The Girl Who Woke Up in Her Grave
The story, like an heirloom, has passed down through generations in my family. And some cousins swear that it is a true tale.
Again, I cannot verify that. But I hope to god that’s not the case.
But if it is, it must have happened at least half a century ago. My mother must still have been a kid, and my grandmother, a young widow. It must have been a time when the Bengali Christian community in our distant Nadia hometown was still a small one. With a smaller church, a smaller parish, and an even smaller graveyard.
The graveyard today is big enough to fit a football ground, holding the bones of many of my family members. These graves, a day from Halloween, on All Soul’s Day, will light up with candles and incense in remembrance. Like that scene from Coco…
But I digress, so let’s come back to the story.
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One of my aunts – or Mashi, as we call them – told us cousins this story on a particular hot night during our summer vacation. We kids, huddled around a lone candlelight and our aunt, had insisted on a horror story for entertainment. And after much request and tantrums, Mashi had agreed.
“But remember,” she had said, waving a slick, wooden hand fan at our faces. “This is a true story. It happened right here in Ranaghat, many, many years ago.”
We cousins listened to the rest of the story in pin-drop silence.
“It’s about this young girl who was very, very sick,” Mashi narrated. “So sick that all doctors had given up hope. Everyone said that she was going to die, and nothing could be done about that…”
“And then, one day, she did. Her mother went to check on her and saw that she wasn’t breathing anymore. She called the doctor, and the doctor declared her dead.”
When Mashi stopped to get a new candle, in the dim light of the now-dying one, we cousins looked at each other. Who could say who was scared and who wasn’t? The candlelight was so faint… Even the moonbeams streaming in through the open window of my grandmother’s ancient house was now bright enough to give away our expressions. All I know is, later that night, I heard one too many of us crying into the pillow.
“So, the girl died,” Mashi started again, sticking the old candle atop the old one. “That very day, her family made all the arrangements and buried her.”
“In Ranaghat’s graveyard?” asked one of my younger cousins.
“Yes, in our Ranaghat’s graveyard,” Mashi confirmed, solemnly nodding.
“Then what happened?” my older sister urged, in a husky whisper. She must’ve been holding her breath.
“Then,” Mashi continued, “The dreams started. Every night, the girl’s mother dreamt that she was calling out to her from her grave. She would wake screaming—”
“The girl in the grave?” my little cousin gasped, interrupting my aunt, which earned him a punch in the arm from his sister.
“No! Her mother! Her mother would wake screaming and plead everyone to dig up her daughter’s grave. She insisted that her girl was alive.”
The pin-drop silence among us cousins was back.
“Of course, no one believed the mother,” said Mashi. “They took her to the doctor, then to the witch doctor, even the village priest for a blessing. But every night she would wake up screaming and crying again. Then, one day, the girl’s father decided that enough was enough. He would dig up the girl’s grave and prove it to his wife that their daughter was dead. He thought that only then she would go back to being, well, better.”
“So then, after much requests, discouragement and paperwork, the girl’s father got all the permissions required to dig up a grave. He then got some villagers and headed to the graveyard, with his wife along, of course. After hours of digging and shoveling, they finally got to the coffin. It was still intact, because it hadn’t been that long since was buried. Bracing up, they started pulling out the nails of the coffin – because, as you know, coffins are nailed shut!”
“When they pulled open the coffin’s lid, they found the girl, still whole and fresh, but very much dead. But there was one problem…”
Mashi stopped to gauge our reaction. We cousins had all turned to stone.
“The girl,” Mashi continued, “was not lying with her hands clasped, as she had been buried. Her hands were on her face, her eyes were wide open, her mouth distorted and frozen in a scream. And on the inside of the coffin’s lid, there were nail marks. Like the ones you’d make if you’re trying to claw your way out of a trap…”
“The girl had woken up in her grave, hadn’t she?” My oldest cousin piped in, her voice surprisingly calm and steady, ringing in the darkness. “The doctor had mistakenly declared her dead, and she later woke up in her grave.”
My Mashi nodded. “And that’s why, she was calling out to her mother in her sleep…”
“Then what happened?” one of us whispered, like that kitten who goes back to get whacked despite knowing how much it hurt the first time.
“Then what, they buried her back again. But this time, her mother never dreamt of her calling out again…”