The story of Stella’s shadow
I woke up sweating, last night. It was the same dream again. I was standing in front of the mirror, brushing the knots out of my hair and suddenly she was there, standing behind me.
And she was trying to tell me something.
Everyone who knew Stella said that she was quiet, a little eccentric perhaps and definitely, butt ugly. Not surprisingly she was single and seemed to revel in it. About Mary, the opinion was ….who’s she? Oh, that grey person who kinduv hung around Stella? The one who would throw stones at the neighbourhood children if they laughed at her? The one who sometimes forgot to wear shoes?
I encountered Stella in the lift where she took it upon herself to tell me that the people who lived in the building were all ‘pigs’ with no ‘class’ or any sense of ‘decency’ to a poor woman who lived by herself. I gently pointed out the presence of Mary in her life.
‘Who?’ she barked back.
‘Your sister, Mary?’ I don’t know why I framed it as a question since it was a stated fact. Maybe because I felt a little nervous seeing the look on her face. It was an ugly shade of grey.
She muttered and went her way and that was that. Her name came up every time I bumped into any of the neighbours.
‘Have you heard what Stella’s done?’
That’s how the conversations started. She had tried to stab someone because she felt that he was a ‘very bad man’. She once threw a cup of hot tea at a child who had thrown a cricket ball at her window. She had constant run-ins with the building staff.
Honestly….she was a real pain and no one had the faintest idea how to get rid of her.
The days following our short conversation were busy and rainy. Mould had entered our lives and claimed every unclaimed spot in the building. And with mould came a strange smell which managed to pervade every corner. It was a strangely unsettling time, so no one really noticed that Stella had not been seen in a while. There were no wild displays of temper when the children made a noise while they played in the central courtyard.
Did I say that Stella was a quiet person? Yes, she was but in a strange, wild way. Her personality was loud, compensating for her lack of words. She unsettled me because of a really weird incident that happened about three months after I had moved in. I was returning back from the grocery and had just stepped into the elevator. The doors were just about to close when an unkempt woman elbowed her way in.
I moved back, letting her claim more than her share of space. I just couldn’t stand the musty smell emanating from her. She turned around and looked at me intently. I could feel myself sweating between my thighs as I grew uncomfortable.
The elevator came to a stop at the eighth floor. Her floor. But she didn’t get off. The door opened ever so slowly.
‘I think your floor is this one, right?’ I couldn’t help asking. Her strangeness was driving me crazy.
‘You’re the woman in eleven.’ It was a statement. I nodded my head vigorously and for good measure looked pointedly at my watch.
‘Be careful….stay away from her….otherwise, she’ll get you.’ And with that she left.
I never mentioned that incident to anyone. Not even Ajit. I didn’t want him to worry unnecessarily. Besides, who cares about what she says, I told myself. She’s mad. But the sense of disquiet stayed.
It was just seven months after this that the mould appeared and Stella disappeared.
While there was a general sense of relief among the neighbours, there was still that question of, where’s Stella?
The mould sample was sent to a local lab and they responded back asking for some time to run more tests. But everyone was of the opinion that it needed to be tackled immediately.
Fumigation. Bleaching. Scrubbing. The neighbours were in a frenzy of cleaning. Some complained that their children were getting sneezing fits and watery eyes.
Two weeks of feverish cleaning ensured that the mould had almost gone, though one did suddenly come upon the occasional patch.
And that was that till Toffee the nosy dog from the apartment below, dug up a battered purse which someone remembered was Stella’s. Not surprisingly, all hell broke loose. The police had to be called and they started digging up the place.
To the relief of all, nothing else was found. Just the purse.
Two months after Stella’s no-show it was decided by the building management committee that we should force open her apartment to check if the answer of her mysterious disappearance was somewhere in there. I was part of the group of five who entered and this is what I saw –
Two rooms filled with piles of unwashed laundry.
The kitchen had stuff scattered all around. The fridge had nothing edible in it, just a bottle of jam and some stale bread.
The bathroom sink had brown stains and lots of cracks in it.
In one corner of the apartment there was some mould growing. It was a peculiar shade of brown and orange.
There was no sign of Stella.
‘Shouldn’t we also consider that Mary is missing?’ It was a valid question to which no one had an answer.
‘Mary, who? No one has really seen her.’ Was there a person like that? I had wondered sometimes.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the brown and orange mould on the wall. It formed a strange pattern. Trying to make sense of it I looked at it from all angles and then I saw it…the shape of someone’s hand. Actually, just the palm.
Suddenly, I felt dizzy. But I just couldn’t look away. I swear that the fingers seemed to be writing something. I looked around. Clearly, no one had seen what I was seeing.
And then I saw the words… Stella was here. And so was, Mary!