“What’s wrong?” wondered Hari, sitting on a bench in his verandah, as he saw the boys come running like mad from the temple. They seemed to be shit scared and fleeing from something.
Akil, breathless, reached first.
“He is unconscious …is Raju! He said in frenzied excitement.
“The ball…blood…ball” he said incoherently, in shock and out of breath.
Just about an hour earlier, some village elders had chided some of the young mothers for allowing their children to play cricket in the temple backyard.
As the women wrung their hands to express helplessness, one of the elders shook his head in strong disapproval, “You ought to know that it is not advisable to be in the backyard after 6pm…spirits might be roaming…you know.”
“We do tell them, but they simply ignore us, saying that the place is quite spacious and ideal for cricket,’ said one.
“Do you still believe this trash?” asked another.
The villager just gave her a contemptuous look and told the ladies, “There have been some disturbing incidents before, don’t wanna scare you with old stories. Just take care.”
When Raju finally opened his eyes, he was still sobbing and shivering.
His mom was sobbing, but the villagers were kind, patiently waiting for him to recover.
“I…I…hit the ball, it fell into the old woman’s basket…”
His voice trailed off into sobs again.
“Woman? Who? What woman?”
As the villagers’ anxiety mounted, another lad took over.
“Raju was batting- when he hit the ball, it flew high and right into a basket… a vegetable basket or something carried on the head by a strange woman.”
“Never seen the woman before in this village,” he murmured.
While the elders exchanged meaningful glances, Akil added, “She bent down, reached for the ball and threw it right back. Raju who happened to go for a run, was near to her and hence couldn’t see the thrown ball.”
He shuddered, “The ball was smeared with blood!”
“Okay, but why did Raju fall unconscious if he didn’t see the ball?” asked his mom, after all the gasping subsided.
As the boys shrugged their ignorance, Raju, now a bit composed, said, “I saw this head in her basket… this bloodied head of a familiar person, can’t say who…when she bent down.”
Before this horror could sink into the consciousness of the terrified villagers, the village postmaster came running.
“A terrible thing has happened. Our postman has been run over by a train…his head is severed.”