A guy held out the door for Aditi as she was about to enter Starbucks at the Asian mall.
“I think we have met before.” He said.
Aditi smiled and said “I am sure we have, I am the nurse at the mental hospital”.
The guy looked at Aditi confused. There was no anger on Aditi’s face. She seemed earnest. The guy left abruptly. It was then that Aditi laughed.
This is what she was good at. Laughing and making people laugh.
She entered her favourite café and ordered her daily dose of cappuccino. The waiter who arrived with her coffee was clumsy. He spilled some coffee on her dress while serving. He realized his mistake and apologised profusely.
“Its okay, it’s about time my dress got to taste some of my favourite coffee.” Aditi winked at the waiter.
She rose up from her seat, left her giant GUCCI handbag on the table and went to the washroom.
Nothing could ruin her mood today. Aditi was in her happy space. She had all that she wanted. She had finally bagged solo stand-up comedy shows at “Epicentre”, the most happening cultural hub at Gurgaon. Days of performing at get-togethers were over. Things were going good. She had a gang of friends to bank upon. She had even stopped regretting leaving her home and family on bad terms.
Life seemed pretty but unbeknownst to her, destiny had other plans.
Aditi came back to her table and sipped some coffee. She felt lazy. She had nothing to do today. Her big show was after three days and she was already done with her preparations. She gazed out of the window and reflected upon the events of today afternoon. She wondered if she had done the correct thing.
Suddenly a policewoman entered the cafe with her team. They stopped at Aditi’s table. Aditi wondered why, but remained as cool as ever. After all she was Aditi, the comedian.
“Why did the policewoman carry a pencil and a piece of paper?” said Aditi to the policewoman. “Because, She wanted to trace someone! Haha ! By the way, I am Aditi.”
Aditi’s joke did not have the desired effect.
The policewoman cleared her throat and said. “Miss Aditi. I am Inspector Samishta Kapil. We are here to question you about Sunny Merchant’s murder.”
“Sunny… Murdered? How come? I met him today afternoon! ”
“That is precisely why you are under our radar. Sunny was dead by the time you left his place. And now if you will cooperate,” Samishta paused and pointed to a female constable. “We have a search warrant for you.”
The constable frisked Aditi. She could find nothing on Aditi. She checked the contents of her handbag but found nothing suspicious. She saw a blue silk scarf lying beside the handbag. It seemed to conceal something.
“What’s this?” Said the constable, holding the blue scarf in one hand and the blood stained knife it concealed in the other.
“It’s…my scarf. I don’t know how it came here. I…I thought I had left it at Sunny’s place. And …and the knife…I know nothing about it!”
“I am afraid you would have to accompany us to the police station. If the blood stains on the knife are indeed Sunny’s, you are going to be in grave trouble.” said Samishta.
Aditi did not believe all this was actually happening. It seemed like a bad dream. She was waiting to wake up. She needed to do something but could think of anything. She needed to talk to someone and perhaps get a lawyer. She frantically called up her friends but none of them picked up her call. Apparently, the news of her arrest had spread like wildfire. After all, she was a celebrity of sorts.
Aditi was running out of her mind. With no aid and no friends, she did what she had not done in two years. She called up her family at Ropar. She had avoided all contacts with her family despite their desperate attempts to reach out to her. But it was different now. She had no ego to boost of. She was nothing but a murder convict.
Her Dad received her call and listened patiently to her. He told her that they will take the next train to Gurgaon and be with her.
That night at jail seemed liked eternity to Aditi. She realized that she had been living in a superficial, make-believe world. She had no real friends. Success was of no use. She tried to sleep but could not. Flashbacks from the past haunted her. Her first comedy show at the school function when her parents and brother sat in the first row, cheering her; Her conflicts with her parents about her not being serious about studies ; Her decision to drop out of college; Her years of struggle at Gurgaon; everything came back to her.
The next morning Aditi was informed that her parents were there to see her.
Her father looked at her and said: “We have faith in you. You can do no wrong. We will do all that is possible to get you out of here.”
