The Body on the beach.

A Mystery.

I woke up with a start. It had been a fitful sleep, filled with strange dreams and unusual happenings, and I don’t remember which one of the countless demons residing in my head was I fighting when my slumber came to an abrupt end.

There is a lethargy in my limbs that comes after walking many miles. Why does it always feel like that after getting up? ‘Waking up during R.E.M. Sleep – have you forgotten everything that you have studied?’ the voice in my mind comes  alive. ‘Of course I know that! But for once can’t we leave behind medicine and think about life in its worldly perspective-eventful, difficult, colourful and strange,’ I retort sharply, and feel vindictive and foolish, both at once.

With a Herculean effort I raise my arm and pick up the mobile lying on the side table nearby-

6:05 am.

It is early. It is the leisure day today. Thankfully. Admittedly, last seven days have been fabulous, as expected. Who would not love a vacation in Kerala? But they have been hectic too. I want to relax today on the beach.

God knows I needed this break. Having worked continuously at our new hospital for the last two years has completely drained me, and Neha understands this. Though she too has worked as hard in establishing her Opthalmic practise but somehow it has been more difficult for me to handle the stress. But I feel rejuvenated now and ready to dive into work again with vigour.

I sit up in the couch and look at her. She is sleeping on the double bed with the kids. How does she manage to look  peaceful and angelic at all times?

I am proud of her. Tall, statuesque, gorgeous, confident, intelligent, competent, self-reliant, dignified and fiercely independent. Like every morning I wonder that why did she choose me.

Then remorse hits me like a speeding train. Yesterday night’s fight seems  pointless and trivial in the morning. It is the only blemish on this otherwise splendid past week. Hugh! Why do I act like an obstinate fool ever so often. There is no harm in staying here for a couple of days more as she wants, only it will be a logistical nightmare to reschedule everything, as I pointed out to her.

It strikes me that perhaps all happy marriages are dependent upon such guilt-ridden mornings when one feels boundless love for one’s spouse, and the fog of the bitter previous night is dispelled by the first rays of the day.

That; and the kids of course. These are the foundations of a stable, solid and a long married life.

I get up, and walk upto the bed to have a look at the kids, sleeping entangled with each other behind their mother- an arm here, a leg there.

Brothers in arms!

Can’t take my eyes off them. Hope that Aryan remembers these days. At four, definitely he is in the best part of lifecycle-no pressure, no studies and no responsibilities. No such luck for Veer. Has only entered the third standard, and already seems to be wilting under the class work. Their eyeballs are moving under the cover of the lids, and there is a smile on Aryan’s face. He is too young to have nightmares I guess.

With a sigh I turn towards the huge slider that forms one wall of this large room, and serves as an alternative exit; the more beautiful one-facing the sea. As quietly as possible I close the slider behind me and take in the scene from the patio. The green of the small, but well curated, garden contrasts with the brownish-white hue of the sand, and that in turn abuts the shiny blue of the Arabian sea. It’s stuff the dreams are made up of. A waft of sea breeze hits my face and instantly the lethargy is forgotten. The first light of the day has started to spread it’s wings but it’s not bright as yet.

Suddenly, getting up early does not seem to be a bad idea. Nothing is stirring as yet, and this pristine beach is at my disposal. A brisk walk there is what I need. And its a long stretch too-picturesque and clean. Though the resort has a portion marked as it’s private property, it’s not marked concretely, and the beach curves a long way off in both directions to end up in a clump of rocks surrounded by thick coconut groves.

The sand feels cold under my feet. Sea has receded quite a bit from the night, and the boundary that waves have created earlier is distinctly visible, as if ocean needs to mark it’s territory- dark chocolatey on one side and crisp brown on the other. This December morning is not chilly or hazy, like Jaipur. The temperature is quite comfortable.

One look at the ‘Starry Sands’ resort from here is enough to confirm that it is a wise choice. I can now visualise the rough ‘L’ shape, in which it is spread out, with half of the twenty four independent cottages facing the swimming pool, and the other half, like ours, facing the ocean, not fifty metres from the cottage.

Neha, of course, is the one behind the choice, and its typical of her to try and kill two birds with one stone. The property is small but niche, and sells clear and starry nights i.e. astronomy along with the sea, sun, sand, luxury, Kerala and whatnot.

Lately, she only wants to cuddle up with a binocular or a telescope under the stars. It riles me to no end. I don’t get it, astronomy that is, which is her damned latest fad. But it’s a wise man who humours his wife; or so I have heard. Thus, I find myself here, in a secluded and remote part of God’s own country. It’s wonderful though, have to concede that much.

The breeze is soothing, and the gentle lull of the distant waves is making me sleepy again, and it’s only due to my iron will and the thought of Neha’s taunts, that I can resist the magnetic pull of the lounge chairs and hammocks so generously spread out on the beach.

The fact that there is nobody else here is making it even more difficult. Even the fishing boats are not out as yet, everything’s so….

What is that? Is that a man lying face down? Near that showpiece of a  boat. Cannot be sure from this distance but it certainly seems like that. But why is he fully clothed?

Something is wrong! I quicken my pace. He might need medical attention. I think who it is- Sid. He was wearing a red T-shirt and a beige shorts just like that last night. Hope he is ok. Wait a minute…Is that..Is that…Oh my God!

Sid; or whoever he is, has been strangulated! There is a rope around his neck. My heart is racing and I am practically running now.

Oh! It’s a ghastly scene, cannot imagine a more improbable place than this to encounter it. Who would do it? And why? Here, of all places! The rope that anchors this small boat, which goes nowhere, to the wooden piling has been used to choke him.

Ok …Should I turn the body. He seems dead and that makes it a crime scene. But what if he is still alive? One has to ascertain that-won’t one? C.P.R. might be of use. What should I do..What should I do…

Ok..Let’s do it. Here it goes….Ughh! He is heavy. It’s Sid; can’t believe it! Saw him last night in his cottage and now he is lying here…Neha will be shocked.

There is no pulse in carotid, and no sign of breathing. He is quite dead, and has been for some time. Rigor mortis has not yet set in.

That’s so stupid of you Nikhil- You saw him barely five hours ago, alive! How could rigor mortis set in?

My hand are trembling. It does not matter how many deaths I might have seen in my medical practice but when it comes to hold myself together, my body is failing me. I am hyperventilating and the mind is blocked-numbed by this tragedy.

Ok…deep breaths..deep breaths.

That’s better. I look more closely now. There are signs of other injuries on his body. Something does not add up. Damn it! Nothing adds up. I am no detective but one thing is sure that many vital clues, like fingerprints, must be gone due to the water and the mud. Yes, the body has been lapped by the waves all through the  night, it lies, alongside the boat, at the very edge of the mark made by the retreating Waves. Only yesterday evening we get a selfie clicked in this boat, against the backdrop of sunset, and now it is part of a murder.

All at once the adrenaline leaves my system and I collapse with a thud near Sid. So many things need to be done-urgently, but I have no energy.  My thoughts are tumbling onto the near future-get back, raise alarm, come back with everyone, console Neha, take care of fearful and puzzled kids, deal with police….hugh! just thinking about it makes me dizzy.

I turn to one side and suddenly Sid’s wide but dead eye is staring at me…

            ×××     ×××     ×××     ×××   

“Don’t eat too much, it’s not good for your health,” I shout to the retreating figure of Veer who runs away from me towards the pool with two idlis in his hands.

“Nikhil!”, exclaims Neha,” what are you doing? Preventing kids from eating? Have you totally lost it?”

I look at her and cannot decide that whether the peevishness is due to yesterday’s fight or due to the unexpected demise of Sid or both. She does not seem devastated as I thought, but she can bottle up her emotions pretty well. That’s one thing different between her and I, one another thing actually.

” They are overeating since last so many days. Look I am sorry about Sid. Truly I am.”

She gives me a stern look, and is on the verge of snapping again but then restraints herself,” Did you give medicine to Veer?”

“Yes; it’s terrible what has happened but you have to be strong,”

“You don’t have to worry about me, take care of your mighty self,”

Her words sting and both of us lapse into an uncomfortable silence.

We are sitting in the aesthetically built and decorated dining area that is chaotic today. No surprises there. The catastrophe that has struck this property in the form of the untimely and unnatural death of its charismatic owner has paralysed the staff. And it’s a wonder that they have managed to provide us breakfast at all. Though it’s quite late. It’s almost 10:45am, but nobody is hungry, except perhaps the kids.

There is a pall of stunned gloom hanging over the resort. I have had to tell the story of my morning’s mis-adventure so many times that I will go insane if I have to do it one more time. But of course I will do it, obediently, in front of the inspector expected from the nearest big town Kanhagad any time now. A constable  has been here since morning from the nearby village’s police station, and has secured the site of crime, but due to it’s enormity it has to be handled by a senior official naturally.

As if on a cue a waiter informs me that I am needed at the conference hall. Inspector Sujith is expecting me there.

Conference hall really is just a hall roughly at the centre of the property, where Sid used to give his presentations about the stuff that he showed later in night sky, and doubles up as room for any sort of a gathering or celebration or entertainment, as we had last night.

I enter it and immediately notice the difference-the gaiety, breeziness and laughter is gone, the life has gone out of it. In one corner both the high-end telescopes are standing sadly, covered by a cloth, as if in mourning for their master.

” Dr. Singh, I presume?”

“That’s correct,”

“I am Inspector Sujith, I am told you discovered the body,”

“That’s right,” I am taken aback a little by his appearance, he does not confirm to my mental picture of an inspector, specially an Inspector in Kerala. Perhaps I have a skewed notion based upon few south indian movies that I have seen, but with a balding head, fair complexion, clean-shaven face and a bulging belly, he seems more of a businessman than an official of the law. That he is in civilian clothes is not helping either.

“Hmm.. I have read the statement that you have given earlier to Constable Ajeesh, don’t you think it’s too much of a coincidence that you were the last person to see Siddharth in the night at his cottage, and also the person to discover his body in the morning?”

