The auto rickshaw zoomed through the streets of Saroj Nagar.
“Sir, which lane should I take now?” The vexed driver asked. “I’ve been driving for almost an hour now. I’m hungry.”
“I’m sorry, bhaiyya. The google map is misguiding,” Srinivas said tapping his mobile. “I guess you have to take the next right turn.”
The lane ended in front of a big two-storied bungalow.
Srinivas rang the bell. A pretty woman, in her early thirties answered.
“I heard that you are looking for a paying guest.”
The woman looked at him from head to toe.
“We spoke over the phone yesterday,” Srinivas reminded. “You said I can come and have a look around the house.”
“Did I say that?” she asked astonished.
“Umm, I spoke with a man. Perhaps your brother… or husband?” he said.
“There are no men staying here. It’s just me and my mother,” she replied. “You’ve come to the wrong house, mister.”
“The roads are so confusing in this area. Perhaps I had to take the next lane. How was I to know this was a wrong turn? Google map didn’t help either,” Srinivas wiped sweat from his forehead. “Can I please have a glass of water?”
“Ok, come in.”
Srinivas gaped at the beauty of the house. The hall was huge. A glass chandelier hung in the centre of the ceiling. Expensive furniture and cosy interiors added to the elegance. After gulping water, he asked if she was looking for a paying guest.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” she replied.
“Ma’am, the house is big. And you said only two of you are staying. If you keep me as a paying guest, you’ll not only have company, but the house will have a security too. I’m working from home, you see,” Srinivas smiled.
“You talk too much, Mr…”
“Srinivas,” he replied. “My family and friends call me Srini. Ma’am, please discuss with your mother. I’m desperately looking for a place to stay.”
“You can call me Anita. My mother is sick and bedridden. You can stay upstairs. There is a separate staircase from outside that will take you up to the room.”
“Thank you so much, Ma’am… err… Anita…”
“Srini, please don’t bring any guests here. And we prefer less noise and even lesser talks.”
Srini nodded happily. He moved in the same evening. He thanked his stars for taking the wrong turn that morning. He couldn’t find a better house, he thought.
Very soon, Srini and Anita became friends. She would make parathas for her south Indian paying guest, while he would prepare delectable sambar for her. He visited her mother, Asha who was paralyzed and unable to speak. But her eyes would water every time he spoke.
“My father died when I was young. Ma raised me and my younger brother very lovingly. Unfortunately, my brother died in an accident two years ago. After hearing the news, she collapsed due to brain stroke. Since then, she’s in this state,” Anita wiped tears from her eyes. “I guess she sees her son in you.”
“Even I lost my dad very early. But we aren’t rich like you,” he laughed. “I have three unmarried sisters. That’s the reason I work very hard to earn lot of money. And I try to remain cheerful to refrain myself from getting depressed.”
“You’re a good man, Srini. God will surely listen to your prayers. Even though dad made enough savings, I still go to work. That keeps me sane.”
Srini liked Anita’s warm nature. He would sit next to Asha, reading stories from books. She’d look at him wanting to talk, and he’d just smile.
One day, he saw a young man on a bike outside their gate. Anita was seen shouting at him. Srini was perplexed. Never had he seen her lose her temper. By the time he got down, the biker was gone.
“Who was he?” Srini quizzed.
“Why do you want to know?” Anita spat.
Srini was taken aback. He realized it wasn’t right to intervene in her personal life. Shocked by her behaviour, he retreated back to his room. After an hour, Anita spoke to him.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper,” she apologized.
“It’s my fault, Anita. I shouldn’t have intervened.”
“That guy… keeps stalking me everyday. I gave him an earful.”
“Poor chap! He’s never going to face you again,” Srini chuckled as Anita playfully punched him.
A week later, when Srini had just logged off from work, he heard the bike again. He looked out of the window. It was the same man. But he zoomed off instantly. Srini’s stomach growled. It was 8pm, his dinner time. His stomach was upset and hence he planned to eat curd rice. Since he didn’t have curd, he decided to borrow from Anita. He went downstairs, but the house was still dark. He realized that Anita wasn’t back from work. He was in two minds. Should he go back to his room empty handed? Or should he go to the kitchen and take the curd? He decided the latter. Anita was kind and wouldn’t mind him take some curd, he was sure. On the kitchen counter, he saw a raw mango. His mouth watered. He remembered how his mother used to feed him curd rice and salted mango when he used to be sick. Taking a knife, he cut the mango into two halves. Anita wouldn’t mind if I took a small portion.
After dinner, he went off to sleep. Around midnight, he woke up with a jolt hearing a loud scream. He sprinted downstairs. The noise came from Asha’s room Anita was screaming terrified. Beside her lay Asha’s lifeless body, drenched in blood. Srini froze. He felt nauseated. Gathering his courage, he called the police. Anita was inconsolable.
