(a fiction short story)
It’s a lazy Sunday morning and I sit languidly in my balcony reminiscing the good old days of my wonderful past, melancholically mourning the gloomy and depressing present, and speculating with foreboding about what the ominous future may hold in store for me.
The doorbell rings. Cursing at being disturbed from my reverie, and wondering who it is on a Sunday morning, I open the door. It’s Monica, my wife Anjali’s friend and colleague, who lives across the street.
“Anjali is not at home,” I say.
“I know,” she says, “I’ve come to see you.”
“Me?” I stare at her baffled.
“Yes. You. I’ve come to see you. I want to talk to you alone.”
“Alone?” I am curious. We’ve never been alone before.
“Yes. Alone. Won’t you ask me to come in?”
“Of course. Please come in. Shall we sit in the balcony?”
“No. We’ll sit here, so no one will see us and we can talk in private.”
Monica looks chic and ravishing, in tight jeans and a close fitting pink T-shirt. I try not to stare at her.
The moment we sit down on the living room sofa, she says, “Suppose you found out that your wife was being unfaithful. Tell me, Ajay, what would you do?”
Taken aback, I say, “What?”
“Suppose you caught her having an affair.”
“What nonsense!” I say angrily, but inside me there germinates a small seed of doubt. Does Monica know something? Why is she saying all this? Trying to hide my fears, I put up a solid face and say, “Come on Mrs. Kumar. You know Anjali. How much she loves me.”
“Hey, stop calling me Mrs. Kumar. I’ve told you before, haven’t I?” Monica says, looks provocatively into my eyes, and asks, “Suppose, just suppose, you caught your wife having an affair, cheating on you, betraying your trust with infidelity…”
“I’ll kill her,” I say instinctively.
“How? What do you mean ‘How’?”
“I mean ‘How’. How will you kill your wife?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I say getting up from the sofa, not wanting to continue this conversation.
“Let’s hypothesize. Would you shoot her? Strangle her? Stab her to death? Suffocate her with a pillow? Push her over the balcony or shove her off a cliff? Electrocute her? Drown her? Douse her with kerosene and set her on fire? An ‘accidental’ gas cylinder explosion?”
“What do you want from me? Why are you harassing me? Please go. Anjali will be here any moment,” I beseech her.
“No, she won’t. I know she’s gone to the health club and parlour. She’ll be back after twelve. We have enough time together, haven’t we?” Monica says mischievously and adds, “Okay, you tell me how you would kill you wife if you caught her having an affair and I’ll go away!”
“I’d probably use poison,” I say and start walking towards the entrance door.
Monica remains seated in silence for some time, and then she looks at me intently and says, her words clear and deliberate, “Poison! The way you finished Nisha, your first wife?”
I stop dead in my tracks. Pole-axed, I can sense a sharp, cold fear drilling into my vitals. I look at Monica, into her shining eyes. She knows! And she wants me to know, that she knows! And now I know that I have no choice. I walk back to my sofa, sit down and say to her, “So you want to kill your husband. Just because you think he is having an affair.”
“You killed Nisha, didn’t you?” she asks, looking directly into my eyes.
I feel very frightened, scared. How much does Monica know? Or is she just speculating, guessing? A shot in the dark. But seeing the venom in her eyes, I realize that I dare not take any chances, so I smile and say, “Well, Monica, you have got your manacles on me, haven’t you?”
“Listen, Ajay,” Monica says, her voice soft, as she speaks in measured tones, “I don’t want a scandal, that’s why I haven’t given him even the slightest hint that I suspect. But I can’t live a lie any longer pretending I am happy. The flimsy façade of our successful marriage, the veneer of pretence – it’s all going to blow-up sooner or later as he is becoming more and more indiscreet and careless.” She pauses for a moment and says, “He’s got to go. Quickly. Quietly. As ‘normal’ a death as you can arrange.”
“Why don’t you leave him? Ask him for a divorce.”
