Sitting on the window, she was nursing her cup of coffee, the street outside was busy. Several people were walking in different directions, their gaits suggesting a purpose. As if they were expected somewhere. A mother-daughter duo caught her eye. They were strolling rather than walking. Both of them were holding several shopping bags in both hands, and yet there was no trace of tiredness on their faces. The girl said something in her mother’s ears and the mother burst into laughter. She felt her eyes welling up and she turned her face away from the happy duo. She picked up the paper napkin and was about to wipe her eyes when someone patted her shoulder. Scared, she picked up the stole enveloping the knife and hastily slid it into her handbag. “Amit,” she said, with startled eyes, and a broad smile, “Free! We are! No more hurdles.”
Amit grabbed her arm tight and asked, “What have you done, Sara? Tell me.” His panicked eyes tried to pierce into the depths of her soul. She looked around and then back at him. He took the hint and relaxed his hold on her arm. He looked around at the people on the adjacent tables and then sank into the bamboo chair. Slowly his eyes focused on Sara and he realized that she looked stunning in that strappy sky blue dress. The dress matched the colour of her eyes and contrasted against her fair skin and red lipstick. She looks classy, thought Amit, almost like a grown up lady. “Sorry, I shouted,” he said softly and Sara nodded. Amit ordered a coffee with two banana nut breads. “Listen! I love you a lot and cannot see you in trouble. I will definitely find a solution,” he said. But Sara put a finger on his lips and then put her hand on his.
I was wrong. She can’t. May be she was upset in the morning. But she wouldn’t do anything stupid, thought Amit as the waiter came with the coffee and bread.
“Do you have to go back to work now? Can’t you take a half day? I want to spend the day with you,” enquired Sara in her desperate voice.
“Let me see,” replied Amit and dialed his junior. “How many meetings are we left with? Are they all important? Can you handle them without me?” He asked over phone. He listened intently and then continued, “Then I am going home. Give me an update tomorrow. Thank you Rane!”
They left the café holding each other’s hands. “So where are we going now?” asked Amit.
“You know, how much I love those long drives with you,” replied Sara fastening her seat belt. Within a few minutes they were on the Express way.
On the empty eight-lane road, where only a few cars overtook them, Amit stopped the car and leaned towards Sara. She was waiting for it. He gave her a kiss and started fumbling with her seatbelt. “Not here,” she whispered in his ears. “Let’s go to a resort nearby. Let’s spend the night there.”
“How is it possible? What will we tell Mom and Sheena?”Amit raised his brows.
Sara smiled. “Did you Forget? Nani has gone to meet Uncle Jairam in Shimla for a week and Sheena…” Sara crinkled her brows for a second and then smiled again, ”She will never disturb us now.” She put her arms around Amit’s shoulders.
“What? What do you mean? What have you done with Sheena?” asked Amit. Droplets of sweats formed on his upper lip and his face turned pale.
“Come on! I told you in the morning. She was a big hurdle,” Sara continued. “Don’t worry, I have buried her at a safe place. No one will be able to find her.”
“But how could you do it? I had promised you that I will divorce her. ,” shouted Amit.
“I can’t trust you,” shouted Sara, in the same tone and pulled at his collar. “Moreover she had seen us last night. She could have told anyone and Nani would have sent me to the hostel. Now I am relaxed.” She gave a sigh of relief and released his collar. “You just call Nani and Sheena’s mom at night and tell them that she had gone for a shopping and is missing since then. Fine? And now relax. Cheer up. Let’s move,” she said turning her voice husky, in his ears.
Although upset with the series of events, Amit took her to the resort. Together they took a bath, which helped Amit’s mood. He was again lost in the world of lust and beauty. “Oh Sara! This is wrong! Unethical! Immoral! I am just pulled towards you. You stop all my thought processes.” said Amit, with Sara in his arms.
At ten in the night, Amit called his mother, Mrs. Mehra, and then Sheena’s mother, Mrs. Sharma, in Mumbai. He told them that Sheena had been missing since the evening and that he has lodged a police complain.
Back home, Sara was happy. No one was at home. She wanted Amit and, yes, he was there, with her. Amit called up his boss and told that his wife was missing since last evening and took a leave. He was extremely worried with the repercussions whereas Sara wanted to live the moment and wash off his worries. In her room, a gift wrapped in a glittery paper, golden net, and satin ribbon was lying on the corner table. Nani had given it to her two days back on her sixteenth birthday, before leaving for Shimla. If only she could give me what I needed. Sara thought and turned towards her almirah to put on a strapless red crop top with shorts that revealed her delicate girly curves and belly button. Out she was and Amit was hypnotized…again.
