Payback


The car just wouldn’t start. It was the dead of the night, in the middle of a deserted highway. All that was required to complete the cliche was a broken down car. And they had it. They both looked at each other in disbelief. “Surely this cannot be happening” he said, in a tone that bordered on the ridiculously funny ironical. She stared back at him with the “I told you this trip was a mistake look” but said nothing. Almost simultaneously both looked at their mobile phones to see the network coverage. There was none.

“What are the chances of finding another vehicle in this desolate place”, he wondered. “Yeah a car which doesn’t have some psycho that is”, she responded, trying to make light of the situation they found themselves in. It had all started with a casual conversation a few days ago. She received a call from an old friend from college and she began to reminisce. He agreed with her when she lamented that they never went out on spontaneous short trips anymore. “We must do it again”, he admitted. “It’s just that I’ve got too much on my plate. I know sometimes I neglect you”. She looked at him with a mix of sadness and anger at his last statement, but didn’t say a word.

He decided to surprise her with a few days break from his work. “Let’s go off somewhere lonely. No people. No shops. Just nature and us. Let’s drive off like we used to before.”

And that’s how it started.

She checked her phone to see how much battery was left. Fortunately it was nearly full. At least something was right, she thought to herself, hoping that they’d be blessed with network coverage by some miracle. By now he’d opened the bonnet of the car trying to peer into the engine with his mobile phone torch. “I can’t seem to figure what’s wrong. We have a tank full of gas. We did a complete service last week. What could be wrong?” He peered into the car clueless. The crickets were chirping away merrily that moonless night.

“You remember David don’t you”, she asked him all of a sudden. “Who?”, he asked back, stretching his neck away from the bonnet looking at her seated in the car.

He was shocked at what he saw.

There sat, along with her, a middle-aged man with black streaks on his silver hair. He wore thin rimmed spectacles which covered his light blue eyes. His grin revealed a gold tooth amongst his regular ones. “Hi Mark,” he waved his right hand, towards the shocked husband.

Mark left the bonnet and came to the front door. Before he could open it, David opened it from inside striking him and throwing him off on the road. Before he could recover, he was kicked on his stomach and then face by David. “This is for high school. And for university. And for all those years Mark”. He kept on kicking incessantly. Mark threw up some blood from the constant kicking. He tried to get up after the sudden attack but the momentum was against him. David kept on pounding him with his feet till finally Mark’s body became lifeless. David bent down and took Mark’s wallet from his back pocket and also his watch. This had to look like a good fashioned mugging and robbery. As his still body lay slumped, David got into the car, reconnected the wire which Liza had cleverly disconnected and started the car. They drove off to the hotel which Mark had booked for Liza and himself. “Only now it’s going to be us”, Liza smiled as she held David’s arm on the steering wheel.

Liza was waiting in the motel room. Waiting for David to come to her arms. They had waited long enough for this. Fourteen years. For the right time. Right opportunity. And now it was all theirs. Mark’s wealth and a new life. As she lay waiting for him, he was in the bar finishing off his ale before he joined her in their room.

She heard the shots but at first couldn’t make out what they were. Then the screams from the bar confirmed that they were indeed gun shots. She put on a robe and rushed towards the bar to see what had happened. As she reached the bar she saw David lying in a pool of blood. His eyes and mouth were open indicating a sudden and close-range attack. She stood there transfixed not knowing what to do or who to turn to. “Was he with you lady”, the burly bartender asked her. As she nodded a shocked yes, he handed a white envelope to her. “This was given to me by the man in the black coat earlier in the evening. He told me, “When I am done, there will come a lady. Give her this envelope”.

Liza took the white envelope with trembling hands and opened it. Her name was written on top in a familiar handwriting.

“Liza my darling. I heard your conversation with David. All of it. If you wanted to leave me you should’ve told me. You know I’d never say no to anything you asked for. But this? Really? You actually thought that you and David could get the better of me? Well no my love. You can’t. I had told John this would happen. He was waiting here to see which man came with you this evening. If it was me he wouldn’t have to fire a single bullet from his handgun. But if it was the other man (yes my love I gave John my photograph) all he had to do was fire those two shots and disappear. If this letter is in your hands now, then that’s exactly what he’s done. See you in hell darling.”

PS: don’t even think of the money or estate darling. It’s all been signed off to the trust. Hope you have a good nights stay at the motel”.

Liza crumpled the letter and was about to throw it. Then she stopped and simply put in inside her robe. She sat down on one of the empty chairs of the bar and buried her face in her hands as the wailing police sirens became louder and closer.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Mad About You

It would make a prison of my life

If you became another’s wife

With every prison blown to dust

My enemies walk free

I’m mad about you. I’m mad about you

Sting, Mad About You

His sister’s words kept echoing in his mind as he paced up and down the river bank.

“Dee and you!!! I can see sparks every time the two of you meet!”

As her words went on like a stuck record in his mind, he remembered his last evening with her. It was a Sting concert. They went for it together holding hands all the while. He could smell the sweet perfume of her jet black hair as she jumped to the beat of Every Breath You Take. He felt her soft lips touch his cheeks as Fields of Gold played. The evening was magical. And all the time the song that played in his head was Mad About You. But she rendered him speechless as always.

As the concert ended they walked along the pier and sat on a wooden bench next to the river. The silver moon shone brightly as they sat close to each other. Not a word was spoken as their hearts beat in unison. At one point he swore he could hear their beats together.

“I will never forget you”, she said breaking a silence that seemed eternal. Her brown eyes were filled up as she held his hand tightly and then placed her head on his shoulders. He felt her tears on his shirt, as she sobbed silently. He wanted to put his arm across her but stopped himself from doing so.

“Why can’t you reason with him, he asked, exasperated at her loyalty and obedience to her father. “I’m sure he would reconsider if he knew about us”, his logic was sound although he knew it was a lost cause with her.

“I’ve given him my word and I won’t go against it”, she said as she wiped her eyes and steadied herself. She didn’t like losing control of her emotions and was always quick in her recovery if ever she did.

