The bread turned brown on the overheating pan and I took it out on a plate as I took the knife and the butter looking at mom who was doing the dishes. The question coming on and on my mind and I build up the courage to finally ask her.
“Mom, we have an NCC trip,” I told her as I buttered the bread and watched as she nodded hearing me.
“I want to go!”
I wanted to go and I told the sentence with determination hoping she would get it and for once agree with it. I was born to Indian parents and our family was way too conservative when it came to allowing children out for night outs.
My parents allowed my friends to come and stay in the night for pajama parties but never allowed me or my sister to their house.
And it was not like I wanted to go either. I was way too comfortable to leave the comforts of my bed to go out to my friend’s house for a sleepless talkative night. It was just not my kind off thing, as I was called too tomboyish.
I had hoped she would deny right away but surprisingly, she looked back at me for a second and then continued doing her dishes.
“How many days?” she asked and it was where I grew nervous. My heart was literally pounding out of nervousness that she would deny after knowing about the days. My friends had literally blackmailed me to join the trip no matter what because it was our last months to be together. Then we would give the main exams in March and be on our way to college.
School life would be over and I would have no memories to share with my grandchildren. It was what they said. I did nothing interesting, to be honest. But this time, it was an NCC trip. I wanted to do it because it would help my resume too.
National Cadet Corps, the NCC which is the Indian military cadet corps is the most prestigious, highly reputed body which is also a second line of defense. It is open to school and college students on a voluntary basis. So, we being in school can join it and earn certificates which can be helpful if we want to pursue in defense line. I had thought I would gain a certificate in school time and then join in college to get the B certificate. And my parents knew about it too.
“Twelve days,” I told her with full of confidence on the outside but melting with nervousness inside.
She stopped for a second as she exhaled out loudly.
“Alright,” she said and the bread fell from my hand to the floor. She looked back at me and then at the bread on the floor as she shook her head disapproving of my actions.
“I had just mopped the damn floor,” she complained and I saw the butter sticking to the floor and I picked the bread up as I threw it to the dustbin and took a napkin to wipe the butter off the mosaic tiles, grinning sheepishly.
“Oh well, good luck telling about this to your father,” she shrugged and I grew pale as I stood there watching her back as she sang a song mocking me. It meant I didn’t get the full permission, I had to now beg my father.
But I smiled as I looked at her. She was smiling and humming her favorite song as she washed the dishes. It had been a long time, since I last saw her in the kitchen, looking happy and even singing a song. My mother suffered from serious Pneumonia and after the diagnosis, it was informed to us that her arteries were blocked and it was why she was having a problem breathing. And quite many times she was admitted to the hospital.
And to top of that, my parent’s marriage looked as if it was failing. She was sick and they fought every single time. It was chaos in my house whenever I returned back from school. Sometimes, I felt like staying in the school as long as I can, to avoid their quarreling and bantering but my sick mother needed me and my sister.
So it was how our lives went on.
Perhaps, to get over this, I wanted the trip as a vacation and to divert my mind from all the things happening around me.
Who would’ve thought?
The feeling of pure joy glided up my face as my father dropped me to the location where our NCC camp was supposed to be. It was only thirteen miles away from my house. But I suppressed my feelings of joy and waited till he was gone. I saw my school mates standing near the gate with their parents and together with my father we walked to them as we talked about our stay.
The army people said they need some time to allot us our room and meanwhile, we needed to go on with the paperwork of filling down the name, the school and no of teammates.
Our father told us to be careful and how to go on doing things alone. Because none of us had ever come out for NCC.
Basically, we were here to learn and be trained for twelve days and get the certificate but there was a catch. We had to do our best because it was like a type of competition among the school kids from a different school. From my school, we were a total of eleven girls. So, a girl NCC group.
And we saw there were like more school and they comprised of more than twenty members in their group. Our team had the lowest member. So, the rooms were given and I looked back at the camp. It was a freshly whitewashed but old school. It looked as if it had been shut down from many days or possibly years but still, it looked fine because of the fresh paint. A four storey building with a large field area.
And the first thing that we saw were boys.
Our hormonal teenage years didn’t help as we saw boys from other school for the stay. The goofy expressions in one of the girl’s face from our group didn’t go unnoticed by us as we laughed and made a joke out of her and said our goodbyes to our parents and proceeded to our room.
It turned out, it really was an old building and it used to be a high school. The name turned out Ispar High School and it was a typical built school with corridors and a small playground inside. The building was enclosed with four building and the middle was the playground.
So, they told us that the whole ground floor was for the army people and the boys only. The first floor was totally for the girls.
We were given a hall, which would have been a classroom previously but benches and desk removed as we took the corner of the room. They had given us some thin mattresses spread on the floor and we used our own bedsheets as we chose our place near the window to the corner of the hall. In the beginning, we were only eleven girls but then more thirteen girls from another school came and took the remaining area.
So in total, the room had twenty-four girls.
