This short story became SPIXer (Most popular story) on 16 Nov 2013 and won INR 500
The wristwatch showed 1:30 A.M. when I parked my red Alto in the garage. I got out of the car and locked it. I came out of the garage, pulled down the rolling shutter and locked it. Whistling under my breath, I briskly walked to the front door of our house and rang the doorbell. I heard the soft ‘ding-dong’ and waited for Vanaja, my wife, to open the door.
Still whistling, I casually looked around. The lights were on in a first-floor room of my neighbour’s house.
I rang the doorbell once again and waited. There was no response. I rang the doorbell a few more times. Still, there was no response from inside.
I desperately called, “Vanaja…Vanaja…open the door. Vanaja…” and banged on the door.
The door opened!
I stepped into the house and silence greeted me. I left the car keys in the wicker basket on a table in the drawing room. I removed my shoes and socks and went towards our bedroom calling my wife’s name.
“Vanaja, darling, I’m home.”
The bedroom door was ajar. A faint wash of blue light from a night lamp was streaming out of the bedroom.
I reached the bedroom and gently pushed open the door…
When the police arrived, I was squatting on the floor beside our king-size double bed.
A police Inspector gently asked, “Sir, did you call us?”
“Sir, are you alright?”
“Are you alright, sir?”
I nodded a yes.
“Was it you that called us?”
“No, Inspector, perhaps a neighbour.”
“Is this your wife, sir?”
I followed the index finger of the Inspector and abruptly averted my gaze. I vigorously nodded my head in affirmation.
The Inspector gave some instructions to the forensics team and then turned his attention towards me.
“Sir, please come with me. The forensics team has work to do. Let’s sit in the drawing room.”
He gently drew me to my feet and walked me to a sofa in the drawing room. A constable brought a glass of water and I emptied it in two gulps. I wiped my lips with my shirt cuff and collapsed on the sofa.
The Inspector sat in an adjacent sofa and pulled out a small spiral-bound pocket notebook and pen.
“Sir, I’m very sorry for your loss.” He paused. “Can I ask some questions?”
“I’m Inspector James Isaiah. What’s your name?”
The Inspector started jotting down details.
“Will you please tell me exactly what happened? Take your time, Mr. Ranjit.”
I nodded once again.
“I came home at about 1:30 in the night…”
Inspector James interrupted, “From where?”
“Oh! I went to a movie; late night show.”
“Which movie? Which theatre?”
“’The Conjuring’ in PVR Cinemas in Aminjikarai.”
“You went alone?”
“I mean, your wife didn’t go along with you?”
“No, Inspector, she doesn’t like horror films. She only prefers family dramas, romantic stories and comedies; Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.”
“This was a horror movie. So, I went alone.”
“Not even friends?”
“No. I was alone.”
“Do you have the ticket stub?”
I looked at him sharply.
“Mr. Ranjit, it is my duty to …”
“Yes, I understand.”
I searched my jeans pockets, brought out a crumpled piece of paper, and handed it to him.
“How did you go to the movie, by your own car?”
I again looked at him sharply. “Yes. Here’s the car park ticket, Inspector.”
Inspector James studied them closely for a few minutes and handed them to a technician from the forensics team who sealed them in an envelope as evidences.
“Yes, Mr. Ranjit, go on.”
I cleared my throat and continued. “I returned home at about 1:30 A.M., parked my car and rang the doorbell. There was no response from my wife. I tried the doorbell a few more times but in vain. I thought she might have fallen asleep. Then I called her name and banged on the door. I was surprised when the door opened. It wasn’t locked from inside! I assumed that my wife fell asleep without locking the door. I was a little annoyed. I went to our bedroom. The door was ajar and a night lamp was glowing. I called her name and opened the bedroom door and…” I abruptly halted.
“Easy, Mr. Ranjit, I understand your agony,” he said placatingly, “Want some more water?”
I declined and continued.
“I opened the bedroom door and found it a mess.”
“How do you mean?”
“Things were strewn around helter-skelter. The steel cupboard and the inner locker were wide open. Vanaja’s dresses were all strewn on the floor. The dressing table drawer was open and things were all on the floor.”
“Did you lose any valuables; jewellery and such things?”
