It was six o’ clock on a cold January morning. The park was almost desolate, except a lone figure sitting on a bench. There were a few joggers running around the park but no one paid any attention to Nayan, who was now about to take a sip from his coffee.
Nayan picked up the coffee cup from his right and raised it to his lips. But he couldn’t drink it. His hands were shaking so violently that he spilled some on his jeans instead. He cursed under his breath and threw away the drink. He then got back to waiting.
It was about an hour before Sagar arrived. As Nayan saw him approaching, there was a momentary look of relief on his face…but it was soon replaced by the familiar look of fear and anxiety.
Sagar walked up to the bench and quietly took a seat beside Nayan. He sat back, relaxed and stared ahead. Nayan was having a hard time looking at him. He had fixed his eyes on the ground and he wanted to keep looking that way. The passage of time was excruciatingly slow and he just wished that somehow, the time would pass and all his problems would vanish along with it. But he knew that was impossible. They had done something so terrible that even time couldn’t wash away their sins.
“I took care of it. It can’t be found. We are safe now”, Sagar said after a few minutes, still staring ahead. He waited for Nayan to say something but there was no response. He waited for a few more minutes and then turned towards his shaking friend. He touched Nayan at his shoulder and spoke calmly.
“Look, this is not the first time that I have seen this. I can’t tell you why, but I can assure you that it can never be found. We just have to lay low for a few days until this blows over…Ok?” he paused for a few seconds and then said, “Everything will be alright”.
That assurance, somehow was the trigger. Nayan, who had been sitting silently, listening to Sagar for the past few minutes, finally erupted.
“What the f**k are you talking dude? We killed a man. Can you understand what I am saying? Can you f**king grasp the gravity of the act that we have done. We have committed murder…f**king murder. How the f**k can you be so calm”, Nayan shouted. He was now standing and there was a look of pure hysteria on his face. His eyes were glowing red and there was nothing Sagar could do to calm him.
“Oh man…we are so f**ked…our lives are finished. Soon his wife will find out that her husband is missing and she will call the police. How much time do you think they will take before zeroing in on us? We are going to prison Sagar…our lives are so finished”. The rambling, not always coherent, continued for another ten minutes. Sagar was half listening and half thinking. He was trying to convince himself about the morality of their acts. He knew what they had done was wrong legally and ethically, but it had to be done anyhow.
They had to punish the man whose daughter had killed herself so that she didn’t have to sleep with him anymore.
The man these two friends had killed a few hours ago, was a professor in the college from where Nayan was about to graduate in a few weeks. He used to have a daughter named Marie with whom Sagar had been in a relationship for the past few months. Nayan had introduced Marie to Sagar as a friend and he had liked the girl from the moment he had seen her. These three had continued to hang out and Nayan had understood quite easily that they were attracted to each other. It was just a matter of time before Sagar and Marie had started dating and Nayan was happy about it too. He had always seen Sagar as a ladies’ man and he was quite surprised to find out that Marie was acting as his anchor in life. They seemed to be made for each other. But sometimes appearances can be deceiving.
Sagar had known from their first night together that Marie was a troubled soul. On the outside, she was a cheerful, lively girl. She was a talented artist and her intellect was something to be proud about. She was quite social and hung out regularly with girls from the college. But inside, she was a lost cause. She was damaged somehow. And in spite of doing everything to protect and shield her fragile self, Sagar had caught on to that. He had always been attracted to people like Marie. The first night they had made love, Sagar had felt that she was scared of something. The act itself had taken much persuasion from his side. After about three months of their romance, Marie had opened up to Sagar. What she revealed had been a blow to him.
Marie had been repeatedly raped by her father since she was fifteen. Her mother knew nothing about it and when she had told her, after Sagar had convinced her to do so, her mother had slapped her and called her a “bi**h who is ungrateful for all the sacrifices that her mother and father have done for her”. This had enraged Sagar even further. He had decided to confront Marie’s dad but she had forced him not to. He had controlled himself and had decided to lodge a police complaint. He himself was a lawyer and had decided to take legal action. But he never got a chance.
A few days after the confrontation with her mother, Marie had hanged herself in her room. No suicide note had been found but the reason had become pretty clear when Sagar and Nayan had returned from Marie’s funeral. He had found a note in one of his books. The note read:
“I am sorry. I can’t take this anymore. For the first time in my life, I had fallen in love with someone, a thing that I had previously found impossible. I realised that I would be committing a crime by pretending to have a life with you when in reality, my life had been finished all those years ago. I can’t ruin your life. Please move on and forget about me”
Sagar and Nayan had tried to talk o the police about her father and the rapist that he was, but they had refused to do anything without any proof. The letter was not signed, and was not admissible in court. And besides, he was a respected professor in a college and there was no way in hell that he could have done something so heinous. There was no way that the police would move onto him with such little evidence. He was to be left alone.
