The serial killer murders have gripped my city. Over the past three months, 20 people have been found dead in their cars - throat slit, wrists bound with thick black cable and air conditioner running on high. The murderer sprays the interior of the car with a scent of jasmine before leaving and takes the car keys as a souvenir. The cops are baffled. They haven't found any clues until now - no fingerprints or DNA.
People are in a state of panic. Many have started using public transport, hoping they will be saved from a torturous death. Well, I feel there's nothing more torturous than being stuck in the traffic with a group of smelly people. I was once stuck in what the newspapers called 'a mega traffic jam'. The bus was packed and I had a hard time dodging people shoving their bags and whatnots into my face. This is what happens when you find a seat and the ones standing are jealous of you. Uh hu! Then, someone farts. Imagine that! A jam-packed bus stuck in a traffic jam and the air smells of, um, whatever fart smells like. Ugh!
I have been using public transport for a long time now. I find it convenient and I also end up saving some money every month by using the bus to commute. Over the past couple of months, commuting on the same route has been a bliss. I have met a wonderful set of people. We have the same interests and likes so we gel well like oil and water. No, wait, oil and water do not mix unless you add soap. So, let me correct my previous statement. We gel well like oil, water and soap.
Meet my bus buddies: Saroj, Ricky, Neeru and Manav. Saroj is a thirty-something and a mother of two. She's short, pretty and plump. She works at an MNC next to my office and she seems pretty happy with whatever it is that she does every day. (She's told me about her work - something to do with code and AI and Internet of pings? things? - but I haven't paid attention to her yaking so excuse me!)
Ricky is a lanky fellow with short spiky hair. He's fair and weirdly handsome. He works as a manager at a retail showroom. I tried asking him for a couple of discount coupons and he gave me a dirty look. (Not the seductive kind of 'dirty'. This dirty look of his makes you puke.)
Neeru is 55 and almost at her retirement age. She doesn't want to retire and thinks she's still in her 20's (That's called denial!). She works as a CEO of a startup whose name nobody's ever heard. She says her 'startup' has patented a spray that removes cat hair from clothes and upholstery. Haha! Like that's going to work!
Manav is your average nerd. Plain looking, wears glass bottle spectacles, oily hair parted in the middle, very shy and hardly speaks. He also wears suspenders. Suspenders! What year are we in????
I know I am overly critical sometimes but what can I do? I can't be good at everything, can I?
My bus buddies and I have formed a book club. We call ourselves 'the bus book clubbers' - the name was coined by yours truly, thank you very much! I am looking forward to meeting them today as we will be discussing the latest book by a renowned author. The story is based on a true crime - a serial killer, to be precise- quite a coincidence, eh?
The bus arrives at my stop, I get in and look around for my buddies. Neeru waves at me while Manav pats at an empty seat next to him. I have been sitting next to Manav for quite some time now. Maybe Saroj was right when she said Manav has a crush on me. I am beautiful so why wouldn't he?
I sit next to Manav and heave a sigh. "So," I say, looking at my friends. Neeru and Saroj are seated in front of me while Ricky's occupied the one behind me. "Did you guys like the book? I loved it!!!" I say.
Neeru replies in negative. She says she found the story to be, quoting her words, " masculine and seductive." Okay, so I do not know how a story can be masculine and seductive but I nod. Old people feel bad when you criticize their opinions, you see.
Saroj says she 'loved the book' and couldn't put it down - and in the process of 'unputdownability' (her words, not mine) she burned last night's dinner and her husband took her and the two kids out for dinner.
Ricky says the book was too cheesy for his likes. He wants more passion in the story. I nod. I am getting good at nodding. Yay me!
Manav clears his throat and giggles before speaking. I giggle back. He giggles funny all right; I can't stop myself from giggling at his giggle. He says he loved the story. It reminds him of the serial killer murders in the city.
The topic then changes to the murders in the city. Neeru says her husband's sister's neighbour's cousin's brother-in-law's uncle was one of the victims. (Please don't make me say that again)We spend the next twenty minutes discussing what we know about it. Neeru's stop arrives and she says, "I won't be joining you guys tomorrow. My husband and I are going to a wedding party tonight and might return early in the morning. So, I have taken tomorrow off." We say our byes and she gets down at her stop. Our stops are nearing too so we plan to discuss this 'hot topic' tomorrow.
The next morning, I read in the paper that a couple were found dead in their car last night - our serial killer at work again! As I get into the bus, I see Saroj - her eyes are red and it looks like she's been crying. Manav pats the empty seat next to him. Ricky is sitting with Saroj today. "What happened?" I ask. "We have some bad news to share," says Ricky.
"What bad news?"
"Neeru and her husband were murdered yesterday," says Manav, clearing his throat.