Her Mother added: “These are trying times my dear. Have faith in yourself and your God. You would sail through.”
Aditi could sense the look in her parent’s eyes as they talked. They were dejected but tried to put up a brave front.
She heard another voice: “My best friend’s brother is a top notch lawyer. He will represent you. I am sure we will win.”
It was her younger brother Mukul. She had not seen Mukul since last three years. Not since he obtained admission at IIT Powai.
“Mukul ! How come you are here? Isn’t this the semester end? Aren’t your exams going on? ” remarked Aditi.
Mukul replied emotionally “My studies are not more important than you. They never were.”
Back in her cell, Aditi thought about her family. Why didn’t they simply sever their ties with her, like her friends had? Did they not bother that they would be associated with a murderer? They had always been with her when she needed them the most.
Life made some sense now. She was disconnected with the outer world but she was more connected with herself. She was not afraid anymore. Her family was her strength.
“What would I do now?” thought Aditi. “I will do what I am good at. I will cheer up the fellow inmates. Perhaps I will write a book about my confinement. I need to write or I will go mad thinking.”
Aditi’s lawyer Mohan had called upon. Inspector Samishta passed a concerned look to both of them and left. Mohan was quite good looking. He had a body of an athlete and face of a movie star.
“The cops must be after you as well, it’s illegal to look that good, you know.” said Aditi, trying to gather some of her former self.
“Hmm…Can’t help that.” smiled Mohan. “But let me help you. Tell me how you got into this mess.”
“I received a message from Sunny, asking me to come over to his place last Tuesday.”
“Do you have that message in your phone?”
“Yes. My phone is in the police custody.”
“Cool. What happened next?”
“I reached Sunny’s place and he did what I had not the least expected. He had decorated his place with scented candles. Soft Romantic music was playing. He got down on his knees and proposed me.”
“Hmm… and you refused.”
“Sunny was some kind of a big shot. Isn’t it? It’s not natural for an aspiring actor to own a plush bungalow like he did.”
“Yes. His was the only son of industrialist Kevin Merchant. He lost his parents a year before in a car accident. His uncle is taking care of the family business, I believe. That left him free to pursue his career in acting.”
“How long had you known Sunny?”
“3 months or so. We hosted a show together. And since then he had been a part of my friend circle.”
“Okay. So, when did you leave his place?”
“Around 3:30 pm.”
“That was close. The post mortem report says that Sunny died between 3:45 pm to 4 pm. Now tell me about the blood stained knife in the scarf. I hope you are aware that the blood stains are Sunny’s.”
“I don’t know. All I know is that I must have left my scarf at Sunny’s place. I noticed that I was not wearing it when I went to Sadar Bazaar to shop for some motivational CDs. I did not give much thought to it then. I did my shopping and went to Asian mall Starbucks to get some coffee. I have no idea how the scarf and the knife mysteriously appeared.”
“Are you sure there was nothing on your table when you arrived at Starbucks.”
“Positive.” and then her voice trailed. “I don’t know how things changed. I was simply enjoying myself, gazing out of the window, sipping my coffee when Police arrived and discovered the knife.”
“Sorry to disturb, but time is up.” It was Inspector Samishta.
“Before I leave can I crack a policewoman joke?” Aditi said, but did not wait for Samishta’s acquiescence and continued in an enthusiastic tone. “A female police officer rounded a drunk driver and said: You have the right to remain silent. But anything you say will be held against you in the court of law. The Driver said: Tits.”
“Disgusting” said Samishta smiling, despite herself. It was quite unlike her, but she had started liking this convict. She escorted Aditi back to her cell.
Mohan got to thinking. The pretty girl who had sat besides him seemed no murderer. In any case, she could not be dumb enough to carry a blood stained knife around if she was one. She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. A knife whose existence she was oblivious of. Her handbag must have blocked the scarf out of her view. Someone must have surreptitiously placed it on her table. But who? Why? Something was amiss. The Motive. Yes. The motive behind the murder was a mystery. Why would someone murder Sunny? Who could benefit from it? Why would someone frame Aditi?