I do a double-take,” What is this? Am I  a suspect..How can you..One minute! What? There was no discussion about last night with the constable. He asked me about today’s events,”

” That why I am an inspector and he is not, Dr. Singh,” he says while sitting behind a table that has been kept in the centre, he signals me to sit on the chair on the other side of the table, ” I have already made enquires in the short time that I have been here, and we are checking the footage of c.c.t.v. showing the area outside Mr. Siddharth’s cottage this very minute. You entered there around 12:18 am and came out at 12:27, and then again went back inside around 12:31am, and finally came out around 12:37 am. Nobody saw him alive after that. What do you have to say about it?”

“Are you absolutely sure of that? I would be quite disappointed in the staff here if that is the case,” I said while sitting reluctantly on the chair.

“What do you mean?”

“I had specifically asked the guy at the reception after coming out of Sid’s cottage to check upon him after ten minutes. If he didn’t do it then it was a serious lapse on his part. Also you haven’t checked the full footage yet, perhaps others saw him later on the beach,”

” Is that so?” he seems flustered and his James Bondsque demeanor is gone for a moment,” let me check his statement, I think he goes by the name of Vijayan…ummm..,” he skims through a paper,

” All right, he has said that you came around to reception at about quarter to one in the night, and said that Mr. Siddharth was not feeling well and that though you had given him medicines it would be better if he were to check upon him after ten-fifteen minutes. He further says that before setting out towards Mr Siddharth’s cottage he thought it would be a good idea to call him up, so that the reception was not left alone. And that he did ring him, Mr. Siddharth picked up the phone and seemed quite all right. He ends up by saying that he was explicitly told by Siddharth that he was feeling good after the medicines, and there was no need to come to his room, then or later,”

“You see?” I say with a satisfied voice

” But that means he never saw him, only talked to him over the phone..that’s flimsy, you know. And about five hours later Siddharth is found dead on the beach, by you,”

An ache is beginning to drum up in my head. Is he dense?

“Oh…I think what has happened- I came out of the room in the night in full view of c.c.t.v. then went around announcing my visit to his room in front of the guy at reception, made sure that he checks upon Sid…then later somehow sneak back in, without being seen in c.c.t.v. and drag out Sid, who by the way is feeling better now, and is much stronger than me, to one end of the long Beach and strangulate him. After that I go and sleep peacefully, and get up in the morning to find his body and announce my crime to everyone! Perfect..case solved!”

Sujith stares at me quietly as he fiddles with a paper-weight,”It sure is  impossible…Hugh! I am sorry Dr. Singh, I think we got started on a wrong foot. This is a murder scene and we have to treat everyone with suspicion. I hope you understand that,”

” I know that Inspector, but that does not mean you start insinuating the first guy you come across with absurd, and frankly impossible, theories.”

” My bad Doctor, let’s do it the proper way. Could you please tell me why did you go to Mr. Siddharth’s room in the night and what happened there?”

“Sure, I got a call from him on mobile, and by the way you can check it in my call records,” he rolls his eyes,” sometime after midnight, and said that he was not feeling well. He asked me whether I could come over to his cottage. I was quite sleepy, it was a long day yesterday; right from the site-seeing at Bekal fort and nearby areas in afternoon to the party at night, which by the way took place right here, it had been one tiresome day. We all were exhausted. But, of course, I dragged myself out of the bed…”

“What time did you go to sleep, and did your wife wake up when you went to see him later?”  interjected Sujith.

” I don’t think so that Neha woke up, she was fast asleep along with the kids, and I made sure I went out as quietly as I could. It was late when we came back from the celebration. Siddharth had thrown the party to commemorate two years of this resort, and it was wonderful-barbeque on the beach, a lot of singing and dancing, and well, most of us had a bit too much to drink, specially Siddharth. I myself had a couple of glasses more than usual,”

“Seems it was quite a party,”

” Well you know how it is; we all are on a vacation and he was one hell of a host, anyway I think it broke around elevenish, and we all were drowsy and tucked in bed by 11:30pm at the latest I guess,”

“Not everyone I presume, there is a dead body on the sand out there right now to prove it,”

I shrug, ” Yes, it’s deeply mystifying. How Sid got there, and who killed him. Can’t make head or tail of this question. I explicitly told him to lie down and sleep,”

” We are here to get answer to that question. You need not worry about that. Just tell me what I want to know. Like, what was he suffering from?”

” Hypoglycemia i.e. low blood sugar and gastric reflux, acidity that is,”

“Acidity? That’s it? For that he got you to his room?”

” I also said hypoglycemia. He didn’t know that, he thought it could be something to do with his heart,”

“How come?”

” He was diabetic and was on insulin. Hypoglycemia presents with symptoms that mimic a heart attack, there is perspiration and a heaviness in the chest. That is exactly what was happening to him. I asked him whether he had taken his regular dose of insulin. He had, just after reaching his room after dinner. Trouble was that he did not have much to eat and had a lot to drink. In his state of inebriation he forgot that he had to reduce the dose of insulin. And well, alcohol itself causes hypoglycemia. So he was experiencing symptoms of very low blood sugar. I looked for something to give him immediately, and fortunately found a carton of Soya milk in his fridge, he used to drink it as it’s healthier. And it still contained roughly half of its content. Hurriedly I mixed two-three pouches of sugar from the tray kept to prepare coffee and gave him. That sweet cold milk combated both- reflux and low blood sugar,”

” Hmm…There goes the insulin angle as well. We found the discarded carton of milk in the dustbin along with pouches of sugar. The glass from which milk had been drunk sat upon the side-table near his bed. And his vial of insulin has the proper amount left in it. It’s not emptied.” muses Sujith.

I laugh, “Really! You Were planning to pin that upon me – insulin overdose! I think you read a lot of detective novels,”

He looks sheepish,” Well it’s a known method of homicide, and suicide as well, and we are going to check every adult here who is diabetic, whether they have any missing vial or something, of course. Anyway, why did you go back to your cottage and again went to see Siddharth?”

“To get Tablet Pantaprazole,” from his uncomprehending face I know that he has not got it,” it is a medicine to relieve acidity, I have it with me always as I too suffer from gastric reflux. I made him consume it, then went to reception to tell the guy there to check upon him later, and then lie down in my room and instantly was asleep. I was totally spent,”

“Oh! All right…tell me how long have you known Mr. Siddharth madkaikar?”

” About an year and a half or so. Actually he was a good friend of my wife’s. She is the one who is into astronomy. I met him once at Jaipur where he had come to deliver a guest lecture in an astrophotography conference. It’s there my wife and other members of Jaipur astronomy club first met him. After that, they all have been in regular touch through social media, webinars and whatnot. We met once again about six months ago, briefly, at Neem ka thana, a small town in Rajasthan, where we all had gone to see the total solar eclipse. Siddharth was there of course, and I think the idea of this vacation was mooted there. He was quite enthusiastic to have members of the club to have a starry vacation at his property. And so we are here-all the families belong to the astronomy club. I got to know him personally well enough only in the last week,”

” I knew him quite well. He was fantastic, wasn’t he? Tall, handsome, charming, debonair and passionate. He left a high-paying job at a multi-national to open this resort. That requires courage. He got this area on the tourist map,” said Sujith. He clearly is a member of Sid fan club, well, who isn’t? He was very popular in our group, and Neha had been going on and on about his many qualities in past few days. To be frank I have been feeling slightly fed up lately from all this. But now that he is suddenly gone it strikes me acutely that we have lost an extraordinary man, and that too in such an unfortunate manner.

“He sure was a great guy, full of zeal and innovative ideas. Pity, that he ended up like that,”

“All right doctor…I guess we are done for now but I will need you again, and you know that you cannot leave the town, don’t you?”

I groan, ” But we have a return flight tomorrow! I have many surgeries pending, my wife too,”

“Sorry, can’t help you there. You all have to be here atleast for the near future,”

I get up feeling dejected, and start to go back when he says,

“Ugh…Doctor singh,”

“Yes?”

“Your wife is also a doctor …Isn’t she?”

“Yes, she is an Opthalmologist,”

” And was close to Siddharth too, yet he called you in his distress, and not her– strange,”

I stare at him and don’t understand where is he leading to,” Well, I am a cardio-thoracic surgeon. Perhaps he thought I would be of more help than her. It’s quite logical considering the circumstances,”

” Or perhaps he did call her later,”

“What are you saying?” I demand.

” You know the last number that Siddharth dialled was your wife’s. Around 1:21am, the call was very brief, about 25 seconds long. Perhaps she met him later…Of course I am going to quiz her later about it, I thought you might be knowing something about it,”

The floor beneath my legs is moving and I cannot stand firm, ” I…I don’t know anything about it, but Neha did not go out in the night…Of that I am sure,”

” We will see about that. We are checking the c.c.t.v. footage of all the cottages – both the exits. Soon we will know who was out of their rooms during that period,”

” I am confident that you are not gonna find anything to incriminate her,” I say firmly and turn around to stride out of the hall in a huffed manner. But something stings my conscience.

The voice in my head says-Wasn’t it a soft click that you had heard Nikhil, sometime after coming from Sid’s room? And in your uneasy, light and fragile slumber had thought-‘What is that? Is Neha going out? Did I wake her up?’ Then had dismissed it as convolutions of a tired mind, and had forgotten all about it.

Well, now you know –She did go out… to meet him. And now he is dead….

       ×××     ×××    ×××     ×××    ×××

I find her in the bed, trying to make the kids go to sleep. Our eyes meet and for a moment she is my Neha; lovely, supportive and trusted. Then I remember what I have just heard and suddenly I cannot stand her. The room seems small and cannot contain both of us. In an instant I am out of slider wall and in the chair lying in the veranda.

The sea is of totally different colour in  the afternoon-its green. Its amazing how it changes colour with time. Like humans. There is so much bitterness in me right now that I can taste it in my mouth.

She comes out quietly and sits in the chair besides me. Her hand is on my shoulder and I know she has that tender look on her face that makes me go weak in my knees.

