The Blue Silk Scarf
“She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf….
As she sat contemplating and musing on the chain of recent events, it seemed almost as if an unseen hand had taken over – as if her mind and body had not been in her control. Caught in the cesspool of events, she wanted to relish these last few moments of freedom before she dedicated the rest of her life to imprisonment. Only in this case, she was determined the imprisonment would not be in an Indian jail, but to a life of never-ending hideouts.
The coffee turned cold as she cupped her chin and slumped over the table, wanting to stop the memories flooding her mind but helpless against their fury. Filled with self-contempt, she acknowledged her true status – a serial killer. Removing that one man in her life – who she held responsible for her hatred for men in general – was not enough; she sought further revenge by murdering men like him – fat, balding 50 year olds who lusted after women half their age and thought all women were only meant for sexual assaults and leering. She sought these men and lured them out, only to rid them of their miserable existence”.
‘’Hmmm…this is sounding a little crass and clichéd’’, remarked Madhvi, my ever-reliable, friendly critic. ‘’Thanks, this is why I call you over so you can trash everything I write’’, I retorted, stung and frustrated. Let’s face it, my career as a creative writer was not going well. The bills were piling up, the dog looked up expectedly every time I walked in through the door – awaiting new goodies. The maid waited patiently for her tidings! These silent expectations were pressuring me to take up a viable full-time, stable job. However, the creative side of me – entrepreneurship in artefacts export, creative writing, teaching assignments, etc. – needed time and space to experiment, make mistakes, so that one fine day I could find that sweet spot – creative yet amply paid for! So far, there had only been a series of experiments.
Oh well, onto the day now… time to bundle up, say bye to Madhvi and go complete my secretarial stint in office. In this remarkably insignificant existence, the one significant thing that you could always count on, was routine. Yes, that same old mundane routine that became the most important reason of your life and kept you sane. The cynic in me, always in a battle with the creative, optimist that I so desperately wanted to be, kept me on my feet in my freelancing and secretarial tasks so that I would not simply wander off on flights of fantasy.
As I waded (literally after the monsoon!) through the city’s chaotic traffic, I suddenly remembered I hadn’t finished my students’ assessment reports due for submission tomorrow. Having labored through a few years as an Education specialist I was grateful for the adjunct freelance assignments that came my way at such a young age. Though it meant many late nights, early mornings and a lot of multi-tasking, it also providentially gave me big bucks when I needed them. Most of my savings had been used in my ‘serial entrepreneurial experiments’.
The sudden harsh squealing of brakes rudely interrupted my gloomy introspection and I saw a young woman drive like a maniac, weaving through the thick traffic. I too braked hard to avoid crashing into the front car as she jumped between lanes to make her mad dash. ‘’Hey’’, shouted my brain, ‘’isn’t this the woman you imagined in your story at Starbucks?! The same black, straight long hair, small, oval fair face with a pinched haunted expression’’. ‘’Oh, can’t be, these things don’t happen in reality’’, I was reprimanded by my head. ‘’People don’t just jump out of your imagination onto the city’s roads!’’
Dismissing the thought, I continued my way to the office. But even as I worked on my reports, the niggling image did not go away and I was filled with curiosity to find out who the woman was and what happened to her. On the way home, I took the same route and saw the same cops who had been frantically blowing their whistles and shouting into their wireless walkie-talkies. Parking my SUV, I walked across to the cops and asked, ‘’This morning I saw a young woman drive crazily as if trying to escape from a crime scene, who was she? What happened? ‘’You are right Madam, she is a criminal… she has been charged with the murder of a man – a family friend– and we are trying to locate her, she seems to have disappeared into these small, by-lanes and a door-to-door hunt is on’’, replied the cop. ‘’We have flashed her photo everywhere and are also trying to televise it so that someone can recognize her and hand her in… but rarely is it so easy, so let’s hope for the best’’, finished the cop wearily.
Ok, now this is surreal, it seems too much of a coincidence – same woman, murder, man – the plot is unraveling in the same eerie way. The writer in me jumped with glee while the rational side of me cautioned – ‘’do not read too much into this’’. The rational side won and I decided to ignore the entire episode and get on with the day, or rather night – taking the dog out for his last nocturnal ablutions.
Venturing out into the foggy, freezing night of January was not my idea of fun and I waited impatiently for my dog to finish his job. Since our complex did not allow dogs to stroll around relieving themselves, I needed to take him to the dark alleyway behind the complex. As he sniffed around, finding his favourite spot, I suddenly sensed I was not alone. Walking on and peering through the mist and darkness, I saw a small shape huddled behind a large cardboard box, shivering visibly and then I froze as that shape was also holding a knife pointed at me. Holding on tightly to the leash of my growling dog, I whispered calmly, ‘’I am just going, I can’t even see you properly, just going to turn around and walk away slowly, ok?’’ Maybe the shape sensed that I was not a threat or was too desperate to care, it spoke aloud – a young girl’s voice - ‘’Wait, don’t go… I am in pain and need help, can you give me some first aid and I will not bother you after that.’’ Holding on to my dog with one hand, I helped her up with the other and was aghast to see the protagonist of my story come alive! The same girl running frantically in the traffic chased by the police!
Trying hard not to stare, I walked her to the house, supporting her as she limped along and I saw in the front porch light that her right leg had a large, bleeding wound which she had tightly wound with a cloth. Thankfully, there was no blood seeping through and I quickly took her to the bathroom and sat her on the toilet seat. As I tended to her wound, which was not very deep, she started talking, perhaps sensing my ill-concealed curiosity. Even before she started her story, a part of me questioned –‘’do you really need to know, don’t you know already?’’ Unsurprised yet scared, I heard her tell me that she had shot her family friend in self-defense – she was all alone at home, and fearing for her life and trying to escape his tyrannical abuse, she had panicked and counter-attacked. She had then run out of the house, driving agitatedly through the day, taking full advantage of the heavy fog to hide in blind alleyways and back lanes of the villages and slums around the city.
As she sobbed and narrated her woes, tales of abuse over the years, I was torn between two choices – to hand her over to the cops or to let her escape; let the law take its course and have faith that the system would eventually set her free, but on the other hand, who knows how long the case would really take, where would she be till then, who would fight for her and where would she be confined till it all came to an end. Reaching a hard decision, I waited for her to stop crying, made her some tea and snacks and said, ‘’In the real world, I should hand you over to the police, but your good fortune is that I am a writer and the real world never really applied to me. So I am going to set you free, but don’t ever come back here.’’
Surprised yet grateful, she quickly finished the food I had given, hid her knife in her bag and opened the door. With one last glance of gratitude and a whispered ‘’thanks’’ she vanished into the darkness of the foggy night.
A few years later, I sat on the same table, at the same Starbucks outlet , with a blue silk scarf next to me, hiding the blood-stained knife. As I recalled that first fateful day of the killing, a part of me gloated over the several that followed and the other experienced the ever-present, familiar self-contempt. Who was she – you ask – haven’t you guessed already? She was me!