Ajit bit his lower lip in an effort to decide the best course of action. He was walking along the Marina beach thinking furiously about how to handle his parents. Ajit’s parents were very orthodox in stark contrast to their son. It was only recently that they had returned after a visit to all the holy pilgrimage centres of Tamil Nadu.
As soon as they came back, his mother had wrapped him in her arms, and said “Ajit Kanna, the deity has spoken. Meenakshi Amman has come to me in my dreams and has given me the go-ahead sign. You simply cannot say no this time.” Ajit’s parents had been pressurising him to get married for more than a year now. Ajit had been resisting it with difficulty. But his father and mother were persistent.
He frequently heard the same monologue from his mother, Saraswathy. “Both myself and your father are octogenarians and won’t be here forever. Who will take care of you after us? Try to understand our position, Raja. We want you to be happy. And we also want to see our grandchildren before we pass away. Remember, you have some duties towards us also.”
“But Amma, give me a little time to set my priorities right. I want to feel confident about being able to support a wife before marriage. Right now, I am working for a moderate pay in an insurance firm. You know what my life’s ambition is. I want to establish myself at least as a moderately popular painter before I marry.” Ajit said with anguish.
“We had a darshan of Swami Varadharajan Baba and he has predicted that your married life will be a true bed of roses.
“Well, there you are then,” said Ajit. “Let me take my time. I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”
“Don’t get angry son,” his father had said. “I know you want to establish yourself as a successful painter before you marry. But it takes some time to become an established painter. And anyway, I just fail to understand the connection between painting and getting married. You can always continue painting after marriage. And Nimmi cannot wait for you forever. I promised her father that we will forge family ties as soon as you and Nimmi grow up by getting the two of you married. It is time you took over our business, married Nimmi and settled down. Both your mother and I are over eighty as you very well know, and I can’t be taking care of our business forever.”
Ajit felt vexed. Would he ever dare to tell his parents about his affair with Rita? He could imagine his parents’ reaction if he were to reveal the fact that he was in love with a Christian girl and wanted to marry her. Both his parents were extremely orthodox and Ajit just could not imagine them welcoming a Christian daughter-in-law home with open arms. A cold anger coursed through his veins suddenly and he decided that within two months he would marry Rita, take her home and introduce her to his parents as his wife. After all, even though his parents had brought him up and given him all the comforts of life, they simply failed to understand that he could not always be living for them. His personal life was his own and he found it totally unfair that his parents wanted to force him into marriage to someone of their choice.
He stopped and pulled out his phone and rang Rita’s number. After two or three rings Rita picked up the phone. “Hello darling,” she said. “I was just waiting for your call and was wondering whether I should call you myself.”
“I am walking along the Marina beach. Can you come over to the Tiffany Restaurant at the Marina? I want to talk to you about something.”
“Okay, I will be there in fifteen minutes.” She replied.
Ajit and Rita were sitting facing each other in twenty minutes time. After some inconsequential chitchat Ajit said, “Rita, I have decided to fix a date for our wedding. We will have a civil marriage. After that we will go together to my house and announce to my parents that we are man and wife. Let us see what they say then. Do you have any problems with that? I am tired and fed up with keeping my parents in the dark.”
Rita looked at him and smiled. Ajit’s heart fluttered looking at her lovely smiling face. “Okay darling,” she said, “I was waiting for this day.”
“I want to tell you beforehand that both my parents are extremely orthodox, and they will probably throw us out of their house. Be warned.” Ajit said.
“If they do that we can always stay at my apartment.” Rita said.
“There won’t be any need for that. I have purchased a villa near Adyar beach. It has five bedrooms, a hall, and a kitchen. I was able to buy it at a cheap price. We can go there. Only thing is…” Ajit’s voice trailed away.
“Only thing is what?” Rita asked as Ajit hesitated.
