She decided to join for the tour because the entire school, including her closest friends, seemed to be participating. Besides, staying away from her parents – for the first time – for two nights, with just her friends around, sounded exciting!
The bus ride did make the tour lose a bit of its charm, because she felt quite queasy; and it was embarrassing since the others seemed fine, while she was on the verge of being sick.
The night was to be spend at a school… it must have been somewhere near Thekkady. The girls would not worry about how or where they slept. Those were the concerns of the accompanying teachers.
The girls crowded around the bathrooms at the school, late at night, shivering slightly, but ready to take a bath after a tiring Day-1. Across the gate on one side, a group of shadows watched them. The girls stared back. Someone among them whispered, “That’s an orphanage.”
No one spoke for a while. Then, her friend standing next to her, said loudly, “Good Night!”
After a milli-second’s pause, the replies came from across the gate. “Good Night!” “Good Night!” “Good Night!”
Slowly, as the girls watched, the shadows melted away into the light.
The girls flocked back into the classrooms, and found mats spread out on the floor for all of them to sleep. There were blankets as well. They lay down in rows, talking among themselves, regardless of the roughness of the floor and the inadequacy of the blankets, and fell asleep in mid-sentence.
When she awoke, she was sitting up in total darkness, unable to comprehend her surroundings. She looked around in the solid blackness that was threatening to smother her. Frightened, she put out her hand to push it away and encountered nothing. Where was she?
It dawned on her then – the trip, the school, the mats, her friends. Someone had turned out the lights and let in the eerie darkness.
She felt the floor around her. This time her hands met heads, hands, legs, on all sides. Heaving a sigh of relief, her panic blown to smithereens, she tried to lie back and sleep. But there was no space! Someone had encroached on her mat. She tried to push the other’s hands away but could not. Where would she lie down?! Panic returning, she pushed in all directions. None gave way. None woke up from their exhausted sleep, either. Finally, feeling totally frustrated, she rolled herself into a ball and occupied the place she was sitting on.
Twenty years later, a woman sits up in bed after a troubling dream, her collar wet with sweat, looks around, finds the room in darkness following a power black-out, and remembers the Dark Night.