Happy Halloween! Here’s a scary story that you might enjoy reading and sharing with your kids.
Aman was sleeping when it happened. The plane started shaking and Ammamma clutched his hand in fear. Aman whispered to her that it was okay. Nothing would happen. Planes shook all the time. They were just flying through some bad weather. Nothing would happen. Nothing would happen. Right?
Then the airhostess came towards them. ‘Is everything all right?’ she asked. The badge on her chest said her name was Nikita. Ni-ki-ta. She had grey eyes and very dark hair. Aman wondered if she was fully Indian. He had a crush on her already and didn’t want the journey to end. What was he going to do about his crush? Nothing. Aman was only fourteen. When you are fourteen, nothing could happen. Nothing could happen. Right?
‘She’s a little afraid,’ Aman said, trying to look like an adult. A proper grown-up. NOT a fourteen-year-old. ‘This is her first flight. She’s from a village.’
‘I am not!’ Ammamma shot back, stung. ‘I grew up in Hyderabad.’
‘See how I distracted you?’ Aman asked, grinning. Ni-ki-ta broke into a smile.
‘It will be all right,’ she said. ‘Just make sure you don’t take off your seatbelts.’
She then went to the back of the plane and sat down, following the instructions given by the pilot. Next to Christine, the other airhostess. She was pretty, too, but not like Ni-ki-ta.
By the time the plane landed in Chennai, Ammamma was acting like she’d actually given the pilot flying lessons. ‘This plane … it went so slow,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t feel a thing. No thrills.’
‘At your age, thrills might give you a heart attack,’ Aman said. His mother, who’d come to the airport to pick them up, shot him a disapproving look. ‘Is this the way to talk to your grandma?’ she frowned.
Both Ammamma and Aman ignored her. On the way back, in the car, Ammamma asked Aman what he thought about Nigitha.
‘Ni-ki-ta!’ Aman exclaimed, pained.
‘Yes, Nigitha. You liked her, no?’ said Ammamma. ‘I saw you.’
‘Saw me do what?’ asked Aman, buying time. ‘You told me you were going to the toilet but you were chatting with her,’ said Ammamma.
‘Who is Nikita?’ asked Amma, as she wove her way through the impossible traffic in their small red Maruti. ‘I didn’t chat with her!’ Aman said, surprised. ‘I was in the toilet the whole time.’
‘For fifteen minutes?!’
‘Eww … who times people when they are in the toilet?’
‘I do,’ said Ammamma primly. ‘It reveals a lot about the state of your bowels.’
‘Eww,’ said Aman again. ‘Anyway, I DID NOT talk to her.’
Ammamma giggled. ‘Nigitha is a nice girl. Do you know, she lives in Chennai, too. Her house is in Besant Nagar.’
‘OK Ammamma. I will go there tomorrow and marry her. Fine?’
‘What on earth are you two going on about?!’ asked Amma, irritated by the exchange. ‘Would one of you mind telling me?’
‘She’s the airhostess,’ said Aman and Ammamma together.
‘Aman has a crush on her,’ Ammamma continued.
‘I do NOT,’ said Aman, flustered. God, why was his Ammamma so embarrassing? Why couldn’t she be a normal Ammamma whose hobby was to watch TV soaps and write ‘Aum’ in her diary?
‘Aman was talking to Nigitha and laughing also,’ Ammamma said, undaunted. ‘She wasn’t even there when I went to the toilet. She was serving food somewhere in the front, don’t you remember?’
‘I took a picture,’ said Ammamma. ‘Of the two of you.’
‘Where? Show me!’ challenged Aman.
He knew Ammamma was bluffing. Because he was telling the truth, dammit. He’d been holding on till Nikita went to the other end of the plane so she wouldn’t know he was inside the toilet for so long. It must be that chicken puff he’d eaten at the airport. It had tasted strange from the first bite but he’d eaten it anyway.
Ammamma took out her iPhone.
‘Here,’ she said. ‘See?’
Aman wondered for a moment if he’d gone crazy. Because Ammamma was right. There he was, chatting with Nikita. They were laughing about something. Maybe he’d cracked a really good joke. Aman felt oddly proud of himself. Then he shook his head. No, this couldn’t be real!
‘When did you learn to morph pictures?’ he asked Ammamma.
Ammamma laughed. ‘Why are you talking like a politician?’
‘Because I’m wearing different clothes in this picture, can’t you see? Not what I’m wearing now.’
Ammamma looked at the picture again. ‘That is true,’ she said slowly. ‘That didn’t strike me. How strange. Did you change in the toilet?’
‘Ammamma!’ exclaimed Aman, exasperated. ‘Stop joking and tell me how you did it.’
‘I didn’t do anything!’ said Ammamma. Aman turned to look at her and suddenly, he knew it was true. Ammamma was not making this up. She looked scared. And Ammamma was never scared.
‘What’s going on?’ she whispered, shaking the phone, as if hoping that would explain matters. As if Aman would fall out of that picture and there would only be Nigitha-Nikita left, laughing at a joke nobody had told.
They reached home.
Just then, Ammamma’s phone rang.
‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Hello?’ Then, she handed over the phone to Aman. ‘It’s Nigitha,’ she said, in a disbelieving voice. ‘She wants to talk to you. How did she get this number?’
Aman didn’t want to take the phone from Ammamma. He didn’t want to talk to Nikita. He had a strange urge to run to his bed and pull a blanket over his head.
‘Who is it?’ asked Amma. She was still trying to understand what was going on.
‘Take it,’ said Ammamma, pushing the phone towards Aman. Her silver grey hair was a mess. Suddenly, she looked so old and tired.
Aman took the phone.
‘Hello,’ he said.
The voice on the other end was like silk. So smooth, so soft.
‘Hi Aman,’ she said. ‘This is Nikita.’
‘Yes?’ said Aman, trying to sound nonchalant.
‘I hope you don’t mind. I had to call. I-I got the number from the airline. Just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for your loss.’
‘Your grandmother … it was horrible. Something like this has never happened in all the seven years that I’ve flown.’
‘What happened to my grandmother?’
There was silence on the other end.
‘Umm. I’m sorry. Is this Aman Vasanth?’
‘Yes,’ said Aman. ‘I am Aman Vasanth.’
‘Well, I know you must be really busy … taking care of all the … you know. But I just wanted to tell you that your grandmother was a most special person. I chatted with her for a while when you … when you were in the toilet. And it came as such a shock, you know. To come back and find her like that. We did everything we could.’
‘What are you talking about? My grandmother is right here,’ Aman yelled into the phone. ‘She’s right here.’
There was silence on the other end. And then, Nikita disconnected the call.
‘What did she say, Aman? What did she say?’ asked Ammamma, panicked. She grabbed his hand. Her touch felt like ice.
‘She said she’d like to meet us for coffee one day,’ said Aman.
‘Oh!’ said Ammamma. ‘What a funny girl. I must help your mother make dinner now.’
Saying so, Ammamma walked towards the kitchen with slow steps. She had arthritis. Aman waited. She walked past the giant mirror that hung in the drawing room. And then, Aman knew.
(Excerpted with permission from the book Flipped—Funny / Scary Stories, published by HarperCollins India)