They sat together by the river till late that evening. The journey back home in his car was filled with silence. Their silences argued, tried to reason, tried to compromise with each other all through the way. Finally she gave him a warm tight hug as she got off the car. Once more his shirt shoulder felt the dampness of her eyes. “I hope you find someone better than me”, were her parting words to him.

There were no goodbyes.

Kay was exactly the opposite of what he was. He first met her in his office, the new girl everyone wanted to befriend. His advertising job which seemed boring and mundane after Dee left his life, was filled with happiness and joy suddenly. There was excitement, anticipation, laughter and surprises galore, once Kay came into his office. In his life. Suddenly he found the spring back in his steps as he rushed to work. Eager to face a new day. Eager to be with her. As Kay slowly made her presence in his world, he felt Dee making a natural exit from his thoughts. He never thought it would happen. But it was happening.

What really amazed him about his equation with Kay was the spontaneity and speed with which everything was happening. No one could have planned something like this to happen. It just happened naturally. He hadn’t realised when he was so drawn to her but he found her in his thoughts more often than not. The times they were together felt special. And those times when they weren’t were spent thinking about her, which made them special again.

And then one day he heard her sing. To say he was mesmerised would be an understatement. He realised he had well and truly fallen in love with her. Her mellifluous voice mirrored the angelic look on her face as she sang. To him there appeared to be a halo around her at that very instance. He was hopelessly and madly in love with her from that moment.

The intensity they shared seemed truly magical thereafter. After spending the whole day at work they’d walk to the pier and spend some more time together. They’d sit on the same wooden bench where he had other memories of the past which were now being repainted with fresher and happier ones. And then there were those late night phone calls. Most of the times he didn’t know when he’d doze off in the wee hours of the morning listening to her angelic voice. Every night he went off to sleep with a smile on his lips.

“I’ve got a surprise for you this evening”, she excitedly whispered to him at work that day, before heading to her own cabin. “At the pier, 6pm”, she mouthed silently. He could even understand her silence. He looked at her and smiled.

She was holding his hands as they sat in he wooden bench by the pier. The evening sun was in its last stages of saying goodbye and the birds were flying home too. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect. “This one is for you”, she whispered as she strummed on her guitar. The opening chords created a flutter in his heart as memories tangled up inside of him.

As she sang…

A stone’s throw from Jerusalem

I walked a lonely mile in the moonlight…

Her voice sweeter than honey cooed, as his eyes remained shut. He couldn’t believe what was happening inside of him at that very moment. The perfume, the laugh, the touch, the kiss. Dee was all over his thoughts, making him completely surrender to her memory.

For a moment it felt he had been transported back to the Sting concert years ago. He moved closer to her and kissed her on the mouth, taking her by surprise. She recovered quick enough to kiss him back with equal passion. “That’s a lovely way to make me stop singing”, she said, looking at him with a delicious mix of surprise and love. “Don’t leave me this time”, he pleaded, just before kissing her again before she could reply. She didn’t know what he meant by “this time”, but she didn’t care. She knew she was happy and so was he.

As the two lovers spent the rest of the evening on the pier, lost in each other, somewhere at another end of the globe Dee felt inexplicably happy. She smiled to herself knowing in her heart, something wonderful had just happened.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Together…again !

It was a dark and stormy night. With the wind blowing like mad, she got off from her chair, closing the windows one by one. The rain soon started and as she went to shut the last window, she felt a splash of rain hit her face. The splash felt so good, she just stood there feeling more of the rain hitting her. With every drop of rain that touched her, she felt alive, she felt awake, almost like a new person.

“Will u stop it now? Holi is over and we’re home now. Stop this splashing immediately”, she admonished him, as they were in the bath, trying to rid themselves off the colours that they were both covered in. He looked like a purple statue and she herself looked no better. Even her lustrous hair was soaked in different colours. “It’ll be crazy trying to get these colours off”, she grumbled. “Let me help”, he said as he poured some more water on her, making her scream loudly. Their laughter echoed throughout the house that day.

She smiled to herself, as she closed the last window. The only sound that came from the house, or actually from outside, was the thunder that came seconds after every lightening that happened. The house had gone silent for three years now. She went and sat down on her chair again, rocking it back and forth gently as she kept the Cronin paperback on the side table next to the chair.

“I don’t know how you can read Cronin”, he would always joke. “I tried reading him once and it was so boring. Why don’t you start reading Chase? It’s pacy, action-packed and so entertaining. I can’t get what you like in those sombre intense books of yours. No wonder you got glasses at such an early age”, he’d laugh loudly. Her usual response would be to lift her glasses over her forehead and plonk them on her head and make a face at him, sticking her tongue out.

She smiled to herself as she stuck her tongue out in mock anger, as she rocked on her chair. The chair was slightly creaking as she moved back and forth. She didn’t know when her eyes shut. But soon she was in deep sleep. The noise of the thunder from outside kept getting fainter as she drifted off to a soft slumber.

She was woken up by a soft peck on her forehead. She looked up and saw him standing behind her, bent down, his hands on the head of the rocking chair. He was dressed in all white and there seemed to be a shining light all around him.

“You took so long darling”, he whispered, as he stroked her hair from her forehead, putting them back in place. “I was waiting for you”, he smiled, as he went down to kiss her again.

She felt the misty smell of moonlight and way down below, she faintly heard the sounds of thunder.

Why must I stay here
Rain comes I’m sitting here
Watching love moving
Away into yesterday

Winter is blue
Everything’s leaving
Fires are now burning
And life has no reason

Vashty Bunyan, Winter is Blue

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Homing Bird

“How can I tell her”, he almost cried out, the pain and hurt, clearly evident in his voice. “Its just not possible for me to do this to her.”

“Then let me know where I stand wont you”, she replied, her voice too mirroring her emotions. “The stakes are high for me too you know”, she exclaimed, almost disgusted at his attitude.

