She knew her end was close …
“I love you Aadhya…” She whispered amidst tears while the flash of steel blade rushed towards her.
Aadhya rushed towards the cordoned Savitribai Phule Museum. As a Private Investigator she thrived on the adrenaline rush but today myriad emotions clashed, striving to gush out. Her estranged mother, was no more… murdered a week ago while Aadya was working on a case. Guilt engulfed her in its throes.
She hoped Shalaka mavshi would be present. Mavshi had been her anchor and helped her meander the tough trials of her rebellious streaks while her mother carved a niche for herself in the art circuit post her divorce. Aadya’s father had passed soon after.
An established PI Aadya was often sought after by the Mumbai Police for her uncanny ability to look at evidences.
Sr. Inspector Jalan showed her the pictures on his laptop. She shuddered to see her mother covered by the quintessential white cloth interspersed with crimson blots…
“I am sorry Aadya… No forced entry or exit. The methodically placed CCTV cameras were shut that night. We have questioned the guards umpteen times but… nothing” Jalan sighed.
Aadya inhaled deeply and felt her mother’s fragrance linger in, what was her mother’s world.
That last message was cryptic, she thought
“Aadu bala…?” Shalaka mavshi’s shrill familiar voice penetrated her muffled brain.
“Mavshi… aai’s gone…” Aadya hiccupped rushing into the woman’s arms.
“Bala… I found her…” she wailed and continued. “…Art was not just her passion… it was her life. This wall of fame was her brain-child…” She pointed towards the wall behind.
There was a large centrally located portrait of a woman wearing a white headdress holding a blue bowl with her eyes rolled up, surrounded by paintings of different sizes.
“No leads as of now…” Jalan rued as he left.
Aadya returned to her hotel unable to face the ghosts at her maternal home. Grieving could wait. She re-read the last text message.
‘White woman. 11 AM. CODE BLUE’
Aadya googled for an hour and realised ‘white woman’ meant the painting she had seen in the centre of the wall of fame.
Her mother was trying to convey something…
A couple of days later at around 10 AM Aadya was back at the museum to help settle the paperwork. Everyone soon left while she waited.
As the clock chimed 11 AM she looked at the wall of fame. She gasped to see the sunlight’s arc-shaped pattern on the paintings. The arc covered the central portrait and the one diagonally above which was the famed black and white version of ‘the kiss of Judas’ and below it in opposite direction was the ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’, the ashes glowing brightly.
This was definitely a code. She walked closer to the wall and observed the painting trio in detail.
‘Code Blue’… The woman looking up at Judas i.e. betrayal; the blue bowl in the woman’s hand. Wait… there was a collection of ceramics in the inventory, procured form the Vatican Museum. She rushed to the artifact chamber.
Right in the corner in a glass box lay a blue ceramic bowl filled with… ash. The tag read, ‘In loving memory of Amar Chavate’, her father.
On autopilot, she dipped her palm into the ash, as tears threatened and she touched a…
Rushing back to her hotel she checked it… the contents shocked her to her core.
“You are under arrest Ms. Shalaka Chitnis… for cheating, forgery and murder of curator, Anupama Chavate.” Jalan declared. Aadya had accompanied his team in the wee hours of morning after handing over the important evidence.
Shalaka was taken aback but immediately turned to Aadya. “Aadu bala, this is false. I would never…”
“Stop the act mavshi. How do you explain the opulence here and a sprawling flat at cuff parade…? Replacing priceless artifacts and artwork with counterfeit ones? Aai had the proof against you but wanted to give you a chance to come clean…. Why mavshi?”
Shalaka mavshi plonked on the sofa.
“We both gave our lives for art and deserved a good post-retirement life. Each art-work sold for crores in the black market but she would have none of it… I had no choice…”
(6 months later)
Aadya smiled as the TV news channels covered the wall of fame. There was an award announced in her mother’s name.
Even in death her mother protected art.
Author note: (Word count 742, excluding title and author note)
- Mavshi: Aunt in Marathi
- Bala: an endearment in Marathi that means ‘my child’
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!