Pramila sipped the fragrant coffee, savouring the freshly brewed beverage. Her eyes dreamy, a beatific smile on her lips, she sat lost in thought.
“Pramila, Nikita is here. She has an appointment at 11 am.” Her boss’s voice broke into her reverie.
“Sure Saroj, I’m done with my coffee.” Pramila walked into the pantry and rinsed out her cup.
Her mobile buzzed.
“Hey, what’s up?” Pramila smiled into her phone.
“Just wanted to say I can’t wait to get away from here. I also wanted to confirm that you’re giving the car in to service this evening.”
“Yes, that’s the plan. Senthil picked up the car and has promised to get it back by tonight.”
“That’s great news. You’ll bus it in the evening?”
“Yes, talk to you later. I have someone waiting, see you at home.” She blew a kiss into the receiver before disconnecting.
Glancing at her watch as she alighted from the bus, she realized it was nearly 8. No wonder her stomach was cramping with hunger. She ran up the stairs of the small dingy apartment building.
The door of her apartment was ajar and she could smell something delicious cooking. Her mouth started to water, she paused and took a deep breath trying to guess what it could be, but the aroma remained elusive.
Shutting the door gently, she went straight to the small bathroom and washed her hands and face. The mirror reflected a young woman in her early-thirties, short curly hair, big brown eyes staring back at her. She chose not to critically examine her crooked teeth and the bane of her face, the nose that had a big bump right in the middle. Pleased with her happy countenance, her cupid lips curved into a half smile as she waved at her own image.
Light footed, she stepped into the kitchen.
She found him with his back towards her, bent over a steaming pot. The aroma was even more tantalising. His brow frowned in concentration, he started when she slipped her arms around his waist and whispered into his right ear.
“What’s cooking Su? It smells delicious, and I’m ravenous.”
Sudhakar turned quickly around and throwing his arms around hugged her close. They stood like that for a few minutes, each enjoying the contours of the other’s familiar body.
“I wanted to try something different. I’m hoping it won’t disappoint us.” He said his dimples going in and out as he spoke.
“I’m sure it’ll be delish. You’re such an enterprising chef. I love it that you’re practising what you’re learning and acing it every time. Why do you doubt yourself huh?” With strong deft movements, Pramila massaged the pressure points in her partner’s shoulders and neck.
“Ah Pram, I really needed that. Your magic fingers have eased all the pain. What would I do without you?” he lifted one of her hands and pressed a kiss into her palm.
“I’ll do a thorough job later during bed time, that’s a promise. Let’s eat now, I am really hungry. I didn’t have lunch as there were too many people with knotted muscles who came in for treatment today.”
They sat down to eat. The food was delicious – he had made a one pot meal with lots of vegetables and noodles.
“I tried this out at the restaurant today for the first time and it was a big hit. I was playing around mixing up different spices and I never expected customers to like it so much.”
“It’s absolutely smashing Su, you’re a great chef!”
“I guess I am finally beginning to believe that I am good at this.”
After they had finished washing up, they curled up on the old battered sofa together. Sudhakar found the remote and put the small TV on. He was switching channels while Pramila sat and watched him. He had long straight hair which he wore loose but today he had tied it up into a top knot. A few tendrils had escaped framing his rather narrow face. His big black eyes framed by long curly eyelashes were really sexy but sometimes the intensity in his gaze made her feel like there was something about him that she couldn’t really fathom. It had been only two months together, there was time to find out more.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything interesting to watch, would you like to look?” he turned to her as she continued to watch him.
“Why bother watching TV now, I have been watching something way more interesting. Let’s head for bed,” Pramila responded, winking suggestively.
“That’s a good idea especially since you promised a good massage.”
“How boring you are Su, I’m flirting with you and you want a massage?”
“Who knows, the massage could lead to something more interesting, right?” his teasing smile had brought out his dimples. They got off the sofa, hand in hand they walked into the bedroom and dropped on the single bed clinging to each other.
She pushed him over. Sitting on his back she started to knead his neck and shoulder muscles. When her deft fingers moved over his back, he rolled over “Thank you, sweetheart but now’s it’s your turn. Lie on your back, you deserve a massage too.”
His fingers worked on her tired neck and shoulders and soon she was completely relaxed. That’s when he started to place butterfly kisses along her spine and she was lost.