“What happened Nikhil? How did it go with the inspector. Did he say something offensive to you?”

I only have to look into her deep black eyes and everything will be all right. But I can’t..I won’t. Not today.

Instead I keep on looking at the sea and say,” It was fine. Nothing offensive.”

” I know it must have been an enormous shock to you to find him gruesomely murdered there. How are you taking it? Please talk to me… Nikhil,”

“How are you taking it? It’s much harder upon you I think,” look into her eyes….atleast looks towards her, the voice in my mind pleads; but I won’t.

“Why?” In a flash her shapely hand is off my shoulder and the tender voice is gone,” why would it be harder upon me?”

Somehow I control myself and think this is what is called Deja vu.

We are here again, on these chairs in the patio, the kids are asleep and we are at loggerheads again. Only Sid is dead now. I take a deep breath. Perhaps I am over-reacting. No; I am not, how else am I supposed to behave? A man is dead, and my wife is a prime suspect; of discreetly meeting him atleast; if not of homicide.

“Nikhil, I told you that I wanted to extend the vacation as I thought you were having a good time at last. You have worked hard for a very long time and deserve a nice long break. It had nothing to do with Siddharth. Told you yesterday, and even earlier, that I admired him as a man who had courage to follow his passion, and I really liked to talk to him about astronomical stuff and observations. Nothing more. Don’t keep on beating about that bush. He was quite knowledgeable in his field. I have always asked you to come along but you were never intrested, what could I do? “

” And did that give you the license to meet him in the dead of the night? Slipping past your husband like a thief,”

“Shut up Nikhil!”

“Why? You know what was offensive about that inspector-he told me that the last call Sid made was to you, and that pretty soon he would find evidence that you met him, out on the beach in the time period when he has supposed to have died. Do you know how it feels when someone tells a guy that his wife is having an affair, and is a murder suspect too?”

Her jaw is clenched and she has that far-away determined look on her face,” I don’t care what others think. I only care what you think about me,”

I relent,” Neha, forgive me if I have said anything wrong. It was a moment of weakness. Sid had become a good friend of mine too, and I genuinely liked him. But it does not matter to the police what do we think or feel. Only evidence matters, and it is not looking good for you right now. Did you meet him late night out there on the beach or not?”

She looks for a long time towards me,” If I have to answer this question to you after all these years then I think there’s nothing left in our marriage,”

“Why are you behaving like this? It’s not about us anymore. They are going to  officially question you. Please tell me…”

” Don’t worry about them, I will tackle them when the time comes. As for you, you will have to trust me. The question is -Do you still trust me?” she gets up and goes inside with these words.

“Shit!” I yell and kick the chair, it falls with a loud crash and wakes up Aryan. He is bawling loudly.

I massage my head. There is a distant boat in the ocean. It’s standing still in the vastness; solitary and sad; just like me…

        ×××     ×××     ×××      ×××

I wake up and cannot decide whether it is evening or morning. I am in that sweet zone of uncertainty in which one finds self just after waking up, and where nothing is clear to mind, only a promise of happiness. Then the memory of all that has happened today falls upon me like a ton of bricks. Getting up from the couch seems impossible but of course I do it to find that Neha and kids are missing.

They are near the pool. I should go there but find myself drifting towards the bar near the dining area. It’s dim and the usual resplendence is gone, forever I think. There is a man sitting there with a glass and bowed shoulders.

It’s Joy Saldanha, the chief manager of Starry Sands, and a close associate of Sid’s. It must be hard on him. They were quite close. I like him. Have been co-ordinating for a long time before coming here about the logistics of the trip with him. He has given no occasion to complain. I sit on the stool near him and find him bleary-eyed and disheveled. A far cry from his usual uber-self. The air of competency is gone, as if somehow the sheen has come off his persona.

“Hi Joy, I am very sorry about Sid. How are you holding up?”

“Ah! Nikhil sir…I am good; actually am not, how can I be? Everything is falling apart. But first tell me what will you have?”

” A glass of red wine please,”

“Here you are,” he says while handing over the glass to me.

” You two go a long way back, don’t you? I remember Sid telling me the first day when we came here that you were his right hand, and that he could not have managed without you,”

” He said that, did he? He was one charming bastard. Oh! I miss him. Things were always lively when he was around. It was so typical of him to pass his partner like his manager. He had a certain manner though. You could not correct him even though you knew that he was lying. He had Oomph and flamboyance. I am sure a lot of ladies would agree,” says he while taking a sip.

Partners? This is news to me. I thought he was just the manager, and perhaps a good friend of Sid’s. I give him a close look. He cannot be more different from Siddharth. While he was tall, extremely fair with classic chiseled features and a physique to match; Joy is thin and of average height. His hair are greying prematurely and a wafer thin moustache sits on his angular face, and does not sit in a flattering way either. His manner is sauve and articulate, but cannot equal the eloquence of Sid. He was in a different league all together.

“We grew up together in Pune you know,” continued Joy,” but both of us are Konkanis actually. He was my best friend right from school. When he decided to chuck his job and start this venture he called me. Both of us invested equal capital in this property. It’s as much mine as his. Of course he was the star- astronomer par excellence, brilliant marketing guru and and numero uno sweet talker. He brought the guests and dazzled them with his personality and starry stuff; and I tackled all other managerial stuff. That always has been the deal.”

” So what happens now?”

He shrugs,” Don’t know. Half of the property is in my name. But I cannot run it on the basis of night sky, that’s not my cup of tea. It can be a simple resort I guess, but the location is so remote, because of the necessity of having a dark and clear night sky, that I don’t think many tourists will turn up. His share hangs in balance. He was divorced, and had long ago alienated his family. I am as close to being his relative as any.”

“Is that so? I thought a guy like him would have a lot of loving people to bother about him,”

” People are not always what they seem to be. There was a strong eccentric streak in him and he could be quite mean. Despite his brilliance he rubbed most people the wrong way once they got to know him closely,”

It is strange to hear such words about Sid from Joy. No doubt the alcohol has loosened his tongue. But it does not  shine a generous light on Sid’s character if his best friend speaks about him in this manner the very day his dead body is found. The world is a strange place where nobody can be trusted, as I am finding out with each passing day.

“All right take care old boy, ” I get up from the bar and Joy waves his hand without looking at me. I should join Neha and kids.

” Shhh..Over here Mr. Doctor, sir  could you come over here for a minute?”

I look around to see the source of the voice and find the constable from the village, who was the first police official here in the morning, sitting in one corner, splayed upon a lounge chair that has appeared here somehow.  Perhaps he has dragged it himself. Both are totally out of place. I go towards him and find that he has downed many glasses. Night has not fallen properly and people are already drunk. Free booze does that. He has been posted here by Inspector Sujith for the night but he is useless as a raincoat on a sunny day.

I am about to pass him as there is no desire inside me to talk to another comatose drunk when I hear him say,

” Madam will be all right sir… She was not the only one out at that time,”

My feet are rooted to the ground and my ears are burning. What does he know about that? Then it strikes me with a bolt that what a blundering fool I am. Of course he knows. He is on the inside, and he is drunk right now and wants to have a chat with me. And I was going to pass this opportunity. What a fool.

I go to him,”Mr. Ajeesh isn’t it, tell me how much do you want,” and take out my wallet.

He gets up and folds his hands,” No..No, Doctor sir, I am a simple man. I don’t want your money,”

I am at a loss,” Then what do you want”

” You are a cardiologist, aren’t you?”

I begin to tell him that I am a cardio-thoracic surgeon and not a cardiologist, but stop myself. He won’t understand the difference.

“Yes,”

“Well, my mother is having heart trouble since some time. I took her to many doctors and then she was referred to a big hospital at Mangalore. There the doctor did that test- that angiography, he told me that her heart is in a bad way and she needs three tents in her heart, and needs them pretty soon too,”

“Stents, not tents,”

“Yes, stents or whatever they are called. He demanded a huge amount of money. I have checked at many hospitals, even the cheapest one is very costly. I am very much troubled about her. Could you help me? I would bring her report and c.d. and could you have a look at them? I want to know whether they are really needed and how many? If I go ahead with the procedure which is the best quality and best doctor to…”

“Relax…I will check her angio. That’s what I do, it’s my job. Don’t worry, I will tell you everything that you need to know, and if you could come down to Jaipur, I can get the procedure done at a nominal rate at my hospital. Otherwise there are my friends at Mangalore who will get it done there in roughly the same rate, ” I say this and watch a big smile spread upon his face. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. I notice that he is not even that drunk as I thought.

” Now tell me about this case. What has my wife got to do with it? Is she the only suspect?”

” You need not worry about madam, she is innocent”

My heart flutters,” Really? Who told you that? Inspector Sujith?”

” No, my heart says that. A lady like her cannot be involved in such a business, specially with a man like Siddharth. I knew him quite well. I live in the nearby village Ozinhavaluppu,”

I stare at the floor. A tide of anger is rising in my veins,” never mind what your heart says, I want to know what does the evidence say,”

“Well,” he squirms in the chair,” she did go out on the beach. But she was not the only one. There were three other persons seen in the c.c.t.v. footage who were out of their rooms or expected positions in that period, apart from Mr. Siddharth. Currently, fourteen families are residing in their respective cottages in the resort, all part of your group, no other guest is there, plus the staff. I myself scanned the entire footage as instructed by Sujith sir. It’s a miracle that resort has installed cameras all the cottages and other important areas, and all of them worked!”

“Who were the others, do you remember?” I sink lower into the chair. She did go out. Despite knowing it to be a fact I had been hoping against hope that it would turn out to be false.

” You bet I do. In fact I have written all the timings here,” he searches the pockets of his crumpled shirt and brings out a leaf of paper, ” madam went out at 1:32am and came back around 2:10, both entry and exit through the slider. Mrs. Khandelwal came out of the main entrance, facing the pool, around 1:19 am, then meandered in the garden for a short while, and from there to the area adjacent to the patio of her cottage, strolled there for about 20 minutes and entered her cottage through the slider entrance at around 1:42 am,”

” Was Mrs. Khandelwal visible the entire period?”

