Rashi Parikh stepped into the diner, found an empty booth, and collapsed into it. She was followed, slowly, and far more elegantly, by her mother. The two had embarked on a trip from Mumbai to Pune, and almost as soon as the journey began, Rashi began to regret it. She had grown out of touch with her mother, and figured it would be a good idea for the two of them to try and reconnect over a weekend. It had been a disaster right from the onset.
There was the slightest drizzle, not enough to make it cool, but enough to ensure that the windows couldn’t be opened and that humidity would be a persistent bother. The AC installed in her ancient Maruti Zen car had conveniently decided to stop working. Plus, being a weekend, traffic was in full flow and the dilapidated condition of the roads didn’t help matters either. Within an hour and a half of Rashi having picked up her mother from her apartment, she had had enough. Having seen the signboard for the first diner, Rashi had taken the diversion and pulled in to the parking lot of a shabby looking place which was fairly crowded.
Kalpana Parikh was completely different from her daughter, in both appearance and mannerisms. Having been brought up in a rich, upper class society, she continued to intersperse only with people of affluence or influence; therefore, she maintained an appearance of dignity, as was evident from her neat, stylishly grey hair and thin golden rimmed spectacles. Since the death of her husband nearly twenty years ago, she had grown apart from her daughter.
Rashi’s choice of profession only added to the differences of opinion amongst the two- Rashi was a police officer, or more specifically a criminal profiler- someone who tracked killers. She had been working at the department for nearly eight years, and the long hours and tiring nature of work took a toll on her appearance- her hair was shabby, her skin sagged and dark circles were prominent underneath the brown eyes she had inherited from her mother.
They had just begun having lunch (a burger for Rashi and a salad for Kalpana) when suddenly Kalpana pointed her fork at someone behind Rashi (of course, it was too rude to speak with your mouth full, Rashi thought wryly).
“What an impolite pig!” Kalpana remarked.
Rashi turned around, looking for the “impolite pig” whom she would have to defend and saw a short, bespectacled man with a thinning hair line. Like the profiler she was, she began to make assessments. The squinty eyes and the bulging paunch revealed that he was probably someone who worked regularly behind a desk and didn’t see too much daylight. His pale-ish complexion added emphasis to her deduction. He was wearing a t-shirt which was quite loose and faded jeans, so clearly, he was off duty. He was sulking and frowning while perusing the menu. But she saw nothing extraordinary about the man, certainly nothing worth him being labelled a pig. It was a just a guy at a diner, on a day off.
But then she saw the old woman, with the cane, struggling to get to the booth where the man sat. She had to take the support of the other booths to maintain her balance, and the man barely shot a glance at her as she fumbled her way to a seat across from him, dragging her cane behind her; its thumping noise as it bumped into the vinyl of the seats audible to everyone across the diner. Kalpana shook her head disapprovingly, and for once, Rashi was inclined to side with her mother.
The rain had cleared by the time they left the diner and got back in the car. Rashi was still thinking about the events at the booth, wondering what made the man so impassive towards the much older woman. She wondered whether she would be quite as insensitive to her mother during her old age, when suddenly she heard Kalpana scream. Almost simultaneously, the black Swift sped past her and rammed into her car from the side, taking a piece of the front bumper with it.
“How could you not see him?!” Kalpana shrieked.
“I just didn’t. I don’t know how.” Rashi’s hands were shaking and she gripped the wheel hard in an attempt to steady them. She hadn’t been in a motor accident since college.
“Don’t tell them that. It’s going to cost you more.”
“Mom! I’m an officer of the law. I can’t go around lying!” Rashi began fumbling for her license and insurance papers in her wallet.
“Not today, darling. You left your badge at home, remember? Just a normal citizen today. Just don’t get the cops involved. You know, the real cops.
Rashi glared at her mother. Despite the taunt, she enjoyed being on the same side of an issue as her mother. After all, the guy had sideswiped her. It wasn’t her fault. Not completely, anyway.
“Oh no. It’s that pig from the diner. Let’s just get out of here.”
“And leave the scene of an accident? I can’t do that, mom.”
