of bliss left in my bond with her.
The sadness stayed with me all through my journey down the same spiral with my parents. They were thrilled at the prospects of a promising future lying ahead of me. Sometimes, I faked smiles, pretending to be happy, but deep down my heart, I knew what I was going through. In any case, what could I complain about? Who would appreciate a teenager's love for his teacher?
With time the wounds healed somewhat. The rat-race I became a part of did blunt my craze for Ms. Smith, but her charm never quite died. After the boom on the internet and the rise of social media platforms, I tried getting in touch with her but didn't find her anywhere. The school website also didn't list her as one of the teachers. Leaving a query on the website didn't help -- I got no reply.
I was asked to attend a conference in Shillong last month by the vice president of my company. The trip presented an excellent opportunity to visit the convent. The office agreed to an extra day's stay for me after the conference. After completing office assignments, I was now on my way to Saint Santos.
"Almost there, Sir, there's your school," the driver said.
I was quickly pulled out of my thoughts by his words, and I beheld the old edifice and its surrounding structures. Twenty-five years didn't change things much -- the senior and junior school buildings, the church, the large bell at the top of a metallic framework, and the playground -- all looked the same. But my perspective had changed. The entire set-up appeared smaller than what I had left behind.
The security guards pointed at the visitors' register. I scribbled my name and the time of entry and then signed.
"This way, Sir," a guard said.
"I am an alumnus of this school." I smiled and walked the pebbled path to the reception.
The interiors, too, hadn't changed. The impressive painting of Father Santos with three little lights illuminating the saint's face behind the reception desk, the thick black chair for the receptionist, the desk, the visitor chairs, the green walls, paintings on biblical themes on the walls, and of course the lovely translucent inner side of the dome -- Wow! Nostalgic! No one was at the reception -- that was to be expected as the Christmas vacations were on and the desk did not regularly work during the holidays.
"Please take a seat," someone spoke from behind. The voice sounded pleasant and familiar. I turned. Ms. Eleanor Smith! Well, Ms. Eleanor Bailey, for some, but I would never use that surname for her. Twenty-five years had passed, but she didn't show any trace of age. When I left school, she must have been around twenty-five, so she should have been fifty now. A lady of fifty could be elegant and attractive, but such luster in one's skin at that age was impossible. Ms. Smith still looked twenty-five! Didn't she age? Then it struck me that plastic surgery had now advanced to such a degree that making some middle-aged person look young was pretty standard procedure. Regardless of what sustained her youth, I simply relished seeing my teacher in her old avatar.
"I will see you shortly," she said with the same smile, which used to drive me crazy.
Still trying to believe my eyes, I pulled a chair and sat. Why did Ms. Smith not appear in the list of teachers on the school website -- I didn't have a clue. Maybe the website manager made a mistake. Perhaps she only did administrative work now. How did it matter anyway? My aim of the visit stood fulfilled; I never thought it would be so easy. How she would react when I revealed my identity, I wondered.
With the same smile adorning her lips, she returned soon and moved to the other side of the desk.
"Please sit down, Sir," Ms. Smith said with a bit of a surprise when I stood up upon her reappearance at the reception.
Light from the chandelier above caused a near-halo around her. Only an angel could have such shimmering features!
"So how can I help you?"
"Ma'am, you still haven't recognized me."
"Have we met before?"
"Ma'am, I am Aniruddha Chatterjee, an alumnus of this school; you were my mathematics teacher. You would obviously not remember; it has been more than twenty-five years now."
The smile receded from her lips and then reappeared with greater allure.
"Sir, you are talking about Ms. Eleanor Bailey, she was my mother. My name is Clara, Clara Bailey."
O my goodness! What stark similarity! But did I hear her using the expression 'was' while describing her mother? Was Ms. Eleanor Smith ... no, no, I didn't wish to give any weight to such thoughts.
"But where is ...?"
"My mother passed away about a decade back, Mr. Chatterjee ..."
Clara continued to explain how Ms. Smith died, but nothing beyond the first part of her discourse registered in my ears. A portion of me, if not the whole of me, was dead too. Only after she took my name several times with force did I rise above the darkness that had enveloped me.
