The idea that people used to think that the world is flat and not round is simply a modern myth. Even in the early middle ages in Europe, practically all the scholars maintained a spherical viewpoint that was first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. And from at least the 14th century, the belief in a flat earth was practically nonexistent among the educated.
Sabu read these words with a smile on his lips.
Now, there’s another thing that we all got wrong!
He remembered seeing an ad just the other day in which an allusion was made to people believing the earth to be flat and not round in a bygone era, reaffirming a myth that could so easily be taken out of contemporary life in an age when information- including the right information could be propagated at the speed of light.
Not that Sabu was enjoying the merits of the internet at this point.
The natural park was spread across an area of 40 acres that had plenty of trees, flowers and even a couple of small streams in it. There was even a small enclosure at the northern quarter where they kept a few deer and rabbits. And one could enjoy all these for a visitors’ fee of Rs.10(Rs. 100 for foreign nationals).
But there was one thing which you couldn’t enjoy in here and that was a steady cellphone connection. One could get a decent signal near the front gate and also near the animal enclosure(as if the deer would want to call up someone on the outside)- this Sabu had learned in the past three days. Three consecutive days in which he had been coming here because he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
But Sabu didn’t like to be near that enclosure. Even though the park-beautiful though it was didn’t attract that large a number of tourists, there were people who visited the place, and given how this is the first month of the summer vacation for the schools, there were families were turning up with their kids- even on a working day.
Sabu didn’t feel like being around people. No, he liked the quietude of this place fine enough.
Overlooking the stream which had only a little amount of water what with the summer, the boulder on which he was perched was surrounded by a lush matting of green grass. And the thick presence of trees all around him ensured that he could enjoy the cool of the shade even if the sun was at its harshest(as it was most of these days).
The only people he had seen in the three days in this area were a young couple who were necking like crazy until the sound of Sabu’s footsteps startled them out of their pleasure. Like Sabu, they too had small college bags with them-possibly with a lunch box, maybe even a couple of books.
The only other visitor to the place was a purple colored crane that alighted on the shore of the stream yesterday. Extending its long neck, it had drank from the stream, hopping from the shore to a small boulder most of which stood above the waterline. Sabu found the bird incredibly beautiful.
Like Ms. Kavya was beautiful.
The thought of the teacher who was responsible for his suspension for three weeks made him agitated. She was the reason he was here, all alone in this park, marking the passage of time with the pages of the science magazine that he was reading- the same one which informed him that no one ever believed that the earth was flat.
But he couldn’t concentrate on the magazine anymore. Whenever he thought about his teacher, it felt like the deepest foundation of his mind was being shaken. And it was all he could do to keep from losing his cool.
The word stunned everyone into silence. But the silence only lasted a moment, for Ms. Kavya Raghunath said, “How dare you!” trying to match his volume, an edge of shakiness creeping into her voice.
The students who were busy working on one experiment or the other all looked at them now. They wouldn’t know the reason for the outburst in the electronics lab- only that a student, one of their classmates made a expletive at their teacher.
“I demand the expulsion of the student! Such a person doesn’t deserve to be in an educational institution!”
The principal- a 60 year old man who has seen more instances of bad behavior from students in his career than he would care to remember, nodded at Ms.Kavya’s outburst. He waited patiently for the teacher to add a couple of more comments about Sabu Mukundan before speaking.
“I can certainly understand your emotions, Ms. Kavya. Believe me, I have been there. But allow me to say that expulsion may be too harsh a judgement on this case. Sabu Mukundan is a bright student-not one of our brightest but certainly one with a future, as you probably know. He has proven it in the five semesters so far.”
“But he has a history of delinquency!” said the teacher, her eyes red with emotion . Even though the door to his office was closed, the principal was afraid that her raised voice may spill over to the other side.
“He did raise his voice against one other teacher in class in the second semester, and last semester, he was one of the few in the Information Technology department who was short of the requisite attendance, if I may remind you..”
The principal raised an arm in a placating gesture. “I know all that, Ms. Kavya. But I have seen many like him- and it is my view that once he is out there in the adult world, he would make something of himself. Let’s give him a chance, I say. Of course, he will be punished for what he did. But it won’t be expulsion, it would be a suspension,” he added in a sterner tone.
You sound like you have more of an interest protecting your students’ interests than your teachers, Ms. Kavya refrained from expressing her thought out loud. The college wasn’t all that far from her home and the pay-even though not great, was decent enough. And she rarely had to take more than two sessions a day. And there was no point getting on the wrong side of the principal.
But the fact was that the principal was feeling the tiniest bit biased towards Sabu- though he wouldn’t admit it, not even to himself. Sabu’s father- a farmer with more troubles than land had paid him a visit before the start of the previous semester. The intent of the visit was to request for an extension on the date of paying the fee.
From the man, the principal learned that Sabu was his only child- and the lone hope of a family that was in a financially tight spot.
As someone who came up from similar circumstances in life, the principal certainly could empathize. He was amused by how little things change in society even in the span of decades.
“Hi…yes, what..nothing much…spent another day at the park…you are?..sure… will see you tomorrow then?”
The call was from his friend and class-mate, Satish. He said he was going to bunk the classes the next day. So, they agreed to hang out together.
Sabu felt relieved for this. He has no issues spending time in nature, unlike most of his peers who found such a thing “the most boring thing in the entire world.” But all said and done, he wasn’t sure if he could take another day at the park- there was only so much trees swaying in the wind that you could take.
