A thin film of the cold breeze began to settle down on the soft cotton of my pajama. The sheets that covered the bed grew colder with each wave of breeze that entered the room, my toe poked around the foot of the bed in search of the blanket, on finding one laying orphan I pulled it over my head and lay still within the walls of the blanket.
The blanket has always had reassuring warmth to it, as a kid growing up I have always felt safe hiding in the darkness of the blanket.
Within the walls of the blanket it felt like a comfortable world, the familiar sounds of my breathing, the rhythmic beats of my heart, all reassuring me that I was still alive, the fear of monsters eating me alive, fell asleep within those blanket walls.
In the distance I could hear the howl of the street dog, Sheeba was on a mission to keep me awake the whole night.
Tossing and turning unable to fall asleep I finally gave up and sat in the edge on my bed and looked at the open window shaking my head I turned to see my wife, Sanjana deep in sleep inside the warm folds of a thick blanket. As I closed the window, the creaking sound from the old iron echoed loud in the silent room.
“Why are you closing the window?” I heard her soft voice from the bed
“You want it open?”
“It is hot in here, leave the window open.”
“You have such a thick blanket over you throw that away if it is hot.”
“At least switch on the fan please.”
“No it is okay I will leave the window open.”
I propped up the window open and secured it with a latch. I looked at Sanjana, there seemed to be a hint of a smile on her face, her sparkling eyes now shut, soft fair cheeks resting on the fluffy pillow, she looked peaceful in her sleep.
Love at first sight it was for me, the word beauty for once had fallen short of describing her smile.
I sat looking at her the baby pink shirt she wore missing a button and revealed to the world her fair bosoms. I bent down to place a soft kiss on them, moving my fingers gently over them I hoped from one to another. Softly pressing with the tips of my finger on them, I bent down for another kiss.
Pushing my hand away, she spoke
“Not now Arjun, I have an important meeting tomorrow.”
I struggled to go back to sleep. Desperate for a warm touch, I turned to Sanjana, but my brain tried to communicate the importance of her meeting to my confused heart.
My eyes adamant to close shut I got up and sat on my bed.
My dry mouth requested for a sip of water, pushing myself off the bed. I walked out of the room slowly towards the dining table.
Seven years it had been living together but we were yet to master the art of keeping a water bottle close to our bed.
Walking up the stairs towards the terrace I could hardly fight the need for a cigarette in the middle of the night. Slowly stepping past the line of flower pots decorating the parapet wall I brushed my finger against the coarse clay of the pot. Reaching into a plant less pot filled with broken mugs and small pieces of metal pipes I pulled out a small plastic bag with my cigarette pack hidden inside it. Sitting on the parapet wall I looked down at a 30 feet fall to the ground, holding a cigarette in my hand I looked around before lighting it. How I longed for a puff, the desperate feeling to drag in a cloud of smoke into my lungs, I could hardly explain to Sanjana.
Letting out a cloud of smoke I felt at peace.
I never understood the fear in my heart I had for Sanjana, was it out of love? I wondered.
Hiding from the world, fear of getting caught playing in my head, I smoked my cigarettes in the dark of the night.
Lifting my head up I looked at the night sky, the moonless sky with sparkling white dots spread all across the common sight always left me amazed.
I often thought could there be someone sitting in one of those sparkling dots, looking up at their sky, and thinking
“Is there someone out there? Are we alone?”
Pulling my thoughts back to the ground I pulled a last drag at my cigarette.
Carefully dispatching the cigarette butt deep into the mud that filled the flower pot, I turned to look at my neighbor Zoya’s house.
The lights turned out, but the window open, I could see her curtain swaying to the steady waves of breeze.
“My love and my love both think alike.” I smiled looking at the open window.
“You are not going to office today?” Sanjana walked into the kitchen dressed sharp for her meeting.
“No, I am going to work from home today.”
“Again? You hardly go to office anymore are you sure you still have that job.”
“Guess I have gotten too comfortable at home.’’
“Don’t get too comfortable we have payments remember.”
“Don’t worry I am a Manager not an office boy I know what I am doing.”
“Okay Mr. Manager, don’t forget to tidy around the house today, remember my dad is visiting today.”
“Oh, how can I forget that.”
