This is a trilogy, every part will be published on Monday with today being the 1st part, next parts to be out on 13th and 20th February!
Tirth knew what a big deal it was for me to have finally felt comfortable enough with someone to stay in a relationship with them for longer than a few months, after everything I’ve been through. Tirth wanted to do something special for our one-year anniversary. I told him I hate cliché celebrations, but he insisted. He said we weren’t just celebrating us. We were celebrating my breakthrough, and ability to overcome some of my trust issues, as well as his own accomplishments. See, the day I agreed to be in a relationship with Tirth was also the day that Tirth finally put down the bottle. Our anniversary marked his first year completely sober, and I really couldn’t deny him a celebration for that.
Tirth has an interesting story. He’d been in and out of Mumbai since he was about 10 years old. His father had died in a car accident before he was born. His mother was an alcoholic who neglected him most of his life. I guess stirring up trouble and committing crimes around the neighborhood was the only way he knew how to get her attention. Even if it was negative attention, at least it worked. When Tirth turned 15, his uncle took him in and made him move to Delhi, which is where we are now.
I met Tirth in sophomore year of high school. He was an alcoholic, even then, but he found his place among my social circle pretty quickly. It took me a couple of years to realize I had developed feelings for him, and then another year before I finally admitted it to him last spring when I asked him to Prom.
That’s right. I asked him to Prom. He laughed right in my face and told me no, too.
He had looked at me with those obnoxious blue eyes and laughed, then said, “Anjali, there is no way in hell I am going to Prom with you.”
I remember forgetting how to breathe at that moment, choking on my own embarrassment. I had opened my mouth to retort, but he cut me off.
“I will never go to Prom with you,” he’d said, rubbing it in “But I would be honored to spend the evening of May 27th with you. Just not at Prom. Anywhere but Prom.”
A couple weeks later, when the date finally came around, I met him in his uncle’s backyard. While all of our friends were dancing in some poorly-decorated hall somewhere in their overly-expensive formal wear to shitty music, Tirth and I were dancing in his uncle’s backyard in our pajamas to some oldies station playing on his car radio. When Badshah’s “Jugnu” started playing, his uncle had come outside and yelled over the music about how the Universe was trying to tell us something.
At that point, it was Tirth’s turn to put himself out there and ask me a question. Though, unlike him, I didn’t laugh in his face and tell him no. That was the night I agreed to be Tirth’s girlfriend.
One month ago marked our one year anniversary, as well as Tirth’s sober date. A lot has happened since then, and I would give anything to go back to that night and do things differently. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to a time machine. I do, however, have a story. I feel like it is my obligation to tell someone what happened to me; To us.
The night celebrating our anniversary, despite my initial objection, was amazing. I had given Tirth his anniversary gift a couple of weeks prior (round trip tickets to his hometown and a set of tickets for his childhood best friend and him to go see their favorite band while they were in Mumbai). When our actual anniversary came around, Tirth had strung lights through the trees of his uncle’s backyard, ordered takeout from my favorite Chinese restaurant down the street, and tuned in to that same oldies station on his car radio as he had that previous spring. With him being between jobs at the time, I didn’t expect him to get me a gift of any kind and was entirely content with the food and the effort he had put into recreating the evening. I was completely caught off guard when he snuck up behind me in between songs and fastened the most beautiful necklace I had ever seen around my neck.
The piece of jewelry was a bit bulkier than the average necklace, which made it even more beautiful to me. It was a gold-plated heart with a red rose on the front, with a small diamond in the center of the flower.
“Yes, it’s real,” he said, reading my mind.
“How did you- “
“I’d been saving up for it for months before I lost my job.”
“It’s beautiful, I don’t even know what to- “
“I knew you’d love it,” He said, running his thumb over the rose, “It reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, and I know you’re obsessed.”
I felt so blessed. The necklace was perfect, I couldn’t have asked for a better gift, from anyone.
I had no idea what kind of shit storm the next month would bring, all because I accepted that one, beautiful little trinket on a chain. How was I to know it had the potential to cause so much damage?
It all started that very same night.
My mom was out of town that month, on one of her business trips, so I had the house to myself. I had invited Tirth to stay over, but he had an interview early in the morning. He was half asleep in his bed by the time I left at around midnight, so I wasn’t going to guilt him into coming back home with me.
