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Two Rows Apart

Two Rows Apart

7 mins 316 7 mins 316

A lady wearing skinny black pants and leather jacket stands up from her seat on a moving bus. She walks to two rows behind her, holding the rails. She pokes a man, who turns around and smiles back at her gesture. She smacks his face; blood splatters from his nose and drops motionless. She comes back to her seat and sits comfortably as if nothing happened. She plays with her bracelet – it spelt Avani. Police are waiting at the next stop. They investigate the situation and declares the man dead. An officer pulls out a government id card from the body – it reflects Arun. They take the entire bus to the police station for interrogation. 

The damp and dimly lit police station had a life of its own. A blackboard at one corner had various sized photographs pinned on it. There were rows of cupboards at the corners – dusty and more files at the top. The right corner was a personal chamber which gave out a sound of a man barking orders at his subordinates. To the left was a cell were few inmates minded their own business. Many tables scattered around had heaps of files, a flag and a paperweight in common. The passengers along with bus driver and conductor walked straight to one of those tables. The lady was eerily relaxed while the rest panicked with fear. The officer questioned the witnesses, but there were three versions to the incident. All stuck to one or the other version except the lady. She just stared without a word. 

Version I: 

The bus was crowded: a few people were standing. At that moment, Avani entered the bus. She was not a regular girl she flaunted her leather jacket, red checked shirt, black pants and high boots. Her green and blue streaks of coloured hair never failed to turn heads around. She stood near the man and winked at him. The man turned around and looked outside the window. She went close to rub her body against the man as the brakes were applied. She smiled but the man avoided. After a while, the bus stop arrived, and many got down. Avani sat down so did the man two rows apart. 

Version II: 

On a crowded bus, Anani stood at a side. People staring at her was a regular matter but the man close to him wouldn’t blink at all. He smiled, and she ignored. She looked around for a vacant seat, but all were occupied. Taking advantage of the brake applied the man pounced on top of the woman. The woman felt uncomfortable and retreated a few steps back. This continued for some time until people got down and then they got their opportunity to sit two rows apart. 

Version III:

Avani and Arun had stood but not too close. No words nor any verbal clues were exchanged between them. Once the seats were vacant they occupied them. They sat two rows apart. They added that the lady must be mentally ill to do that. 

Hearing the different versions patiently, the officer, Prakash adjusted his belt wrapped around his protruding belly and fidgeted on his seat. He lodged an FIR with all the inputs. He commanded a constable to note everybody’s contact number and basic details. The bus was thoroughly searched until then by the forensic team. Few interesting things were found: Arun’s name carved at a bus seat, Arun’s picture and pills inside Avani’s bag. The rest were told to leave while Avani and Arun’s body remained.

Prakash had witnessed complicated cases in the past and he knew there was something deeper into this. But what it was, probably nobody knew. He made a few calls and pondered over the available proofs, late night, as he sipped coffee and smoked his preferred brand of cigarette. His wife was fast asleep in the other room. With the last puff, his temple wrinkles melted, and a smile formed like when a predator spots a prey.

After a few days of further inquiry, Prakash gathered all the passengers in a large hall. There were a few unknown faces as well. He started explaining the scenario:

This incident cannot be explained on the bus, but it must be thought outside the box. Arun loved Avani since he had seen her first on the daily bus. They were sitting two rows apart. Their evening timing mostly collapsed, and they ended up on the same bus. With occasional mild bruises on her knuckles and guitar on her back, he had guessed she was a boxer and a musician. He himself was working on a startup to make bus travels easier. He always sat in the same place, mostly two rows apart. Like a schoolboy, he had even carved his name in front of his preferred seat to mark his territory. 

One August night, the bus was delayed; the winds blew heavily. The regular passengers waiting gradually thinned. Only Arun and Avani waited for the bus. There came a private vehicle. They hopped in. There were two untidy muscular men and an equally untidy heavily built woman apart from the driver. After a steady drive for about ten minutes, the vehicle took an abrupt right turn into a deserted path. The vehicle stopped and four of them stood before Arun and Avani. They ordered to empty their belongings. Avani stood and banged a man head with the guitar. The eerie sound engulfed the bus. She then stretched her right hand to meet the other man’s jaws. Three of them held her while she kicked aimlessly. Arun panicked and pushed the men; he dragged Anani out of the vehicle. Something solid hit Avani’s head from behind; she collapsed. Arun received a knockout blow from one of the men. Two lied down in the dust robbed and injured. 

After a while, Arun woke up. He saw Avani lying in a pool of her own blood. He searched for his watch and mobile, but nothing remained. He walked back to the main road feeble and exhausted. After about an hour, he found an auto and took her to the nearby hospital. He had later informed the police. The doctor informed that she had a memory loss and he had survived a heart attack. Arun had a heart problem. He had written his phone number behind his passport size photo found in his jeans pocket and gave it to her. He had enrolled her in the ladies PG near his house. He always sat two rows apart in the bus, bought her similar clothes she used to wear and a bottle of memory pills. She had been trying to remember but in vain. She stared at his photograph and knew somewhere inside her that something wrong had happened. Somehow, it intensified when Arun was around, or when she stared at his picture. She did not know the reason. Meanwhile, the police had found the vehicle, but the culprits were being searched.

That day, they boarded the bus as usual. He maintained his distance but looked at her to ensure if everything was alright. He smiled at her and wished if she was normal again. Avani gave a look of disgust to him, she never got a positive vibe from the man. After the seat was vacant, they sat down two rows apart. She looked back once to see him staring at her. A mind is a difficult place and many times, whatever we imagine we accept it as truth. She pulled out the photo and saw the same man. A part of the incident flashed on her mind and that part had him dragging her out of the bus. She was confirmed that he had harmed her. She stood and went back to him holding the railings. Arun was looking out of the window. She poked him, he turned around and smiled. Avani punched Arun with all her energy. Tears trickled down his eyes because of hope and then shock. His nose cracked, and blood splattered. He suffered a heart attack and down he fell with eyes opened wide. She walked back to her seat as if nothing at happened. 

Tears trickled down most of the people; Avani stood firm while she shattered completely inside. She walked inside the cell with her heads bowed down. In the background, the four new faces – three untidy men and an untidy lady begged for forgiveness to the police officer. 

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