Innocent Until...15 mins 432 15 mins 432
It is a dark rainy night – feels like there is a thunder storm. The bright light flashes into my eyes. I am right in the middle of the street, my fingers holding the knife that is stabbed into Rakhi’s chest. Rakhi, my colleague and best friend lies dead next to me. My arm is being stabbed too, and is bleeding profusely.
The car that shines the light into my eyes comes to a halt next to us and three young men get out of it, to witness the horror that stands ahead – a young woman dead in a pool of blood and another holding the knife, sitting close by, crying out loudly. One of the men calls the police; they arrive at the scene in just a few minutes. Without any delay, I am arrested on suspicion of murdering Rakhi.
“I have done nothing, believe me. She was my best friend! Please believe me, Sir!” I cry loudly and try to convince the police, but in vain.
Nobody believes me. They take me to the police cell and lock me up. All I can do now is hope that somebody – perhaps Vivek, Rakhi’s boyfriend, who is also one of my best friends would come to rescue me. Or perhaps one of my friends from the party last night would come to take me back home. But to my surprise, nobody comes. Not that day, not the following day too. Do they really believe that I killed Rakhi?
I stay curled in a corner of the cell. It continues to pour outside. The rain is relentless. I hear it thrumming on the metal roof and running down the broken pipe into the mud, and I moisten my cracked lips with my tongue. I wonder if they’ll bring me food and water. I wonder if they’re coming at all… I wonder if anyone is coming at all. While I wait and wonder, I drift away into the past.
It was only two days back that Rakhi, Vivek and I went to watch that movie together. Rakhi and Vivek were in love, and were engaged to be married soon. I was to be the bride’s maid. It was Vivek’s birthday. He had thrown a party that evening, and all our friends and colleagues had been invited. We ate, drank and danced until midnight. At around half past one, Rakhi and I decided to leave. We walked out on the street and waited under our umbrellas for the cab to arrive, when out of nowhere, a bunch of muggers attacked us with knives in their hands. They asked us to hand over our bags to them. One of them stabbed me in my arm and I yelled in pain. I was afraid and immediately gave away my handbag to the mugger. Rakhi resisted, and unfortunately got stabbed too.
At that time we heard a car approaching. The muggers snatched our bags and ran away into the woods. I struggled towards Rakhi, as she lay there in pain. I tried to wake her up but I think she was dead. The approaching car halted next to us, and the men – the key eyewitnesses, found me with my fingers around the knife, next to Rakhi who was dead.
I am lost, confused and helpless, and I shut my eyes trying to fall asleep. The next morning sees the skies cleared up. To my pleasant surprise, I finally have a visitor.
“Miss Arya Kapur? My name is Pranav Shah. I am a lawyer. I shall be taking your case.” He says.
“I have done nothing, I am innocent."
“But the men who found you – the eyewitnesses, say that you were holding the knife. There was nobody else to be seen in the vicinity.”
“Mr. Shah, Sir, the muggers wounded us, took away our handbags and ran away as they heard the car approaching. Believe me.”
“Miss Arya, your friend Rakhi was killed! Why would a petty mugger do that?”
“I don’t know Sir. I know that Rakhi tried to resist when they asked for her hand bag. Perhaps that’s why they stabbed her. One of them stabbed me on my arm, here. I was afraid and I immediately handed over my purse and my phone to the mugger.”
“Okay, thank you Miss Arya. Here, sign this form; this will confirm that you appoint me as your lawyer to represent you on this case. I shall investigate this further and will build your case for you.”
In the next few days the case is taken to court. I know I am innocent – at least, I am innocent until proven guilty. Am I not?
I see Mr. Shah and he gives me a kind nod. The prosecutor rises and gives his opening address. He talks about the fateful night, and brings the attention towards the motive for murder. It is now time to produce witnesses.
My friend from work Trisha is called into the witness box.
After a few basic questions of introduction, the prosecutor comes to the point.
“Miss Trisha, you knew the deceased, Miss Rakhi Chawla, and Miss Arya Kapur well?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Can you describe their relationship?”
“They were good friends Sir. They seemed to get along really well. They knew each other for several years.”
“And Mr. Vivek Kumar? Was he a friend too? What was his relationship with Rakhi and Arya?”
“Well, Rakhi was engaged to be married to Vivek. They were in love.”
“And Arya? Don’t hesitate Miss Trisha, please share your observations with the court.”
“Sir, we all knew that Arya had a thing for Vivek. I mean, the way she looked at him, the way she behaved when he was around, it seemed obvious. But Vivek did not reciprocate those feelings. He was very much in love with Rakhi. But it did not seem to bother Arya, Sir. She seemed cool about it.”
