Every morning Col.Joshi walked to the nearby park and sat on the bench gazing at the serenity of the lake. A year after retiring from the Indian army, he had discovered this place. Most of the faces here were familiar to him yet he avoided them today as he loathed the sympathy in their eyes. Besides this was his time for planning the day, especially if the date meant a trip to the court.
It had been five years since the night of his daughters’ demise. Death by accident had been the verdict by the investigating officer. But he knew better. Her in-laws had exercised political influence and were granted bail immediately after he lodged a case of murder against them. Despite evidence of years of domestic abuse, the courtroom drama stretched endlessly.
Friends and family had assumed that he would give up after losing his wife last week. But they were unaware that he was actually preparing himself for the court hearing today for he had resolved to bring justice to his dead daughter.
“The red stiletto heels will look gorgeous on your feet Ma’am.” the salesman at the shoe shop was eager to close a sale deal before calling it a day.
Tshering looked at the case that boldly displayed 12000 INR. It had been nothing less than a dream to own the pair. She glanced at the cheap black heels purchased with her first salary at just 1100 INR from the local Shillong market.
Seated on the shop bench, Kodor fondly looked at this girl who had been employed as his house-help two years back. A freak accident in the city lake would have killed his mother hadn’t Tshering dived in to save her. As a swimming coach, he had spotted her talent and immediately taken her under his wings for training. He proudly beamed at the National level swimming champion today as she proceeded to pay the bill for those red heels.
“Coach, shall we leave?” Her voice broke his reverie.
It was already time to head towards the State conducted felicitation ceremony for their contribution to sports.
Riju stood up perturbed by his daughter’s exuberant voice from the next room.
“She is crazy. She declares herself as the winner of tic tac toe despite playing alone.” Lavina sounded annoyed.
“Keep your thoughts in check woman. ” Riju spoke angrily.
“And if I don’t, I am sure you will murder me just like you killed her mother.”
Riju walked away. He had started an extramarital affair with his wife Ravina’s sister Lavina two years ago. Once Ravina had got a whiff of this during the Diwali last year, he had to get her out of his way. A freak car accident was the perfect cover-up for his planned murder.
As he peeped inside his daughter’s room, he saw Tia speaking to the chair in front of her. It almost looked like Ravina sitting there talking to Tia. He felt a shiver run down his spine. If only he could see through Tia’s eyes, he would have known that Tia was indeed speaking to the spirit of her deceased mother.
Hidden behind the bushes, she kept an eye on the house with green window panes. It had taken her three years to discover his recent address after he escaped from the previous city. She had stalked him endlessly for the last two months to understand the pattern of his schedule.
Years ago, he had made her pay a heavy price for rejecting his marriage proposal. The police had failed to trace him while she fought for her life in the hospital. The attack had destroyed her physically but her indomitable spirit sought revenge.
As she touched the burnt skin on her face under the veil, she felt anger rising within her. The deserted lanes were an indication that her wait would come to an end today. As she heard a soft sound of the designated house door opening, her grip on the bottle of acid in her bag tightened. She had chosen the same modus operandi as her target. To see him suffer had been the sole reason for her survival.
Rishan walked into the room where his mother Jaya was rocking the infant to sleep. His sleep deprived state was evident to any on-looker. Jaya signalled Rishan not to make any sound lest the baby wake up. The last time that the Bose family had re-adjusted their schedule and routine to accommodate the needs of a new-born was twenty-eight years back when Rishan was born to Jaya and Arun Bose. Rishan decided to tip-toe out of the room. His retired Professor father was sitting in the porch, lost in thoughts.
“Baba, the process is going to take much longer than we could anticipate. The only positive factor is that both sides of the family have confirmed their unwillingness to take up this responsibility.”
Looking at the unkempt state of his son, Arun felt a wave of tenderness. In the last couple of days, his son had grown responsible much beyond his age.
Arun spoke, “This was expected. Imran Pasha and Neeta Chaubey had secretly married against the wish of their parents in their village in Haryana three years ago. They had to immediately flee to Kolkata to escape from their families who had attempted killing them after coming to know of their truth. Imran used to drive a taxi while Neeta worked as a cook when I had stumbled upon them being harassed by the local goons in Park Circus area owing to their inter-religion marriage. Just four months in this city, they barely understood the local language then. I couldn’t leave them in that state when I knew that Neeta’s life was in grave danger surrounded by hooligans. Soon after , Imran became our driver and man Friday while Neeta started taking care of the household chores and kitchen. At 58, it was getting difficult for me to drive down to my institute everyday while the arthritis pain had made your mother immobile. In a couple of months, they had become the inseparable extended part of the family. Sometimes I would wonder about how we survived without them until then.” Rishan felt that reminiscing about his favorite people was Arun’s way of coping up with the situation.
“When Neeta told your mother that she was expecting, Jaya immediately got another help to take care of the household work so that Neeta could take rest. She took care of Neeta like her own kid. When Neeta gave birth to a baby boy one and half months back, both of us felt as if our grandson was born. That was how attached we had grown towards them. Now I can’t even look at this little one without tearing up.” Arun’s eyes had welled up with tears.