Ruhi woke up with her arms flailing in the air. She had been dreaming of her grandmother, her amma. Hers had been the only death rattle she had heard in her life. And that had been that. The sound had signaled the end of her beautiful amma’s life. Ever since then Ruhi had been nightly dreaming of her amma. Her old-lady smile, all wrinkly and toothless and the smell of her lap had been very reassuring in her sleep (and just as jarring in the first moments of awakening as she realised every day, that amma was dead).
Tonight too, just before being awakened by that rude noise, her amma had been talking to her. In her dream, a younger amma (still with all her teeth and lesser wrinkles) – the amma of her childhood had gathered all her cousins in a circle around her and was feeding them fat balls of curd rice mashed with ripe langda mangoes from their orchard. This sort of food smelt of their collective summers and they waited every year to have amma feed them her strange concoctions. There was pickle too on the massive communal plate but none of the children wanted the pickle with their curd rice.
Ruhi had been savouring the lingering taste of the mango and the curd rice of the last round. With her tongue she touched every corner of her mouth chasing the elusive taste. Two more cousins till it was her turn next, and suddenly she was awash with a prickling sensation up and down her body (The grown up Ruhi doing the dreaming felt it in her still sleeping body). Ruhi felt it in her dismay filled heart of hearts that amma was saving the pickle for her.
She opened her mouth wide, tears filling her eyes. Amma’s hand was outstretched towards her. Through her despair and sadness and tears, she saw that her amma had transformed into a different sort of woman. This amma was a young woman. Soil-coloured and raunchy, pushy and leering, she fed Ruhi the curd rice and pickle and with bell like clarity said, “This piece of pickle is meant just for you.” The young Ruhi (and the older sleeping one) felt horrified at the stirrings in her loins.
Ruhi was almost shamed into waking up when she heard the death rattle and actually did. She looked around the dark room and turned to her side to reach out and then remembered that Deb had gone home for Christmas. Ruhi realised that she was now alone in their brand new flat, with its brand new paint smell, in a brand new part of the city (so new, it was almost in another state).
Death rattled again. It was coming from the closet.
The closet had been Deb’s baby. She had meticulously selected the design, the wood. She had bullied the contractor, sat with and cajoled the carpenters to have every bit of the spacious closet, the way she had wanted it.
And now, Deb’s closet had a thing dying in it.
Suddenly, with a flash, she remembered her dream, remembered the spiky feeling run up and down her limbs. “The pickle lady is in the closet,” she thought, “pretending to be my amma.” She jumped out of the bed, and hurriedly looked for her phone. She wanted to call her sister who lived across the city. She wanted to call Deb and scream at her for leaving her in this new house. She wanted to cry and scream at amma for dying, for dying in front of her and leaving her with the death rattle which will stay with her, her entire life.
But mostly, she wanted to open the door of the closet and meet the sexy woman she had just dreamt of.
Ruhi walked till the closet door and fingered the delicate beading work on it. She could smell something spicy. The smell of varnish and something else. Ruhi made up her mind.
She walked out of the room and bolted it behind her. She locked herself in the other room and covered herself from head to toe in her sister’s favourite polka dotted comforter. She breathed in relief, “If there is a ghost in a closet, keep the door to it shut. That’s common sense na?” The sun rose in 3 hours and everything was fine.