She sat in the Starbucks on Marve Road, sipping her latte and staring out the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf.
She could sense everything within and around her with a heightened awareness. Her heart thumped against her rib cage. The sound of her blood gushing through her veins in her ears. The cacophony created by the constant chatter of other customers sitting in the café- the children high-pitched, the women shrill and the men’s voices were deep. Knives clanged against plates and forks dug into cheesecakes and chocolate pastries.
To a casual onlooker, Tanya would just be a well-dressed, smart, pretty and professional woman sitting at a high end café and enjoying her latte, a plate of just finished chocolate croissants lying right beside the cup of coffee.
No one would suspect her of having come there after committing a heinous crime.
Why do I still have the knife with me, Tanya wondered, occasionally her eyes flitting to the knife shaped bulge beneath the beautiful silk scarf her best friend had gifted her the previous year.
Because it’s a reminder, darling, she mused, answering her own question.
The blood stained knife was more than just a murder weapon. It was a reminder, a motivation and a souvenir. A reminder to be tough when faced with mortal peril, motivation to keep fighting for her rights, and a souvenir of what had happened to Tanya and how she chose to deal with it.
But, in Tanya’s view, the greatest irony lay in the fact that the knife, stained with Arup’s blood, and the only solid proof of her crime, was also the sole object which would help her retain her sanity.
It would keep reminding her that the fight wasn’t over yet. That one usually made good choices, bad choices, and sometimes, really tough choices which defined one’s life and steered its course.
But sometimes, one must make an impossible choice when faced with circumstances like she had. Did that choice have to be right? Not it had to be made anyway.
For survival, for vengeance, for setting things right, that impossible choice has to be made.
One may lose a part of their soul, like Tanya felt she had lost a part of hers, forever, when she’d plunged the knife into Arup’s heart and watched the light go out of his eyes.
But part of her soul was only one of the things Tanya had lost over the previous year.
She’d lost her dignity and the ability to love and trust another human being. She’d lost her mental peace, her happiness, her optimism and, as of late, her integrity.
It had all started that night, the night Tanya had been at a friend’s plush farmhouse in Panchgani, enjoying a house party.
Her boyfriend Arup, who was also her colleague, was also there, along with some of his friends from college.
Milan, Swarup, Nikhil, Raj and Moshir- these were the five friends Arup had introduced her to that warm summer night.
There was music, dancing, wine and good food.
But there was something else too. Something insidious, something evil- part of which was the Ketamine which was in the drink Arup had brought her before she’d passed out in one of the bedrooms.
When she woke up the next morning, her head was heavy and her memory fuzzy. And she found herself totally naked, in bed. All her clothes were heaped on a chair placed near the bed.
Her body was covered in bite marks, scratches and bruises.
But the biggest shock was the small patch of blood, and the semen stains, clearly visible on the white bed-sheet. They made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart rate shoot through the roof.
Confused, partly disoriented and frightened, Tanya dressed herself and stepped out of the room to find out where the others were. She found all her friends lying about, on the floor, sofas and even in the bathroom, passed out and snoring loudly.
Arup was out on the front lawn- the only one awake, and having a cup of coffee.
Running to him, Tanya demanded to know what had happened the previous night, and why she wasn’t home, and still stuck in Rita’s farmhouse.
“Ah. You missed last night’s action, poor you. But wait, I have recorded it on my phone. I’m sure you’ll enjoy what I have captured in here,” Arup replied, smiling.
What he showed her next on his Samsung S3 made Tanya’s blood stop altogether in her veins.
In the same bedroom she had found herself in, Arup and all five of his friends, after stripping her, had taken her, one after the other, even as she lay, unconscious.
“Wh…Why?” Tanya finally managed to open her mouth and ask the still smiling Arup, more shocked to see the glee on his face, and his relaxed demeanor.
“Remember when you didn’t give me the fifty thousand bucks I asked for, Tanu baby? Well, turns out that if I sell this video to one of the numerous tabloids in our dear Mumbai, they’ll give me seventy thousand rupees, or even more, for this sting video of yours,” he replied.
“Yeah, Tanu. Imagine. One of Mumbai’s hotshot corporate women, Tanya Singh, caught in a sting video having group sex with six men. The media will go crazy over this video. Like I said, the tabloids will pay a princely sum for this video- if I were to hand it in to them,” Arup replied, and laughed out loud.
“This is rape! You son-of-a-gun! I trusted you, and you and your friends raped me because I wouldn’t give you the money to pay back to that bhai you have been hobnobbing with? You dare blackmail me for money you wasted on an extravagant lifestyle? And then borrowed more from a career criminal when I wouldn’t give you my hard-earned money! And then, to extort money from me, you gang-rape me and threaten me with exposure?” Tanya was screaming, unable to control herself.
She loved Arup- he was one of the few people she had trusted in the big, bad megalopolis of Mumbai. She had stayed with him despite his bad habits, like excessive drinking, smoking and drugs, which took away a lot of his own salary, and had also put his job and career in jeopardy. She had tried to get him off it, but he wouldn’t. Then he’d caught on to other vices- gambling, splurging on expensive clothes and going to the most expensive bars to drink, dance and smoke.
“Shut up, bitch! Shouting won’t get you anywhere. Now cough up the money or else…be slut shamed!” Arup shouted, rushing at her, and then Tanya felt his slap on her cheek. The momentum was such that she was thrown to the ground.
“You have four days, get it? And this time, you will give me seventy thousand rupees, in hard cash. Or I will make sure this video reaches every tabloid in town! Four days, seventy thousand bucks, hard cash. Remember. Or I will rape you a second time in front of the whole world, you slut!” Arup shouted, and walked away.
A week before this incident, Arup had come sidling up to her, in her apartment in Bandra.
