Ghost

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It’s been a while since I put anything up. Not for lack of trying, though; just laziness, the real name for ‘lack of inspiration’, that phrase that I throw at people likely to swallow it. I fell to thinking, in early January (and it’s March now, don’t judge me), about something that I’ve been thinking about for years. There’s no end to that train of thought, just a sort of agreement I’ve come to with my spectre.

I’ve often wondered what happened to Meenu Mary. She was a name on the register, an ‘absent’ mark, the shade of annoyance in Mrs Dasgupta’s voice. That was the existence of Meenu Mary in class 2-A, and in my life.

For a few seconds every day, after attendance was taken, I used to wonder about Meenu Mary, the girl who never came to school. But I had other things to occupy my mind, and Meenu Mary was duly forgotten.

But Meenu Mary lingered, a twilight creature, and occasionally I would give her a thought. The years in St Mary’s School are more shadow than sun, and most of those classmates have long since receded into the former, but the empty space that Meenu Mary occupied (what space? There was no desk left empty for her in class) has grown sharper. She has become nearly solid. I gave her a face and a figure, hair and skin; round face and bob cut and two ponytails.

The name Meenu Mary conjures up the image of a girl of seven, small for her age, dressed like us in a blue pinafore and a white shirt, with a blue elastic hairband. She has calf-length white socks, and her shoes are of either white canvas or black leather, depending on the door. She has thick, straight black hair, curving slightly in at the tips, and her well-meaning mother has gathered them into two ponytails, giving her the look of a small bunny; small because ‘Meenu’ is a name for small people. No glasses, vaguely chubby cheeks, chubby arms and a full-face smile- just so, I think, does Meenu Mary look.

I say ‘does’, in the present, even though it has been twelve years, nearly thirteen. Meenu Mary can never grow up. Meenu Mary will always be the name on the register to whom I gave a face in class 2-A. Meenu Mary- and she is always Meenu Mary, never Meenu or Mary, though I made her; she is not my friend- is the first creation of a little girl who, even then, dreamt of playing God, who wanted to create and control and rule and destroy in her own right, unquestioned.

I did not love Meenu Mary as I had made her; I loved that I had made her. I froze her as a second grader because I could- but now, it’s because I can’t. I can’t see how the chubby little girl of my fantasies would grow, neither her features nor her person. And neither will that child fade into the empty space from which she came.

Had any of my classmates known Meenu Mary, or had she been new, like me? I’m talking about the empty space, not the name-made-flesh creature. Why did I never ask? Why did no one talk about her? Who Meenu Mary was became a question of the past; I began to wonder if she even existed.

Perhaps the answer is in the question itself. To question existence is to deny it in small increments- little by little, it begins to seem as unreal as anything. Eventually, I began to believe that no such person- what a strange name, too, ‘Meenu Mary‘- existed. Sometimes I still wonder if I conjured up the idea of an absent girl with an unlikely name- why, I don’t know. Maybe because of the anxiety under which I laboured the entire year.

I again thought I had the answer a year later. A junior girl was hardly ever in school- blood cancer, we were told during Assembly one morning. We donated for her; we prayed for her. We talked about her. Everything, in short, that we hadn’t done for Meenu Mary.

I began to wonder again.

And then the girl died, We prayed for her soul; her friends must have cried. Three days at the most, and then their lived hurried on to catch up with ours.

Had Meenu Mary died, I wondered. But if so, why should her name have been called out every day for an entire year?

How had she died? Why was it so secret? Had it been so terrible?

I was sure she had died of an illness; that was the only kind of death I knew. Another four years, and I discovered the word ‘murder- I wondered, again.

Sometimes- and I’m now nineteen years old, and in college, years and cities and worlds away from class 2-A in 2002-03- I still idly think of Meenu Mary. Where she is, what she’s doing. I ask her if she even knew that she had a place in Mary’s, in our class, that she was a name in Mrs Dasgupta’s class register.

She never answers; perhaps I should have given her a voice.

We used to tell stories in hushed voices about the dead bodies strewn among the chairs and tables one could see on the top floor of a rival school. We had our own ghost, though. And I don’t want to lay this one.

I don’t want to know anything about her. I don’t want to find out who she is, where she is, what she’s doing. What a waste of story that would be.

If you ever read this, Meenu Mary, don’t tell me.

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