The Spark in her Eyes
The Spark in her Eyes8 mins 659 8 mins 659
The answer lies in the eyes. It always does. Eyes are like secret openings to one's soul, a thought that Charu firmly believed in. Despite the irrefutable fact that the book cover was an abstract painting of a woman without eyes, there was a haunting essence about the pictorial depiction of her face. The unmistakable mark of a piercing gaze, like embers of a fire that shone radiantly from an unknown source was the first thing that struck her when she looked at the cover. There were tiny droplets of tears running down the woman's face, like lava running over scorched earth, with the viscosity of rage and the volatility of grave injustice at its essence. These tears gave her the chills. What sorrow could the woman on the cover be carrying? Charu thought about the woman's lips, as the face, that was pale and slender with small bursts of a vivaciousness redness brought upon by a passionate lover's kiss. The lips had the essence of a smile that seemed to have slowly faded into obscurity. Her face contained a myriad of emotions that hid behind a veil of mystery, which Charu wished to unravel at any cost. The woman without eyes on the mysterious book's cover could undoubtedly shed light on the obscure photograph that came out of it. Charu was sure of this. The sight of her grandma's relatively thin and pale face troubled her again. Seeing someone so close, become this frail and helpless weakens the best of us. These peculiar turn of events had managed to distract her mind from the inevitable.
Charu kept staring at the photograph with the intensity of a fortune-teller gazing at a crystal ball, hoping it would reveal the many secrets hidden in the 7X7 photographic frame. These secrets were echoes, destined to be unleashed into screams like a sudden torrent of rain after an extended dry spell. Why did the hidden secrets seem to have the fabric of a cry, a repressed rage, an unfulfilled love, perhaps? thought Charu. The villa in the photograph was desolate, fortress-like but had a strange electric aura to it. It felt as if the estate was a separate world by itself, with its own private little parallel universe. Charu racked her brains to find that one word that described the villa perfectly, and at last, it came to her. Timeless. Yes, Timeless aptly described it. The architecture was primarily red brick gothic, a surprising departure from the French colonial ones prevalent in her area. "It seems strange for that particular age and time as the photo looks at least 40-50 years old", Charu made a short mental note. Despite the unsettling demeanor, the villa also had a faint glow that exuded an emotion, which one associates with a home. It hinted of a life once led amongst colors and warmth. An abode filled with the cries, laughter, and radiance as every other but with a cloud of despair that notoriously hung over it. It was middling and unsettling, to say the least. What intrigued Charu more, was the bewildering code frantically scribbled on the back. The code read: MV02FK09. It was followed by what looked like vague directions to get to the villa from a hotel only partly spelled as AB***. It ended at the villa fittingly labeled as ‘home’. What was this home truly home to? Did the directions point to a secret map of sorts? It kept getting deeper and convoluted. What could this code mean? Why did the map look so abstract with vague directions and mysterious way-points? Did it lead to a secret treasure? A deluge of questions overpowered her mind. “Too much mystery and intrigue for the day; I feel like Sherlock Holmes. Only nerdier, uglier, lazier, and less interesting”, Charu chuckled. “I should be called Ali Charu baba, and MV02FK09 should be my open sesame- My password for opening the secret entrance and to find the hidden treasure”, Charu laughed to herself impishly.