“He is not that mean now, is he?”
“He is visiting us here for the first time, Arjun, so please don’t get into a fight with him.”
“You should tell that to your father, Sanju.”
“I will talk to him but you don’t do anything to get him angry.”
“He does not need a reason to get angry with me.”
“You don’t think too much, he respects you. I have to run now I don’t wanna be late for my big meeting, you take care sweetie.” She had kissed me goodbye and walked out of the door before I realized she had reduced me to an office boy in one second.
He respects me, I almost laughed when she said that. He never wanted us to get married he hated me for pulling her away from her family and corrupting her with my idea of life. He always accused me of not letting my wife pursue her dreams. We had almost come to blows one day, if it hadn’t been for my wife I would have ended up killing him that day. Shaking my head clear of such thoughts I walked out.
“What took you so long, babe, I have been ringing the bell for almost five minutes.”
“Sorry sweetie I was in the shower, I thought you were coming a little later.”
“I need to run back home quick.”
“My father in law is coming today.”
“Oh, are you worried, nervous…”
“Me worried! Nervous please, I am not…”
“Come here you sweetie.” She walked up to me and hugged me tight as I felt her warm body against mine. Zoya was my work from home she had become my life now, ten years younger to me with her I felt the same old excitement I had for Sanjana years back. Holding her tight I knew it in my heart that I had feelings for her but she was an addiction, a habit now. I veered off my home path just for the excitement, the spontaneity that she brought with her. I often tried justifying the affair with Zoya to myself but deep down in my head I knew that I was there only for the attention she showered me with, I could grab her and kiss her without worrying would she kiss me back or push me away for not doing the dishes.
Holding her fair white cheeks with my palm I slowly pushed myself towards her and softly kissed her lips, I knew it then the dream was coming to an end when she pulled herself back and said,
“Do you have to go now cant you stay?”
“I have to go now but tomorrow I promise I will stay the whole day.”
“But you will have to go back in the night, what is the use.”
“Let’s not talk about that now, babe.” I tried to pull her close.
“I hate this, Arjun. I can’t live like this hiding from everyone. I broke up with my boy friend so I didn’t have to hide from anyone. We make each other so happy why can’t we be together?”
“I am married Zoya…”
“But are you happy there?”
“Which is precisely why I don’t want to move fast with us. I don’t want the same thing to happen to us…”
“How can you compare what we have to her? Don’t I make you happy?”
She came close and held me with her hands brushing my hair.
“Yes Zoya you make me very happy, now let’s not talk about this please.” I pulled her close and kissed her for the first time thinking if she would kiss me back. The dream had come to an end. I could not break ties with Sanjana our relationship extended beyond the rooms of our house there were families with whom I had forged a bond. I had pushed too far with Zoya I had ended up giving hope of a new life to her. It had to end soon but I knew it then looking into her eyes I would not be able to wipe her away as easily as I thought, her smile had trained my mind to relax, her jet black eyes had cast a spell over me.
“One second, I think my phone is vibrating.”
“Oh, it’s my wife let me take this in your room.”
“Sure go ahead I am going back to the shower.”
“Hello Sanju, what happened?”
“Nothing just wanted to know where you are?”
“Why what happened? Where are you?”
“I am still on the way to office, are you at home or you are out?”
“No I am still at home I have some emails to send first…”
“Okay, okay I called to tell you don’t forget to get apples for dad, you know how much he loves them.”
“Yes don’t worry I will stock the fridge with apples. Hey I thought you took your car to office but I see it parked on the road?” I asked her looking out the window of the room.
“No I have that client meeting today afternoon so I am going there with my boss and then I will take the auto direct home from there.”
“So what time are you coming home?”
“I should be there by around seven.”
“What time is your dad coming?”
“He is reaching around the same time too.”
“Okay, that gives me enough time to get his apples I will see you at seven bye.”
“Arjun no.” She resisted as I slowly wrapped my hands around her and pushed my lips up her neck.
“Arjun no, you are going to get you clothes wet.”
“That is a good point I should just take them off.”
“No that was not what I meant.” Her voice lowered into a moan as I kissed her ear and let my tongue play over her long neck.
