Who was that sitting at the foot of my three-year-old brother’s bed? He wore robes and an old hat—somewhat like a sombrero. His beard was long, grey, thin, and wispy. His fingernails had grown out to the point that they had started to curl. His right hand slowly beckoned to me.
It was the “fortnight of the ancestors”, Pitru Paksha. I never knew much about the festival, other than that it was the time when spirits roamed between “the now” and “the afterlife”. Poojas were held to repay one’s debts to relatives no longer with them.
But, nothing like the following had happened to me during Pitru Paksha before.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed that the man had company. Circling my brother’s bed were five heads. No bodies. Just heads, fading to transparent nothingness from the neck down.
That was when, terrified but relieved, I realized I must be dreaming. I woke up, gasping to catch my breath. I looked out the bedroom window until my breathing steadied, and then back over to my brother’s bed across the room from mine.
Now, step back a minute and try to picture a nine-year-old boy fumbling around trying to find his glasses in the dark, scrambling out of his bed, and sprinting down the hallway to his parent’s bedroom. That’s what I was like after I realized that the man and his un-bodied companions were still there.
“Mammy! Daddy! There’s a man in my room, on Shirvan’s bed.”
Both parents just pulled the sheets over their heads, trying to block me out. I continued with my slightly incoherent babble.
“You just had a nightmare,” my mother finally said sleepily. She then told me to go and sleep in my older brother’s room.
I raced back down the hallway, having to pass through my bedroom—yes, the man was still there—and virtually flew into my older brother’s bed. I grabbed a pillow and hugged it as if my life depended on it, tucked my entire body as tightly against the wall as possible, and somehow willed myself to sleep.
In the morning, I woke up groggy. I cautiously looked into my bedroom, without going into it. Everything seemed in place. Nothing out of the ordinary. I could hear my mother bringing the breakfast out to the table, so I went to the dining room, climbed into my chair, and just sat quietly. My mother brought in the last of the breakfast items and sat down.
“Anan,” she said, “What were you telling me when you came into our bedroom last night?”
I shook my head “no” and refused to speak—I really didn’t feel like retelling this story.
“Because, just a little while after you left our room last night,” my mother went on, “Shirvan came into the room crying and saying that there were people in his bed.”
Shirvan and I never saw the man again. Except sometimes, when we close our eyes….