It’s 21st Century and even today, some phenomenon are unexplained by science, and sometimes, even the latest technologies can’t justify a happening.
It was a usual morning in the unusual life of that paper boy who was going to collect the bills today. It was exactly a month that he had been distributing newspapers in various houses, and today was 31st – the day the bills had to be collected from which his commission would be formed for the 01st of coming month. As he rode his cranky bicycle, he remembered how his life changed in a matter of a few months.
Working on a scanty salary of Rs 1500 per month, he was striving hard to keep his ill mother alive, his little sister in school, and his own stomach full. His drunkard father was found dead in one of the local sewers a few months ago and since that day the entire responsibility of his household fell hard upon fragile and unprepared shoulders of that boy, who was now known as – paper boy!
He tried seeking work here and there, but thanks to the deteriorated image of his father and the debts he left upon them, all local vendors denied him a job. At last he approached the man who always stood by his father especially in their hard times – Gulshan.
The boy promised to work honestly and loyally and he also promised to repay all his debts soon enough. Gulshan was a newspaper vendor, who offered him a position as a paper-boy in his stall in one of the busy railway stations of the city. The boy agreed to it readily and he even repaired his father’s old and rusty bicycle for his new job. Gulshan couldn’t pay him more than Rs 1500 per month, the rest would be his commission – Rs 5 from each house that would pay the bill! The deal was done and the boy couldn’t be happier, for 1500 was too large an amount for someone who was in debts till yesterday. Moreover, he also knew that nobody in market would give him even half of what he was being offered, the offer sounded more like a generous help from a loyal friend, than a business deal. The boy thanked his father in his heart, for doing one right thing in his entire life – making a friend like Gulshan!
He told about his new found job to his mother, and his paralytic mother blessed him with her beautiful half smile. The boy was hopeful and delighted for the job and their future, he wanted to change the conditions of the house, he wanted to provide best treatment to his mother, he wanted his sister to become a scholar. Just a little amount, made so many dreams shine in his eyes! His mother told his sister about his new-job, and the little girl of 5, unaware of outer world, hugged her brother out of proud and happiness.
Enthusiastically the boy started his first day at job, by picking up a few bundles of newspapers from Gulshan’s stall and strapping them on the carrier of his bicycle. This much lot was for the eastern side of the city, Gulshan explained as the boy was new to work. He replaced Gulshan’s older companion, a boy of 19 years old who had left this job to pursue his education – what a silly boy, Gulshan thought, as he dusted his stall and made it ready for business.
The boy steered towards eastern side of the city, and he knew he had to make three trips to Gulshan’s stall to refill the newspaper stock on his bicycle. It was 05:00am, and the city slept while the boy worked. His first address was – House Number 42.
He stopped his bicycle in front of main gate of the house and found it wide open. Without thinking much, he tossed the newspaper that flew across the lush green garden of that palatial house, and landed in front of the main door. He waited for it to be picked up. These big city people don’t wake up that early, he thought and decided to move on. By 06am, he had completed deliveries in eastern side of the city and now it was time for western side, and then southern side, and his job would be done.
By 08:30 am, he was back on Gulshan’s stall after completing deliveries in over 91 houses spread across three directions of the city. Gulshan was busy advertising a newly uncovered scandal of a top notch heroine of Bollywood. The magazine with a hot cover and even hotter headline was selling like hot cakes in the morning, Men couldn’t resist reading about it, while women were curious to know the truth of the glam-world! The boy walked towards him and handed over the remaining lot of newspapers which he was asked to distribute throughout the day in various different locations of the city. Sometimes he was sighted at traffic lights shouting about the hike in share market, while sometimes he was found in front of a restaurant telling people about scams of government. Sometimes people would pay attention to him if the news was of their interest, and would lighten their pockets in exchange for the 32 pages, while sometimes they would ignore him and ask the boy to leave them alone. He would make his best efforts to sell all newspaper-copies throughout the day and sometimes he would succeed too!