In fact, he was wondering whether he should go to the movies tomorrow instead of the park when Satish called. The problem was that he hadn’t told his parents about the little suspension affair- he knew that they would simply go bonkers. “You know how hard I work to put you through college?” he remembered his father’s words, and the gruff tone in which they were said when he asked for the extra-money last semester so that he could pay for being low on attendance.
He didn’t wish to hear that again.
He had two more weeks to go before the suspension period got over and he was already feeling bored.
Well, at least tomorrow is taken care of, he thought, staring at the ceiling, listening to a song on his headset.
Satish had come by some extra cash. So, they were going drinking tomorrow. And possibly a movie after that.
What with the song in his ears, it was only on the fourth knock on the door that he heard his mother calling him to dinner. Though he had lazed around the entire day at the nature park, reading some science magazine, sleeping and listening to music, he found that he was famished.
Whenever they went drinking, Sabu and Satish opted The Landmark. It was a funny name for a bar that was decrepit in appearance. But the less than appreciable upkeep aside, once you were inside, you were well set. You could book a room for just 20 rupees per hour. And for your bucks, you got a bed, a small table and four chairs. Room service would bring your order- though sometimes they are known to bring out the spurious liquor, even to the regular customers.
You just have to ring the bell and someone would come running-okay, maybe not running, to take your order.
This was the kind of thing that you rarely get to experience when you are a 20 year old whose only source of income was whatever cash you earned from doing oddjobs-like unloading some bricks for a new building under construction or tilling the land for a neighbor- which was how it was with Sabu.
Satish, whose government-employee father gave him an allowance of Rs.500 every month, turned up with that cash at The Landmark at 10:30 AM, just a couple of hours after the bar was open.
By the time that Sabu arrived, Satish was already pouring his first drink. “Man, you are always late!” he exclaimed as soon as he saw his friend.
Citing traffic as the reason for his delay, Sabu joined his buddy in the drinking and soon enough, they were singing-though of course, you could be bet that you wouldn’t hear even a single note that wasn’t off-key.
They usually did this when they drank-Satish especially was fond of traditional Malayalam songs- once sung by boaters in the backwaters to entertain their riders and passed down the generations to land in bars across the state. 2006 was a good year for bars- the younger newly emerged so called ‘new generation’ youngsters had proven that when it comes to drinking, they had no aversion to tradition- they would continue the state’s legacy gladly.
And these two young men making merry, singing off-key notes, enjoying themselves, were a good example of that ethos.
“You are much merrier than usual, Satish!” exclaimed Sabu. Indeed, he had never heard his friend sing so happily before, no matter how inebriated he had been.
“Ha, it’s all the accumulated stress, man!” said Satish, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, “I wonder how healthy it is to be forced to learn like we are being forced at the college- the classes begin at 8:30 in the morning and end at 4:30. And hour after hour, you try to take in as much information as you can.. I wonder how scientifically prudent it is!”
This was why they got along well. If Satish were to speak this geekishly to someone else in his class,he would simply be laughed at. But not Sabu-who also by temperament liked to look at things from a scientific perspective-a natural result of being the son of a farmer. Though people tend to forget it all the time, farming is one of the most scientific activities ever known by man.
“Taking a break from the abominable classes after a long time, I feel like coming out of prison!”
Sabu nodded to his friend’s words. He understood his point of view though he himself would have preferred being in the class than anywhere else- he roamed most of the days in the 4th sem and paid the price. The trouble was that if he didn’t meet the minimum attendance requirement(75%) for another semester, he would have to repeat the semester. And that meant not just spending an extra 6 months in college, it also meant paying the fee for the semester another time around. His father wasn’t going to like it, to say the least.
With the three weeks that he would lose because of the suspension, he would get practically no chance to take a day off once he rejoins the classes.
Might as well make the most of these days. He raised another glass of rum to his lips.
But what Satish said next made him look up.
“Talking about being merry, there is someone who is going to be very merry soon!”
Sabu didn’t have to wait for long to learn who he was talking about. Ms. Dolly was going to get married. She didn’t say that herself to the students, of course not. But she did mention it to one of the staff members, and news get around fast in the college.
“From what I heard, she is going to get married in the coming month. Apparently, the dude is a software engineer working in America. I heard that Ms.Dolly would join the dude in America after her wedding. I am sure we are all gonna miss the sight of that piece of ass.” Satish drained the next glass and added, “Shall we order another pint bottle?”
Sabu nodded though his mind was not on the next half bottle of rum that they were going to share. It was on the piece of ass that Satish mentioned, and on more- the dimple on her cheek which showed on the rare occasions when she smiled, the long flowing hair that stopped just above her ass-something of an anomaly in this age where short crop was the norm, the pale white skin which made her even more attractive and her ample bosom-somewhat big compared to her rather short stature but lascivious nonetheless.
But instead of lust, what flowed through his mind at these reckonings was anger. The bitch-whenever she got the chance would point out something wrong about the way he did something-like when there was an assignment which he turned in, she would point out even the tiniest of mistakes as a huge problem- detailing the problem in class in front of other students, or if he came even a little late to class-even five minutes, she wouldn’t allow him to enter.
She has started teaching their class from the third semester(she taught programming theory- C, C Sharp and Java in the third, fourth and fifth semesters respectively). And she has been treating Sabu in this manner ever since.
Of course, it wasn’t just with him that she behaved that way. But only with him did she behave in the manner so intensely and with so little regard to how it might affect the student. Or at least, Sabu was certain of it.
And he was certain of the reason too- it’s because he was a low caste. As far as he knew, he was the only Pulaya in the college his entire year. Though it’s a fact that people from the backward castes were given certain advantages by the government(sometimes unfair advantages, even Sabu conceded) in this self-financing college, there weren’t that many students belonging to the community.