Wrapping her in a towel I stole her off the ground and into my arms and walked towards the room. Putting her down on the bed I pulled out the towel to reveal her fair body, running my hands around her curves I felt the warmth of her body run up my veins.
“Where are you?”
“I am at home, where are you?”
“I am going to meet dad, he wants me to go with him to meet an uncle of mine, so I called to tell you we will be a little late.”
“Not much we should reach home by nine.”
“What about dinner?”
“Let’s try that new Chinese place.”
“Okay you do one thing both of you come there directly I will meet you both there.”
“Okay sounds good, did you hear about Sheeba, our street dog.”
“No what happened?”
“Apparently someone smashed its head with rock, it was found dead today early morning. Mr. Iyer had the corporation guys clear the body.”
“When did you get to know, you did not mention anything today morning at breakfast?”
“No Mrs. Iyer had called just now to tell me something and she mentioned it.”
“Long live the guy who killed her.”
“How can you talk like that, Arjun?”
“I hated that dog I wanted it dead.”
“I have my doubts now, Arjun. You did not…”
“Are you crazy, Sanjana?”
“Okay lets not talk about it now I will see you tonight.”
The scene of Sheeba lying in a pool of blood in a dirty ditch brought a smile to my face. How much I had prayed for her death, a painful death. My only regret was that it was not me who had smashed her head.
Putting my cell phone down I glanced at the screen to see the time, it was half past four and I had a good four hours to myself before the dinner.
“It is better you call before coming, Arjun.”
“Why what happened?”
“Suraj was here, he is taking the whole break-up very hard. I just hope he meets someone soon, I can’t take the crying and begging…”
“Why do you entertain him so much, Zoya.”
“We were together for six years, Arjun. I can’t just break away so easily from him.”
So easy it was for me to remove Suraj, the love of her life for six years from the picture. It was ego that wanted him out but now with things turning serious I was forced to regret my mistake. She had broken her relationship with him in hope of a new life with me but how could I tell her it was for a few hours of bliss she provided that attracted me to her house.
“You forget about Suraj and come here and hold me.” She reached to hold me, pulling herself up, she softly kissed my lips, holding my hand she led me into the room.
Lying by her side I felt my heart still racing. I wiped off the sweat on my forehead turning to her side I watched her sleep. Lifting the soft white sheets that covered her, I looked at her body in the dusk light that crept through the drapes that covered the window.
I was about to gently wake her up when a loud knock on the door startled her awake.
“Zoya, I know you are in there with him. Open the door.” I heard a voice shout out loud.
“It is Suraj, you just stay here in the room I will go out and talk to him.”
“Why don’t we…”
“Why don’t we, what?”
“No nothing, it is best you talk to him.” I watched her pull a night robe and walk out of the room.
My immediate reaction was, why don’t we call the police but I realized immediately that I would have to end up explaining than him. For second I contemplated hiding under the cot or the cupboard but instead found some courage to stand by the room door to hear them both speak.
“Suraj, you are drunk.” I heard Zoya shout in disgust
“I know there is a guy in there, you are sleeping with him. I will kill that bastard…”
“Don’t you dare come near me, get out or I will call the police.”
“You bitch you were sleeping with him when you were promising to spend your life with me. How many guys have you slept with, you whore!”
“That’s it, I don’t need to put up with this kind of nonsense.” She banged the door shut and walked towards me.
“How dare you walk away, I will kill that bastard and I will kill you too.” His threats were followed by a loud noise of a bottle smashing against the door.
“You don’t worry Arjun I will call the police, they will take care of him.”
“No wait how do I get out first?”
“What do you mean ‘You get out first’ There is a guy standing there threatening to kill me and all you can think is to get out of the situation.”
“I didn’t mean it like that you know I can’t be seen with you.”
“And do you want to know why he is threatening to kill me, because I left him for you and you are worried about being seen with me.”
“Stop talking you know it is complicated, I have a wife to answer to and frankly she will not think twice before killing either.”
“If you are so afraid of her how can I trust you to leave her and come to me?”
“I will do it, I just need some time.”
“Time, I didn’t need time to leave the guy I spent six years of my life with for you and you need time.”
“I love you I don’t know how I can prove it to you but I really will leave my wife and spend the rest of my life with you.”
“I know how you can prove it, I got these divorce papers from a lawyer, sign them and prove it.”
