Have you ever experienced near-deafness by a cracker bursting right beside you? The ringing clamor in your head while the world around you goes silent for a while…. The confusion, the dizziness, the momentary loss of self and sense?
To say a thousand crackers went off right in my face, when I read your note, would be an understatement. My heart sank, my breath became shallow and I felt lifeless inside, and strangely, powerless…
Words failed me when I read it the first time. Thoughts would start forming and then evaporate into some void in my fogged up skull. Then I read it again, just to be sure, and I had flashbacks to our ‘happy memories‘. Then I read it a third time, by when I was earnestly crying all over again, my tears mingling with the rain, bleeding out the ink on the paper, just like my heart was bleeding inside.
My mind was a jumble of hows and whys.
How could our lives get so screwed up?
How could someone endure so much?
How could this world be so cruel?
Why are their stories so different?
I was confused who I should believe in. Neither of you seemed to be lying about your side of the story. And yet, there were holes in each story; missing pieces that screamed to me, ‘There’s more to what they’re admitting to‘.
And then there was something you had written in your note, and something in one of the news paper clippings that had me aaaaaaaall riled up inside.
I needed answers. Not because it mattered in itself who was telling me the truth, but for my own sanity’s sake, I needed to know who was lying and more importantly, why? I admit that somewhere deep, deep down in my heart I was still clutching to that last fragment of hope that you were right; that you’d been horribly wronged by this world. I didn’t want you to be that heartless murderer who Sushant claimed you were. Dare I admit that I still wanted you? Maybe…. no, yes…. I did! I was hoping that this was all a nightmare and I was going to wake up, shaking in worried laughter at last.
But first things first….
I fished out my phone with clumsy hands from my pocket and dialed Sushant’s number. He picked up after three rings, “Where’d you go to this early in the morning?”, he sounded worried.
I lied, “Somewhere I could be alone…. I need you to give me the number of the person who did the autopsy on your brother, and Payal’s address. And don’t fuck around with me Sushant… please!”
There was silence at his end for sometime. Then, “I don’t know about that either, but gimme 10… Maybe my Father still does”.
“Your brother died because of her, as you say, and you don’t know where she lives? Stop fooling around with me Sushant!”
“I swear to God, I don’t know. But I can find out from my Father. But…”, and I hung up. I knew what he wanted to say.
I quickly took out my pen and started jotting down points on the side of the note you had sent me; points that I needed to remember, names of places I needed to go to, questions that I wanted answers to.
True to his word, Sushant called up in under 10 minutes, “Okay the number is **********, and her Father’s address is **********. But what are you going to do with it? Don’t poke around in something you don’t understand…”
“Sushant, leave that to me.”
He said what I suspect he’d been aching to say ever since I called him first, “You met her, didn’t you? By God! I told you not to!” he hissed his frustration at me.
I thought of replying with a witty comeback like before, but I hung up instead. I pocketed my things, gathered up all the newspaper clippings, your reports, handed the dhabawalla a 100 and hopped on my bike to ride to the town where you came from.
The town where it all began, and where, hopefully, I’d find my answers.
Four hours later I was there, before the gates of your home. The walls were shedding plaster like a snake sheds it’s papery skin, it’s cracks teeming with life. The house itself looked the worse for wear. The once handsome iron gate was now eaten up so much by rust, that parts of it were crumbling into dust, its red soot staining my hand when I tried pushing the gate open. God, and the creak as it groaned open! I could still see an old car parked in the driveway. Someone was home, thankfully. My trip all the way up here wasn’t for nothing.
I rang the bell with a tentative hand. No one opened for several minutes. I tried peeking in through the window next to the door, but it was dark inside. I cupped my hands to the sides of my face to peer into the dark of the room, when suddenly a pair of spectacled eyes looked right into my face. I pulled myself hurriedly away from the window. I could hear the clicking of locks unlocking. I waited, clammy sweat streaming down my back, in the middle of a frigid February. What was I going to say to him or her, your parents?
The door opened and a man with your face opened. The same piercing eyes, the same curve of lips, the same forehead and mousy hair. But the face was etched with grim lines around the mouth, as if screaming to the beholder, ‘Get lost!’.