All he knew for sure was that he was a low caste dark skinned student and his teacher hated her.
A teacher who belonged to the higher caste, who made no two bones about the fact that she was proud of it. Some of the few instances in which the dimple appeared on her cheek- at least when she were talked in the class were when she related how one religious ceremony or the other went at home- most of her leave days from work went to attending some religious function or the other, and she would always make a point to relate about them to her students.
The fact that a couple of girls belonging to the same caste who sat in the front bench would eagerly ask the teacher about it made it all the more easier to breach the subject for her. And she would speak about it in a loud enough voice to include anyone in the class who cared to listen.
Not many did. Certainly not Sabu.
“What was it, man?”
Sabu hadn’t realized that he had said the word aloud. He was thinking of how she admonished him for making a simple mistake in his calculations at the electronics lab that day. The funny thing was that she was just standing in for another teacher who had gone out for a break. It wasn’t even her subject and yet, she peered over everyone’s shoulder while they were doing their experiments, and spent a little more while at Sabu’s table than at anyone else’.
He was trying to solve an equation before proceeding with the experiment when she asked him for the notebook, already seeing him making the mistake with a sum.
“I think I am glad at least to see that it’s not just in my class that you make mistakes.” She snorted after saying it, like a bird that stopped its chirping half-way through, wishing that it had some venom in its beak that it could inject into the things it hated.
Sabu wasn’t sure whether it were those words of the snort that made him lose control. But seeing her face that was smiling at him-not appeasing, experiencing that twinkle in her eyes from so close-he could just reach out a hand and touch her, he had snapped.
“Yo, you okay?” Satish snapped his fingers in front of his friend’s face. “You want to get out of here?”
Sabu shook his head. “No, let’s order another half.”
That night, lying in his bed in the dark, after having consumed the sumptuous dinner that his mother made which included his favorite roast chicken curry with grated coconut, Sabu masturbated, the beautiful face and the perfect body of his teacher(as he imagined it) playing in his mind like a spool of film.
“Urgh!” he grunted loudly as he came, and the gentle heat of the semen that spilled onto his hand satisfied him on some level. But there was still a wide and deep hole within his soul which needed to be filled with something to be satisfied. It yearned to be filled not with semen but hatred, or rather the fruits of hatred- an action that would address the discontent within him.
The beautiful bitch was going to get married, and she was going to go ahead and live a life that a lot of people in this country would consider charming. America is a dream destination for the average Indian. And she wasn’t just going to visit the place, she would live there, with her software engineer husband, they would have children, big houses, holidays, not to mention those Brahminic functions that she evidently loved. And for her it would be as though he has never existed.
The injustices that she did him were subtle, psychological, and not the kind that he could prove in court.
No, the revenge has to be taken with his own hands.
He sat up in bed, pulled up his boxers.
He had drunk more than usual today- after finishing that second bottle of rum with Satish, they had ordered a beer each.
His head throbbed now for even more liquor- as if craving to distract itself from the anger that seeped with him.
He has deliberately tried to avoid thinking of the teacher these last few days. Whenever thoughts about her surged in his mind, he would either plug in his earpods and try and drown those thoughts in a flood of music, or maybe reading something- scientific facts, the kind of which would demand some attention were the best, he had found.
But the information of the teacher’s impending wedding nagged on his mind, forced him to look at the facts with as much detachment as he could summon. Fact number 1: the bitch had discriminated against him every chance that she got. Fact number 2: she was shrewd enough to discriminate in such a way that no one else would notice that something of the kind was happening. Fact number 3: He has been helpless against it.
‘But not anymore’, he muttered in a low voice seething with anger and resentment. In the darkness of the room, the voice felt odd to him, as if it belonged to someone else.
The Shasthamangalam junction is not exactly a bubbling pot of activities. A few youngsters talking aloud while having samosas and Pepsi at a bakery was the height of activities. Trivandrum,though the capital of Kerala, was an altogether laidback place-one might even say sedated. The greatest excitements were the not-that-occasional political strikes held at the secretariat. And though Shastamangalam was not more than 15 minutes way from the Secretariat, even those sort of excitements were absent here- a place that was filled more with houses than political establishments.
After parking his motorbike under a tree, Sabu walked in to the bakery and asked for a Coke. A couple of young fellows were talking loudly and eating samosas and drinking soft drinks all at the same time. The topic of their discussion was a teacher at their school. From what Sabu could make out, two of the chaps were making fun of the third one for some lame excuse that he gave for not submitting an assignment-something for which the three of them were asked to leave the class.
Even though he didn’t get to hear what exactly the excuse was that the kid gave his teacher, he still couldn’t help but smile: the kids’ laughter had an epidemic effect.
But the smile soon left his face, seeing his college bus pass him by. He had failed to notice its arrival. But he hoped no one in the bus noticed him.
Though there was still more than half left in his Coke bottle, he kept the bottle back on the counter and hurriedly paid for it. Extending his neck, he looked ahead without stepping out of the shop. The college bus came to a stop a couple of hundreds of feet ahead of the bakery(Of course, in Kerala a bakery doesn’t really mean a place where they bake stuff. This meant that Sabu wasn’t accosted by the pleasant smell of baking while he was looking eagerly at those who were getting off the bus. All he could smell was the cigarette smoke someone blew out in the vicinity.). Aside from Ms. Karthika, only two other persons got down at the stop-both of them students.
Sabu saw to his relief that they crossed the road and walked into a small cut road while the teacher took the road right adjacent to where she was dropped off- the road that went by the TVS showroom.
It was from Satish that Sabu learned that this was where the teacher got off. Satish too took the bus, so he would know.
