When the waiter came by the table-05 to deliver the “beautiful lady” her extra cream cappuccino, he couldn’t stop from shivering at the sight. While she had entered the cafe and was placing her orders at the counter, he couldn’t lift his gaze from her face. Dressed in a grey one-piece cotton frock, her hair tied in a neat pony, the girl was fairly pretty, but made for a more entrancing sight. Her face was set in a calm reflection as if she wasn’t present in the present at all. Her cheeks burned red, but, she suffered from the lack of a single expression. On her right shoulders, hung a black bag, and she clutched a book in her hands, along with a blue scarf. He had went straight up to the chief to request that he be allowed to deliver the orders to the “lady in grey”.
Without wasting a minute, and keeping care that he didn’t do anything stupid, Sumer rushed back to the counter and reported what he saw to the chief. When he looked over, he realized that much to his shock, what Sumer had reported was true. He immediately called the police and sent some other waiters to fetch help from nearby. He also told them all to hush, so that the lady who had been sitting unaffected until now, doesn’t get cautious.
Soon enough, Sumer saw the police jeep gush inside the campus.
When inspector Nipul, stepped out of his jeep his eyes didn’t quite meet the sight he was expecting all along. He was reported a particular lady in a cafe, who the waiters termed as threatening. He could clearly see the lady of the likes that the manager had described to him on the call. 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 stream of policemen rushed in discreetly to make a careful arrest, making sure the lady didn’t get alarmed. But, even as ten policemen swarmed up around her table, when she looked up from her table, she was barely surprised. She stood up and proceeded with Nipul to the police jeep. Never once did she hesitate. Never for once did she show a look of alarm. A rush roused in the officials, as well as all the customers and workers of Starbucks cafe. Not one person could hide their perturbation, at how the events had proceeded on.
A day later, Natasha Ganguly lost her breath when she read the headlines of the daily. “Viven Kashyap murdered by a young girl in cafe”. She read the article in one breath, which reported the strange arrest, following with the fact that later in the same day, Viven Kashyap was found covered in a pool of blood just outside Cafe Dreams. While several waiters confirmed that they did see a lady of the kind mentioned in the arrest with the writer the same day in Cafe Dreams, the knife she carried with her was also the same which caused Viven’s death.
The paper fell from her hands, and she rushed to the police station as mentioned in the newspaper report.
“I want to see the girl at once! You don’t understand that it’s very important for me,” Natasha begged Nipul.
“What’s the point? She hasn’t spoken once in the last 24 hours and hasn’t shown as much a twitch since. She hasn’t responded to one of our inquiries even after physical force was used in against. She didn’t react at all even at the sight of her parents wailing and pleading. And what’s so important anyway?” Nipul raised his brow in irritation.
“Sia is my patient, inspector. I’m quite sure that there has been a mistake in the arrest. Please let me see her. I was the one who drew her to Viven today. I was the one who fixed this meet. Please let me see her for once and I shall know much more to help your case. She might even talk.”
Startled by what she said, Nipul allowed her for one visit. Even if Sia didn’t make a statement, Natasha had to be taken into custody for what she had casually given away just moments before. The over-simplicity of the case bewildered Nipul, and he kept pondering over it as he led her to Sia’s cell.
Sia still sat leaning by the wall, wearing the very blank expression on her face. As the cell was unlocked, Natasha rushed in and dropped to her knees as she saw Sia.
“What happened, Sia?” she asked looking straight at her. Sia kept her gaze fixated on the opposite corner of the ground.
Sia didn’t for once raise her gaze, as Natasha shook her.
“Tell me what is it? It can’t be true what the reporters and the policemen say.” Tears streaming down her face, she shook Sia frantically now. A desperation was eating her up on the inside as she pondered upon the possibilities. “Sia! Tell me what happened.” She cried, “Why don’t you tell me!”
Nipul was surprised still to find Natasha more shocked about the news than Sia’s parents had been. At first, her parents had cried and complained that there had been a mistake. But, when the whole case was narrated to them, the forlorn look on their face said that it wasn’t altogether out of question for them.
