Lalitha stood looking, next to a beaming Prasad as he clicked away an sms.
“You sent him a new girl.”
“Yes, that’s true, sweetie.”
“Do you think she can take it?”
“I don’t know. Do I care? Of course not.”
“You will go to hell for this.”
He turned to Lalitha, his plastic smile intact. “After my death, maybe. But with what I make out of this, I’ll see a thousand heavens before that.”
“Who sent her?”
“She is one of Malikji’s fresh ones. Young, shy and tight, just the way he likes it.”
Lalitha was stunned. “You sent Mehta one of Malik’s? Does boss know about this?”
“Of Course, he does! Do you take me for a fool? Mehta provides half our business. His men handle more stuff than every other dealer in south of the Vindhyas put together. If there is any way I can woo him, our boss will be indebted to me.”
“But Malik’s girl? Didn’t boss forbid-”
“I talked him out of it. Tell me, Lalitha, can you name one girl of ours that’s even remotely as good? Kajal is a work of art. We should start getting more of Malikji’s ones. We’ve had enough flat-chests and eunuchs,” Prasad scoffed.
“What about her? Look, eunuch, you don’t worry about her. Your only job is to fuck whoever I tell you to. Now, go clear the room. I’ll wait for you in the lobby.”
Lalitha walked in a daze. She tried to distract herself with the packing, but was now trapped inside room 421. Lalitha knew Mehta. She had been with him. He was a monster. She had survived his evening, but not many did. But that was years ago, when Mehta was in his thirties, doing small time trafficking, dealing in little quantities, sucking up to local goons. Maybe time had mellowed him down. Or maybe his monster had grown wilder.
Plump bags full of emptiness. Powders, creams, lotions, perfumes. All to hide who we truly are- People with mistakes. The human desire to forget- the compulsion of ignorance- the privilege of overlooking. Some get it for free. Some are paid for it. But nothing should justify what was happening to Kajal now. Could she have stopped it? Did she have a choice? Lalitha was afraid to answer. Sometimes, she thought, the cruelest thing about life was free will.
A shrill sound pierced the venomous silence of feigned helplessness. Her mobile was ringing. It was Kajal. Lalitha paused for a moment, stunned. It had been just over fifteen minutes since she saw her off.
“Kajal? What’s wrong?”
“Ak..akka…A-Akka…” Her voice was frail, punctuated with frantic gasps.
“Kajal! What happened? Why are you crying!”
There was no answer. Lalitha hollered into the phone, but there was no frail voice answering back. She hurled it in disgust and it clattered on the floor, little bits and pieces that could never be put back.
Lalitha knew she should turn her back, she knew it was none of her business. She knew she had a choice. She had always had it and had always been afraid of it. Lalitha didn’t know why she wanted it so badly now. Lalitha didn’t know why she was racing through the corridors. Lalitha didn’t know why there were drops of tears in her eyes.
The door to 421 was not locked. It gave way with a budge. Lalitha slipped in and closed the door softly. The room was dark, the drapes pulled tight. The only light was the blue flicker of the TV screen, and the only sound was the cold breathing of the AC. The silence was colder.
“Kajal?” she whispered. A feeble sob answered her. She was alive.
The lights were harsh, evil. Lalitha hoped they had never come on. The first thing she saw was Kajal. Safe, alive and cowering, haunched up in the corner of the room. She had wrapped herself in a thick, white bedspread and was shivering in spite of it. Then she saw the red. So much red. Vikas Mehta lay on the bed, in a pool of his own blood, wild liquid snakes freed from his body and slithering down the thirsty mattress to the carpet, consuming every bit of innocence it could find. Lalitha’s mind raced.
She looked up. Tears of black coursed her face. Mascara eyes aren’t meant to weep.
She couldn’t even cry properly. Her sobs came in bursts and gasps. Lalitha held her by the shoulders. “What happened?”
Kajal couldn’t speak. Words chocked her. “Ak-Akka I am ss-sorry… He.. He..” she pointed at the gone man, but Lalitha saw more than that. She saw the fruit bowl knocked over, the pomegranate stuck under the TV stand. She saw the coffee table’s broken leg. She saw the empty black bag strewn across the floor. She saw Kajal’s ripped blouse dangling on the bedside lamp. She saw streaks of blood on the wall, the pillows. She had seen enough. She had seen the unspeakable, years ago.
“Where is the knife?”
Kajal handed it to her. A fruit knife turned red. “Now go. Wash your hands and feet. Also your face, while you’re at it. You look hideous.”
Lalitha slumped down heavily on the bed. The sound of the gushing water was calming. She looked at the man who had tormented her. She saw a slewed demon and an odd sense of calm came over her. She knew what she was going to do. The water stopped.