“Finally… You got your dream job.” Nidhi, the HR head of the school, smiled at Mandeep. He had just submitted his resignation and was now sitting across Nidhi in the latter’s office to complete the formalities.
“Yes… Finally, I have…” There was an air of relief in Mandeep’s words.
Mandeep Bhanderi, a mathematical genius with a Master’s Degree in Mathematics and B.Ed. specialised in Maths, was a math teacher in one of the most reputed schools in the town. He resigned for a better cause.
A soul of an academician, Mandeep was capable of passing the Ph.D. entrance exams with flying colours and even the degree would have been a cakewalk for him with his impeccable ability to jumble and play with numbers supported with theory. Ph.D. would have given him a better career for enabling him to teach as a professor in any university across the country but…
Mandeep opted for Bachelors in Education (B.Ed.) because he wanted to be a school teacher. Yes… You guys heard it right. He wanted to be a school teacher and that too… in a GOVERNMENT SCHOOL.
His intentions to acquire this job was not for the perks or the high-end paychecks that one gets after the probation period but he seriously wanted to change the government school’s level of teaching which is decades old in comparison to the current day education.
Like other private schools who charge hefty to the society to provide the most advanced, technologically broadened and brightened knowledge to the students, Mandeep wanted it to happen in the government school so that no class of society is deprived of the best education. After all, it was the matter of the future of the country they nurtured.
Mandeep had taken the first step towards his dream. He cleared the government exam and qualified for a teacher in primary school. His posting was in one of the remote areas of the state, a village where the population was no match with the widely spread area and heavily populated in city like Mumbai.
The day came when Mandeep was finally going to leave for his job, away from his home. After seeking the blessings of his parents, Mandeep started his journey to the village where he would turn his dream into reality and become immortal in the history of Indian Education.
Since there was no direct train to the village, he had to commute halfway through the train and the rest half of his tedious journey via local buses and finally in local transport, whatever was available to him at that time.
The village and the life people lived there was as old as Adam. A degenerate even to the pre-independence India. It would be tough to survive but the fire kindled within Mandeep burnt brighter than the naked electric bulbs sparsely seen in the village.
Mandeep paid the fair and got down with his huge bag pack, searching for someone to talk to. He had to make arrangements for his accommodation. He spotted a small shabby tea stall at a distance corner to his left, after the dust storm settled which the speeding hired car had left in its wake.
“Tea is something that always keeps me going.” He mused to himself, walking to the stall. At least he would get a chance to talk to someone there. The tea stall had an antique appearance, with just broken plastic stools scattered and an old man in his late sixties with a handlebar moustache waiting for the customer.
“One tea please…” Mandeep politely ordered as he grabbed one of the stools and unloaded the bag pack from his shoulder keeping it next to his stool.
The old man warmly smiled at him and filled a cup of tea for him. It seemed Mandeep was his first customer that evening. Thanking him, Mandeep took a most needed sip of his hot tea and relished its taste for a while. Mandeep took a few more sips and initiated the conversation with the tea stall owner.
“Uncle is there any guest house or lodge available here?” Mandeep asked taking another sip.
“Ah… Those are very fancy words here son. You seem to be new here.” The old man replied keeping a smile on his face and cleaning the rest of the broken crockery of his stall.
“Ya, It’s my first visit and I have no idea of this place.” Mandeep replied scanning the area which showed minimal sign of humans. Whoever he saw was busy breaking the sweat to earn the daily bread for them and their family.
“This place doesn’t have anything to stay for tourist, son.” The old man replied wiping the sweat on his face with his red towel around his neck. He dragged another stool to sit next to Mandeep.
“I am not a tourist here, I am appointed as a teacher in the government school here.” Mandeep replied with a beaming voice and a glimmer in his eyes.
“You are a new teacher in the school?” The voice of an old man was more shocked rather than happy or surprised.
“Ya, and I will be staying here for a very long time.” Mandeep smiled and took the last sip of his tea before keeping the glass aside. The old man stared blankly at him with revealing nothing through his eyes.
“I can help you with the stay here. I have a small room in the backyard of my house, you can rent it if you like it, though it’s nothing like a hotel room it’s clean.” The old man snatched the opportunity to make some extra money along with his tea business.
“That will be of great help uncle.” Mandeep accepted the offer gladly with no other options at his hand right now.
The old man called his grandson, Jitu, who was hardly 8 or 9 years old to look after the stall, while he showed the room to Mandeep. The house was just a few steps behind the tea stall and behind it was a small room, which was going to be Mandeep’s dwelling place for the coming days. The old man showed him the rest of the area and handed the keys of the room to Mandeep.
They walked back to have another round of tea, Mandeep paid the advance rent to which old man politely declined but on Mandeep insistence, he accepted it with a smile.