They sat together in the park, almost like the Dylan song he so loved. It had been 6 weeks. Only 6 weeks, but it seemed that they had known each other for an eternity. They had spent a lot of time together in these weeks and it had taken both of them very little time to realize the enormity of this relationship. They both were married, to other people of course, and were having their own problems. So it wasn’t strange that they kind of found solace in each other, but what was frighteningly fascinating was the intensity and pace this relationship had gathered in such a short time. It was almost like I finally met my soul-mate in you, he told her, fully aware it was a cliché. But then like all clichés it was true…so very true.

“What do you want to do now”, she asked, her voice more in control after her initial outburst. “I think time has come when we need to take a call and decide.”

He hated such things. The very idea of having to take a decision and that too an unpleasant one, was killing him from inside. And as the inevitability of the situation was becoming more and more clear, he was getting edgier by the day. She knew the reason for his moods, but didn’t quite know how to handle them.

“Yeah I know what you mean”, he said, without even looking at her. There was an air of resignation in his voice, almost a sound of passive defeat, a defeat that was actually conceded. “You tell me what you would have done if you were in my place”, he asked her, knowing well he wouldn’t get the answer he was looking for.

“I think you should go back to her. Because when you are away from her and with me, there is always a part of you, which is still with her. So you are never with me completely anyway. And I know that even if we are together, she will always remain in between us. So it’s better that way”.

“And what about you”, he asked, surprised enough at her answer to look her directly in the eye,for the first time that evening. “Will you be able to take this? Can you really go on without me”?

“I don’t have a choice do I”, she implored, her eyes finally filling up, despite her brave resistance all evening. She quickly took out her hanky and wiped her face in a flash and opened her purse. “Here this is for you, perhaps my last gift to you”. She handed him a neatly wrapped package. “It’s the Tull Live in Greece CD you always wanted, hope you like it. I always hated them Live anyway”, she said.

The moon gave its first glimpse of the evening as she was getting up…

“PAPA PAPA PAPA….”, the angelic cries broke his thoughts of the past and made him come back to the present. He turned around to see his little angel running towards him with a bunch of colourful balloons, obviously bought for her by her mum. Walking behind the little one, she had a contended look on her face. She was glowing like the sun as her extended dress gave away for the first time that an addition to the family was expected. After all it had been 5 months now. “Ready to go home darling”, she asked as she came near him.

“Yes my dear, finally”, he said……after all it had been 4 years and 5 months…..and he was finally coming home.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Rainbow Murder (V.I.B.G.Y.O.R.)

The stage was set for a grand reunion. The seven of them were last together in one room during their college days. And would be so today after 27 years. A few of them had kept in touch with each other but most had scattered away and gotten busy with their own lives. It was solely due to the efforts of Varun that they were getting back together again. He was the busiest and most active of them all in social media and tracked down each one of them and fixed up this meeting. These seven had been thick friends in college and like a rainbow they spread happiness and smiles amongst each other those days.

They decided to meet at Ishant’s place. He lived in the central part of the city and being a bachelor still, his apartment was always open and accessible to all. Bindiya and Gautam who were now married, after a tumultuous on-off relationship/friendship in their college days, lived closest to him. “Let us take care of the food for the evening”, they suggested. Ishant and the others readily agreed. They still remembered the delicious snacks Bindiya would cook up every time they met at her place during college days. Yatin decided to sponsor the drinks. He knew that Ishant was still a teetotaller and he didnt want to risk a “dry” evening. Neither did the others.

Friday 7pm was decided upon as the suitable time. All of them would meet up and the hands of time would be dragged back. Just like those golden days. When life was simple, fun and uncomplicated.

Although they all stayed in different parts of the country, they all agreed to fly down to the city and gather at Ishant’s place. Only Oindrilla stayed in Toronto, but she too happily accepted Varun’s invitation. Living farthest from the rest of the gang, she probably missed them the most. And of course there was Rishi. Everyone knew he had a special fondness for Bindiya and silently pined for her. So when she and Gautam finally hooked up, he was heart broken and stayed away from the gang altogether. In fact everyone was surprised that Rishi had agreed to come at all.

One by one the guests sauntered in. It was like a magical evening. A reunion in the truest sense as all seven of them were meeting together for the first time since college. Everyone seemed to be happy meeting each other. They hugged, laughed, reminisced about the good old days as the music played on. Wine flowed freely and Bindiya’s ho d’ouevres were getting polished easily. Even the shy withdrawn Rishi seemed to be at ease, talking and mingling with everyone including Bindiya and Gautam.

Suddenly in the midst of the merriment, Varun sat down on the nearest couch clutching his chest. In fact more than sit, he staggered there and fell. His breathing was heavy as sweatbeads formed on his forehead and around his neck. His breathing was laboured and he felt as if he was choking.

It took a while for the others to notice. In fact it was Oindrila who first noticed and instinctively let out a shriek. Everyone turned around to see what was happening. Instantly they all gathered around Varun who was clearly in a great deal of discomfort.

“Call a doctor immediately”, Ishant hollered.

“Someone get a glass of water”, Gautam shouted, as Bindiya rushed to the kitchen to fetch it.

“Are you…are you ok Varun”, Rishi asked.

Varun raised his head from the couch trying to say something but all of a sudden his body shuddered and then went limp. His head turned on the right side of the couch and there he lay lifeless.

Bindiya had rushed out of the kitchen with a glass of water in her hand. She looked at Varun’s lifeless body and froze. The others too stared at him in disbelief. They were all speechless.

After what seemed like an eternity, Yatin was the one to speak. “Let’s call a doctor”, he said softly, having still not come to terms with what just had happened. None of them had, in fact.

In the fifteen minutes or so that Dr Joshi, Ishant’s family physician took to come to his apartment, they all huddled around Varun’s body and spoke in whispers. No one could fully comprehend what had happened. Varun was such a health freak. He took care of what he ate, exercised, jogged regularly. What on earth could have happened to him, they all wondered in hushed tones.

“It was a massive cardiac arrest”, Dr Joshi announced, after having inspected Varun. “These things are unpredictable. Sometimes they can happen to the healthiest and fittest of us all”, he sighed as he got up and headed towards the door. “Ask his parents to come to my clinic tomorrow Ishant”, he said as he was leaving. “I will make a death certificate”.