Thanking his friend under his breath, Sabu exited the bakery as soon as the college bus disappeared around a corner. The teacher too was out of his sight now, having disappeared into the smaller road which stretched to his left.
As he hurried his steps, the lights came on in the streetlamps. It was almost 7 PM and dusk was settling soon. Sabu felt thankful for the dark. It meant a better shroud for what he purposed to do.
He was worried that he might miss the teacher if she had walked into some bylane. But to his relief, he saw her walking steadily though slowly, down the road which led to another smaller junction. The road she took didn’t have any street lamps which it was easy for Sabu to follow her while maintaining a good distance between them. An occasional light spilled on the road from one of the houses that lined the street- almost all the houses he passed by were upmarket, with lush gardens, neat lawns, balcony, some even having swimming pools.
Yes, he could imagine the teacher living in such a locality.
And the only reason she took the college bus than used a car was that the college was a good hour and a half away from this place. Not a huge distance but one that made the college bus more convenient than a car.
Some 300 meters from where the bus dropped the teacher off was another junction-this one smaller and with even fewer number of shops. The sky was fast turning black as the teacher crossed the junction and went into one of the smaller bylanes which were a prominent feature in such places.
People who lived in places like these chose such places for the relative isolation that they gave them. They wanted to be close to the conveniences of the city but also maintain an illusion of living in some far off place where there are more number of trees than humans. This validated the presence of bylanes which would often lead to a dead end, in which are tucked away just a couple of houses-bungalows which offer master classes in the creation of the aforementioned illusion.
Sabu waited for a few seconds after going into the bylane after her. He wasn’t sure if anyone in one of the shops at the junction-a couple of restaurants and a supermarket had seen him. He didn’t dare turn around to look though. Instead, he stepped into the deeper darkness of the bylane which stretched some 100 meters straight ahead before curving around to obscurity. The bylane probably didn’t finish at a dead end but the entire stretch was lit by just a solitary street lamp.
A static sound emanated from the lamp like a metallic bee droning and the faded yellow light flickered as the teacher passed the lamp. A few feet after the lamp, the teacher’s steps slowed down. Thinking she might have sensed his presence, Sabu moved into the small space in front of a locked gate to his left. The gate and the adjacent wall housed an empty lot overgrown with shrubs – and judging from the plastic bottles and kits that shone in the light, was a favorite spot among the neighbors for dumping the garbage- you may be rich but you still need a place to throw garbage just like anyone else.
Cautiously eyeing the teacher by peeking out from behind a small protrusion in the wall, Sabu saw that the reason why the teacher had slowed down was not because she sensed him. He saw her pushing open a gate-though he couldn’t see the gate from this angle, from the way she was exerting, he surmised that it was a big one. One fit for a bungalow or a villa.
She has come home.
The knife glinted in the light from the flickering lamp. It was a beautiful pen-knife: one which he brought as a memento when he went on a class tour last year to Kodaikkanal. Of course, when people visited a hill station, a pen knife wasn’t at the top of the list for possible mementoes. But the moment he saw this small beauty in one of the shops near the Kodai lake, Sabu knew he wanted it.
More than the sharpness of the knife itself what caught his eye was the engraving on the handle. The handle was shaped like a flag-staff. On the flag was the sun with jagged rays emanating from its core. Powerful and brilliant the sun had looked in the harsh and clear light of that cold day in Kodai.
And so it did now, as he sat at the gate in the bylane where the teacher lived, the same gate where he took refuge last night when he thought she might have sensed him, the same one that afforded him a decent level of darkness- all he had to do was move just a few seconds to his right to be out of the radius of the flickering light. But for now, he would remain in this position, so that the moment someone entered the bylane, he could see them.
A couple of people had passed by since he was here. And whenever someone went by he would simply turn around and pretend that he was taking a leak.
Judging by the time on his cell phone, the college bus was running late. Or the teacher had stopped somewhere- maybe a shop before coming home.
Or maybe she took a day off today. That was one possibility which had occurred to him only recently. He had thought of calling Satish and eking from him whether Ms.Karthika did turn up at college today. But no matter how subtle he would be in prodding the information out, he felt that it might sound suspicious, especially in hindsight, once he had done what he planned to do.
His lips stretched in a thin smile at the thought of what he planned to do.
That bo face, no more beautiful, marked by a few slashes from a certain sharp-edged knife engraved with the sun god on a flag staff- the symbol carried by kings of yore in battles, kings who always belonged to the upper-caste. There was a certain irony in the fact that it would be such a weapon that would steal the woman’s beauty from her face, so that when she walks into the wedding panthal- if at all the wedding happens, the groom wouldn’t be able to help but grimace, even if just a little.
He ran a finger slowly down the edge of the knife when he heard the footsteps. A single peek was enough to adjudge that it was indeed his intended victim who was coming. It had started to drizzle sometime in the last few minutes. And though she held an umbrella over her head which partially hid her face, he was sure that it was her- that gait, the way the hips swayed and the slow measured walk- as though she were a royal personage on an excursion of the king’s grounds, all indicated that arrival of the moment which Sabu has been waiting.
Without delay he pulled out a bandanna from his jeans pocket which he promptly tied behind his neck, covering his face from the eyes down. From another pocket, he fished out a small white bottle with a corked stopper that was wrapped in a pale blue handkerchief. Taking a deep breath and then holding it, he pulled open the cork and dropped a few drops of translucent liquid into the kerchief. He was about to put the cork back, when rethinking, he let the kerchief soak up a few more drops of the liquid before closing the bottle and pushing it back into his pocket.