“I can’t just sign them, Sanjana will also need to sign them and I am talking to my lawyer, you don’t need to worry.”
“Can’t you just sign them for my satisfaction?”
“You are being silly here Zoya, I promise I will take care of everything.”
“I don’t trust you, Arjun, you are trying to get away I can feel it.”
“Stop talking rubbish and check if your boy friend has left I need to leave soon.”
“You sign the papers and I will take care of Suraj, you will not need to worry.”
“I am not worried about Suraj and I can’t sign some random papers, stop acting like a kid.”
“Why can’t you sign them for me?” She fell to her knees crying out loud.
“Don’t shout now.” I bent down to hold her.
“What are you afraid that the neighbors might come or Suraj might come breaking the door?”
“No I am not.” I lied to her as my brain still worried about Suraj and the neighbors.
“Okay give that stupid paper, I will sign it.”
Immediately getting up to her feet she walked into the room wiping away her tears.
“Are you happy now?” I looked at her after signing the paper.
“Very, all I want is to spend my life with you.” She jumped over me and hugged me tight.
“It is late I need to leave.” I pulled myself away from her.
“Wait let me check if Suraj is still out there.” She quickly ran out of the door.
“Is he still there or can I leave?”
“No he has left but I saw this disgusting old man staring at me like he has never seen a woman.”
“What old man?”
“I don’t know I have never seen him before, he was sitting in a fancy black car parked outside.”
“Must be some guy visiting the neighbors.” I walked out of the house and caught a glimpse of the black car as he drove into the darkness.
Things had clearly gotten out of hand I had passed the phase of breaking up with her. Disgusted with myself I walked to my car still clueless of how to handle the situation. If I could somehow remove her from my life, I wished sitting in the car, may be Suraj will do it for me, I hoped for a second.
“How long have you been waiting?”
“No I just reached now.”
“Where is your dad?” I asked standing by her side looking at the pretty girl taking down names for tables in the waiting area of the restaurant.
“He is on his way.”
“I thought you two were coming together.”
“No he wanted to meet a friend so he took off early from uncle’s house.”
“Should we wait outside does he know the place?”
“Ya, we could wait outside, anyway I have given them my number to give a call when our table is ready.”
We stood outside in silence watching the cars zip past on the road, she looked away and watched the road with an expressionless face.
“So, how was your day?” I asked her
“You know how it is with clients.” She shrugged
“How was your day?”
“Not bad, I had some urgent requests from my manger you know how it is with managers.”
“I am a manager.”
“Oh but you are the best manager.” I tried to hold her hand but she pulled it away.
“No Arjun, we are standing on the road and dad could come anytime now.”
“Ya but it is not like I was going to rape you.”
“Please let’s not talk I don’t want to get into a fight in front of dad.”
We went back to watching the road but with irritated expressions taking over our face. I was about to turn away when a fancy black car came to halt by our side and to my horror out walked my father-in-law from the driver seat.
“When did you get this car?”
“No hello, no how are you, can’t you teach your husband some manners, Sanjana?”
“This is my friend’s car I have borrowed it for a couple of days.”
“Why did you have to take your friends car I could have lent you mine.”
“Yes I know you have taken to staying at home nowadays.”
“I am working from home, sir.”
“Okay you two please don’t get into a fight now I want to have a nice peaceful dinner.” Sanjana walked into the restaurant leaving us behind. I was about to follow her when her father spoke
“You better clean up your act soon or I will make your life a living hell.”
I stood in horror trying to help myself understand his threat. Was he the one watching Zoya? Did he see me walk out of her house? Questions flooded my head as my legs felt heavy incapable to move. Slowly pulling myself I dared to step into the restaurant to find them sitting at a table. With no option I had to take a seat opposite to her father as he watched me with his eyes filled with rage. It was quite clear he knew about my secret, it was time to wipe her out or end up taking on the old man. I was in position to take on the old man well connected politically he was a man of power who could move worlds to get his way.
As I sat covering my face with the menu I searched my brain for a perfect plan to wipe Zoya out. Suraj had made things easy for me all I needed for a perfect weapon that could be traced back to him. The neighbours would testify against me, they had seen him threaten her on numerous evenings. I sat there lost in thought my brain racing against time plotting a perfect plan.