“I…I didn’t…I couldn’t check.”
“I understand. Can you do it now?”
Over the next few minutes, I looked around and found empty jewellery boxes strewn on the floor. Then I checked the cupboard.
“Yes. Her locker is empty; the jewellery is gone.”
“The cash; we keep about ten thousand rupees in cash for any emergency. It’s gone, too.”
“Can’t say unless I check.”
“That’s alright. Please continue.”
“Our beds…I mean, the sheets, blankets and pillows were crumpled and were lying anyhow. There were bloodstains on them and…and…my wife…was…lying…” I covered my face in my palms.
Inspector James put a consoling arm around my shoulder. He must have sensed the sobs and shudders.
“Easy, Mr. Ranjit, easy.”
A couple of minutes later I spoke. My voice was a hoarse whisper.
“Head to waist, she was on the bed. Rest of her body was hanging onto the floor. I was shocked. I just could not believe what I saw. I shouted her name and felt her wrist for pulse. There wasn’t any. I placed my palm on her chest. I couldn’t feel her heartbeat. She wasn’t breathing. I tried to shake her but she didn’t respond. I collapsed beside her. My wife…Inspector…my wife was dead. Oh God!”
Inspector James held my shoulder once again and consoled me. A few minutes later, seeing that I regained a semblance of calm, he asked me to continue.
“There’s nothing else, Inspector. She is dead. How?”
“Obviously, she has been murdered. I could see some blows to her head with a blunt object…”
“Oh my God! Why, Inspector? She is harmless. Who would do this to her?”
“It looks like a robbery-and-murder case. We will investigate into the matter, Mr. Ranjit.” He paused. “Was it you who called us?”
“No. Hearing the commotion, some neighbours came in. It must be one of them.”
“OK, Mr. Ranjit. I’ll get along with my investigation.” He paused. “One moment. Is there any place where you can stay for a couple of days?”
“Why?” I was surprised.
“The house is a crime scene. It will be sealed. The forensics team will be busy for the next few days in here. So…”
“There is a hotel, Hotel Victory, nearby.”
“Check in and inform the room number. Another thing. Your dress has got her blood on it. It is to be taken in as evidence. You will have to change into something else and surrender these.” He signalled to a constable to accompany me.
“Mr. Ranjit, call me if you remember anything. This is my mobile number.” He scribbled on a piece of paper.
It was past five o’clock when I checked into a room in Hotel Victory with an airbag containing a few pairs of clothes and toiletry. The constable, who accompanied me, stood guard outside the room. I conveyed the message to Inspector James. Exhausted, I collapsed on the cot but could not sleep. The scene was haunting me. I shivered like a man in ague. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
“Good morning, Mr. Ranjit.”
“Good morning, Inspector.”
It was about ten o’clock the next morning. James and a few forensics team members were at work. They all looked haggard and sleep-deprived.
“Do you recognise this?” Inspector James was holding a sealed and labelled transparent plastic bag containing a three-foot long, bloodstained lead pipe.
“Aaahhh…” I shrieked. “God, what’s it? Is it…is it… the…the…”
The Inspector nodded ruefully. “Yes, this is the murder weapon; found it under the cot.”
“I don’t recognise it, sir.”
“Are you sure? It could have come from your garage.”
“No, no, Inspector. We didn’t have such a pipe in the house or garage.”
“Hmmm, the killer must have brought it with him.”
The Inspector grilled me for several hours, about my movements on the fateful night and my relation with my wife. He managed to annoy on some occasions but, overall, I answered his questions as calmly as possible.
“OK, Mr. Ranjit. I will have to make inquiries in the neighbourhood. You’ll have to excuse us; the forensics team has got work. So, if you don’t mind…”
I got the cue. “Alright, Inspector, I’ll go back to the hotel.”
He asked, “Are you on leave?”
“Yes, I have informed my office.”
“I’ll need your office address and phone number.” He paused. “And don’t leave the city without informing me. OK?”
I gave him what he wanted and returned to the hotel. As I took a turn at the street corner, I saw him enter the compound of our next-door neighbour.
It was 06:30 in the evening the next day. I heard a knock on the door.
I was surprised to find Inspector James.