Karthika felt the sudden movement from her left before she saw anything. At first she thought that it was the effect of the dizziness she has been under all day long-she was having her period and feeling nauseous, had skipped lunch.
But when she heard the manly grunts, her eyes widened in horror and the grip weakened on the handle of the umbrella. She was clutching her handbag very close to her body so that the rain wouldn’t get to it but now, impulsively she took the bag off her shoulder and flung it at her assailant.
It didn’t quite connect though. The man was too quick for her as he moved to her right and then behind her. The hand that stifled her scream was strong- the kind of hand that was used to manual labour. But more than the rough texture of the hand it was a fabric that Kartika felt- and a strange and overpowering smell- the kind of smell that might come from putrid vomit. Extremely acidic.
Before long she began to swoon. And this time she was sure that it had got nothing to do with her period.
As for Sabu, he was surprised that the woman was able to put up some resistance- feeble though it was when he began to slash with his knife. The chloroform was home made. So maybe he made some mistake, or maybe it’s because he hadn’tt have enough apparatus at home to distill the intermediate product that it wasn’t having the effect that he hoped it would have.
But that’s not to say that it wasn’t helping him any. It was clear that the teacher was finding trouble breathing, even after he took his hand off her mouth and turned her around so that he could see the wounds opening on her face. Rivulets that bloomed red, red that appeared brownish under the yellow street light. The difficulty to breathe made it impossible for her to scream, even though from the way she was sobbing, it was clear that she was under some pain.
The salty tears when they flowed down into the grooves of the wound worsened the pain.
The teacher’s face now appeared like it was mangled by a dog. Sabu was careful to leave her eyes unharmed, so that she could see the next attack coming: at times he enjoyed the fear in her eyes more than the act of slashing a wound open on her .
The next time, she saw him raise the knife again. And as he was bringing it down, raised her own hand- a feeble attempt at self-defense. Sabu hardly noticed the knife slicing through the veins of her wrist. He got even more enraged by the fact that she was still resisting his attempts at hurting her, as though she declined to surrender completely, as if bolstering her superiority over him.
So he slashed, and slashed, and slashed.
The drizzle now escalated into a full-fledged rain the kind of which soaks you from top to bottom in a second’s time. The kind that washed away a lot of blood from around where Kartika fell, her overturned umbrella gathering water nearby.
She finally passed out with the shock from the wounds. Her face looked like nothing more than a loose amalgamation of chopped up pieces of flesh.
Looking down at her, the rain drops dancing on his head to a tune which he imagined to be horrendous and wonderful, Sabu felt an acute fear rising in him.
He felt afraid at what he just did.
“Are you not going to have the chicken curry?”
Sabu looked up at his mother who was talking from across the table. “You have hardly touched it. And I have made it just the way you like it- with grated coconut.”
Forcing a smile onto his face, Sabu nodded. But when he looked back at the curry, he felt a sense of nausea rise in him, again. The chopped up and cooked pieces of flesh reminded him of the flesh on a woman’s face- flesh that was mangled and chopped, flesh that became commingled with a lot of blood, flesh that ripped and tore in ways that you wouldn’t imagine possible.
The images of the teacher’s face, damaged beyond recognition, the rain drops failing on it like tears, the darkness in the bylane reflective of the dark which he felt within him..all these kept coming back to his mind. It was all he could do to keep himself from puking his guts out.
So as not to give his parents any reason to suspect that anything was wrong, he ate two tiny pieces of chicken from the curry.
He felt like a cannibal.
The next morning, on his way out he was a little surprised to see his father sitting in front of the television, flipping channels.
Maybe he wasn’t feeling well and had taken the day off, thought Sabu.
“Where are you off to?”
Sabu was not really surprised by the question from his father, assuming that the unasked half of the question was ‘…without taking your lunch box.”
But when he turned to look at his father’s face, he was greeted with a look of sheer surprise.
“I thought I would have lunch at the canteen today.” When this didn’t take away the look of surprise, he added, “I am going to the college, of course!”
“On a Saturday!” said his father, an eyebrow raised.
Sabu almost raised a hand and slapped his own forehead. He had thought that it was a Friday.
With a sheepish grin he walked back into his room, watched by his father with an odd expression on his face.
It was before noon, while Sabu was sleeping a shallow and restless sleep that he got the call from Satish. Once he came out of the sleep that was filled with so many disturbing imageries and emotions that he didn’t know where to begin, he felt relieved.
But the relief wasn’t meant to last long.
The answer he had to give to Satish’s first two questions were “no.”
“Did you see the news today?” and “Did you know that Ms. Karthika passed away?”
“Apparently, someone attacked her last night. From what they say, she tried to defend herself and a cut was made across her wrist. She was attacked with a knife, it seems. No one seems to have much details at the moment. In fact, no one even knows how many assailants there were.”
Sabu listened to his friend’s voice as if he were still in the unsavory dream which he was having a few moments ago.
“Are you there?”
After a few seconds, Sabu replied, “Yes, I am here.”
“The cremation is later this evening. I think I will be going. Almost the entire class is going.” Satish threw in the names of some of their closest mutual friends, the insinuation being a stop at The Landmark after the cremation was over .
“Would you be coming?” There was a certain nervousness in Satish’ voice when she said it. The fact that the teacher was responsible for Sabu’s suspension wasn’t something that he could forget.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sabu said without a moment’s hesitation. He wasn’t entirely sure how he would respond to the sight of that face again. Of course, someone would have done his or her best to make that face as presentable in death as possible.
But he was pretty sure that they wouldn’t get too far in their endeavor.