“It was his fault. He won’t report you, let’s go!”
“Too late.” Rashi had noticed a traffic policeman approach on a motorcycle.
“Listen to me Rashi, don’t tell them you’re a cop. Don’t try and be heroic or anything you know. Just be normal.”
“That would make things easier mom. Police officers have a bond.”
“Yeah, of course. A female forensic expert and a traffic policeman would be best buddies, I’m sure.”
Despite her annoyance at her mother’s poorly disguised sarcasm, Rashi had to agree. Even within her own department she was rarely taken seriously. Outsiders’ behavior was condescending and at times, even scornful, making her feel incompetent and defensive in her approach.
The traffic policeman was a young man, maybe in his thirties. And unlike most Indian police officers, he was fit. And he was showing it off by placing both his hands on his hips, to emphasize his well-toned arms and flat stomach.
“What a mess. So, what happened? Chit chat while driving? Reapplying makeup? Cell phone?” he asked her, with a sly smile.
“Hey, excuse me! This was not my fault! He was the one driving like a madman.” Rashi was furious at being judged.
“Of course, it wasn’t your fault. Hey sir, were you driving like a madman?” he asked the other driver who had now approached them. Rashi felt like punching the officer for his cocky, sarcastic behavior.
“I was trying to pass through and she rammed right into me” the man said.
“That’s nonsense!” Kalpana had stepped out of the car and come to the defense of her daughter.
“A witness. This should make things easier” said the officer.
“My mom’s in the car. You can ask her as well” the other man said. They all turned around and saw the door open, followed by the cane and the small, fragile legs of the older woman seen earlier at the diner. She didn’t step out of the car however. She just sat there, as if she just wanted everyone to be aware of her presence.
“Well, I’ll just have to survey the scene and form a conclusion” the officer said. That annoying, sly smile was back.
Rashi looked closely at his uniform and his name tag. He wasn’t even a Circle Inspector yet. If he wanted to be cocky, she would teach him a thing or two as well.
“You can look closely at the skid marks and get the necessary evidence, Sub inspector Naik” Rashi remarked.
That got his attention. The smile disappeared instantly. It was easy enough to find out his name, he knew, from the name tag, but to address him by his designation when there was no clear indication about it aside from his uniform, that surprised him. He was much more serious now. He looked at Rashi quizzically.
“Yes, yes you’re right. The skid marks should give us a clear picture. I’d like to see both of your licenses first, please.”
Rashi had hers ready in her hand. The other man fumbled around in his pocket, searching desperately for it.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at the car. But there was no further movement from inside it. Rashi, her mother, and the officer turned simultaneously to look at Jerry, whose face turned beet red. However, as had happened in the diner, the man completely ignored the older woman and returned his attention to his pockets, soon fishing out a thick leather wallet from which he brandished his license.
Rashi hadn’t quite noticed it, but her mother had wandered over to the other car in which the old woman was still seated. Inspector Naik took both licenses and headed back to his bike, while Jerry surveyed the highway to survey the skid marks. After inspecting the damage to his car, he shook his head disapprovingly.
Rashi stayed where she was, barely stopping herself from telling him how lucky he’d been- the damage to his car was minimal when compared to her ripped off bumper and shattered driver’s side. What a mess! She knew she wasn’t going to take the blame for this. It was then that Rashi noticed her mother, who had been engaged in some sort of active conversation with the other woman, beckon her over.
Rashi wondered if the old woman was injured. She, pondered, not for the first time that day, as to why Jerry was being so uncompassionate towards his mother. She scolded herself for not having checked on the woman earlier and ran towards the car, glancing over her shoulder; the two men were busy elsewhere.
The two women were speaking in hushed voices. From what Rashi could see, the woman wasn’t injured. It was then that she noticed the several old bruises on her arm; Rashi deduced they were old as they had begun to acquire a greenish yellow tinge. The woman looked even smaller and more delicate seated inside the car, curled in a hunched over position.
“He scares me sometimes.” The woman told Kalpana.
“Rashi, look at this. It’s quite ridiculous. Indira says he hits her sometimes” Kalpana said, pointing out the bruises to her daughter.