Both of them slept amazingly well that night.
Pramila was up first. She enjoyed waking up at 4 am. She did her strength training and then went for a 5 km run. Her energy levels were high and this routine kept her energised the entire day at work.
Back at the apartment she showered and got busy fixing their breakfast. This was the only meal she cooked as lunch was provided at the salon and when Su slept over, he made dinner.
Su walked in a few minutes later.
“Yummy idlis, my favourite breakfast since childhood.” He always said this every time she made idlis, though she told him that it was the only thing she made every day. It was easy to make, healthy and she didn’t have the inclination to try anything else as she lived alone. They ate in silence both lost in thought, planning the day ahead.
“So, when is the car coming back?” he asked while rinsing his plate.
“Senthil has promised to drop it off by 6 this evening. After all it’s his car and I’m paying to borrow it. I have been assigned only a little paper work today. I plan to be home latest by 3 so I can get my packing done as well. What time are you back?”
“I definitely can’t leave the restaurant before 12 pm, weekends are our busiest days and Sudhir is happy that my cooking is bringing in regular customers. He’s promised I don’t have to stay till closing time.”
“So, you’ll pack before you set out?”
“I just need to throw a few things together and I’ll be all set before I leave. The most important thing is that my knives have to go along. The guy at the resort has promised to let me cook in his gourmet kitchen and if I do well, he might just decide to invite me over as a celebrity chef on his show.”
“Hmmm, I don’t really like the idea of you slogging in the kitchen while we are meant to be on our first holiday together.” She didn’t realize she was frowning till he reached over and smoothed her forehead.
“It’ll just be for a few hours, okay?”
They made an early start the next morning. Leaving at 4 am was their best bet to beat the traffic and to reach their destination before darkness fell. The small car made good speed as Pramila continued to drive steadily. By the time the sun had risen high into the sky, the city was far behind, open fields lay lush with long green blades of paddy on either side of the road.
Su had pushed his seat a little behind and was fast asleep. He was averse to driving and since Pramila loved it she had taken it on. She drove at an even pace. They made a couple of rest stops to eat and stretch their legs. Every time they got back in, he went back to sleep. Soft instrumental music played as the car sped on.
Pramila glanced at him every now and then, rejoicing at the thought of spending two entire days with him in natural surroundings. She was looking forward to the day long trek that was planned. Nothing like the great outdoors, she thrived on pushing her mental and physical strength to full capacity. It gave her so much relief from the dark thoughts that often gained precedence over her mind.
They had met when she decided to eat out one night and chose the place where he worked. She felt an instant spark of chemistry when he came to take her order. Feeling shy, she had chosen not to look into his dark eyes while placing the order. During the course of the evening, he kept dropping by at her table. Charmed by his easy manner of chatting, she had enjoyed the evening. She became a regular at the café and before she knew it, they were a couple.
It was past 4 pm when they got closer to the destination. The terrain had changed drastically. They were in the hills now and there was forest land on either side. The resort wasn’t easily accessible and Pramila kept referring to the map with detailed instructions on it.
The road ahead forked into three and Pramila hesitated a little before swinging to the left. It became narrower and narrower and soon the car was in the midst of dense forest.
Visibility was poor; the trees were tall and thick and only a little sunlight trickled in. Instinctively she knew something was wrong and she halted the car.
“Where the heck are we? Pram, did you take the wrong turn? The resort isn’t this way.”
“How was I to know that this was a wrong turn? If you know the route, why were you sleeping all the while instead of guiding me?” Tense and tired, her voice came out shrill and loud.
“You didn’t ask, the map is clear enough. I trusted you and I can’t help sleeping. What the hell are we going to do now?” His voice was cold and hard.
She glanced at him and was taken aback. He looked like a total stranger. Sitting upright, fists tightly clenched, jaw stiff with anger, he was staring straight ahead.
Uncomfortable with his new persona, she stretched her hand out and placed it on his arm.
“Relax Su, we’ll figure it out.”
He turned towards her, eyes ablaze with anger. Noticing her shrink back against her seat, he relaxed and forced a smile, one that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I’m so sorry, it’s just that I was eager to get there today. My friends must be waiting for us.”
“What friends? You didn’t mention any friends being there. I thought it was going to be just the two of us.”
