(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
The book was old and tattered, the cover worn and edges
curling. My sister had found it in a second-hand bookshop, one of the dark and
dingy places in the lanes behind the market, where the piles of volumes rise
almost to the ceiling and old men with thick bifocals read newspapers in shafts
of dusty sunlight. She bought it on a whim, because she had rummaged about for
an hour and wanted to have something to show for the effort.
So she just picked it up
while walking out, and got it for almost nothing at all. And only when halfway
home did she open it to see what it was about.
My sister was like that.
"Garbage," I said, when
she showed it to me later. "Just rubbish, is what it is."
"Still, itís interesting,"
she said, flipping through the yellowed old pages. "I canít even understand
half the stuff thatís in here, but some of itís pretty far-out."
My sister liked using that
kind of slang as well.
"Spells for summoning
demons and ghosts?" I asked. "Donít be ridiculous. Demons and ghosts donít
"Maybe," she said. "But
itís fun, isnít it? Should we try one and see?"
"Youíre daft," I said, and
pointed at the page she was looking at. "Look at that one, for instance. Youíd
need, letís see, a fresh human skull and a virginís blood. Iím not about to
donate my skull, and as for virgins..."
"Not all of them are that
complicated," she interrupted. "Thereís one I saw which is much simpler. Just
needs red and black cloth, sulphur, camphor, candles, and a few other odds and
ends." She turned back a few pages and showed it to me. "There, we can easily
get all that."
"Says itís highly
dangerous, and one shouldnít do it unless oneís an adept," I pointed out. "It
summons the demon Rouhbe...Rouhbegha...anyway, heís from the Seventh Circle of
Hell, it says." I pointed at an illustration, all horns and claws, spines and
teeth. "Handsome, isnít he? Wonder why anyone would ever want to summon him."
"Shouldnít matter, should
it?" she replied, grinning. "Since ghosts and demons donít exist? Isnít that
what you were saying?"
I looked at the
illustration again. My eyes literally could not make sense of the thing
depicted there, to sort out the long sharp spines from the huge, hooked claws,
the shaggy pelt from the curling tail. But the eyes were clear enough, two
pools of absolute black below the heavy, curved horns. And the mouth, with its
clubbed, thorny tongue, pressing between its sets of needle-teeth.
It was horrible, and it
was terrifying, and I wondered what diseased imagination had conjured it up
from the depths of the subconscious mind.
"Itís all nonsense," I
declared. "Iím not doing this."
So in the evening we did
it anyway. My sister was like that.
It did feel ridiculous,
sitting across the little table, holding hands and trying not to choke on the
fumes of burning camphor, while taking turns to read aloud words from the book
lying open between us, illuminated faintly by the flickering candlelight. After
a while we finished reading, and waited, holding hands.
"Iím getting tired of
this," I confessed. "When is this demon supposed to turn up anyway?"
"We might not have read
all the words accurately," she said. "Some of them are pretty hard to pronounce."
"Well, I canít sit here
much longer," I said. "This camphor is making my head ache."
"We canít give up so
easily," she said. "Take a walk on the balcony, then come back, and Iíll go
out. Weíll take turns."
So I went for a turn on
the balcony, which was down a short passage from the little room in which we
were holding the sťance. After the flickering candlelight in the room, all the
better to summon demons by, the electric lights of neighbouring buildings
looked impossibly bright, dazzling. From here, ten floors up, the noise of
traffic on the street below was a hardly audible rumble, and the headlights
looked like earthbound, swiftly moving stars.
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