The dining table was loaded with goodies - cake, pastries, pies, halwa, laddoo and yes, her favourite cookies. Noreen wanted to eat them all. The 10-year-old stuffed a couple of cookies in her mouth but the cookies tasted a little different. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't gulp them down.
The dream broke at that point.
Noreen woke up with a start and found herself chewing on a bed sheet. She was in her dormitory bed and it was pitch dark. A grumbling stomach reminded her of how terribly hungry she was. All because of Mr. Kashif, the poker-faced warden of the residential school which had been her home for the last one year.
He had found Noreen talking during dinner time and had punished her by asking her to go hungry to bed. Nothing escaped the eagle-eyed warden.
And now this dream which had made her hungrier. Noreen paced up and down her dormitory in desperation. She looked enviously at room mates, peacefully asleep with their stomachs full.
Suddenly Noreen remembered a box of cookies sent by her mother, who was lying in her locker. She had been hiding it from her friends for an emergency. Clearly, this was an emergency.
The locker room was at the extreme end of the long corridor, and venturing out in the dark and creepy hallway was nothing short of climbing Mount Everest. Noreen took her first trembling step towards the doorway and almost ran back. She remembered a boy from her class bragging about his encounter with a ghost while he was on his way to the toilet at night.
But her stomach egged her on. The same hallway in the morning never looked so eerie, thought Noreen. Pale with fright, the Girl Scout walked on and tried not to think about the ghosts and witches that could lurk around in a corner somewhere.
At last she reached the locker room. Slowly turning the doorknob, Noreen stepped into the dark room, let out a sigh of relief and walked towards her locker. So familiar was she with her locker that she could locate it with her eyes shut.
Then a sound almost made her jump with fright. "It's nothing but my imagination," she assured herself. Again something rustled and moved in the room. Someone was there in the room, and Noreen trembled with fear. Probably it was that ghost who frequented the corridor. She decided to grab her box of cookies and run back to her room.
Sweating with fear, Noreen gripped the locker door and yanked it open. And she got the fright of her life - someone was sitting inside her locker! Even in the dark she could make out a pair of eyes like hers. So the corridor ghost lives in my locker, Noreen thought in horror.
She let out a piercing scream. And to her surprise the ghost started yelling back. Hey, ghosts are not supposed to scream but make frightening noises, she thought. Noreen's mouth fell open in surprise and there was a silence in the room for a moment. The locker door swung back into its place.
Before she could think of anything, the door burst open and a swarm of students and teachers flooded the room. All the lights were switched on in a minute.
"What's the matter?" growled the warden. He certainly looked displeased at having been woken up from his deep slumber. "There! There... is a ghost in my locker," Noreen mumbled.
At the mention of the word ghost, half the students stepped back. Only the brave ones remained to witness the historic event.
"There is no such thing as ghost in this world," said Mr. Kashif, looking more furious than ever. As everyone waited with bated breath, he took a hesitant step towards the locker and yanked open the door.
The ghost looked familiar...It was Rajoo, Noreen's classmate, sitting inside the spacious locker, her box of cookies clutched in his arms!
"What the hell are you doing here?" Mr. Kashif shouted, momentarily forgetting the 'no swear word' rule made by him. The boy dropped the box on the floor. He was shaking with fear. "He can't speak, his mouth is full of cookies," said one of the students, helpfully.
Noreen suddenly remembered that Rajoo, too, had been given the 'no dinner' punishement that evening for reaching the dining hall late.
"I can see that his mouth is full, but eating cookies and walking down the corridor at this hour defies every logic and rule, and as a punishment both Noreen and Rajoo will stay away from breakfast tomorrow morning," roared said Mr. Kashif.
"Hold on for a minute, Mr. Kashif." It was Mrs Verma, a teacher. "Do you realise that keeping children hungry for their mistakes leads them to do such things? A day begun without breakfast would make them more desperate. They might try to force some more lockers open, even yours."
She had a better idea. "Why don't we ask Rajoo to make everyone's bed for filching the cookies? And Noreen can serve food to everyone at the breakfast because she got out of her room at night. That would solve your purpose, would it not," she asked looking at the warden.
To everyone's relief Mr. Kashif seemed to understand and moreover, surprised all the students and teachers alike by treating them to a warm glass of milk and the remaining cookies from Noreen's box!
There wasn't a happier girl in the hostel who went to sleep, stomach full, that night!