We were ecstatic and we liked to show off. We talked in English and didn’t really talk much to the girls from the other school. They were like so petite and they seemed out of town. English was not our first language but back in those days when you are from an English medium school and you talk in English, you are like, you have some status.
We had no idea what type of mentality we had, but it was what those poor girls had to deal with for whom later we felt sorry for.
Now, it was the time for inspection of the new place.
Each one of us was excited. Not only did we get to stay out for twelve days but we got to meet some cool boys from the town’s most popular boys school called St. Pauls.
Together we walked and we saw nearly all the halls on the first floor nearly filled and we were relieved that our room was not that overcrowded like the rooms of others had. Everything was nice. The school was just next to the hill. It was a serene surrounding with trees and plants. Fresh air and chilly weather cause it was twenty-eight of November.
Everything was nice but the only problem was the bathrooms. No light bulbs, no water taps or supply water, no toilet papers. Just nothing! Instead, they did some arrangements and bought in some five-hundred liter, plastic water tanks. On top of that phones were not allowed and they didn't even provide plug points to prove their damn points.
I was already groaning for the washroom problem. I thought how am I supposed to be bathing in such a room. They still didn't provide light bulbs and the washroom was big and completely dark.
We looked down from the corridor on the first floor and saw the boys had the same problem. They were also given some plastic water tanks and they were filling the tank using a hose. The tanks were placed right before the washroom and we could see it properly as it was an open space.
There was another girl in our group whose name was Simran as well. She was my junior and the most notorious, mischievous and talkative girl from our school. Simran Gaur was the total opposite of what I was. She was chubby and matched my five feet two-inch height. On the other hand, I was always quiet and liked to talk with my facial expressions. They said I had an angry stare for like ninety-nine percent of the day but I had no idea why they called me such because it was just how my face was. I was not a bit angry to anything. Or so was what I thought! I considered myself normal.
"Let's go check the terrace!" Simran said and everyone agreed and as we had nothing to do, I agreed and we took the stairs. We were already complaining to the fact that our floor was completely packed and we had only two washrooms in which only three people could go at a time, the rest of the two-floor in the top was totally vacant. Why in the world did they not give us the third floor?
It would have been a lot easier to stay comfortably.
As we walked up, I was in the last as I followed them uninterested and unmatching their excitement. And as we reached the second floor, I looked to my side where they were standing right near the stairs as we watched the corridor. It was dirty and things were still laying on the ground. The things like an old pencil box, ruler, some broken things and mud. It was very old.
But none thought of going towards the room.
"Hey! How old do you think this building is?" Sharon asked Priti and she shrugged her shoulder.
"I think it's pretty old. I mean I live nearby, but still, I had never heard of this school and it seems hidden and isolated," PD my best friend said and we all nodded taking a final glance as we made it back to the stairs and ascend to the third floor.
Now, this floor seemed even more out of space and a chill wind went past us as it made us shiver in our place.
"What the hell? Did anyone else feel that?" Arpita who was standing on the top of the stairs asked and we nodded.
"Relax! We are on the third floor and there is nothing nearby. Obviously this floor will have good ventilation," PD said and I huffed seeing their creeped out reaction.
"Are you guys like serious?" I whispered and they looked at each other before glancing back at the third floor's corridor and they went up. PD stayed back as she looked back at the corridor which had a broken chair in the end.
"That sure does looks very old! Even we have that kind of old chair in my village. Man that's really old!" she exclaimed and I looked back at the broken chair. It was a cane with mesh, typical Indian style chair which were used by teachers or the staff of the school- back in the nineties.
"How old do you think this building is?" I couldn't help but ask and she shrugged.
"You tell me, what do you think?" she asked as her eyes remained trained on that particular chair.
"Probably thirty or forty years old," I told her and she whipped her head towards my direction with a half-smile.
"That's a long guess," she explained as I shrugged and she turned to join the others towards the terrace. I stood there for some seconds as I realized why in the world did I even make that guess? I was not even sure if the building was really that old so then why?
Suddenly, I heard a creak and a slight but very distinct groan sound. It came from the direction of that broken chair and it squeaked a little, it felt as if someone sat on it. Goosebumps formed on my body as I took a step back and held the handrail of the stairs. Shortly afterward, a chilly wind went past me out of nowhere and my eyes fell on the trees nearby and I marked as not a single leaves of the tree blew up.
I was just about to call my friend when out of nowhere a big rat, I had ever seen in my entire life - jumped on the chair and I held my chest feeling relieved.
"Just what the hell?" I found myself whispering and realized it was just the rat. So, paying no attention to the chair, I turned around and ascended the stairs only to hear that same squeaking sound of the chair, as if someone sat on it, again.
Thinking, it's just the damn rat, I ignored it and also the weird feeling of nervousness and the goosebumps in my hand as I rubbed them off and made my way back to my friends.
It was as if my body was reacting on its own to someone's presence but the thing was, there was no one.