Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Budget

It was the beginning of the winter of 1939. That day of the year again, 1st of September, the annual day. The town square buzzed with an increased anticipation as last year there hadn't been any need for the ritual. The town square was actually a circle. It was an open amphitheatre with a statue in the middle. There were ten tiers of seating available around the statue. Some families had gathered even before the sun rose and had grabbed the front seats. Some had come early to secure seats in the tenth tier. It was all about the family beliefs and what people thought would give them the best chance. It was 1 PM. There were still two hours for the ritual to begin but most of the seats had been taken.
1st September was birthdate of the little unknown island in the North Pacific Ocean, Leonard, named after its discoverer, John Leonard. John was a British. Somewhere in late eighteen century as a British navy captain he set on a voyage that would be his last and ultimately lead to the discovery of the island. It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen in his life. He had first set his eyes on the island in the night. The moon was half lit but even then the flowers of all colours blossomed. It was as if they were not reflecting the light from the sky but had light of their own. The greenery was heavenly. It seemed like a carnival in a desert. They decided to stay there for a few days.
Leonard and his crew however never came back. There was something devilish in the air. The idea of abandoning all contact with their families and rest of the world suddenly seemed exciting to all. The island was to be their new home. The crew consisted of nine men and three ladies. Leonard became the leader of the island unanimously and married Lisa, the most beautiful lass amongst the three females. The two remaining girls, Pepa, a sixteen year old, and Anita, a girl of India origin, married four men each thus laying the foundation of Leonard.
Life was easy in the beginning. The only compromise that they thought they had to make was to turn vegetarians. There were unfortunately no animals on the island. Most of the days were spent leisurely. They would roam along the shore line during the day and walk away from it towards the dense trees in the night. The men collected vegetables, fruits during the day and kept the ladies busy in the night. They could complete one full circle of the island along the shore line in less than three days. After they had scanned most of the island they picked the spot to build three houses. It all seemed very simple, then came the winter. The days were fine but the temperatures would drop steeply in the night. They hadn't made a lot of progress in building the houses. The twelve of them would all huddle together in a little shack in front of fire in the night. 
Anita's eldest husband was the first one to die. Another one had caught severe cold. The ship was a wreck. They had all decided to live on the edge, dreaming a life far away from the world that imagined that their ship had sunk. They all doubted now if they would survive. They lost Pepa and three men that winter. They worked hard through the summer building the houses and storing enough food for the next winter. Two new members were added to the island's population when Lisa and Anita gave birth to a girl and a boy before the winter, a winter they were slightly better prepared for. One of the new born died that winter. The bitter winter remained a challenge but the civilization never looked back. Leonard got his statue made and established it in town square in 1809. The annual day ritual was started in 1917 by Leonard the V.
It was time. Every single family in Leonard, eighty nine of them, were present. Oblivious to the world that was about to engage in a massive war, one thousand and ten Leonardians, that's what they called themselves, were inside the amphitheatre. The tension was palpable. There were twelve babies, less than a year old. Three old sick men, unable to walk, but still there. You couldn't afford to miss this event.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the annual day celebrations. It is the day when we together define the budget of our nation. It is that day of the year when we prepare for the winter. Since the birth of our nation the goal of our forefathers was to ensure that we survive on our own. No one gets to know that we exist, we don't depend upon anyone. All of you understand the constitution and know how it plays out." Leonard the VI started the proceedings. He was a tall handsome man with sharp features and long hair. People said that he looked exactly like the original Leonard.
"My finance minister tells me that all families have already registered and designated their family's picker. The first step is to ensure that everyone is here."
The finance minister, an old short man stepped in front. He had a smile on his face that he couldn't wipe off.
"Welcome all. This is a formality. I'm sure all of us are here but we must go through this procedure. Like the ritual goes, the whole family needs to stand up when I announce the family name. Then one by one I announce your first names and you raise your hand. Hold your kid in your lap if you have got one. Point to him or her when I announce the name. The picker of the family needs to keep standing after all names have been announced and verified. The rest of the family sits down."
After a brief moment of silence the minister pulled out a sheet of paper. The ritual had begun.
The Adams, a family of eight stood up. An old man and his wife. Two sons and a daughter. The eldest son's wife and their two daughters. One by one the minister shouted out their names and they raised their hands. The young ones were old enough to raise their hands when their name was announced. The two girls had been part of the event before. The younger son, Paul, the family's picker, was left standing after all eight names had been announced.
The names were announced in a rapid succession. It usually took half an hour to go through the entire population.
The Smith was a family of six. Old Bill and his wife Emma, two sons and their wives. Only five people stood up though when the name was announced. They were seated in the last tier.
"Where is Bill? Ask him to stand up please." asked the minister.
"I'm sorry sir. He couldn't make it. It's not his fault. You know he is a hard man. He decided to go to the fields this morning to get some peaches for our lunch. He fell from the tree and broke his leg." responded Emma. The tension in her voice was loud and clear. There was a hush-hush in the crowd.
"If we had tried to drag him, none of us would have made it here." shouted Emma. The hoo-ha in the crowd grew further.
"Silent." shouted the minister.
"Look Emma, Bill is a friend. However today it's all about Leonard and its sovereignty. I'm sorry. Add his name to the list."
"It's not right. You need to understand the situation. It's most unfortunate."
The minister quickly announced all the Smiths.
"Since Bill is not here, who is going to be the family's picker?"
"We can go and drag him here sir. Just give us a couple of hours." Emma cried.
"Don't fool around with the nation. Who is your picker?"
The eldest son Joel Smith raised his hand. "I'll be the one."
He soothed his crying mother and asked her to sit down. The verification continued.
After they had verified that everybody but Bill Smith was in the amphitheatre the minister moved towards the statue. He had a bowl in his hand. He placed the bowl at the feet of the statue.
"One by one now, starting from my left in the lowest tier, clockwise, and then moving up the tier, I request the family's picker to move forward and pick a chit from this bowl. After you have picked the chit, hand it over to me."
Peter Martin was the first in line. He stepped forward with sweaty palms.
"Be quick." the minister howled.
Peter put his hand in the bowl. He shuffled the chits. He had most of them in his hand. He let loose of the chits one by one until he was left with only one. Is it the one? He took a deep breath and picked it out. He handed it to the minister.
The minister opened it up. A blank. The Martins heaved a sigh of relief. "I told you getting the first seat always works." cheered Peter's father.
One by one the picker came forward, their family holding onto their breaths.
As the pickers drew blanks, the tension in the families sitting in upper tiers grew. Baikunth Kumar was the twenty seventh picker to move forward. He picked a chit and stood there with his hand in the bowl momentarily. In the last second, he changed his mind and let that chit go. He moved his hand around in the bowl again, picked another one and handed to the minister. The minister opened it up.
"Picker" it read.
The Kumars didn't understand how to react. They had reason to be happy as well as sad. Baikunth looked towards his family. He walked back towards them maintaining his calm. The ten family members huddled around him.
"Baikunth Kumar is added to the list."
"Next picker please. We have business to continue."
When Nick Pearl moved forward, there were still twenty three chits remaining in the bowl. He had volunteered to be the picker for his family. He rushed towards the bowl as his father had asked him to and grabbed a chit. He kissed it before he handed it over to the minster.
"Family" the chit read.
The entire amphitheatre was filled with murmurs. Nick fell on his knees and started to cry.
"Something is wrong. That is not the chit I was going to pick up. You need to give me another chance."
People had already surrounded the Pearls paying their sympathies.
"Hold on people. Stay wherever you are. Pearls are a family of seven. We still need to account for one more. We have to start the procedure once again to get to thousand." the minister announced.
"Can I say something sir?" Steffi stepped forward from the crowd. She was holding onto two babies.
"What is it about?"
"As you know I gave birth to twins this year. If not for these twins, we would have achieved thousand. The rice crop has been good this year. It’s just one more baby. Let’s call it a day."
There was unanimous support for her. "Let’s call it a day." was heard around the amphitheatre. Leonard the VI had been observing the drama unfold in front on him sitting on his throne. He got up in a flash and screamed. "A tradition is a tradition. No compromises. Go back to your seat lady."
He was right. A ritual was a ritual. As Leonard the island grew, there came a breaking point in their economy when the crop on the island was not enough for every habitant. It was estimated that the island could only feed one thousand people during the winter. The budget list was the only way.  
There was a sudden silence. In a moment, the pickers were standing again. The Kumars had declared Meena Kumar as their new picker. The Pearls were out of the draw so they remained seated.
Peter Martin was first to draw again.
Sophia Victor who had drawn a blank the last time was not lucky this time around.
As soon as the chit was announced, everyone in the amphitheatre, apart from Kumars, Pearls, and Victors started to cheer. There were eleven Victors on the island. Leonard probably won't need the ceremony next year.
The budget list was ready. A list of twenty people. It was the longest list ever in the last twenty three years. Most of the island remained at the town square that night. They sang songs, drank beer and danced that night. Some couples who left early were planning their babies.
The budget list had ensured like previous winters that there would be plenty of food that winter, and warmth. Lastly, Leonardians no longer needed to be vegetarians.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Killer is me

I had to kill him. I had no choice, he asked for it. Trust me he did.

I still remember his warm hand wrapped around mine. I can't have that sensation tonight, even with the warmth of his blood on my hands. It's not that he was an asshole, quite the opposite really, he was a good man. I might have killed him but I am not a bitch either. It was late afternoon and he was dozing in the bedroom after what could be the last meal of his life. I walked gingerly into the room. Standing beside the bed I looked at him sleeping and found myself torn. There had to be another way out of this.

She walked in behind me and sensed my resolve running like the jelly in to my legs. She placed her hand on my shoulder and nodded, showing me I had to be strong. "It's time junior." she whispered in my ear. She was right, it had to be done. She handed me a handkerchief soaked in chloroform. I took a deep breath and pressed it on his face with all the force that I could gather. I knew he was a light sleeper and as he startled awake I saw the shock in his eyes. "What the fuck are you doing?" he screamed. He grabbed at my hand and tried to free up his face. I kept the pressure on. After about half a minute of struggle he was able to push me away. By then though the fumes had started to play their games. He got up from the bed, finding it hard to keep his eyes open, and his legs shaking.

She had so far watched the scene calmly standing with her back to the wall but at that moment she pounced on him and crashed her right knee between his legs. He crumpled back onto the bed, unconscious, shock and chloroform doing their work. We stood there for the next few minutes, motionless, her hand placed on my shoulder calming my nerves down. As my breathing slowed she handed me an ice pick. "Go ahead. This is the only way out."

I closed my eyes and once again gathered force from all the corners of my body and rammed the ice pick in to his neck. As I opened my eyes I saw the pick was buried four inches deep. Some vestigial urge for life shocked him awake but he was already dead, he just hadn't realized. Maybe the drugs had slowed down the impulse that told him to die. Blood spurted like a natural spring. She dragged me out of that room. She didn't want me to see him die. We went back to the bedroom after a couple of hours. We spent the entire evening and night cleaning up the room. Blood, I tell you is not an easy thing to wash away. It takes more than bleach to wash away someone’s life.

She left at 4 am. After she left I cut the body in seven pieces. Two legs, two arms, one hand, the head and torso. I stored the parts in my refrigerator like a busy day at the supermarket. By now the sun was out and I was already late for work. You must be wondering how just five feet of a skinny woman like myself could gather the strength and courage to kill a man with such disdain. As you saw I was not alone and for your kind information I'm a surgeon as well and that helps. More importantly, it was not the first time that I killed a man.


I am twenty seven. My name is Raatri Sanyal. And just like you I had no say in the family that I was born in. The Sanyals are a family of doctors. You aren't a Sanyal unless you are a doctor. I'm not kidding, everyone in my family is a doctor. My grandparents, my parents, uncles & aunts. Even our house maid could write a prescription for the most common ailments. All the god damn Sanyals are doctors including myself. I never met one who wasn't. When I was nine I learned about an uncle of mine who had married a teacher. I had never heard of him before because he was no longer from our family. He was the Lord Voldemort of our family - he-who-must-not-be-named.

I had two elder brothers. We were fourteen and eleven years apart. By the time I attained puberty the eldest one had started his own practice and the younger one was on his way to becoming a heart surgeon. My fate was sealed at birth, as soon as Sanyal was added to my Birth Certificate, they may as well have added Dr. I'd be a doctor one day. I thought I knew it even before I could spell the word doctor.

I knew myself better at thirteen and realized that one day I would become the black sheep of my family. The day I was told that there are two hundred and six bones in a normal human skeleton, the most exciting information for me was two hundred six. While some idiots in my class were worried about the constituents of a human bone, I wondered how God had arrived at that number. Why not two zero eight or two zero four? The human body is symmetrical so that implied one hundred three bones on one side. One zero three. That's a prime number. 27th prime number. 27 is 3 cubed.Was there some hidden agenda in there? 

As you might have guessed this question of mine was snubbed as soon as it was raised. All I needed to know was what the number was. Morons!


My journey started with my first crush. My Mathematics teacher. Sahil Kumar Shastri. I was in Vth standard when I learned the formula for a + b whole square. It was him who in his smooth cursive had explained the formula to a class of thirty people. "The three two's" he had said.

To this date I still can’t say whether my heart fell for him because I had a thing for Mathematics or whether it was the other way round. My love for the subject didn't necessarily mean that I was good at the subject. In fact I sucked at it, I still do. It's a very strange relationship that I developed with the subject because of him. In my class a lot of students used to dread Mathematics. I used to as well and then came Mr Shastri. A knight in the shining armour.

No, he wasn't able to make me any better in Mathematics. I remained a resounding dud but I wasn't afraid of it anymore. I was far from his favourite student and yet I don't think anyone waited for the Maths class as I used to. No matter how hard I tried I barely scored enough to pass. I knew he didn't like me, his attention limited to the brilliant ones. It pissed me off. I wanted to hate him. However his rasping voice that made the numbers sound like soul music would melt the anger away.

I couldn't make sense of the formulas but did understand the most important voice, the beat of my heart. Someone who was afraid of heights was now finding solace on the edge of a roof top. For two years I tried my best to win his attention but it never worked. My last resort was to simply not complete my homework. It led to his wrath but at least I got the attention. He never understood my feelings despite of all my efforts. Then he dropped the bomb. The bastard decided to move to another school. How could he do that? He decided to move to another city simply because he was being paid higher bucks. What about me? I was heartbroken when I was told that he would be replaced.

On his penultimate day at my school he visited our class for the last time. He wished us all good luck. I waited, but he never even glanced at me, his eyes stuck with his favourite bunch, the 90+ lot. I had a storm brewing inside of me. It was that moment that the idea came to me.

The next day he was found dead in teacher's room, eyes open, white froth protruding from his mouth. A snake bite. No one knew how a snake got in there, no one but me. I had no choice. He had forced me.


The scar of his disappearance remained but the wound healed. It wasn't the clich├ęd time that did the trick, it was Abhay, Shastri's favourite student. In fact every one's favourite, he was Mr 100, the leader of the 90+ lot, a typical annoying front bencher who would raise a hand to every question. He was the brightest kid in the school, possibly the town, brilliant in every subject, extraordinary in Maths and I thought he smelt of nothing but arrogance.

He filled the gaping hole that had remained since Shastri left me. It all started a couple of years after Shastri had that unfortunate accident. The school Principal, a dumb ass, a Hitler who had every student pissing in their pants when he passed by, an ugly old and bald man with thousands of hair on his ears came up with a brilliant idea, an idea to improve the weak students, weak students like me. Make the dumb sit with the bright ones. The dumb won't remain dumb.

What a joke! I hated the idea. Didn't he care about the intelligent minds? What if they got poisoned? No matter how much I hated the situation in the beginning I realized it wasn't that bad an idea two weeks after sitting with Abhay. Abhay was everything you would want your bench-mate not to be, especially if he or she is a smart ass. Of course he hated the idea of sitting with a lowly moron like me as much as I did when it was announced. My feelings though had a completely different plan. They started traversing an unpredictable trajectory at a rapid pace.

I knew he hated me from day one, after all he was Shastri's disciple. Have you ever been with someone and they acted as if you weren't there, that you were nothing but vapourware that they couldn't see? Do you know the feeling? Maybe you don't, maybe you remember being on the other side of this equation, ignoring and whistling your way to glory. My heart burned. I wanted to talk to him, wanted him to hold my hand, to tell me that he'll help me in Mathematics, share my lunch with him. I wanted to be more than thin air. The arrogant bastard paid no heed. Did I ask for too much?


The Xth final examination was a month away. My parents had already picked the subjects that I would be opting for in XIth. No points for guessing. They were also busy finding the tuitions that I would need to attend in the three month break after the exams. For the last fifteen years I had lived with a time bomb ticking in my heart. I had never questioned them ever but it was time, even if it was pointless.

"I don't want to be a doctor." I dropped the bomb on the dinner table.
"What do you mean you don't want to be a doctor? Do you know how much money we have spent on your education?" my father asked lividly.
"I never asked you to."
Even as it left my lips I braced myself for the inevitable onslaught.
"How dare you talk to dad like that?" my eldest brother joined the party. He got up from his chair and rushed towards me jabbing his finger.

"Hey, stop. She's probably just stressed out because of the exams." my other brother intervened. Ajit always took my side. "You are lucky that your grandfather is out of town. You know how angry he'd be if he had heard that. Now go to bed. I don't want to talk about it again." my dad said and that was that. I was not going to get into a pointless debate with them. There was no way around them. I had to go down the dark path.


You'd laugh at what happened after that. I failed. Yes, I could only score a twenty three in my Maths exam. It sounds funny now, it sounded funny then. Raatri Sanyal, granddaughter of the most respected doctor in town, sister of a future award winning heart surgeon, a future surgeon herself, who claimed Mathematics to be her favourite subject had flunked in that very subject.

Not surprisingly I got the thrashing of my life. No, it wasn't my father, it was my elder brother. My father simply decided to not to talk to me. It could have ended there but for my brother who had a habit of acting like he was my father. Apart from some not so very nice words, I got a swollen face, no dinner that night and was locked in a room.

I had never cried as much as I did that day. I was in pain and vulnerable. It all seemed so worthless at that point in time. The thought of ending my life was playing in my mind but there was one last hope, one last raft that I could cling on to. I picked up the phone and dialled.

"Hello, Can I speak with Abhay?"
"Yes, can you please hold." a male voice said. It must have been his dad. Loud music played in the background.
"Hello, before you congratulate me, may I know whose this."
"Congratulate you for what?"
"What do you mean for what? For scoring hundred percent in Mathematics. Who are you?"
I put the phone down. I understood what was going on, he was celebrating his hundred. Can you believe that? I knew he didn't care much about me but the least he could have done on that day was to not go out and singing his glory song. Yes, I was going to end a life, his.

There was no other option. While he celebrated what would be the last hundred of his life, I was busy hatching the plan. There was a new hunger inside of me. Whatever I did it had to be swift. A snake bite was the first thing that played in my mind but it was not a viable idea. First, last time I had been lucky to have found a snake in the garden. Second, even if I searched for a snake and found it, it would be too much of a coincidence.

No problem. I would use the very thing all this had been about. Belonging to a family of doctors, you get to know many ways to kill that others don't. I thought of all the possible ways to get rid of the bastard.


I was fed and set free in the morning by my younger brother. In the family of tyrants, Ajit was the only one who had emotions. I loved him. There was no one who understood me better than him. He was the only one who had never forced anything upon me. I felt at times that just like me he didn't want to be a doctor but had given up to an authoritative father. May be that's why he understood me so well. "It's OK sister, it happens."
He held my hand tight. He always did when I felt down. He was always there.

"I'm sorry for what happened. Please forgive me." I said sobbing.
"It's OK. I'll talk to dad. You'll have to promise me that you will do your best this year. A rebel will not survive in this family." he said. I nodded.
"Why don't you come to the hospital with me?"
The hospital where my younger brother was learning practice, the same hospital where I would practice many years later wasn't very far away from our house.
"What will I do there?"
"You shouldn't be at home alone, no one will be home for hours."
"I'm going to be very busy today but still I think it's a good idea for you to come with me."

My mind was still sifting for that perfect idea and I wanted to be alone but I couldn't say no to him. We walked, the cool breeze calming down my mind. He did not take me to his office, instead he left me in the canteen. He told the waiter there to take care of me and handed me the remote control of a TV that was attached to a pillar. "Don't worry about me. You do your work, I won't disturb you."
"Send the waiter if you need me."
"Go now, you are getting late."


My mind got into action immediately after he had left. What better place than somewhere dedicated to life, to find death? The irony made the idea even more delicious. I got up and headed towards the elevator and the third floor.

The hospital was not new to me. My brother had taken me there before. I took a left and walked for a little bit to find myself in front of a long hallway with rooms to the left and right. I was confident that I would find what I was looking for in one of those rooms. The operation theatres were all on the third floor. I was told once by my brother that potassium chloride is at times used in heart surgery. I had no clue though where would I find it.

The commotion that erupted on the floor behind me was caused by an urgent surgery that had to take place. I saw my brother with a bunch of young doctors, all being led by a short man. He must have been a senior doctor at the hospital. There were a couple of nurses in the party as well. I rushed towards the first door I could get to in the hallway. Locked. My heart was pounding.

I rushed towards the next one. Locked again. I got lucky with the third room to the right. The door opened. There was a nurse in there pulling up the curtains. The room was not very well lit and it worked in my favour. I tiptoed towards the left and hid myself behind a medical instrument that looked like a Xerox machine.
The nurse switched off the lights and moved towards the door. Panicking I realized she was going to lock the door from outside. What was I supposed to do? To my utter surprise she didn't go out and proceeded to lock the door from inside.


"Come out. I know you are there."
"Shit, I'm dead. Even Ajit is not going to be on my side now." I thought. I inched out from behind the machine. Isn't it silly when we do that, like the inevitable terror will just get bored and walk away?

The room was dark and I could just make out her silhouette. She moved towards the bed and turned a lamp on. She was a plump lady in her early forties. "Come here and sit."
I moved towards the bed and sat at its edge. "You seem to be in distress junior. Shall I get some water for you?" she asked. "Please don't tell anyone that you found me here. My brother works here in this hospital. I just lost my way and got myself into this room."

"Don't worry. I'm your friend. Tell me what's troubling you. You are looking for something, aren't you?" she said caressing my hair. The tears started to roll on my cheeks. She sat beside me and put her arms around my shoulders. "Let those tears flow, don't worry. I will not tell anyone that you were here. It's OK. Cry. Let it all out."

I placed my head on her shoulder and cried for longer than I thought possible. I didn't know her but for some reason I felt the safer than I ever had with my head placed on her shoulder, her sleeves moist with my tears. No inhibitions, no insecurities, no fears, no baggage, you can let it all out on a stranger's shoulder. I didn't know when the tears dried up and when I slept.


I woke up with a heavy head. The room was completely lit now. She was standing there like an angel watching me sleep. I wasn't sure of the time. What all had I said in my moment of weakness? I got up from the bed. "Please don't tell anyone. I must leave now. My brother will be worried if he goes looking for me and doesn't find me in the canteen."

"Don't worry. I'm on your side. You are not alone. In this cruel world, no matter what happens, no matter where you are, always remember, I will be with you." she said. There was something about those words. It was one of those moments when time stops flowing. You can feel yourself flowing through the time. It's when you can separate yourself from the fourth dimension of the world. I had no idea of what I had said that had made this strong connection. I stood there, motionless.   