His hard-work proved to be fruitful and his presence a luck, that Gulshan’s stall was doing better in years! He decided to increase wages of the boy so other vendors won’t hire him for more salary, as almost every vendor on railway station was impressed by the boy’s work. It was 31st and it had been one month that the boy had been working with Gulshan. He would collect the bills today, and I will give him 2000 tomorrow, instead of 1500 along with his required commission from each house, Gulshan thought and started dusting his stall. He looked at the clock, it was 04:00 am, and the boy would be arriving any moment now. As he was thinking about a rise in his salary, the boy arrived and started dusting the stall along with Gulshan.
‘Today you have to collect the bills, you remember?’ Gulshan said.
‘Yes, of course I do!’ the boy sounded equally excited as he did every-day.
After a few minutes of dusting, the boy pedalled his bicycle and reached the eastern side of the city. His first house was – House Number 42. The gate was closed every morning, after the first morning he saw it open. He rang the doorbell and thought he might be scolded for waking them up so early. But he had to do his work too, he rang the doorbell again after a few minutes of silence. Nobody responded and he stood there like a fool, waiting for somebody to open the door. After three minutes, he decided to ring the doorbell for the last time, and if nobody will open, he will come back again in the evening. As he was about to press the button, he heard the creaky sound of a door opening. He tried to look inside from the tiny gap between the wall and the main gate, but couldn’t look at anything. He jumped to look beyond the main gate and was shocked at what he saw.
All the newspapers of entire month that he had been tossing inside, were lying on the garden, and nobody had picked even single one of them. As he jumped again to see clearly if they were newspapers only and not something else, he found the inner door opening up and an old woman on crutches was trying to cross the garden to reach the main gate.
‘Madam, I’m here to collect the bill for the newspapers.’ The boy shouted loudly, thinking of the old woman to be deaf!
‘I can hear you, stop screaming!’ the main gate was opened by a beautiful looking young lady in her late twenties. She wore a black, see-through night-wear and was seductive enough to floor a man. The boy tried to stick to his work, and handed over today’s newspaper to her along with the bill of previous month.
‘It amounts to Rs 450, mam.’ The boy tried hard to look ‘only’ at her face, but failed every time his eyes encountered her flawless bosom.
‘But I haven’t read a single of your newspapers. You can see for yourself! I was in USA since last one month, and so, all these papers are lying here!’ the lady looked behind her and the newspapers had created a huge pile, one upon the other.
The boy gave a stern look to the garden inside, and everything about that place was giving him creeps. The house was old, and dirty, so was the garden. The newspapers were piling up, and the herbs and unwanted bushes had filled the entire garden, making it look more like a mini-jungle. The paint from the walls was scraping off, showing the shabby bricks beneath and the wood-work looked weak enough to fall any moment.
‘What a creepy place!’ the boy thought and asked the lady to make the payment anyways, as he had to report it to his boss.
‘Wait a minute…’ the lady turned around and started walking towards the inner door to get his money. The boy noticed her tread cautiously and noticed that her speed was slowing as she approached the gate. His sight moved from her feet to her body, which was looking to have become weak and stiff, her hair were turning grey and she became the same old woman who opened the door. She picked up her crutches which she had left near the pillar in front of the door, and shoved them beneath her arms. As the boy stood there with his mouth wide open, she turned back and smiled at him with a toothless mouth!
The boy screamed and ran away and decided never to return to that place again. Terrified and shocked, he cautiously collected bills from the remaining houses of the eastern side and to his peace, everybody was hospitable and kind. Relieved to have collected the money from all houses except for House Number 42, he returned to Gulshan who was waiting for him since half an hour now.
‘What took you so long?’ Gulshan asked impatiently, as he thought that the boy might run away with all the money!
‘Nothing, it’s just that, there’s this house, I think it’s something unusual, what I saw there, I think I was dreaming at first, but I’m sure I wasn’t…’ the boy was stammering as he talked about the morning incident.
‘Hahaha! You’re definitely mad! An old woman turned to a young girl as she approached the gate, and again turned to an old woman as she reached the door? Hahaha, wait, let me drink some water…’ Gulshan was laughing hysterically as he took huge gulps of water from his dirty plastic bottle.
‘I swear, I saw it with my own eyes!’
‘Get a surgery done, son. Your pair isn’t working anymore!’ Gulshan broke into laughter again as he tried to remember the scene narrated by the boy.