“Where is the school located?” Mandeep asked as Jitu brought two cups of tea for them. Old man, taking a deep breath spoke.
“School is located on the outskirts of the village. I don’t know why it was made there. The road to it passes through a narrow stretch of forest, not much dense but it gets scary after sunset.” The old man looked away while taking the sip of his tea.
“Why scary…?” Mandeep asked with raised eyebrows.
“There are stories, a lot of stories, nothing of which I have ever experienced but people keep talking. All in all, it’s not safe to pass through that area after the sun goes down.” The old man kept the tell-tales to his neck and didn’t spit out.
Mandeep just nodded. He then asked the direction he needs to take to reach school. The old man walked with him up to some distance until the forest stretch started and pointed in the direction without taking a single step ahead.
“Do you have any idea how many students study there?” Mandeep asked on their way back as the sun was biding its farewell to the day and night was about to spread its charm on this god forsaken old town.
“School is the place I have neither been to in my life nor in my adulthood.” The old man smiled.
Mandeep didn’t pester him more about school despite his curiosity to know more about those stories, the old man had heard. On their way back, they talked about how things have never developed in the village and how the government has turned deaf ears to this part.
At night, Mandeep was served food by the old man which was included in the rent package. Mandeep took a small walk as per his routine before retiring to the bed. He had to wake up with all the energy for a fresh new start of his life.
Next day morning, after performing his yoga and meditation, Mandeep was all set for the first day of his new job. He left a bit early to reach before time rather than getting late by a few minutes before his reporting time.
Walking past a small stretch of forest with a stream of a river passing by, the true beauty of Mother Nature that mesmerised Mandeep. The chirping of different birds was like a piece of real melodious music with the river thrashing against the small rocks on its way. It all made Mandeep’s day, filling him with great joy and positivity for the day to begin.
After a mile long walk, Mandeep finally reached his destination. The school building was one of its kind, an old rustic fence surrounded the lonely standing building. The paint of the building was long gone. It looked like it had been pained ages ago and even plaster was peeled off exposing naked red brick and rusted iron rods like a deep wound in a dead human body exposing blood smeared ribs.
A bunch of kids were playing in a small ground in front of the building. From their looks, it was no were to even middle-class families. Their clothes were more like rags than any fancy outfits. At a distance, Mandeep saw a guy sitting outside one of the offices on a plastic chair, chewing betel leaf.
Mandeep sent up a couple of prayers and opened the gate of the compound. The cranky gate screeched querulously and was enough to bring the attention of the kids. He smiled at them and walked to the guy chewing betel leaf, he was the peon of the school.
“Good morning, I am here to meet the principal.” Mandeep flashed his perfect smile. The peon, splitting some of its betel leaf content in the corner of the wall, asked uninterestingly.
“I am a new teacher appointed here.” Mandeep was about to pull out his letter from the bag but peon directed him to the principal’s office and got back to his nap. Mandeep felt it was a bit strange but kept his feeling to his neck, walked to the principal’s office.
The principal’s office was no less than a vintage government office. It was a slightly bigger room than any classroom with a high ceiling and single fan trying to brush the air with its antique blades that could hardly keep the pace.
The principal was in his early fifties with few strands of grey hairs forming the rim around his skull and centrally bald with a potbelly short fella who was trying to fit his oversized body in an old worn-out office chair. He was busy playing the game on his cell phone.
“May I come in, Sir?” Mandeep asked softly. The agitated principal looked up from the screen of his cell phone and nodded at him.
“Good morning sir, I am the new appointee.” The smile on Mandeep’s face was turning nervous now. The principal kept his stare on Mandeep and gestured him to take a chair. Mandeep presented his letter of appointment to him, which he kept it aside after glancing at it reluctantly. His eyes scanning the new appointee. Everything around made Mandeep nervous. He had to get his shit together.
While the principal verified Mandeep’s other documents, he kept cracking his knuckles out of nervousness with his left leg shaking. After verification was done, the principal spoke with a heavy sigh.
“Welcome to the school, Mr. Mandeep. I hope you will give your best and will work for the betterment of the institute and the students’ future.” For the first time, he smiled, shedding off his serious looks. Mandeep finally breathed a sigh of relief.
For the next fifteen minutes, the principal kept talking about things regarding school nonchalantly. Mandeep was all ears and felt a bit relaxed, but deep inside, the sting of anxieties made his adrenaline glands work overtime.
“Currently we have two female teachers and one male teacher here and the count has now increased to four with you joining us now.” The principal passed the appointment letter back to Mandeep along with other documents. The principal gave him his workload and a new time table.
Mandeep took it and kept it neatly back in his folder and was about to leave when the principal leaned forward resting hands on the table that stunned Mandeep.