It was just another typical night. The house was quiet and calm, and I was content. When I decided to go to bed at around 3 in the morning, I couldn’t help but check my reflection in every mirror that I passed on my way to my bedroom. The necklace Tirth gave me was just so beautiful! I couldn’t get enough of it.
I tucked myself in, said my prayers, and was asleep nearly as soon as my head hit the pillow. For some reason, I couldn’t seem to stay asleep that night. I was tossing and turning and just couldn’t get comfortable. I had the distinct feeling of being watched. No matter which direction I faced while laying in bed that night, I felt like someone was staring at me. It felt like I was surrounded.
The next morning, I got up and looked in the mirror, and was taken aback by the sight of my own reflection. Though I had slept, I had these dark shadows under my eyes and looked as though I hadn’t been to bed in days. The necklace, however, was just as beautiful as the night before.
“Augh, I look like my grandmother!” I whispered to myself, as I dabbed on some concealer, threw my obnoxiously thick black hair in a clip on the back of my head, and continued getting ready for work.
Waitressing at the diner down the road wasn’t exactly my dream job, but I didn’t hate it, either. The regulars were always really kind, tipped well, and made me laugh with their neighborhood gossip. That day, in particular, I received several compliments on my necklace. Despite having difficulties sleeping the night before, I was in a pretty good mood.
That is until I heard the voice for the first time.
I was scraping somebody’s kid’s unfinished blueberry pancakes into the trash when I heard it. Clear as day, someone said my name, his voice directly behind me.
Startled, I turned around, thinking maybe it was Rohan letting me know he accidentally overcooked an order again. Of course, there was nobody there. I was alone. I turned the corner and checked the other side of the kitchen, and saw Rohan flipping an omelet, his back turned to me.
I took a deep breath and got back to work. By noon, I had nearly forgotten all about it. That is until I was carrying a plate with a woman’s sandwich on it and heard the voice say my name again, only louder this time.
It scared the hell out of me, causing me to scream, jump, and send the plate with all of its contents crashing to the floor. As if having a diner full of customers staring at me wasn’t embarrassing enough, my manager sent me home, in front of everyone. Not before telling me I looked like shit and should get some rest, mind you. When I got home I was too wound up to nap or anything, so I ended up spending the rest of that day on the couch, binge-watching Netflix and convincing myself that the voice I had heard earlier never actually happened.
The next few nights were a lot like the first. My sleep was broken and shallow, often interrupted by an overwhelming sensation of being watched. The shadows seemed to have found permanent residence under my eyes by that fourth morning. Customers seemed to have noticed, too, judging by their jokes when I would offer to refill their coffee cups. One man even offered to pay for me to join him for a cup of my own!
It was the fifth night when the voice returned.
I had unenthusiastically crawled into bed, purposely leaving my lamp on next to me as I pulled the covers up to my chin. As soon as I closed my eyes, I heard it.
The sharp whisper was right in my ear, coming from the empty space in the bed next to me. I swore I could feel the breath of someone on the side of my face. Naturally, I screamed and tripped over myself while running like hell out of my bedroom. On autopilot, I had run to my mother’s room for comfort, only to find her empty bed as a reminder that she was still out of town.
I turned all of the lights on in her room, locked the door, and climbed into her bed. My mother is a very religious woman, so her room has always been decorated with crucifixes and Gita verses. Somehow, I felt safer in there. I pulled the blankets over my head and fell asleep absentmindedly holding on to the necklace Tirth had given me, still around my neck. Maybe it was fear or just pure exhaustion, but I slept for 16 hours straight that night, well into the afternoon of the next day.
I didn’t even wake up until Tirth came over, knocking on the front door, with some takeout in a bag under his arm. He wanted to celebrate landing the new job at the bike shop downtown. His face instantly dropped at the sight of me.
“Oh my God, Anjali. Are you alright?” He asked while handing me the food and taking off his coat.
I didn’t respond.
“I’ve been trying to call you! Why haven’t you been answering my texts? What’s wrong?”
I shut the door behind him, sighed, and forced a smile.
“It’s nothing, Tirth, I’ve just been getting over a bug of some kind. I’m sorry. I have been kind of in my head for the last week or so and I just slept for 16 hours last night. I’m not ignoring you I promise, I’ve just been stressed with work, and sick.”
Tirth hugged me, then pulled away and stared at me for a moment, as if trying to decide whether or not he believed me.
“Are you sure? You’re not mad at me or anything are you?”
I forced another smile, “Of course not,” I said, pulling him in for another hug.