Mohan had worked on many criminal cases but this is one was special. He had taken up his case on insistence of his brother. But having met Aditi, his zeal to win the case grew multi-fold. Mohan wondered where to start his investigations from? Starbucks? Sunny’s Bungalow?
He drove aimlessly on the road and on instinct picked up some flowers from a roadside stall. He then drove towards Gurgaon cemetery. Mohan parked his car and walked towards Sunny’s grave. He saw something and stood still. He contemplated for a moment and smiled to himself. He had guessed the “motive”.
Aditi was busy in her writing when Samishta opened her cell and called out to her. “Good news!”
“Wow!” remarked Aditi, funnily pointing at Samishta’s stomach. “Hope you and the baby do well.”
“Shut up! The good news is for you.”
“The bad news first, please.”
“No bad news.” said Samishta sternly,”Now move your ass, and get going.”
Aditi obeyed. She was taken to where her parents, Mukul and Mohan were waiting for her. Their faces were beaming with happiness.
“My dear girl! God has been kind.” said her mother crying.
“What happened?” said Aditi.
Mohan said: “The real culprit has been found.”
Aditi took a moment to register. “My friend Ritika! How could she?”
“It was out of jealousy. To cut the long story short. Ritika and Sunny were in a relationship. Their relationship was kept under wraps because of Sunny’s budding acting career. Ritika had a back door access key to Sunny’s bedroom. She was obviously not too happy with Sunny turning his affections towards you. That day, Ritika had sneaked inside Sunny’s place and found him proposing you. She waited on for you to leave and then killed Sunny, stabbing him with a kitchen knife. But she was not done. She, being your long time friend knew that you visit Asian Mall Starbucks daily. She bribed a waiter out there to place the knife wrapped in your own scarf at your table. She was the one who had anonymously called up police about Sunny’s murder and also tipped them about your whereabouts.”
Mohan paused a little and then said. “I had seen Ritika at Sunny’s grave and got suspicious. The rest of the credit goes to Inspector Samishta who used her skills to interrogate Ritika and the staff at Starbucks.”
“To think Ritika did all this out of jealously.” lamented Aditi.
“Yes.” said Mohan thoughtfully. “Jealously is the most destructive emotion. No benefit ever comes out of it.”
Something snapped inside Aditi. She could no longer contain her emotions and she cried. She moved towards Mukul and said “Mukul, I confess I had been very jealous of your academic success. Once you got into IIT, everybody talked about you. I knew you loved me and supported me but I also knew that you were the one bringing laurels to Ma, Papa and not me. I drifted apart from you all due to my jealousy. But today I realize my folly. Forgive me.”
Mukul hugged her sister lovingly.
“All’s well that ends well. You are worth millions to me dear girl.” Aditi’s father said, patting her back.
“Really!! Then please advance some of it to Me.” said Aditi playfully.
“Hmm…I will put the cash in your text books. You will never touch those and my money would be safe.”
Aditi laughed. Studies were never her forte but fun and laughter were. She had passed through bad patch but had emerged stronger then ever. The time she spent in jail had made her introspect. She had realized that fame, money and success were transient. She valued family and true friendships. Her self-belief was high. She would never let petty emotions like jealously ruin her life and relationships.
The next day, Aditi dropped by Mohan’s office to thank him. Mohan was more than happy to receive her. He was also visibly nervous.
“Aditi! What a pleasant surprise. How is your book going on?”
“Going fine. Its called ‘The Comic’s tragedy’ .It’s going on a philosophical route. Something like a boring sermon. I need to spice it up and make it more interesting.”
“Why don’t you add a hero to your plot?”
“I will think about it.”
“Listen, I need to take a break in 10-15 minutes. Would you…Ah,,, like to have Ah…coffee with me ?”
“I would Ah….love to…Ah… have coffee with you.” said Aditi deliberately mimicking Mohan’s nervous demeanour. “We could discuss the prospect of a having hero in my story.”