“One advice for you, Mr. Mandeep… Don’t get too personal with anyone around here.”
The spark in his eyes and the curtness in his voice sent millions of volts with tiny sparks down Mandeep’s body, making every hair stand upright on his body. Nodding quite a times, Mandeep left hurriedly for the door of the office. He glanced over his shoulder seeing the expressions on the principal’s face, he couldn’t but feel something really strange and didn’t dare to turn to look back.
In the corridor, he was almost jogging in the direction of the staffroom just to fumble at the step and flung open the door only to scare the other three staff members, one male, and two female teachers.
“I am so sorry…” Mandeep straightened up and picked up his file which lay on the floor. The other three teachers stared at him with eyes wide open and shock still passing down their spine.
“I am Mandeep Bhanderi, the new teacher.” He replied with an apologetic smile.
The other members in the room greeted him with a nervous smile. Mandeep walked to an empty chair across the huge wooden creaky table. The air of nervousness still prevailed. The male member among the staff except Mandeep introduced himself and others.
“Good morning Sir, I am Rohit.”
“This is Shila.” Rohit pointed at the female teacher sitting exactly opposite to Mandeep and then turned to the other female sitting next to Rohit.
“She is Reema.”
They smiled and nodded at Mandeep. Mandeep inched forward and shook hands gently with them while staying seated. Mandeep was very excited to work with these nice looking people.
Soon they started talking about the syllabus and the level of students they had to deal with there in the school. The nervousness was still hanging in the air as only Rohit was doing all the talking softly with Shila and Reema just nodding in agreement with Rohit’s words.
The stinky feeling was taking a toll over Mandeep and the ants in his pants, he asked leaning closer to them over the table.
“Is everything ok here…?”
His question turned the talking Rohit to shift uncomfortably in his chair. Same was the reaction of Shila and Reema. The three of them looked at each other nervously and then stared at Mandeep with perplexed eyes.
“You guys are scaring me now. My adrenaline glands are already overworked. Please tell me if there is anything I should be aware of… Anything like…” Mandeep left his words hanging in the air.
Rohit took a deep breath and with a heavy sigh got up from his chair without uttering any word and walked to the door of the staff room. He sneaked out to confirm that nobody was watching him and then slowly closed the door. Shila and Reema walked near Rohit and stood in line with him. Mandeep’s heart was already hammering from within and then Rohit turned the lights off.
“Hey what the FUCK… What is going on…?” Mandeep was about to turn hysterical with this mysterious behaviour of his new colleagues.
Finally, a beam of sunlight scattered inside the otherwise dark room from cracks on the wall just above the window behind the Mandeep, illuminating the bodies of Rohit, Shila, and Reema.
What Mandeep saw next was the biggest shock of his life. He would have never dreamed of it in his wildest nightmare. The lower body from the waist of all the three colleagues was missing, it was so brightly illuminated that he couldn’t see their legs.
Mandeep hurled himself back as he tried to get away from them, resting his back on the wall, still aghast. He couldn’t fathom what he just saw, his colleagues were ghost…
The door of the room swung open and that gave a near to heart attack shock to Mandeep who was still bewildered with the events happening at a lightning speed. The principal was standing right in front of them. His lower torso was also missing, just like the other three.
The rage of anger in his eyes was like a hungry wolf on the hunt. He looked at his staff with vexed eyes. His stare sent jittering shivers in the other three. He then turned to look at Mandeep who was clutching his chest tightly as severe pain stung his heart and terrified eyes.
“I told you… Don’t get personal with anyone…”
Mandeep woke up with the choking feeling, he was gasping for his breath and sweating like a pig. He was in a state of shock. This was the worst nightmare of his life.
“Damn… What a terrible nightmare…” Mandeep took a deep breath to calm his anxious nerves. He took a glass of water with trembling hands only to spill it before sipping as his alarm buzzed to the loudest, giving him another terrific shock.
“Damn you…” Mandeep clutched his alarm and turned it silent. It was already early morning. He checked the time, it was his time for him to go for his small morning stroll and then perform yoga.
After a quick shower, he was all set for his new day though he couldn’t still brush off his mind from the nightmare he had. He took a deep breath and started for his school only to reach just a few minutes before time.
On reaching the school, he saw exactly the same campus he had already seen in his dream. His heart started pacing wildly, pumping his tired adrenal glands. It was ditto, the kids playing in the compound, the old withered building, and the same old rusty gate.
Mandeep took a few steps back, reaching few feet behind to distance himself from the gate. His anxiety was at its peak and decided to turn back without letting anyone know that he had come.
The moment he turned back to leave, the same principal appeared in front of him with a devilish grin on his face… He inched closer just to whisper over Mandeep’s neck.“Won’t you come in and join us…?”
Written by: Hemang
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha