IT was a dark misty night of midst December which influenced the very things came under its black cover. Away from the city on secluded paths there ruled darkness, fear, and silence—to which the chirping sound of crickets was the only interruption. On one of those secluded paths strode a woman, with no-one else, as the entire city appeared sound asleep. The path, a tree-covered single carriageway, led to a bus station at its end. Late as she was to board the bus back home from hostel, she hurried to walk past the road keeping the trees along within sight. A student as she was in a medical college, the woman, in her early twenties, barely found a break for home in tight schedule of her studies. Since the hostel sat away from the hustle and bustle of the city, she was travelling on foot to cover the half-mile distance to reach the bus station—not very far from where she was now. Once, on the way, a wave of gentle cool breeze came from the rear and pierced her body, forcing her to glance behind. Throughout the road there prevailed an eerie calmness, making the night even scarier. No sooner had the woman reached middle of the distance than she heard the sound of feet following her. Frightened did she become in the dark night; she felt her feet would no longer lift her weight.

“Stop!”

A wave of fear scarcely passed through her body when an unknown man hurled a shout from behind to stop her. Barely could she look back over her shoulder when she felt her heart soaring into throat. What her eyes could capture in the dark was the picture of a tall, bearded man, draped in a long shawl—same as she watched in films, and read in crime novels—heading towards her. Alone, indeed, was she on the road; she summoned up the courage to run as fast as she could do to reach the bus station as early as possible.

“Wait!” the man shrieked,—as he saw the woman running forward—“Wait lady! Don’t fear! You’ve dropped something! Take it!”

But the woman lent a deaf ear to the repeated requests of the man, yelling at her from behind, and ran so fast until she stumbled to the ground near the bus station.

“Help me!”

A few men, waiting for the bus, responded to her plea. They rushed to help her.

“What’s happened?”

Lying on the ground, the woman, breathing heavily, could only point her finger at the man coming after her.

“Save me,” she pleaded.

The men eyed man, warily; for them, he—caught chasing a woman, on an isolated road, in a dark night—was, most likely, the would-be rapist—or murderer—or the rapist-cum-murderer of the woman. They grabbed man;—as he put up resistance—they overpowered him, and subjected him to beating which continued briefly because he fell unconscious. The woman, who felt secure with men came, became afraid because the man they had beaten received a decisive blow in head and appeared dead now. All had happened in moments; a few more moments passed, imperceptibly, as no-one amongst the men, stood still around the man’s body, was ready to believe him dead.

“What’s happened to him?” said one of them. “Hey! Open your eyes. Look at me,” another tapped man’s cheeks. “Rescue his breath,” said a third. “It’s too late! He’s dead!” spoke a fourth after examining his pulse.

Now silence—again—ruled the road as the men, timely alarmed about the gravity of the crime they committed, had escaped—luckily unnoticed—from the scene. The woman had already turned on her heel. The man’s body lied on the road; to his left, a bit away, on the path leading to where he came from after woman, lied a purse to which nobody had paid attention.

*****

She laid on a hospital-bed when she opened her eyes. Even after the lapse of ten years, the woman found herself unable to rid of the trauma she had experienced on the dark night. Less was it due to man’s death; more was it because of the shock she had suffered on the way back home after becoming acquainted with a fact. She could remember the very moment when she, onboard bus, had found her purse lost, perhaps on the secluded road. Striding alone across the road with arms tightly crossed in the cold dark night, the woman, a little nervous, and fearing something untoward in the darkness, could not feel the purse slipping from her shoulder to the ground.

“You’ve dropped something. Take it.”

The man’s words echoed in her mind. Sitting in the window seat of a bus, going past the structures along, she also remembered his repeated requests to stop her.

“Was it the purse he wanted to hand over me? Oh Lord!—no!—what I’ve done!”

She wept as her regret knew no bound.

After de-boarding the bus, she reached home and went straight to bed. Resting her head on a pillow, she closed her eyes and played the whole picture of the incident on the screen of her mind. She watched herself being chased by the man, and then the man—being beaten by the mob—falling on the ground.

“Oh! It was brutal!—so brutal!”

She could remember the man’s protest before being overpowered by the mob.

“He protested—he resisted—he tried to say something, but nobody listened to him. I did not either!”