“Yes, she did not go out of range of camera even once,”

“Then she has a solid alibi, we can forget her as the perpetrator of the crime, What was she doing out so late anyway..”

“She says that she suffers from insomnia and was unable to sleep yesterday night too, so she came out to walk in fresh air,” he hesitates for a moment as if trying to decide whether he should tell me more or not, before adding,” she has also said that she remembers hearing a loud male voice while she was in the garden near her cottage, and it seemed to her that someone was shouting. She has stated that the voice sounded familiar to her but she cannot positively identity it. Her cottage is nearest to the crime scene, being at the last end of the property on that side where the body was found. But she could not have seen anything, it was too far and well it was dark. The crescent moon was quite weak to give any reasonable light,”

I am alert. This is the stuff that I want to know,”But she says she heard a male voice! That could be the killer,”

“But it’s inconclusive. It could be have been Siddharth too, having one of his famous flares of temper. Perhaps there was a fight, a scuffle and he got strangulated. We don’t exactly know how it played out. Can only guess,”

” But what about Neha? Is she also visible throughout the footage? If yes-bingo! She is innocent,”

“Unfortunately no, madam came out and went in the rough direction of the murder. She was lost only after a few metres. The range and the angle of the cameras have been set so as to keep an eye only on the immediate vicinity of the cottages and the interior part of the resort i.e. dining area, garden inside, pool, conference hall etc. She could have stopped anywhere though,”

My heart is down to my boots. It is conclusive that she went to meet him. Ok …that’s one bullet in my body, now what about the other one- Did she kill him? It’s too absurd to think that. Even if she was meeting him clandestinely, and was enamored to him, it’s insane to think that she could have killed him. That would not have been possible physically too….Unless…

I pick myself up from the quicksand of my thoughts and make a feeble attempt on her behalf,” but surely one cannot judge only by the footage of cameras, that are so myopic, cannot see beyond few metres. Nobody saw her meeting him,”

” Actually, Ranjith has stated that he saw madam, going towards the general direction of the beach where Sid has died, just a minute or two before he left for his home. That was 1:34am to be precise. He did not see her meet him, just that he watched her go and wondered what was she doing out at that time of the night,”

“Ranjith? Who is he and what was he himself doing then?”

” He takes care of the telescopes and other gadgets. He has been here since the beginning. Actually he was sort of man-friday to Mr. Siddharth. Did a lot of odd jobs for him. In his statement he has said that after the party there was a lot of work for him to do- like cleaning the conference hall, tucking away telescopes carefully, Siddharth was very particular about it, and preparing the hall for the early morning session. Apparently Siddharth had planned a surprise morning session to show the planet Venus and sun, or something like that. So he worked till late and then started for his home, in the nearby village, when he saw your wife,”

I have placed who Ranjith is, he is that silent, morose Keralite who shadowed Sid during observations. Handing over lenses or fixing an object in the eyepiece of telescope. I have not heard one word from him in the past eight days.

” Could he be lying?”

” Difficult,” says Ajeesh,” he is seen many times in the camera. In fact when Siddharth came out of his cottage, which incidentally is quite near to the conference hall, at 1:18 am, he is seen talking to Ranjith. He says that he asked Siddharth where was he heading to at that hour, and that he was told by Siddharth that he wanted to meet someone, then he went off towards the ocean,”

I am unable to speak. My lips are parched. With some difficulty I utter,” we only have his word that he went home. He could have followed him later, when he was out of the range of those mighty and God-like cameras, perhaps they had an argument and Ranjith murdered him. Such silent men are dangerous. When there patience gives way, anything is possible. He has no alibi,”

What am  I doing…who am I convincing- this man or myself? But to my surprise he says, ” That’s quite true. He could have done it easily. Although the way to his home makes him go around the resort, skirting it actually, away from the beach. I know where his home his, it’s a small settlement, mostly of fishermen. But we only have his word that he went there straight away. He lives alone too, there’s just a sister who is at Kochi right now, working at a hotel. So nobody can vouch about the time he reached his place. And so, he is a prime suspect right now, along with madam and Joy,”

“Joy! This joy?” I point towards the man sitting in front of us, with his back towards us, and with whom I have been talking just few minutes back.

” Hunn..Hunn,”

” He is a suspect? Why? How? He is Sid’s best friend,” I cannot get a hold of this fact.

” When a murder is involved anything is possible Doctor sir. He is under the cloud right now, and by the way, they might have been old associates but there are indications of friction amongst them. The financial health of the resort also seems to be in an unhealthy condition. Joy had invested all savings here, not so for Siddharth, he was clever this way. Joy also had reservations about being called just a manager here. He is half the owner you know,”

“Ya I know, he was speaking something about it just now, but to kill a man for that seems a very long shot. Was he out of his room at that time?”

” Yes, he stays on the whole floor above the conference hall. He is seen going out around 11:25pm and does not return till 1:29am. He was not inside the property during that time. That is confirmed. He says he went urgently to Ozinhavaluppu, the nearest village and my native, on the instructions of Siddharth to bring back a solar filter that was lying there at the house of one of Siddharth’s friends. It had been delivered by courier in the evening. Most couriers don’t deliver here by the way, so they routinely used this friend,”

“He went there in the dead of the night?”

” Yes, he says Siddharth had suddenly decided to show something on the sun’s surface in the morning along with Venus, and that filter was absolutely necessary. He was whimsical like that. Used to decide at the spur of the  moment, and then was adamant and impatient after that.  But guests loved these surprises, they were like bonuses. Everyone was used to his mood swings, including his friend. When Siddharth came to know during the dinner that the much anticipated solar filter had reached his friend’s house in the evening, he got desperate to have it at the earliest, and dazzle his guests in the morning with it. It was going to be a parting gift from him to your group on the last day of the stay. We have enquired at the village and Joy did reach there around 11:50pm, got the filter. That much is true and verified. He is even seen entering the hall with a package in his hand later, we even found the solar filter in his room. What is interesting is the lag between his procurement of it at the friend’s house and his entry to his room. He must have left immediately, even if we consider that he might have left the village by 12 am or 12:15 at the latest, then the way back is not more than 20-25 minutes. There is a whole hour missing in his story,”

I am intrigued now,” What does he have to say in his defence!”

“He says that he was not feeling well on account of having had to drink a bit too much in the two-year celebration, and after he set out from the village he felt nauseous and vomited at the side of the road. He further says that he was having trouble opening his eyes due to fatigue and the influence of alcohol, so he parked the car on one side of the road and slept for about an hour or so. When he woke up it was about 1:15 am, so he hurried back and slept the rest of the night in his room,”

“It’s bunkum!”

” Yes, it is thin but believable and totally possible. I myself have done the same many times when it got difficult to drive in the night after …You know, having to drink too much. Of course that narrow road is totally deserted in the night, even in daytime the traffic is very light, so it cannot be corroborated in any way. By the way our friend Ranjith saw him enter the conference hall with ‘something in his hand’. He was inside the hall at that time, checking the equipment one final time, according to him. Joy went straight to his abode on the first floor and never saw him,”

I let out a deep sigh. Yes it’s possible, everything is possible. I myself have taken a nap along the side of the road in the night a few times when the going has seemed dangerous. So Joy could have done it too. Why not? Certainly liquor has literally flown yesterday night. I remember clinking my glass to that of Sid’s and Joy’s many times.

‘They might have consumed much more than you Nikhil. Don’t you remember spending the latter part of the night out on the sand with the kids, teaching them how to barbeque,’ I smile as I recall their excited faces. God! How the things have changed. ‘But it’s a fact when you were out, the party was in full swing. What with all the singing and dancing no doubt they drowned more spirit than intended,’ my conscience tell me.

My head is spinning. So many possibilities! So many ifs and buts!

I get up,” Anything else?”

Ajeesh thinks and shakes his head. I thrust a note of two thousand rupees in his pocket despite his protests,” keep me posted,”

He nods,” One more thing, tomorrow morning they all will be called to the police station at Kanhagad for questioning. Joy and Ranjit might be detained there for further enquiries. Both the ladies will be allowed to return here but under strict surveillance,”

By now I am attuned to such things. How soon a man adapts! But it takes something out his soul leaving a void behind. This void can either be filled with the love of one’s soulmate or by whiskey. Having no access to the first one, I find refuge in the latter….

      ×××    ×××     ×××     ×××    ×××

“Give medicine to Veer on time and take care of them, I might be late,” these are the first words spoken by Neha to me since yesterday and before I can say ‘Yes’, she is whisked off in the car along with Mrs. Khandelwal by the police.

The gulf that has opened up between us has widened to such an extent that it feels like we are strangers who are chained to each other by two innocent kids.

I turn to go to the dining area where both of them are sitting, and bump into Sujith.

“What are you doing here? Neha just went to see you” I demand. He is looking sharp today in his uniform.

“Yes I know, I am on my way. I will question them at the station only. There were some loose ends to tie here,”

I am in no mood to humour him,” So did you tie them?”

He looks at me keenly,” Not yet..I need your help for that Doctor Singh,”

“What can I do for you?”

“Shall we sit near the pool….Here you are, that’s better. You are a hotshot surgeon, aren’t you? I have done some research and you have come up as one of the top surgeons of jaipur,”

” I am doing all right, thank you,”

“Then tell me, as a doctor, don’t you think there’s something irregular about the way Siddharth died, I mean you say he called you as he was suffering from low blood sugar, then you give him sugar and he is all right, goes out and dies of strangulation. It doesn’t fit, it is not smooth,” he moves his right hand as he speaks.

” It does seems unusual but come to think of it, it is not that strange, I mean- hypoglycemia is corrected very soon with consumption of sugar. After that the person feels fully normal. So did Sid, and that is why he must have gone out for some reason and…”

” But why did he go out at that hour specially when he had just recovered. He should have slept. Common sense says that, even medical science says that, then why did he go out?”

I shrug and don’t know where is he going. He derives a special pleasure in slowly tormenting me I think.