“They found her near her own home, in fact in the same bylane, bathed in blood,” Satish said in a low voice. He actually sounded affected by the death, Sabu found it surprising to sense his own surprise at the fact. “From what I hear, her family had a recent spat with one of their neighbours about a land dispute issue. The police are suspecting that maybe someone in that neighbouring family had something to do with this. Mathew’s father is the one who is in charge of the investigation..You know, Mathew Tharakan, from the electronics department, don’t you?..”
Sabu listened with just half an ear, his mind engaged in a fight against itself, trying very hard not to accept the news that she was dead.
“Okay, if you are not coming, then, I guess I will see you some other day.” Satish got off the phone.
Was the nervousness in his friend’s voice just because of the teacher’s death or was there some suspicion there? Did something- a gesture or a word- gave something away on that day they went drinking at The Landmark?
No, that’s absurd. I wasn’t even thinking of killing her that day!
“No, no, what am I thinking! I never intended to kill her to begin with! What I meant was that I wasn’t even thinking of hurting her that day!” this time he said his thought aloud to himself. The shakiness of his voice didn’t bring him any assurance or calm.
Some five minutes later, he called Satish back.
“What’s up?” Satish took the call on the second ring.
“I will come pick you up at your home. We will go to the cremation together,” said Sabu. He had had second thoughts(in fact, a third and fourth and fifth and…). Ultimately, he decided that it would be better for him to appear at the cremation- he may not even look at the corpse, he just has to be there.
Otherwise, there may be suspicions.
The teacher’s body was to be cremated at the public crematorium in Jagathi. After picking Satish at his home, they went straight to the crematorium. There was a huge turnover at the crematorium- her students at the college, mostly, and also friends and well-wishers, not to mention family.
Aside from sadness, there was also a deep sense of unrighteousness evident on many faces- the teacher was young-just 25 years old: one of those who preferred joining a teaching institution instead of a corporate(though the difference was flimsy). Those who knew her well would tell you that she did it not because of the love for teaching but because of the stress involved in working in a corporate office. Sure, teaching was stressful, but not nearly as much as it was in working inside one of the myriad glass buildings you would find in an IT park. There, your hair would begin to turn gray before you hit 30.
But that wasn’t the kind of information that was discussed at a cremation. Neither was it something that many people assembled there knew of. As far as they were concerned, she had come to a brutal end at the age of 25-someone who was going to get married the next month, someone with all her life in front of her, a teacher for God’s sake!
Sabu kept averting his gaze whenever he met anyone else’s. He longed for the cremation to be over. When they carried the body up the stairs which led to the electric crematorium, he and Satish were standing far enough for them not to get a good look at the face.
“I am not sure if I want to see her. From what I heard, her face was damaged rather bad,” muttered Satish.
I couldn’t agree more, thought Sabu.
As he had expected, someone did propose that they go to The Landmark after the crenation. One of their classmate’s father had passed away last summer and they had done the same after the funeral.
That time, Sabu did join them, and even though he wasn’t sure about the ethics of it all initially, ended up enjoying drinking all the same.
But this time around, he wasn’t at all interested.
Sathish, who expressed his interest found a ride with one of their other friends who had a motorcycle.
But before leaving, he took Sabu aside.
“How are you feeling?”
Sabu wasn’t entirely sure what the question actually meant.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, I know that you are somewhat disturbed by the fact that all this happened while you are under suspension because of her..You are quite absent-minded today, I notice. In fact, I could sense that even while we were talking over the phone earlier in the day.”
Satish, the ever-perceptive friend. Sabu couldn’t suppress a warm smile at the thought. One of the reasons why they hit it off right away when they first met at the college was this aspect of Sabu- he could sense and triangulate on the exact emotions swirling inside Satish at any given moment.
Even though they got introduced to each other before, it was on the College’s annual day that they really became friends. The itinerary of events for the day was long-everything from intellectual debate to mono-act. But Sabu felt a disconnect from it all: all the glitz with which the stage was set, all the glamour with which the students had turned up. The painted faces and the soulless smiles…He has never really wanted to join a self-financing institute. It was his father who insisted. He knew that he wouldn’t fit in, but when his father said that an engineering degree could help him land a job that could “save this household once and for all, and I would do anything that it takes to ensure you can pay the fee on time, don’t you worry!” there was little that he could say.
Satish had found him sitting all alone in a classroom, going through a science magazine that he had brought along for just such an emergency.
“Hey, there you are!”
Satish had spoken in a pleasant tone, bringing Sabu’s attention to him. After a few minutes of chit chat, he said, “You really cannot bring yourself to fit in here, can you? And there is no point in thinking that it will get better over time. Because it won’t. But hey, you get to learn something, and that’s not all bad, is it?”
Sabu usually couldn’t suffer anyone who spoke so bluntly- he found such behavior irritating at best. But the way Satish said it, so earnestly, as though they had known each other for ages, made Sabu smile.
Satish’ voice had the same earnestness now as well, standing in front of a closed textile shop for the living, right beside the crematorium that was the final farewell station for the dead.
“I am alright, man,” said Sabu.
“What a bad world we live in..” said Satish. “Are you sure you wouldn’t come drink with us? You know even the bad world would look better- at least for a little while..” He winked.
Sabu’s eyes almost welled up seeing how his friend was trying to bring his mood up. For one second, he even thought of telling him what actually happened. But the sound of one of their friends-eager for a drink coming over and tapping Satish on the shoulder, saying, “Let’s go?” broke the moment.
“You take care now,” Satish said to Sabu before leaving.
And that’s exactly what he tried to do once he reached home- to take good care of himself. First, thinking he could use a long hot shower he stepped into the bathroom, only to feel claustrophobic within the small space.
