The last train of the night slowed down to a stop in the Keshabpur railway station. Amar yawned and waved the green flag as the train trundled on after depositing a solitary passenger on the platform. Amar was still getting used to the general lack of activity on a rural railway station in the nights. He was the Assistant Station Master and was expected to take the night shifts. He knew that the job wouldn’t be as glamarous as its title, but he didn’t expect such a mundane start to his career.
‘Master babu!’ Amar turned towards the direction of the voice. It was the passenger who had alighted. He was an old man of about seventy and was clad in a simple dhoti and kurta. A muffler was wrapped around his head and a taped-up black sunglass was perched on his crooked nose. The man shuffled forward and held a cane in his left hand. It was obvious that he was visually impaired.
‘Yes,’ Amar said, ‘How may I help you?’
‘Could you please call a taxi for me? My son was supposed to pick me up, but he had to travel to Kolkata on urgent business. As you can see, I’m blind.’
‘Where is your place?’
‘Quite close by. Not more than two kilometers from the station.’
‘In that case, I’d be happy to drop you.’ Amar said, ‘As it stands, my work for the day is done and I’ll be ready to leave in ten minutes.’
The old man smiled, ‘Thank you, babu!’
Once his job was done, Amar led the old man towards the parking lot and retrieved his scooter. Unfortunately, the old Vespa refused to start. Amar sighed and apologised.
‘It’s ok, babu! We could walk. My son’s place is very close to the railway quarters. I can tell you the route.’
They started walking. Amar learned that the old man’s name was Durgaprasad Das and he was coming from Bosepukur. He shared a few anecdotes about the sleepy little village to Amar as they walked.
‘Excuse me!’ Amar stopped on hearing a female voice calling out. ‘Could you help me, please?’
As he was about to turn around, Durgaprasad caught hold of Amar’s wrist tightly and shook his head in the negative. Amar looked puzzled.
‘What do you want?’ Durgaprasad asked in a harsh voice.
‘I’ve lost something very valuable and important to me,’ the woman spoke in flawless English. ‘Could you help me find it? I’m not able to find it in the dark.’
Amar was curious to hear someone speak in fluent English in a little village like Keshabpur. He again made to turn around and was again thwarted by Durgaprasad.
What’s wrong with this old man? Amar thought irritably. He had no issues asking for help but when someone else, especially a woman asks for help in the middle of the night he is trying to stop me. Bloody selfish fellow!
Durgaprasad turned around and called out, ‘Come out, come out! I’ll help you.’
Amar was confused. What was the old man playing at?
The woman replied from her place, ‘Please come here. I’ve lost my thing here, not there.’
‘You won’t find it there,’ Durgaprasad said, ‘It has been taken away by the garbage vehicle and dumped outside the village. Go search there. Go!’
Amar heard someone running away.
‘Uncle, why did you speak to that woman in such a harsh tone?’
Durgaprasad Das laughed gently and said, ‘Oh that! That was no woman, Amar babu! It was a Skondhokata.’
‘Spirit of someone who had lost their head. The Skondhokata was searching for her head only. If you had turned and accepted to help, it wouldn’t have left you. But I’m blind and it cannot affect me. Also, they are quite easy to trick. Be careful when you comeback after your night shift, Amar babu. Skondhokatas usually haunt near railway lines.’
‘Well, most people lose their heads when they commit suicide on railway tracks. That’s why. Now, shall we carry on?’
Amar realised he had goosebumps all over his skin. Whether it was because of the cold or his brush with the supernatural, he didn’t want to think.
Note: Skondhokatas are believed to be the spirit of those people who died by having their heads cut-off by train accident or by some other way. This kind of ghost always searches their missing heads, and pleads others to help them to find it. Sometimes they attack the humans and make them slaves to search for their lost heads. The legend of Skondhokatas is popular in West Bengal.