Roy says, girls are untrustworthy creatures. He takes another swig of the beer. "Wouldn't it be great if there was a God that punishes people who break promises?"
Yeah, sure man, I respond. That would be great. This world is full of folks who violate others' feelings, breach others' faith. I mean, just look around us_ politicians, rulers, bureaucrats, sellers, marketeers, firms, companies...all stand gulty. And if God were to get busy and set them right, put them in their places, punish them for all their umpteen acts of commission and omission, this world would be a much better place to live in. There would be fewer promises broken, less heartburn, fewer unhappy folks around. If God were to take care of all of us man's follies and set it right, then yeah for sure, planet earth would be a way more liveable and happier place than it's now.
Yeah, for sure Roy, I added for good measure.
Roy opened his mouth to say something but I wasn't yet finished.
"But it isn't so, is it Roy? I mean look at God. What with bombs exploding every minute in one or the other part of the world, what with people dying everyday of hunger or bombs or diseases or one or the contagion_yellow fever, white fever, red fever, Zika, Nipah or this latest Covid thing, I think poor God's hands are too full to allow him more than a cursory thought to everyday mundaneity as breakups and heartbreaks and similar other hackneyed matters."
'If your God is too busy solving world problems, I will need to take matters into my own hand'.
A thick maze of cigarette smoke made static blurbs in front of me. I try to shoo them away. I crane my neck forwards, and stare straight back at Roy.
'What do you mean? Take matters into your hand?"
Roy empties the contents of the dark bottle in front of him, then sets fire to a Marlboro, and coolly thrusts it between his lips. He inhales, then exhales. The air in the semi-darkened bar room is invaded by swirls of billowing smoke. A few moments later, Roy hunches forward, and hisses, his voice an even keel, "I will play God.".
And the words just slipped off my tongue.
And he says, "There's this place called Munger".
"Seven hits to your head, two knife stabs criss crossing your chest, one more on your upper thigh! A lesser man would have called it quite. You're quite a man Ahmed to survive such an assault".
I smiled, I smirked. I didn't know what to do. Or, say.
All I know I could recollect was that I was heading to college when I was waylaid by a group of boys. They stopped my bike two lanes away from the boy's hostel. Before I could protest, one of them had whipped out a sword and lunged at me. Before I could react, the other two also got into the act. Thereafter, what followed is still a maze. It was another minute before I blanked out.
"Theye were lumpen elements of Atma Abhiman Party".
My head still felt heavy, my cheeks still burned.
I looked askance at Roy, who stood at the edge of the bed. A nurse had just come and jabbed my left arm with yet another yellow liquid.
"I asked the doc. They say it's to ensure there's no internal infection,".
My eyes bore into Roy's.
I search for answers.
Unable to find any, I ask him point blank, "Roy, you know the politics in this small town here. It's getting worse by the day. Those guys who assaulted me were Hindus. I was not their target, my religion was, is. How come then, you, Roy, an upper caste Hindu is friends with me, a Muslim? Don't you know this place is steeped in violence? Here, they kill if you're from another religion. Here they do this yo young boys and girls, old men and women, even one month old babies. Here, your religion is your biggest enemy. There I was, lying on the road, my body covered in blood, bleeding worse than a pig. I could have, would have died within a couple of minutes. And then you came, pulled me up, carried me on your shoulders, rushed me to hospital, saved my life. Why...why did you do all this, Roy? I mean I am just someone you know from school. Why would you risk your life by saving my life? Why...why would you for that, Roy"?
As I said all this, tears started trickling down my cheeks. My heart felt heavy. My mouth had gone dry, my lips parched.
Roy leant closer, clasped his hands in mine, and then said something I would never ever forget.
"Ahmed, it's not your fault you were born a Muslim. Neither is it any credit I was raised a Hindu. We could be a anything...Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Parsi...whatever. Does it matter? I tell you, you would do the same if I was the one that was attacked by Muslim bigots, left to die on the road. No, man, I don't operate that way. You are my friend, that's all that matters."
It's an old incident, over an year old that I narrated. Why did I tell you? That too after all this while? Well, just so that you know who this guy Ahmed was. Ahmed was that kind of a guy. One of a kind. He would do anything for a friend. Friends were his life. Friends and all else he gave his heart to.
