A Quagmire

A Quagmire

In the busy Hamdan street in Abu Dhabi, during the morning rush hour, a Toyota Camry went berserk, and hit the traffic signal post. 

Police arrived within minutes. The car along with the two passengers, Lalitha and Mercy, were taken to the nearest police station. Fortunately, the women came through unscathed. 

“Madam, you were over-speeding and have caused damage to public property. Please pay a fine of 1000 dirhams,” an officer, Ahmed told Lalitha, who was apparently driving the car.

“Sorry, sir. I’m not carrying that much money at the moment,” Lalitha replied. “And I’m sure this woman might not be having too,” She said throwing an angry look at Mercy.

“You can call someone from your family… like your husband?” Ahmed spoke with a heavy Arabic accent. 

Lalitha and Mercy shared a worried look at each other. 

“Actually, our husbands have been missing since the past two days. We were going to a friend’s house looking for them,” Lalitha said.

An officer rushed in and whispered into Ahmed’s ears that made his eyes widen, and they both sprinted out of the room. Soon, the ladies were summoned outside. Perplexed, they walk towards their car, where the policemen were curiously peering. 

“We found a dead body in your car, madam,” Ahmed called out.

“A what?” Lalitha sped towards the car boot and stood horrified. “Peter!” She gasped.

Mercy screamed in distress and collapsed.

“Who is he?” Ahmed asked.

“He’s Peter, Mercy’s husband. But… but… what happened to him?” Lalitha gasped. 

The women were taken into custody and the body was sent for postmortem. 

“Please tell us everything that you know. The law in this country is very strict and the punishment would be severe too. It would be better if you both would speak up the truth,” Ahmed said.

“Sir, I’m sure Raghavan has done this,” Mercy cried.

“Who is Raga…Raga…?” 

“Raghavan is Lalitha’s husband, sir,” Mercy continued. “He hated Peter.”

“Do you mind telling him the reason for this hatred too?” Lalitha gritted her teeth.

“What reason? He was a greedy and heartless man,” Mercy shouted.

“Ladies… ladies… this is a police station. I don’t want your cat fights here, okay?” Ahmed said with his arms raised. “Speak one by one.”

“Sir, my husband, Raghavan was having an affair with Mercy,” Lalitha said in a hushed tone. “Peter had come to know of this, and he had gotten into a bitter brawl with Raghavan.”

“What nonsense!” Mercy screamed. “Sir, please don’t believe her.”

“Sir, you can check her call history and WhatsApp chats. I have seen Raghavan’s nasty, cheap messages that he keeps sending her.”

Both the women’s mobile phones were confiscated at once. The chat history indeed revealed the truth. 

“Do you know it’s a serious offence in the UAE to have an extramarital affair?” Ahmed barked. “Ya Ilahi! What has the world come to?”

“This is serious!” He yelled. “There’s a dead body in your car. This woman is having an illicit affair. Come on, ladies. What else are you hiding? Speak up.” 

A female officer entered. Around mid-forties, she had a tall and lean frame with hair neatly tied in a bun. An oval face with oval frameless glasses, she wore a serious expression. The women were relieved to finally see a female face amidst the men.

“She’s a tough officer. And very smart too. So, don’t try to fool around,” Ahmed warned.

“My name is Sara Mohammed. And I’m one of the investigating officers. Ladies, please understand the gravity of situation and cooperate with us,” Sara spoke nonchalantly.

“Ma’am, since my husband, Raghavan hadn’t been home since two nights, I assumed that he must have stayed back at Mercy’s apartment. I tried calling him on his mobile, but it was switched off. So, today morning I went to her house. I saw Raghavan’s car parked outside her building. When I asked about him, she said he hadn’t been there. Moreover, Peter was missing too. We tried calling Kabir, who is a common friend. But his phone was switched off. So, we decided to go there and find out. On the way, Mercy and I had a minor scuffle, and that’s when I hit the signal post,” Lalitha reiterated. “Ahmed sir has already taken Raghavan’s photo from my mobile.”

“Hmm… give me Kabir’s address,” Sara said.

Soon, a couple of policemen went to Kabir’s house. Being a bachelor, he stayed alone in a studio apartment. The main door wasn’t locked. As they pushed it open, they found Kabir, dead. Sara was informed and she arrived quickly.  She looked around the place. On a small teepoy, she found three cups, that had remnants of tea. She sent them to forensic for fingerprint identification. The building where he stayed was an old one with no CCTV camera. 

Lalitha and Mercy were shocked when they heard of Kabir’s death.

“Do you know anything about this?” Lalitha whispered to a visibly nervous Mercy. “If anyone knows about Raghavan, it’s you! Speak up, for God’s sake.”

“No… no… I haven’t met Kabir since a week. And I don’t know where Raghavan is, but I’m sure he’s behind all this. Raghavan is dangerous,” Mercy’s voice cracked. 

“This is getting nastier,” Sara hollered, banging her fist on the table. “Whomever you are looking for, are either missing or found dead under mysterious circumstances.” 

“Amar… where is Amar?” Lalitha asked frantically. 

“Now who is Amar?” Sarah adjusted her spectacles. 

