Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fire of Truth

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. The weather outside too was dismal. The dark clouds seemed to conspire the region as Erica's mind was filled with anguish and guilt.

Erica felt the queen in Starbucks logo smile at her insidiously. Was this all happening inside her head or was it a direful day that she was undergoing, she wondered. Her legs were quivering and her hands longed to rest but she dissembled calm and paid the counter.

Anjan would be waiting for Erica at the marriage hall as her bridegroom and their family were anticipating her any moment now. Even the police men might get a week off but not Erica, who was an ardent journalist. She was more committed to work than Anjan and today she was faced with a question of whom she wanted to marry, Anjan or her job.

Dressed in silk dhoti chanting prayers in front of sacred fire, Anjan's heart thumped faster. He did not know where Erica was. He had assured his parents about her punctuality for the marriage and they were forced to trust him. Their relationship had not been a bed of roses. After five long years Anjan had convinced his parents to get married with the love of his life, a Christian girl. Rosy aunty had succumbed to her daughter's wish after her wild behaviour when she was refused marriage with Anjan, a brahmin boy. If things went awry today, they would forever lose their parents' trust.

'Would I alternatively get married with a random girl from the marriage hall if Erica doesnt arrive like in most movies how the bride gets married to a random guy if the groom fails to marry for some reason?' pondered Anjan. His mind paced rapidly and went into a blur just as the smoke from the fire blurred his vision. Tears were flowing from his eyes, he did not know if it was due to fear or physical irritation that it was all happening.

Erica knew what integrity was but her blood stained scarf narrated a different story and she was mired in a moral crisis between her profession and marriage. Her long eyelashes hid the pain her pupil said, if only anyone strained enough to look deep into her eyes. Anjan would read it if at all there was time, enough time for them to unite before they tied the knot.

Erica was a crime reporter but now, she might have been mistaken for a criminal by the police. They would have framed her as the accussed as the news would have already been making its rounds.

Several lights flashed as Mastaan Kasab lay on the floor in blood shed with his curly unkempt hair appearing like bees swarming his face and  blood splattered neck. The press photographers were already there and the reporters would not miss out a feather from the place. But did they know what had happened? Erica's mobile was switched off and she could neither reach out for help nor be communicated for clarification. She had not informed anybody about her sting operation. Would Anjan rescue her like the filmy heroes? She yearned to be in his arms but there was no time for pampering and she had to act, real quick!

'Come on Erica, pick my call, we are losing our game with the world that said we cant get married,' said Anjan to himself as the computerised voice informed him that Erica's phone was switched off and that she could not be reached. 'One last attempt and if it fails, I would face the music,' thought Anjan as he desperately dialled Erica for the nth time.

His heart leapt as there was a ring! The cell phone line connected and he was shouting like crazy in the middle of the loud wedding drums that were percussioned as a part of a marriage with no bride. He was literally facing the music and could not hear anything from his end. He didnt know if she picked the call to reassure her presence or let him down. He perspired even more as he imagined the large garland on him like a snake strangling him to death. He didnt know if he was anxious or embarrassed to face the situation but he had to go by the flow.

'Anjan was not just another man. He was a fighter, he would not let his girl go in deep waters,' prayed Erica. Going back to the marriage might get her arrested if she showed up. As Erica walked on the pavement in front of the cafe, the wind carassed her wavy hair and tried to teach her some tranquility even under the dark clouds of Chennai.

Caffeine had already given her some energy to revive the tediousness of the morning and awakened the nervous system of her brain. Kasab and she were not enemies in personal life. He worked as a shopkeeper in a meat stall at Kodambakkam. Inside his shop were meat of many kinds that people have never known he had. They were human meat.He was a child trafficker who used young girls for flesh trade and later killed them for pleasure.

Working for Freedom Today, the most popular neighbourhood newspaper, she had a nose for news especially in her area and she sniffed filth inside Kasab's stall. Posing to be a pimp, she visited his stall as his customer a couple of times and pretended to be interested in pedophile activities. Kasab promised her five teenage girls for a day for a sum of fifty thousand rupees at 8 am on Friday.

At first, Erica wanted to procrastinate the plan because it was her wedding day. But on a second thought, she felt that she could not risk the lives of innocent children for her wedding plans and she agreed to it. She had not taken the assistance of police because she knew that there were police officials too involved in this trade. She had to provide a trenchant evidence catching Kasab red handed and bust him with an exclusive child racketing story.

On Friday,it was a humid morning with the sun's fiery emitting early. Dressed in sexy blue shorts that revealed her finely chiselled thighs and frilly white sleevless shirt, well tucked in and extra tightened with a brown leather belt, she set out confidently with her stockings on. She had the cash ready. She had saved it for the past one month, foregoing a costly reception saree. She had everything that she needed in her handbag. In case, she was caught by any officials, she had her press card for identity.She stuffed the cash well inside the bag and put her pen, notepad and id card hurriedly into it as she left for the shop.