Ishant shut the door as the doctor left. He turned back towards the living room where the others were all sitting silently. Bindiya was consoling Oindrila who was silently sobbing. Rishi too had tears in his eyes and stared vacantly from the verandah to the overlooking sea.

“I better make that call to his mum”, Gautam finally broke the silence that engulfed the room. The party that had started off with so much joy and fun was well and truly over.

6 hours earlier…

“Let’s surprise everyone”, Varun spoke excitedly to someone on the phone. “Let’s meet up now for lunch and then go there in the evening and announce that we’re together now”.

As they had lunch they held their hands and looked into each other’s eyes.

“You know I always thought you liked Gautam and not me. I wish I had known earlier, we could’ve been together all these years”.

“Timing is the key sweetheart”, Oindrila cooed as she gave his hand a slight squeeze gazing deep into his eyes.

“Let’s finish lunch and I need to go back to the hotel for some quick work. You head to Ishant’s place. I will join you there later and then we tell everyone about us”, she whispered.

As they sat together in the Uber, they held hands and kissed. As she was getting off the car, she put a couple of Life Saver mints in his mouth.

“You still haven’t forgotten”, he said, amazed at the fact that even after so many years she remembered his favourite mint.

“See you in the evening darling”, she smiled as she waved him goodbye.

The Next Day…

Oindrilla sat by herself in the first class lounge. Her flight to Toronto was delayed by a few minutes. She leafed through a magazine lazily, but her mind was ticking away actively.

“I didn’t forget anything Varun. I didn’t forget how I loved Gautam and Rishi loved Bindiya. I didn’t forget how both of us wanted you to help us. I didn’t forget how you did nothing but in fact encouraged Gautam and Bindiya to get together. Rishi might’ve forgiven you Varun, but I didn’t. I couldn’t”.

As the announcement for the Toronto flight came loud and clear, Oindrilla got up from her sofa and casually dropped the half packet of Life Saver mints and a small vial of crystal clear liquid (TC-16) in the first class lounge bin.

It was time to go back home.

PS: TC-16 induces a heart attack 8 hours after consumption.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Bustling Streets

“Husbands are always the usual suspects, you know. And I have statistics on my side too. And I love statistics you know”.

The detective winked at him as he said these words. His steely eyes piercing through him as he spoke.

He looked down at the table of the room in which he had been sitting for the last four hours. What had started off as a “casual couple of questions” had ended with the detective sitting across the table and throwing a barrage of questions insinuations and allegations across his face.

It had not even been 24 hours since his wife’s body was found below the bridge. He was at home when he got the call. It’d been a particularly hard day and he had come home only to find his wife not there. He messaged her and she messaged back saying she’d found an investor who was willing to back her project. And she was out to meet him. He smiled to himself as he read that message. “As if she’d ever find someone willing to spend their hard earned money on her nonsense”. He shut his eyes as he lay on the sofa. A slight smirk on his lips.

He was awakened by the constant vibration of his cell phone. He had been in an important meeting earlier that evening and didn’t want to be disturbed. So he’d turned the ringtone off. He had forgotten to put it back on after he had finished his work. He picked up the phone and was horrified at what he heard.

He struggled to get up from the plush leather sofa, but once he did, he raced down the stairs of his apartment to reach his car and drove like a maniac to reach the spot where he’d been asked to come.

A few policemen in uniform and a couple of them in plain clothes were surrounding what obviously seemed to be a body. As he reached closer he recognised it. The beige floral top and maroon bottoms he immediately recognised. A couple of officers stopped him but on telling them who he was they allowed him to get near the body. He saw her face. Eyes shut. She seemed to sleeping peacefully, he thought. Although the stab wounds on her top near the stomach and that single slash across her neck suggested anything but peaceful.

A detective identified himself and asked him to come along. They drove in the detective’s car to the station. “My men will bring your car here. Just a couple of casual questions and you can go home. The shock must be too great, I can understand”. He sounded genuinely sympathetic.

It was four hours since then, nearing midnight and he was still at the station. The sympathetic detective had gradually transformed to a flesh-notching hawk who was hell bent on proving his guilt.

He was tired by now. His whole day had been a hectic one. In fact the last week had been a hectic one. And he really needed a break. Moreover the shocking events of the evening had absolutely crushed him. He was tired. He was grieving, he wanted to sleep.

The detective was about to ask him more questions when a bald man wearing thick rimmed glasses knocked on the door. As the detective turned around irritated to see who the intruder was, he was relieved. It was his friend Thomas. The company lawyer. He was glad to see Thommo finally make it.

“I have bail papers for my client”, the bespectacled man thrust a bunch of papers near the detective’s face. For a brief second he thought Thommo would strike the detective with those papers. “I wish he did”, he thought to himself. He was eager to get out of this hell and grieve by himself.

The detective, once he recovered from the surprising movements of Thommo’s hands, leafed through the bunch of papers, looking alternately at him and Thommo. “So your client here is a big man, is he”, the detective snarled as he got up from his chair.

“You’re free to take him, for now”, he added deliberately. “But sir you know better. Do not leave town while the investigations are on”. His tone was a challenging one. He sounded as if he was letting a convicted killer off the noose. “Mr Mehra won’t be going anywhere Sir”, Thommo’s tone exuded warmth reassurance and a distinctly false sense of humility. “He will willingly cooperate with you and the entire force on the case. After all it’s his wife who’s been murdered. And Shantanu would definitely like to see the culprit being caught. Neelima Bhabhi was…”, Thommo’s voice quivered, totally in line with his overacting.

“Shaan you better go home and rest. Uncle aunty are there. Even Shashank and Madhu have come over. You’ll feel nice with people around you”, Thommo spoke as he drove.