That’s exactly what he said to me, well, in different words, “I’m not taking any visitors right now”, and he had almost banged the door shut on my face if I hadn’t, luckily, blurted out, “I’m Payal’s boyfriend!” Ideally, that’s not how you should EVER introduce yourself to your girlfriend’s father, but these were less than ideal situations, and I didn’t even know if you could still be called my girlfriend. I waited with bated breath, hoping he’d take the bait.
And he did.
“So you’re that good for nothing idiot who got my daughter involved in trouble!”, he rumbled like a thunderstorm. It must have been that Police Officer for sure who would have ratted out on you. You wouldn’t have done it. You loved your freedom, you had told me as much.
“Er… I am, yes, and I’m sorry about that.”
“You better be. She needn’t be in any more trouble than she…”, he caught himself in time, obviously believing I didn’t know anything about you. So, I had to use my leverage, “I know about her… past”.
I watched his eyes, your eyes, grow large for seconds, then returning to a defeated, deflated look, the lines around them making him look suddenly years older than he may have been. I pitied him then. What must this man, who was now shuffling tiredly towards his rundown couch, have endured for all these years, I couldn’t even imagine. I followed him into the house, to the living room. The walls had deep cracks. On one such fissured wall a framed picture of a middle aged woman hung with a garland of tacky plastic flowers around it. The woman resembled you in many ways. So your Mother was dead. When did that happen?
He spoke at length after he had gathered his courage, “Why are you here?”
One simple question… So many reasons why! Where was I supposed to begin?
“For the truth… the real truth. Not what the papers say.”
He went purple in the face, “The papers, BAH! Those depraved scoundrels just needed a masaaledar story to feed their equally depraved readers. They ruined her, even though that bastard editor of that newspaper swore to me he wouldn’t reveal our names. Liars and cheats, that’s who those assholes are!”
I knew it! There had to be more to your story than what Sushant had said or what the news reported. I waited for him to say more but when he didn’t I finally prompted him, “Sir, I need to know exactly what she did and did not do. She may be in even more trouble than you seem to think she’s in”.
That ominous warning seemed to set him on edge. “What do you mean more trouble? What has she done now?”
Aha! Gotcha, old man!
“You have to tell me that… Did she… How did Rajiv really die?”
He took in a sharp breath. His words were, “Suicide”, but his eyes betrayed him. That’s all I needed to know.
Next I asked him, “Did she really do drugs and liquor? Was she ever in… trouble because of them?” I paused as I scanned his lying face for an answer, “How could she have access to drugs at her age? Did you never check on her?”
Almost instantly, like a waiting cobra, he sprang up from the couch, enraged, and pushed me roughly towards the door, “Get out! Get the fuck outta here! Just what the fuck are you suggesting?” He spat at me.
I matched his temper and tone, “You know what I’m suggesting, and trust me I’m the only one who can help her, the only one who believes that she can still be salvaged… “
“SALVAGED! HA!” he jeered at me. “You poor crazy-in-love-asshole, you think she can still be salvaged? Hunh? Know this, dumbass, I held her almost lifeless body in my blood soaked hands, and even when I rushed her to the hospital, I prayed to God for her to die!”
What Father could ever wish that upon his own daughter?
“I prayed that she be dead before anyone could help her, because it was the only way she could have a life. What she has now is a few years of wretched anonymity, and a life’s worth of mistakes, before she finally succumbs to her deviant mind, and does something that will kill her once and for all. She’s brought this upon herself. Yes, what he did to her was wrong, but I blame no one but her for it, and if you had two cents worth of brains in your love-fucked skull, you’d get the fuck away from her before she destroys you too!” He jabbed a finger into my chest, “Get away from her, boy. She’s not good news!“
With that ominous warning, he banged the door in my face, and left me to gather my wits about me.
But now I knew half the truth. It was time to know the rest…
To be continued.
(If you wish to read the previous parts of this Novella, click on this link – ‘Novellas‘, and you’ll find all the parts there, in reverse chronological order.)
Copyright ©2017 by Pradita Kapahi.
All rights reserved.
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