She didnt want to give out Kasab to anyone until she got to know all the people who were behind this plot.She checked the watch when she reached. It was 7.55 am and Kasab was eagerly awaiting Erica. In her usual pretentious husky voice for him, she enquired him about the girls. He seemed more than pleased to usher her inside a room. As Erica moved in to receive the girls, she was faced with a locked door. For a moment, she thought that something went wrong. She looked back at Kasab to learn that he demanded the cash first before she could see the children.

'Ah Kasu, dont you trust me?' she sweetly asked but Kasab did not budge. Tensed inside, Erica had to conceal it on her face. She swiftly opened the bag and swayed her hands into it in search of the cash. Hastily, she pulled out a stash and showed him for assurance. She did not realise the things that fell out of her bag during the act as she was keen about the cash. Her ID card slipped out and fell on Kasab's toe. Before Erica could notice it, it was too late and Kasab was already alarmed.

He slapped her arm and ran for his knife. Erica had no place to exit. She was trapped. In the wink of her eye, she was at knife point, imminent to get killed.She struggled to keep him from stabbing. Suddenly she remembered the nail cutter knife in her pocket and tried to reach it with one hand still fighting to keep away Kasab's knife. Writhing out of control she fell on the ground as she managed to pull out the nail cutter.

As Kasab aimed for her neck in more fury, she dug a scar into his bare foot expecting him to fall down. Contrarily, he stood firm but his aim slipped into a mark in Erica's hand and the knife fell accidentally. Picking upon the chance, Erica caught it before him and threatened to slash him with it. As an experienced butcher, Kasab could see from her face that she had no idea as how to even poke someone with a knife. He gutsily proceeded forward to grab it. Pchak! A streak of blood splashed on Erica's face as she slit Kasab's neck. Panick stricken, she was transfixed for a moment. Her senses reminded her that she was now a murderer and she had to escape. Hurriedly wiping her face with her scarf she wrapped the knife into it and got out.

The road was busy and an auto man was fishing for people to take a ride. She blankly got inside it and was shivering in fear. 'Where should we go ma'am?' asked the auto man. The immediate place Erica could think of was Nungambakkam. 'Starbucks, Nungambakkam,' she said with no idea what she was doing.

It was 11.45 am and Erica was lost in her thoughts, still standing on the pavement. She felt the police handcuffing her from the back, she let out a shrill but it was a woman in rags who looked like a beggar. Absent mindedly, she reached for her bag but the woman stopped her. She could see the police car rushing inside and froze. She was now cornered and had the only option to surrender. Erica gave up all hopes and stood still as the inspector got out of the car and approached her. 'I know.. But this is all.. all.. a misunderstood folly. I.. I..,' she gasped for words trying to explain in vain. 'Shall we go to our in law's house?' the inspector demanded. Erica could understand the metaphor for jail and broke down.

She was taken into the car to the nearest place. She bowed down in guilt and didnt want to face the police station. To her shock, her parents were standing! She almost fainted. When she opened her eyes, she was lying on the bed room, clad in a saree with jewels. 'Call out the bride,' ordered an elderly voice and Erica was ushered inside a hall packed with her relatives. Anjan was sitting in the middle looking tired before fire. But a strange kind of happiness was dancing in his eyes.Erica was ushered beside him and he lifted up the nuptial rope and gently tied it around her neck. 'This is definitely a dream and I have to know whats happening,' said Erica to herself but people would not let her go and she had to stay put until other rituals went on. After hours of chanting and other formalities, Erica and Anjan were finally declared married and let go inside a decorated room for their first night.

Erica could not contain herself. Her head was paining troublesomely and she threw herself on the bed looking confused at Anjan.

'When you tried calling me, I sent my brother-in-law Arun athimber to Kodambakkam, where you usually get stories from. Athimber called back to say that there was a murder and called for his friend George, the city commissioner. George rushed to the spot and investigated the people. There were cries from the meat shop and the police found children inside. They gave the details of their parents and informed that they heard voices from their room about a lady fighting with Kasab,' offered Anjan.

Before Erica could open her mouth to shoot her endless questions, Anjan interrupted again. 'Arun athimber is a secret CID agent. His office is also at Kodambakkam and he used to nudge me about your weird dressing and visiting of meat shop for the past few days. He had followed you till yesterday and I insisted him to stay with me today. But once I sent him for you, he cracked the case with his credentials and safely brought you back for marriage.The lady that the inspector brought along was the mother of a rescued child and she wanted to see her saviour right away. We might need to visit the station for their investigation and give out a testimony.'

Everything was in place now and Erica did not know how long she slept before she awoke for the sensational story she wrote for Freedom Today from the first person point of view. It was her biggest break and her colleagues were in awe about her guts.'How did you have the courage to do such a thing all alone?' her Editor asked. 'When you do a good thing for a benefit greater than for yourself, success is assured,' she replied as her face glowed confidently in the fire of truth.

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