He felt strange entering his own house for some reason. His parents, his brother and his sister in law were waiting for him as he walked in. He didn’t have the will or energy to face them. His mother broke down as she hugged him tight. He put an arm around her to comfort her. His tired eyes pleading with his father to pull her away. He couldn’t handle all this at this time. They all settled down on the large sofa in the middle of the huge drawing room. As everyone spoke, each expressing their shock and sympathy and anger over what happened, he had zoned out. He kept staring around the room wondering how he’d carry on without her. He looked around the room and every object his eyes fell upon reminded him of her. Their happy times together and so many memories. In the midst of their conversations he got up and left. He went up to his bedroom and plonked himself on the King sized bed. He was asleep within a few minutes.

He awoke the next morning with his phone ringing. He hadn’t even managed to change his clothes from last night. He went to wash his face and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were blood shot his hair ruffled and his 2- day stubble looked prickly. Within an hour he had stepped out of the apartment looking and feeling fresher than what he was sometime ago. The detective had asked him to come to the station for “a few more questions”. “As if last night wasn’t enough”, he grumbled to himself as he drove through the city traffic to reach the station.

The questions followed. Days changed to the next days and then weeks and then months. Detective Shardul was hell bent on proving his guilt, but Shantanu remained cool. “When I have not done anything why should I worry”, he kept repeating to himself, during those tough times. Continuous interrogations were enough to drain a man of all his energy and patience. But Shantanu displayed a surprisingly steely resolve and composure. Even he didn’t realise he had so much calm inside of him. He handled all the questions the accusations and the pressure tactics used on him with utmost composure. There was a sense of dogged determination, laced with a sense of supreme self confidence. He loved the look on Shardul’s face everytime he managed to answer his queries and leave him stumped. Shardul was getting nowhere with the case. “I know it’s him sir”, he would answer to his superiors every time they pulled him up for being too strong on Shantanu. He was after all a reputed architect owning a substantial business.

Finally after months of enquiries and investigations it was decided to close the case. There was not an inch of movement that had led them to believe Shantanu could have murdered her. “One of those unsolved cases”, Shardul’s boss told him as they worked on the formal papers to close the case. Shardul has never felt sadder than that day. On his long career he had seen a number of cases being closed unsolved, but somehow this particular one affected him more than the others.

Shantanu was a happy man that day. He was in his office that day when the phone call came. He expressed his relief at his own name being taken off the suspects list. But at the same time he felt sad somewhere that Neelima’a killer had gotten away scot free.

“I would love to come and meet you this evening if possible”, Shardul’s voice sounded surprisingly humble as he called from an unknown number. “I don’t want to make this official as I don’t even have the right to make it one. But since you have tolerated me for so long I hope you won’t mind one last meeting at your house”. Shantanu was surprised at Shardul’s sudden new-found humility. He agreed to meet Shardul in his house. “Maybe he wants to come and admire the sea view or just gape at the artefacts”, he smiled to himself, still trying to figure out why Shardul would request such an odd “unofficial” meeting.

“I just wanted to say sorry to you Mr Mehra”, Shardul said as he extended his hand to shake with him. “I know during the course of our investigations I have troubled you, accused you, abused you, all the while forgetting that you were also grieving the loss of your wife. Maybe I had blinkers on and failed to admit that it could be anyone but you”. Shantanu was surprised at this unexpected transformation. He heard Shardul get more and and more emotional with every drink he poured in his glass. Shantanu was beginning to enjoy it.

3 Months Later

Shantanu lay down on his king sized bed. “You can be such a cunning rascal you know”, Madhu said as she embraced him from behind. “In these last three months I’ve seen a side to you which amazes me but also scares me a bit. The way you engineered dad’s heart attack with the TC 16, mum’s mental breakdown which led her to be shifted to the institution. And Shashank’s “accident”. When I first met you after marriage, I never knew you had all these qualities in you”. “I was always the adopted son wasn’t I”, he swung her across the bed and bent down to kiss her on her neck. “Mmm you smell so nice darling. Does a grieving widow really use so much perfume”, he laughed as he began to tickle her all over her body. She writhed, laughed and fought back with him rolling all over the bed along with him.

“This is a new one for sure”, Inspector Ghorpade said, shaking his head. “Now where has detective Shardul disappeared. Three months and no news of him. Just like that. Out of the blue. Ekdum Se Gayab. I wonder where he went”.

“He was a good man, Shardul was…”,  Shardul’s boss said dispassionately as he looked out of his gloomy office window into the bustling streets of the city.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Songs From a Room

They sat on the same sofa. But far apart. He was listening to his Dylan on his headphones. She was perched up on the other end of the sofa, her feet tucked underneath her with a stole wrapped around her. She had Emily Dickinson opened but she was hardly reading it. She was lost in a world of her own. The rains made the only sound pattering away on the garden shed. It was a wet September afternoon.

They were married now for 12 years.

Far away in another city, he suddenly remembered her. He was rearranging his book shelf when he came across a collection of Emily Dickinson poems. He looked at the battered cover of the book and immediately his thoughts raced back to those glorious days he’d spent with her. Those days in college, when they were together. Madly in love. He stopped his book shelf work and stared into space for a while, holding the book in his hand. In a brief span of a few seconds flashes of memories from the past swept across his eyes, leaving them moist. He hadn’t thought of her in all those years and suddenly a book reminded him of her. He tried to continue cleaning his book shelf but was unable to do so. He took the book in his hand and sat down, leafing through it. The book was filled with little notes written by her in pencil. Some parts were underlined and comments were generously strewn all across the book in every possible blank space available. He sat there on the sofa reminiscing about those lost days.

It had been 12 years since college.

She got up from her sofa flinging the Emily Dickinson book on one side. He was lost in his Dylan and took a while to react. By the time he looked up, she’d gotten off the sofa and left the room. He could hear rustling sounds from their bedroom as if she was packing some clothes. He got up from the sofa to follow her in the bedroom.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing” he asked, bewildered, as he saw her place an opened suitcase on the bed and dump her dresses at random into it. There was a look of anger on her face which he’d never seen before. She didn’t answer him and kept on piling up the clothes in the suitcase instead. He came close to her and held her as she was hell bent on over-filling her suitcase. “Just leave me”, she said as she yanked his arm off her. “I am fed up. I am tired. I want to leave. I can’t carry on like this”, she said, her voice rising in pitch with every sentence. “I have tried and I have tried to make peace with you to try and make this work but I have failed” she said, now sobbing softly as she sat down on the bed leaving her pile of clothes the way they were. He kept staring at her face in disbelief. He knew they had very little to say to each other and were drifting apart in general but in truth he was unaware of the intensity of her resentment. He was used to their relationship status quo.

