Friday 5 October 2018

Short Story 2018, Featured Writer, Nameet Shetty


The silence weighed heavy between them. Priscilla’s freckled face was drawn as she revisited painful events from the past. Her eyes looked distant, unfocused. She reached for the white porcelain teacup in front of her. Lifting it, she cupped it between her hands, feeling the warmth. She stared into her cup as she took time choosing her words. A moment later, she finally said: “I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again. I know that everyone says that after a heartbreak, but the difference is that I’m not heartbroken. I’m not cynical, or pessimistic, or sad. I’m just someone who once felt something bigger than anything else I’d ever felt and when I lost it, I honestly believed I would never have that again. But… I was 22 then and life is long. And I’m feeling things right now that I haven’t in a long, long time.”

Priscilla slowly raised her eyes to the only other person in the room, Avni, a middle aged woman dressed in a simple yet elegant saree. The woman sat poised with dignity; a woman of position. But despite her confident demeanour, there was a soft, kind look in her eyes. She had turned from a stranger to a friend to Priscilla’s confidante in a matter of hours. But then, Priscilla was all too trusting. Intrigued, she paid undivided attention as the girl continued her story: “You know Avni, although it’s all in the past now, I still remember the first time I saw Ajay – all bright eyed and charismatic. It’s a memory that has never left me. I remember when he smiled at me for the first time, and how his eyes softened when he looked at me. Something…”

She trailed off, staring dreamily at nothing in particular.
“… something had stirred in me. Something new, something I had never felt before. It was… love.”
Priscilla smiled at Avni, a heartbreaking sadness in her eyes.
“Sometimes, I feel I still love him. But- how could he?”

Avni couldn’t help but feel pity for Priscilla but she had to stay unbiased. She made an informed choice to remain silent. Her silence compelled Priscilla to reveal more:
“But I have Mahesh in my life now.” Priscilla’s eyes lit up at the name. She smiled. “He’s kind, compassionate and understands me like Ajay never did. Honestly, love holds a whole new meaning now.”

Avni could see a soft spot opening up. Carefully measuring her words, Avni asked, “But does Mahesh feel the same way about you?”
Avni’s smile widened. “Of course he does!”, she said happily. “You know how an instant connection develops when it’s meant to be? That’s what happened between us. He didn’t even have to say anything. I understood that he loved me by the way he looked at me; the way he touched me…”
Priscilla was in a happy place now. Avni decided to press a little.
“You do know that Mahesh is a married man, right?” Avni said.
The expression on Priscilla’s face darkened, as quickly as a passing shadow, and so did her tone of voice.
“Even good men can make wrong choices, Avni. You know that. How was he supposed to know that I was his soulmate when he hadn’t even met me? it was just a cruel game of fate that he had to meet that other woman before he met me. Now I’m here. There’s no reason for him to stay married to her now.”
Forgetting her place, Avni tried to reason with her. “Priscilla, Mahesh is a decade older than you.”
Priscilla countered, “These things don’t matter when you’ve found true love, Avni. We’ve given ourselves up to each other; body mind and soul. We even made … ”
“You said the same things about Ajay, Priscilla.” Avni said coldly, regretting it that very instant.
“I was 22!” Priscilla shrieked, standing up in a flash of rage. Her hands shot towards Avni, but stopped abruptly. That’s how far the chains would allow them to go. She looked at the shackles strapping her wrists to the table with the eyes of a person who couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She sat slowly back down. Avni remained unperturbed.
“Get out.” Priscilla said, her voice calm, but full of poison. Her words had a finality to them. The line of conversation had come to an end.

A moment of silence hung between them, and Avni became aware of sounds which were unnoticed up until now. Swings creaking as a light breeze blew outside. Birds chirping. The distant sound of buzzers. Metal doors sliding open and shut.

Avni sighed. It was time to go. She would probe a little more into Priscilla’s troubled mind in tomorrow’s session. She picked up both the cups and placed them in the small tray she had brought with her. As she stood up, she glanced at Pricilla. The troubled young girl had completely shut Avni out of her spectrum of consciousness. This was going to be difficult.
She walked to the only door in the room and tapped lightly on the cast iron frame. A moment later, several metal bolts slid out and the door creaked opened. Avni stepped out. As the door closed behind her, Avni reached behind her and extracted a small can of pepper spray from within the folds of her saree. She handed it back to the man who had given it to her. He had been waiting outside throughout the session.

“So… how was it, doctor?” the man asked her. He was tall, with a prominent forehead and curly hair.
“Not bad for a second meeting. Although I think the last session went better. I think I touched a raw nerve this time.” Avni said, as she took her white lab coat back from the man. “She seems to have taken quite a liking to you, Dr. Mahesh,” she teased her long-term colleague.
Mahesh’s face was impassive. “Well… De Clérambault’s Syndrome has its characteristics- delusional love being one of them,” he said, looking at the metal door that separated his former patient from him.