"You should go now but before you go, there is something I need to give you."
"Junior, they call me Miss Gonsalves. Come here any time you need any help. You will find me." she said handing a small brown paper bag to me.

Worrying about the time I rushed to the canteen, not even stopping to check the bag. I opened it up once I got back to the canteen. I couldn't believe what I saw inside. Was it really what I thought it was? The hair on the back of my neck rose. I could hear my heart beat. I closed the small bad and put it in my pocket. Sweat trickled from my forehead. With my heart thumping louder than ever I waited for my brother.


Two things happened the next day. One, the sense of insecurity that had engulfed me all my life disappeared. Whoosh. Two, Abhay the dog died. Whoosh. No one ever found out why someone would poison such a bright student. Some people suspect jealousy, but they were wrong. It was love.


By the time I got into the final year of medical college and started my clinical rotations my life had changed significantly. There was only one person responsible for this drastic change. Miss Gonsalves. She was the mentor I had missed all my life. She was not someone who would impose herself upon me and yet she paved the way forward for me. She was the one whom I relied upon for anything and everything. If not for her I wouldn't have even passed my exam to get into the medical college.

She was a mother, a teacher, a friend, a bodyguard, a shoulder, a touch, a hug, an ear, all at the same time. She was my strength every time I felt the world was not worth it. She was always there, unconditionally. It was because of her that I was no longer the door mat I used to be. She gave me the sole that helped me trample all who got in my way.

I was a self-confident woman, even if I appeared to leading a life my parents wanted me to lead. I wasn't the brightest but Ajit helped me get into the hospital. The bonus of course was that now I could spend more time with Miss Gonsalves.

Why was she so kind to me? Why was she that possessive about me? I thought of the day I had met her often and tried to remember what was it that I told her that aroused this unconditional love. Every time we were together I had thought of asking that question but could never find the courage. Fearing that asking the question would lead to her realizing this was all a mistake and I would be alone again. I was confident, but only because she was there.

It's something that I still haven't understood. Many times I asked her about the story of her life but she didn't want to discuss any of that. My brother told me once that she was a single mother who had raised his son singlehandedly. The son however married against her wishes and had left her all alone. That was all he knew. My brother was a married man now. The place we had for each other in our lives had been overtaken but we still loved each other. He was the only man I trusted. He had moved out from our parent's house. He knew that I wouldn't survive in that suffocating place without him. I moved along with him and his wife Sunita.


I forgot to mention an important detail. I had killed two more men. Why they lost their lives is not important. They asked for it. They were no different than Shastri and Abhay. They deserved it. Obviously Miss Gonsalves had helped me. 

I had never broached the topic of her son. I was rushing home one day late in the evening when she asked me to stay in the hospital, not something unusual, she often asked me. "I want you to do me a favour." she said holding my hand. "If you can't help me it's OK, just tell me".
"Please tell me. You know I'd do anything for you."
"I have always wished for my son to be dead. Will you make my wish come true? I want you to kill my son."

How cold had I become in her company? Was it her company or was it about who I was? She had probably just touched the right chords. I never gave it a second thought. It was done. That was the only option. The count stood at five.


"You should get married."

I was happy in my own world and wasn't really looking forward to get married. I had fallen in love once again after Abhay and the boy was dead now. She was however adamant that I should find the right partner. Ajit had found some matches for me, I never wanted to meet anyone but she persisted.

"It is important to find the right partner in life. I'm not going to be around all the time. Now I don't know what you think you want but I do know what you want. The guy who makes your heart swoop the first time you meet is not the guy you want to marry."
I took that advice and started going through the list of boys that Ajit had prepared.


I met him after a couple of dull meetings with boys who I thought were intimidated by my confidence. He not only swooped my heart but blew my mind away. Not at the first sight though. Samar came across as a timid character when I first met him. He lacked the confidence to be able to carry the conversation he should have lead. Slim, average height, average looking, short hair, flat faced, a small nose, black eyed and a curious look on his face. It took him five minutes to pick the coffee he wanted to order. He was an engineer and was working with a reputed IT company. For the first fifteen minutes we sat there like idiots looking in different directions, me waiting for the conversation to start, he waiting for the world to end.

"I'm sorry. I have never been in a situation like this before." he finally broke the silence. I smiled.
"Guess not everything in life can be faced like a Mathematics exam."
"Mathematics exam?"
"I feel like it's an exam today for both of us. You will judge me. Have you already started giving me points? I always wondered why my friends pissed in their pants before Maths exam. I now know. This, right here is my Maths exam." he said sheepishly. His shyness along with the ability to speak out his heart got to my heart.