“It’s much better to be a widow than a divorcee, isn’t it?”
I think about what she says. She’s right. It is much better to have all the sympathy of a widow than the stigma of being a divorcee; inherit all her husband’s riches, money, property rather than the paltry alimony. Her husband is rich and successful, and her marriage a social triumph.
“Tell me, who is he having an affair with?” I ask out of sheer curiosity.
“It’s none of your business,” she says angrily. “Just do what I tell you and don’t delve too deeply.”
“I thought maybe…”
“What’s the use? He’ll get another one – bloody philanderer,” Monica says with contempt. “It’s he who has betrayed me and I want to get rid of him fast. You do this for me, Ajay, and my lips remain sealed about Nisha forever. I promise!”
“I’ll clear all your gambling debts, your loans, the mortgages – with the bookies, financers…”
Inside I tremble with indescribable terror; outside I try to be calm and say, “You know all about me, don’t you?”
“I’ve done my homework. Now you execute a foolproof plan. And after it’s all over there’ll be plenty more to come for you. So much money, you can’t even imagine!”
“Okay, let’s brainstorm. You tell me everything about your husband. All details. His food habits. His routine. His programme for the next few days. About both of you. Absolutely everything.”
“I’m thirsty,” Monica announces.
“How about a beer?”
I get two cans of chilled beer from the fridge.
“Hey,” Monica exclaims holding up a beer can, “you know what? Kumar drinks the same brand of beer as you do! It’s his favorite beer.”
“That’s a good start,” I say and clink my beer can with hers, “Cheers! To our success! Now tell me everything.”
She tells me everything. I listen carefully and make notes. And by the time she finishes, in my mind’s eye I am already evaluating the pros and cons of various options how Kumar is going to die.
“How do you want him to die? Instantaneous, or prolonged illness?” I ask Monica.
“I want to finish it off as quickly as possible. Painless. Fast. When he is far away from here. Like maybe during his trekking trip to Mussoorie next week,” she pauses for a moment and says, “but make sure it’s a perfect foolproof job – not even an iota of doubt or needle of suspicion.”
My mind races, exploring and weighing all the options. An Exotoxin which leaves no trace, excretes itself from the organism within a few hours? I keep on thinking, my brain cells working at lightning speed, and all of a sudden I know what I’m going to do!
“We’ll give him something in his favorite beer,” I say.
“What? Tell me, please!” Monica says excitedly.
“Now you don’t delve too much!” I say haughtily. “Just do what I say. Lips sealed. No questions!”
I look at the notes I had made when she was telling me about her husband and ask, “His weight is only 70?”
“That’s right. Seventy kilograms. Five feet ten. Thirty Eight years of age. Ideal, isn’t it? He’s a fitness freak.”
“And he leaves for Mussoorie on Thursday?”
“Yes. Early in the morning.”
“Okay,” I say, “I’ll have the beer can ready by Wednesday evening. Make sure you collect it by six before Anjali comes back from office and see that he drinks it…”
“No. No. You serve it to him. Let him have it here. In front of you. Right here.”
“He’s never come here to our place before!”
“He will. If you invite him.”
“Fine. I’ll tell Anjali to invite you all for dinner on Wednesday evening. She’s been wanting to call you over for a long time.”
“I’ll make sure your Kumar drinks the special beer. He’ll be off to Mussoorie on Thursday, and you should have the ‘good news’ by Sunday morning.”
“He shouldn’t pop off here.”
“He won’t. I’ll calculate everything precisely – make sure there’s at least a 36 hour incubation and proliferation period.”
After Monica leaves, I realize three things. Firstly, murder is a rather lucrative business. Secondly, from an amateur, I am going to become a professional. And thirdly, infidelity is not only reason why Monica wants to get rid of her husband.
Everything works as per my plan. I meticulously keep the vacuum microencapsulated ‘special’ can of beer firmly in its designated place in the fridge on Wednesday morning the moment Anjali leaves for work and before I do.
