(Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)
As Ravi awoke, a headache made itself evident before the rest of the world did. There was a disorienting hum that continued endlessly in his skull. He kept his eyes shut and turned to one side, hoping that the act would put him back to sleep, reduce the hangover’s effect. But it had the opposite result, not allowing him any peace.
He rose up to a sitting position, slowly. Something told him sudden moves would be a very bad idea. He looked around the room, not really taking anything in. The place was dark, which was a good thing — he wasn’t in the mood to look at anything bright just yet — but it was also cold.
Of course it was — he’d gone to sleep without a blanket. He blamed the alcohol for that. It wasn’t something he would ever do when sober. He was still in his party wear — again, something he wouldn’t normally do.
Then another realisation dawned on him — he wasn’t in his bedroom. In fact, he was probably not in any bedroom. The surface beneath him was hard. His left shoulder, the side he had been lying on, felt a bit stiff. He sighed, feeling the surface beneath him with one hand. It was wood; some sort of a trunk. He reckoned that he was in a storeroom.
Great. Brilliant! How much did I drink exactly? Did I even have dinner?
He cupped his face into his palms, half in disappointment, half as a psychological remedy for the headache. As he did, he became aware of a patterned depression in the skin of his left cheek where it had rested against some sort of a raised inscription on the wood. Another sigh escaped him.
Finally, Ravi convinced himself to get his butt off the wood and stand. He looked for an exit from the dingy room, found it, and marched towards it.
On the other side of the door was a passageway that expanded in either direction. Ravi recognised it in an instant — a corridor of Phantasy Publishing. He’d slept in a storeroom in his company. His first thought was that if Subro got wind of this, the artist would never stop bringing it up. So wary he was of his partner, in fact, that when a voice spoke up suddenly from behind him, he assumed it was Subro.
‘Early riser, are you?’ The policewoman from last night, Fernandes, enquired.
‘Oh!’ Ravi said with a start, turning to face her. She was sitting alone on a bench by the wall. ‘Ah, yes, yes I am, usually. What time is it, anyway?’ The question was to himself. He glanced at his own wristwatch and discovered the answer: seven-past-six.
‘Good. Discipline is good,’ Fernandes said. ‘Raises my impression of you a little.’
‘Okay…’ Ravi mumbled, wondering why she was here. His head still hurt. ‘Umm, I’m sorry, but have you been waiting here since last night?’
‘Here? On this seat? No.’
‘But here in this building, yes.’
‘Right. Why? What do you want from me? Am I in trouble?’
‘No. Not yet, no.’
‘Okay,’ Ravi said again. He hated this, having to prompt her to take the conversation forward. She definitely wanted something from him, but she was taking her time, studying him, his responses, making him uncomfortable. None of this helped with his hangover. ‘So what is it you want, exactly?’
‘Oh just some answers.’ Another half-reply. This was really frustrating.
‘Answers to what?’
‘Nothing much, really. I would have asked you yesterday, but I didn’t want to spoil the party for you. I thought I’d wait till after, but I honestly didn’t imagine you would pass out so easily.’
‘I passed out,’ Ravi said, mostly to himself. ‘I didn’t — didn’t do anything stupid, I hope?’ He was hoping too much, he knew. He could tell from her expression that there was a story to last night.
She didn’t answer him, though.
The sound of footsteps distracted Ravi from a follow-up prompt.
‘Ah, she’s here,’ said Fernandes, getting up from the bench.
‘Who is here?’ Ravi asked, looking in the direction of the sound.
‘Your date,’ she answered calmly, even as Ravi’s eyes fell on Sharmila. ‘I arranged for her to sleep on a sofa down there. You insisted on this room.’
Ravi wondered what it meant that he and Sharmila had both needed to be looked after last night. What kind of trouble have I gotten into?!
‘I — I told you I’m not sure it was a date,’ he said aloud.
‘Oh,’ Sharmila responded in a soft voice as she reached them, eyes dropping to the floor.
Ravi studied her reaction. Wait, she did consider it a date then! ‘Umm, what I meant to say is,’ he spoke up again, ‘I’m sure it was a date.’
Sharmila’s whole body stiffened at that. ‘It most certainly was not!’ she let out.
No? Massaging the back of his head, he said, ‘Ahh, guess not.’
