2:30am, Saturday morning
Aaj ki raat koi aane wala hai, baba re baba…
crooned Asha Bhonsle in her dulcet voice and Meenal shuddered.
Just the thing I don’t need now.
The towel in her hand was an unwanted reminder of the job she had at hand. Sinking to the floor, she wiped the blood splattered on the floor slowly with the wet towel. She rose, her movement supple and smooth, and wrung out the towel in the sink. Then she once again wiped the floor and wrung out the towel in the sink. Rinsed the towel and repeated the whole morbid process, humming along the record enthusiastically, albeit out of tune.
By the time the floor was clean, her back was protesting. She tucked a rebellious curl back behind her ear. The thick yellow latex gloves on her hands made the gesture difficult and the curl came free once again. Swearing softly, she bent and pulled out a bleach can from the cupboard under the sink where her cleaning supplies were stored. Her fingers, weighed down by the heavy can, struck the plastic shower curtain which fell open. She found herself staring into a pair of eyes, the same ones that always looked at her so longingly and full of love. The light of both love and life had however fled from the familiar orbs.
I will come to you, darling. Let me finish this first.
She pulled the curtain back and resumed cleaning. There was a lot of work to be done and she would not be able to work with his dead eyes staring at her. Dawn wasn’t far away. Each second was a precious commodity.
The record spewed a different song and as she mouthed the words she smiled.
Parde me rahne do.. parda na uthao..
3:00pm, Friday afternoon
“Ritesh is out for a tour to Mumbai. He will be coming back by Sunday Night. We can have a delicious weekend all to ourselves, darling. I’ll open that bottle of Shiraz you brought last time and you bring some chinese takeout. I have a special surprise for you too.”
Meenal put the phone down and frowned just a little. The obsequious affirmation from Pankaj had left a sour taste in her mouth. It did not suit him to fawn so much. He had also started to become a little clingy. She liked her men to have more spine. She considered calling someone else for a moment but dropped the thought. The memories of their last sojourn made her blush with pleasure.
Along with those memories, came uninvited the words of the poem he wrote for her last month and she cringed.
Somebody should tell him and spare him all the misery of his struggle.
What else could she expect from an aspiring poet who was better endowed down below than in the brains department?
Ritesh had conveyed his travel plans at the last minute as usual. He would be away for two nights, leaving her alone in their sprawling bungalow situated on the outskirts of Vapi. But she wasn’t going to stay alone, was she?
I will make the most of his absence.
By the time evening arrived, everything was ready. Meenal was glad the cleaning lady did not come during the weekends. It was easy to get the cook out of the picture. She just gave him a paid leave of two days, saying she was going to stay at her friend’s house. He had been so happy, he hadn’t even asked her if she would need dinner!
She was anyway going to enjoy some chinese for dinner. And not all off the plate too!
Sunset saw the six-seater dining table set for two. An ornate brass candlestick stood in the center, polished with such perfection that it seemed to be an extension of the flickering flames. A bottle of wine chilled in an ice bucket on a side table. The warm glow and the fragrance of the candles made it look straight out of a movie set.
Fresh after her shower, Meenal lounged carelessly on a sofa, in nothing more than a silk robe, tied loosely at her slim waist. Her shoulder length hair, still wet, she left open. It fell in soft curls over her bosom, her alabaster skin playing hide and seek from beneath the dark waves. When he entered the house, Pankaj felt as if he had landed in a dream. A dream he didn’t want to wake up from.
4:00 am, Saturday morning
All that blood was proving a nightmare for Meenal. It had seeped into all the crevices and cracks it could find. Sitting on her haunches with a brush in her hand, she diligently applied ammonia mixture in each crack, then rubbed it vigorously. Once she was satisfied she wiped each crack with a towel till there was no trace of blood visible.
By the time the floor was clean, her back and legs felt cramped and screaming with pain. Sweat had pooled under her arms and dripped down her sides furtively like beads of condensation slithering down a glass surface. Droplets of sweat breached the dam of her brows and found a home in her eyes, the salt stinging and making her eyes water.
It was difficult to see the floor. Tendrils of hair had freed themselves from the tight bun and swung over her eyes like little vine tendrils shaking in the autumn breeze, joyful and free. In spite of all the pain and discomfort, she felt ecstatic. Thrilled and alive, all her senses heightened at the same time to a crescendo.
The bleach had proved a life saver. It not only cleaned the stains, but took care of the coppery tang of fresh blood permeating the closed air in the bathroom. No smell could rise above the pungent fumes of the bleach, not even a faint whiff to give away the gruesome happenings that the bathroom walls had witnessed.
The floor was now clean and covered with transparent plastic sheets. Huge ones. Meenal shoved aside the curtain and it slid to the side, the rings making a resonant tintinnabulation as they cowered at the end of the shiny steel rod. There he was, staring at her, as if accusing her for his untimely death.
Meenal slid her hands under the armpits and pulled the body onto the sheets. It had acquired more weight in death. She somehow managed to pull the body onto the plastic sheets and rolled them over it like a shroud. A very transparent shroud. She stayed there panting for a while, hand on her knees.
Raat baaqi, baat baaqi, hona hai jo.. ho jane do…
The lyrics of her favorite song floated in from the living room and she straightened. Life was such a bitch. You never knew what would happen to you in the blink of an eye. The world always kept moving forward in its relentless march.
10:00 pm, Friday Night
The two of them lay in bed, spent. The evening had been all Meenal had wished for. Wild, rambunctious and memorable. She had never imagined the things that Pankaj had done to her. It wasn’t that Ritesh was a prude, just unimaginative.
She gave a contented sigh and pulled the sheet up. Immediately Pankaj pulled it away and ran a pudgy finger expertly over her tummy. She giggled as his topaz ring tickled her.