Her mind immediately ran back to her childhood days when she would play a treasure hunt game with her friends. They would hide random things, like a toy, or a can of cookies in obscure places around the house and would leave clues in the form of small paper chits. These would then describe the location of the hidden treasure. Charu was unbeatable at the game, primarily because she had a sharp, curious, and inquisitive mind that could solve the clues in a jiffy. But also partly because she wanted to wrap up the game before her dad arrived. Her dad resented the game as he found no value in it. He was overtly rational and a borderline pessimist, who firmly believed that chance encounters and hidden treasures discovered at the end of colored rainbows were bogus and not worth the time and effort. "You only reap what you sow, not an ounce more, nor an ounce less. There are no miracles, no jackpots, no magical interventions that happen to ordinary folk like us. Don't waste your time on silly things, Charu". This was the exact rant that she received every time her father caught her playing the treasure game. She resented her father for being this practical, for not believing in fairies, in magical unicorns, in superman saving the world, in Ali baba finding hidden treasure behind secret caves. This was precisely the reason why she never seemed to connect with her father. Even after returning after all these years, he hadn't changed one bit. He was the same, practical, indifferent to anything that seemed to happen out of the ordinary. It was the ordinary and the mundane that she despised. She hated monotony, the prospect of leading life without twists and turns, and yearned for an edginess that one associates with an adventure trail, a passionate fling, or a treacherous climb. She needed tiny doses of magic that defeated the ordinary, albeit for a brief moment, by going against the norm, doing the unthinkable, or playing Russian roulette without a fear in the world. It was in these moments that she felt truly free. This was the primary reason why she took up law. She loved challenges. The power to look at an unwinnable position in the eye and to win from there was intoxicating. The ability to make extraordinary from the ordinary was what drove her. “He will never understand me, nor will I identify with him. Why doesn't he share my passion and curiosity in finding the hidden pleasures of life?”, she often wondered. "Maybe Amma's passing made him this way. I am never going to let him know of this treasure hunt of mine. And like always, I shall get to the bottom of it.", Charu pronounced, with a newfound sense of clarity.
A loud buzz interrupted her thoughts. Irritated, Charu glanced at her phone to see who was calling this desperately. Yuvaan? Why would he call her? She wanted to disconnect the call instantly, almost like an auto impulse, but in the end, decided against it.
“Fancy lawyers come back home and don't even bother calling”, Yuvaan joked.
“How the hell did you know that I was here? Are you keeping tabs on me? I always knew you were a creepy stalker.”, Charu jeered.
“Yes, first grade, I’m a thorough professional, stalking is an art form that I mastered right from high school and my dear charu, you were my first victim.”, Yuvaan guffawed.
“I have my ways and my sources. Since you left, I’ve been visiting Malti Amma frequently. After all, I’m her favorite. All that infinite love that she holds in her big heart of hers gets poured on me alone now. She reveals all her secrets to me, and that's when she mentioned that you would be coming over to see her.”, said Yuvaan.
A sudden jolt of guilt and pain ran across her. “Thanks, Yuvaan, for being there. I hope she recovers soon.”, she broke off abruptly. Yuvaan's voice boomed immediately to cut the awkward silence.
“Why don't you come over to my car workshop, look at some ingenious modifications that I’ve been working on? It will keep your mind off things, and plus, you get to see my handsome face again.” teased Yuvaan.
“You are the same pompous, narcissistic brat, no?” replied Charu. “I’ll come right over, and you just won't believe what I have found!” exclaimed Charu, unable to contain her excitement.
Yuvaan listened with rapt attention, with his eyes wide open and ears perked up. “How on earth do exciting things happen to you? Even though you’ve been here for hardly a day!” remarked Yuvaan. This is seriously interesting. Yuvaan took a long hard look at the photograph and commented, "Doesn't look familiar. I’ve been in Cochin since I was born and I’ve seen quite a few villas but never this type of architecture. Ernakulam maybe, definitely not Cochin."
“And this code? Does it ring a bell?” Charu asked eagerly. “Nah, doesn't ring a bell. I’m no cryptographer, just a glorified mechanic who modifies cars and makes fancy number plates for a living,” replied Yuvaan.
“AHA! What did you just say? The last part about the number plates!” cried Charu.
“Ya, I make fancy ones for a living. So what?” asked Yuvaan, now puzzled. "Don't you see that code? It might be a number plate! Is there any way to cross-check and find the owner from the number plate?” asked Charu.
Yuvaan, whose interest had now peaked, replied excitedly. “Yes, there is an app, a government-approved mobile app that provides information. It was built to add transparency and create an online repository for all vehicle records. Since I am a certified dealer, I have an internal login!”
“What are we waiting for then?” Charu asked with her eyes gleaming with excitement.
Hurriedly both of them entered the code written on the photograph under the vehicle registration number column and waited with bated breath to discover if any owner's name popped up. The next 15 seconds were perhaps the most nerve-wracking 15 seconds that Charu had to encounter in her entire life. After an eternity, a single name spat out from the system's database: "Sheryl Varghese."
Voila! There it was, the first part of the puzzle, unraveled. Who is Sheryl Varghese? Now, that needed some more digging from Ali Charu Baba.