But, the meeting with Sia went not quite different this time. When Sia continued to stay motionless, he drew Natasha away and led her out of the cell.
“There has been a mistake,” Natasha kept repeating.
“What makes you think so?” asked Nipul, at last.
She turned back and gazed fiercely at him, and said, “You don’t know about her inspector. You only stumbled across these fair set of events yesterday and drew up the conclusions as any other person will. But, you got to understand for once that most things in life are not always the way they seem.”
“Well, why don’t you try and tell me how you know her, and what is it that you know.”
“Oh, like you’ll believe any of it!”
With much reluctance, Natasha finally agreed to narrate the entire story of Sia, in the best of her knowledge. As much as her statement proved her being a partner in crime, Nipul decided to take a chance and agreed to meet her in the evening at the same cafe where Sia got arrested yesterday.
Bewildered, Natasha returned to her place and took a long shower. She came out and sat long in her bathrobe stunned. No way could she convince herself that Sia had committed the murder. No way could she turn the flow of events that must have proceeded in order for Sia to be not a criminal. Her head seemed to burst out from the agonizing conclusions that she drew. In her mind was fixed the image of Sia lying in the jail cell. She fetched a bottle of whiskey from her fridge and drank straight out of the bottle as she tried to suppress any further logical reasoning in her head. She cried no more, but, she shivered every time she imagined Sia committing the murder. That couldn’t have happened, she consoled herself afterward.
In the evening, at sharp four, Nipul entered the Starbucks Cafe to find Natasha sitting there, her head in her hands. She looked rather distraught, even more so than she did in the morning. Nipul sat by her only to realize that she was drunk.
“You’re drunk at this hour!”
She laughed, swinging her head backwards. It was the craziiest laugh Nipul had ever seen in his life.
“I’m not drunk. Just a little squiffy. Does it bother you?”
“Oh, no. It should help actually.”
“You think I was here to make up stories in here, inspector? Cause if that is the case, do attach a lie detector to me while you hear me out. I am going to tell you really unlikely turn of events today, and an average man would clearly call it all a fiction.”
“Let’s see what we can make out of what you have to say. Let me a minute so I can order my coffee. It’s been a tacky day, as it is,” he said getting up. “You want anything?”
“No, I’m good.”
While he went up to the counter to order his coffee, he asked the manager to stop anyone from coming in the cafe that evening, The staff too were requested not to meddle in.
When his coffee was ready, he went with it to the table. While he placed a recorder on the table he said rather politely, “Don’t mind this. This is just for the sake of formality.”
“May we hear you out now? I won’t bother you until you’re done with your narration, is that alright?”
“I stumbled across her case one afternoon as I was checking my mail. A friend of hers had emailed me about her concern, and when I read the case I was immediately taken aback. This is keeping in consideration that I am overly selective about my patients, as you must know.
On the date I had fixed up the meeting, she came along with her parents. I conduct all my examinations alone with the patients. Most of them open up more easily when they know that they are in the room with a person they don’t are not going to see other than in that very room. There is an obvious pressure on them to conceal much when accompanied by their “loved ones”. But, in this particular case, I found the parents to be much concerned about it, as you see, Sia hadn’t spoken once in the last one year. Or, if I quote her parents, Sia hadn’t spoken once since she stumbled across the book, and took it rather too seriously.
After much reluctance, they gave up finally. I led the awfully quiet girl into my room. She looked unruffled by the goings-on, just as the newspaper report had mentioned her to be on the day of her arrest.
Once in the room, I talked to her through the entire time. I told her about my own sister who I lost when I was a teenager. I should tell you too about my sister’s case. When she was around twenty, she had started hallucinating a lot. She would see people that didn’t exist. They tortured her. They threatened her. Among these “people” was one she used to call by the name, Arvnim. He frequented her visions most often and soon enough there wasn’t a moment when she could get him out of her sight. She would often cry and ask him for forgiveness. She would often ask our parents for help. But, they were disgusted at her for putting up with such nonsense. I was thirteen then. Even though I was pained at the worries of my sister, I was forbidden to speak of her “nonsense” to anyone. They kept her at home, a disgrace to the family, on an excuse that she had been physically ill for some time past. One night, she woke up my parents with most desperate cries and pleas. She shivered madly. But, instead of helping her, they shut her in a room and we went to sleep. Next morning, we woke up to my sister covered in a pool of her own blood, a blade lying alongside.
