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The mysterious incident at Akashdeep estates – 5

With so much happening in one day - the long exhausting drive through the winding roads and meeting Shalini had completely drained me because all I remembered was flopping on to my bed , thinking things over for a minute or so after which I must have slept like a log until the early hours of the morning. I was awakened by some sound coming from outside. When I opened my eyes I could see faint day light coming in through the curtains. I  opened the curtains wide to let the daylight into the room and what greeted me was simply amazing. I could see acres and acres of coffee estates spread out on the slopes and the little hill beyond . There was mist, sunshine and beauty everywhere I looked . As I bent down and looked I could see the sound had come from the grounds below where several estate workers stood round a table and responded when their names were called. Obviously their day was beginning with a roll call. I looked at the clock and noticed that it was already 6.30 Am. I hurried through my brushing , changed into fresh clothes and went down the stairs.

At Akashdeep estates

I saw Geeta busy in the kitchen , she smiled at me, asking me to sit on the veranda where she would serve the morning coffee. I went out and saw that Mahesh anna and Rohini aunt were already there . Since it was almost dark yesterday evening when we arrived I had not had the opportunity to see either the veranda, which was beautifully furnished with cane furniture and lots of potted plants nor the spectacular view over the garden and the road beyond the sloping, looped circular driveway. The coffee plantation was spread out on either side of the house and the garden. The garden was a riot of colors with flowering plants, bushes, climbers and small trees. It was very beautiful and I could not help but wonder how anybody living in this paradise could feel bored or go into depression ?

As we sipped our coffee Mahesh anna and Rohini aunt discussed about household affairs and then Mahesh anna asked Rohini aunt and me to look after Shalini since he was going to the bank , take care of other jobs connected with the estate as well. Rohini aunt had a funny expression on her face when she responded saying that Shalini was OK some of the times , so not to worry. Mahesh anna looked confused and said that he had not seen her being OK. Rohini aunt did not say anything to that but turned to me and said that we could go down together to the garden and I could walk round the estate and I was more than willing to accompany her. Mahesh anna , as he waked with us towards the garage told me " Enjoy your walk and I promise to take you to the town one of these days". I smiled at him and nodded my head.Mahesh anna I felt was very considerate and affectionate.

He also told me that the small town center which was at a distance of around 4 kms, had 2 banks catering mainly to the coffee estate owners and workers and a post office and two schools. Other than that they had a chemists shop , a couple of restaurants , a general store and a hairdressing saloon. The nearest doctor was located 12 kms away. He said that he should be back for Lunch and we could go through the estate accounts after that if it was alright with me and I immediately agreed since I wanted to start work as soon as possible.

I and Rohini aunt plucked and gathered the flowers , collecting them in the basket she carried . Later as she went into the house , I decided to continue walking  down the driveway to the road through which we had come and where we had met the handsome stranger who had made Mahesh anna unhappy ,  last evening. I went to the gate and stood outside looking at the winding roads and the valley below. It was all too beautiful and I felt as if I had been transported to a different world altogether. I stood there for a long time taking in the scenery and came down to earth when I heard someone calling me. It was Geetha calling me for breakfast.

Unraveling Shalini 

Surprisingly Shalini was there at the dining table drinking coffee and she seemed to have come out of her trance , was properly and fashionably dressed , so unlike the previous evening. She began talking to me. I could see Rohini aunt watching her with a sardonic smile on her lips. Shalini wanted to know how long I was going to be here and what exactly Mahesh anna had told me ? I tried my level best not to reveal too much of what Mahesh anna had told me but at the same time managed to satiate her curiosity. I was somehow under the impression that it was she who wanted me to be here. Things were getting more and more curious.

After breakfast I went up to my room and unpacked my clothes and arranged them in the wardrobe and brought down some snacks that my mother and atthe had specially prepared . I gave it to Rohini aunt and Shalini and apologised for having forgotten about it the previous evening. Shalini just waved it away and went out to sit on the verandah but Rohini aunt and Geetha ate some of the sweets and savories and showed their appreciation. Shalini was almost back to her royal self as she sat there on the verandah seemingly without a care in the world. I understood exactly what Rohini aunt had hinted at. I wondered , what kind of game she was playing ? I also felt sorry for Mahesh anna for trusting her blindly. It was almost impossible to unravel Shalini and her game plan.

I went inside to help Geetha and Rohini aunt prepare lunch and when I happened to pass the front door I could see Shalini walking down the driveway towards the road,  the same route I had taken in the morning. She was smiling to herself and seemed to be in a different kind of trance just then. For some reason I had a premonition of danger which I brushed away  immediately but the feeling persisted  with me all through the day. 

Lunch was ready and Mahesh anna was back , stil there was no sign of Shalini. The first thing he did was to enquire about Shalini. Both Rohini aunt and I gave our account as to how she seemed normal , that she had gone for a walk down the drivewy towards the road...that for some reason made him very angry.

He said " I asked you both specifically to keep an eye on her and take care of her "

To which Rohini aunt retorted " Is that possible Mahesh ? she is not a child and more importantly does she listen to me or to anyone for that matter ?. she knows and does exactly what she wants, so stop worrying about her "

This made Mahes anna even more angry and he striode away , walking down the driveway to find her.

They both came after a while ,with Mahesh anna holding her hand .  Shalini was a changed person altogether , looking downcast , terror stricken like the day before and without looking at any of us went up to her room.. Mahesh anna looked even more worried but did not say anything more and we went in to have lunch.

( To be continued )


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