Detective Srini hated breaking hearts. Unless it was necessary.
Maybe that’s why he was regularly assigned these cases.
He sat two rows behind his client’s wife, trying to shield himself from the blows the antihero rained on his assailants sending them flying in all directions on the screen.
There was just one thought that kept on playing in his mind as his teeth crunched the caramel popcorn- When did I lose the plot of my life?
Ms. Goldilocks shifted in her seat. Maybe she too had her nerves jangled enough and sought respite.
The airborne assailants bit the dust with a thud. Detective Srini was rather rudely shaken out of his metaphysical musings by the celebratory dance. A montage of the antihero’s journey from an orphan to the uncrowned king of sandalwood smuggling played on the screen.
The detective placed the straw between his lips and drew in more air than coke as the credits rolled. The lights came on. He placed the empty cup back in the holder and let out a sigh of relief.
He had his peripheral vision focused on Ms. Goldilocks throughout the movie’s runtime. And much before that. A week, to be precise.
A week earlier, Srini had first spotted her leaving home after her husband had left for work. She looked younger in person than in the photograph her husband had supplied to the agency, and happier. Her dark hair had blonde highlights. The mustard yellow kurta she had worn put a glow on her face, partially concealing the dark circles under her eyes.
He had followed her every day after that. And today would be the last.
That morning, he had parked his noisy second-hand two-wheeler (he had been asking for an upgrade) two houses away and waited for her to come out. The flame-red blooms of Gulmohar trees lining the street gave him no cover.
She had walked from her home to the corner of the street, taken a cab to a travel agent’s office, and had spent close to an hour there. Srini had to stay put at a pan shop outside, among the betel leaf chewers and smoke ring throwers. To blend in, he had chosen to chew the pan. When the green cone had exploded into sweet, warm, spicy notes in his mouth, his mind had sneered at him- is this what a modern-day Sherlock would do? He had spit out the thought with the red residue in the bin and assured himself. In time...in time.
When Ms. Goldilocks (Srini loved to give his subjects pet names) had come out of the travel agent’s office there was a spring in her jutti powered step, a smile on her shocking pink lips, and a colourful envelope in her hands. He had already taken the video of her entering the office with his stealth camera. So far, nothing worth reporting had happened.
The mid-morning market was a mishmash of vendors setting up their stalls on the footpath, early shoppers looking for a good bargain, and jobless youth milling around looking to make mischief.
For Srini, it was just another day on a boring assignment.
Ms. Goldilocks hadn’t taken a cab. Instead, she had walked along the footpath examining the toys, pots and pans, flowers and vegetables laid out on pushcarts. She had held up a rattle, shaken it and had paid the boy-man who was selling it with something that lit up his eyes. Then, she had put it in her jute tote bag and walked further up, to the State Bank of India. Srini had drawn in a sharp breath and pressed the record button.
Srini had gone across the street and sat in a café overlooking the bank. He had ordered a cup of strong filter coffee to keep him alert. The café still had a few customers eating breakfast and its glass façade offered them a refuge from the dust and noise on the street. Seconds after his coffee had been served, he had seen Ms. Goldilocks come out of the bank with two women. He had gulped down half of the piping hot beverage swearing through his burned throat.
One of the women was holding the colourful envelope from the travel office. Ms. Goldilocks had held out her hand to the other woman who clasped it. After a brief exchange of words, the women had waved goodbye and boarded a yellow van with ‘Care and Love Orphanage’ painted on its sliding door.
Then she had hopped into a waiting cab. He had run to his bike parked at a distance and sparked it to life with some effort. He could catch up with the cab at the bottleneck where the narrow market street joined the main road. For a split second, he had felt watched. Afterwards, he had been careful to keep a distance. The cab had come to a halt in front of a multiplex. And Srini had let out a silent protest.
Oh no! another boring and lengthy pursuit!
In the multiplex, Ms. Goldilocks had browsed leisurely through clothes and apparel, checked the latest appliances, devoured a Maharaja burger and slurped down a strawberry milkshake. By then it was an afternoon in the timeless multiplex and no paramour was found lurking in any corner of its six floored structure. Or if he was, he was certainly wearing an invisibility cloak. The client’s suspicions had so far been proved baseless. Srini’s heart had grown hopeful - maybe Ms. Goldilocks had enough of an outing and would call it a day.
Instead, Ms. Goldilocks had gone to the box office, purchased tickets and started looking over her shoulders! Srini had followed her to screen number 2 even though he had the ticket for screen number 4. Luckily, the afternoon show on a weekday was not very popular. So, he sat two rows behind her and she sat with two empty seats next to her.
Even after three hours, the two seats next to Ms. Goldilocks had remained empty.
The credits started rolling and the meagre audience started trickling out. But Ms. Goldilocks kept sitting. Srini got up twice and sat down again. The hall became empty but for them. Finally, Ms. Goldilocks stood up, walked along the row of chairs and came up towards him! Srini shuffled his feet and turned in the other direction.
He turned back. A stinging slap splashed across his face. Followed by a hiss,
“Why are you following me? Can’t a woman have a peaceful outing on her own?”. The rattle inside her bag clacked.
Srini didn’t dare utter a single sound. Clearly, he was no Sherlock.
For a moment he thought about retaliating. Of telling her about the person who had sent him to spy on her. Then offered meekly,
“I’m sorry if I have offended you, ma’am. I never meant to,” and walked towards the exit, dropping his client’s photo on the way. At the exit, he turned to check if it had been picked up by her. It was.
It was necessary. The client didn’t deserve her.