“There are a couple of other guys at the resort and they happen to be my friends. I didn’t mention them as it was meant to be a surprise for you. We’ve had an all guys meet up a couple of times before but this is the first time I’m taking a girl across and they’re eager to meet you that’s all.” He let go of her hand. Opening the door, he started walking ahead.
She continued to sit in the car. An involuntary shiver shook her entire body. Suddenly she felt alone. Su’s behaviour was decidedly odd and it scared her. She felt trapped and a desire to run far away from him overcame her. After a few minutes, he was back. Smiling, he was once again her charming boyfriend.
“Hey Pram, I’ve been exploring. There’s a good trekking path here and further up I think there seems to a small building of some sort. We can spend the night there and set out tomorrow morning.”
Shaking off her uneasiness, she got out of the car and took the hand he was holding out to her. They started off, a few minutes later, they were out of the forest. They were on a narrow path snaking upwards. It was open to the sky and the views were amazing.
The path got steep and tricky with lots of loose gravel.
“This place is actually good Pram, the wrong turn did us a favour actually. It suits my purpose just fine.”
Su started to laugh loudly. Pramila let go of his hand.
“Su, stop it, you’re beginning to scare me. What purpose?”
He turned to her, his eyes flat and cold.
“Let’s sit down and I’ll tell you a little story.” With a weird smile, he pulled her down on to a stone and they sat side by side, his hand holding hers tight.
“I never told you this, but I used to be a butcher in my younger days. The sharpness of a knife, the feeling of a blade cutting through flesh like butter – I began to truly take joy in it. Then by chance, I got an opportunity in the kitchen and found being a chef was even better because now I could make food out of my art for others to enjoy. It’s only in the last one year, that I thought to myself, ‘What if I tried slicing into something that could talk back?’ The desire was always there, you know, but opportunity was lacking. Lonely people trust me, they confide in me and that’s how I found my first prey. I took him to this very same resort, and my two friends and I enjoyed snuffing out his meaningless life. That was so much fun, we did it again! I love cooking, Pramila, but oh how I enjoy the thrill of killing a fellow human, someone who has absolutely no idea that their hours on this earth are numbered. You almost ruined it for me by taking the wrong turn, but now I quite like the idea of taking your life on my own. Why should I share the thrill with the others?”
“Why are you talking like this Su? If you’re joking it’s not funny.”
His expression confirmed her worst suspicions. He had meant every word he had uttered. Frozen with fear, Pram started to panic. She just couldn’t believe this man, the perfect lover who had cooked so lovingly for her all these days, was a psychopath. She tried to wrench her hand out of his but his grip only tightened.
“Where do you think you’ll go? There’s no one in that cottage. I am familiar with this part of the forest and once I am done with you, I’ll leave. Nobody knows I’m with you. The car and your ravaged body will lie here and hopefully never be found.”
“My office knows I am with you.” She cried out in a futile attempt to scare him. She had no family or close friends and he was well aware of this. She desperately scanned the path winding upwards when she noticed something. There was a slim chance of saving herself.
“That’s a joke darling.” He smiled sweetly pulling out his knife and ran it lightly along her jaw, drawing blood.
“Ow.” She screamed as she felt her blood trickling down slowly. She forced herself to look at him.
“Su, if you are speaking the truth, I’m willing to die. I have been so happy with you I can’t possibly live without you. But I want to see the view from the very top before I die. Can we move higher please?”
Holding her right hand in a tight grip they started to trek, Su ahead and Pramila following. As they walked, the path narrowed. Soon they were very close to the edge, a steep drop below.
Pramila counted to five.
Grasping an exposed tree root with her free hand, she pulled hard and swung herself to the right, off the path. Startled by the sudden jerk, Sudhakar let go of her hand. Screaming, he went flying off the edge into the far depths below.
Pramila hung over the edge gripping the root tightly with both hands. She was extremely strong but now her muscles were beginning to burn with the strain.
Summoning every ounce of will power, she held the root and using the grassy lumps as footholds, she started pulling herself up.
This is just another activity at the gym, you can do this.
Screaming with the agony of stretched muscles, a final herculean effort got her back on the path. She moved away from the spot inch by inch and when she reached the broader part of the path, she collapsed on her back.
The sky above was serene, birds chirping in the background; all around her nothing had changed, yet her life would never be the same again.
Pramila gazed at the sky and wept.
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