A farmer once owned a cow and a donkey. The cow was beloved and worshipped by all, the donkey on the other hand was treated poorly. ‘What a strange time to remember this story’, she thought, standing on the precipice.
21st August, 8:00pm
The nosy neighbours had a field day, their otherwise humdrum existence infused with passion and excitement as they all huddled together chattering away like a congress of baboons. Theories were put forward, assumptions were made and hypotheses rejected.
“I hear the police found 15 crores stashed behind a dummy almirah”, said Mrs.Patnaik of Flat C4/204.
“That is not all”, said Mrs.Dey, a self styled trafficker of information. “There was a dead body too”, she whispered conspiratorially.
“What!”, chorused many of the women, shocked and excited in equal measure.
“Yes”, joined in Mrs.Ajanthaye, “it was cut up in 23 pieces and stashed along with the cash”
“Nonsense”, said Mrs.Dey, “it was burnt. As far as-”
“But whose body was it?” Interjected Mrs.Basu, the most germane of them all.
“Maybe Anandi finally snapped. I shudder to think how she spent her days with that skirt chaser of a husband”, said Mrs. Patnaik.
“My husband never even looks at another woman”, announced Mrs.Tripathy proudly, blissfully unaware that in a folder named ‘Official Powerpoints’ in the computer, there were fifty- three videos of women indulging in various carnal acrobatics.
They all agreed at one point though. This was the most interesting story to crop up ever since the ‘Milkman Incident’, the one where Mr.Sen’s daughter had eloped with the milkman.
“Here’s the thing. The house you built has an illegal extension. This means you have to pay a fine of 12 lakhs”, said the civic engineer gravely.
The hapless promoter tried to think of a way to weasel his way out, his eyes darting to and fro, like a trapped mouse, “but I don’t have that much money”.
“Well you should have thought of it before trying to bypass the rules.”
“Sahaab, take something and let this pass”, the promoter pleaded with him.
“You think you can bribe me in my office!” Thundered the engineer, “you dare!”
Hours later Pramod Promoter quietly slipped out of the modest house of Engineer Sharma, his satisfied grin hidden by the night.
“Clever guy”, said Sharma, handing the package to his wife. Anandi placed it in a cavity in the wall and then pushed the dummy almirah in front of it. “The Durga Puja shopping is taken care of now”, he said pouring himself a glass of cheap liquor.
“You will ruin your appetite for dinner”, said Anandi. She knew one glass would lead to another and then a few more.
“I am sorry, I didn’t know you were paying for my drink”, said Mr.Sharma sarcastically. “What have you got by abstinence? Front row seats with God earlier than most.” His cruel mockery of her condition brought tears in her eyes. She hurriedly wiped them away.
“Yeah, cry. That’s all you do. God! Can’t even enjoy a drink in this house.” Seconds later she heard the bathroom door slam shut. With a resigned look, she went about her work, putting the bottle back in the cabinet. She almost choked on her tears but forced herself not to cry. Such barbs were a regular occurrence and she chided herself for not getting used to it by now. His phone kept on the kitchen counter beeped, announcing the arrival of a message. It was from someone called Malini.
The cold water soothed his nerves. That woman got under his skin with just one word. To think he once loved her.
Mr.Amitav Sharma prided himself on his strategy of “catching fish” as he called it. He availed a rotating membership in the various Alcohol Anonymous groups in the city, which he sagely said had at least one woman battling more than her alcohol problems. And such women would gladly exchange their alcohol crutch for the emotional one he provided them. It was in such a meeting he had introduced himself to Malini.
‘Damn! I am late’, he thought, ‘Malini is going to be so angry.’ He quickly dried himself. “I am going out”, he said, pocketing his phone, “don’t wait up for me”
The donkey toiled day and night, carrying heavy loads across the river. The cow led a charmed life, its royal treatment assured because of the milk it provided. The donkey, on the other hand was fed barely enough. She tugged on the rope, checking if it would hold.
14th August, 9:00pm
The two of them lay wrapped in each others’ arms.
“It would have been so convenient if her condition was worse. We wouldn’t have to bear all these hassles”, complained Malini.
“I would have divorced her right now, if she didn’t know about the money”, said Amitav. “But I can’t take the chance.”
“Speaking from experience, a scorned woman is a dangerous creature”, cooed Malini, brushing her fingers against his arm.
“You seem to know a lot”. He shivered in response to her touch
“So what did the Salesman say?” She asked, her tone suddenly business-like, taking him by surprise.
“That it will be taken care of. Clean, efficient and no evidence. He just needs a few days to plan everything.”
“I hope you deleted the messages”.
“Don’t worry, she won’t come across them. She can barely send a message”, he assured her, confident of the handicap of his technologically challenged wife.
14th August, 10:30pm
That night she cried. She cried till her tears dried up. For years she had silently suffered her marriage. She had been the perfect wife- subservient, pushover and a wallflower, reconciled to the fact that her husband was never going to be happy with one woman and especially not her. She had convinced herself that her inability to give him a child and the disease incubating within her justified his infidelity. He had been involved with other women in the past too and had remained ignorant of her discovery of them. She had let him be. The truth was, she had been afraid, she could no longer remember why. It was a part of her now. But for the first time something in her stirred, long forgotten and repressed. She had surrendered her dignity willingly but the realisation that even her life held no value struck a flint in her long smouldering ego. She could have taken the humiliation, the disrespect to her being, but the cavalier attitude with which they had discussed her murder; it roused long forgotten feelings of self-worth in her. He had wanted her dead. He was going to wish he hadn’t. Her eyes burned as she recollected every piece of the numerous conversations he and Malini had. It had been mere chance that she had checked his phone that evening. He had always been careless with it, sure of the fact that she was still the semi educated small town girl he had married twenty one years ago. It was a miracle she hadn’t shoved the butter knife in his skull when he had told her not to wait for him in the evening. No doubt he was still ensconced with Malini.
