YOUNG WOMAN ON THE PIER
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 Biswajit Banerjee, your host for this show. This episode features the tale of a Professor of English literature. But before I tell you his story, I urge all my wonderful readers and listeners to visit biswajitbanerjee.com for information on my books, films, voice-over projects, and other creative ventures. You will also find all the OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts on my website. And of course, I have another website, obscurus.buzzsprout.com, which is wholly dedicated to this podcast. All OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers are available over there.
Okay, let’s plunge into the story now. A budding professor of English literature, also a passionate photographer, meets a girl with divine looks on a pier that runs deep into the sea of Andaman. Not everything is normal about this meeting. Interested in finding out what’s so strange about meeting a beautiful girl? Well, let’s go.
YOUNG WOMAN ON THE PIER 00:02:32
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"Do you believe in God, Sir?" Lucy asked.
"What about ghosts? Do ghosts exist?" Ravi said.
"And what do you think about reincarnations? Are we born again?" Anish questioned, scratching his beardy cheeks.
"Sir, for a very long time, I have wanted to ask you if you believe in premonitions." Sandhya gazed at Ajit with penetrating eyes.
The students, Ajit inferred, had heard from the fellow professors about his interest in the paranormal.
"I thought we would discuss Macbeth today." Ajit arranged his notes on the table.
"Sir, even Macbeth consists of several paranormal elements." Amrita rejoined.
"Oh yes, the witches, for example." Ravi chipped in.
"And how about the ghost of Banquo?" Amrita remarked.
"All right, all right, understood," Ajit said, "you are surely in no mood to study your post-graduation texts."
"We want you to tell us some real stories today, Sir," Lucy pressed her thoughts through again.
"Okay." Ajit nodded.
His response was met with loud cheers.
"I guess one of my colleagues told you about my interest in the paranormal."
"You must be reading a lot of paranormal fiction, Sir." Amrita's eyes sparkled.
"Oh please, Amrita," Lucy observed, "let's not interrupt such an interesting talk."
Ajit placed his notes in a folder. "Before telling you my story, I will respond to what Amrita just said. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction works on paranormal subjects, but there was a time when I had no interest in the paranormal. Something very eerie happened in my life that forced me to look deeper into the unknown. From my studies and experiences, I can tell you – a lot more happens in the universe than meets the eye."
"So, you have also had brushes with the paranormal. Nobody told us that." Anish appeared excited.
Perhaps Anish would have said something more if it weren’t for the stern gazes from Lucy and Sandhya.
"Yes, I have had brushes with the paranormal. My first experience, I must say, has been the most memorable one. It changed my very understanding of the universe. I will briefly narrate that incident."
"No, Sir, give us all the details, please," Ravi demanded.
"Indeed, you must divulge all the details. Make your narrative cinematic for us, Sir," Amrita added to the demand.
Ajit began the narrative. "Fine, I will try. Our tale begins in the early days of my academic career. After submitting my doctoral thesis, I went to Andaman for a vacation. Photography had always been a passion of mine, and I loved to visit the forests round the back of the hotel I had checked into. I snapped some great pictures there. The walk through the woods towards the end of the evening was immensely pleasurable.
"The dirt track through the forest, except for a few puddles here and there, was by and large hard, and therefore easy to walk on. It led to a clearing, which in turn merged with a rather unexplored part of a seashore. During my fortnight-long stay in the Andaman, I didn't spot a single tourist in that part of the island.
"The thing I loved most about the place was the pier that ran deep out into the sea. When I stepped on it for the first time, I doubted whether the creaking wooden planks would hold my weight. It was a happy realization that despite all the squeaks and shakiness, the pier was strong enough to support a hundred men like me.
"Every evening, I would walk right up to the end of the pier and feel the gentle sea breeze on my body with my hands raised. It felt no less than flying over the sea! The pier also offered me the perfect position to take pictures. In those days only film cameras were available, so photographers couldn’t enjoy the liberty of taking too many random photos. Film rolls were quite expensive. But I wasn’t thinking about saving my film rolls. As I said, it was the perfect spot to take pictures. So, I snapped more than a hundred photographs from the pier.
"That place, apparently forsaken by humankind, made me understand how sweet solitude can be! I had no inkling that I would soon be in sweet company!
