The Deceptive Cover

Sitting on the exact spot Riya sat five years ago, she heard a shriek very similar to her father’s. All the memories came rushing back to her and before she knew, she started running. By the time she came to her senses, she was standing on the main road, panting, her eyes stinging, cheeks wet with a salty taste on her lips.

Wiping her eyes, she ran home. By the time she reached home, she forgot about the shrieking and was the old Riya again – the Riya who was bullied in school, the Riya who couldn’t articulate her problems, the Riya who mourned for her father and cared for her grief-stricken mother, the Riya who did the household chores as well her homework and the Riya who loved reading borrowed Agatha Christie novels.

The next morning, she looked at the newspaper and was shocked to read about a man who had drowned in the same lake at almost the same spot where her father had also suffered the same unfortunate fate. She decided to go to there to find anything that would help to shed some light on the eerily similar death scenario.

School that day was unusually kind to her. The teachers did not call her a daydreamer and the bullies made only one taunting remark. On her way home, she decided to talk to the caretaker of the lake. She did not want to walk around the lake as it did something strange to her, something she failed to comprehend.

The caretaker was one of her few friends. She walked up to him and asked if anyone had visited the area after her. “None except the police. The police tracked the man’s cellphone here. A group of constables guarded this place the whole night. There was little chance for anyone to sneak in here.” Riya thanked him and started walking home, puzzled.

Presently, her house came into view. The paint was peeling off in several places and the windows needed repair. Money was tight. The allowance that they got from the company in which her father worked was only enough to get Riya a good education, medicines for her mother, some food and an occasional set of clothes.

Riya had to iron her own clothes. She was doing this when she felt a lump in one of the pockets of the skirt, she wore that day. She took out a lumpy mass of paper and straightened it carefully and was surprised to find that it was the book cover of an Agatha Christie novel she was reading. It was a deceptive cover. Although it was a very ordinary looking cover with just the name of the author and the book against a black background, it contained a very fast-paced thriller.

However, Riya wasn’t thinking about the ordinary appearance of the book cover but was really worried as the book belonged to the school library. She couldn’t give back the book with its cover torn. She started searching for the book with the hope that she could fix this mess. But after emptying her wooden cupboard and searching every nook and corner of her house that yielded no result, she sat down dejected. She probably must have left it at the lake. She had no choice but to search for it there. She hated going back there but she knew that she had to. That lake just seemed to have a strange effect on her. But the book was too expensive, and they couldn’t afford the fine.

The next day as she was returning home, she decided to search around the lake, which proved to be futile. She sat down at the same spot where she sat five years ago with tears in her eyes. The librarian scolded her harshly and she had a bad day at school. Again, the lake had that strange effect on her. A deluge of memories flooded back. She saw herself as a 9-year old and a 14-year old coming to the lake, crying, after being bullied in school. Her father and that unknown man had wanted to comfort her. Her father bought her an ice cream while that man had casually flipped the cover of the book beside her and was trying to make light conversation. Her father had mistakenly dropped the ice cream on her while she remembered the stranger tearing the fragile cover of the old book. She was angry with both of them and saw herself calmly picking up her favourite toy duck and the Agatha Christie novel and throwing it into the lake over the place where the caretaker had told her about a swamp. Her father and that unknown man were eager to please her after their mistakes and both of them swam into the swamp. With a sadistic pleasure, Riya looked on as they met their certain deaths. Then the air was filled with screams for help and she ran away.

Riya found herself running. She reached the main road and found herself crying not with sadness but with guilt. She wiped away her tears and walked home. By the time she reached home she had forgotten everything and was the old Riya again…

Written by Tirthankar Ghosh

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