“Unless it’s a pre-decided meeting  with someone that he doesn’t want to miss. A rendezvous, if you will,” he smiles and I have an irresistible desire to break his nose.

“Are you suggesting that my wife was having an affair with him?” I rise with blood in my eyes.

” Sit down Doctor. This is a murder investigation and we have to be unemotional, thorough, scientific and logical about it,”

“Logical!” I laugh,” is it logical that you consider the possibility that Neha might have overcome and strangle him? Have you seen her? She cannot strangle a bird even if she wants to. She is that delicate. And you knew Sid, didn’t you? He was over six feet tall, athletic and muscular. Strong as an Ox. How in the name of logic could she have killed him?”

” Hmmm….You discovered his body, didn’t you? I hope being a medical professional you gave a good look at it. Did you?”

I am caught off guard by this sudden change of topic and don’t say anything. I can hear my heartbeat, it’s beating fast and loud.

Sujith speaks softly, ” Come on doctor, tell me. I need a professional opinion. As this place is so remote we are having trouble in getting the opinion of a capable forensic professional, but if you don’t help me I will get it done sooner or later. And autopsy report will come in a couple of days. It’s not your speciality but being a super-doc you must know enough about all this,”

I am sweating profusely, and my mouth is dry, but he is right, it will come out sooner,” I …I think he did not die of strangulation,”

” I knew it!” he slams the chair with his right hand and stands up, ” and your reasons for saying that?”

“There was no ligature mark, that is characteristic of strangulation by a rope. Other signs like petechiae in the eyes and frothing in the corner of mouth were also missing,”

” When you went to see him the first time didn’t you call the reception and ask whether there was anyway that you could get Siddharth’s  E.C.G. done?”

“Yes I did,”

“Why? You told me yesterday that it was evident to you that he was suffering from only hypoglycemia and acidity,”

I sigh,” It was to pacify him mainly. He was worried about his heart. But the reception guy told me that we would have to go to Kanhagad to get it done,”

“Was that the only reason? Later you told the reception guy to have a look at him. Why? If his blood sugar was up and he was better then why this instruction?”

I cannot face him, ” It seemed like a good precaution. Doctors always ensure good follow up,”

“Or you thought that there was a chance, however miniscule, that it really could have been a heart attack?”

It’s the the moment I have been dreading. There is no way I can evade it now. Slowly I speak,” There’s some truth in what you say. Many times cardiac attack presents like gastric reflux, specially a subtype called Inferior wall M.I. and vive-versa. Though it’s rare. I thought it would be wise if E.C.G. could be done, however it was difficult. Then I gave him sugar and anti-acids, and he felt a lot better, so it seemed like it really was reflux coupled with hypoglycemia, specially it looked like that to Sid. He was quite relieved, even laughed at his earlier suspicions about his heart. Called himself a ‘chicken’. I told him that in my opinion a visit to the nearest hospital would be better, but with his typical arrogance, and machismo he rebuffed me once he felt better due to the sugar in his system. Without E.C.G. and other diagnostic facilities it was impossible to say anyway, and Sid was adamant that he was all right. He was a little embarrassed by his need to call me I think. He always wanted to be seen his usual confident and healthy self,”

” I am a little confused here, ” says Sujith,” he gets better then goes out and get himself strangulated but expires due to a cardiac reason, I mean what the hell happened there man?”

” I am not completely sure but I think what happened was that he actually was suffering from an underlying cardiac event masquerading as heartburn along with, and  overshadowed initially, by low blood sugar. It progresses slowly, you know. He felt all right for a short period of time after sweetened milk. So he ventured out, despite my advise to not to do so, but all that time his heart was worsening and he would have collapsed soon, but in a massive and rather cruel twist of the fate, he got attacked by someone just then and..”

“And as the attacker coiled that rope around his neck, his already damaged heart stopped in the ensuing panic of the onslaught, and this will be reflected in the autopsy as the cause of death, and not strangulation,” completes Sujith. The bastard already knows what has happened but the sadist in him wants to hear it from me,

“Exactly, it would have led to severe arrhythmia or disturbance of rhythm of the beats. That sounded death knell to the already failing heart,”

“Unbelievable! I thought such coincidences occured only in mystery novels not in reality. Tell me one thing, Siddharth must have felt weak in the end, I mean just before life got snuffed out of him,”

“Yes, he must have had difficulty in standing and speaking. He might have been confused too,”

“In short he was vulnerable. Hmmm..then in such a situation even someone weaker than him normally, say a petite lady, could have overpowered him, specially if she were to be in a fit of rage,”

I get up and walk away from him. I don’t need this. Don’t I know it? This is what that has been killing me for the past two days.

I find kids fiddling with food on their plates. There are other families in the dining room, everyone is staring at us silently. All right, the news spreads fast. These are the people with whom we have been having a good time till only a couple of days back, but now it seems I am in a crowd of strangers.

There is no need to instruct the kids to eat less, they have no appetite. Children might not understand everything going around them but they are very intuitive. They sense the tension between their parents and wilt. It kills me to see them like this. I try to cheer them up by playing with them but my heart is not in it, neither is theirs. Finally we watch cartoons on the T.V. for a long time until they fall asleep.

She enters the room around five. It has taken the whole day, and she must be tired, but I am tired too-of waiting, of being lied to, and of worrying to death.

“What did you testify in front of Sujith,” I cannot restrain myself. I have to know!

“It’s confidential. I am not allowed to tell that to you, or anyone else for that matter,” she replies while selecting a dress from the cupboard that she will wear after the shower.

My worn-out patience gives way and I am up in a blink, and the next thing I know is that I have jerked her towards me and her right arm is being squeezed by my hand,

“Tell me what happened there,” I demand. My head is clouded by a fog of anger.

“Leave me!” she frees herself and shoves me gently,”What are you doing?  The kids will wake up,”

“I am your husband! Don’t I deserve honesty and some clear answers from you? It’s my right. What if I were to be in your place, and you in mine? Would you not demand to know everything?”

“We would never be in the reverse position,” she smirks at me while entering the bathroom,” I would never doubt you in the first place,” the door closes in my face.

I shut my eyes fast. Really! Is this the time to play this card! Why are females like that? Stubborn and emotional about ‘Trust’ and ‘Listening to one’s heart’. And how am I supposed to do that? She has just returned from an official enquiry about her suspected role in someone’s murder for God’s sake!

“Fine, do whatever you like, but know this-I have other means to gain knowledge about your statement. I am not dependent upon you,” I yell to the silent door, and walk out of the cottage, slamming the wooden door of the main entrance loudly.

I jog towards the bar, and find Ajeesh in pretty much the same position as yesterday-slung about in the lounge chair with a glass in his hand. He gets up as he observes me.

“Ok…Tell me-fast, what did my wife say to Sujith? Did she meet him? What’s her story?” I demand as I sit near him.

He looks at my right leg that is tapping the floor nervously and says,” I am very sorry sir, I cannot tell you anything about it. I have been here the whole day. Sujith sir instructed me to be here. I am not privy to his conversation with madam that happened at the Kanhagad police station,”

I sink into the chair, bowed down by massive disappointment and immense irritation. This guy is totally useless.

” However,” he says in an attempt to redeem himself in my eyes,” I have not been sitting idle here. I have made a lot of enquiries today, and talked to all the staff here. Some interesting things have come up,”

I perk up and sit up straight, “Like what?”

” Like, you know out of seventeen staff employed by the resort not a single one is female, there is no lady here, from top to bottom,” he makes the symbol of ‘zero’ with his right thumb and index finger as he speaks,

That is news to me, ” No ladies? How did I fail to notice that? But why?”

“Mr. Siddharth Madkaikar was an incorrigible womanizer it seems. About eight-nine ladies have resigned in the last year. All the staff members have said this. Now that he is gone, they are speaking their minds freely. It did not matter to him from where did the lady come from- socially, culturally, financially etc. I mean. He went after each of them, and made their lives a hell. He was a predator, and this nature of his had led to his divorce,”

And with such a man my wife has been spending a lot of time lately. ” Why did nobody stood up to him?”

He shrugs,” Then that person would loose the job. Siddharth ran the place like a tyrant. Skeletons are tumbling out of the cupboard. He was temperamental and flayed his employees even on small mistakes. But most of them put up with it as employment is difficult to come by in this region,”

“I could never guess all this, he seemed such a good-natured fellow,”

“Of course, as his guest or client you would never have come across this aspect of Siddharth. But there are stories galore about his excesses, Ranjith for example had a big confrontation with him about a month back, and he had resigned. But Siddharth pacified him and brought him back later. Apparently, he valued him too much to loose him,”

“Why did they have an altercation?”

“Ranjith’s sister. She had joined here in the capacity of receptionist about five months back. Siddharth relentlessly wooed her and obviously Ranjith objected to it,”

I am excited,” Don’t you see? There’s a motive for Ranjith to attack him. It might have still rankled with him about his sister,”

“Yes, it is very much possible. There is no scarcity of motives here. There are motives all around,” he swings his hands above his head in all directions.

I watch the hands circling above his head, mesmerized. Motives everywhere! The waters are murky here. So many had grudges against Sid.

“But what about Joy? Surely he stands to loose the most by Sid’s death. He had invested his money here, and with the passing of it’s charismatic and popular astronomer- hotelier, the very existence of Starry Sands is under threat,”

“That’s true, but it is also a fact that he was a much tormented man here. He disliked the way Siddharth dominated him, an equal partner, and under-carpeted him as ‘just a chief manager’ and ‘Sid’s right hand’. He was also pushed around a lot like a junior staff by Siddharth. Joy could not overcome the forceful personality of his ‘oldest friend’. They had frequent showdowns and run-ins, every member of the staff has reported that; but Joy gave in every single time, like that night- Joy requested Siddharth to send send somebody else to collect that filter. He was wasted, and according to him, such an errand could be done by any of the staff member. But Siddharth stuck to his ground that the filter was very costly and he trusted only Joy to get it, “

” Wow! This place certainly is not up for the award for best workplace atmosphere.”