"I guess it was about the sixth day of my stay on the island. In the evening, as before, I stood at the edge of the pier with my hands raised to the sides, mimicking a bird's flight. Beneath my feet, the wooden planks vibrated — someone had walked closer to the edge. For the first time, I sensed a soul other than myself on the forlorn pier.
"'This is a beautiful place, isn't it?' A girl spoke as she positioned herself next to me, almost touching one of my stretched arms. Her voice was musical, to say the least.
"I looked to my side. Her golden tresses danced to the tune of the sea breeze, occasionally falling over the girl's lips on which played the most delightful smile I had ever witnessed. A girl or a demigoddess — I couldn't tell!
"'Hello, my name is Helen, you seem like a tourist.'
"She stretched her hand out towards me. Overawed by her beauty, which I’d rather not describe as it transcended the power of words, I put my hands down in a rather cumbersome fashion, wondering what I should do next.
"'Hello,' she spoke again.
"Some sense returned as I shook her hand and managed to smile.
"'What's your name?'
"'Aj ... Ajit, my name is Ajit Ragi.'
"'Good to see you, Ajit. Not many people come here.'
"'Yes,' I couldn't come up with a better response.
"As she talked about how happy she felt coming to that place, I made a conscious effort to come out of my bemused state. In a short while, I was conducting myself better, or so I thought.
The students laughed.
"Oh, she looked like a fairy, I guess," Lucy said.
"Divine beauty," Anish commented.
"Allow Sir to finish the story, please." Sandhya frowned at her classmates.
After a brief pause, Ajit continued.
"Sleep eluded me that night. My mind was all full of Helen. What a woman! What charisma! If only I could meet her again.
"Notwithstanding all my efforts to act normal, I never quite got out of the daze her charm had put me in. So, it didn't even occur to me to ask her where she stayed when we parted. How foolish I had been. 'You moron, you didn't just forget to ask about her whereabouts, you even forgot to take a picture,' I rebuked myself.
"The next evening, I was back on the pier hoping to see her again. The sea breeze was no longer pleasurable. And the placid waters held little attraction. Without Helen, everything had gone lifeless.
"My wait was fruitless, and I returned to the hotel jaded and disappointed. 'To hell with you, you stupid man,' I cursed myself countless times.
"Fate didn't smile the next evening either. Only more wait and disappointment were in store — 'Send Helen one more time please,' I prayed. But whom was I praying to? After all, I was an atheist. Perhaps Helen's poetic looks raised the believer in me.
"I hadn't been eating and sleeping well. It was strange that a girl could rob me of my healthy habits with just one solitary appearance. Another difficult night passed by, and yet again, I didn't get much sleep.
"In the morning, as I half-heartedly ate my breakfast in the hotel dining hall, a ray of hope flowed into my being from nowhere. Soon it grew into a strong intuition — Helen would visit the pier that evening. By the time I finished eating, the intuition had taken the shape of a conviction.
"Well, my instincts didn't fail me. Helen did come that evening. For the first time, I realized happiness could bring tears to one's eyes.
"'How are you, Ajit?'
"'Now, I am fine,' I said, shaking her hand.
"Immediately after I spoke those words, I knew I had practically let out my feelings. For a moment, Helen appeared puzzled at what I said, but then gathered all her calm to give me a smile.
"'How has your stay been in the Andaman so far?'
"'Good, I believe.'
"'Only good, not wonderful?'
"'Some moments have been wonderful.'
"It was so hard to take my eyes off her. Her golden locks cast a lyrical interplay of light and shadows on her face, neck, and bare shoulders. Albeit indirectly, I did vent my thoughts out again. A sparkle crossed her dark blue eyes; she seemed to understand what I felt for her.
"'How long is your stay?' She said.
"'I will leave next week — another four or five days to go.'
"For some time thereafter, we didn't exchange any words. Only the placid waters, birds, foliage, and sea breeze did the talking. Finally, I broke the ice.
"'Where do you stay, Helen?'
"'In the Saint Andrews Colony, to the south of Port Blair.'
"'That's quite a posh area, isn't it?'
"'Well, I am not sure if it's a posh area, but it certainly is one of the oldest colonies in Port Blair. Most families have British lineages.'