When I open the fridge the moment I return from work on Wednesday evening I notice that the particular beer-can is missing. My heart skips a beat, I feel a tremor of trepidation and soon I’m in a state of total panic. After a frantic search I find the empty beer can in the kitchen dustbin.
I pick up the can and check. Oh yes, no doubt about it – it is the same beer-can; and it is empty! I try to think, steady my confused mind. Who can it be?
Everything becomes clear all of a sudden and I find myself shaking in sheer terror. I rush to the bedroom, run around the house like a crazy animal. Anjali is not at home. I dial her mobile. An excruciating wait. She answers.
“Anjali? Where are you?”
“In the mall. Picking up some stuff for the evening.”
“I took half a day off. Came home for lunch, got things tidied up and ready for the evening and am just getting a few things from the market. I’ll be back soon.”
“Anjali. The beer! The beer!” I stutter.
“You want me to get more beer? I thought we had enough.”
“No. No. There is a beer-can missing in the fridge. I found it in the dustbin.”
“Oh, that. I drank it in the afternoon,” Anjali says.
“What? You drank that beer?” I shout.
“Yes. I drank it. I came home in the afternoon. It was hot. I felt thirsty. So I opened the fridge, picked up a can of beer and I drank it. It’s that simple.”
“You stupid fool! Why did you drink that can?” I scream into the phone.
“Stupid fool? How dare you? Ajay, have you lost your mind? I just can’t understand your behavior now-a-days!” Anjali says and disconnects.
It was extraordinary, how my mind became clear all of a sudden. There was no known antidote to the stuff I had synthesized. Clinically, there was nothing I could do. Logically, there was no point in doing something stupid in desperation. It was a question of my own survival. Having sunk to the depths of depravity, all I could do was helplessly wait and watch Anjali die. She was less than sixty kilos, much lighter than Kumar. By Saturday evening it would all be over!
The evening passes in a haze. My heart sinks as I watch Kumar enjoy beer after beer, but what’s the use – that beer-can, the one I specially prepared for him, is lying empty in the dustbin. There is a gleam in Monica’s eye. What excuse am I going to give her? She does not know what’s happened and I shudder to think what she may do when she realizes. At best she may forget everything; but knowing her vindictive streak, anything is possible! Inside I tremble with fear in unimaginable agony; outside I try to present a happy and cheerful façade and make pretence of enjoying the dinner.
Time crawls. I feel wretched and suffer in painful silence the longest and most agonizing hours of my life. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Nothing happens. Anjali seems normal, in fact, quite hale and hearty.
Sunday. Anjali is still going strong! She sits across the dining table devouring her favorite idli-chutney-sambar Sunday breakfast. Maybe her constitution, her liver, is super-strong; or maybe I’ve goofed up!
My cell-phone rings. It’s Monica. My heart skips a beat.
“Hello,” I say with trepidation.
“You’ve done it! Kumar is dead. I just got a call from Mussoorie,” Monica says excitedly.
“How?” I mumble perplexed in consternation.
“Exactly like you said. In the early hours of Sunday morning. He died in his sleep. They say maybe it was heart failure. Painless, instantaneous death.”
“I’ll come now?” I ask.
“No! No! Not now. We can’t take chances. I’m rushing to Mussoorie now. I’ll finish off everything; make sure the paperwork is done okay. And when I return, you can come and offer your condolences…” I hear Monica’s voice trail away.
I disconnect, put my mobile phone in my pocket, and look at Anjali.
“Who was it?” she asks.
“Someone from the office,” I lie.
“No. A man died. That’s all,” I say nonchalantly.
“A man died? That’s all?” Anjali looks at me in bemused bewilderment.
And as I focus my eyes on her, my mind races, twisting and turning like a kaleidoscope, my brain-cells work at lightning speed, and all of a sudden I know what I’m going to do!
Copyright 2006 by Vikram Karve