For a long time she had let people make her feel worthless. She remembered what her Grandma had once told her, “be happy every second of your life. It’s the only thing that’s yours. Don’t waste it on pity parties. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
She was going to make him pay and she knew how. She picked up her antique Nokia and dialled a number, the number of the contract killer Malini had sent to Amitav. A pleasant Bengali accented voice greeted her.
“Are you the Salesman?” She asked.
The donkey suffered this treatment without a word. Even though its spirit was willing, the body was not. She took a deep breath. The ground below seemed so distant.
15th August, 5:00pm
She sat in the dingy cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her silk scarf.
“Interesting”, said the man sitting across the table, bringing her back to reality. “Your husband paid me to kill you. You pay me not to kill you.”
“Not exactly”, she said, “I am paying you to kill somebody.”
21st August, 7:00pm
Mr.Sharma was a happy person. Anandi was staying at her mother’s place for a week now. He had spent the last six days with Malini, nary a worry in his head. Even the message from the Salesman which he had received earlier in the morning could not keep him down. He found it amusing. Whoever heard of a killer having a crisis of faith? He had sent Amitav back his money, refusing to do the job. He caught himself grinning like an idiot in the mirror. His eyes kept going to his watch every five minutes. Malini should have been here thirty minutes ago.
The bell rang. ‘Must be Malini’, he thought. He was wrong. It turned out to be a group of policemen.
“Are you Mr.Amitav Sharma?” Asked the Inspector.
“Yes”, he answered, confused.
“We have a warrant to search your house”, he said.
“Why? I haven’t done anything”, said Mr.Sharma, beads of sweat forming on his brow.
“Then you have nothing to worry about”, said the Inspector, smiling pleasantly, though it did not extend to his eyes.
Mr.Sharma was firmly pushed to one side as the constable started searching the rooms and sifting through his belongings. Mr.Sharma was profusely sweating now. He sucked on his thumb absent-mindedly. He had cut himself a few days ago. He told himself there was no way they could have known about the money. He had been very careful. ‘They can never guess about the almirah’, he tried to assure himself.
“Sir”, shouted a constable from the bedroom, “I think you should take a look at this”.
‘They found it’, thought Mr.Sharma. The Inspector caught hold of his arm and firmly guided him to his bedroom. Mr.Sharma groaned, the cavity in the wall staring at him.
“Well, I came for the hornet and I find a whole nest here”, said the Inspector, smiling at his morbid joke.
The Salesman was intrigued. This case was getting interesting by the minute.
“Here”, she said, pushing the knife towards him, “The knife to commit the murder with. Careful with the handle. My husband’s fingerprints are all over it. I want it to stay that way”.
“Devious!” He could not help but give her an admiring smile, “what’s with the blood?”
“Providence. His hand slipped while cutting an apple and he sliced his finger. His blood. His DNA. More evidence.”
She continued speaking, “You are going to return him the money, refusing to do the job. You will find I have already added that to your payment. So you should have no problem.”
“Aren’t you rich!” He chuckled.
“Technically, he is paying for it. Financed by his diligent corruption. My husband is going to think I am at my mother’s place. He will be in his office in the morning. That is when you are going to do the job.”
“So who is my target?” He asked.
Calcutta Chronicles: BODY FOUND BEHIND DUMMY ALMIRAH
22nd August/Hindustan Park
In a bizarre and horrific turn of events, Gariahaat police found the body of Anandi Sharma, in her home, hidden behind a dummy almirah filled with cash, murdered, as the police believe, by her own husband, Amitav Sharma. It has come to light that the police initially had received an anonymous tip that Mr.Sharma, a civic engineer with the Gariahaat Municipality had been hoarding money from promoters in return for green-lighting their projects. While raiding his house the police came face to face with this gory incident. It turns out that Mr.Sharma was carrying out an alleged affair with a woman name Malini Patil of Taratala. Messages between them reveal that these two had hatched a plan to murder Mrs.Sharma. ‘A knife was found at the scene which we believe is the murder weapon. Lab reports are awaited’, said Inspector Godpoley. This gruesome incident has shocked the otherwise quiet Hindustan Park.
After the donkey’s death, the family had no way to carry their produce to the market. They became poorer and poorer. ‘Alas’, said the farmer, ‘If only we had realised the value of the animal when it was alive. In life they had not spared a thought to the donkey, in death, they could not forget its worth. She jumped.
“You want me to murder you!”, said the incredulous Salesman, “But why?”
“Have you heard of Huntington disease?”
“Can’t say I have”, he replied.
“It’s a debilitating disease and it has no cure. I am as good as dead. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But a few years from now, I am dead. And it won’t be a pleasant way to go. If the disease doesn’t kill me soon enough, my husband definitely will. As it is he has made my life a living hell. This way I go on my own terms and I get to pay him back for each day he made me die a little inside. The cold stone walls of jail are going to remind him of me every day.”
The Salesman shook his head. He never really understood people.
A triumphant cry escaped her throat. ‘This must be what freedom feels like’, she thought as the cliff raced past her, hundreds of miles per second, the wind whipping her face. She wished there was no bungee cord attached to her ankle. She wished she could fly.
Dining in a five-star hotel. Check.
Paintball with her friends. Check.
Attending Salsa workshop. Check.
Learning to cycle. Check. ‘Now that had been fairly easy’, she thought.
Her grandmother would have been proud. She was finally in charge of her own life. She was finally living. She was free.