“Yes, and not only that, things were not good financially too. We have scanned the accounts and they are dismal. Sure, the property is beautiful, famous on paper, and unique, but few people have interests like that. There were a few big groups, like yours, and they did pay well, but they were few and far in between. Also, it’s situated at the upper tip of North Kerala, bordering South Karnataka; and was chosen because it has the right conditions for observation of night sky i.e. most cloudless nights an year, and a secluded but long and gorgeous beach- front, but regular tourists go mostly to South Kerala. I am a native and can vouch for it. Joy was in a tight corner monetarily, and was embezzling funds it seems, there are discrepancies in the accounts. He took care of the finance, you know. Siddharth was careless that way, but not a fool. He had charged Joy with swindling money from the property a few days back, and they had a big quarrel in front of the whole staff,”

I whistle,” So, a whole lot of suppressed anger, desperation and scarred psyche there. Hmmm.. both of them, Ranjit and Joy, could have done it. Anyone else? I mean a totally unexpected person, someone who was not staying at the resort at that time? It’s a possibility,”

“It certainly is, but it would be very improbable, if not impossible. Nobody lives for atleast quarter of a mile nearby, and the nearest settlement, Ranjith’s village, mostly has fishermen, who would be sleeping at that time so as to get up early morning, and go out to the sea. The beach would have been  deserted at that time,”

It sounds right, all pointers are in the direction of it being an insider’s crime. Sid met someone whom he knew, God only knows what went down there next but it looks like that he and that ‘person’ had an altercation, that resulted in his demise. Fine, no issue with that scenario; only problem– my lovely wife could as well be that ‘person’. That’s the elephant in the room and I don’t want to address it.

He has nothing more to contribute. I instruct him to keep on looking for anything else that might be relevant to the case, and get up to go and sit in front of the ocean.

Neha…Joy…Ranjith….

Who was there? Who met Sid that night and tightened that noose around his neck? Hugh! The vacation has  quickly turned into classic “Who done it?” mystery, in which my life has gotten embroiled. Always thought such mysteries were limited to books and movies, but here I am living it, minute by minute; and burning in the hell that it has unleashed upon my picture- perfect life.

The more I think about it the more entangled it seems to be. I look at the ocean for answers. How calm it is! Yet it has got many ugly secrets buried in its bosom. Don’t know whether this case will ever be solved fully or not, or it will become another riddle– unfathomable and deep, just like this sea. If only my heart could be as big and magnanimous as the ocean, able to swallow everything yet rise above it  and roll, making waves and traveling from one end of the world to another; unhurried, unworried and unconcerned.

The sun sets in a blaze of orange and red, and the stars come out, one by one. I gaze at them, and try to figure out what power do they have, shining like tiny dots from billions of kilometres away, to send my wife into the arms of another man. It seems they are not twinkling but winking at me wickedly….

        ×××      ×××      ×××     ×××    ×××

“Papa! Get up Papa,” I open my eyes, and find Veer shaking me vigorously. It is late morning and beams of bright yellow sunshine are streaming in the room.

“Papa, get up…We are going home, everybody is…mummy is calling you outside, hurry up,” says Veer, and I sit up with a lightening bolt in the couch.

Going Home! Hurry up!

I cannot process these words, and my first thoughts are that Veer is pranking me. But his face is alight with truthful innocence that only kids posses.

I come out of the cottage along with him, and find that the world has changed- for the better. Almost everyone is assembled near the pool and the adjacent green patch of grass, and somehow, it seems, that the atmosphere is charged, there is a buzz in the air. Neha is standing within a small group of ladies in one corner, and is chit-chatting and laughing! Just like old times.

It seems that I am dreaming, but I turn my face and catch the eye of Ajeesh, who is conversing with other people of our group at the other end, near the pool. A big grin flashes across his face, and he gives me the signal of Thumbs-up.

It is surreal and must be a dream I decide, just then there is a tap on my shoulder, I turn and find myself facing Sujith,

“Congratulations Dr. Singh. It’s over. You all can leave now. Of course, be ready to fly down here if you are called to testify,”

“But…but, how? What about Sid’s murder? Who did it…Do you know?”

He raises an eyebrow,” Haven’t you heard? It was Joy. He confessed late last night. He had a scuffle with Siddharth that night,”

I close my eyes, the relief is heavenly, “Joy…Are you sure?”

He chuckles,” Of course I am. Had my eyes on him from the first day. A little pressure from our side and he confessed everything. We have our ways, you know. That wasn’t difficult anyway, he was at the end of his wits. Poor guy, his nerves are in tatters, could not handle the guilt and pressure,”

“So he did not sleep at the side of the road that night, but was on the beach at that time,”

“Yes, after reaching here from Ozinhavalappu with that filter around 12:30am, he did not go straight to his room, rather he went and sat near that boat. It was his usual place, he says. Used to go and sit there whenever he was feeling low or agitated. And that night he was very much aggrieved. He says he was fed up with the way Siddharth treated him-‘like a bloody staff’- are the words he has used in his confession. The dangerous drive to get that solar filter had maddened him. Also, he was desperate about money,”

“Poor man, it’s a pity. He seemed such a decent guy,”

“Depression and desperation can make even the sanest guy loose his mind, and he was both. Siddharth had demanded him to return all the money that he had channelled into his personal account, and well; had lost on stock market apparently; by next week, or face legal action. So, he was sitting there watching waves come and go, battling his anger and anxiety, when he saw Siddharth tottering towards him. He says he was surprised at first but then could not control his resentment and started shouting at him, this must be the ‘familiar voice’ that Mrs. Khandelwal heard, it would be around 1:25 am, a minute here or there,”

“Oh!..what happened then?”

“Joy says that Siddharth looked a bit unsteady to him, which he thought was due to his heavy drinking, and mumbled something derogatory about Joy, about how he was a weakling, and something extremely vulgar about Joy’s wife,”

“About Joy’s wife?”

Sujith rolls his eyes,” Ya, there had been some ugly episode in distant past involving Siddharth and Joy’s wife. We know what a philanderer he was. They had buried the hatchet about it years ago but when Siddharth taunted him about it, joy went mad. He said that he hit him many times and Siddharth fell on the ground, near the boat, and in his anger Joy picked that rope and tightened it around his neck,”

“Then he did see him die!”

“No, he says that he choked him only for a few seconds in his fury. He did not intend to kill him. Even says that he had not wound up that rope very tightly. He released it from his hands when he saw Siddharth coughing and spluttering in the mud. And picked up that filter and walked back to conference hall in panic. He dreaded that he would have to leave the resort, that Siddharth would punish him. He insists that he had left Siddharth breathing, and was shocked to know in the morning that he had expired. He has been in severe guilt since then. But says he could not imagine that he had strangulated him to death. Well we know what happened, don’t we?”

I nod,” Yes, I can imagine Joy’s surprise on hearing the news of his death. That’s why he cooked up that half-baked story of his nap along the road hurriedly. He never knew while hitting Siddharth that he was already suffering from an ongoing M.I. But here’s a question– if Siddharth did not die of strangulation but due to arrhythmia leading to sudden cardiac arrest; and this will be reflected in autopsy; then can Joy be held guilty of his murder?”

” It’s for the court to decide. It certainly is a bit of a bummer. I have never seen or heard such a case. But consider this-  it was Joy’s attack that ultimately led Siddharth’s heart into a tizzy and finished him. Without it, who knows, he might have survived. He could have returned to you, to anyone else and would have received medical attention. It could have been a mild attack. Couldn’t it, and people do survive, don’t they?”

“You bet they do. A lot of them, in fact. And you are right, it looks it could have been a mild one, the way it progressed slowly. Yes, Joy is in trouble surely,”

” That is what I am saying,” he stretches his hands and yawns,”I can rest easy now,”

But I cannot, until I know this answer, “But Inspector, what about Neha? Did she meet him? If she didn’t meet him then why did she go out?”

He looks at me incredulously, “Don’t you know? Hasn’t she told you anything..my, my!”

I shake my head, and reflect what he might think about us, as a couple.

” She never saw him. He called her to ask whether she would like to join him near the boat, and witness the meteor shower with him that was supposed to peak at that hour on that night. But she said no to him, rather curtly. However, she says that she was unable to sleep after that, and decided that she didn’t want to miss the amazing spectacle happening right then in the night sky. So she went out, but she never went near that boat, and did not even know that Sid was out there. She says that she climbed the nearest hammock to your cottage and gazed up the sky for about quarter of an hour, and returned back. It was quite a display of shooting stars, according to her. Unfortunately, we could not see her in the camera, but it seems she was quite near to your room,”

It’s like someone has thrown a ton of ice upon me. Meteor shower? My mind is numbed. It is so simple! Of course, she has been harping about it for days. Geminid metor shower or something like that. They were supposed to be visible that night and the next one. She went out to see shooting stars in the sky. How silly of me! How did it slip my mind? I don’t know whether I am more relived or embarrassed. I have doubted her. But what could I do? A man can’t think straight in those circumstances. I have a lot of forgiveness to ask from her.

” All is well that ends well I suppose. When she came out, at around 1:32 am, Siddharth had already passed away. But she could not have known that he was lying, dead, further up on the beach. Same with Ranjith. He saw Joy enter the hall around 1:29am, a minute or two after his attack on Siddharth; and the very minute perhaps when he died; and saw your wife going towards the ocean about three minutes later, but did not see either Siddharth lying on the sand or Dr. Neha resting in the hammock. He went towards his home from the road skirting the property, and away from the beach. He could not have seen either of them in the dark.”

I still cannot get recover from the depth of my shock and idiocy, and stare at him rather for too long, he pats my back,

” It’s all right Doctor, we all have rough patches in our marriage. I must say I may have treated you harshly, please forgive me. You must understand that I was only doing my job. But I appreciate the help that you have provided me. Of course you will be my expert witness now in this case,” he extends his right hand towards me.

Reluctantly, I take it, after all he is only doing his job.

Slowly I turn towards Neha and find her keenly watching the exchange between Sujith and I.