"'Yes, I have read that in the tourist guide. Most of the people living there are Anglo-Indians.'
"'Indeed, I too am an Anglo-Indian. My father served the Imperial Guards.'
"Another period of silence followed before she said, 'I must leave now, my parents must be waiting, goodbye.'
"As I watched Helen leaving, it struck me that I might never again get an opportunity to see her. I had to say it and say it now.
"'Hey Helen, listen,' I said.
"'Yes, Ajit.' She turned around.
"'Fate will not present me with another chance. So, I need to tell you something right at this moment. You might think I have gone bonkers, but I must speak.'
"'What's the matter?' Helen walked back to me.
"'Do you believe in love at first sight?'
"'What kind of question is that?'
"'I never believed in love, let alone love at first sight. But after I met you, things changed...'
"'I am not sure I understand you.'
"'What if I were to say I love you, Helen?'
"'But we hardly know anything about each other, Ajit.'
"'My heart says we will make a great pair.'
After a brief period of silence, she said, "Bye, Ajit, I wish you all the best in life. I have got to leave now."
"'Won't you say anything, Helen?'
"'What can I say, Ajit? I don't wish to break your heart by saying 'no.' And I am in no position to say 'yes.' I do not think such crucial decisions in life can be made in a flash. You take care.'
She started walking.
"'Can you tell me where you live, Helen?'
"'I have already told you,' Helen spoke, turning back again.
"'The exact address, I mean.'
"'What will you do with that information?'
"'Trust me, I will never cause any trouble for you.'
"After some thought, she gave me the address. '24 Canning Lane, Saint Andrews Colony. Please don't send any love letters. My parents will be upset.'
"'Rest assured, I will do no such thing.'
"'Can I leave now?'
"'Just one more request.'
"'Can I take your picture? Please don't say no.'
"I snapped her in the backdrop of the pier and the sea. Then she smiled and left, and I returned to the hotel, disappointed and hopeless. It was clear I had no future with her. The next two days were difficult. One-sided love is excruciating. I spent all my time in the hotel room thinking about Helen.
"In the early afternoon of the penultimate day to me leaving Andaman, I went out — not for sightseeing but to see her again. Although unsure if it would be the right thing to do, I decided to visit her home. The pangs of my heart had gotten unbearable. So, no matter what, I had to meet her. Yes, I turned crazy, I’ll admit.
"In an hour's time, I was at her doorstep. As I pressed the doorbell, I hoped not to offend her or her parents by my sudden arrival.
"An elderly gentleman opened the door. What stark resemblance he had with Helen! The same sharp nose, the same jawline, and the same dark blue eyes.
"'Yes, how can I help you?' He asked.
"'Well, I am Ajit Ragi. Can I ... I mean ...'
"'Do we know each other?'
"'No, but Helen knows me. Can I see her?'
'"Helen! Are you Helen's friend?'
'"Well, you could say that. I have met her a couple of times.'
'"Who gave you this address, Mr. Ragi?'
'"What? Helen gave you this address!'
'"Why? Isn't this Helen's house?'
'"Yes, it is, but she doesn't live here anymore.'
'"Helen used to live here long back. After marriage, she moved to Waldheim Street; that was more than forty years ago.'
'"She is married? Are you sure?'
'"And you just said she has been married for forty years?'
'"More than that, forty-three years or so.'
'"How can that be? The girl I met was in her early twenties. Does she have a daughter?' I asked.
'"No, she has two sons.'
'"You are ...'
'"I am James Eustice, her brother. It seems you met someone else, not my sister. Are you a tourist?'
'"Please come in for a while. You must be thirsty.' James opened the door wide for me.
"After walking into the house, the first thing my eyes fell on was a black-and-white photograph on a shelf. Of the four people in the picture, one was Helen. The young boy, without a trace of doubt, was James. The other two must have been their parents.
'"Please sit down, make yourself comfortable.' James walked into the common space that connected the bedrooms with the living room.
"I sat down on a sofa with my eyes still on the photograph. When James came back with a glass of water, he noticed me looking at the picture. As I took the glass from him, he said, 'The girl in the photo is my sister Helen. This picture was taken about two years before she got married.'
'"Umm-hmm ..." I sipped some water.
