The navy blue Chevrolet was parked right outside the Metro Cash and Carry supermarket. On the first glance, nothing seemed wrong with it. But if one looked at it for even another second, they would know something was wrong.
It was hard to pinpoint what that was. It was nothing too conspicuous, like a broken headlight or a flat tire. No, it was just the subtle aura that seemed to surround the car. It was like a little pool of poison, slowly spreading, growing larger, seeping into everything it touched.
It was no surprise that the parking spaces around the car were all empty.
The woman who owned the navy blue Chevrolet was a child prodigy in music. She had begun singing at the age of two, played the piano, the guitar, the sitar (an Indian stringed instrument) and was generally a brilliant musician.
She once heard a few seconds of a mazurka by Chopin as a ringtone, and had gone home and improvised a whole piece on the piano, using those few seconds as the theme. She was six at the time.
She was also, as a prodigy normally is, a little on the eccentric side. She never liked her parents’ home garden, and had torn up the whole thing, one night. She was rarely awake before twelve noon, and was rarely asleep by twelve midnight.
She quit music after she lost in a singing competition at the age of sixteen and moved out of her parents’ house. They lost contact with her after that.
The woman was now thirty years old, happily forgotten, and was living a half-decent life. She had just finished buying her weekly supply of groceries from the Metro supermarket. She unlocked the Chevrolet and opened the boot.
She pushed the large duffel bag that had been lying there since morning to the back and stuffed the two bags of provisions she had bought inside.
She walked slowly to the driver’s side, looking at everyone and everything near her suspiciously.
It was a few minutes before she opened the door and got in. She reversed the car and exited the tall iron gates of the supermarket, heading for the highway.
The traffic was slow, and it was almost half an hour before the woman got to the tollbooth.
“A ticket. Single.” she said to the man inside.
She rummaged around in her purse and handed him a crumpled note. He took it, barely glancing at her and let her through.
The woman picked up speed. If she had to get home by five o’ clock, she had to drive fast. She hummed a little sad tune to herself as she drove; the only extent of her return to music. It was a different tune every time, and original too. However long ago it was when she dropped music, she never lost her composing abilities.
She was doing sixty kilometres an hour now. It was a long way to her exit.
She glanced around at the traffic. There were a few lumbering trucks towards the very left and a gleaming silver Audi that slowed down next to her car, then suddenly roared and shot forward.
Ahead was a large white van, with a picture of a famous politician splashed across both sides. A popular slogan of the party was painted on the back, but some letters had long since fallen off.
She had sped up to eighty kilometres an hour. The engine of the Chevrolet hummed, as the car switched gears. She could hear the pistons jump back and forth, at alarming speeds. If she listened intently, though, she could hear the pistons move even at twenty kilometres an hour.
She glanced at the odometer and smiled; a lopsided smile, that showed off her left premolars and molars. She was a few kilometres from hitting a lakh.
All was quiet for a few moments. Then, the shrill, piercing shriek of an ambulance. She glanced at the rear-view mirror. It was directly behind her, but still a while away. Nevertheless, she swung to the other lane, interrupting a red Toyota’s speeding streak.
The ambulance rocketed past, shuddering and shaking from the speed. The woman was concerned; it seemed like the ambulance could fall apart any moment. It sped up further and soon disappeared from view.
The woman herself had increased her speed from eighty to a hundred kilometres an hour. The little red marker of the speedometer had hovered around indecisively for a minute, swinging like a pendulum between ninety and ninety-five, before the woman had gotten annoyed and sped up to a hundred.
She looked at the rear-view mirror for the second time. A frown knitted her thin, angular brows together. She looked vaguely annoyed, as though a fly was constantly buzzing around her. It was the police car; it had been following her since the time she had left the supermarket.
She sped up much more, gunning for her exit. She didn’t know why, but her grip on the wheel became much stronger, her heart thundered against her rib-cage, and her breathing became faster. She shook her head and forced herself to calm down.
Nothing will happen, she thought to herself, they’re not looking for you.