The police took statements from Anita and Srini. Amidst tears, Anita told them about her late arrival from work and finding her mother in a pool of blood. Srini told them he was asleep when Anita’s scream woke him. The police collected fingerprints and confiscated the murder weapon- a kitchen knife.
The next day, Srini tended to Anita like her own brother. The whole locality was shocked. Who would kill an innocent soul like Asha? The news was all over the television.
The next evening, police arrived.
“Mr. Srinivas, you are under arrest for the murder of Mrs. Asha.”
Srini was flabbergasted.
“Sir, you must be mistaken,” Anita said. “He can never do that. Ma considered him like her own son.”
“But that doesn’t mean he considered her like his mother.”
“What proof do you have?” Srini asked, still in a state of shock.
“Your fingerprints have been found on the knife. You were the only person present in the house at the time of murder. Moreover, we found Anita’s jewellery and cash in your room.
Anita stared at Srini.
“I swear, Anita. I didn’t kill her. The knife…I took it to cut mango.”
“What mango?” she asked.
“I forgot to tell you. I had come to your kitchen that evening…”
“You forgot? Srini, you were in this room and you forgot to tell?” Anita cried. “You had told me about your poor family. But I never thought you’d steal!”
Just as the inspector tried to handcuff him, Srini pushed him and escaped. The police searched everywhere, but Srini seemed to have vanished!
“You ran away? From the police?” Srini’s friend, Abdul asked.
“Yes, Abdul. And I couldn’t go anywhere else but here. I swear I’m innocent.”
“I trust you, buddy. I know you from our childhood. But if they know you’re here then…”
“Just give me few days. Let me figure this out. I’ll get hold of the bloody murderer!”
The next day, Srini took Abdul’s bike and rode to Anita’s house. He wanted to convince her about his innocence. But sighting policemen outside her gate, he turned around to leave. That’s when he spotted the biker. Srini followed him stealthily to his house. Srini rang the bell, and as soon as the biker opened the door, he sprang on him.
“You stalker! Aren’t you the one who killed Asha aunty?” Srini punched him.
“What nonsense! Are you placing your blame on me?” he kicked Srini. “I know you are her paying guest.”
“Why would I kill an innocent old woman? Liar! You lusted for her. You killed her mother because she resisted you, isn’t it?”
After few punches and kicks, both of them fell apart, gasping for breath.
“I’m not any stalker. My name is Binoy.”
“Anita told me about you. That you keep stalking her. Isn’t that why you roam around her house?”
“Is that what she said? Bah! Didn’t she tell you about our affair? And the video?”
Srini looked puzzled.
“I’m a pharmacist. We loved each other. I used to visit her house often. Asha aunty used to be well those days, except for some minor ailments,” Binoy said. “She was fine with our relationship too. But things got nasty when Anita asked me to steal some medicines from my pharmacy.”
“What medicines?” Srini quizzed.
“Those that are generally used as antidepressants, but in excess dosage could lead to fatigue and gradually lead to coma,” Binoy paused. “I refused because you need a doctor’s prescription for that. But she didn’t relent. She had anger issues. Her temper would hit the roof. Still, I refrained from her insistence.
But that snake of a woman! She blackmailed me. She had covertly recorded our physically intimate moments. Blurring her face, she threatened to release it as porn video on social media. I come from a humble family. My mother will die of shock if she sees such videos.”
“I can’t believe this,” Srini gasped.
“I had no other option but to obey her. I don’t know what she did with the medicines. I knew she wouldn’t tell me even if I asked. Finally, when she got fed up of me, she dumped me like a rotten vegetable. I saw her getting close to another guy. I begged her to hand over the video clip, but she didn’t. That’s when I decided to avenge,” Binoy smiled. “I placed a video camera in her bedroom to record her intimate scenes with her new boyfriend. I thought once I get hold of it, I can exchange it with my video. But things went awry when the same night, Asha aunty got murdered.”
Srini scratched his head. His head spun hearing the revelations.
“Something smells fishy. Why did she demand those medicines from you? Could her boyfriend be the murderer? He must have taken the knife that I had used to cut the mango and killed Asha aunty. But why? Does Anita know about her devilish lover?” Srini slumped on the floor. “Look, let’s join hands and find the real culprit. Else, both of us will be in trouble.”
Binoy nodded. “Let me start from the beginning.”
The next day, Binoy visited one of Anita’s neighbours to know more about her. He introduced himself as a police officer using a fake id.
“Asha was a kind soul. After the sudden death of her husband and son, she kept falling sick. That’s when Anita came back to her life,” the neighbour said.
“Came back?” Binoy inquired.
“As a child, Anita grew up in a hostel, away from her family. Fifteen years ago, her school bus had met with an accident on the way to an excursion. Since the bus had plummeted from a hilltop, none of the children’s bodies were recovered. However, two years ago, Anita came back home. She was the lone survivor, and was in coma all these years. As soon as she regained consciousness, she returned home.”