And that was the day when Sagar had decided that he was going to kill the bastard, one way or the other. But he had decided to talk to him first, give him a chance to confess and give himself up. He along with Nayan had approached him yesterday and upon confrontation, he had laughed at their faces. He had looked into Sagar’s eyes and said, “You know what? Even if it is true, do you think anyone would believe that? I suggest you move on…just like the way I have moved on”. He had paused and then said, “But one thing I have to tell you…it was good while it lasted. You would know that, won’t you Sagar?”
And then he had smiled.
The smile of a man who lacked any remorse. The smile of a criminal who was about to run free. And Sagar was not about to let that happen.
The next few minutes had been a blur. They had struggled for a few minutes. The professor had overpowered Sagar and had held him in a death-choke and Nayan had swung a golf stick at the Professor’s head. Then they both had kicked him and beat him until he was dead. The entire thing had happened in just under five minutes and this is how they had ended up being murderers.
Nayan was now crying uncontrollably. Sagar helped him sit on the bench and hugged him until he sobbing stopped.
“You know that we did the right thing. Don’t you?” , Sagar asked, still holding Nayan.
“I…know…that”, Nayan spoke intermittently, wiping his tears. “But we have killed him. How can we live knowing that? What about our conscience? How will we sleep knowing what we have done…We have to confess. We have to tell the police. We have to tell someone”, he spoke hysterically. There was panic in his eyes. He continued staring at Sagar…waiting for a response.
Sagar spoke after a few moments. His voice was calm and controlled.
“Nayan, do you remember the first time I had told you about Marie’s dad?”
“Yes…it was after you had got that note, after we came back from the funeral”.
“Yes…and do you remember what you has said that day…fully realising what that beast had done to Marie? Marie, who was more than a sister to you? Do you remember?”
“Yes…I had said that I would kill the man’, Nayan spoke, staring at something on the opposite side of the park.
“Yes…and do you remember all those nights we had spent talking about how criminals don’t get prosecuted because someone pulls some strings and how someone gets exonerated simply because he is the son of some VIP and how hundreds of smart criminals escape because we don’t have enough evidence?”
“I would like to think that those conversations meant something. I would like to know that when you spoke about your dream of being the Poor man’s lawyer, you meant it. I would like to know that when you said that you would stop at nothing to provide justice to those who had been neglected…it meant something. Because for me, it meant the world.”
Nayan said nothing.
“I know that as lawyers, we made a mistake. But it was Marie. I loved her…and she is buried in the ground today because of that perverted f**ker…do you get that?”, he paused and then continued. “ If you confess now, they will brand us as common criminals. They will prosecute us to the full extent of the law and that ba**ard will be deemed as a victim. There was nothing we could do. Did you look at his face when we confronted him? Did it look like he was ashamed of what he had done? Did he look sorry? No. On the contrary, he was smiling. The ba**ard deserved what he got and that is that.”
Nayan spoke after a few minutes.
“I am with you on that…what he did to Marie…it was unpardonable. But what about the police? They will find us Sagar…if we confess, we may get a reduced sentence”
“No…we won’t. Trust me…I have been on the other side quite a few times to know how this ends. The prosecution will argue that we were not being subjective and we had planned to kill him. He will prove that it was premeditated and we will get the full swing…so we can’t do that. Even if they believe what we are saying about Marie’s dad, we will both loose our liscence and we will still end up being prisoners…Believe me, we can’t survive that”, he said in a determined voice. “And besides, you don’t have to worry about the police. I have been a criminal lawyer for two years now. I know exactly how the police works… I have worked with murderers. I know how to get these things done. Don’t worry…It’s just two weeks before you graduate and just a month before you start working in New York. Trust me, you will learn how to move on…You will be fine”.
And that was that. They did move on. Nayan graduated a week later and took his position in a respectable law firm in New York. Sagar stayed back in Delhi, working for the DA’s office, making political connections and spending money on girls. The body of Marie’s father was never found and his wife never even pressurized the police. Instead, she married another man just a few months later. Nayan and Sagar tried to keep in touch…but just as time had eroded the gravity of their crime, so had it eroded their friendship.
Ten years had passed since they had last spoken. Nayan had heard somewhere that Sagar had left work at the DA’s office and had moved away. When he had tried to get in touch, he had failed. And that was the reason Nayan was skeptical about Sagar’s turning up for his wedding.