“I adore you Meenal, my ravishing muse. You look like a goddess right now, flush with love and content with life. How I wish I could mould you into words beautiful and worthy enough of you,” drawled Pankaj in his dreamy voice and Meenal felt a glow suffusing her being.
The fool not only could do things to her with his fingers, he could also turn her on with his words. Go on, she willed him silently, a half smile peeking from under her thick curls.
“How I wish we could always be together. I love you, and worship you. That useless husband of yours can never make you as happy as I can. Why else would you turn to me? I abhor meeting you like this. Stealing moments of togetherness like thieves. Let’s run away.”
Meenal paused in the midst of a lazy stretch at the words but Pankaj hardly noticed the minute pause in his fervour. She regained her composure immediately.
What’s this fool blabbering?
“Pankaj, that’s your blood talking. I like things just how they are. I didn’t ask you for love. Just some fun. I’m comfortable enjoying Ritesh’s splendour. Take a look around. The best that money can buy is available to me. Why do you think I would throw this all away to live a life of penury with you?” She asked him, perhaps a bit cruelly, trying to drop the love tinted glasses from his eyes.
“It’s not like Ritesh doesn’t love me. He does, in his own quiet way. It is just that he doesn’t love me the way I want, but it doesn’t make his feelings any less,” she defended her husband.
“Do you love me?” Pankaj asked, the softness of his voice doing nothing to mask the eager intensity behind the question.
There it was. The dreaded question. Why did men need so much reassurance?
“Of course I do. Why else would I be here, silly! Now come back here and instead of talking, put your mouth to some better use,” she pulled him towards her in an attempt to distract him from all this futile talk.
He twisted away from her embrace and Meenal felt anger jolt through her like a burst of pain, sudden and sharp.
“Then I’ve another idea. You want all this comfort. I want you. We can achieve both simultaneously if Ritesh is out of the picture….” His voice trailed off, the conviction robbed by the doubt that assailed him midway.
Meenal looked at him flabbergasted but the fact that she hadn’t stopped him, gave Pankaj the courage to continue.
“If something happens to Ritesh, you will automatically inherit all this. The money. The house. The business. You can be a widow for some days. Then we will marry and be together forever.” He took in the breath he had been holding once he had finished speaking.
“Something happens.. what?” Meenal sputtered.
“Oh! That can be worked out. But you have to agree first. Think of the times we can have together.” With that he turned his attention back to her nubile body, planting feather light kisses on her neck, proceeding down, gradually.
Meenal let all thoughts flow out of her mind and surrendered to the moment.
Trrr….Trrr… The shrill ringing of her mobile shattered the magic of the moment. She lifted it up and uttered a dreamy hello.
“Sleeping so early? Didn’t you miss me?” Ritesh asked from the other side. She sat bolt upright, guilt spreading through her like a chill from an unexpected draught of cold air.
“Umm..,” she replied, confused, her heart hammering inside her rib cage.
“My work finished early. I will be coming back in the early hours,” he informed. “See you then.”
Meenal didn’t know what to do.
5:00 am, Saturday morning
She brought some duct tape wordlessly thanking the inventor for the umpteenth time. A few sturdy wraps and the shroud was bound as hard as a walnut shell. The suitcase lying nearby with an open maw, seemed surprised at the proceedings.
Maybe it was wondering what luggage it was going to carry on its next trip.
She stuffed the body in its shroud into the open suitcase and zipped it shut. She needed to dispose of the body soon. Dawn was almost here and people would start plying their trade on the streets soon.
Fifteen minutes later, Meenal left in her car, the suitcase stowed safely in the trunk. It was still dark on the road covered by trees and hills on both sides, though the sun rays were bravely trying to pierce the gloom. No other car could be seen on this stretch of road towards Luhari, a forested area. She stopped midway at a place where the ground next to the road sloped down sharply and brought out the suitcase. Opening it, she pulled out the body and rolled it right down into the ravine.
“Goodbye, darling,” she whispered, clutching the topaz ring in her hand. He had signed his death certificate the moment he’d said let’s run away. She was aware that once the idea of togetherness had entered his mind, things would only go downhill from there. She needed a clean break from him and this was the only way. He’d also dared to think of hurting Ritesh. She needed him and his wealth.
The suitcase she placed back into the trunk. It would be a mistake to throw it along the body only to be traced back later. Once satisfied, she got back behind the wheel and went back home.
The silent house greeted her as one conspirator to another. After all, it had witnessed some pretty gruesome things with her. Meenal climbed the stairs to her bedroom. The record was still going on, oblivious of all that had happened during the night. She suddenly felt lonely in the familiar but empty confines. It hadn’t been difficult to convince Ritesh last night that she was at her friend’s place and he had better come back as planned on Sunday night only.
As she splashed cold water on her face in an effort to wash away the exhaustion, her gaze fell on the bathtub. She had led Pankaj to it on the pretext of a shower together like a sheep being led to slaughter. He had made it so easy for her. Eyes closed in ecstasy, he never even saw the knife she stabbed him with and kept hidden at all times in the bathroom under the thick towels.
Now, after all that excitement, she felt as taut as a guitar string. She needed company to relax. Ritesh would be back the next day. She had around two days to herself. She took out her phone and dialled.
“Hello Naman. Ritesh is out for two days. Why don’t you come over? I’ll open a bottle of Chablis and you bring the Biryani you’re always raving about. We’ll make some beautiful music together.”
She lay down on the king bed and lost herself in the seductive notes surrounding her and she didn’t even realize when she began humming,
Aage bhi jaane na tu.. peechhe bhi jaane na tu..
All the songs mentioned in the story have been sung by Asha Bhonsle, one among the most accomplished singers from Bollywood.
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