By the afternoon, Mrs. Mehra and Mrs. Sharma arrived. Mrs. Mehra took out Sheena’s dairy from her drawer and gave it to Mrs. Sharma who started calling Sheena’s friends. Mrs. Mehra took Sheena’s picture and hobbled out to anyone and everyone she could find on the streets. By the evening, both the old ladies were drained out and still had no clue. Amit also uploaded Sheena’s picture on Facebook and whatsapp groups. The doorbell rang and Nani opened the door. Shanta Bai looked at her with surprise and asked, “When did you come back? The house was locked yesterday and I had to go back.”
“But Sara was at home,” replied Nani and called out to Sara.
“Nani, I had gone to Leena’s home in the evening to take permission for her night out with me. Mama was out the whole night,” replied Sara calmly.
Off late Nani had been noticing some changes in Sara. A high school topper was now getting lower grades and her mannerisms and the way she dressed had also changed. She was spending more time in her room now. But her repeated diatribes against her Nani had silenced the old lady. Sara was after all the only memento of her elder daughter who had died in a car accident fifteen years ago.
Two days of intensive enquiries and search gave no results. Amit was back to his office. It was most painful for Sheena’s mother. Before leaving for Mumbai, the next day, she went to Amit and Sheena’s room for a thorough search.
She looked at the rare Rajputana artwork adorning the walls. Sheena had done so much of research about the history of Rajasthan, and had always taken a pride in her ever-growing collection of artworks. Even the furniture reflected Sheena’s personality. The intricately carved bed, corner tables, the oval mirror, everything in the room depicted Sheena’s royal taste. Overcome with worry, Mrs Sharma sat on the bed and ran her hand down the carved pillars. She bent down to check under the bed, the wardrobe, and the night stand. Then she lifted the extra thick and soft mattress. Sheena had loved this mattress so much that she hated sleeping anywhere else. Mrs Sharma opened the cupboard and there she found it. Under Sheena’s colourful sarees, lay her handbag, her wallet, and her phone, with the cash and cards inside, intact.
How could she go for shopping without her wallet and phone? Mrs. Sharma thought. She called up Amit. Amit replied, stammering, “What?.....Is it so?....Wait!...... Let me come!”
How is it that Amit did not notice his wife’s wallet in the wardrobe? Why didn’t he check? Such thoughts raced her mind. She told Mrs. Mehra who took the phone and tried to turn it on. The battery was dead, so she plugged it in charging. Meanwhile Amit reached home and Mrs. Sharma couldn’t hold herself “We must inform the police. There seems to be a big conspiracy behind my daughter’s disappearance. Let the police handle it. We have to be after them to solve this mystery.”
Amit called up the police officer and blurted out the details. His heart raced. He knew that he and Sara would soon be in a trap.
How could I cause Sheena’s mother so much pain? How could I be so self-centered and unconcerned? Thought Amit. He sat on the sofa, resting his head against the cushy headrest. But his mind refused to relax. He heard the front door open and saw Sara entering in her school uniform. Her royal blue shirt ended just above the knees and her white shirt was tucked in carelessly. Her neatly clipped straight tresses fell on her shoulders. Just a glance at her and he again forgot the world.
While Mrs. Mehra went to kitchen, Mrs. Sharma sat contemplating the possibilities. Amit and Sara went to their respective rooms. While Sara was changing, Amit entered and kissed her on her soft pink lips and whispered, “Mrs. Sharma has found Sheena’s bag with her wallet and phone intact. The police has been called again. No one goes for shopping without a wallet. You should have taken care of it.”
Without uttering a word, Sara pulled him into the washroom. She bolted the door and hugged him. He was again speechless.
“Food is ready. Sara, Amit.… The police officer is about to arrive too,” called Mrs. Mehra.
“Sheena had taken full control of the kitchen. I had been so relaxed because of her,” said Mrs Mehra to Mrs. Sharma and placed the food. “I have to search for every spice now, and it’s difficult for me with these paining knees. God, please send my child back.” prayed Mrs. Mehra aloud. Mrs Mrs. Sharma looked at Mrs. Mehra. She didn’t know how to react. Was this the only reason why Mrs Mehra was missing her vivacious daughter? For spices, for her role in the kitchen? Sheena is so much more, she thought. May be this is why she has gone away somewhere. But why didn’t she tell her mother at least. And her wallet, her phone?
