by Anindita Choudhury Sen Gupta
“Wounds heal but scars remain.”
This is what she said to me that night.
That fateful night, when I had left my room to get a bottle of water and reached the front door instead.
I know, I am supposed to share everything, you being my support group and all. I’ll try.
Mitu and I studied in the same university and lived in the same dorm.
I still don’t know what pulled me to the porch instead of the kitchen. I am glad that I took the detour and I found her there. She was sitting on the steps, still and calm like the summer trees, on a hot and humid, windless night.
I sat down beside her on the stone steps, careful not to startle her. Our shoulders brushed and pulled her out of her reverie. She turned and offered me a sad smile. Her eyes glistened as she said, “Thank you.”
“For what? I think we should go in. If someone sees us, you know what a sick psycho our warden is?” I looked around for anyone lurking in the corners.
Only a row of towering banyan and fig trees stood guard, throwing a looming shadow over the old building. The eerie silence and the stillness of the night gave me the creeps.
I pulled her up. “Let’s go inside, please. I don’t want to get into trouble.”
She smiled sadly. “Trouble? Not anymore. I fixed it. You know, troubles are like wounds. They go away. Wounds heal. But the scars remain.”
“Alright, let’s go inside and I will check your wounds.”
I dragged her into my room and shut the door. She settled on my creaky bed while I fetched her a glass of water.
She noticed that I was sweating. She said, “Don’t worry. You don’t know anything. You are not in danger. You will be fine once I go away.”
“What danger? Why will you go away? What happened? Why are you so late? Where are your wounds?”
She sat through my barrage of questions, unperturbed, wearing that infuriatingly calm smile.
“What if that evil woman saw us? She will write to my parents and they will take me away. They won’t let me come back.”
I fretted on, till she interrupted.
“Ani, sorry. Can I sleep here tonight? I need to leave before anybody wakes up. Your room is the one closest to the door. Trust me, you will be safe. Nobody saw us together.”
So much for her cryptic comments. I could not force another word from her that night. She packed and came back, slept in my room, and that was the last time I saw her.
Next morning, she was gone. There was no trace of her whatsoever. I casually asked around to confirm her absence. The warden turned the whole dorm upside down looking for the missing girl.
Boy, she did not look happy. I remember hiding in the bathroom and laughing at her.
A couple of weeks later, I was out with my friends, celebrating our last night as university students. We were done with our last paper and were going home the next day.
We had a boat-ride-picnic on the river. We sipped on chilled, thick, sweet, creamy goodness that is lassi, topped with clotted cream from earthen tumblers. We snacked on spicy, potato filled, crunchy pakodas from sal leaf bowls. Soon it was time for our movie.
We were at the cinema when a mobile phone rang. Those days, poor students like us, living on scholarships, could not afford a cell phone; unless you were Naina, the daughter of a wealthy and resourceful minister of state. She leaned towards me from two rows away and whispered, “Ani, it’s for you. Mitu.”
The shock on her face hadn’t yet registered in my mind when I accepted the phone and walked up to the tiny lobby.
“Hello?” A high pitched question left my throat. I cleared my voice and repeated, “Hello is that you, Mitu?”
“Ani? Oh, I missed you so much. I heard you are leaving tomorrow. Can I see you tonight? Please? One last time?”
“Sure” I had finally recovered from the surprise and happily arranged for a meet at the bookstore by the corner of the street in an hour. I had missed Mitu. One night had brought us closer than the two years we shared a dorm.
I waited in the bookstore while my friends lazed around.
An hour, and then two hours passed. She did not turn up. Worried by then, I asked around if anybody had seen a tall girl of wheatish complexion and long black hair, that evening. I mentioned the white dress she said she would be wearing.
Naina called back on the number and found out it was from a local telephone booth. We decided to check it. It wasn’t far.
The boy at the booth informed us that a girl in a white dress had left a few hours ago. She walked towards the river bank.
That was a lesser known shortcut for the bookstore. We followed the route and reached a deserted corner of the street.
All the street lamps were broken but one. Under the shallow beam of yellow light amidst a swarm of flies, we could see a dark mass of something scattered on the road.
“Eeeshh flies everywhere,” someone from our group complained.
“They love the heat and the stench of sweat.”
“Stench. Yes. But not sweat, man. I can smell something odd. I feel sick. What is it?”
“Wait, man, it’s sticky. What is this? Is this blood? Girls, stay away, let us look. Hey Adil, pass your flashlight.”
“Oh my God what is that? Is it a leg? That is a hand? Oh God Oh God!”
I couldn’t respond to them, couldn’t utter a single word. I was numb with shock. I had reached close enough to find the severed head. The face was battered, but the eyes wide open, were familiar. I had looked into them half a year ago.
“Come on dear, the police is here.” Someone pulled me away from her. I kept counting the parts, could not find her right hand. Her beautiful black hair was chopped off.
A kind police inspector recorded our statements. I told him about that night when I saw her for the last time. I told him how I was worried about getting caught out of my room that night and thought little about her strange behavior. How I was going to live the rest of my life with the guilt of not trying to help her. Self-preservation was always my strongest suit, not compassion.
I was sent home.
Soon, I withdrew myself from society. People said I trembled and whimpered like a wounded animal whenever I saw something resembling blood. I was confined to the house for a long time. My mother had to refurnish the house with light colors and I could not sleep in the dark.
My family dragged me to a psychiatrist. The doctor said, “It’s the trauma. She saw a friend’s dead body in pieces. She needs time and support.” He fixed me up with you, my support group.
Years of therapy helped. I have a job and a social life.
Last week, I met Adil. We talked about other friends before he brought up Mitu.
“Remember the boy from the telephone booth, who showed us the way Mitu went that night?”
My heart skipped a beat, “Yes.” I noticed, Adil’s eyes had lost their twinkle.
“He remembered us following her tracks. He had also seen Naina’s brother go that way with some friends, few minutes after Mitu left.”
“He didn’t tell us,” I tried not to raise my voice.
“Yes. He contacted the police after Mitu’s murder was reported in the newspaper. Did you know that Naina had changed her statement later?
“She had seen Mitu leaving their house in a hurry, followed closely by her brother. Mitu didn’t hear Naina calling her. Naina didn’t see Mitu after that day. She skipped this bit earlier.”
I felt a lump in my throat. “Did you know about Mitu and Naina’s brother?”
Adil shook his head, “No. The brother was taken in for questioning. Then his father, our honorable minister, had shut down the investigation. The official reason was the lack of evidence. He got married a week after Mitu’s death.”
I could taste gall in my mouth.
“Naina slit her wrist a few months later,” his voice was barely audible, eyes tightly shut.
“Why?” I whispered.
He noticed my pallor, “Are you alright?”
“Go on,” I struggled for focus.
“She left no note. Mitu had an abortion a day before she left the University. Police found her medical records.” His folded hands were shaking.
His face blurred. The room was spinning fast. My ears started ringing and his voice muffled.
A numbness spread throughout my body as I was sucked into that old, unfeeling, void.