“But how did Asha make sure that she was indeed Anita?”
“The tattoo! Anita had her name tattooed on her forearm in devanagari script. Asha instantly recognized her.”
Binoy explained everything to Srini, who listened very patiently.
“I have to go,” Srini said and turned to leave.
“Where to?” Binoy asked.
“I’m this close to find the culprit, Binoy. I have to meet someone. Meanwhile, why don’t you deal with that boyfriend of hers? I’ll use my brain, you use your these,” Srini smiled, patting Binoy’s muscular biceps.
Binoy, along with his three gym friends paid Anita’s boyfriend, Naren a visit.
“Hey, Naren! Buddy, how are you?” Binoy said cheerfully.
“Do I know you?” Naren asked curiously.
“We have an indirect connection- Anita,” Binoy smirked. “She was my girlfriend before she became yours.”
Naren grunted. “Why are you here?”
“Well, I need a small help from you.”
“And why do you think I’ll help you?” Naren growled.
“Easy, man,” Binoy’s friends stepped ahead.
“Don’t scare the poor man,” Binoy laughed. “Look, Naren. I know your past. You were a drug peddler. I have evidences against you. One complaint is enough to pack you forever in jail.”
Naren panicked. “What do you want?”
“Good boy,” Binoy smiled. “Anita’s house is guarded by policemen. She won’t let me in. But you can.”
Two days later, on pretext of a date, Naren called Anita to meet at his house. When Anita came, she was shocked to find Srini and Binoy welcoming her.
“Where is Naren?” she hissed.
“That spineless boyfriend of yours is of no use, Anita,” Binoy said.
Anita turned to leave.
“You are here because we called you. You can’t leave without our permission,” Srini blocked her way.
“What do you want? Aren’t you done killing my mom? Now do you want to kill me too?” she hollered.
“Such a drama queen!” Srini clapped his hands. “Why don’t you join Bollywood? Or better, you can write some cheap crime thrillers. Like ‘how to escape a crime in three steps’?”
“Three steps?” Binoy asked.
“Yes. Keep a paying guest, kill your mother and place the blame on him. Am I right?”
“Are you out of your mind? Why would I kill my mother?” Anita screamed.
“Because you have anger issues. Because you are bipolar. Because she was not your mother!”
“What proof do you have?” she hissed.
“I spoke with the ‘real’ Anita’s school principal. He confirmed that there were absolutely no survivors of the bus accident,” Srini said. “Sadly, Asha aunty blindly believed your story. She never bothered to check with the school.”
Anita slumped down on the chair.
“But what about the tattoo?” Binoy asked.
“Asha aunty donated generously to the school every year,” Srini said. “Anita joined as a clerk in the school three years ago. When she learned about her immense wealth and a dead daughter, she dug deeper into the details. She copied the same tattoo on her forearm and weaved a story that Asha aunty believed. She knew about Asha aunty’s poor health and nursed her to win her trust.”
Anita kept staring at the floor.
“What aunty didn’t realize was that Anita was drugging her with your help, Binoy. Aunty fell sick day by day.”
“Had I known that you were using me to kill that poor woman, I would have killed you before,” Binoy gritted his teeth.
“Wonderful story, Srini,” Anita chuckled. “But still it doesn’t prove that I killed her, right?”
“Of course, not,” Srini said. “That’s where your junkie boyfriend, Naren helped us. Binoy had asked Naren to search for the tapes that you had made to threaten him.”
Anita raised an eyebrow.
“Without your knowledge, Binoy had planted a video camera in your bedroom. Naren handed it to us along with the other tapes. And guess what did it record?” Srini sat next to her.
Anita’s heart pounded louder.
“That night, you returned home early in contrast to what you revealed to the police. You sat in your room till night. When I went to the kitchen, you were still in your room. Once I left, you left your room and entered back with the same knife. Your gloved hand concealed your fingerprints. Everything is recorded, Anita. Everything! You left the room again and this time you entered your room with blood on your dress. After a shower, you sat still in your room till midnight when you crept out and began your acting. Wow, what a cruel mind!”
“You had an easy access to Srini’s room. It must have been easy to plant the jewellery and cash in his cupboard, right?” Binoy said.
“It’s better to confess, Anita… or whatever is your name,” Srini leaned back. “Police have their own technique to dig out the truth from you.”
After a brief pause, Anita spoke.
“Yes, I did it. In fact, she’s not the first one I killed,” she smirked. “Either as a servant or an employee, I kill such old, lonely, good-for-nothing people. My parents had sold me to some rich people for money. They abused me. They were my first victims. I was scared. But after that, it was fun,” she laughed hysterically.
Rosy, aka Anita was sent to a mental asylum for treatment. Naren is still absconding. Binoy has destroyed the video tapes. Presently, he’s on a mission- to hunt a house for his best friend, Srini.
Srini is very cautious now. He double checks all the routes, lest he took a wrong turn again!
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