How can I face her!

I start towards her but am swamped by fellow travellers who have been stuck here for the last three days. Suddenly there is an urgency. Everyone wants to know what happened, how did it happen and how are we going to get back. There is a lot to do, and I am swept away with the tide of errands to take care of- bookings, packing, getting away in the minibus to the nearest aiport. As I go with others to search for an available flight, I glance at Neha. She is looking at me unblinking with her big beautiful eyes and I want to melt into her arms….

     ×××     ×××   ×××   ×××      ×××

Finally we are sitting in the flight that has taken off from Manglore airport twenty five minutes back, and everyone’s settled. It has taken us almost full day to arrange everything. I haven’t had the opportunity and proper moment to talk to Neha as yet.

She is gazing out of the window, Aryan is sleeping in her lap. It is so unlike her to be aloof and silent like that. She has barely uttered a word all afternoon. Cannot blame her, I reckon. It’s my turn to do all the talking and save our marriage. But I am at a loss of words. What can one say after messing up big time?

I love the black Sari and the sleeveless blouse that she is wearing. It contrasts her complexion, and suits her svelte figure. Veer is dozing off in the middle seat uncomfortably. He mumbles something in his sleep as I remove the hand rest between his seat and mine, and gently place his head and upper body in my lap. He sleeps with his mouth open, and I can watch him endlessly, but now is the time to approach her. They have dimmed the lights and most of the passengers are nodding off. It’s now or never.

I lean towards her and place my hand over her’s,

“I am sorry. Truly I am. Don’t know how could I doubt you, but it’s never going to happen again. I know it might be difficult to belive it but I am mortified,”

She keeps on looking out of the window for few seconds then turn towards me, her eyes are wet,

“How could you?” there is a catch in her voice and something dies inside me. I have never hated myself more than this moment.

” I …I ..was caught in the whirlwind of the events. Could not stand firm, and you had been going on and on about Sid for the past few days. Sid this, Sid that…and had been spending so much time with him. Then you started nagging me to postpone our return tickets. To top it all Sujith produced those facts about Siddharth’s last call, and your visit to the ocean front. In my subconscious I started believing that… I know I should have trusted you but …”

” He was a scumbag..” she says quietly.

“What? What did you say? I thought you considered him a good friend,”

“I did…but he had been upping his advances gradually. Of course, I did not know about his nature then, all the horrible stories came into light only after his death. And that night, well…he did flirt with me shamelessly, while we were dancing; you were out; with the kids, and I had reluctantly accepted his offer to dance. There was a lot of merriment going on and he did dance with all the ladies, but I got a distinct vibe when I was with him. Females can always tell that, you know. I am sorry too…You were right, his intentions were not platonic, you were tentatively trying to warn me, and I failed to read the signs,”

Anger is welling up again inside me and I slowly clench and unclench my fists,” I told you so! Why did you not tell me about it after the party when we had that heated discussion? Rather you pushed me to extend our stay,”

“Shhh..Keep your voice down, what are you doing? This is precisely the reason I did not tell you, because I cannot not stand this ‘I told you so’ smugness, I hate it when you do that! And also when you start deciding on my behalf! That’s why despite inclining towards keeping our original travel arrangement intact after that celebration, I, in my irritation fought to extend the vacation-just to oppose you! You started howling upon me and I could not control myself,”

My head is throbbing,”You can’t be serious,”


” I am, but you won’t understand. You cannot understand females,”

I take a deep breath, this is all going  the wrong way. There’s no desire in me to argue with her right now,”All right, it was foolish of me to try to dictate you. Forgive me. But do tell me what did that bastard do to you during the party?”

” Nothing as such, but the way he kept on looking at me and the manner in which he was holding me during the dance gave me creeps. It was different than his body language with other ladies. I excused myself and sat away in a corner, confused. Didn’t tell you because, as usual, you would loose your mind, plus kids were having a great time with you outside. I wasn’t sure either, he had done nothing wrong specifically. It was just a feeling. And then, he did come to me and apologise profusely for anything that might have upset me, and he could be a real gentleman; atleast he could seem like that; and so I softened. I decided that I might have been mistaken about him. Everyone deserves benefit of the doubt. Then he invited me to join him and others in the night to witness the meteor shower. Said he would call three-four of the most enthusiastic members personally in the night, who would bother to be out of bed at that hour, specially after getting exhausted in the celebration. According to Siddharth, the north end of the beach was perfect for viewing it. That’s the region where he was found by you. But I was a little vary and declined, then, and also later, when he did call me. He was one persistent guy and a pervert. In hindsight we now know that he wanted only me to be there. And he came out of his room only due to this burning desire of his. However, I was unable to sleep after his call, and went out to see the shower. Did not want to miss it after waking up,”

“You could have woken me up,”

“For what? To listen you complain about waking you up in the middle of the night to watch ‘the stupid sky’ as you call it? No way, and besides we had had that tiff only about a couple of hours back.  Of course, didn’t know that you had been to his room in the intervening period. But I never went far, just little further out on the beach front. Had no idea that a few hundred metres away in the dark, a dead body was lying on the sand. It gives me goosebumps to think about it, how dreadful!”

I let out a deep breath,” Well it’s over, isn’t it? The important thing is that we are here, together again and…What? Why are you looking at me that way? I said I was sorry,”

Her eyes are narrow slits and there’s that furrow of concentration on her forehead,”Why are men like that? Narrow-minded, full of weird notions and baises, like– a woman can spend some time with a man happily only if she finds him attractive,”

Oh no! Not this conversation. I don’t want to go down that road right now, but of course she rambles on, have no authority to stop her,

“And like, only adult can be diabetic and be on insulin,”

I jerk up to see her watching me closely,” What? I don’t understand. Where did diabetes spring up from all of a sudden?”

She chews her lower lip,” That inspector Sujith considers himself a wisecrack, doesn’t he? He is a fool, if you ask me, like all men are. It never occurred to him that kids could have diabetes too, and could be on insulin. Like Veer is; he just checked the medical records of all the adults, and only questioned them, who were on insulin based on the information submitted by each family before travelling to Starry sands,”

Blood is rushing to my ears and they are hot.

” You gave him the injection of insulin didn’t you? When you went the second time on the pretext of giving something for angina, or reflux. You could have said anything to him. Sid trusted you as his doctor. I found that Veer’s vial of insulin and syringes are missing. You have been lying to me. You have not injected him for the past two days, and I confirmed this with Veer, and have been managing his sugar by making him eat less. How could you do it? Toying with your son’s health! I will never forgive you,”

I look with intense surprise,”What nonsense are you talking about, I did nothing of that sort,” but she is not listening to me. She is in another zone.

” It was brilliant–perfect murder! I have always thought that if an intelligent man like you would commit a crime then it would be unsolvable, and I was right! I can clearly see now what happened there-  you saw it right away that it was nothing but  hypoglycemia due to inadvertent consumption of his own insulin without a simultaneous proper meal, accompanied by gastric reflux due to alcohol. Siddharth was worried about his heart. He was experiencing perspiration and chest tightness due to low sugar, and in his panic he called you- the nearest and easily available cardiac doctor. While examining him a thought began to form in your head- you stroked his fear about it being a cardiac condition, probably angina, yes; I am sure you told it was angina, quite possible, short-lived, mild and easily correctable with drugs that you, a cardiac surgeon always had with himself as a precautionary measure, like Aspirin, for example. A lot of people keep Aspirin with themselves, and is actually advisable to do so. Perhaps you told him that you yourself suffered from it, that it runs in your family. Yes that’s it! It is entirely believable- you two are of roughly same age, just a matter of two-three years. We have only your word about what transpired between you two. You could have said anything to him and in his condition he would have believed you. What choice did he have? “

What is she talking about? ” Listen, on which tangent are you going? Nothing like this ever happened, I myself gave him the Soya milk laced with sugar,”

” Yes you did, but you never told him that it was to raise sugar and in his panic, he never realised that. You told him that the cold milk was to help in reducing the massive heartburn he was suffering from, he never noticed the sugar or probably he himself used to take it that way, most people add honey or sugar in it to make it more palatable. In reality you wanted to make him feel better, but only for a short period of time- twenty five to thirty minutes max. It was a masterstroke! Then you called the reception to ask whether E.C.G. could be done, you knew the receptionist would recount that later in his statement, you were planting seeds of doubt there about his condition and diagnosis,”

This is crazy! “Are you out of your mind?”

She is on fire,” No, rather I am thinking straight for the first time. I can reconstruct how you did the impossible. After that you told him that you would bring the medicines for angina and reflux from our cottage. You came- took a tablet of pantaprazole and also filled the syringe with Veer’s insulin- full, enough to send any man into insulin shock and death. You went back, passed a simple tablet of pantaprazole as the drug for angina, he would never know the difference, and took it, thinking it would cure his heart condition soon. And then you told him that you have got another medicine, an injection; that would help in angina; No! wait a minute; I get it; you told Sid that you were now going to give him an injection that would cure his reflux, yes; that’s what happened. At that moment you injected him with a massive dose of insulin that Veer is on, in his buttock. By now he was feeling better due to the sugar in the milk. That negated the effect of first insulin effectively and completely. But another huge wave of hypoglycemia was going to hit him later, this time lethally. Veer’s insulin, Novolin-R, does not start acting before thirty to thirty- five minutes, and acts even more lethally if given in the muscle. You knew you had that window. You assured him that due to medicines given by you he would feel better soon and then he should go to sleep– It was a mild attack of Angina probably anyway. As you came out of his cottage, at first you discarded the vial and syringe, perhaps buried them somewhere. There was a slim chance that anyone would suspect a kid in your family of having diabetes. People don’t think like that. After all even the resort had asked only the adults to submit their medical condition before the trip. It’s the standard procedure. Even I didn’t think about it till I found about the missing vial, accidentally, while packing our stuff. You would soon replace it neatly and properly, with correct amount left in it, and it would become a closed and watertight chapter forever. And nobody else there knew about Veer’s condition, we don’t go about advertising it, do we?”