There was no amusement on Fernandes’ face. ‘Do I look like I care?’ she asked curtly.
‘No, not at all,’ Ravi replied.
Sharmila kept silent, eyes back on the ground.
‘So, with you both here, we can get down to business.’ Fernandes reached into her bag and withdrew some files that she handed their way.
‘What’s this?’ Ravi asked, even as he opened one of the files. Inside it was what looked like a handwritten report. The letterhead bore the seal of the police.
‘These are some extraordinary complaints we have received yesterday. Ten of them in half as many hours. As if we weren’t already busy with the incident at Niranjan Theatre.’
‘Complaints… against us?’ Ravi questioned.
‘Not at all. I meant extraordinary in the literal sense. They’re not about theft or murder or that sort of thing. They’re complaints about the supernatural.’
‘What? Really?’ Ravi looked urgently at Fernandes. He’d expected this discussion to be about their drunken behaviour, but it was about the ghosts? Sharmila stirred at the news as well.
‘Yes,’ the policewoman confirmed, ‘complaints of ghosts and demons and what not. People from all over the city are reporting that they have seen alien lights in their homes, or heard whispers in empty rooms, or found their stuff moved around when they weren’t looking. Now, I would usually turn these people away, but after the things you brought to light three months back, I’m not very sure. Would you happen to know anything?’
‘Well,’ Ravi said, thinking, ‘from what I’ve seen, without the help of the Captura, it is impossible to see these ghosts. So, unless these people have such a device, I’m not sure how they could have witnessed anything.’
‘Okay, impossible to see; anything else?’ The policewoman had taken out a notepad and was scribbling down in it.
‘Umm, most of the times, the ghosts appear passive in the InstaCopies. Even when we see them interacting with us in the images, we don’t remember having felt anything out of the ordinary. I get the impression that the ghosts we see through the Captura can’t actually affect our world.’
‘So that rules out shifting objects around also. What about the sounds?’
‘Hmm, well, Uncle Silver, umm, Uncle Selvarajan — well, the great-great-grandson of—’
‘I know the man; what about him?’ Fernandes urged.
‘Well, he said that he has been working on a device for recording and replaying sounds. Apparently this device might be picking up sounds that we don’t normally hear. Right now, our understanding is that this could be the sounds of the ghosts. I think what it implies is that we can’t hear ghosts without technological aid, either.’
‘All right. Hmm. Now this whole business sounds like mass hysteria to me. Except, one more thing.’ She looked up from the notepad and at Ravi. ‘Other than these reports, we’ve also gotten some strange statements from the incident yesterday. People at Niranjan Theatre kept mentioning a man who was apparently manipulating lightning. Very crazy, but far too many people said the same thing to leave me suspicious. Did you see anything?’
‘Actually—’ Ravi began.
‘N — No!’ Sharmila suddenly spoke up rather loudly. ‘We didn’t see anything.’
Ravi looked at her, surprised.
The policewoman eyed her similarly. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ Sharmila persisted.
‘Mr. Thakur, what about you?’
What about him? Should he state the truth or go with Sharmila’s response? Why was she lying anyway? He suspected it had to do with the perpetrator being her brother.
In the heat of the moment, Ravi said, ‘I don’t remember seeing much. I was caught in the blast, thrown off my feet. My head was swimming in the aftermath.’
‘Okay,’ Fernandes said, clearly suspicious. She scribbled something down in her notepad again, then flipped the book shut and put it away. Collecting the files back from Ravi and Sharmila, she told them, ‘If you feel like you have anything to add, please visit me.’ She handed out a card.
Ravi accepted it. ‘We will,’ he said.
‘Okay, I’ll leave you two alone then, for now.’
And with that, the policewoman marched off.
Once she was out of earshot, Ravi asked Sharmila, ‘Why did you lie?’
There was no immediate response. Her head was lowered as she mumbled, ‘Not the police… I want to… find him myself.’
‘I see, I understand.’
‘About — umm — about last night,’ she continued.
‘Yes?’ Ravi felt his heart thump faster.
‘I — I’m — I mean to say…’ But then she seemed to give up. ‘I’m — I’m going to go freshen up. We have work to be done, right? Temples to visit?’
With that, she walked away in the opposite direction as Fernandes.
Ravi sighed and then followed her towards the restrooms.