But it seemed as though they were. They took the same exit she did, and followed her past the heavy traffic of a junction.
The woman was now beginning to get worried. She swung sharply to the left into a thin deserted alley, hoping they’d leave her, but no luck. The police car, for all its lumbering weight, made the turn quite easily.
She pushed the Chevrolet’s engine to its maximum, hitting a hundred and twenty kilometres an hour, before slowing down when she hit the main road.
She had seen enough movies to know how to lose cops on your trail, but now that she was faced with that situation in real life, it turned out to be much, much harder than she thought.
“Goddamn it!” she muttered to herself. “Movie guys have it so easy. Just one turn and a dramatic jump, the cops are off their tail.”
She wrenched the wheel to the right, the tires skidding and squealing as they spun to do her bidding. She could swear she smelled burnt rubber. The Chevrolet shot through two particularly menacing looking trucks, just making it through.
The woman inside sighed in relief. The police car was off her trail. Wait. No, there it was, cruising along smoothly, just twenty or so metres behind her. How was that possible?
“Oh, heck,” she said. “I can’t goddamn lose them!”
The chase continued for ten more minutes; an entertaining game of cat-and-mouse, but extremely frustrating for the supposed mouse.
In the end, the woman gave up. She screeched to a halt in front of a large shopping mall. The police car did the same, behind her.
The woman sat there, not moving, waiting. She was still clutching the steering wheel.
The police officer approached the shotgun’s window. He was short and had a thin mustache. He looked about fifty years old, with a large bald spot right on the top of his crown. He was sweating in the heat of the afternoon.
He knocked on the window, and the woman inside slowly lowered it. Her heart was running a marathon, and adrenaline coursed through every fiber of her body.
“Good afternoon, Ma’am,” the police officer said. “We were just on our way to the police station, down the street there,” he gestured, “and we couldn’t help but notice you were doing almost a hundred and fifty kilometres an hour. In case you hadn’t noticed, Ma’am, that is twice the speed limit in this area. So, much as we dislike doing this to taxpayers, Ma’am, we are forced to book you for speeding.” He handed the woman a ticket.
The woman’s breath caught. Her heart skipped a beat. She held out a shaky hand and almost ripped the ticket as she took it from him.
“You can come to pay the fine at the desk in this police station,” he jabbed a podgy thumb towards the police station down the street, “anytime. Talk to the man outside. He’ll help you.”
The woman nodded. The police officer didn’t go, as she thought (and was hoping) he would. He looked around for a moment, and then said, “Excuse me, Ma’am, but I’ll also need to see a license and the ownership papers.”
“Yes.” the woman said. Her voice came out raspy and hoarse; not her usual melodious tone. She reached over and opened the glove compartment. She rummaged around for a moment, then handed him her driver’s license.
“Thank you.” He squinted at the little plastic card. She handed him the ownership papers.
He scanned them quickly and said, “Thank you, Ma’am. I must say, this is a damn fine car you’ve got.”
“Thank you.” Her heart was beating faster again.
“Say, you wouldn’t happen to know where we could find a good vegetarian restaurant here, would you? My partner back in the car doesn’t eat meat or egg. Personally, I eat both. Especially chicken. I know it’s common and stuff, but there’s nothing as fine as a well-cooked chicken-”
“I think there’s one inside this mall.” The woman interrupted, pointing towards the large red building behind the police officer.
“Thank you,” he nodded. “I’ll be leaving now, and don’t speed again.”
The police officer walked back to his car, then his partner accompanied him inside the mall. The woman exhaled shakily. Her head was pounding, and her breath was coming out in rapid gasps.
“Too close,” she kept saying. “Too close.”
She sat still for a few minutes, hands on the steering wheel, then got out and opened the boot. She dragged the large brown duffel bag a little closer and unzipped it. The corners of her lips curved into a small smile, as she stared at the body of the little boy with a knife sticking out of his chest lying in the duffel bag, an expression of horror on his face.