“Raghavan, Peter, Kabir and Amar are business partners. I wonder where Amar is?” Lalitha said.

Sara quickly called Amar’s residence. His wife answered the call.

“Amar is in Alain for a business meeting. He said he would be back by evening,” Amar’s wife said. “But he’s not picking up my call since yesterday. I’m worried.”

Sara, along with three other officers quickly made their way to Alain, which was about 170 kms from Abu Dhabi. They reached Hotel Regent, where he was staying. But he too was found dead in his room. 

 

Sara requested for CCTV footage. She was shocked to see the ‘guests’ Amar had the day he was murdered- Raghavan, Kabir and Mercy! 

On the way back to Abu Dhabi, she got a call from the forensic laboratory. The fingerprints retrieved from Kabir’s house were that of Kabir himself, Raghavan and Mercy. Sara seethed with anger. Right under her nose, Mercy had put up a fine charade.

“You are under arrest.” Sara grabbed Mercy’s arms. 

“Ma’am! I haven’t done anything…” Mercy pleaded.

“What happened?” Lalitha asked perplexed. 

“Your friend has been present at all the crime scenes. We have got strong evidences against her.” Sara said.

“You liar!” Lalitha bawled. “You said you have no idea about anything. Where is Raghavan?”

But Mercy was taken away for further interrogation. 

“Spill it out, will you?” Sara cocked her head to a side, looking straight into Mercy’s eyes. “We show no mercy to criminals.”

Mercy wept inconsolably. “I always knew it was him, that… that b@$***% Raghavan. He has trapped me,” she spoke between sobs. My fault was that I loved him immensely and trusted him blindly. These four men- Raghavan, Peter, Kabir and Amar are criminals. They are not into any business. They have looted, and even killed people who have come their way.”

“Can you elaborate?” Sara sipped some water.

“Since the past five years, they have been cheating and looting shops and villas. You would be aware of the robberies happening in rich Emirati villas and shopping complexes, the latest about that of a famous jewellery shop in Bur Dubai. Their meticulous planning and team work had helped them escape scot free. However, Peter was a useless drunkard. He was posing to be a threat to their gang. Raghavan had once shared his thoughts about getting Peter out of his way. I contemplated him to be joking. But now I realize that he wasn’t!”

“Amar had the looted jewels. He was in Alain to strike a deal with a Nigerian mafia. Peter was as usual inebriated. Raghavan wished to marry me. He hated Lalitha and wanted to divorce her. He asked me to do the same and join his gang instead of Peter. I was elated at the offer. He asked me to accompany him and Kabir to Alain. After the deal, Raghavan proposed the idea of including me in their gang. Amar disapproved, as he didn’t want a woman as a partner. Moreover, Amar declared that since this loot was his mastermind and he had put in more efforts in cracking a good deal, he deserved the largest chunk of share. Raghavan was unhappy, and there had been an altercation between the two. Kabir intervened and we left the room leaving Amar behind. At the reception area, Raghavan said that he had forgotten his mobile in the room. He went and came back running. He said Amar was dead! Shocked and confused, we escaped. Kabir accused Raghavan. He felt Raghavan had killed Amar.”

“We drove to Kabir’s house next. He prepared tea for us. That’s when they both got into a heated argument. Kabir knew Raghavan was a greedy and emotionless man. In the past, after each robbery, it was Raghavan’s idea to kill the eye witnesses. And he did that with ease. In fact, he was nicknamed ‘cold-hearted Raghavan‘ by his gang. But killing his own friend was unfathomable. Kabir threatened Raghavan of dire consequences. Raghavan took out his gun, but somehow, I managed to pull him out from there. He dropped me home. I asked him to go back home. He just nodded and left. At home, I didn’t find Peter. I assumed he must be in some pub. But he didn’t turn up the next day too. Frankly speaking, I didn’t care.” Mercy cupped her face and cried.

Masha Allah!” Sara said. “What a beautiful story. You have just wiped your hands off the crime using someone who’s been missing!” Sara drew a sharp breath. “You are apprehended till we find Raghavan and know the entire truth.”

“Lalitha, your husband is a criminal. Didn’t you know that?” Sara asked Lalitha, who was in the next room. “What’s your story?”

Lalitha sighed. “I married Raghavan two years ago. I was a dance teacher in a small town in Kerala. When Raghavan’s marriage proposal came, my parents were elated. I wasn’t much educated. Like any small-town girl, even I had dreamed of marrying someone from a foreign land. I wanted to escape from the mediocre life. Men from gulf countries marrying girls from our state is a common practice. My father married me away with a large amount of dowry. I came to Abu Dhabi with dreams of joy and love. Raghavan said he worked in a bank. I met his friends too. He said they all worked together. I didn’t probe much. I was getting bored here. I wished to start a dance class. He rented a small space nearby, and very soon, my dream was fulfilled. At present, I teach Bharatanatyam to more than fifty kids in my dance academy. There are two more teachers working under me. I had no inkling of him being a criminal, Ma’am. I swear!”