“Well, the villa is a bit secluded, and it has a reputation of being haunted. I enquired from people living in the area and discovered that it has a bit of a History going with it. A famous sculptor and his wife used to live there long time back. They were recluses. They suddenly disappeared one fine morning and no one has ever seen them after that. The sculptor’s wife was a singer just like you. They say that the sculptor has hidden all his sculptures somewhere in the house. No one has been able to locate the sculptures. A few people have purchased the villa and tried to live in it after the sculptor and his wife disappeared. But nobody has managed to live in the house for more than a month or two. They all ran away soon saying they saw ghosts in the villa. The villa has a reputation of being haunted.” Ajit said.
“Phooey, I don’t believe in that sort of nonsense.” Rita said vehemently.
Ajit grinned. He knew Rita was an extremely brave girl and he had already predicted this reaction from her.
Soon they finished eating. Ajit paid the bill and they departed.
It took nearly a month for Ajit to arrange a date for a civil wedding at the registrar’s office. Finally, he managed to fix a date, and arranged for two of his friends to be present as witnesses. He informed Rita, and she was simply thrilled. He bought himself a cream-coloured suit as cream was Rita’s favourite colour. Together they arranged for Rita’s wedding gown.
Ajit’s conscience constantly hurt him because all said and done, he could not help feeling guilty about not telling his parents that he was getting married. Three days before the wedding, Ajit, Rita, Venu and Varad were sitting in the Tiffany restaurant eating fish and chips and drinking beer. Venu and Varad were the two friends who had agreed to sign as witnesses at the registrar’s office.
Ajit looked at Rita and said, “How about visiting the villa I have purchased, guys? None of you have seen it before, right? It is quite near this place. And I have a surprise for you, Rita. You will understand when you see the villa. It is fully furnished, and I just got it for twenty lakhs at an auction.”
All of them agreed. Ajit paid the bill and they got into his car. Soon they were cruising along the Adyar road which ran parallel to the Adyar beach. After some time, they had left all the other villas behind and the surroundings slowly started becoming secluded. Ajit drove for another half a kilometre and finally parked his car outside a lonely villa.
The four of them walked up to the front door and Ajit unlocked it. They stepped inside and Ajit found the light switch and turned it on. Rita looked around and she explored the entire villa in delight. Finally, she threw her arm around Ajit and said, “Oh, darling! What a beautiful house. And you say you got it for just twenty lakh rupees?”
Ajit grinned cheekily and said, “Well, remember it is supposed to be haunted. Now open the back door.”
Rita walked up to the back door and opened it just as Venu and Varad joined them after having walked around the house. Rita saw that she could make out the frothing waves of the Bay of Bengal at a distance. She squealed in delight and said, “Darling, you never told me we could get to the seashore so easily. This is simply delightful.”
Ajit grinned and said, “I know you always wanted to live in a sea facing house. So…” Rita kissed him on the cheek.
They left the villa at eight. Ajit dropped Rita, Venu and Varad at their apartments and went back home himself. As soon as he entered his house his mother burst out, “Ajit, I have some happy news. Nimmi’s parents want to fix a date for your engagement. I hope you will say yes at least now.”
“I will let you know when I am ready Amma,” said Ajit with a sigh and went to change.
On the day of the wedding which was a Wednesday Ajit left his house at 9 AM. He drove over to Rita’s apartment and found her dressed in her wedding gown. She looked lovely with her hair fixed in a ponytail. She had also clipped on a Rose to her hair. Ajit simply swept her into his arms and kissed her on the lips eagerly. Soon they collected Venu and Varad from their apartments and reached the registrar’s office by 10.30 AM.
The clerk who conducted the weddings called out their names after half an hour and they walked over to him. Ajit had arranged for a Hindu priest and Rita had called in Father Matthews who was one of her family friends. Both were liberal minded men who had no compunctions about inter-faith marriages. The Hindu priest chanted some mantras and finished his part of the Hindu marital rites and rituals. Ajit and Rita exchanged flower garlands. This was followed by a Christian styled wedding in which Ajit took out a ring and put it on Rita’s middle finger.
They then proceeded to sign some documents and Venu and Varad signed as witnesses on the marriage certificate. The whole process did not take more than forty minutes. Soon Ajit and Rita parted ways with the others and got into Ajit’s car and drove towards his house. Ajit was beginning to feel nervous, and he took a few deep breaths trying to calm himself down. It took 40 minutes for them to reach Ajit’s house.