"Are you all right, Mr. Chatterjee?"
After a few seconds of blank gaze, I nodded.
"I do understand you are very upset."
"O yes, this is quite heartbreaking, Ms. Bailey. When I saw you walking behind me, I thought it was her; I didn't imagine you would turn out to be her daughter."
"Now hold on, Mr. Chatterjee," Clara said with puzzled eyes, "I am not sure what you are talking about. I never walked behind you."
"But you did, Ms. Bailey, you asked me to sit, didn't you? You also said you would see me in a while. And you sounded just like your mother -- the same voice, the same intonations."
"Such a thing never happened, Mr. Chatterjee. I had been working with the librarian over the last two hours, and I was nowhere near this place. I am not even supposed to be here now as somebody else is on reception duty today. I am just here to make an entry in the reception register."
Some silent moments passed, heavy with the gravity of an unknown dimension. I've had conversations with my friends and colleagues on several occasions about whether there could be life after death. My position would always be one of an extreme rationalist -- total rejection of ideas and things which failed to pass the test of scientific scrutiny. But it seemed I had a visitor from the other world!
"Incidentally, it's her birthday today," Clara said, scribbling a few things on the reception register. "If you want, you can join me to pray for her in the cemetery ... it is behind the church."
What a cruel joke nature had played on me! The wonderful Ms. Eleanor Smith was no more ... no, that was certainly not the right thing to say ... she just visited me from the other plane! The images of her walking behind me and speaking to me played over and over in my mind. No, it couldn't have been an illusion, I saw her right there in the reception area ... the same smile, the same voice!
"Excuse me, Mr. Chatterjee." Clara got up and went out of the reception area.
An old florist was selling a variety of flowers, a small distance away from the cemetery.
"Give me a red rose," I said.
"A bunch of carnations would be good, Sir," the florist said.
"No, give me a rose."
Gushes of fresh fragrant air caressed my face when I entered the cemetery. Signs from my first love? Under an oak tree stood a middle-aged man with sharp features next to Clara, a little away from a granite headstone. The gray hair and slightly sagging skin along the edges of his face could not rob Mr. Bailey of his pleasing appearance!
Light pierced through the canopy to fall over the headstone. 'Rest in Peace -- Ms. Eleanor Bailey, an educationist, and a loving mother and wife: 1963-2009' -- I placed the rose at the base of the headstone and read the inscription standing next to Clara.
"There she is, Mr. Chatterjee," Clara said with her gaze at the grave.
Flashes of some beautiful moments crossed my mind when I closed my eyes. Love was in the air. Agreed, it was one-sided, but I am sure she understood my feelings. The fragrant gusts of wind brushed past my cheeks again, as though endorsing my thoughts. Tears rolled down my cheeks; I opened my eyes.
"It seems you knew her closely," Mr. Bailey said.
I nodded; he and I were the only ones present there. "She taught me mathematics, I was one of her pet students ... I owe so much to her." My voice cracked.
"O yes, I understand that feeling, she was an adorable woman loved by everyone. What is your name?"
"I am Aniruddha Chatterjee."
"My name is James Bailey, she was my wife."
A few quiet moments passed after we shook hands.
"Where did Clara go?" I asked.
"You know her too?"
"I met her at school a little while back."
"Okay, she will be here soon."
"But she was here moments back," I said, sensing my throat drying up.
With a puzzled look, Mr. Bailey moved his head. "Not quite, she is yet to join us."
"Sorry, Daddy, I am late," Clara's voice flowed in from behind us.
The bunch of carnations in her hands danced to her swift pace. "You are already here, Mr. Chatterjee, feels good to see you. Sorry, I got late explaining things to the librarian."
"Come, darling," Mr. Bailey said, "let's pray together."
My first love wasn't dead, and my feelings reached out to her in the ethereal dimension -- the realization brought a smile to my lips.
OUTRO 00:24:45 Thanks for listening to OBSCURUS. If you like what you heard, please subscribe and visit biswajitbanerjee.com for more information about Biswajit's books, movies, documentaries, and other creative pursuits. We shall see you next Wednesday with another episode of OBSCURUS. Till then, take care!