Nayan was now one of the senior members in his law firm. He had been an excellent lawyer and the firm had done everything to give him what he deserved. He was a rich and influential man. He walked with the elite, posed for photos at high-end parties and dinners and did all the things rich people did in New York. And now, he was getting married.
He had met Julie a few months back. She was the sister of a client who Nayan’s firm had been representing in a civil case. They had first met over a legal matter but soon, the formal meetings at coffeehouses had been replaced by dinners at expensive restaurants. A whirlwind romance had ensued and now Nayan had decided to tie the knot.
This morning, Nayan was at his Manhattan suite when he had received a call. It was Sagar. In all that chaos, Nayan had almost forgotten about him. He was quite sure that Sagar wouldn’t turn up. But he had. And now he was calling Nayan from the airport.
Just a few minutes later, Nayan was on his way to the airport, sitting on the comfortable leather seats in the back of his Mercedes. As they neared the airport, Nayan had grown nervous and anxious even. He hadn’t seen him in years. Would he even recognize Sagar now? In his mind he tried to imagine what Sagar would look like.
What Sagar looked like had no resemblance to the Sagar Nayan had seen ten years ago. He had not recognized him until he was standing right in front of him. Nayan had looked closely, and beneath the beard, the long hair and the tired look, he had seen Sagar’s face.
The first minutes were quite awkward. They had lost their comfort and there were considerable lengths of silent periods. Nayan was still having a hard time believing that the guy sitting next to him, telling stories about his new home was the same guy he had been friends some years ago. The haggard look, the simple clothes, the unkempt beard…it was just the opposite of what Sagar had been. He was even more stupefied to find out what Sagar had been upto all these years.
Sagar had left the work at the DA’s office and had shifted to a remote village in Himachal Pradesh. He had managed to get a job at the local post office, working as a simple clerk and that was what he had done in the last ten years. He had led a simple life in the foot of the Himalayas, hadn’t married and had no kids. It was quite bizarre.
Nayan had wanted to know more, to ask more but they had already reached his home. He had introduced Sagar to Julie and her family. Julie too was quite confused because of the fact that Sagar looked nothing like the guy Nayan sometimes talked about. Some of her more ‘suspicious’ family members were even afraid whether he would cause any trouble. But Sagar was quite respectful, and even shy. He looked like a man who asked for nothing, needed nothing and was someone who had made his peace with the world a long time ago.
The rest of the day had passed in a frenzy. Nayan was so busy attending to all the rituals that he didn’t have time to talk to Sagar. It was past midnight when Nayan got a chance to talk to Sagar alone. He found him sitting on the beach, beer bottle in one hand, staring at the dark sea.
“Hey, what are you doing out here?” Nayan asked sitting down beside him.
“Nothing…I was just staring at the emptiness”, Sagar replied, a lost look in his eyes.
“I have got something for you”, Nayan said and raised an unopened Jack Daniels bottle.
“You remembered?” Sagar smiled and took it. He opened the bottle and filled two glasses. He handed one to Nayan, kept one for himself and they raised them for a toast.
“Cheers”, they said simultaneously and took a sip. The golden liquid felt like heaven when it slowly rolled down Sagar’s throat. It had been quite some time.
The friends stared at the sea for a few minutes until Sagar broke the silence.
“So… you have made quite a life for yourself”, he said softly.
“Yes…that I have”, said Nayan. “The money is good, life is comfortable and Julie is a darling”, he smiled.
“Hmm…I can see that”, he turned to face Nayan and said, “I am very happy for you Nayan”
This was followed by another bout of silence. This time, it was Nayan who started the conversation.
“Sagar…what happened to you? Why did you move to a village in nowhere when you had the perfect life in Delhi?”, he asked.
Sagar said nothing and kept staring ahead.
“Don’t you remember? You used to be a star dude…you used to be the guy everyone was jealous of…You had the looks, the money, the girls. You were ambitious. You had a fire inside you. You had everything I wished for…I looked up to you and wanted to be like you…What happened?”, Nayan said, his voice an octave higher than normal. He had had a few drinks with friends and it was his wedding…he was happy tonight. As the alcohol took its toll, he felt his inhibitions melt away.
Sagar sighed and said, “No Nayan…that was an illusion. A facade. And I was quite happy inside it…But once the illusion lifted, I just couldn’t live like that. I wanted peace. I wanted to be someplace far from that maddening life. I just couldn’t stand it…the rush, the frenzy, the lies…it was just too chaotic. I wanted to lie down and breathe for a second…”
“But what happened? Something must have been the trigger.”
