Reyansh came out of the under-lit room, with his hands in the air, and horror in his eyes. He had never seen a real gun before. They had one of them at their home, but he didn’t know where it was. They never raised a conversation about it. Now he wondered why they didn’t. The gun must’ve been real. If it hadn’t been, then it was a good second copy. Or maybe a third copy.
‘Who are you?’ The lady in the black and charcoal grey saree demanded.
‘I know who he is. Put the gun down.’
‘Who is he?’
‘Reyansh Sengupta. But what are you doing here?’ Padmaja asked.
‘He was here for me. I called him.’
‘Is it not obvious?’ The lady in the black and charcoal grey saree asked.
‘How could you?’
‘Can we please leave out the family drama; and you- sit down opposite to me. And be sensible enough not to raise your voice, or move, or try to do anything… anything which could get you out of here. What were we talking about... Oh yes, Tamanna.’
‘But who is Tamanna?’ Kena genuinely asked.
‘Tamanna used to work in my profession. She assisted the paediatric who performed my daughter’s surgery. She joined my hospital after a few weeks. I had seen her, knew who she was, and had talked with her. She had consolidated me, with all her patient chatter, made me believe that god anticipated something better. She gave me some sort of red herring. I obeyed it, with pride, and went along with it. Soon, she shifted and moved into our neighbourhood. A man used to visit her, and the people living around me thought her not of any good virtue. Tamanna made me fight with them. Made me take a stand for her. Once, your sister came to drop me off during a light drizzle in July. She must’ve seen me then, and had decided to plunge my life into misery. She would not talk to me. Stay a while, and be silent. But she became alright after a few days, and I thought it must’ve been sickness that caused her unruly behaviour. I was wrong, so wrong. –’
‘Do you know what it means when you say it was wrong, Anjana?’
‘Yes… in fact, I do, very well. I never knew what was building around me, until the hand laces found me. Laces with dirt on them. You killed Tamanna! You were the one who fought with her late till the night. You were the friend her old neighbour claimed to have seen before going to the movies. And then what do you do? YOU TURNED YOUR BACK ON ME!’ Anjana shrieked.
Then, there was a moment of silence.
Her voice penetrated the silence, her shrill sobbing pierced through Kena’s whim, and flooded it with tears. Irresolutely, a sister stared into another’s eye; she asked
‘What is it that you did?’
‘It was nothing that I did. Tamanna brought fate upon herself. She –’
‘It was Anil. And you. Anil and You brought fate upon her, nothing else and no one other. She had no hand in her murder or mine. I loved my husband until the very moment he claimed that I was the one who went with her to the cinema. I repented because of your actions and his. Why do I have to suffer the seeds of your longing? Why? Could you find no one other?’
‘Wait! What cinema… what movie… what murder are you talking about. And where does Jiju fit into all this?’
‘The truth is not far from your imagination, Kena. One Saturday, Tamanna meets me at the hospital and tells me she is meeting an old friend. When my shift is over, and I am returning home… what do I hear? That she has committed suicide by jumping from the ceiling of the movie house. A woman who used to be her neighbour claimed that she saw her with her friend. When asked, who? The woman said friend, and nothing else. That left me, and a couple of other nurses. They all went out of suspicion, until on a Wednesday, early morning, Anil goes out of the house like every day else, and goes not to the office he has recently joined, but to a police station… to register a statement:
…It was 6 PM when I, Anjana, and Tamanna, went together to the cinema hall and I left them, quite joyous about their friendship…
An evening before that day, the police had found that someone had pushed her. They just couldn’t make out who it was in the grainy footage.
Then they captured me. And I was jailed for 14 years, for a crime, I had been lawfully tried for, and misguidedly judged for. Why did my husband do this? I could solve who killed Tamanna in the prison. But why were you invited to my daughter’s funeral… and why did Anil give a wrong statement?’
Padmaja was left in shambles. What should she say? She had never thought of this moment, let alone of Anjana ever coming back in her life. She knew. She knew what exactly kept Anjana away at the bay for all this years, and why Tamanna was invited by her husband to their daughter’s funeral.
‘I don’t know –’
‘Stop lying to me!’
Anjana fired the bullet in the air. She looked straight at Padmaja and pointed it on her head. Padmaja’s hands went up in the air.
‘O-OK… I will tell you! But put the gun down, my son may be awakened.’
‘Tell me.’ She lowered the gun.
‘I… I met Tamanna in my school years. Back then, we used to be enemies. The whole class was under our monopoly. Even the teachers used to do what we convinced them to do. It was good, but later in life, we became jealous of each other. We rented one flat. She became a nurse. I became a teacher as we could scarcely find any profession suitable for women in those days where we could have respect in the society. My father looked down upon Tamanna. I was told I shouldn’t meddle with her. One day, as I was leaving for work, I noticed a diary. Tamanna used to record her days in the diary, so as to keep herself up-to-date. The day your daughter had her surgery, she had used to a black marker pen and wrote AANIl. Why four letters in capital and one in small… I don’t know. On that day, she back to the house and cried in the bathroom. When I asked her what was it… she said, she had killed a child today. Jokingly… in order to lift her mood… I told her Repent for your sin, and beg mercy… I don’t know what provoked her. She was, angered, dejected, and somehow she became more and more religious by each passing moment. She came to the funeral, as she had asked your husband whether she could. Of course he wouldn’t say no.’
‘And then she shifted her home.’
‘Did you kill her?’
‘No. I didn’t kill her.’
‘Then who was the one who pushed her down the cinema hall! I have been waiting for this answer for the past 14 years. And no one. Absolutely no one has ever cared to see that I am right! What was my mistake? - At this point, she started crying - What did I do to be so wrethed in my life!’
Padmaja stepped close to her. And hugged her tightly.
Meanwhile, Kena went next to the wall behind Anjana, lifted the painting from the wall… and slammed on Anjana’s head.
At once, she crashed on the floor.
‘Reyansh. Kill her.’
Reyansh stared at Padmaja, dumbstruck.
‘If your father knows that you came here to wrap my sister in your thighs… he will expel you. He trusts me. And if you trust me as well, be sensible enough to lift the gun and shoot her. At once.’
Reyansh trusted Padmaja when she said she will get him expelled. He stepped up, picked up the gun and shooted the woman lying bloodied on the floor.
And he stood there, as the child in the next room bursted into cries.
Kena listened… horrified by the acts… and glanced at her sister, ‘Did you…?’
‘Of course I did it.’