“It did not seem to bother Miss Arya – that is what you thought. But in reality, it did.
Arya could not bear the thought of losing Vivek to her friend Rakhi. Here are all the text messages that Arya sent to Vivek, expressing her love, and in some cases threatening him of grave consequences if he did not reciprocate. Arya premeditated this murder, and made it look like the result of an unfortunate attack by muggers.”
I am feeling really uncomfortable now. It is true that I was in love with Vivek. At some point I did send him those messages expressing how much I loved him. But that does not mean I premeditated the murder. Does it?
There are a few whispers in the court room, and I am asked to get into the witness box. The prosecutor asks me to introduce myself, and then starts with his questions.
“Describe the circumstances of the evening Miss Kapur.”
“We, I and Rakhi left Vivek’s party at about half past one. We ordered a cab that was supposed to arrive in a few minutes. We decided to walk a few meters and wait near a bus stop to ensure we see the cab as it arrives. As we stood there, a few masked men came there with knives in their hands. They asked us to hand over our purses. One of them stabbed my arm. I was afraid, so I handed over my bag immediately.”
“And your friend Rakhi?”
“She showed some resistance, so the mugger stabbed her and snatched the bag.”
“What happened next?”
“We heard a car approaching from a distance, so the muggers took our belongings and ran away.”
“Why do you think, Miss Kapur, the muggers stabbed you lightly on your arm, but stabbed your friend to death, not once, but four times?”
“I don’t know sir. She resisted when they asked for her bag.“
“Miss Arya Kapur, your mugger story would have been a lot more believable if your friend had been stabbed just once. Petty muggers attack with the objective of robbing you, not killing you. In your friend’s case, it is more than clear that the attack was made to kill. This leads us to believe that your mugger story is a piece of lie. You meant to kill your friend, so you attacked her, killed her, and to fit this into your mugger story, you wounded yourself on the arm. You inflicted that wound yourself. You killed your friend because she was engaged to the man you love. You killed her out of jealousy.”
“No no no! I did nothing of the sort!” I am losing control.
There are more whispers in the court and Mr. Shah is now getting ready to take charge. He seems composed and confident. That makes me feel a bit better.
Trisha is once again called as a witness. This time it is Mr. Shah who is questioning.
“My Lord, if this was in fact a premeditated murder as was described earlier by my esteemed colleague, I would like to understand how and where did Miss Arya Kapur carry the murder weapon. Miss Trisha, you were at the party that evening?”
“Did you see the bags that Arya and Rakhi carried? What size were they?”
“They were small sling bags, Sir - big enough to hold a mobile phone and possibly some cash and a credit card.”
“Okay, so that establishes that the murder weapon – a foot long knife, was not inside the bags. Do you think Miss Trisha, that the weapon could have been hidden under Arya’s dress?”
“Oh! No Sir. She wore a body hugging, short, sleeveless dress. There was no space for a large knife there.”
“Okay, so the weapon for the so called premeditated murder was not carried by Arya on her. Thank you Miss Trisha.
My Lord, let us take a moment and think about what Miss Trisha has just said. Both Arya and Rakhi carried small sling bags with them. I would like to bring your attention to the fact that no such bag was found at the crime scene. We, therefore, conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area. About three kilometers away, in a public dust-bin, we found these.”
This is really clever of Mr. Shah. He has recovered our hand bags.
“Miss Trisha, do you recognize these?”
“Yes, these are the bags that Arya and Rakhi carried that day.”
There are some whispers in the court room. I am hoping this will now prove that I have been speaking the truth all along! It was the muggers after all!
“My Lord, we have checked the hand bags for finger prints. The black one has Arya’s prints and a few additional unknown ones. The pink one has Rakhi’s prints among other additional unknown ones.”
There are more whispers in the court room and the judge requests for order. Mr. Shah continues.
“My Lord, Isn’t it possible that my client Arya is speaking the truth? There was no way she could have carried the murder weapon with her. In addition, the empty handbags found in the dustbin a few kilometers away are a proof that these were taken there, emptied and then disposed-off by somebody. The same person or persons that disposed the empty handbags could have been the attackers. As Rakhi showed resistance to give away her bag, the attacker may have stabbed her multiple times in a fit of rage.
My Lord, I would like to have the permission to invite two additional witnesses. Not directly related to the case, but to vouch for my client’s character.”
The judge grants permission to Mr. Shah.
“I invite Miss Reshma Kumar in the witness box.”
Aunt Reshma – my mother’s sister! Why has Mr. Shah invited her?
“Mrs. Kumar, tell the court about the incident from Arya’s childhood please.”