And that's why I would do anything for him. Anything. Everything. Unquestionably. No questions asked.
He commanded loyalty, demanded loyalty.
The riverfront incident. The one where he mentioned about Munger. Well, I didn't meet him after that.
I got busy. My father had his bypass. We had to take him to Trivandrum. Went by road. It tool us seven hours. The surgery successful, we were coming back. Our vehicle hit the highway. Two hours later, we'd stopped at a roadside dhaba. Mom and Dad were in the vehicle. I stepped out to grab some food. I'd ordered three lunch packs. Was waiting at the reception. My eyes roamed towards the small TV set on the spartan wall.
Something that the anchor was saying caught my eye.
I strained my eyes, cocked my ears.
It was then that I heard it.
The anchor was saying something.
A young man had just shot dead a college girl.
Something in the background visuals pulled me closer.
I looked intently.
It was a college hall. The TV camera was panning to something on the floor. It was all red...blood red...a body...first the arms...the face...and head...it was smashed to a pulp. A small ring around the temple. It was then it hit me. I know the girl. Sharmila...yes...yea, she was Sharmila. My head began to swirl. My eyes began to drain out I felt my limbs giving way. The man with the protruding mike was screaming into the camera-this girl, here was today shot to death by a young man. You can see him..."
Thereafter, it was all a maze. The TV, the voices, the scenes all played out in front of my eyes in dreary slow motion. It was not long before I blacked out.
"I know this is very traumatic, but as a police officer, I need to do my job. I hope you would understand."
The sixty seven year old nodded. It was clear from his heavily puffed up eyes that the past 24 hours had not been very soothing, to out it mildly.
"Your name, please?"
"What's your relationship with the dead woman?:
"Her name, please?"
"How old was she, what was studying? Where?"
'My daughter Sharmila had just turned 20. She was a medical student, in her second year at St. Judes Medical College and Hospital at Ernakulam. She was staying in the college hostel'.
"Is there anything you would like to tell us? Anything that you feel led to this incident, Mr Sivadas?"
Deceased Sharmila's father lowered his head; his eyes were downcast. He looked as if he would collapse on the bed any moment.
"Sir, we don't know anything. My father is a cancer patient. He also is suffering from high blood pressure and is a diabetic. I repeat, we don't anything. I don't know why anyone would kill mu sister. Please leave my family alone. We have lost our Sharmila. What more is there to say? Won't you now even allow us to greave peace!?"
A hushed silence filled the room. All eyes looked towards the door.
The police officer got the message.
He slapped shut his diary, and quietly retreated. It wasn't the way to get the necessary information. He had to try other means.
"'Is this some kind of a joke? I mean the deaths happened here in Kerala, in Ernakulam, and you tell me you want to go to Munger? Why, Rajeevan?"
Rajeevan, still standing, looked at his superior who sat across the table from him. The two were in a lower basement corner room. The nameplate outside read Ajat Sharma, Assistang Commissioner of Police.
'Sir, Munger is where the murder weapon came from?"
"What"? The senior cop's voice were a couple of octaves higher.
"Yes Sir. My investigation is half way through. But if I have to file a charge sheet, then I need to go to Munger, get to the supplier. We need the gun make, if possible a pistol of the same make, a few bullets as well. The ballistics guys would need it. Also, the court would..."
"Okay...I got that. Munger is another state, remember? It's the badlands. Take a couple of men with you. And I need a full report within 36 hours, ok?"
Inspector Rajeevan nodded his head, offered a smart salute, and took his leave.
I met Roy the day I got admitted to medical college. I had just alighted from the bus, was walking towards the narrow lane that led to the main campus. A voice from behind broke my stride. Startled I turned around and there he was smiling down at me. Puzzled, I craned my neck and looked up. I had to really look up for he was tall.
I mean really tall for I myself was a couple of inches above average height.
He had a quizzical look on his face, a half smile dancing in his eyes.
As I stood wondering what to do, he extended his hand out. I recoiled instantly. And then realised that he held a phone in his palms. It was an IPhone. It took a while before I could gather that it was my phone in his hands. I furtively checked my pocket purse. Even before my fingers reached inside, his voice, a macho timbre, came out loud and clear: You left it in the bus. I figured it was yours as this was the last stop and you were the only other passenger.
