At 6am, I was greeted at the resort by hushed gasps and stares, the usual.
When I met Samira again after many years, I performed a tight-lipped smile. Samira was responsible for the incident that changed my life forever, the incident that had rendered me a vegetable for years after, destroying my ability to even suffer. When she called me sobbing, I felt retribution in every cry.
"I'm sorry we have to meet like this," she said, thick on the overcompensation. "God, this is all so traumatic."
I squeezed her arm; like a boa constrictor measuring its prey. Her presence seemed to fog up my brain. I left her to check the crime scene.
Deepa's body lay on the grass between the patio and the pond, covered in swamp material and tiny snails. The thin slit across her throat didn't distract me from her blue body and the froth around her mouth and nose. The drowning was what killed her. The skin on her hands had started to slough and rot, despite decomposition being far slower when in water. The one sandal on her foot looked like it'd been moulded into the skin. It was like the pond chewed her alive and spat her out. I suspected someone cut her throat and dumped her body into the pond to make me work like a dog.
The officers arrived and began securing and documenting the scene. I relayed what I learned and departed to collect initial statements. I felt knots in the air amongst the witnesses and suspects, individual tensions crossing paths like a cat's cradle.
A love triangle, a woman in denial, a woman in heat. The newcomer stranger heard mention of a throat-slitting from Lina. The caretaker had seen the maid put sleeping pills in somebody's chai. The gardener was stealing alcohol from foreign students all night by the smell of his breath. The imam witnessed someone who matched the description of Juhi wander around the property at night. The property broker spent so much time blaming everyone else, he forgot his alibi. The garments factory owner kept throwing up whenever I mentioned the murder. Secrets about slipped notes, powerful fathers. Passionate stories of djinns, hippies and birds that apparently suffered PTSD.
I thought a walk would help clear my mind. I walked past the rose apple trees, grand, inviting, swaying in the drizzle like they were in a trance, relaying a crucial message. Meeting Samira had brought back too much, distorted scenes of my past played in my head like a broken recorder. I couldn't focus. Traumatic? You're traumatised?
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to regain my composure. When I opened them again, I noticed something stuck on a tree trunk, made inconspicuous by bushes. I covered my hand with a hanky and pulled out a short fruit knife, the dark blade clean and flat, the wooden handle branded with a stain only a trained eye could notice. The heavy rain would've washed off any fingerprints by now. The wooden engraving read: dhorjo joto teto, phol oto misti.
I took it as advice. The rose apple trees danced in kind agreeance. I had an idea of the killer. And an idea of who it should be. I placed the knife carefully inside my jacket.
The witnesses and suspects had taken a lunch break inside. The patio smelled of rotting blood and manure. I waited for the right moment and stuck the knife into the basket of rose apples sitting on a table. I stuffed the cloth deep into my coat and sat down to write some urgent notes. The delicate string of the cat's cradle was in my hands.
After lunch, Samira approached me at the table. I closed my notes and made small talk. The conversation went where it usually does in situations like these.
"Listen, I'm so sorry about—" I don't give her the opportunity.
"Samira, do you still do those rose carvings of fruit?"
"Would you be a darling and make one of those for me? I think it would make me feel much better,"
The guilt in her eyebrows melts with the rain and sweat, dissolves. It was that easy. I guess she was sorry. But it wouldn't matter.
"Of course," she says.
I knew who killed Deepa right when the presence of the knife didn't faze Samira. I knew exactly who did it. But it didn't matter. Deepa was dead. There was comfort in the eternity of hell. But I had to live the rest of my life with people screaming whenever they saw my face melted off like sludge. I already burned in those embers and unfortunately lived to deal with the aftermath.
I had plans for the apprehension of a much more insidious culprit.