His parents had gone out to attend a wedding. When they came back, he couldn’t help but feel relieved, expressing the relief in a long exhalation. Roaming inside the house on his own, he felt like he was in prison.
But as soon as his mother saw him she said, “Someone at the wedding told me that a teacher in your college was murdered yesterday!” his spirits sank again.
“She wasn’t murdered!” Sabu said without thinking.
“But that is what they are saying!”
“Well..she was attacked by someone. It’s not clear if they intended to murder. In fact, apparently, the wound that killed her- a slash on her wrist was caused when she tried to defend herself. An accident, more like!” Sabu had to will himself to keep his eyes on his mother’s face when he spoke.
“Whatever, the attack did result in murder,” she said.
“Did she taught you?” said his father.
Sabu nodded. He didn’t bother telling them that he just came back from the crematorium.
The next day, Sabu was surprised to see Satish at his doorstep. He was watching an old Malayalam movie- one of the slapsticks that Priyadarshan made at a time when life was apparently much simpler, when Satish came by.
The different antics of the actors on screen, including such stalwarts as Jagathy and Sreenivasan had Sabu laughing. At times, he was even able to forget about the teacher’s death.
But the sight of Satish at his doorstep brought the memory of the cremation, and with it the image of the teacher to his mind.
But he wasn’t displeased to see his friend. On the contrary.
He invited him in. His mother brought them some banana chips that she had made.And when Sabu’s father joined them, Satish engaged in a heated political discussion with him. Satish was one of those persons who could speak with his friend’s parents with the least inhibition- as though he were talking with friends.
This was something that Satish’s parents found so charming in the “boy.” It wasn’t uncommon for Sabu’s father to tell him to “be more like that boy. Be more talkative and open!” Sabu grew up an only child and a bookish one at that- he loved reading science and novels but when it came to textbooks, he wasn’t so keen, organized learning being something of an oxymoron for the impulse-driven humans as far as he could see; the only reason he learned at the college was because he lacked any other option.
But the love for reading remained and it meant that he could be comfortable being all by himself, in the company of a book. Sometimes all too comfortable.
It didn’t take that long for the conversation to veer towards the unfortunate death of their teacher. Everyone expressed how horrendous the crime was.
“Such times we live in, when even a teacher could be killed like that!” said Sabu’s mother.
Once the topic of conversation switched to the teacher’s death, Sabu retreated more and more into himself, falling even more silent than before.
Perhaps sensing Sabu pulling into himself, Satish said, “And the incident happened at a time when our Sabu was in suspension because of Ms.Karthika!”
Only after the words were out of his mouth did Satish realize the mistake he made. Sabu had told him that he hasn’t told his parents about the suspension.
To their credit, both the parents remained silent about the suspension until Satish left-after having a lunch with the family, making a lame excuse that he “has to be somewhere.”
Before leaving he managed to tell Sabu, without anyone else hearing, “I am sorry. It was so foolish of me!”
“It’s okay,” Sabu had said, thinking what else could he say.
But Sabu knew that his parents-particularly his father wasn’t going to stay silent for long.
And that’s exactly what happened. Soon as Satish had gone out of the gate towards the bus stop, Sabu got back in the house and was regaled by expressions of anger and worry from his father.
As he was facing questions like “What did you do?” and “If not to the college, where did you go all these days?” Sabu noticed a look of apprehension in his father’s eyes. It wasn’t evident- not something that was on the surface of those eyes but it was there all the same, if you couldn’t tell such sub-level details in your father’s eyes, what sort of a son were you?
And Sabu could also surmise the probable reason for the apprehension.
A memory- from some time ago when they-Sabu and his father engaged in combined farming with one of his father’s cousins one year. Everything went well, until it was time for dividing the money, that is.
The farming was done in land belonging to his father’s cousin.
So he claimed that it was only fair that he should be the one to decide how much money should be paid to Sabu and Sabu’s father. The fact that Sabu’s father- someone who believed that if god has given you a mouth and a tummy, he would also feed you- wasn’t the most adept when it came to matters of economic negotiation meant that he had failed to settle on a pay beforehand.
“They are family, one doesn’t negotiate with family” was what he had said when Sabu suggested that maybe they should agree upon a price beforehand. Sabu didn’t say anything after that- his father could be terribly stubborn at times.
But when he heard the measly sum that his father’s cousin finally offered them, he couldn’t contain his rage.
“We were the ones who did most of the work!” he shouted. And after a prolonged toing and froing in which both the sides did their best to hurt the other side verbally, Sabu decided that it was time to take things to the physical level.
To be more precise, his rage decided it for him.
His father’s cousin was more than double his age though well-built what with years of working in the fields. He stood a full head over Sabu’s 5’ 8’’. Broad chested, he was the kind of man whom even younger people who worked the fields looked up with admiration for the sheer fact that he was still well built at an age when many of his peers were succumbing to the ill-effects of life-long drinking or life-long working or both.
But such good attributes of the physique proved to be no defense against Sabu’s rage when it was unleased. It lashed out at the man like a whip made of fire, beat him like a fist forged in the heart of a volcano. It took 5 men- all physically more than fit thanks to the manual work they engaged in- to finally restrain him.
But by the time they brought him under control, the damage was already done.
Sabu’s uncle’s jaw was dislocated and his rib cage was shattered at two different places. One of his arms hung loosely by the side of his body while the left side of his face where he was beaten repeatedly was nothing more than a red lump which looked like a child’s attempt with a red crayon on torn papers.
“Never think that just having more assets make you higher to us!” Sabu shouted at his face once he was held back by the five men.