A wave of mixed emotions ran through me. The phone, the latest edition, was a top model, and carried a very high price tag. It was Dad's gift, a fulfillment of his promise for his only child bagging a prized medical seat, a rare a achievement.
And here was this guy, who looked quite the regular middle class person albeit a ruggedly handsome man. His faded blue Jean's and the well worn black tee that he was wearing lending credence to his everydayness.
I mean who does this? What person would not happily slide something upwards of a lakh into his pocket and walk away. At best, he would get half that amount if were to sell it.
He might have been a mind reader as well, for his next words really took me by surprise.
"You could do the maths later on. Right now, I need to go else I would be late for my client meeting."
Shamefaced, I opened my mouth to say something, but all he responded with was a slight wave of his hands, and a slow curve of his lips. As he turned around, our eyes met: his eyes, jet black, shone, bright and sunny like the morning sun.
I knew then and there-call it intuition, a woman's sixt sense, or whatever-I would be meeting him again.
It took less than a week for my hunch to prove right.
I met him, again, on the same bus-same time, same route. He was gentlemanly, had a quiet, self assuredness about him, measured his words carefully. Also, I realised, he knew how to charm a woman.
We met quite a few times, he told me his name was Roy. That he was a budding interior designer, and that he had big plans for himself, plans for which he needed money, something he hoped a bank probably would help him with.
It was sometime around the third month, by this time three months had elapsed, that he told me he liked me. I was taken aback, though. Didn't know how to react. I had just thought of him as a friend-no more, no less. I had just commenced what was my life goal-striving with all my heart and soul to learn the ins and outs of a highly demanding medical course. I knew the next five years, I would be too caught with my studies. I had to do my parents proud, fulfill all their dreams, turn myself into a much sought after doctor. I was geared towards serving society, opening a top class clinic, and helping poor patients with much needed healthcare needs. Amidst all this, love or even a distant vision of it didn't orbit anywhere near my planetary system.
I remember the day very clearly. We were at the coffee shop near my hostel. I had just sneaked out during the short break between classes.
I looked at him from across the table and said point blank, "Ahmed, my first year exams are approaching. My professors have said the papers are going to be very tough. He was warned us against wasting our time."
He was looking at me as I said this. I noticed his eyebrows had arched, his shoulders slightly stiffened, and his mouth went ajar. I thought to myself that he wasn't taking all this quite well.
Haltingly, I persisted.
"Roy, we need to stop meeting. Our worlds don't meet, they were never meant to meet. We will...I will not meet you from today onwards".
I admit I was slightly nervous when the last words escaped my quivering lips.
I didn't look up at him, didn't wait for his response. Simply got up, and walked out into the street towards my college gate.
Back there, I forced myself to not think about it. For the next week or so, I busied myself, immersing myself in my books, losing myself in the mysteries of medical science.
Exactly 36 hours later, he bumped into me.
And this happened not again and again. He would wait on me on the bus stop, outside my college gate, even when I was out shopping with my girl mates. And then, I saw him standing outside the temple opposite my house once during my fortnightly visits to my parents.
I walked upto to him the day after. He was there, at his usual spot, outside the college gate waiting for me to walk towards my hostel.
"Roy, I don't think you have got the message. Stop harassing me, or else, I will have to call the police".
To my utter surprise, the words seemed to have no effect on him.
He stood there, nonchalantly, staring back at me, a stony look framing his by now detestable face.
It was then that it hit me: this man, this seemingly quiet, outwardly suave young man was in fact a maniac, a mad man.
My heart shuddered, I was gripped by a raw primal fear as the reality dawned on me.
I half ran towards my hostel, my mind still battling the fear that was knocking on my mindscape.
In a sensational crime, a young man shot dead a medical student just outside her college gate. He later committed suicide. The Ernakulam police within whose jurisdiction the shocking crime took place are terming it a crime of passion. Initial investigations suggest both the deceased, 23 year old Roy George and 19 year old Swarnima Nair were in a relationship. The murder weapon, police allege, was procured from Munger, a place infamous as one of the largest illegal gun manufacturing hubs in the country. The bodies of the two have been sent for...