The rest of that evening passed in a blur. Before I knew it, Tirth was pulling out of the driveway, leaving me home alone again. His first day of work was in the morning, and I hadn’t wanted to stress him out with the fact that his girlfriend was hearing voices, so I didn’t tell him about what had been happening.
I had my first nightmare that night.
I dreamed of Tirth. At least, I thought it was Tirth. He had the same breathtakingly-blue eyes and dark hair, only he looked like he might have been a few years older. He also had facial hair, which I found oddly attractive, as he ran toward me and wrapped an angry hand around my throat.
I woke up in a cold sweat and couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. He had such anger in his eyes that I had never seen before. Tirth never put his hands on me, so why would I dream of such a terrible thing? That was just the beginning.
The dream wouldn’t stop.
Every time I fell asleep, the same dream was waiting for me, every single night of that following week.
Two weeks after our anniversary, I lost my job. It got to the point where I was too exhausted to leave my house, so I just stopped showing up for my shifts. I didn’t blame them for firing me.
Tirth had been blowing up my phone, but I didn’t have the energy to talk to him or explain what was happening to me. As much as I hated to admit it, a part of me wondered if my subconscious was trying to warn me about him. Maybe he wasn’t the good guy I thought he was. Maybe, I was subconsciously picking up on some red flags in him, indicating violence. At that point, I was a bit delirious from sleep deprivation.
On the 15th night, I had a different dream. In it, futuristic Tirth didn’t run at me and reach for my throat. Instead, he stood at the foot of my bed and glared at me. He spoke to me, for the first time.
“Give the necklace back,” he said.
I recognized his voice immediately.
Not his voice, but the voice. The same voice I had heard at the diner, in my room a week prior, always saying my name.
“Give the necklace back, Anjali!” he demanded.
I woke up, relieved to see that it was morning. I grabbed my phone off of the nightstand next to my bed and called Tirth for the first time in days.
He answered on the first ring.
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you! I-”
“Where did you get this necklace from that you gave to me?”
Tirth, taken aback, laughed nervously, “What? Why? Don’t you like it?”
“I do, I do…it’s just…I had a weird dream about it last night and I was curious.”
“A weird dream? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’ve had several, actually. Kind of disturbing dreams, really. But last night I dreamt of you standing at the foot of the bed and you told me to give the necklace back. You were really scary, and angry looking. I know I sound crazy, but I really-”
“Hey, babe? Can I call you back in a couple of hours? I’m on the clock and I really don’t want to get busted for being on my phone during my first week of working here.”
“….Oh. Yeah, no I-“
“I love you!”
Then there was a click, and silence on the other end.
That was the day when I broke down, for the first time in years. Hell, I hadn’t cried that hard since the day my father walked out on my mother and me nearly ten years ago. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely abandoned. It was like, something inside of me broke. I had given in.
That was when I started seeing things.
At first, it was just glimpses of movement out of the corner of my eye. At first, it was so easy to dismiss. By the time midnight rolled around, I was extremely anxious and pissed off from having never heard back from Tirth, and my emotions combined with my sleep deprivation were just easier to blame than to accept the reality of the situation:
I was not alone in that house.
I helped myself to my mom’s liquor cabinet. I grabbed a bottle of vodka and wiped away the thin layer of dust that had collected since the Diwali before last. Thankfully, my mother wasn’t much of a drinker. I considered going to the kitchen to get myself a glass of orange juice, then decided it would have taken more effort than it was worth. Instead, I pulled off the cap and took five large gulps of the gasoline-flavored liquid, in hopes that it would finally help me sleep. Or at least, maybe it would take my mind off of the figure I saw in my peripheral vision, crouched in the corner of the living room next to the chair.
I slept on the couch that night.
For the first time in weeks, I didn’t even dream.
The next morning, I blew up Tirth’s phone. When he didn’t answer my 8th phone call, I switched to texting him.
Where did this necklace come from?
Why are you ignoring me?
Tirth, answer me, God damn it!
I finally gave up around noon and forced myself to get up off of the couch. My head felt funny, and I caught a whiff of something foul-smelling that made me nauseous. To my own embarrassment, I realized the source of the stench was actually me.
When was the last time I’d showered, anyway?