Sabu’s father had seen his son’s rage and what it could do to someone that day. Of course, it wasn’t the first time that something like that was happening. But it was the worst of all such incidents.
He knew how taken in by rage he could be, and Sabu knew that it was what he was thinking while he now looked at him, his mind unwilling to connect the fact of the teacher’s death and his boy’s dangerously overwhelming anger. But at the same time, a part of his mind forced him to fuse the two aspects and form a different narrative to the young woman’s death.
Sabu’s father blinked and looked away from his son’s face.
The night was warm. Not even a leaf stirred and in the windless hour, everything felt lifeless.
Sabu slowly pushed the motorcycle up to the road out of the front yard, careful not to make any sound in the process. Only after he was a good many feet away from the house did he hopped on and kick started the bike. He never looked back towards his home, worried that if he did so, he may not be able to get away.
Sabu’s plan was to put as much distance between himself and his home by dawn. But just as the sun was breaking out of its earthly prison for a parole that would last a day, Sabu felt his eyes drooping. The highway was not crowded at this time but there certainly were enough vehicles-interstate trucks mostly, to make him acutely aware of how dangerous it would be to ride this road sleepy.
Even if there were no vehicles it would be dangerous,. But with them, it got too jarring for him.
Sure, there was the adrenaline rush of an escape coursing through his body. But more than the rush, it was the depression of the stress and also the thoughts about the fate that he now faced- an eternal fugitive which overpowered him. And his body just asked him to give it some respite- after all, he has been awake for more than 24 hours straight and whatever little sleep that he did get before that was disturbed to say the least.
A truck with a load of timber rushed by, startling him awake. Without him being conscious of it his bike had veered to one side of the road- the other side of the road. He was sure he heard the truck driver throwing a few cuss words at him though in the half-asleep state, he couldn’t make out the words, and thank God for that.
Accepting that he couldn’t go any further without getting some sleep- though he hasn’t been riding for more than four hours, he finally pulled himself up to a stop beside a tree on the side, just ahead of a bend in the road. Alongside the tree ran a small stream the sound of which reminded Sabu of his childhood days when he would run around with his friends in the evenings, playing along the small stream which ran in the valley down from the hill where his house was perched.
The memory brought a smile to his lips.
He pushed the bike from the road and parked it in the relative safety beneath the tree- God only knows that he didn’t want any truck to crush the bike under its wheels, especially not this morning.
He had packed a few stuff- some clothes and travel essentials in the small bag which he brings to the college. Now, using the bag as a pillow, he lied down beside his bike, listening closely to the sound of the stream which he imagined to be the laughter of his friends back home.
And is that a mocking laughter or what? he wondered.
Among his friends, he was generally considered as the smartest- while the others would be thinking of just watching some reality TV show that would essentially be the same routine over and over again, this young one would be more interested in reading a science book, one that discussed such dense things as the origin of time and Quantum mechanics. How can such a one be anything but smart?
But look at how the smart one turned out! He imagined them saying. A bloody murderer!
As his eyelids drooped with a heaviness which was all but unnatural, he heard the voice of his friends as clearly as though they stood right beside him.
I am now despised not just by the others- the upper caste, but by my own people, the thought slowed to a halt in his mind as he sunk into a deep sleep.
The water in the stream though continued flowing, gently, gently as though it had all the time in the world.
Before falling asleep, Sabu had set the alarm in his phone to go off after an hour- at 5:30 sharp.
But it wasn’t the alarm that woke him up. Rather it was a mixture of murmured voices and something that sounded like hazy clanging- like someone was hitting on an iron rail with a piece of wood wrapped in cloth.
Large swatches of the sky remained grey even as the sun’s rays were painting red the edges of the ethereal expanse. It was as though the sky was mimicking the greyness of the road against which stood two figures- silhouettes though it was clear from their posture and their tone of speech- hushed though it was that they were two young men.
Sabu blinked and saw that they stood beside his motorcycle. A couple of blinks later it occurred to him that they were not simply standing there, they were moving away from him, along with his motorbike. Sabu had to shake his head hard to shed the sleep which clung to him like a bad habit.
Rising his voice only resulted in the duo of young men-he now saw they both had a handkerchief wrapped around their face, make haste with the motorcycle, with one of them hopping on to it even before it was out on the road, the other following suit soon enough.
The sound of the bike turning on sounded unreal to Sabu. He ran after the bike for just a short while and appreciating the futility of the attempt, he began to laugh.
He was still laughing, bent double over by the side of the road, a hand tentatively kept on the trunk of a tree when a highway patrol jeep came that way.
Though the full harshness of the summer sun was still a few hours away, it was bright enough and Sabu saw clearly enough the stern face of the thick mustachioed elderly policemen who came out of the jeep.
“What are you doing here?” the cop asked in a voice that matched in its harshness his arid expression.
Sabu laughed a bit before saying, “Someone stole my bike, sir! But there’s an even better crime that I can fill you in on! Oh, yes, there is! Ha ha ha!”
Not until the cops took him to the nearest police station –some 4 kilometers away from where they found him did the young man stopped laughing and told them about the “better crime.”
At first, a few among the policemen thought that the youngster was on some drugs. The drug must be the reason why he was blabbering about such incoherent things as the “better crime” and all, some cops speculated.
But then, the level of details that he gave them about killing his teacher made even the most skeptical among them reconsider.
And there was that look in his eyes- of total craziness, just like the higher octave of mad laughter in his voice which no drug on earth could produce, which could only be the result of one thing and one thing alone: losing all hope.
“Now they all hate me!” he shouted and laughed at the top of his lungs.