After that meeting we met again a couple of times and settled it. We were going to get married. It was not love but we were certain that love was waiting for us on the other side of the marriage.


Something extraordinary happened three months before the marriage. It was something straight from Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I vividly remember the day. It was one of those days that you don't keep a record of, at least that's the way it started. Late afternoon, I was at home going through a routine clean-up exercise when Ajit returned.

"Can you get me some water?"
I rushed to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water to him. "Sunita is going to be late today."
"Do you know who she operated yesterday?" he asked.
"Do you remember your Mathematics teacher? Mr Shastri."
Shastri! Of course I did. "Yes I do. Someone in his family got admitted?"
"No. He suffered a massive heart attack couple of days ago and needed a surgery."
The glass almost slipped out of my hand. "How can that be? He died several years ago when I was in 7th."
"Shastri died when you were in 7th? Are you out of your mind? He was my Maths teacher as well. I saw him today. You are possibly mistaking him for someone else."


I rushed to the hospital after my brother got to his room.

My brother surely was out of his wits. Dead people don't suffer from heart attacks, especially after ten years. I believe in ghosts but they don't suffer from heart attacks either. My heart was pounding and my mind raced back to the day when he had died.

He was leaving the next day and I was furious at him. How could he do that? I couldn't even breathe that evening. I came out from my house to fill in my lungs with fresh air. I was in the backyard garden. The sun was about to set when my eyes fell upon a green coloured snake. My sinister mind didn't need any further invitations.

It was a beast of a reptile, at least one and a half feet long. I tip toed towards it. It would become my first weapon. The snake remained still, unaware of my presence. My legs on either side, I stood right on top of it. In one swift motion I got the damn thing by its neck. The resolve to kill Shastri had blown away any fear that I should have had. My little friend turned out to be very supportive. It made no attempt to set itself free. I pulled it up and rushed inside.

I emptied the contents of my school bag with my left hand and shoved my green friend in. It curled around calmly as if waiting for its time to come.

The next day I hid myself in the teacher's room and waited for Shastri to make an appearance. At the right time, when he was alone in the room, I got the snake out from my bag, and came out from the hiding. He didn't even get the time to react. I threw the snake at him. It fell on his left shoulder, curled around his neck and bit him twice, first on his cheek and then the forehead. Did I err by not staying there to see his end?


"How can he be alive?" I asked. Miss Gonsalves had of course heard about him before. She was perplexed as well. "Don't worry junior. If it's really him, we will settle it once and for all."
"Wait here. I will be back in a hour." she said looking at her watch. I passed the next one hour counting the ticks of the wall clock to get my mind away from Shastri. 

She came back with a small handbag hanging on her shoulders. "Let's go."
She led me to the single rooms located on the fifth floor of the hospital and stopped in front of a room. "Be quiet. Let's see if it is really him."
She used her key to open the door and opened it up slowly. I walked in slowly. The man on the bed was fast asleep, his face half tucked with in the blanket. I had no problem recognizing him however. He was Shastri. I was jolted, feeling an electric shock pass through my veins. How could he be here? I looked at Miss Gonsalves worriedly. My head was spinning. She put her finger on her lips asking me to be quiet.

She put her left hand in the handbag and with a jerk got a snake out of it. This one was coloured steel grey. She held it from the neck and handed it over to me. I was startled looking at the snake in my hand. It was shorter than the one I had held several years ago. I got it close to me and looked in its eyes. They were screaming out loud at me, asking me to do it all over again. I walked towards the bed and slipped the reptile under the blanket.

Whoever the man was, Shastri, his lookalike, his ghost, his shadow, was dead. It left me in a state of bewilderment for quite some time though. If not for Miss Gonsalves, I would have probably broken down. Samar was of no help. We hardly met as I found myself spending more and more time in the hospital. Things were getting back to normal. The marriage was only a month away.


"Miss Gonsalves died in an accident."

My brother dropped another bomb. My world came tumbling down in front of me. I felt like a hand passed through my skin, pounced upon my heart and pulled it out. Before the tears could come out I crashed on to the floor and passed out.

I woke up and found myself in a room. It didn't take me long to realize that I was in my hospital. My heart was aching badly. I wanted to cry but the tears won't come out. Going back to my unconscious state seemed to be the only way. How was I to live in this cruel world without her lap? It was a brutal joke that God had played with me. I lied awake on the bed consoling myself for a long time.

I heard a voice from outside the room. It was Ajit. I walked towards the door. "I understand your decision. I don't want to keep you in dark either. You shouldn't marry her. I will explain it to her."

To this date I haven't understood why Ajit and Samar ganged up against me. I was thinking of them as my support system after Miss Gonsalves. It's a savage world that we live in. I had lost my will to live. I came back to my bed. Darkness engulfed me, completely.