“Oh, it’s you! I thought it was the room service. I just ordered coffee. Would you like some?”
“Yes, surely; without sugar.”
A short while later, we were sipping hot coffee.
“Who is Anand?”
I looked sharply at the Inspector.
“I have a colleague by that name. Why do you ask?”
“Is he a good friend?”
“We work in the same office. We know each other.”
“So, he is not your family friend?”
“No. Why are you asking about him?”
There was a sombre expression on his face as he fell silent for a few moments. Finally, he broke the silence. What he said was no less devastating than a bombshell.
“Brace yourself, Mr. Ranjit,” the Inspector said, “I think he was having an affair with your wife.”
I gaped at him foolishly.
“What the hell are you saying?” I screamed.
“Our inquiries revealed that Anand and your wife were having an affair.”
“Sir, I love my wife. She’s murdered. You can’t insult her like this,” I yelled.
“Calm down, Mr. Ranjit. They were seen together a lot; in parks, restaurants, malls and movies.”
“No, no. It can’t be true. She loved me.”
“I’m sorry but what I say is true.”
The Inspector put a consoling hand on my shoulder when he saw me hang my head and wipe my eyes.
“Do you recognise this, at least?”
The Inspector proffered a Ziploc bag, which contained a Cross ballpoint pen of steel body. It had bloodstains on it. It looked familiar.
“Do you?” He repeated.
“It looks familiar. Let me see…” I took it in my hand, looked at it closely, and was shocked.
The name ‘ANAND’ was finely engraved on it.
“Ins…Inspector, this belongs to Anand! Where did you find it?”
“Underneath the body; in the blood on the bed,” he said sombrely.
“How did it get there?” Within seconds, I realised the stupidity of my question as the Inspector glared at me.
“Does it mean…” I looked at Inspector James unbelievingly.
“Must have fallen during the struggle. Yes, this puts him on the crime scene.”
“What now, Inspector?”
“You’ll see,” was his cryptic reply.
We were silent for several minutes.
“So, you are not aware of the affair going on between your wife and Anand.”
“Yes, I never had a clue.”
“Are you sure?”
The interrogation went on for a long time.
The next day…
I reached the police station in the Gypsy sent by Inspector James.
“You wanted to see me, Inspector?”
“Sit down. We’ve brought in Anand. Our Inspectors are interrogating him.”
“Where is he? Where is that son of a bitch?” I yelled.
“Quiet. This is a police station.” He paused for a few moments, probably to allow me to calm down. “Come with me.”
Inspector James led me to the interrogation room. It was not a well-ventilated room. A naked 100-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling was the only source of harsh light. Two Sub-Inspectors were sitting on one side of a medium-size wooden table. A tired-looking and haggard Anand was sitting on a steel folding chair on the opposite side. His hands were manacled behind him.
I barged into the room, caught Anand by his neck, shook him violently and screamed, “You bastard, you killed her. Why? I’ll wring your neck…”
With great difficulty, Inspector James and the Sub-Inspectors separated me from Anand and dragged me away. I sat panting on a rickety wooden chair.
“Why? Why did you kill my Vanaja?” I screamed.
Rubbing his sore neck, he said hoarsely, “I didn’t kill her. Believe me, Ranjit, I didn’t”.
A few days passed during which the police team headed by Inspector James intensely interrogated Anand. While Anand confessed to having an affair with my wife, he maintained that he did not kill her.
“He says he was nowhere near your house that evening, Ranjit. On the other hand, he doesn’t have an alibi either. He says he was home watching TV.”
“You didn’t expect him to offer a confession to murder on a silver platter, did you, Inspector?”
“No need to be sarcastic, Ranjit. We are doing our job and quite efficiently, at that,” Inspector James said snappily.
“I’m sorry, Inspector, I am shocked at the whole thing; the murder, their affair, and the involvement of my friend Anand.”
“I understand, Ranjit.”
“His Cross ballpoint pen; what does he say about it? How was it at the crime scene?”
“Hmmm…He says he doesn’t know how it got there. He says he lost it from his office table couple of days earlier.”
A Constable entered the room and whispered something to Inspector James.
“Excuse me, Ranjit, I’ve to go. We’ve got the warrant. We are arresting Anand.”