Ajit parked his car and led Rita towards the front door. He opened the door and taking a deep breath he called out to his mother.
“Amma, Appa, can you come here for a minute? I have a surprise for you.”
His mother came out of her room and his father came down the stairs from the first floor. His mother’s expression changed into one of shock when she saw Rita standing by Ajit’s side dressed in a wedding gown. She pointed her finger at Rita accusingly and asked, “Who’s is this girl?”
Ajit said evenly, “She is my wife.”
“Wife! When did you get married?” His mother asked angrily.
“Just today morning, Amma. At the registrar’s office.” Ajit replied.
“Ajit, this is horrible. Is she…? Is she a Christian?” His mother asked noticing her wedding gown.
“Yes Amma, she is a Christian and she is now my wife. I love her and she loves me and that is all I think is needed for two people to spend a lifetime together.”
His father’s face darkened when Ajit said this. He looked Ajit in the eye and said, “You ungrateful rogue of a boy. Just now spoke to Nimmi’s father and told him we can have your engagement ceremony within a week. And you do this! I am simply disgusted with you and do not ever want to see you or this girl’s face again! Get out of our site and never show your face to us ever again.”
Ajit looked at his mother and asked, “You feel the same way, Amma?”
His mother looked at him and said, “Ajit, we will never be able to show our faces to any of our friends or relatives again. Do you realise what you have done? You have totally betrayed our trust. I simply cannot forgive you. Go away somewhere else.”
Ajit looked at Rita and said, “Wait a minute Rita, I will pack the most essential things I need and be down in a jiffy.”
He handed over his car keys to Rita and said, “Go and wait for me in the car.”
Soon Ajit and Rita were headed in his car towards the villa Ajit had recently purchased.”
The initial four months of Ajit’s and Rita’s married life was full of joy and happiness. They had moved into the villa Ajit had purchased. The two of them took great pleasure in decorating the house. They bought curtains of different colours and designs for the windows. Their sex life was also great, and it was a pleasure to wake up in each other’s arms in the mornings. Though the house was in excellent shape and did not require any renovation the same could not be said for the garden. They employed a gardener by the name of Satish as neither of them knew a great deal about gardening.
Satish would come everyday in the morning at 8 AM and leave at 10 AM. He had excellent credentials and had worked in several places. He pulled out all the weeds and planted a variety of plants and soon the garden began to look like something right out of a picture book. There were Jasmine flowers, Chrysanthemums, rows and rows of Roses and he also planted a few Sunflower plants.
In the mornings, the cute Sunflowers would look up at the Sun and in the evenings, they would droop as if they were sad that the Sun was setting. Rita was really thrilled by Satish’s work. Every morning Ajit would pluck a Rose and place it on Rita’s hair.
One morning Ajit was walking around the garden exulting in the rays of the warm Sun. He was just about to pluck a Rose when he suddenly saw something that made him draw his breath in sharply. Somewhere at the bottom of the Rose plant, he saw something black in colour. Initially Ajit did not pay much attention to it but when he bent down and looked closer, to his surprise, he discovered that it was a Black coloured Rose.
Ajit had never seen a Black coloured Rose in all his life. He had seen White and Red Roses but never ones that were black. He bent down and tried to pluck the Black Rose. Before he could pluck it, he was pricked by a thorn and he cursed as his finger started bleeding. He went into the hall and pulled out the first aid box. He wrapped a bandaid around his bleeding finger.
He walked into the Kitchen where Rita was making breakfast. He could see she was making an omelette. He crept behind her slowly and put his arm around her neck very suddenly and squeezed mildly. She was startled. There was a distinct look of fear on her face which curiously made Ajit feel powerful. After she had recovered from her fright, Rita said, “Oh it is you! What was the need to frighten me like that?”
“Don’t get angry with me darling. As your husband, am I not entitled to get playful with you once in a while?” He grinned.
Rita looked at his hand and noticed the bandaid. She pointed at it and said, “What happened to your finger?”
“Oh that! Come with me to the garden. I want to show you something,” said Ajit.