This was exactly when started her nervous breakdown. For her, the next ten-year period was nothing short of a nightmare. She dragged the decade in torment. Her stress continued to mount with each passing day, causing her to suffer severe mental illness. Her guilt to cause the murder of an innocent person did not let her sleep a single peaceful night. An unknown fear overwhelmed her. “Had I listened to the man, he would not have suffered death at the hands of the angry mob,” an expression she mumbled very often. She cursed the moment when she resolved to run, turning a deaf ear to the requests of the man who only intended to help her. Walking alone on silent paths, she often heard the same shouts the man had hurled at her. Striding at nights, she feared the sound of feet following her which she heard very clearly. With a continuous mount in stress her performance in daily life dwindled, causing her to be isolated in a room of her house. Unable as she was to overcome the post-traumatic stress disorder, she suffered several nervous breakdowns and was finally admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

*****

“You feel good now?”

The woman opened her eyes. Beside her bed stood a lady in a white coat, reaching above her knees. A tall fair-coloured lady, seemed to be a doctor, captivated the woman’s eyes.

“Who are you?”

“(Smiles) I’m your doctor.”

The lady rested her hand on the woman’s forehead.

“Oh! I see. It means I’m your patient in this hospital.”

“Of course (smiles again).”

“Yes! I feel good now.”

The lady psychiatrist inspired the woman greatly. She admired her fascinating smile, and the way she dealt with her patients. The woman also wished to serve patients as did the psychiatrist after completing degree, but the circumstances led her to this condition. Now she was at a hospital not to treat patients but to be treated. After a long period of despair, she had now found hope in the psychiatrist who, what she believed, could cure her decade-long ailment. The psychiatrist also attended to her regularly. She tried her best to comfort the woman. Knowing that her patient was a medical graduate, the psychiatrist spared no possible effort to take her back into a normal life. The woman’s mental illness now ran towards stability thanks to the treatment and medications prescribed by the psychiatrist. Her sincere efforts to treat mental illness of the woman won trust of the latter. As both were of medical background, they did not take much time to become friends. To the woman, the psychiatrist was now a sister. In her long conversations—primarily for the treatment—with the psychiatrist, the woman noticed deep sadness and utter seriousness behind her charming smile. It seemed as if the psychiatrist had also suffered a dreadful shock in past, but avoided to share it with anyone. “That’s why, perhaps, she understands my pain and sincere with my treatment,” a notion the woman used to repeat in her mind. She, however, never asked the psychiatrist what was it or what did she sad for. She believed the psychiatrist would herself tell her story.

One day, in one of the sittings, they used to have after working hours, the woman shared her college memories with the psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist told the woman how boring her hostel life was. Silence occupied the woman’s lips scarcely the psychiatrist uttered the word hostel. Her eyes widened, and a fear—unknown to the psychiatrist—overwhelmed her. Glittering a few moments back, her eyes had now darkened and were making jerky movements. Not was it difficult for the psychiatrist to peep into her mind through the expressions the woman was showing on her face. What amazed her was the utterance of the word hostel from the woman’s lips, several times, during discussion on her college life, but it did not perturb her.

“What’s happened? What makes you depressed? Tell me.”

The woman burst into tears. Blank did her mind go. She did not know where to start. After ten years of desperation she had found a friend, a real friend, whom she could tell the secret concealed in her heart.

“Mad would I be, for what I’ve done in past still haunts me. I’ve killed an innocent person. One who had no bad intention, and wanted only to help me. But I killed him.”

The woman cried.

“Okay! Calm down! Calm down now! Tell me who you killed? You can trust me!”

The psychiatrist consoled the woman.

“About ten years ago there was a deserted road I strode on through the darkness of a cold night when a man yelled from behind to stop me. But I ran! I ran, so fast. Near a bus station, I sought help from the men—waiting for the bus—against the man behind me. They overpowered him, and tortured him till death. Only later did I know he had nothing bad in his mind. All he wanted to do was to hand over me the purse I had dropped on the way.”

The woman finished.

“Where did it happen?” asked the psychiatrist.

“Away from the city near the girls’ hostel where I stayed for studies,” told the woman.

“Alright! Be calm! Let me bring you some water!” said the psychiatrist. She had listened patiently to the woman. Except a few drops of tears—which rolled down involuntarily from her eyes—the psychiatrist had shown no expression listening to her. The woman, however, felt very relax after sharing her secret with her friend—the only friend. She found her heart unburdened. Scarcely had the psychiatrist left when the woman fell asleep.

Next morning, the woman was found dead on her bed. She was stabbed in throat with scissors by someone unknown to patients of the ward. Beside her pillow lied the purse she had dropped on the secluded road.