I dragged myself upstairs and into the bathroom. More than ever before, I knew that I wasn’t alone. I could feel the presence of someone, or something, just lurking; Hovering over me as I got undressed. At this point, I was too drained in every possible way to even care anymore. I took the necklace off and wrapped it in a washcloth, then set it on the shelf inside of the medicine cabinet to keep it away from the steam.
“Enjoy the show, asshole,” I whispered, as I stepped into the shower.
As soon as I stepped under the showerhead and closed the curtain, I felt my paranoia increase. There was definitely someone in that bathroom with me. It was as if they were sitting on the toilet right outside of the bathtub, waiting for me.
In an attempt to keep calm, I started absentmindedly humming to myself. I wasn’t even sure what song it was, but it sounded familiar. I kept humming nervously to myself as I quickly lathered my hair with shampoo. As I stepped back under the running water coming from the showerhead, I suddenly realized what song I was humming, when the voice started singing along, from outside of the shower curtain.
“Tirth’s girl! Where can I find a woman like that?”
Acting on pure adrenaline, I ripped back the shower curtain to confront the source of the voice. Of course, I was greeted by an empty room. I yanked my bathrobe off of the hook on the wall and wrapped it around myself before jumping out of the shower, with my hair still half-lathered in shampoo.
“WHO ARE YOU?” I screamed, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”
My head whipped to the left as I noticed the medicine cabinet door open slowly. I stood, frozen in horror as the overhead light caught the mirror at the perfect angle, revealing a finger-written response in the steam on its surface.
There, written in all capital letters by a phantom finger, was a name.
At that point I was sobbing hysterically.
“AMAN?! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”
The washcloth containing the necklace fell off the inside shelf of the medicine cabinet and landed in the sink. On impulse, I grabbed it, ran down the stairs and snatched my car keys off of the table by the front door. Next thing I knew, I was colliding with Tirth on the front porch, nearly knocking him backward into the bushes.
“WOAH! Anjali, WHAT THE FUCK?”
Tirth tried to grab me, but I sprinted right past him and to my car. I didn’t breathe until I was in the driver’s seat with the doors locked. I looked up and saw him, still standing on the porch, staring at me. It’s almost funny now, thinking back. Tirth looked as if he was the one who had seen a ghost.
After catching a glimpse of my reflection in the sun visor, I could see why. I looked like an escaped mental patient from the asylum where Tirth’s uncle worked, with my still-sudsy hair and the dark bags under my eyes. I noticed for the first time that I had also appeared to have lost some weight.
It took Tirth a good five minutes to convince me to unlock the passenger door and let him inside.
“Anjali…you’re scaring me,” he whispered gently.
I laughed, a horrible, manic laugh. “Baby, you don’t know the first thing about being scared.”
“Why have you been avoiding me? You obviously aren’t okay. What has been happening?”
“Oh, now you want to listen to me?! The last time I tried talking to you about what was going on, you hung up on me!”
“NO! Shut up. Listen to me. There is something WRONG with this stupid necklace!” I threw the washcloth at him, with the necklace inside. “Where did you get it? What haven’t you told me?”
Tirth just stared at me in silence, with the most infuriating combination of pity and confusion on his face. Instead of answering my question, he responded, “Anjali. I think you need to get some sleep.”
He reached over and grabbed my car keys from me before I could protest, “You are in no position mentally, or physically, to drive yourself anywhere. Let’s go back inside. I’ll stay with you, and get you cleaned up. Then we can take a nap, and you can tell me what’s been going on.”
“I’m not going back in that house,”
“Anjali, I’ll be right behind you.”
“You don’t understand,” I whispered, unable to stop the tears, “There is someone in there. He’s fucking haunting me or something. He’s attached to that stupid necklace-”
“Baby, you’re not making any sense. C’mon, let’s just go inside and-”
“There is someone in there Tirth! I have been hearing his voice and having nightmares about him for the last couple weeks, ever since you gave me that necklace. And the creepiest part, is he looks just like-”
“Anjali, come on. Let’s go inside. I will check every room of the house with you and prove to you that the house is empty.”
At that point, I gave up trying to explain what had been happening to me. I humored Tirth and went room to room with him as he patronized me by looking under every bed and behind every piece of furniture. By the time we made it to the upstairs bathroom and I went to point out the name on the mirror, it was gone. It was as if someone had wiped their hand across the surface while it was still covered in steam, removing any trace of the name that had just been there less than a half hour ago. I couldn’t help but wonder at that point if maybe, I was just losing my mind.
Part 2 will be out soon.
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