The news made headlines the next morning. Inspector James was extremely busy when I met him at the Police Station.
“Good morning, Inspector.”
“Good morning, Ranjit. One moment, please. Sit down.”
He spoke at length to a Sub-Inspector who listened carefully, nodded and left.
“We have to produce him before a Magistrate within the stipulated time. Tell me, how are you?”
“I am devastated by all this, Inspector.”
“Have your parents come?”
“Yes, yesterday. They are traumatised and cannot believe it.”
“I am sorry to hear that. We found a small trinket in Anand’s house.”
“See if it is your wife’s.”
He placed a Ziploc bag in front of me on the table. It contained a golden bangle.
“Yes,” I yelled excitedly, “it is Vanaja’s. You say it was found in Anand’s house?”
“Not inside but on the lawn, half concealed by the grass.”
“But how did it get there?”
“Listen to my theory. We have established that he was having an affair with your wife. On the fateful night, he must have gone to your house. Your neighbour saw someone entering your house when you were away at the movies. Remember, the door was not forced open. It means Vanaja opened it. She wouldn’t do it for a stranger. Right? We don’t know what happened afterwards. They must have had an argument, an altercation, and he must have hit her on the head several times with the pipe…”
“Where from did the pipe come? Remember we didn’t have it in our house.”
“Yes. He must have carried it with him…”
“It means the crime was premeditated! The bastard went there with the intention to kill her! But why?”
“Whoa…whoa…Coming to that, coming to that. Hold your horses! Our inquiries revealed that the two were seen together a lot at malls, restaurants, movies and parks. Some witnesses saw them arguing. See, there was some tension between the two. We will find the underlying cause of it. It establishes a motive. It looks like they fell out; maybe she was feeling guilty, maybe there are money matters involved. He had the motive, and the opportunity. He executed the diabolical plan. He tried to make it look like a robbery that had gone wrong, ending in murder. He wiped the pipe clean – we didn’t find his fingerprints on it – and left it at the crime scene.”
“But he didn’t count on being seen entering your house. Moreover, the bangle on his lawn was QED. How’s that?”
“You are missing one important thing, Inspector.”
“What’s that?” He sounded annoyed.
“The jewellery; what happened to the jewellery?”
“Yes, we haven’t found the jewellery yet. We will, soon. He must have carried them to his house immediately after the crime. In the hurry, one bangle slipped and fell on the lawn. He missed it. He is a bachelor and stays alone. So, there is no one to get suspicious about his movements. He might have pawned or dumped the jewellery, although I doubt it. It would be too risky. We will get it.”
I sighed deeply. “What next, Inspector?”
“The case will go to the court; charges will be framed. You know the drill, Ranjit. It is a long process.”
“True.” I sighed and left.
A few days later, I was sipping coffee in the police station.
“We have found the jewellery and cash, Ranjit.”
“Where?” I exclaimed.
“Guess.” He smiled.
“A jeweller, pawnbroker?”
“Don’t tease me, Inspector. Tell me where.”
“We found them buried underneath a rose flowerbed.”
“That’s great.” I finished my coffee.
“Isn’t it? We didn’t find it anywhere inside his house. Anand had no time to sell them or pawn them. Still we made elaborate inquiries with jewellers and pawnbrokers who deal in such cases. We reached a dead-end. So, I deduced that he must have hidden them some place he could reach easily. I asked my team to search the garden and the lawn around the house. They found a rose flowerbed, which seemed freshly dug and rather clean. We dug there and, presto, found the jewellery.”
“Congratulations, Inspector,” I said. “What now?”
“You have to identify the jewellery.”
The formalities completed, I departed.
What else is there to say? After two weeks, I returned to work. There was sympathy; there were handshakes and plenty of hugs from my friends. My boss appreciated that I resumed my duties. ‘That’s the best way out of the sorrow, Ranjit. Talk to me whenever you feel like it,’ he said. Life fell into the routine grind.
Two years passed…
It was the judgement day in my wife’s murder case.
“…accordingly, the defendant, Anand Kumar is hereby sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of the victim Vanaja Ranjit Kumar…”
Anand collapsed like a broken rag doll in the witness stand.