Even after her death, my parents condemned the idea that she was schizophrenic and her death wasn’t mere suicide. I left home as soon as I grew old enough to and took to studying Neuroscience naturally.
As I told Sia the story in parts, bits in every next meeting, I saw her expressions change sometimes. She was opening up to me. She would sometimes, nod or question rapidly, “then?”
One day, though, she broke down completely and when she did, I saw the most beautiful soul I had ever come across in my life.
“It all started with an invitation to his book launch ceremony. The fact that Viven would write me an invitation in his child-like handwriting came as a surprise to all my fellow journalists in TOI. He is no new in doing out-of-the-box things, so I thought it must be one of those and went to the party after all, unlike I usually do, curious to the core. Once there, I sat at the end of the bar, where the lights were dim enough to let me remain unnoticed for long. From there I observed the author of 37 bestsellers stand nodding in various conversations. As was known about him, he hardly spoke.
After half an hour, he walked up toward me and greeted me like an old friend. All the unease, all the curiosity had driven off from my mind from the moment I started observing him in the party. It was only natural that I had got a special invitation. He and I were just two faces of the same coin. In him, I had seen a total reflection of me as he went on from one person to the next through the party.
When he came to me at last, he was much at ease. We sat in absolute silence for quite long, just observing the goings-on. Silence had never felt so endearing, as it did with him.
He later led me to his place, and in no time, we came so close to each other as would have been absolutely out-of-question for both of us had we been with other people.
A couple of days, I stayed at his place. On the third day when I left his place, I took along a copy of his new book, “Obscured by Clouds”.
Once home, I took a bath and was just out in my bathrobe when Viven arrived. He immediately decided to read the book to me.
But, on as he went I realized that the book was a word-by-word narration of the sequence of events as it had turned out between the two of us. I was baffled. How could he do that? How could he plan the events ahead of him in such absolution and lead me on with him, as if a puppet in his show?
The book ended in the two parting their ways, as we did soon after. But, only after I had first narrated the events to my best friend did I realize his craft.
Even after seeing the note and the book, no one believed me. They called me schizophrenic and went to several doctors for guidance. Each of them disproved the notion, but, couldn’t find out what was wrong with me. I had lost my words, that was what was wrong with me. The more I thought about the course of events, the more bewildered I felt. I kept the book close to me at all times, with the note inside. They were crucial for keeping me sane. They were a necessity for me as they proved that what I had been through was no make-believe.”
After I had heard her story completely, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to live in peace until I verified it. I went over to the place where the book launch ceremony had taken place and could only see Sia enter once. The place where she had sat with Viven that night was in a corner that the camera angle didn’t capture, much to my disgust. Not one of her friends had ever seen them together. Her best friend thought that she probably had written the letter herself in delusion. I had to verify the story narrated to me in such earnestness and I knew only one person could help me verify it.
I immediately sent Viven messages through all channels that were feasible. I told him what I knew and asked him to please talk about it.
Much to my surprise, I heard from Viven within a week of posting my letters. In a short message, he said that he wished to meet Sia on Wednesday, at 11 a.m. at Cafe Dreams.
Uncertain how Sia would react to this I took the news to her. She remained unruffled as always, against how I had expected. Next day, I drove her to Cafe Dreams.
From outside the Cafe, I could see the writer sit by the window. He seemed much withered down, and I told myself that it was because he missed her just as much as she had while they were apart. I left her there and drove back home.
You know what happened after that, inspector.”
Nipul had read the book by the renowned author and reread it last day on the account that the murderer was carrying it with her. He knew that Sia’s story was but a synopsis of the book. And if he were to believe in the story, then it was a frighteningly exact synopsis.
It also somewhat explained the notes that they found in her hands. One that the research said was written only the previous morning, but, the other rather old.
“I found this with Sia when she was arrested,” he said handing over a crumbled piece of paper to Natasha.
It read, “Not much in life is as it seems, is it?”