"'Obviously you didn't meet her,' James tilted his head with a smile.
"All I could do was nod. There was no point telling James that I did meet his sister, or rather his sister as she used to be around forty-three years ago. For sure, he wouldn't believe me if I told him the truth. Meanwhile, a lady walked into the living room.
"'Meet my wife, Deborah.'
"'Hello.' Deborah sat on the sofa across from the one I was sitting on.
"'Hello,' I said.
"'This is Mr. Ragi; he is on a trip to the Andaman,' James said.
"'Okay,' Deborah leaned back and crossed her legs.
"'A young woman by the name of Helen gave him our address. She told him she lives here.'
"'Strange,' Deborah's brow furrowed at what she heard.
"Before I could say anything more, the doorbell rang.
"'Excuse me,' Deborah said.
"As Deborah got up to answer the door, a stray thought came to my mind. Were these people tricking me? Had I become a part of an experiment? Maybe the group of experimenters, that included James and Deborah, planted the young girl who introduced herself as Helen on the pier. Why would someone play such a game? How would one benefit from such an experiment?
"'Oh what a surprise,' Deborah said after opening the door.
"'How are you, Deborah?' A woman, in her mid-sixties, walked in.
"'Fine, come in, Helen.'
"I looked up at the visitor and recognized her straight away. Oh yes, Helen, it was! But not the Helen I knew. She was the same person but fast-forwarded by forty-three years or so!
"Helen and I exchanged smiles as James introduced us.
"'Your name sounds familiar,' Helen said. The voice was still musical, but then age did have an effect.
"'Does it?' I responded.
"'You would find it strange, Helen,' James said, 'a young woman also called Helen told him that she lives here.'
"'How can that be?' A sparkle ran through Helen's eyes, the same sparkle that I had witnessed moments before I expressed my feelings to her at the pier.
"I spent about two hours with these people. They were kind, as was evident from the way they treated me, a stranger.
"A horrible shock had grasped my mind. What the hell was happening? Did a young woman turn old overnight? Or did an elderly lady turn into her younger self to meet me at the pier?
"Regardless of the truth, I desired a private conversation with Helen. The opportunity presented itself when Helen offered to drop me back at the hotel. Well, I readily agreed.
"During the car ride, we barely talked. She once commented on the weather, and how Andaman was losing its beauty due to the influx of people onto the island who didn't know how to live in unison with nature.
"When we arrived at the hotel compound, she said, 'It was nice meeting you, Mr. Ragi.'
"'Same here, Helen ... I mean Mrs ...'
"'No problem, I don't mind being addressed as Helen.'
"'Thank you for the ride, take care.'
"'Before you leave, I wished to say something to you.'
"I sensed the rate of my heartbeat rise. What was going on in her mind?
"'You might find this strange, but I think I saw you in my dreams. Probably twice over the last week.'
"'What are you saying, Helen?'
"'I am telling the truth, trust me.'
"'Could you tell me a little more about it?"
"'Well, I don't remember much. Perhaps I saw you close to the sea. Maybe we were standing on some wooden planks. Oh yes, it was a pier. And I wasn't this old, of course.'
"'Do you remember anything more?'
"'There are some vague images and voices in my mind, but I can't remember them with clarity.' A wistful smile crossed Helen's lips. 'Anyway, you take care, goodbye.'
"'Bye.' I shook her hand.
"Then she turned the ignition key, and within moments, her car was out of sight.
"After returning to Calcutta, I got the photographs developed and found the strangest thing one could imagine in the photo I took of hers. There was just a translucent impression of a girl in the backdrop of the pier and the sea. You could literally see through the translucent figure.
"Well, that was my first and the most startling brush with the paranormal. That incident changed me altogether."
"Do you have an explanation for what happened, Sir?" Lucy queried.
"Not quite, but I can imagine what might have happened. It is possible that two different dimensions or what you may call worlds came together — my physical reality and Helen's dream reality. And do you know what? Since then, I have experienced many such overlaps of different worlds. Believe it or not, on five different occasions my physical reality has coincided with somebody else's dream reality." Ajit said, looking at his notes on the table.
After a minute of silence, when Ajit looked up again, all he saw was an empty classroom. Oh! His physical reality must have overlapped with someone's dream reality for the sixth time!
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!