Fifteen-year-old Amanda Thrift was in her dorm, waiting for the day to get over. She was slumped on a couch, magazines piled up beside her in a messed heap. Darkness had replaced day. Amanda loved the dark. Her college-mates made fun of her, saying she was a cat herself, not a human being. Amanda ignored them. Ever since she’d shown up, she despised everything there, from its dimly lit corridors to the cafeteria.
Amanda had never fit in. She didn’t want to.
She flipped through a mystery book. One she had leafed through around a million times before, but never got bored of. She would sometimes weave her own stories in her head.
The only thing she enjoyed in this dreary existence was reading detective stories, full of suspense and darkness.
* * *
“Miss Thrift!” a sharp voice hit Amanda’s ears. Amanda, now twenty-three, scowled at the door.
“Who is it?”
“Inspector Mason.” The voice was bold and unwavering, “Open the door.”
Amanda’s scowl deepened, but she dare not disobey the order. She flung open the door. Outside stood a lofty officer, grim-faced and glowering down at her.
“What now?” The young woman said with all the contempt she could throw in her voice.
“I suppose you have heard of the murder of the late professor next door?”
Amanda clutched at the door handle, “Yes?” she looked almost as if she’d known it well already.
“Well, the assassinator is still at large. We’re trying our best to track them down, but the thing is,” he gave a pause, “we don’t know yet, who it could be. It could be anyone. Do you have any guesses?”
Amanda didn’t utter a word. Was the inspector trying to hint at something? What would she know, anyway?
He sighed, “I’m fed up with beating around the bush.” He pulled out something metallic: a handcuff, “Now, let’s get this over with quickly. Follow me to the police station.”
Amanda’s face lost color.
He had come to arrest her. To accuse her of being the murderer of the old professor. Someone she barely saw around.
* * *
“Miss Amanda Thrift,” read out the judge, “has been assumed responsible for the murder of the retired professor, D.E.D. Any objections?”
Amanda didn’t look up from the ground. No one said a word in the courtroom. There was no one to speak up for her. Because she’d always been alone.
“I take the silence.” The judge said, “An assassination of someone is not a trivial matter. Here is my decree: Miss Amanda Thrift shall be sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment.”
His words knocked around in Amanda’s ears. She clutched the sides of the chair she was sitting on. No, the world wasn’t spinning. It was her. All her problem.
And now, she was to spend the rest of her life locked up in a dark cell.
This was the last chance for her to speak out and say something to defend herself. Anything that came to her mind. But she had lost the ability to communicate. She was speechless.
Her lips quivered as the guards came to take her away.
* * *
Amanda Thrift spent her next birthday in a prison cell, with a few other prisoners for company. The guards laughed amongst themselves that Amanda was lucky to have life imprisonment. According to them, such murders deserved the death penalty, and the young woman had eluded that.
Days turned into months, and months turned into years. Amanda learned to live her life as a convict. As a jailed criminal. She tried to while away time as much as she could. The inmates on either side talked about how they were waiting to be released. Only she knew there was going to be no release for her.
Their family members came to visit every so often, but Amanda had no family.
Slowly, the other prisoners started leaving after their prison term, and unfamiliar faces replaced them. Amanda looked at every one of them. Soon, they would be gone, too. Only she would remain here until the end of her days.
No one came to bail her out. No one cared.
A life. Amanda had had a life in front of her. A life she could have lived to her content.
It had been snatched away from her. Forever.
Winter came early that year. A blanket of snow coated the countryside, fresh and soft. It was only November, but the temperatures soared below minus. The convicts were forced to do with measly sweaters and worn-out blankets. They could view the outside only once in two months. Harsh, yes, but they had to make do with it.
The last time they had taken Amanda out, it was all she could do from reaching forward and trying to become one among the snowflakes. At least they didn’t have to stay cooped up inside a musty cell for the rest of eternity. At least they had what people called ‘freedom’.