“Don’t say that”, he gently said as he sat down on the bed next to her. His hands were now stroking her shoulders softly. He felt her body stiffen at his touch. She didn’t turn around. He bent down and kissed her on the back of her neck softly, breathing in and out with her, as his mouth remained on her shoulder. He could feel her body relax after some time. She turned around and looked at him finally. “You don’t realise how much I love you do you”, she said, as she held his face in her hands. Her eyes were filled to the brim and her lips were quivering as she spoke. “You ignore me and take me for granted, never ever caring for my feelings”, she continued to rant as she held his face tightly within her palms. He felt her grip getting stronger. He kept listening to her all this time. He didn’t interrupt her. He wanted it all to come out of her. And it did. Finally when she went silent he put his palms on her face in an identical manner and kissed her softly. After a few kisses she kissed him back. They made love after a long time that afternoon.

It must have been 2 years since they last made love.

She kept looking at him sleep peacefully on their bed. She felt a lot lighter and calmer. All her anger her frustrations and her bitterness seemed to have been washed off. The rains outside had lessened considerably. She drew the curtains so that the rays of the evening sun didn’t disturb his slumber. She got up from the bed and began to keep her suitcase back in its place. All the clothes were back again in her wardrobe. She sat down with a cup of black coffee by the window. She picked up the Emily Dickinson book and ran through the pages. They were fresh and hardly had anything written on them. Excepting the little note he wrote to her as he had gifted the book to her on their first anniversary. She looked at the book, then looked towards the vacant ceiling and smiled wistfully.

Far away in the other city…

…he went back to rearranging his book shelf. He went about the cleaning in a more focused way after resuming from his self-induced break. He found more books that reminded him of her. But he didn’t stop to think too much. Just went about his job for the weekend in a dedicated focused manner. “She’s happy. So they say. As long as she’s happy that’s all that matters”, his mind was carrying on a conversation with himself. He finished arranging his bookshelf and was proud of what he’d done. The small studio apartment looked much neater now. He sat down with his phone to check his mail as he put on a Leonard Cohen record.

That same evening in the other city, Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire played on constant mode.

And life went on…

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

A Pack of Croutons

She rolled the windows down, as she drove out of the city and entered the highways. The cool fresh breeze caressing her face as she drove on the smooth roads made her feel alive again. Away from the concrete jungle, she felt recharged amidst the greenery around her. She drove on, as Vashti Bunyan alternated with Catherine Howe on her customised playlist. The old country songs took her back to a happy place. At a time when she played her guitar with a wanton abandon she could only imagine these days. She was happy to discover that the old her was still buried somewhere deep inside.

Her career was high and flying in the city. As one of the leading investment bankers, she had her clients eating out of her hands as she rapidly climbed the rungs of success. Her personal life was finally finding peace after a messy divorce and a lengthy custody battle which she eventually won. It was time for a little break she felt. Which is why she had decided on the rather impromptu trip back to her old childhood town. She knew her kids would be happy with their grandparents in their city penthouse for a couple of days.

As the road signs indicated she was nearing her old town she felt a surge of memories battling to find their place inside her head. Too many of them jostled with each other to make their presence felt. She drove on at a leisurely pace as her mind sped much faster to those happier times.

As she was just about to enter the town she crossed the dead hills, as they used to call them in her town. She got off her car and bent down to touch the last remains of snow, as winter was saying it’s final goodbye. She searched in her mind for both their names written in that snow. Aeons ago. As she caressed the glistening snow she smiled, surprising herself. It had been ages since she had smiled so genuinely. She sighed as she got back in her car and drove on towards the town.

As she approached the town centre, she looked around to see that not much had changed. The bakery, the barber shop, the convenience store, the bookshop. They were all there. Had it not been for the car models, she could have sworn not a day had passed. Her heart was in each of these places at the same time. Those wondrous cream rolls, the first edition tattered Scott Fitzgerald they both fought to read at the same time in the library, the Barber Shop where she’d bribe the old man to make a mess of his hair. She smiled as memories played hide and seek within her.

Then she saw the shop. Conflicting emotions clashed inside her as she stopped in front of the store. She wondered if he was still there. There was no way people in the town could recognise her now. Her chestnut wavy hair had given way to a much smarter, blunter cut. She had lost oodles of her puppy fat to look svelte and chic. And her light brown sunglasses covered her almond eyes and half her face. She wondered more importantly, if she could recognise him.

She entered the store and felt a familiar fragrance engulf her. It was the smell of her childhood, of her younger days. Strangely she felt calmer as she closed her eyes to take in more of the past with her breath. She felt safe and warm from inside. She wandered aimlessly inside glancing through rows of canned food and soup. She picked up a packet of her favourite clear soup. “The sage croutons go very well with them,” she felt an inexplicable rush as she heard that familiar voice. She stopped breathing for a bit, in order to steady her racing heart. She nodded a yes without saying a word. She picked up the bag of croutons without turning towards the direction the voice came from.

She expected to see him at the counter. “Would that be all,” she was surprised to hear a lady speak to her. She looked up and saw a blonde-haired genial smiling face looking at her. She nodded a yes again as she took out money to pay for the soup and croutons. She looked around and saw a young boy maybe a year older than her children, loitering nearby within the store. She smiled at the lady in the counter. “Sweet boy,” she said as she left the store.