The creak of the door woke me up. She walked in smiling at me. Miss Gonsalves! I couldn't believe my eyes. I jumped out of my bed. Finally, the tears rolled down. "They told me that you died."
She put her hand on my head and kissed my forehead. "They lied. Don't you worry junior, we will deal with both of them."

"Look what I got for you she said holding an ice pick in her hand. "Ajit will be at home this afternoon."
"What about Samar?"
"Yes junior. He will also get the last lesson of his life soon. Go to sleep now."
I held her tight, and slept with the scent of her body.


"It's time." she said waking me up.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Bag (#1023-6)

The flight landed on time. As soon as the seat belt sign was turned off, he got up from his seat, an aisle seat, he always got the aisle. He collected his cell phone, put it in his front pocket and put on his business suit quickly. There was no hand luggage to be collected. He quickly joined the crowd that was opening the overhead bins and started moving towards the front. He brushed aside few blokes and moved ahead. He got as far as the 7th row from the front gate and then stood their anxiously waiting for the gates to open. He always flew the low-cost airlines that had no business class. The gates opened and he walked briskly to collect his luggage. He was the fifth passenger from his flight to reach the baggage carousel. The baggage hadn't arrived. He observed a man, someone who was seated in the same flight as his, someone who had reached the carousel before him, standing to the right of him. The suave suit, a spicy perfume, short hair, and a clean shaven sparkling face immediately gave impression of an executive. The carousel started to move, he standing right at the mouth of the carousel.

The man to the right checked the third bag that had come out, a medium sized black suitcase and then let it go. He looked at every bag that appeared at the carousel intently waiting for his own bag. The movement was slow, the bags dropping out once every ten to twenty seconds. The black suitcase took a full turn and appeared again. The handsome man looked at the bag again, this time reading the tag carefully with eyes wide open and then let it go once again. It smelled fishy but he ignored it. The next time the black suitcase appeared, the man checked it once again, looked around this time and then once again let it go. He was confident now that the man next to him was up to something. That's when his bag appeared, a dark green colored duffel bag. He picked it up but decided to stay there to observe the man. The black bag appeared once again. This time however the man pounced upon it like a cat and before he could think the handsome man was on his way towards the exit, a spring in his step. He paced himself and got his cell phone out. "I'm going to be out in 2 minutes".

He never took his eyes off the man. The man came out of the airport and walked towards the prepaid taxi counter. He walked nimble footed and was only a few feet behind the man as he watched him get into a taxi. Two Five Four Six, that was the taxi number. He printed the number in his brain as he saw the taxi sped away. He rushed towards gate number seven where a car was waiting for him. The car's trunk was open. He dumped the bag into the trunk and rushed towards the back seat of the car.
"Two Five Four Six. That's the white colored cab we need to find. Quick."
The driver nodded slightly but didn't show any expression at this strange request. The car zipped out of the airport and before it joined the main highway they had caught up with the taxi. He lit a cigarette and said, "Let's just keep on moving behind him."

He picked up the newspaper lying on the back seat. While scanning it he chanced upon a section. The news mentioned a racket operating across the major cities. This gang the news said was slipping luggage from the airports. It was only a couple of days back that the police had been able to relate the sporadic incidents. Every time a passenger had reported a lost bag to the airlines, they had found a similar bag that was left. Every time the airlines came to a conclusion that the bags must have been exchanged, they tried to get in touch with the owner of the bag that was found, they failed, as at times the phone number on records didn't work or the person who picked the phone never took the flight, they ended up paying for the lost baggage and ended up with a bag, a bag that always contained nothing but old cheap clothes. The first such incident was reported a couple of years ago and no one till now could connect the dots. It was only when an airline reported this incident to the police and the investigations started that they found a pattern to these bag exchanges. They also believed that an insider was involved.

He kept the newspaper aside as the taxi that was couple of cars in front took a sharp left turn towards a narrow street. They followed and saw the taxi halt in front of a housing complex. He asked the driver to stop about a hundred feet away from the taxi. He saw the suave man come out, get the black suitcase from the trunk and pay his bill. He came out of his car, clenched his fists and walked briskly towards the man, newspaper in his hand. "Excuse me".

The man turned around. "Yes". He handed the newspaper to him and pointed a finger to the news that had rattled his brain.
"I'm sure this is going to interest you."
"What is this about? Are you a salesman?"
"Read it yourself mister and you would know."
"I would have but unfortunately I lost my glasses at the airport. If you'll excuse me now."
The man started to move towards the gate.
"Hold on", he said.
"This news is about the lost...."
Something clicked in his mind that made him stop in his tracks. The man continued to walk. He turned around cursing, shook his head and moved towards his car.
"Damn it. It’s the second bad news of the day. Here goes my commission that I thought I would make."
Somewhere, a newlywed couple was fighting with the airlines for a green bag that they had lost.