“Tanu baby, can you please give me fifty thousand rupees?” he’d asked, his hands folded.
“Fifty thousand? Why? What happened sweety?” Tanya asked, surprised.
“Well, I made a big mistake. I borrowed fifty thousand bucks from this bhai in Kurla, to spend on, well, gambling. And I lost big time. So now I owe him fifty grand, and he wants the money by next week. Or, as he threatened, he will break my bones, one by one,” Arup replied.
“You borrowed money from a gangster to gamble away? And now you owe him fifty grand?” Tanya shouted. She was unable to control herself. She had spent months trying to help Arup get rid of his drinking and smoking habits…and he had gone and caught a new one- gambling away huge amounts of money. Money borrowed from a career criminal.
“Yes…I’m sorry, Tanu. I wanted to ask you first…but I thought you would never loan me the money, so…”
“Of course I would never loan you any money to gamble away within one evening! How could you be so irresponsible, Arup? I have been trying, for months, to wean you away from bad habits. But you won’t listen to me, or even try to change yourself. Then you expect me to loan you money you have to pay back to a gangster? You really thought I will part with my hard-earned money? To fundyour debauched lifestyle? Do you know how people look at me for siding with you? Do you know they ridicule me for believing you can still change?” Tanya ranted, wiggling her finger at her boyfriend.
She had come from a very humble, middle class background, and supportive parents, to build her career and afford her current, upper class lifestyle. She wasn’t about to throw away her sweet earnings to support Arup’s vices.
“I’m sorry, I promise I will change, Tanu. This is the last time, please. Loan me the money or Kamath bhai will kill me and dump my body somewhere,” Arup pleaded.
“What about the money in your checking account? Last time I saw it was upwards of five lakhs,” Tanya asked.
“I…well…spent all that. I have hardly two hundred bucks left. And this month’s salary is not due till three weeks from now. I’m broke, Tanu, and I need you to help me. Please,” he groveled.
“Two hundred bucks is all you have in your checking account? Two hundred? You spent five lakh rupees in…forget about it. You are in this situation because of your own flawed judgment. And once I bail you out, you are going to start all over again, I know it. I cannot help you, sorry. Please make some alternate arrangements. Borrow from one of your friends. Or go to the boss and ask for advance payment, or go take a loan from the bank,” Tanya replied, her voice firm.
Arup would be tortured, beaten and left somewhere to die, like a broken ragdoll.
She would foot his hospital bills, for sure. But she had had enough of his ways. He had gotten himself into a soup, and she wouldn’t get him out of it, like an over-indulgent girlfriend, so he could get in trouble again.
“Please, Tanu. I have already borrowed plenty from my friends…they wouldn’t give me anymore. The boss won’t loan me advance. The bank loan will take time. Please…you have so much saved up in your bank. And what about that savings account?” Arup persisted.
“You will not get a penny from what I have saved up. I need my checking account to feed my own needs, Arup. Mumbai is an expensive city. I can’t give you fifty thousand rupees just like that! Plus, my savings have all gone towards the down-payment on the new home in Kandivali. We were to buy our new home together, remember? But you wasted your money on your own wanton desires. So I had to clean out almost the whole of my savings. The savings I had kept for our future together,” Tanya replied. She didn’t mean to be harsh. But the way Arup refused to respect her wishes and understand her love for him, or change his debauched ways, made her very, very furious.
A week later, he called to apologize and said the money had been arranged for.
She had no idea he was going to make money by blackmailing her.
Tanya drove back to Mumbai before anyone else could wake up.
All though the week, Arup had reminded her of their deal.
‘I hope you have arranged for the money, Tanu baby.’
‘All five of my friends are jerking off by watching your little porn film. They really enjoyed you, darling. Imagine how much the country will enjoy watching you if this were to go viral. Imagine what our colleagues would say if I were to leak this on the office network.’
‘Two days to go. I hope you have the cash ready, Tanu baby.’
‘I hope you are ready for me, baby. One day to go. Maybe wear that pink negligee you got, and we can go at it one last time.’
On the fourth day, Tanya had a plan. She called Arup over to a place behind an abandoned paper mill, where she could give him the money, and have him destroy the video. And extract a promise to have his friends destroy it too.
“It’s in the bag,” she told him, as soon as he appeared in the lot behind the decrepit building, where she was waiting. The scorching afternoon sun bore down on them.
“Good, Tanu baby. But I must check the cash first. Just to be safe, you know,” he replied, walking towards her.
“I understand. Be my guest,” she spoke, and shoved the large black duffel bag towards him.
It slid across the cement and stopped at his feet.
Arup knelt down, opened the bag, and started counting the wads of cash.
“How much more time?” she asked, five minutes later, walking up to him. His head was bent forwards, exposing the back of his neck.
“I’m still on forty…”
Before he could finish his reply, Tanya had plunged the steak knife into the nape of his neck.
Before he could retaliate, she plunged it in two more times, sending a fountain of blood spouting forth from his severed jugular.
He still managed to bend backwards, to look up at her, so his front was now exposed.
Tanya plunged the knife into his heart, then his stomach, and then his abdomen. She stabbed him many times, each stab a revenge for each time he and his friends had violated her, blackmailed her, humiliated her.
Once he was dead, Tanya checked his phone, let the video remain but transferred a copy onto her phone. Her bag, and the cash in it, was thankfully spared the blood splatter.
She took the bag home, washed, changed and went out again.
Sitting in the café, sipping on the coffee, she decided her next step.
Arup had to be killed- it was personal, but not the other five rapists.
She would send a copy of the video to the police, along with Arup’s blackmailing texts.
She would also send them the names and details of the other men in the video.
Then she would leave the city, towards an uncertain future.