“I know the accident was his fault Kalpana. He slammed right into your car. But you see why I can’t say that, don’t you?”
Rashi was somewhat amazed at just how friendly the two women had become. She mused to herself how strange it was that Kalpana could befriend a complete stranger so quickly while at the same time have no clue about her own daughter.
“Indira says he goes after her with a hammer some nights. She’s afraid she may just not wake up one day.” Kalpana said, looking around constantly to make sure she wasn’t within earshot of Jerry.
“He’s a wicked boy, my Jerry.”
“What’s going on here?!” Jerry yelled, running back from his surveying of the skid marks.
“We’re just talking with your mother. That’s not a problem, is it?” Kalpana asked
“Not unless she’s lying to you. She tells lies all the time.” Jerry said, a bit breathless after his brief sprint.
Rashi found it quite strange how casually he said that about his own mother. He mentioned it as though it was just another commonly found personality trait. His look of composure dissipated quickly, however, when he noticed SI Naik making his way to the car.
“That’s funny. She was just telling me the same thing about you. That you are the liar” Kalpana shot back.
There were a few tense moments of silence, during which Rashi desperately tried to meet her mother’s eyes to give her a warning look. Kalpana however, maintained her steely stare directed at Jerry.
“What is going on here?” this time it was Naik with the question.
“She says you beat her all the time. And that you’ve gone after her with a hammer.” Kalpana’s voice was now almost icy.
“Kalpana, you promised you wouldn’t! Indira wailed.
Naik’s smiled had now disappeared. Everyone’s gaze was now locked on Jerry whose complexion turned into various darkening shades of red before it settled on a light pink. His fingers were flexing and closing into fists; Rashi realized immediately that his embarrassment was now giving way to anger.
“For god’s sake,” he mumbled while nervously attempting a laugh, “she says that about everyone. The old lady is mad.”
“Ohh is it?” Naik’s hands were on his waist again, but Rashi noticed that they were mere inches from his weapon.
“She said the same thing about her milkman yesterday! She lies about everything!”
Rashi looked at Indira, who was gripping her cane, almost feverishly as though in self-defense.
She then looked at both men, and she had a bad feeling about what was about to happen. Words were exchanged. Tempers began to flare and suddenly the situation had begun to spiral out of control.
Naik asked Jerry to accompany him to the station to answer a few questions. An irate Jerry muttered that he had had enough and began to walk away, towards the driver’s seat of his car. Naik tried to emphasize his point by placing a hand on Jerry’s shoulder. Jerry turned and shoved the officer, who in a fit of rage shoved him back. And before Rashi could intervene, Jerry lay on the ground, the back of his head cracked open from the rugged metal of his own vehicle. The shocked eyes and the blank stare told Maggie that she wouldn’t even have to take his pulse to know he was dead.
A few hours later, Rashi and her mother took Indira home. It was a long journey, longer than it should’ve been due to Indira’s repeated confusion about the directions to her home. Rashi attributed it to shock and patiently followed the constantly changing directions given by the woman. Apart from this, Indira hadn’t spoken much. Kalpana had repeatedly enquired of her the police station whether there was anyone they could call who could come and take care of Indira but she only shook her head.
Finally, they pulled up in front of an old two-storied house, surrounded by a small, decaying garden.
“I don’t know what I’ll do without that boy. He was all I had.”
A few moments of silence passed during which Rashi and her mother exchanged glances. Was it just the shock?
“But you said he beat you?” Kalpana reminded her.
“Oh no. My Jerry would never lay a hand on me!”
“You said he came after you with a hammer at night.”
Kalpana and Rashi glanced back at the old woman who had grabbed the handle of the door.
“My Jerry would never hurt me” she repeated. “It’s that wicked Prakash who brings the milk. I know he has a hammer in that bag. He’s threatened to hit me in the head with it” she said as she made her way out of the car.
Rashi and Kalpana stared at each other, numb with shock, utterly speechless. It took Rashi a few more minutes to realize that the woman was climbing up the porch towards her home without any struggle whatsoever. She was walking perfectly, despite having left her cane in the back seat of Rashi’s car.