“What happened? Why were you upstairs all this while?”
“No I had some emails to send out. Where is your dad?”
“He just went to bed.”
“No I said, ‘good’. He shouldn’t be staying up so late at his age.”
“We were just talking.”
“Talking? What were you just talking about?”
“No nothing in particular, just this and that.”
“What this? And what that, were you talking about?”
“Why are you so curious, you should have joined us why did were you hiding in the room?”
“I don’t need to hide from your dad, why do I need to hide?”
“Can you please cut me an apple, Arjun?”
“What are you hungry?”
“No I just want an apple, just cut me an apple.”
“Okay don’t shout you will wake your dad. Where is the knife?”
“Must be on the table dad was using it.”
Picking up the knife I sliced through the apple, it was clear her father had not told her anything. Carefully removing the seeds with the tip of the knife I found myself enjoying the sharp surface of the knife slice the fruit.
“Here you go.”
“I am going to bed now, what about you?”
“I will be up in a minute. Before I forget try that homemade wine dad brought from his friends place, it is really good.”
“Okay let me try some.”
“This is good wine, it is a little too strong for my liking but it is a good wine.”
“Glad you liked it.” She smiled as she turned away from me.
“Arjun, Arjun.” Sanjanna shook me up as I woke up startled
“Get up it is ten already.”
“I am so sleepy let me sleep for another hour.”
“The whole neighborhood is up I am sure you are the only one sleeping.”
“Why is the whole neighborhood up, tell them all to go back to sleep.”
“There is some commotion out infront of Zoya’s house lot of police walking into her house, the whole neighborhood is shameless watching it like some show.”
“Police in her house, what happened?” I immediately jumped out of the bed.
“I don’t know what happened her boy friend must have hit her or something.”
“Let me check, give me my shirt.” I walked out of the door towards the crowd.
“What happened? Did you find out what happened? Does she need any help?”
“Why are you not replying to me, what happened!”
“What happened to you, why do you look so scared?”
“Zoya she… somebody killed Zoya.”
“Yes murder, where are you going?”
“I am going to her house, maybe I can help call her mum.”
“Are you crazy, the cops are all over that place, don’t you dare step out.”
“Why are you shouting, it is not like I killed her.”
Before I could stop her Sanjana had already walked out of the door.
Worried with beads of sweat covering my forehead I sat trying to digest the news, I was happy but nervous. Someone had done the job for me, I was free now…
“The cops want to talk to you.” Sanjana walked into the room
“Me? Why do they want to talk to me?”
“They are talking to all the neighbours, I guess they are trying to figure out who could have…”
“Do you know if they have any suspects?”
“Next house Sid told me they have taken the boy friend in for questioning.”
“Oh okay, yes he could have killed her, I have seen them fighting. It is better I tell the cops about the fight may be it will help them build a case agains…”
“No it will help them may be question him. Where are these cops, who should I talk to?”
We had just walked out when a bulky man with his well fed gut sticking to his uniform shirt walked up to us.
“You are Mr. Arjun, right?”
“Just the man I was looking for, we will need you to come down to the station…”
“Station, why should I come to the station?”
“We just wanna have a chat with you.”
“I don’t wanna come to the police station, I have nothing to do with all this you can’t drag me to the station, I know my rights.”
“Mr. Arjun we have a witness that puts you outside Zoya’s house on the night of the murder, you could do this the hard way or the easy we just want to talk to you about that visit.”
“You were in her house last night?” Sanjana jumped at me
“No I was not, this man must have mistaken me for someone else, it is fine with me officer I will come with you to the station.”
I sat in a room with no windows, across the table sat an empty chair, with each passing minute it felt the white walls were closing in on me, I got up from the chair, I felt like I could not breathe, I stared at the walls that have heard more honest prayers than the stone pillars of a temple.
“Why don’t you take a seat, Mr. Arjun”
“I have been waiting here for more than 3 hours, can someone tell me what is going on?” I sat down on the chair facing Inspector Arul.
“How well did you know, Zoya?”
“She was a neighbor we were cordial nothing closer than that.”
“Something tells me you are not being honest with me, come on Mr. Arjun, I can help you.”