She sat in her car, the two packets next to her on the front seat. She wondered where he was. They were inseparable when they were younger. So much younger than today. They dreamed together of a happy future. The only difference was that happiness meant different things to them. He was never as big as her ambitions and her dreams were. “I can never leave this place,” he had told her, all those years ago, when she expected his support for her dreams of making it big in the city. “We can be happy here as well”, he tried to reason. She felt cheated that her aspirations didn’t mean much to him. She felt let down. She wept as she took the bus to the city that decisive night. She felt alone. Being away from home. From him. But in a strange way that made her more determined to succeed. In her later years when she achieved all that she had set out to, she felt satisfied, although deep inside she could never forgive him. And today as she sat outside his store that resentment clawed back at her again. Only now, there were years of memories and moments, which softened the harshness of her thoughts. She smiled softly to herself as she drove on to check-in to the best B&B the town had to offer.

“Why aren’t you eating properly?”, his wife asked him, adjusting her blonde hair, as he sat on the dinner table fiddling with his Sunday roast. The vegetables lay untouched as the meat and gravy went cold. He looked up and smiled at her. His face, despite the year old salt & pepper beard, looked younger and brighter than it had been for a while now. She felt happy to see him this way. She always felt he was at peace but not happy. Today she saw that happiness she longed for, in his eyes.

“I feel like having soup ,” he finally said. “Can you make me a nice one tonight my beautiful missus”, he had rarely sounded sweeter to her as he did that afternoon. She gently placed her hand on his and smiled.

Back in the B&B she made her clear soup and like the old times, munched on the croutons separately.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Seven Days

“The denominations need to be small. No large notes remember”, the gruff voice sounded even more menacing in its ice cold avatar. 

She heard it and it registered it in her brain. She knew she couldn’t afford to forget this one. 

She came home and looked at her husband. He was busy on his laptop trying to locate the origin of the call. “I can’t seem to understand why it shows our store room. I’ve traced every inch of it and there’s nothing or no one there. He must be using one hell of a software to fool us”. 

She looked at him confused. She didn’t understand any of this computer business and was all at sea. She simply nodded in meek affirmation when he said this looking at her. 

Two weeks ago their life seemed perfect. At least outwardly. Happily married for 5 years they were both successful in their respective careers. He, as the Marketing Vice President of a leading IT company and she a fast emerging author. They seemed to have it all. 

He loved to take short naps in the evening. He was snoring away on the couch when his phone bleeped a numerous times waking him up from his peaceful slumber. What he saw then, woke him up for good. 

There were a number of pics of his wife lying in bed in a strange hotel room with a man with a rose tattoo on his exposed back lying on top of her. Of the 17 pictures he was sent each and everyone had her face clearly visible whilst that of the guy remained unseen. 

“Pay up 25crores or these pics go up on social media to all your friends. And yes this time with the face you so desperately want to see”, the message taunted. 

He got up from his couch and walked out of the door. She was in the lawn watering some plants. He thrust the mobile in front of her face. “What the hell is this”, he demanded, in a tone that really startled her. 

She dropped the water tube and began to see the pictures on his phone. Her expression changed from that of disbelief and shock to that of being confused. 

“I swear I swear I can’t remember what this is. When this was or who this is. I swear Raghav I don’t know anything about this”. She sounded very genuine indeed but the pictures didn’t lie. “Are you sure these are not morphed”, she asked, almost echoing his doubts about them. 

He looked at the pictures closely again. They definitely didn’t look morphed. “I will try and find out if they’ve been photo-shopped”, he said wearily. His mind was totally confused. On one hand he knew that she could never do something like this. And yet on the other, the pictures !!!. Such strong evidence. He didn’t know how to react. 

He came inside the living room and collapsed on the sofa. She came and sat next to him too. She put her head on his shoulders and started to weep. He instinctively put his arms around her pulling her closer to him. But his mind was still racing away with a thousand thoughts. Who? Why? How? 

They spent the rest of the day in silence. She didn’t do anything but just sat on the sofa, listless and mindless. He kept on working on his computer attempting to figure out where the call had originated from. For the life in him he could not prove that the photos were morphed. They passed every test to prove they were authentic. 

He kept asking her over and over again the next couple of days but she had no different answer to give him. She just could not remember any incident which would have even initiated such a situation as the photographs suggested. It all seemed so unreal to her. At times it felt like her worst nightmare coming true. 

The call came again on the fourth day. “So have you guys decided what you want to do? I am not going to wait forever you know”. 

“Just give us some time. We will pay you. But it takes time to arrange for such a large amount”, Raghav tried to reason with his blackmailer. “And what guarantee is there that you won’t put up the photos once we give you the money”, he asked knowing very well the answer he would get in return. 

“Well there are no guarantees of that you know”, he laughed. “Except for my word. And at this stage unfortunately Mr Mehra you don’t have a better choice, do you”, he smirked just before hanging up. 

“We don’t have a choice Pooja. We have to give him the money”, Raghav looked like a broken man as he spoke to his wife. Pooja looked at him in utter disbelief. 

“Are you saying there is nothing we can do but to bow down before these threats for something that is totally false and untrue? No fault of mine and we have to pay”? Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. She knew how hopeless the situation was for Raghav to agree to pay. She had no strength to fight after seeing him like this.

“What about the flat”, she asked, as her last shred of hope seemed to be tearing off. 

“We have to sell it. We have to sell everything and move to my company apartment. There is no other way of arranging such a huge sum”, he sounded in a total surrender mode as he spoke. His voice barely audible even though she was sitting next to him. 

He begged his blackmailer to give them two more days. “It takes time to arrange such amount. At least give me two days”, he reasoned. The blackmailer agreed. 

And then came Friday. The day the money was to be delivered. He had the travel bag  ready. It was to be dropped off a bridge the blackmailer specified. He did as he was told and drove off alone, empty and shattered, after dropping the bag off. 

He drove a few kilometres away and opened his laptop. The chip he’d placed in between the notes seemed to moving in a direction towards the city. He slowly began to drive towards that direction. He wasn’t going to let it all go so easily. He had spent his entire life building his life up and he wouldn’t go down without a fight. 

Following the red light he came up to an apartment. He was shocked to see the location. It was Maaya’s. “How did the blackmailer know Maaya”? He wondered as he raced up the stairs to reach her apartment. 

