Nibaran Chakraborty’s house was indeed a huge one. Spread across two floors, it probably had fourteen or fifteen rooms. In front of the kitchen was a sprawling porch. At its corner, there was a cluster of coconut trees and one pomelo tree. To pluck the ridge gourd, I had to walk across the porch, enter the courtyard, and then go around it to reach the backyard behind the kitchen.

The fading twilight hadn’t dissolved completely, and I thought, ‘I don’t need to carry a lantern. Things are still somewhat visible, and I shall quickly collect the ridge gourd and come back.’

As I went inside the garden, I realised that it was a dense wood of unkempt shrubbery. A vast overgrowth of the wild ridge gourd plants had almost covered the entire area. Amid that abundance of ridge gourd, I started to collect the newer and fresher ones.

All of a sudden, I noticed something. At about a couple of yards, I saw a woman. In that obscured visibility of the evening, I could see her outline. Her veil was pulled down across her face and she was kneeling to pick a ridge gourd. I stood there and observed for a while. It felt a bit awkward, so I focused back on my work, and then, before returning, I turned once more and saw that she was still busy plucking ridge gourds.

When I went back inside the house, Nibaran Chakraborty asked, “Could you find the ridge gourds?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied, “your garden has an ample supply of ridge gourds. However, there was someone else too who was plucking them.”

The old man was astonished and asked, “Where?”

“Behind the kitchen, in the backyard garden where the shrubbery is denser,” I replied.

“Was it a man?” he asked.

“No, it was a woman,” I answered. “Probably a housewife from the village.”

Nibaran Chakraborty became sceptical and said, “Where is she? Let’s go and see. Show me where you saw her.”

I accompanied him and went back to the place behind the kitchen’s backyard where I had seen that woman. But as we reached the garden, there was nobody to be seen! The woman had vanished, and the place was empty.

“Where is the woman?” asked the old man.

“Over there . . .” I said quickly, “She was near those bushes. But she is gone now.”

Nibaran Chakraborty said in a sarcastic tone, “Ah . . . mister cook, let’s go back. I guess you were daydreaming about the woman!”

I was surprised. I thought . . . ‘Why is the old man so finicky about it? What is the problem if a woman had come to pluck some ridge gourd from this neglected garden? Moreover, it is a sheer coincidence that he is here in his house tonight. On days when he lives in the city, who guards the ridge gourds in his beloved garden?’

After dinner, old Nibaran Chakraborty again picked up the topic. He said, “Why didn’t you take a lantern with you? Didn’t I ask you to do so? Why didn’t you do that?”

I couldn’t understand what the entire problem was. What wrong did I do? I concluded that Nibaran Chakraborty was a very fussy old man. Or else, why would anybody be so concerned about such a trivial matter? Why would one carry a lantern when the surroundings were still visible?

The old man again warned me, “After the evening, wherever you go, always carry a light with you, even if visibility is not completely obscured.”

“Why so?” I asked sceptically.

“Young man, how old are you?” asked Nibaran Chakraborty.

“Around twenty-seven or thirty years,” I replied.

“That is why you need to listen to me,” said my new master. “You are much younger than me. I am sixty-three. Listen carefully to whatever I say.”

Without further argument, I agreed and said humbly, “Yes, Babu. I will follow your words.”

That night, as I went to bed, my sleep was disrupted by a strange mechanical sound. It was coming from the room just above the one in which I was sleeping. I became alert and tried to listen carefully. The sounds were indeed real. It was as though somebody was trying to drag some heavy furniture across the room. It seemed as if someone or a few people were moving their furniture from one side of the room to the other.

I wondered . . . ‘Perhaps, old Nibaran Chakraborty is packing his stuff. He is supposed to go back to Kolkata tomorrow, so maybe he is finishing his packing. But why is he doing that so late in the night? Oh, he really is strange and crazily finicky.’

The next morning, I asked him about the incident, and he replied, “Who, me?”

I said, “Yes. Weren’t you packing your stuff upstairs in the middle of the night?”

Nibaran Chakraborty replied nervously, “Yeah . . . yes. Well, no. Ah, correct.”

“Babu, you could’ve asked me to do the packing”, I said, “I would’ve done it happily for you. You didn’t have to take all the trouble and that too so late in the night.”

The old man listened to me and became quiet. He didn’t say anything further and sat silently.

By nine o’clock in the morning, I finished cooking some rice and pulses and fried some ridge gourd. Nibaran Chakraborty finished his meal and then picked up his luggage to leave. However, before leaving, he pleaded to me, “Stay in this house as 70 if it is your own. Young Brahmin, don’t treat yourself as a resident cook. Consider this place your own house. Fruits and vegetables are abundant in my garden. Treat yourself to the excess of guavas, mangoes, papayas, and jackfruits in those trees. In your leisure time, plant good vegetables in the fertile soil and enjoy the yield. Eat whatever you can and sell the rest. This is now your own house. Take care of it and live here without any inhibitions or worries. And one more thing . . .”

“What is it?” I asked.

Nibaran Chakraborty lowered his voice and said, “There would be many who would come to disturb you. They would try to misguide you. They would try to poison your mind and try to split your judgments. Don’t listen to those fools. This is a golden opportunity for you. Take care of my house. Stay here happily on your own. Don’t listen to any of the gossip or unnecessary chatter. Enjoy the rich vegetation in the garden and live happily. I have opened two rooms for you. Don’t listen to anybody and stay without any worries.”

And then, old Nibaran Chakraborty went away. He left me in the lap of opulence. For a poor, homeless Brahmin like me, it felt like I was atop the clouds! Inside the enormous house, I had two huge rooms just for my personal use. Apart from that, the veranda, the kitchen, the porch, and the courtyard . . . everything was mine to use. There was a nice draw-well to fetch fresh water too. I could hardly believe the grace of my luck.

Excerpted with permission from “A Paranormal Illusion” in The Devil’s Teacup and Other Ghost Stories, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. Translated from the Bengali by Prasun Roy, Fingerprint Publishing.