The boy angrily placed the money collected from all the houses on Gulshan’s table. Gulshan started counting and he counted the money twice and found that the payment was not full. It was one house less, otherwise it was okay.
‘There should be Rs 450 more, where is it?’ he asked in a strict tone.
‘I told you, it was from House Number 42, the woman, there was something wrong with her…’ before the boy could complete his sentence, he was slapped hard by Gulshan for stealing his money.
‘You think you can fool me with your stupid stories? I know you people, seeing such a huge amount of money, you think you’ll pocket some for yourself and I’ll believe in your shit. GO GET THE MONEY OR DON’T COME BACK HERE TOMORROW!’ Gulshan shouted at his highest pitch and the boy was frightened. He had to get the money for he couldn’t leave his Rs 1500 salary and commission like this. He had worked hard for an entire month, and going home empty handed will break his mother and sister’s heart who wait for him every day.
‘I SAID LEAVE!’ Gulshan shouted with blood-shot eyes.
The boy ran away, pedalled his bicycle and reached house number 42 again. It was a do or die situation for him. He couldn’t leave the money here as his salary was on stake, and neither could he borrow the money from anybody to pay to Gulshan to get his salary and commission. So, he rang the doorbell once again and shut his eyes tightly. He didn’t want to see the creepy old woman again.
He heard the knob twisting and someone walking over the grass and bushes. As he counted two minutes since the knob had twisted, he opened his eyes and found that young lady standing in front of him again, who opened the gate to him in the morning.
‘Oh, you! I brought the money in the morning for you, you know? But you disappeared!’
‘Well, I had some work…’
‘More important than collecting the money?’ the lady inquired.
‘No, actually, I had to report back to my boss because I forgot to carry this.’ The boy forwarded his arm towards her and he was holding a voucher.
‘What is this?’ the lady took the voucher from him, and started reading, ‘Subscription for a newly released magazine, free of cost for two months! Nice, what else do you offer apart from newspapers and magazines?’ the old woman asked.
‘What…what’s going on?’ the boy was terrified as he found himself inside a dark-lit room, sitting in a chair with a cup of herbal tea in front of him, and the same old, toothless woman sitting in front of him, reading the same voucher he had handed over to the gorgeous lady outside.
The boy was confused and freaked out. He looked at the surroundings and found a cross hung in an inverted position. On the opposite wall, there was a huge clock with a bat coming out of it, instead of a cuckoo. On his left was a wall full of posters of a family. He could see so many portraits including that of – a couple holding hands in front of a lake, a father-son standing next to each other, a mother-daughter smiling at each other, and as he gave an attentive look to the mother-daughter poster, he could realize that the daughter was the same young woman who met him outside and the mother, the same old woman who was sitting in front of him now.
‘That’s me and my mother! Wasn’t I so beautiful and young in my time?’ the old woman laughed again, and offered him tea. He refused it with a nod and tried to get up, but failed.
‘Oh, you must be needing the toilet now, here, use this…’ the old woman offered him her crutches.
‘I don’t need this…’ the boy thought, and as he looked at his hands, he was developing wrinkles and his skin was loosening up, ‘What the hell!’ the boy said out loud and the woman showed him the mirror. The boy was no more a guy of teenage. He had transformed into an ugly looking wrinkled, weak and sick old man with white hair on top of his head.
‘This must be a dream.’ The boy thought and tried to get up, but his weak body couldn’t.
‘Oh my God, what’s happening?’ the boy was completely freaked out and the old woman helped him get up. She offered him her crutches and he was crawling upon them like a helpless disabled man.
‘Please help me get out of here, please!’ the boy almost cried. The old woman showed him the way out, and as he opened the door, he kneeled at that spot and cried hard. The outsides were completely changed and destroyed. There was no garden, no street, no city, just a huge, unending forest with mountain-like tall trees, and snowy hills shining at the horizon.
‘We are in the USA. Isn’t this the most beautiful place, honey?’ the old woman said, and shut the door hard.
On the other end of city, a mother kept waiting for her son to return, and a man cursed the boy who took his money and eloped. House Number 42 stood tall on eastern side of the city, with some people talking about the place being haunted, and some thinking of the entire story to be a fool’s inventory!