“Life…life happened”, Sagar said and smiled. “Give me your glass, it’s empty”, he said and got busy in refilling their glasses. Nayan too felt the hesitation and left the topic. It was a few minutes before Sagar spoke.
“Do you still think about it?”
“About what?” , Nayan asked not knowing what he was talking about.
“About Marie and her dad… Do you still think about it? Have you ever shared it with anyone?”, he replied.
“No”, Nayan replied rather quickly. He was genuinely startled at the sudden rush of memories. “I mean, it’s not like I don’t remember…I…I have made my peace with it. I have moved past it”, Nayan said and took a sip. Then he continued.
“After I moved to New York, I got so busy that slowly, forgetting stuff seemed easy. There was so much work to do. I was in a strange country, surrounded by strangers…it was quite overwhelming. And I had to keep up with the constant work at the law firm. I just didn’t had enough time…you know? I still think about it from time to time…but it doesn’t bother me anymore. What about you?”
“I couldn’t do that….and that is why I moved away”, Sagar replied. Nayan said nothing and waited for him to continue. He was feeling quite good…sitting beside Nayan, drinking scotch, it felt like old times. He decided to continue.
“After you moved here, I got very lonely. Marie was gone, and so were you. I was having a hard time moving on, moving past the people I had lost. To divert my mind away from her, I started doing drugs. It was the light stuff at the beginning. Some dope, some pills…but soon, they became useless. I started hanging out with the wrong crowds. Morphine and opium became regular affairs. I started using escorts. I did everything possible…but I still couldn’t forget her. The face of the professor, bruised and bloodied, haunted me wherever I went. Marie, hanging from the ceiling fan, her dead, pale face…My dreams were full of it. I started using more and more…just to forget…just to save myself from the agony of their faces. I just wanted to remember as she was…but all I saw was a ghost. Sometimes the drugs helped…but after a certain time, I got addicted to them. Life seemed pretty impossible without the drugs. The future looked pretty bleak and all I wanted was to die… But a man saved my life.”
Sagar paused for a moment and took a sip. The alcohol was working. He felt the words slip out of his mouth.
“He was a tourist and had arrived from Himachal. Once as he was walking back to his hotel, he had found me wasted, lying in my own vomit in an alley near a bar. After I had regained consciousness, he had convinced me to come with him to his native place. He said that I would get what I was looking for…there was something strange about the man…he had a certain demeanour that made me agree… so I got to his village. His family took me in and treated me. The first few months were horrible. I tried to escape a few times…I shouted in anger, cried in pain and abused in frustration. It was hell. What I would not have done to get just one hit of the magical drugs. But they never abandoned me. They nursed me up, one piece at a time, and there, in that alien place, away from my city, away from my people, I finally found solace. I found the solitude I was looking for…I finally found home”, Sagar finished and looked at Nayan. There were tears in his eyes in which the full moon was shining brightly.
It was fifteen minutes past two when Nayan left Sagar in his room at the hotel. Walking back to the bridal suite, he thought about the unpredictability of life. He had always thought that it would be he who would finally be driven insane by the burden of murder on his conscience. But he turned to be all right. And Sagar? The guy whose fiery lectures, whose irrefutable arguments and whose indomitable ambition had helped Nayan to become what he had become, had found bliss in solitude. He smiled and walked ahead.
As Nayan opened the door of the bridal suite and looked up, Julie was already in bed. She was wearing nothing but her wedding ring.
“It’s bad luck to keep someone’s bride waiting on the wedding night…You know?” she said teasingly.
Nayan smiled and said, “Is that so?” He moved in beside his wife, kissed her on the lips and smiled.
“Why are you grinning like an idiot?” she asked.
“Nothing…it’s just that I love you so very much”, he smiled and moved on top of her.
“I love you too”, she smiled.
At the end of the hall, in a similar suite, Sagar stood by the window overlooking the beach. He was staring at the sea, unable to sleep for some reason. The beach was quite illuminated under the full moon. In that brightness, Sagar saw something moving on the beach. As he looked closely, he saw the silhouette of a woman. Her long hair was swaying in the light breeze that was blowing that night. But her face remained invisible. After a few moments, she looked up at him and in that moonlight, he saw that familiar face. The face of the person he loved most in the world, the face that brought solitude, the face which had stayed with him, always.
He smiled and waved at the figure. She smiled and waved back too. They looked at each other for some time and then she walked away. Sagar came back to his bed and lied down. Now that he had seen her, he could sleep, finally. He was home.