I am done trying to stop her. Let’s play hardball, “Intresting…tell me what happened next?”

She stares at me with her characteristic determination that I admire and loath equally, ” Then, with much ingenuity, you ensured that the receptionist guy would check upon Sid within 10-15minutes, and would find him all right. Later the new insulin would start acting and he would pass into coma in his sleep. This insulin reaches it’s maximum action in about an hour or so, and acts only for about four to five hours. It can be traced in the body majorly during this time only, and that too by sophisticated tests at an advanced lab. But his body would be found only in the morning, probably quite late, and even if somebody did suspect it, there was no way those tests could be done in that remote place or even nearby. The prick of the injection also cannot be traced after that much time, would be almost invisible anyway if given with care initially. The autopsy was the only thing to look out for, and it would reveal nothing about Insulin, just- Myocardial Infarction and signs of arrhythmia- huge overdose of insulin leads to those changes in heart. Bingo! Nobody would find anything,”

I had not thought that things can be portrayed in this manner,” Neha, what are you saying? I have no idea what are you talking about,”

But it’s like she is talking to herself and I am not visible,” Even if insulin overdose was suspected, it is notoriously difficult to prove it, and requires expensive tests and high-end labs. At that remote place it would have been quite impossible to arrange for all this. Even if somebody, like Sujith, did manage to get all this done somehow, the findings could very well be explained on the basis of the fact that Siddharth was on insulin for a long time, and had taken his regular dose-that would make the result of those tests unreliable. And then you would say that you had already suspected an underlying heart attack, had even asked for E.C.G. but it wasn’t possible. The autopsy findings, circumstances and the statement of receptionist would overwhelmingly favour that. Who would not believe it? Anyway, It was a miniscule chance that it would ever come to that. His death would be labelled a ‘natural’ one. Tragic, unfortunate but entirely commonplace and routine. Thousands die like that daliy. It would have hidden the murder in plain sight. Brilliant!”

I have to admit that it is possible and believable, but can’t tell that to her, “Really? If that was my grand plan then how did he reach near the boat?”

Nothing can halt the train of her fertile imagination, “Yes, that did throw a spanner in your plan for a while, didn’t it? You must have been aghast to find him lying there on the beach. You had thought that he would be in his bed, dead. There was no way he could have been there, and that too with a rope around his neck. Of course, you had no idea about the meteor shower and his desire to call me there. But Siddharth felt absolutely good for some time, and had an impression that his ‘so called mild angina’ was cured by that time. He was a pig, and in his perverseness decided that he would go ahead with his desire to see me-alone. He had this impression that his bait of ‘once in lifetime opportunity to witness fireballs in unpolluted and clear night sky’ would work upon me. And it did, only I never went near him. But in an interesting twist as he strolled down there with his phone, he ran into poor Joy. By now, the insulin had started acting and he was feeling confused, as one does in its influence, and as Joy launched a verbal attack on him, in his mental fogginess Siddharth made derogatory remarks about Joy and his wife. As Joy hit him and coiled that rope, the arrhythmia already undergoing there rocketed and his heart went into arrest,”

“Bah! Don’t go on spewing absurdities from your mouth,”

“This is not absurd, it is the ugly truth. For a moment, after finding his body, you were at a loss to decide what should you do? Your astute mind had already seen what had happened, you knew how he took his last breath, but didn’t know why did he come out and who tried to strangulate him. Suddenly, it struck you that the fate had provided a golden chance to you- now someone else could be blamed for trying to murder him. Of course you had the foresight to see that autopsy would reveal the true cause of death, but it was no problem. The findings would remain mostly unaltered. You were safe, safer actually, your precautions to show his initial condition as the results of an ongoing myocardial infarction still stood in place. You just had to divert the attention subtlety towards them, which you could do anytime. Who would contradict you? See, how easily you have become an expert witness in this case, and now Joy has no chance. So you raised alarm. Only one thing went wrong; quite wrong. I became a suspect due to his last call on my cellphone, and my appearance in the c.c.t.v. footage. You had not bargained for it, and that has been eating you alive, hasn’t it?”

I look at her for a long time and don’t know what to say. I am shocked. Eventually I shake my head,” Why would I do it?”

Pat comes the reply,” Because you were intensely jealous of him. I have seen you going red in face while I talked to you about him, I agree that in my excitement, I could have said a lot about him. You suspected that I was falling for him and that made your blood boil. We were spending a lot of time together, and my innocent attempt to prolong the holiday was deciphered as my excuse to be with Siddharth a little longer by you, in your hot-headedness. Perhaps you had glimpsed us dancing before I rebuffed him, and your suspicion got stronger. Later in the night, you saw an opportunity to eliminate him and did just that. I know how possessive you are about me. It was a fair gamble, and chances were in your favour- thousand to one, and you took the chance,”

If she want mind games then I am not going to back off,”Hmmm ingenious…If you are so sure about my guilt then why didn’t you tell everything to Sujith? Would you let an innocent man hang?”

Her eyes are burning embers,”I…I could not have proven anything, that’s the beauty of your crime. Though I know what happened and how it transpired, I cannot do anything. And I got to know about the missing vial and syringes today afternoon only, while packing our stuff. It’s only then I started suspecting you. Besides, you are the father of my kids, I have to think about their future. But have no doubt…I am not going to stay with you anymore. You have killed a man in cold-blood! How could you resort to that?”

I somehow manage to utter,”You could have told Sujith about Veer’s juvenile diabetes, and the missing vial of insulin and syringes. Surely, he would have perused me and this theory of yours. I will tell you why you didn’t say anything, because in your heart you know that it’s a long shot– perfectly possible, I will give you that, but also highly improbable. And if this theory has a chance to stand corrected then so does my explanation of it being a cardiac event, equally…much more so, frankly,”

She bristles,” Does it? Then tell me what happened to Veer’s vial of insulin? Where did it vanish, and why haven’t you given him his regular dosage for the past two days?”

“There is a perfectly simple explanation for that – I broke the vial,”

“What?”

I cannot look into her eyes,” Yes, on the morning when I discovered Sid’s body, I was very agitated and fidgety, and in my nervousness I dropped it while filling the syringe to give to Veer. It fell and shattered. You were out with kids, discussing the discovery of Sid’s body with others. I became frightened of your anger. You are very particular about it, and yes, you had told me to keep an extra vial as contingency, and I had said that there was no need, one would suffice. As you were vary of my ‘I told you so’ about Sid, so was I, about your fierce resentment, and your ‘I told you so’. This is what being married for a long time is all about. In that remote place a new one was not available. I chickened out, flushed the pieces and broke syringes, and flushed them too. I had been trying to find an excuse to visit Kanhagad in the hope of finding the particular brand that we give to Veer, but didn’t find the chance,and frankly, I was so depressed about your suspected involvement that I did not care much. I asked Veer to tell you that he was getting his injections regularly in case you enquired. He could not lie to his mother I guess. I am sorry,”

There’s an uncertain look on her face, understandably. To her mind, I am the guilty person and it won’t accept anything said in my defence easily. But then, I am glad to see that despite herself there is hint of a faint smile on her face,

“You flushed it?”

“Yes, I wasn’t thinking straight. It was a knee-jerk reaction to escape your temper, and of course we had had that fight the night before and were not talking much,”

“Nikhil, you could have told me,”

“And you could have told me that Siddharth had made a pass at you while dancing that night, but you didn’t. Look both of us did what we thought what was right under the circumstances. It was one long chain of misunderstandings and confusing events. We became so engrossed in our insecurities and doubts that we forgot there could be simpler explanations, like meteor shower and a broken vial. Each action of ours was perfectly possible, and commonplace in any married life, but taken as a whole in the uncommon circumstances of Sid’s unnatural death, our actions seemed fishy. Look, our trust in each other, and the very foundation of our relationship has been severely tested in the last few days, but I promise you it won’t occur again. I have come very close to loose you, but I won’t let you go-now or never, come what may,”

Her lips are quivering, and tears are streaming down her face. I lean towards her and she places her head upon my shoulder. My life hangs upon her next few words, I wait with baited breath as she decides,” Promise me that you will never suspect me ever. There has been no one for me but you always,”

I am stroking her hair and it feels we have fallen in love all over again,”Never,”

“Nikhil,”

“Hunn,”

“What did actually happen that night in Sid’s room?”

“Exactly what I have stated. It was an underlying cardiac event, probably an attack of inferior wall M.I. presenting as gastric reflux, along with low blood sugar. Remember Suresh chacha? He had exact similar symptoms after attending a party. He phoned me and I took them lightly too. Told him to take an anti-acid. Later he collapsed and E.C.G. at the hospital revealed that it indeed was M.I. It’s not that uncommon, and he was a prime case to get it- forty six years old, a long standing diabetic, and on anabolic steroids to build his body. And that’s why I advised him strongly-to seek medical attention at a hospital. I could do nothing for him there. But once he felt better after the milk, he regained his usual boisterous confidence, and rejected my suggestion that he could be suffering from a cardiac ailment. Called it nonsense. He considered himself quite fit. Called himself a’ chicken’ for his earlier apprehensions. He was quite abrasive actually. I could not go on arguing with him. Remember I was not feeling very friendly with him either. But I am a doctor, and did my duty to advise him. I am not a murd….”

She is snoring lightly. I kiss her on the forehead. I myself am feeling drowsy. The black shadow has lifted from our lives, and now we can rest easy. I look at the kids and then at her. Came so close to loosing them. I cannot imagine a life without them, specially her. She does not know how much I love her, and appreciate her presence in my life.

She is a rare lady- gorgeous, kind-hearted and intelligent at the same time. How many husbands can say that about their wives? But my Neha is the proverbial ‘Beauty with brains’. Sometimes she surprises me with her sharp intellect, like just now when she could reconstruct correctly the events of that fateful night in such precise detail. That was frightening…..


Published by thekneedytraveller

I am an orthopedic surgeon, specialising in Total knee replacement, with a keen interest in travelling, reading good literature and writing.

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