"What?" I am shocked. "What?" I shout again. "No! Oh no!" The whole world seems to have collapsed around me. Neeru, our Neeru is dead?? She looked so happy yesterday. I nodded at her 'masculine and seductive' comment yesterday! Man, I feel so bad! I should have asked her more about the masculine thingy. God! No! Why Neeru?
We spend the rest of our commute in silence. At work, I roam around doing things half-heartedly. I am sitting in the pantry, picking at my cucumber and mayo sandwich when my phone rings. It's Saroj. "Hey!" I say.
"Hey, there's something I want to tell you."
"Yeah. Go ahead."
"There's something fishy about this Manav fellow," she says.
"What do you mean? He looks decent."
"I don't know. It's just an instinct."
"Saroj! You have been reading a lot of mystery novels!" I laugh nervously. Wait, is it possible that Manav is the killer? Nah, he looks way too decent to kill someone.
"The newspapers did not mention the victims' names," says Saroj. "How is that Manav knew it was Neeru and her husband?"
Well, she has a point here. "Maybe the newspaper that he reads has mentioned the victims' names?" I ponder.
"Hmm. Possible. Did you observe something else?"
"Manav wore Jasmine perfume today."
"Don't you get it?" she shouts through the phone.
Well, I think Saroj is reading between the lines. Wearing jasmine perfume doesn't make Manav a killer! Maybe the guy likes Jasmine. No harm in liking the same scent as the killer, right? Maybe there is someone out there who likes chocolates just like I do, but he might be a maniac killer. I somehow manage to convince Saroj that she's imagining things and disconnect the call.
The next day, as I get into the bus, I see Ricky and Manav occupying adjacent seats. Wow! That's new! "Where's Saroj?" I ask. Both men reply in negative. I call her; her phone rings but she doesn't answer. Maybe I will try again later. I call twice again during the day but Saroj doesn't answer. As I reach home, my phone starts to ring. It's Saroj! "Hey! Where have you been? I called you..." A man's voice at the other end stops me halfway through my sentence. "Hello? Madam, are you related to this phone's owner?"
"I... who is this?" I ask.
"Police. We found a body in the ditch. A phone and a handbag were found closeby. Can you come over to the morgue and identify the victim?"
"Is it Saroj?" I ask. God, no, please! Let it not be Saroj.
"We do not know, ma'am. The face is disfigured." The policeman gives me the address of the morgue. I tell him I will be there in a while. I also ask him to contact Saroj's husband - his number would be on her phone.
I go to the morgue. I see a haggard-looking man sitting and sniffing silently. As I walk closer to him, he sees me and stands up. "You must be one of Saroj's bus friends," he says.
"Ye...yes. The police called me..." I start to cry. "Please tell me it is not Saroj."
"I wish I could say that," the man starts to cry too.
As the body has already been identified, I don't think I am needed here anymore. So, I walk out of the morgue, call Ricky and give him the bad news. "Did she tell you she suspected Manav?" he asks. I say yes. "I think it's time I have a talk with Manav," says Ricky.
"That might not be the best thing to do, Ricky," I say. "If he is the killer, he's dangerous. He has killed 23 people already and he won't think twice before killing you."
"I don't care. This has to stop! We knew Neeru was going to a party the night she was killed. Saroj was killed because she suspected Manav. You cannot be the killer because..." he pauses before continuing." because you cannot be! Neither am I. Manav's the only one left."
Ricky could be the killer, right? I keep my opinion to myself. He's been sweet enough to say I am not a murderer so I should return the favour of not suspecting him.
"What are you planning to do about this, Ricky?" I ask.
"I will go to the police," he says.
"Don't you think it's better to talk to Manav first? I will join you so that we can fight in case he tries to attack us. Let's make it clear that Manav is a serial killer, then we call the cops."
"All right. Let's do it tonight. Let's meet at the alley near the morgue. I will be waiting for you and Manav." My phone starts to beep. "Ricky, listen, my phone battery's low so I cannot talk much. We will discuss when we meet in, say, half an hour?" Ricky replies in affirmative and says he would ask Manav to meet us at the alley.
The meeting ended badly. I have a knife wound on my arm but nothing serious. I cannot say the same about Ricky because he's dead.
This is what I told the police: Ricky and I were in the alley waiting for Manav. He denied the allegations and the next thing I know, he stabbed Ricky. I tried to run away but Manav grabbed me. I someone managed to escape and that is when he wounded my arm. I whacked him on the head with my handbag and saw him drop like a sack of potatoes. I called the police immediately.
Manav came into his senses as the police dragged him in handcuffs. As he saw me talking to one of the policemen, he shouted, "I am innocent. She set me up!" Well, nobody believed him as the wound on my arm was proof of his evil doings. On further investigation, the police will find Manav's fingerprints on the knife. They will also find the 'souvenirs' in his house.
After all, I should have my hands clean before I move to a new city.