It was Friday.
She was sitting in a dingy room in the Police Station, waiting for her interview to begin. This wasn’t the first time she was in a Thana, a police station. Her first time was when her father had blown his brains out and she was, like this time too, the key and only eye-witness in the case. But ever since she took up law for a profession, she had to routinely visit police stations all over the city, if the matter at hand required it. So Police interrogations and interviews weren’t new to her. But sitting on the other side of the room after so many, many years of that first interrogation left her feeling antsy and unconformable in this smelly, moldy room where files upon files of cases were gathering dust like turrets of a decrepit monument, withering away under the corrosive sun.
An officer and a female constable filed into the room and she knew the interview would start shortly. The Officer made himself comfortable on the swivel chair and whispered to the constable about something. The constable handed him a file. The officer leafed through it for sometime and then looked at her directly, steepling his fingers on the table between them, a sign of authority. Males, she sighed.
“Haan Madameji, so you were the one who called the 108 emergency number?”, he asked her in a thick Haryanvi accent.
“Could you tell me why you called?”, he asked her through hooded eyes and she narrated the entire incident to him. For the next one hour she kept answering his questions, repeating some and explaining some more.
At the end, he mulled over what she had said, nodded absentmindedly as if he agreed with it and then addressed her with assumed nonchalance, “Now, I understand that you did not see the fight happening. Only heard it. But can you identify and confirm that these were the two involved in the scuffle that night outside your door?”, and he put two mugshots of two men before her. One she had never seen at all.
The other was Kirat!
The color drained from her face, the buzzing started again in her head. For a few seconds she had to grip the hands of her chair hard just so she could stay upright. Was this a mistake? Surely, it must be. Why do they have his picture? He wasn’t involved at all. He was out partying with friends….Was HE Hairy Chest!
She stared at the picture for so long that the officer had to ask her, “Madameji, theek ho? Are you okay?” He motioned to the female constable to get some water, “Run, get some water.”
She looked at the officer and blurted out, “I…I….know him but he was not there that night.”
He looked at her in genuine confusion. “Then, is this other guy your neighbour?”, he pushed the other mugshot towards her.
She shook her head in frustration, “Noooooo, I’ve never even seen him.”
The officer was well and truly flummoxed now. He leafed through his file again, before asking her, “You live in 2-B, Shantivaas on B.K. Road in Patel Nagar, right?”
She could only nod her head. He continued, “Haan, so he stays in 2-A, Shantivaas. He is your neighbour”, he jabbed a pudgy finger on Kirat’s mugshot.
“Noooooo, he…can’t be. The guy I know as my neighbour looks different than…” and she trailed off as it hit her.
When had she seen him closely? Just once! And that one time too, he had a thick, unruly beard and a mop of overgrown hair on his head. Any man with a face full of hair could look like Hairy Chest. But Hairy Chest looked nothing like the polished Kirat who she had met at the Gallery for the first time. That is, the unshaved and ungroomed Hairy Chest, looked nothing like Kirat.
“Ek minute, ek minute…”, the officer tried to reassess this new piece of information, “This fellow is your nieghbour, but you don’t know that, barabar? But Madameji, he himself gave us the address and he himself admitted that when the fight happened, his next door neighbour, you that is, was at home. He could hear your screams.”
So its true!
“Does he know who I am? I mean, my name, and….what I look like?”, she was beyond puzzled at this turn of events. Was Kirat aware all along that he and I were neighbours? Or was he just as clueless? Why would he hide at the Gallery that he knew who I was?
“That I don’t know now. I’ll have to interrogate him again about this…” Then, as if he doubted the veracity of the whole conversation, he asked her in an irate tone, “Are you sure you stay there?”
“Yes…”, she nodded her head absentmindedly.
“Arey baap re! Yahan toh bahut ghotala hai!” (Oh my God! There’s something fishy going on here), the officer swore with a grave nodding of his bald head. “Madameji, please tell me exactly how you know this guy, and why you thought he wan’t your neighbour.” He looked at her hawkishly, suspecting foul play. She began explaining as best as she understood the situation and remained in the station for another hour.
Arindam was waiting for her in his Wagon-R when she finally stepped out. She saw him, cursed and then started dragging herself across the road to where his car was parked. She didn’t want him following her around like a bodyguard. He half-shouted at her when she reached, “Didn’t I tell you not to leave the house unescorted? Why could you not wait for me? Why don’t you ever listen? You’re still weak!”
She waved a hand at him to stop his barrage of misplaced concern, “Please, Arindam, not now. I’m really tired and confused. I just…want to go back and sleep…forever, if possible.”
That had the opposite effect she had intended. He was back in über protective mode, “Why, what happened in there? They didn’t misbehave, did they?”, he enquired worryingly as he helped her in the passenger seat. She was still weak with last night’s shock. She was always so frail, a touch-me-not-blow-and-she’d-fall kind of girl, he recalled. Her sort always acted like they never needed help when the exact opposite were true.
“Please, Arindam, just drive back home”, she pleaded with him in a voice that threatened tears. He rushed to the other side, got in and drove away.
Once home, she called up Bashir Uncle. Mercifully he was back. She poured her grief out to him, how she and Kirat were neighbours, how she felt about Kirat and how lost she felt now. He told her he was coming to pick her up. She thanked Arindam and his Mom profusely for being so kind and tolerant of her. Arindam looked at her wistfully when she said goodbye. She knew why. He had always wanted her for himself. But she could never picture herself with him. Poor, sweet Arindam. The phrase nice guys finish last was made for him. She felt bad for him, but after what had happened with Kirat, she suspected she wasn’t going to be interested in men for a long, long time.
On the way to Bashir Uncle’s place, her phone buzzed. It was the firm where she had given the interview. They informed her that they would be happy to offer her a place as an Assistant Attorney in their Litigation Department. She didn’t even wait to review the package they were offering. She gave her assent forthwith. Not because the firm was a great opportunity for her career. But because taking the job meant that she would have to move to faraway Noida where the firm’s offices were.
Away from Kirat…
To be continued…
©Pradita Kapahi, 2016.
Picture Credits: https://stocksnap.io