He led Rita to the garden and went towards the Rose plant on which he had seen the black coloured Rose. He looked at the Rose plant from top to bottom, but he could not see the Black coloured Rose anywhere. He looked around and said, “I am sure it was here.”
“What was here?” Rita asked impatiently.
“I saw a Black coloured Rose on this plant. I tried to pluck it and that is how I got pricked by a thorn. That is why you see the bandaid around my finger.” Ajit said.
“A Black coloured Rose?” Rita asked. “You must be mistaken, Ajit. Roses are never Black. Anyway, it is too bright a morning to worry about Black Roses. Let us go and have breakfast.”
“Okay, we will do that.” Ajit said. “But before that let me decorate your hair with a Rose.”
Ajit plucked a Rose and placed it on Rita’s hair. Suddenly he pulled her into his arms and lifted her and carried her into the house and towards the bedroom.
“Not now, Ajit.” Rita said. “I am not in the mood.”
But Ajit would not listen, and Rita gave in. They had breakfast after half an hour and Ajit and Rita got into their cars and drove off to their office and studio respectively.
Soon Rita began noticing a marked change in Ajit’s behaviour. Earlier he used to be extremely gentle and caring when they made love. Now he was extremely brutal. There was no passion in their lovemaking. He often came home drunk, and he had an insatiable thirst for sex. Many times, she tried to initiate conversations about his behaviour, but he was never patient enough to listen. Rita wondered if he would change his ways if she gave him time. But that was not to be. As the days wore on, he just got worse. He played all kinds of nasty tricks on her.
He would hide her make-up kit. And when they went to office parties, he would humiliate her in front of his friends. Once he barged into her studio and tore up a couple of music books. She thought about leaving him quite often. But something stopped her. She had known him for nearly three years and his abrupt change in character was very recent. Rita was very modern in her outlook and had never believed in the paranormal. But she began to wonder about the possibility of a paranormal explanation for Ajit’s behaviour. It suddenly occurred to her that Ajit’s behaviour had changed only after the day he mentioned seeing a Black Rose in the garden and was pricked by a thorn.
She decided to visit the head priest in the Adyar church and explain the matter to him and ask for his advice. But she wanted to do that without telling Ajit. The next Monday she told the music director of her studio that she will not be available for the next two weeks. She wanted to solve this problem before she resumed work. She then proceeded to the Adyar church and parked her car outside.
She went inside the Church and prayed for a few minutes and then went over to a friendly looking nun and asked her if she could meet the head priest. The nun smiled at her and said, “Father Benedict is usually very busy, but I will ask him if he can meet you now.”
She came back after ten minutes and said, “Yes, he will meet you. But he is busy, so try to make it quick.”
After ten minutes Rita was ushered into a room and Father Benedict rose and indicated a chair. Rita sat on the chair and saw that there was a huge portrait of Jesus Christ hanging behind the chair occupied by Father Benedict. He looked at her, smiled and said, “So what is troubling you, young lady?”
Suddenly Rita burst into tears, not being able to hold them back any longer. Father Benedict stood up, came around his table and poured her a glass of water. He patted her on the shoulder and said, “Calm down. Pull yourself together and let me know what is troubling you.”
Rita composed herself and said, “Father do you believe in the paranormal?”
Father Benedict looked at her sharply and said, “I believe in Jesus and as far as the paranormal is concerned I am not an expert to pass an opinion. You tell me what is troubling you and I will see how I can help.”
Rita then explained the whole situation to him. Father Benedict put the tips of his fingers together and said contemplatively, “So you stay in that house from where the sculptor and his wife disappeared. I remember when that happened. I was a young man then. Some people used to say that the sculptor and his wife were worshippers of Satan and all the sculptures he had made were dedicated to Satan. The sculptures made by him were never found. Am I right? They are still there hidden somewhere in the house. I think the best way to solve this problem is to find those sculptures. Would you like to meet someone who knows something about the paranormal and can come to the house and do some searching?”
Rita shook her head, “I don’t want to involve anyone else. If my husband finds out things will become worse. I will try to locate those sculptures myself.”
Father Benedict nodded and said, “You are a brave girl. Be careful and may the Lord be with you.”