The judge indicated the closure of the case by pounding the gavel.
It took me all of fifteen minutes to complete formalities and walk through long, dingy, ill-lit corridors of the jail. I sat on a bench and waited. Minutes later, I heard the sounds of shuffling feet and soft rattling of manacles. I lifted my head and found Anand standing on the other side of the iron bars in the visiting area.
His appearance was at once forlorn and pathetic. His face was haggard, eyes and cheeks sunken. He had grown thinner in the prison.
For long minutes neither of us spoke. Finally, Anand broke the silence in a rasping voice.
“What brings you here, Ranjit?”
I thought for a few moments before speaking. “I wanted to see you one last time…before leaving for Dubai.”
“You are quitting the job?”
“Yes, shifting to Dubai…permanently. Leaving tomorrow morning.”
“How are you Anand?”
“How am I? How’ll I be in prison, having been accused and found guilty of a crime that I did not commit?”
I looked at him expressionlessly.
“You may not believe, Ranjit, but I am innocent. I did not kill Vanaja.”
There was a brief silence between us.
“I know,” I said.
The words hit him like missiles.
“I said, I know that you did not kill Vanaja and are innocent.”
“Then…then…how…why…” he stammered.
“Because, I killed her…” I said simply.
There was a look of complete consternation on Anand’s face.
“Didn’t expect, did you? You see, Anand, I knew about you and Vanaja for some months. One afternoon, I was in Citi Centre Mall with my office colleagues for lunch. I saw you and her there for the first time; holding hands, intimate, laughing, leaning against each other…like teenagers lost in calf love. I felt betrayed, devastated. My world crumbled before my eyes. I loved Vanaja from the bottom of my heart.”
I paused for a few moments to catch my breath and continued.
“Afterwards I started following her. You two met frequently in malls, movies, restaurants. The betrayal by my wife and friend was unacceptable. I was devastated. It was a crime against my love and loyalty. I decided to punish you both…”
Anand interrupted me angrily. “Why kill her? You could have divorced her.”
“Shut up, you son of a bitch,” I hissed. “That wouldn’t have been justice for me. You both will marry and be happy. No, divorce would have been more torture for me. I didn’t deserve it or any of this. Oh God, the love I gave her! All the love she professed for me was a lie. It was a total betrayal. I decided she had to be punished, and you, too. Her punishment in turn must punish you. You must suffer for life, for betraying me. What better punishment than this, Anand?” I smiled.
“You…you…you diabolical fiend…you devil…wait till I…”
“Shut the f**k up, Anand. You can’t do anything. I planned it carefully. I picked your Cross ballpoint pen couple of days earlier. I came out of the PVR cinema a short while after the movie started. There was no fear of the gatekeeper recollecting my face since it was a new movie and there was heavy crowd. I left my car in the parking lot; went home in an autorickshaw and got down a couple of streets away; reached home, picked up the pipe that I hid behind a large flowerpot. I had bought it from a scrap stores a few days earlier. You should have seen the expression on Vanaja’s face when I rang the doorbell! We went into the bedroom and argued. I spilled the beans and confronted her. She cried and said she was sorry and that she loved me…the usual stuff. I said I was sorry, too and hit her…went on hitting her; created the scene of burglary; took out the jewellery and cash; changed my clothes and ripped into tatters the bloodstained ones. Then I left the house with the front door shut but unlocked; took an autorickshaw to your house; again got down two streets away; hid the jewels and cash; took another autorickshaw to PVR just before the show ended. I got into my car, drove to a far-off place and threw the tattered clothes into a sewage canal. I returned home and found my wife murdered.”
“You…” He did not know what to say. He held his head in both hands as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I wanted you to know, so that you’ll suffer like I did.” I paused. “Well, enjoy your sojourn, Anand.”
“Why, Ranjit?” It was a hoarse whisper.
“Ever heard of retribution? I loved my wife very much – I still do. You both betrayed me.”
“Wait till I…”
I cut short his speech. “You cannot prove anything. I know the police suspected me initially but they found nothing against me. All evidence pointed towards you.” I stood up and smiled wryly. “Goodbye, Anand.”
I walked away from a screaming Anand and the clang of prison doors.
Shyam Sundar Bulusu