As soon as Sara and Amit entered the hall, the doorbell rang. Amit opened the door and found the police officer standing. He made him sit in the living area and offered water.
“Mr. Amit, how couldn’t you notice that she hasn’t taken her wallet and phone? Can you show me the phone?” enquired the officer. Sara pulled the chair and starting serving herself food.,
Mrs. Sharma gave the phone to the officer. The officer checked the last dialed and missed calls. Scrolling his fingers on the phone, he said “Sheena didn’t dial anyone on Monday. On Sunday, she had spoken to only to her Mom….and…”
“That’s me.” interrupted Mrs. Sharma
“That must be my mom… Mom-in-law” said Amit.
“Did she sound upset or strange to either of you?” the officer asked the old ladies.
“Not at all!” replied Mrs. Sharma.
“No.” replied Mrs. Mehra.
“Strange! So many contradictions!” exclaimed the officer. “Who was at home when she left?”
“Sara must have been here” replied Mrs Mehra looking at Sara.
“Sara, when Sheena told you that she was going for a shopping, didn’t you notice that she was not carrying her bag or wallet or for that matter even her phone?” enquired the officer.
“Nope! I had just reached home from school and I was preoccupied with the upcoming exams,” replied Sara with a touch of irritation.
“I will take a leave, Mr. Amit,” said the officer with a sigh and got up to leave. “But I will be back. Soon. In the meanwhile, if any of you remember anything strange about Sheena’s behavior or routine on the day she left, please give me a call. Anything can be a clue now.”
Amit took his lunch and all of them dispersed to their respective rooms for rest.
Days passed and police showed less and less interest in the case. Sara and Amit were more than happy with the delay. Mrs. Sharma left with a heavy heart. Something told her that she would never see her daughter again.
Almost a month had passed when Mrs. Mehra entered Sara’s room looking for a pen. She fumbled through Sara’s drawer where instead of a pen she found a strip of birth-control pills. What is Sara doing with these pills? , thought Mrs Mehra. Does she have some medical problem? Mrs Mehra had heard that doctors often prescribe these pills for hormonal disbalance. And then she spotted the gift she had given to Sara on her birthday. She hasn’t opened it yet? I gave her the costliest Rolex watch. She was about to exit the room when her eyes caught the sight of Sara’s bag hanging behind the door. There must be a pen in there, thought Mrs. Mehra and took the bag off the hook. And there she was with all the answers… and that blood-stained santoku knife in her hand.
This was perhaps the biggest blow to the old lady who had never really recovered from the loss of her daughter, Sara’s mother, and recently her daughter-in-law. Mrs. Mehra sank on the bed holding her head when the door bell rang. Oh! How badly she wished that it should not ring again. But Sara was impatient and rang it five times before her old Nani could gather the strength to get up and open the door.
“What happened Nani? It is so hot outside,” said Sara. She noticed the shock on her grandmother’s face, but she went into her room straightaway. Her Nani followed.
“So you know…”said Sara, looking at the knife next to her handbag on the bed. There was no sign of fear or regret on Sara’s face when she said, “Yes, I killed Sheena, and that too with your knife. She had to die. That scornful creature! She had snatched Amit from me. The only person who loved and cared for me. How could I ever bear this?” A trace of tenderness crept into her voice as she continued, “He slapped Raghav for teasing me. He shouted at Leena for bullying me. He took care of all those who scoffed at me. I love him more than anyone else.”
“You are his niece, his responsibility. He loved you like his daughter. Couldn’t you understand this? Sheena was his wife. Even you will get married and have a life like Amit and Sheena,” cried Nani.
“Foregt it Nani! I am grown up now! I have always loved only Amit. And if you must know, he loves me too. And he has proved it time and again,” she said arrogantly and pointed at the fresh red mark on her neck. “So don’t!” she warned and walked out of the room for lunch.
Mrs. Sharma slid down on the floor, holding the door and then her head with both the hands. “Where did I go wrong? How could they be so shameless? Now I have lost everything, Yes everything! God, please take me away. There is no reason for me to live anymore,” she whimpered.