Sara was lost in deep thought. She watched the CCTV footage of Hotel Regent in detail. No one had entered or exited from Amar’s room except the Nigerian group, Kabir, Raghavan and Mercy. She saw Raghavan re-enter Amar’s room and later sprinting out after the murder.

“Look, your husband is missing. And he has been involved in some serious crime. However, keeping you in custody isn’t fair. You can go home, but hand me over your passport, and you can’t leave this city till we find Raghavan. Is that clear?” Sara said crisply.

Lalitha nodded. 

Life wasn’t usual after that. She was looked down by people. ‘Criminal’s wife’ tag was added to her name. A once reputed dance teacher, was now termed as Mrs. Criminal. Many of her students dropped from the academy. The two teachers also quit. She couldn’t afford to pay rent for her house as well as the dance academy. She approached a local NGO for help. Every day, she made futile visits to the police station, enquiring about her missing husband, who was still at large. Newspapers carried news about this classical dancer from India, who was trapped into marriage for dowry by a criminal. Living in a foreign land had been difficult for her, with no financial help or relatives to care for. 

A year passed. Lalitha now stayed in a dingy labour accommodation, with a bunk bed to call her own. Finally, her prayers were heard. An NGO volunteer brought her the good news. 

 

“Our NGO had been constantly in touch with the Indian Embassy in the UAE regarding your case,” he said. “With their immense help and kindness of our honourable Sheikh, your case has been given special consideration. On the basis of sympathy, you are allowed to go back to India. Alhamdulillah!

Lalitha jumped with joy. Tears didn’t stop. However, Raghavan was still absconding, and the police suspected that he may have crossed border to Yemen in disguise with a fake passport. The looted money wasn’t found either, which pointed towards Raghavan too. A massive manhunt was launched in the UAE, and support from the Interpol was sought, issuing red alert notice.

Lalitha requested the officials to meet Mercy one last time before leaving. Her request was granted.

“I… I’m sorry, Lalitha,” Mercy cried. “I hadn’t meant to ruin your marriage.”

“Unknowingly, you have been an important part of my life, Mercy. I shall never forget you, thank you,” Lalitha smiled, much to Mercy’s astonishment. 

Placing her luggage on the conveyor belt at the airport, and clearing the immigration, Lalitha placed the boarding pass securely in her handbag. She sat in the waiting area near the boarding gate. She gazed at an aeroplane taking off and remembered her first flight to Abu Dhabi. Heart filled with love, eyes full of dreams, she had landed in hell. Raghavan had been her worst nightmare. She shuddered as she thought about the night when he had ‘offered’ her to Amar first, followed by Peter and Kabir. Of course, Raghavan had ‘tasted’ her first before throwing her to the other dogs. With a smiling face, he had calmly told her the reason behind marrying a village fool- the attractive dowry and a free whore for a lifetime for him and his partners to enjoy. The dance academy had been a hideout for their loot and a safe place to discuss their plan. Nobody would doubt something nasty happening at such a prestigious cultural institute. A dance teacher by the day, a prostitute at night, her life had been nothing less of a hell. Hotel Regent had been a common place for their business deals as well as flagrant activities. During one such visits, Lalitha had met Parvathy, a friend from her town. Parvathy was working there in the housekeeping. She came to know about her friend’s sad plight and decided to help her get out of this mess. But Lalitha wanted revenge. She hatched a plan. 

On the decided day, Parvathy, while cleaning Amar’s room, had unlocked the adjoining twin room. Later, Lalitha had hid beneath Parvathy’s trolley and entered the adjacent vacant room. She hid in that room till Amar was alone. The next minute, she entered Amar’s room from the common door, slit his throat, and escaped back to her room. Once a clueless and shocked Raghavan ran away, Parvathy went to the adjacent room for clean-up and escorted Lalitha back safely inside her trolley. She was dressed in an abaya and burqa, and had camouflaged with the many women out there.

Lalitha took a taxi back to her place. She was surprised to find Peter there. In an inebriated state, he had tried to rape her. She killed him in one stroke and hid his body in the store room. Once Raghavan was back home, she drugged his food and sedated him. Placing Peter’s body in Raghavan’s car boot, she dragged Raghavan and put him in the car too. 

She drove to Liwa desert, which is famous for its hilly sand dunes. The vast empty desert was the perfect place to bury her devil of a husband. Her next target was Kabir. She drove to his house and pretended to ask about Raghavan. Stabbing him from behind, she quickly made her way to Mercy’s building, where she parked Raghavan’s car and went back home in a cab. She had made sure not to carry her mobile phone anywhere, lest it gave away her location during investigation.

***

By the window seat, she saw the land distancing from her. She smelled freedom, as she flew away from the quagmire of unending trauma. 

And the looted money? As a token of her suffering and resilience, she had stolen them after killing Amar, and transferred to India via one of the unsuspecting hawala agents, with whom Raghavan was acquainted with. After all, money had the power to erase bitter memories. For the last one year, pretending to be poor had helped her win sympathy from the officials.

As the plane flew past the vast desert of Liwa, she bid final adieu to her estranged devil of a husband, who was dug six feet under, unknown and forsaken.
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* Prompt: Dancer; Unknowingly marries a criminal; Middle East

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