He looked at his watch, it was just past midnight. He was on his last scotch and the eighth cigarette hanged dangerously from his lips desiring to be exhumed and to be sent out into billows through the crowd in the old tavern on the bend of the hill road. The tavern had weathered a century of storms and had stood tall like a strong solider though had often changed hands. No one knew why it didn’t had a steady owner like its steady patrons.
Before he could raise his hand to wave for the waiter to get his bill, the old man made himself comfortable on the adjoining bar stool and dumped his frayed old coat of the table in the process making lot of noise and attraction the attention of others in the tavern.
The old man turned to Raj and gave him a friendly smile and a nod. He appeared to have been dragged in by a cat; he smelled of cheap booze and reeked of sweat and not to mention the heavy breathing and the annoying mutter. Raj would have ignored him on any other day but today he was making an exception; it was his birthday and moreover he was alone. Raj made a futile attempt again to get the attention of the waiting staff but the old man did a better job of getting Raj's attention with, "you seems to be in a hurry, dear friend. Don't be in rush they might be waiting for you outside."
It certainly caught his attention and irked him too; he wanted to knock him down for being intrusive. Raj was in no hurry and felt the old man too needed a company. The old man had a wrinkled face making him historic and was slightly bent with age; he wore grubby and tattered clothes and constantly rambled. He looked at Raj now and then and gave him a toothless smile. Raj taking it as a cue for doles pushed his scotch glass to him and the old man grabbed the glass with both hands and was delighted at the gesture. Between sips of expensive scotch he spoke and mumbled about the old times. Then he put the glass down and looked at Raj, "the time has changed but they still are around". The old man rambled on to tell Raj about the time he was young and the town was less crowded and the booze, dime a dozen.
This was not the time to swap stories but the old man kept going on while Raj checked his watch. "Do you believe in afterlife and the soul"? His question stuck Raj and he blurted, "you mean ghosts". “Yes, that’s what the living calls them." He turned to his right and looked straight into Raj's eyes, "they say we have too many of them around".
“I am an old-timer and have seen good and bad times but I can’t forget the night when this small hill town saw the bloody accident. It was late in the night and Mr and Mrs Brownstone were returning from the dinner hosted by their artist friend at Summer Hill. The night was beautiful and the star covered the sky like a night spread. Mr and Mrs Brownstone were the gentle folks visiting the town. Mr Brownstone was invited over by the Governor to design the official residence of the Viceroy. The couple was childless and had given hope as they both eased into their fifties; They had been in the town for barely a week and loved every bit of it – the morning sunshine, the smell of pine, the cool evening breeze and the sparkling night sky. The place was acting like a balm and they were glad that they got an opportunity to visit this exotic locale and explore a new part of the world in the process drowning their sorrows and finding each other again.
The dinner went well where they were introduced to the who is who of the town. Mrs Brownstone couldn’t be happier; the years of longing for a kid and depression had made her lose interest in the matters of the words. Mr Brownstone was delighted to see her smile again.
They both walked out of the party delighted and made their way to the small porch; the chauffeur was waiting for his master. He opened the door to Mrs Brownstone and they ease out of the property into the dark night.
Mrs Brownstone broke into a melodious love song incited by the beautiful starry lit night and the peace which they were experiencing in the town. After they had gone a few miles the driver lost control of the car just around the hill road and it plunged deep into the gorge. The next day the papers reported the news of this sad accident and the pall of gloom shrouded the entire town. The couple was found in peace in each others arms but the chauffeur’s body was never recovered.”
The old man stopped talking picked up his coat and got up to leave. He looked at Raj and smiled, “they say the dead chauffeur still walks around here telling his story". The old walked on and disappeared through the door while the colour leached from Raj's face.