Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Sauhaard Batra, ShortStory 2021 Longlist

The Perfect Crime

It was ten o'clock at night. I was sitting in my chair, sipping hot tea when my phone rang. It was Ram Dayal, Vinay and Kalyani’s servant, and he was sounding extremely worried. Before I could tell him to calm down, he blurted “Vinay sir...Vinay sir is not breathing. We are taking him to PGI. Please come as soon as possible.” Those lines hit me like a ton of bricks. With an aching heart, I grabbed the keys of my car and hurried down to my garage.

My mind, like always, started imagining the worst possible scenario; that my brother might not survive. I never liked looking at the negative side of things, and yet, here I was, doing the same. It wasn't long before our childhood memories had started clouding my vision and making me nostalgic, and yet, I wasn't in tears. I had been cursed to be a stoic; to suffer in silence.

The drive to PGI was long but quiet. I saw Ram Dayal waiting for me in front of the registration counter. He signaled to me and I followed him to the ICU ward. We stopped in front of an operation theatre. Something was definitely serious.

I saw my sister-in-law, Kalyani Sharma, kneeling and saying the rosary. Our eyes met, but neither of us said anything. Meanwhile, Ram Dayal, who had disappeared for a few minutes, came back, holding two glasses of water. He offered them to us. “Sir, ma'am, have some water.” I graciously accepted but she politely shook her head. She was dismayed enough that thirst held no importance to her at the moment.

After 2 anxious hours, Doctor Lal, the senior most doctor came out of the room. We stood up in anticipation, but our hopeful eyes were met with dejection, “Sir...Ma’am...I am very sorry. We tried our best, but we couldn't save him.”

I was thunderstruck. It had not even been four hours since he had visited me at my house to inform me of the astounding success his venture had brought him, and here he lay, motionless, unaware of the unearthly pain he had bestowed upon us. I looked to my right and saw his wife. She had fallen to her knees and was pulling her hair and crying her heart out. To my left was Ram Dayal, who was banging his forehead against the wall, cursing God for this shocking turn of events.

I was, however, more shocked than saddened. It didn't make sense. He was very conscious about his health. It was his routine to have fresh juices every single day. He would exercise for hours and had a well-built body. I was not ready to accept the fact that such a healthy man in his twenties could die of natural causes so suddenly. There had to be something which I was missing.

We had to stay at the hospital to complete the formalities before getting the body. Mrs. Kalyani wasn't in a state of writing, so I was filling up the forms while controlling my own emotions. I had not even gone through all the forms when Doctor Lal passed by. He seemed to be in a hurry. I ran up to him, and in a polite tone, requested “Doctor, I would like to talk to you in private, if you allow.” He answered in affirmation.

Once I was sure that neither my sister-in-law nor Ram Dayal could hear us, I began the questionnaire...

“Doctor, what was the cause of death?”
“It was cardiac arrest”
“You mean heart attack?”

He looked towards me with a stern face, perhaps trying to ascertain my educational qualification from my incredibly naive attitude, and then he replied "yes" and left.

He had not gone more than a few steps before I caught up to him again, and continued...

“Doctor, one last question. Was cardiac arrest the only cause of death or just the immediate cause?” This question put him in deep thinking.

“Yes, yes it was, but something else was bugging me earlier”
“What, doctor?”

“Normally, a heart attack at this young an age follows a huge spike in the cortisol and adrenaline levels, because it is either due to extreme stress or grief. Cortisol and adrenaline are hormones which are released by the adrenal gland when caught in an emergency situation where the only effective response is to either fight or run. But in his case, the adrenal gland was practically dormant. Infact, at the time of his death, his body was in a relaxed state, his muscles weren't strained, which implied that he was lying in bed. I also noticed that there were no signs of struggle on any part of his body, which implied that his death was rather painless. As for his other organs, they were running surprisingly well at the time of death, so, strangely enough, it was only his heart which failed. These cases are exceedingly rare, but not impossible. I offer my deepest condolences to you and your family, but even though I was myself skeptical of the fact that it might not have been a natural death till a few hours ago, I now firmly believe that Vinay sir’s death was from natural causes,” and without waiting for my response, he left, perhaps to tend to his other patients.

The hospital staff told us that they wouldn’t be handing over his body to us till the

morning of the next day. I wanted to contest, but I was overwhelmed with grief. My sister-in-law had been surprisingly quiet all this time. Her face was marred with suffering, her eyes were scarlet red, and her silence kept terrifying me to a great extent. I sat thinking about the rarest of rare scenarios which might have led to his sudden heart attack. I kept getting an uncanny feeling that my brother’s death was not natural; it had been staged.

I did not know when I fell asleep. It was only when Ram Dayal shook me that I managed to escape the dream world.

“Sir, sir, Kalyani ma'am is gone”
“Gone?”
“Yes sir, gone”
“But where?”
“I was expecting you would know”
“How on earth could you expect me to know? I was asleep”
“I am sorry sir”
“Have you tried calling her?”
“Sir I tried many times, but her cell phone is switched off”
“Wait, I will go find her”
“Please let me come with you”
“No, you stay. There has to be someone who collects the body”
“Okay sir, as you say”
“Anyway, I have one question I would like to enquire from you. Did you witness anything weird in Mrs. Kalyani’s behavior yesterday?”
I saw hesitation and fear in his eyes.
“For heaven’s sake, please tell me!”