“Hmmm..” Avni replied, reflecting on the meeting. “Mahesh, this is my first professional case of De Clérambault’s Syndrome. I’ve read Priscilla’s file. I’ll need more details on her previous sessions with you. Anything else I should know before I formally take her case up?”
Mahesh gave it a thought. As both of them turned to walk, he said,“Well, most of it is in her file, Dr.Avni, but I have to re-emphasise that hers is a severe case of De Clérambault’s Syndrome or erotomania.”

“Any former cases?” asked Avni.
Mahesh shook his head. “Well, despite her frequent bouts of rage, she has no reported criminal or medical records before the Ajay Roy Kapur incident.”
Superstar Ajay Roy Kapur?” Avni asked, her eyebrows rising a little, even though she was familiar with the incident.

Mahesh nodded, continuing: “It all started with an obsession with his movies, a phenomenon all too common in our country, but Priscilla took it to the next level. She was convinced that it was true love, and that he was in love with her too. She believed that every time he smiled on screen, it was for her and her only. Moreover, she even believed that every romantic dialogue he delivered on screen was for her. The obsession became so deep, she even started stalking him, going to all his shoots, following him around and then eventually breaking into his house.”

“Christ…” was all Dr. Avni could manage to say.
“Yeah…” Mahesh continued, as they started climbing the stairs towards his office. “As per police records, she broke in when there was no one at the Kapur residence and set about tidying up his room. She was convinced that he loved her and that he would appreciate what she was doing for him. She even decorated the bed with rose petals.”
Avni tutted. After a brief pause, she asked, “Is it true that…”

“Yup,” Mahesh confirmed. “When Ajay Roy Kapur returned home from a party with a date, she was stark naked, sprawled on his bed. He was naturally shocked to see a broken window in his living room, and a naked stranger in his bedroom. Up until now, he wasn’t even aware of her existence. But when Pricilla saw the other woman with Ajay Roy Kapur, she turned violently possessive, hurling a heavy candle stand at the woman. She then plunged herself at the woman and that is when Ajay Roy Kapur jolted into action. He shoved her back, hurried out of the room with his date, and quickly locked Priscilla in the room.”

“The cops arrived later and found Pricilla in a pitiful state, wrapped in a bed sheet, sobbing uncontrollably. She claimed that Mr. Kapur had invited her over but the camera footages around the house confirmed that she had broken in. Mr. Kapur’s security team also confirmed that they had seen her at shoots as well as outside the house on several occasions, but had ruled out as a threat. After the break in, she was arrested and after a formal assessment by a state psychiatrist, was sent to this institution, where I undertook her as my patient. It took her over a year to get over Ajay Roy Kapur. She still believes that he misled her and then betrayed her.”
“Hmmm… and since when did she start liking you?” Avni asked, as Mahesh held his office door open for Avni.

“A few months ago.” Mahesh explained. “I could notice a change in her body language during our sessions. It started with compliments about how nice I was, then later escalated to improper advances. No matter how many times I tried to talk her out of it, she wouldn’t budge. You know how delusional she is. It eventually became impossible to continue her treatment. That’s when I had to call you down for a handover.” Mahesh finished, walking around his desk and lifting a stack of files from a shelf behind his desk. He set them down in front of Avni. “These are all our sessions in the last fifteen months. Anything you need, it’s in there.”
“No recordings?” Avni asked.

Mahesh frowned. “There was a major leakage in the storage room last month. It destroyed most of what we had, but the files have whatever recordings we have in them.”
“Alright then. I’ll take it from here.” Avni said with a smile.
“Just sign these formal case transfer papers and we’re good.”, said Mahesh, presenting Avni with a few forms. Avni signed the papers and they both shook hands.

“Good luck, Dr.Avni. I know I’m leaving her in good hands.”, Mahesh said as both professionals prepared to bid goodbye to each other in the institute’s car parking lot.
“You bet, Dr. Mahesh.” came Avni’s prompt reply as she turned to get into her car.

Avni fired up the engine and with a final wave at her colleague, drove out. Mahesh watched the back of her car till it disappeared from sight. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his crumpled pack of cigarettes, still looking at the dust trail Avni’s car had left. He lit a cigarette and puffed hungrily on it. He went over the entire evening in his mind, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He had to make sure that everything was perfect. He could not afford any loose ends. He had destroyed the pipes in the storage room to get rid of the recordings of his sessions with Priscilla, preserving just enough to convince people of the authenticity of the event. Most importantly, Avni was convinced of Priscilla’s delusions. Priscilla’s reputation had made sure of that. He was done with Priscilla now. It was time to move on. He stubbed the cigarette out and slid into the driver’s seat of his car. Reaching over, he extracted a small packet from the glove compartment. Looking at it, he smirked. An empty pack of condoms. He had used them all with Priscilla and no one had the slightest inkling of an idea. The poor girl was convinced that he loved her. He would get rid of the empty packet somewhere on his way home. He had covered his tracks well. No one would ever believe Priscilla, the delusional erotomaniac.

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