Rita left the Church and got back home. From that day onwards, every morning Rita would leave home in her car and double back to the house and conduct a thorough search of the house.
She would search throughout the day till 5 PM in the evening. She stopped after 5 because Ajit could return anytime after 5 PM. Meanwhile Ajit’s behaviour became worse as the days wore on. On the thirteenth day, she was searching the backyard. She was poking with a sharp Iron rod at the slabs of concrete and at one point the extremely sharp edge of the rod got stuck between two slabs. She applied pressure on the rod and the slab moved a little. She heaved at the rod with all her might and finally pried the entire slab loose. She looked down the gaping hole left in the place where the slab had been and saw a winding staircase going down.
She climbed down the staircase and found herself in a large room. She found a light switch and turned it on. There was a dull glow from a small light bulb on the wall. So the electricity is still connected, she thought to herself. She looked around and what she saw made her draw her breath in sharply with wonder. There were sculptures all around the room. They were breathtakingly beautiful. There were small figurines and there were several large sculptures too. Some were sculptures of saints. Also present were sculptures of several Gods and Goddesses. All the sculptures had a black base on which they stood, and the front side of the base had a strange symbol painted on it. Was it some kind of a symbol connected to Satanism? Rita wondered. She took her smartphone out and listed out satanic symbols in Google. She found the symbol on the base of the sculptures was one of the symbols listed by Google as related to Satanism.
There was one particular sculpture that attracted her attention. It was the sculpture of a Black Rose. Like the other sculptures, the base had the Satanic symbol painted on it. The whole sculpture was one solid piece and was made of some material which she could not identify. It was not too big or too small. She lifted it in her hands and realised it was heavy. She put it back in its place and decided that tomorrow she would meet Father Benedict and tell him to introduce her to the person who dealt with the paranormal for she was sure the sculpture of the Black Rose had something to do with Ajit’s change in personality.
She climbed up the staircase forgetting to switch off the light, and before she could put the concrete slab back in its place, she could hear a car. She realised Ajit was coming back early that day. She did not have time to switch off the light or put the slab back in its position. She just left things as they were and ran back helter-skelter to the kitchen, just managing to shut the door to the backyard. She did not have the time to bolt the door. She could only hope that Ajit did not take it into his head to visit the backyard. When Ajit came back into the house she smiled at him. He smirked back. They had an early dinner that night and as usual Ajit lifted her and took her to bed.
Ajit had been very rough in bed for some time now. But that night his behaviour bordered on the inhuman. Finally, when she could put up with it no longer, she ran out of the bedroom. Ajit chased her furiously. She ran, and her steps automatically led her towards the backyard. He chased her like a mad man. She opened the door to the backyard, and she could see the dim light coming out of the gaping hole where she had prised away the slab. She rushed to the spot and clambered down the staircase in the hole, not realising she would get trapped that way.
But Ajit saw her, and he came up to the hole and came rushing down the staircase. Suddenly Ajit stopped in his tracks. He was staring at the sculpture of the Black Rose. Rita looked at his face sharply and all of a sudden, she intuitively realised what she had to do. Ajit was slowly advancing towards the sculpture of the Black Rose looking at it like a man who was mesmerised. Rita ran towards the sculpture of the Black Rose and with both hands she lifted it and smashed it on the floor. It splintered into pieces with a loud noise which reverberated all around the room.
Ajit stopped in his tracks and suddenly burst into tears. He sagged down slowly to the floor. Rita walked up to him and took the sobbing Ajit in her arms. After some time, she led him back to the bedroom. As they made their way to the house Ajit said, “I do not know what possessed me all these days, Rita. Will you ever forgive me for what I have put you through? I love you. How could I ever be so cruel to you! Oh my God! I feel like a curse has been lifted off me.”
“It is all right, darling. I have full confidence in our love. I realise it is not your fault. The sculptor who made those sculptures was a Satan worshiper. We need to leave this house. Tomorrow we will move into my apartment and call someone who can deal with the paranormal. We will move back once the paranormal expert does away with all those sculptures and the Satan residing in this house.” Rita said. She led him to the bedroom, and he slept in her arms like a baby.