Ghostly chatter

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on October 16, 2020 Published on October 16, 2020

Each tenant in my building has a storage area in the basement. Mine’s quite generous but it’s dank and gloomy. I don’t look forward to visits. There’s only one dim little bulb to light up an area the size of a modest garage. To turn the bulb on, I have to step into the darkness and pull on a dangling cord. Which is awful. Because the thing I’m afraid of in the dark isn’t ghosts but creepy-crawlies.

Yes, it’s irrational. And so what? Lots of people believe in the afterlife and that’s irrational too. Anyway. Today, mid-afternoon, I go down to the basement because I’m convinced that everything I can’t find upstairs in my apartment is actually hiding in the basement. When the number of things I can’t find upstairs grows larger than my unwillingness to face the creepies, I force myself to go into the basement.

So. There I am, stepping into the dungeon-like darkness, reaching for the dangling cord with my teeth clenched when, out of the corner of my eye, I see a movement. Then I turn the light on, and there it is again: A twitch in mid-air, where no twitch should be. I am absolutely calm. Because? It cannot possibly be a creepy-crawly. Which means it has to be something supernatural. Which means I have nothing to fear. Because I don’t believe in it.

Needless to say, my body pays no attention to me. Goosebumps, cold-chills, hair standing up on end — the whole parade of EEEEEEK!!! symptoms. But I’m not scared, right? So I turn towards the weird twitching phenomenon and say, “Hello?” Whereupon it says back to me, “Hellooooo?” And it sounds so ghastly that my absolute lack of belief in the supernatural shatters right then and there. The goosebumps morph into full-grown geese. My teeth chatter. My hair stands up perpendicular to my scalp.

A pale-blue spiral of mist rises up from one of the cartons of books I’ve stored down there. “Too bad you don’t believe in me,” says the thing. I want to ask why but can only make gargling sounds. My tongue has turned into a wet rag, blocking up my mouth. “We could have so much fun together!” continues the spirit. “All you need is faith. And afterwards, when you die, the infinite real estate of Heaven awaits you! As many ice cream sundaes as you wish!”

“Nah,” I finally say, in a croaky voice. “Belief isn’t worth the trouble. And besides —” I pause to catch my breath. My skin and hair turn back to normal. “Look at the awful things that people do in the name of faith! This Supreme Court nominee, for instance: Such steely resolve, so little compassion.” As I speak, the wraith starts to fade. “I’ll have faith when so-called believers place compassion above dogma,” I say, as the spirit vanishes. “Good riddance!” I smile. Then I turn off the lights and go back upstairs.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on October 16, 2020
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