What the reporter and Kali believed had been partly true. The son of Sengupta was having an affair, not with Padmaja, but with her younger sister Kena. Kena was 21, and much of her life had been centred around her sister’s son, Anant, who was sleeping silently in his cot, a linen blanket draped till his chin, far away from his mother.
Kena, meanwhile, was kissing her boyfriend. Reyansh, the son of Lokesh, met Kena during her sister’s birthday party at the university. Lokesh had no intention of visiting, as he and Padmaja crossed the boundaries from friends to enemies when she announced her support for Bankim Dutta in the previous elections.
Kena was childish. Reyansh wasn’t beautiful but was a beau nevertheless. And she could do with him, what all her friends did with their boyfriends. You know, kissing on the neck, on the forehead, intervening fingers, talking in whispers, licking his lips, and the things which are unsafe for children to watch without adult supervision.
Reyansh found her exhilarating. She was quite younger than him, and sweeter, more innocent, and hence, a little wilder. From the beginning, he thought he couldn’t be the only demanding partner in any relationship. He wanted someone to be more demanding. More craving of him, more craving of time spent with him; someone who would want him, it would do, even if they intended to show - off to their friends. He was lethargic. Wanted to strip her, but that was alright, as she wanted to get stripped as well.
They were yet to cross the hallway, yet to touch each other’s back, and yet to open the door, close it, lock it.
The bell rung. There was a pause. A pause in their kissing, a pause in the routine, and probably a pause in this relationship if Reyansh were just to sit here. Kena panicked. She threw herself from the seat. Kena took a few steps with nervousness as Reyansh went to hide under the cot (a very much unstrategic location, as Padmaja always kissed her baby after returning from work).
There was a woman at the doorway. A little dark woman wearing a black silken saree. She had on her, a dark maroon bindi, and jet black hair all let out wild. She was a little thin. But, her eyes had a fierceness, which could not be battled.
‘Um… Didi isn’t home. May I take her message?’
‘Yes. You are?’
‘I am her sister, Kena.’
A fist of wind blew over Kena’s hair. The woman stood dark, sullen, wondering what to do in this situation. She looked across the barely lit hallway inside the home. Kena blocked her view, by shifting a little to the left.
‘You may tell her that Anjana Anil Desai will visit her tomorrow at her home.’
Before that woman could proceed outskirts, a Jeep Kena sighted at the gate.
‘Hold on. Didi is home.’
Anjana stared outside, a woman of about her age, got out of the Jeep and directly walked in front of the house. As Padmaja spotted her, she stopped in her track. And stood there, with her fists tied up.
‘Well… what a pleasant surprise.’
‘Pleasant…? Walk inside. We need to talk.’ She had an air of finality. Kena shifted from front of the door, and Anjana walked inside, both the sisters following her thence.
In the living room, she sat on the head chair, by the dim light of the lamp.
‘Your house is beautiful. Build on stones and broken trust.’ Mirthlessly, she laughed.
Padmaja sat in front of her. ‘What do you want?’
‘Does your sister know about Anil?’
‘Yes. He was di’s husband.’
‘So she doesn’t.’
‘She doesn’t need to know. The past is past.’
Facing Kena, Anjana started her tale. ‘I got married to Anil in 1987, in Bombay. My father had an industry, but Anil didn’t have money and we tied the knot secretly at the high court. We kept it secret for a month. Then, my dada caught us, and I was expelled from the house. 7 years after this incident, Anil had a decent job, and I was working part-time as a nurse in a Sarkari hospital. My daughter was five. She suffered from Malaria and died. 14th March 1994. It was the day I met your sister. She was gorgeous. My husband invited her to my daughter’s funeral. She stayed the night, I don’t know why. I cried my heart to her. We became a pair of friends. I came to know about her with the little she slipped by. Her father was a tuition teacher, and she was a teacher in a private school, they had one bedroom hall kitchen flat on Salsette Island.
‘She must’ve told you about all this. You don’t fit in the picture. Because the picture is bleak and false. What your sister carved, was all wrong. The truth is this- There was no Padmaja teacher at St. Teresa High School when I came there for the admission of my niece. Although there was a very bright namesake of the year 1981. She broke a few records of the school, they told me. I started noticing her discrepancies. But there was one thing, I never thought about before. How come she was invited to my daughter’s funeral.’
Padmaja yelled at her, ‘Stop all this nonsense and get to the point. Why are you here?’
Very calmly, Anjana took out one pistol from her bodice and placed it on the table in front of her.
‘Because I found out a big sort of key to a crossword which had been gathering dust in my memory. Tamanna told me you recognized her. You told me you didn’t know who Tamanna was. I knew both of you. But I didn’t know one thing about both of you. And that, I found at St. Teresa. The hallway of frame, inscribed your name as the one scoring highest in Maths in board exams, and Tamanna in history. You both passed from the same school, in the same year. And… lived in one home. Wait- who is underneath the cot?’