“Yes sir, I did find something queer in Kalyani madam's behavior yesterday. Around 9:30 yesterday, Kalyani ma'am went to the kitchen and prepared a sharbat for herself and Vinay sir. I saw her doing so and asked her if I should help her and take it to Vinay sir's room instead. Her reaction was pretty severe, and she brushed me aside by saying that I should let her enjoy some private time with her husband. I felt embarrassed so I quietly got up and left.”

“Why didn't you tell me earlier?”
“Sir I did not have the courage to narrate this incident to you in front of her”
“Very well, we will find out the truth really soon”
“Yes sir, but please inform me as soon as you find her...”

I hurried off. I went to their house and unlocked it with the spare keys Vinay had given to me. There was no one, but it was a consolation that my sister-in-law hadn't run off with my brother’s money. I then hurried off to the place which Vinay was the fondest of; the place where he had first met her; Rose Garden.

I saw her sitting on a bench and looking towards the rising sun. I walked to her and called out “Mrs. Kalyani?” My voice startled her. She wiped her tears whilst I sat beside her. In a voice full of anguish, she asked, “How did you find me?” “Vinay used to be really fond of this place, probably because this park was where he had first met the love of his life.” Hearing this, she broke down and began to cry.

I offered her a small box of toffees to console her. She exclaimed “Menthol Toffees? These used to be Vinay's favorite!” “I know. He used to love them so much that before going back home from school, we would first visit Ramji Departmental Stores and relish a few of them every day.” She was surprised and confirmed, “Really? He never told me.” She was about to gulp them when she noticed their unique coloration.

“Why are these darker than the ones we usually find in supermarkets?” I replied, “Do you remember the time I visited Helsinki? I brought them from there.” She gulped one down. “Won't you have any?” “I have already had 3, I won't have anymore.” She nodded in acknowledgement and took a few more, and then we watched the sun rise together.

We sat there for about ten minutes, looking at the blossoming roses, when she suddenly grabbed her neck and began to cough, “I…I am unable to breathe.”

I pretended as though I couldn't hear her. “Do you know what the problem is with our family? I bet you don't, so let me tell you. We trust each other. Blindly. But I am a writer. I take into consideration even the least-possible outcomes.”

By this time, Kalyani had started struggling and gasping for breath, but I didn’t care...

“Since the time we were children, I was forever the less-loved brother. I am not saying that Vinay wasn’t good to me. He was the best elder brother I could ever have had. But our family ridiculed me all the time, just because I was an underachiever compared to him. Even now, people never call me by my name, they call me Vinay Sharma’s brother. Vinay was the reason I could never enjoy the feeling of self-identity.”

“I researched up a flower with the name Borassica Indica which is actually a pretty common flower in Northern India. It is usually used as an ornamental plant due to its dark-orange flowers, and its seeds are used in various medicines. But there was a lesser-known fact about this plant. If the nectar of its flowers were mixed in the right concentration with menthol, it could easily, very easily induce cardiac arrhythmia and eventually a heart attack, and you know what's even stranger? It is tasteless and it mixes in the bloodstream so well that it is untraceable. The only reason why it still isn't the perfect poison is because of its characteristic dark color which leaves an imprint wherever it is poured.”

Kalyani was dismayed beyond imagination, but I continued “Before coming back to your house, Vinay had visited me. He told me about the success of his venture, and I was filled with jealousy. I had been saving these laced menthol toffees for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to execute my grand plan, so I offered them to him. He was so happy seeing my love towards him that he hugged me and gulped down 4 or 5 tablets quickly. Unlike you, he didn't even notice the color of the toffees. We drank champagne and celebrated, and then he decided to return to your house.”

“I might've been caught, but then two coincidences saved me. The symptoms of the poisoning vary from a few minutes to a few hours. He was so healthy that it took the poison a

long time to act on his body and by the time it did, he had reached your house and was lying in bed. In fact, what's funny is that you scolded Ram Dayal and prepared and went to give that stupid sharbat to Vinay all by yourself, just because you wanted to spend some private time with your hubby, which of course was suspicious. The execution of my plan was so perfect that even Doctor Lal does not suspect foul play.”

I glanced down and saw that Kalyani was half-unconscious but had been recording me. I snatched her phone, smashed it on the bench, and then threw it in a nearby gutter. As it was a secluded area, there weren't any passers-by who could hear about my exploits and then rant me out to the police. I continued...

“Now I will keep this empty box of laced toffees in your right hand so that if the police come to know about any such incident, which it will sooner or later, they will think that you killed your husband for whatsoever a reason but then you felt so guilty that you committed suicide. That way, neither will there exist any situation where I will be suspected, because all the people who know about us anyway believe that I loved my brother more than anyone in this world; nor will my fingerprints be present on that box. Not only that, since following you, I was the only family he had, so whatever property he owned, after your death, will automatically become mine. That is the only reason why I poisoned you as well. Nothing personal, just business.”

Kalyani glanced towards me one last time, just to see me smirk and say “Give my regards to Vinay in hell. Hyv√§sti!”, before collapsing and losing consciousness completely. I got up and called an ambulance, and then I called Ram Dayal and with a horrified voice exclaimed “I have found her, and she is lying motionless without a pulse. I am really scared. Come as soon as you can...”

I had just committed “the perfect crime”, and there was no one who could prove me

guilty.

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