Instead, she gathered herself and took a cursory glance at everything around. Why did she hope to be outside again, anyway? Where no one cared for her?
Amanda was now in her sixties. Ironic, yes, but that was how fast time had flown in the jail. Her yearning to be unrestricted and unchained once again was nearly dead. Once, she would’ve screamed at the guards to let her out. To give her back what liberty she had been denied all these years. Wasn’t it enough? Wasn’t it enough that they had spoilt her entire life like this?
But now, she didn’t do all that. She had learned to accept the bitter truth. That there was most probably no chance for her to see the outside world again.
* * *
On New Year’s Eve, a new inspector, James, superseded the last. He was younger than most, but people said he was a keen young man, precise to the details. He came a few times on rounds to check on the prisoners.
The first time he saw Amanda in her cell, something about her struck him as unusual. Not the bare fact of catching sight of such a harmless old woman branded as a ‘murderer’, but seeing her so composed, so accepting and so mild.
“Good evening.” He had greeted her cordially, “I’m inspector James. May I know, Miss Thrift, what you did, to land up in here?” he was aware of that already, of course, but he wanted to see how Amanda would react.
“I murdered a well-known professor.” She replied, cool and emotionless. Her voice was weathered down and faint. Very submissive.
Inspector James, to be honest, had expected to see a human tornado, filled with fire and vengeance for justice. Not someone who had resigned herself to the reality.
“Are you certain?” he asked her, filled with empathy for this person, who reminded him so much of someone close to him.
“That doesn’t matter.” She said, “The court thinks that way, so it must be it.”
There’s something more to her, James told himself. He felt something was off. He had met no one like her. Perhaps they had been too hasty while arresting her?
He needed to have a deeper look at this court case.
* * *
“Inspector!” James burst into the head inspector’s room four weeks later, “I have some astounding news.”
The head inspector looked up.
“Inspector, do you remember the case regarding the murder of Professor D.E.D?” James’s tone was rising, “The one where the accused, Miss Amanda Thrift, was sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well,” said James, almost bursting, “I did a bit of investigation, and believe it or not, Amanda was not the murderer! She is innocent!”
The head inspector did a double-take.
“Yes.” James said, “She is innocent. She always was.” He pitied this Amanda Thrift who had been living in a prison cell like a criminal while all the while, she was not one. He imagined how it would’ve been for her, condemned to her own thoughts nagging at her, with people around humiliating her for something she had not done.
The head inspector had a thorough look at the sheaf of papers James had gathered on this subject, and he was blown off his seat.
“Blimey,” he said, “Blimey James, you are right after all!”
“I demand her immediate release.” James said, standing his ground firmly, “She has been suffering enough all these years. And she doesn’t need to, for another minute.”
The head inspector got up, “I shall summon guards to release her from the cell.” He supported justice and righteousness as much as the next person.
A few minutes later saw James waiting near the entrance for the guards to bring Miss Amanda Thrift out into the open for the first time in several years. A smile had lit his solemn face. He couldn’t help thinking how pleased she would be at this news. How she could enjoy the rest of what life she had.
However, pretty soon, his smile turned into a look of dismay when he saw that the guards had returned empty-handed.
“What happened?” he demanded, “Where is Miss Thrift?”
The guards exchanged a silent look, almost mournful.
“She was already very old.” Said the first guard, his voice a distant echo, “Heading into her seventies.”
“She’s there no more.” Said the second.
James’s hopes plunged into an abyss. He couldn’t believe it. Freedom had been so close to her, almost moments away. Why did this happen? Poor Amanda Thrift. Denied what meant most to human beings. Spending her last moments believing she was guilty of a heinous crime.
She was gone. Gone with the snowflakes. Just like she had wanted to.
“We shall remember her.” Said James, “We will not forget her. Never.” This was all he could do for her sake.
The world looked exceptionally sad and beautiful that day.
A world without Amanda Thrift.