“Arya was about twelve years old. My younger daughter Radha, was almost as old as Arya. We were having a picnic by the lake. As the girls were playing, Radha slipped and fell into the lake. We adults were sitting at a distance. Arya risked her own life and jumped into the lake to save Radha. She did her best to find her and pull her out. It was a bit too late unfortunately, as Radha could not be saved. However, I can vouch for Arya’s character. She cannot be a killer.”
“I’d now like to invite Prof.Kamat from Arya’s undergrad school.”
“Arya was my student. We had a mishap in our Chemistry lab one day. There was an explosion that led to a fire. One of our students was caught inside and was unable to escape. Arya was brave, she ran upstairs to save the girl, Pooja. She herself had to suffer second degree burns, and was hospitalized for weeks after that. I don’t think Arya is capable of murder.”
Mr. Shah has indeed built a good case for me. I am feeling confident now.
There is more hustle in the court room, and in a few minutes the judge shares the verdict – NOT GUILTY. The evidence against me is not strong enough, and so, I am set free. I am declared innocent.
As I walk out, I see Vivek; tears rolling down my cheeks, I run straight into his arms.
“I am sorry Vivek, I am sorry for your loss. You know I did not do it, don’t you?”
“Yes, Arya, I am sorry you had to go through all this. I know you are innocent. “
We walk out together and Vivek offers to drive me back home. As I say good bye to him at the gate, I look at the open window of my apartment on the second floor. I see her there! She is standing there in my room, peeping outside through my window, looking at me. Why is my mother here! I dislike her; and now I have to meet her. I wish I had never given her the spare key to my apartment.
As I walk in, I find her seated on my sofa. She has a stern look and a strange emotion in her eyes. My mother frightens me. She is the only person in the world that frightens me – she frightens me because she knows me too well.
“Arya, what have you done to that girl Rakhi Chawla?”
“Nothing, the court has set me free. I am innocent. Don’t you see?”
“I am not asking you what the court’s verdict was. I was there listening and watching. I saw Reshma, I saw Prof Kamat, and I heard the prosecutor when he shared the fact that the girl was stabbed four times.”
I remain quiet. My mother has a threatening look in her eyes.
“You always get what you want, don’t you Arya? I had my doubts about the death of your cousin Radha in the lake. Today, I found the proof that I was right. I found this in your drawer.”
Her eyes burning red, she is holding cousin Radha’s golden bracelet in her hand. I am getting extremely nervous.
“You jumped in that lake not to save her, but to steal the bracelet, and to drown her. Didn’t you?”
I am shaking – shaking with anger, frustration and distress. I am crying, just like a baby! My mother knew how much I loved that bracelet. And that day, when Radha slipped into the lake, it was such a great opportunity for me to get the bracelet I always wanted. No one would know I had drowned her; they’d think I’d tried to save her! And I’d snatch the bracelet without anyone noticing. I had just been opportunistic – that’s all! And it had worked.
My mother overwhelms me – why does she know me so well?
“Tell me about the fire in the Chemistry lab. You did that yourself to hurt that girl Pooja, didn’t you? Pooja died of severe burns after the accident. You did not go up there to save her. You went there to make sure she burns.”
I am now getting angry myself.
“Pooja that bitch was stealing my boyfriend Raj from me. I warned her, but she didn’t listen. Raj was mine! How could she steal him like that? So I set up the explosion when she was alone in the lab, and then I locked her inside. When the students were safe downstairs, I went back up to make sure she burns, and then I dragged her out in that state, while inflicting some wounds on myself too.”
You see, my mother is right – I always get what I want; and if I don’t, I make sure nobody does. I am not afraid of anything or anyone. But my mother – she terrorizes me, because she knows how my mind works.
“What did you do to Rakhi?”
“The muggers came, as I said. They stabbed my arm, and stabbed Rakhi, just one time. They picked our bags and ran away. This was such an opportunity – to get her out of my way, and to keep Vivek for myself. I stabbed her three times to ensure she was dead. The men found me with my hand over the knife, but, hey, I was innocent. It was not my knife; it was the muggers who did it! That would be easy to prove!”
“Yes, to the world, you are innocent. And so you will remain. Whenever you are denied what you want, you will commit more such crimes, but you will always appear innocent. You will remain innocent until … dead.”
Mother is holding a gun. What is she thinking? No, she cannot do that to me. She is shouting.
“You will remain innocent until dead.”
Oh! Stop saying that! My head is hurting! Mother, who brought me into the world, is putting an end to my existence. I kneel down in exhaustion, my eyes shut, and accept the bullet as it shatters my brain and puts me to sleep forever… I was innocent, but now, I am dead.