“I don’t know what you mean but I don’t need any help. I have done nothing wrong here.”
“This is your last chance to confess, Mr. Arjun”
“I am not guilty, I did not do it.” I stood up in frustration.
“Sit down, we are just getting started.” He gestured to take my seat.
“Do you recognize this?” He passed me knife in a placed in a polythene bag.
“I have never seen this.” I spoke with trembling voice, my hands now weak held the knife that I had used to cut apples last night.
“Really? Your father-in-law confirmed that it belonged to you.”
“If he recognizes it that well then he must have killed her.” I threw the bag on the table. Things were getting clear now my father-in-law had decided to put me away for life.
“He would have been my suspect if we had not found your prints all over the knife and he also confirmed that you were out the whole night and only came home early morning.”
“Remember your DUI, you are in the system, Arjun.” He sat back with a grin on his face, it was probably the fastest he had ever closed a case.
“I need my lawyer.” I closed my eyes, the world around me had come crashing down, I wanted to scream but breathless I felt my voice die in my lungs.
As I watched the Detective walk out, a pulse of rage hit me, my father-in-law the cunning bastard set me up well, he knew it from the start, Zoya paid the price with her life but it was her who started it all. Frustrated I stood up and paced around the room, shouting in rage I punched the wall. My finger against the concrete snapped I howled in pain as I broke down and fell to the floor.
Three days had passed since my arrest, I sat on the cold concrete floor I stared at the blank wall that potraid my fututre. My lawyer had no arguments, in his eyes I could see my destiny, repenting I could not stop my brain from thinking “If only I had…” I had a beautiful life, a lovely wife.
I did not how I would face her again, I had cheated her and now left her to die alone. How I missed her smile, her touch, within those walls the moments we shared.
“Arjun, you have a visitor.”
“Who is it?”
“It is your wife.”
Wiping my tears away I stood up, a sense of joy seemed to fill my heart. I never imagined she would visit me. I walked fast, life seemed to have given me a chance to explain myself. As I walked past the door I had my confession ready, I screwed up and now I am paying with my life for it.
“How are you?” she asked me as I sat down.
“Crappy.” I put my head down in shame.
“How are you?” I softly managed to ask her.
“Good, I feel great.”
“Please don’t be sarcastic, I am extreamly sorry for…”
“No I am being honest I am actually feeling great.”
Folded hand hiding my face from her I spoke
“I had nothing to do with it, you have to trust me. I screwed up I had an affair with her but that was it I did not kill her.”
“Do you also know that it is your father who is setting me up.”
“My father? That man does not have the balls for it, it was me who killed her.”
“Why are you so surprised, Arjun. You expected me not to kill her when she waived the divoce papers on my face, seven years we have livied together and you were going to leave me for that bitch. Do you have any idea what all I have done for you?”
“Sanjana, how could you. I was never going to leave you…”
“Oh yes I believe you.”
“Bastard, you have the guts to go behind my back and have an affair, who are you? Do you remember what you were doing when you met me, I made you the man you are, your job, car, house, and you planned to leave me.”
“I was going to get rid of Zoya, we could have atleast had a talk Sanjana.”
“Talk my ass, I went to her to have a talk, she thinks just cause she sucks your balls so you will have a happy life together.”
“I have handled all your irritations and I have spent my life making you happy, Arjun, do you remember Sheeba.”
“You did not!”
“Yes I did, just for you I smashed her head and watched her die. What did you do? Made plans to leave me with that whore.”
“You are a physco Sanjana, you need help.”
“Arjun, finally I am feeling great no more convincing myself that we have a happy marriage and you are getting what you deserve, I don’t need help Arjun, I am doing great.”
“I cant believe you are doing this to me Sanjana, the sight of your face sickens me.”
“Oh well yours does not do any magic to me either. I am going to leave now, enjoy your time, the rest of the few days you have before they kill you like a stray dog that you are.”
“I am going to fight this, Sanjana.”
“Go for it, but don’t mind if I freeze all your money and don’t pay for a good lawyer.”
As she got up to leave, filled with rage I pounced on her. The gaurds attacked me with blows to my chest and leg. On the ground restrained by three gaurds I watched a guard escort her away,
“This is not the end, Sanjana, I will kill you one day.”