Maaya, the beautiful sensuous new trainee who had joined his organisation and for whom he’d started off as a mentor. Neither of them realised when the mentor-disciple role transformed into a full fledged affair. The passion he felt for Maaya, made him feel years younger than what he actually was. She invigorated him, made him feel alive. Maaya made him want to enjoy life again. A life that he had lost in the race of the corporate world and numbing boredom of married life. 

He had the keys to her apartment, so he didn’t think twice before opening the door and entering the apartment. The living room seemed fine. He was shocked when he went to the bedroom! 

On the queen sized bed Maaya lay lifeless. She had been strangled by a tie, which he recognised as being his own. In fact it was gifted to him by her. As he looked at Maaya’s beautiful eyes which were still open, his gaze turned to the small chip that was placed next to the bed. There was hand written note next to it. 

“You may think you’re very clever. But know this…YOU ARE NOT” !!!

His eyes were blood shot with rage as he read the note, his hands trembling as he held it. He felt kicked in the guts socked in his teeth. His mobile flashed. 

“I have brought this on to you. To us. I have unwittingly led you to this stage. I don’t think I have the will to carry on any more. Am ending my life. I am sorry for everything. Pooja”. 

He could not believe what he was reading. He read it a couple of times more before dialling her number. It was unreachable. He drove like a maniac to reach his house hoping  to stop her before she took any drastic step. 

As he approached his apartment he saw a small crowd had gathered near the bridge close to his home. He stopped there and asked what had happened. 

“Some lady jumped off the bridge just a few minutes ago”, a street vendor said. He kept looking down to see if anything could be seen. He saw a blue dupatta stuck to the corner of the bridge. He instantly recognised it !

He sat down at that moment, holding the dupatta close to his face. He was now sobbing uncontrollably. From a perfect life he had lost everything in a matter of seven days. His wife, his money, his love. Everything was gone. 

The man with the rose tattoo opened the bag and smiled. “I don’t have to count this do I”, he winked as he looked towards her. The lady had her back to him. 

“Oh no darling you don’t have to. Raghav is an honourable man”, Pooja winked as she turned around and hugged him. “Our plan worked liked a dream honey”, she said just before she kissed him on his mouth. 

“He should have known before he cheated on me with that trainee slut”, Pooja said as she zipped the bag filled with cash once more. Their bags were packed and they were ready to leave. 

“You cheated on him too didn’t you”, he laughed. 

“And look where it got me Manav”, she winked at him. 

“You drive first, I need to rest. The last few days have been super hectic”, she smiled as she sat on the passenger’s seat. She knew the drive to the private airspace was only a couple of hours. A private jet ready to take them to a new destination. For a new start. 

Manav sat in the driver’s seat and turned the ignition on. He looked at her and smiled. “Shall we”, he asked. She winked at him and went back to sleep. 

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Strangers in a park

He sat on the rickety bench in the park, his hand fidgeting with a crumpled old photograph, as he reminisced. His mind was racing away with a thousand thoughts at that moment and he needed to calm down. He needed to take long deep breaths to cool down.

“It’s a terrible thing to be cheated upon.”

He looked beside him and was surprised to see her sitting next to him. As the evening sun’s last rays fell on her face she looked even more beautiful. Her wavy brown hair was left open and her eyes sparkled as she spoke.

“Wh…wh…what?” he asked, surprised at this unknown stranger who had suddenly appeared next to him on the bench.

She smiled knowingly at him as her outstretched hand touched his. They were soft and gentle. But warm. She looked at him in the eye and smiled. There was a familiarity about her which he could not place.

“I know you. And believe me I also know how it feels to be cheated by your closest person. The anger, the hurt, the humiliation. I feel every bit of it like you do at this moment”, she said. Her hand gripped his tighter as she said these words.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying”, he replied, perplexed at the familiarity this stranger was showing towards him.

3 hours earlier.

He checked her whatsapp just as she had gone off to the other room to change. His worst fears had come true, as he hurriedly read all the messages. What he’d been dreading these last few months was now staring him in the face as stark reality. He was shattered.

He followed her Uber from a distance. His heart broke as he saw her enter the plush apartment complex. He knew the inevitable truth. He quietly sneaked in behind her. His heart snapped as he saw her ring the bell. A well built man opened the door and hugged her. He felt his whole body shudder in rage as he saw them embrace.

He didn’t know he had the strength, but he slammed the door open with a ferocious kick. They were still in the living room as he barged in. They broke their kiss to face him, horrified. He drew his pistol from the back and fired indiscriminately at them. The first two shots hit her in the face and she collapsed immediately. As he watched her body go lifeless in seconds he turned the gun on the tall guy, who was shaking violently and pleading for mercy. He didn’t hear anything as he shot at him. His hands were shaking the bullet grazed his upper arms as he fell to the floor beside her body. He ran close to him and kicked him continuously on his bleeding arm, his abdomen and face. He was in blind fury as he kept on kicking the man till he stopped moving.

As he ran out, he saw a frightened face behind the curtain. He didn’t care to know who she was as he ran out of the broken door.

“You didn’t check if he died, you know.”

He was brought back to the present by the soft but assured voice of the stranger sitting beside him.

He turned around to see her properly this time. She was the frightened woman behind the curtain.

“It’s funny how both of us decided to confront our cheating spouses on the same day”, she smiled, as she realised he had finally recognised her. “I hid in the house telling him I was going out and you followed your wife here. It was providence.”

“I saw him move a little after you left you know”, she continued. “And that’s when I knew I had to complete what you started. I used the pillow. The same one on which I used to cry every time he’d cheat on me”.

He kept staring at the crumpled picture he held in his hands. It was from a happier time when they were newly in love. Full of hope and promises of a rosy future ahead of them. How that has led to this!!! He kept staring at the picture for a long time as tears streamed down his face.

“I loved her. I loved her you know. Maybe I still do”, he said in between his sobs. He turned around to face the stranger sitting next to him. But there was no one. She had gone. And he knew he was never going to see her again.

He got up from the bench as he flung the photograph in the nearby bin.

“Maybe there’s a better life waiting somewhere for me”, he thought to himself as he carried his weary body away from the park.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar