Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Stranger – Rashmi Pillai, Mumbai

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‘When will this end? This is absolutely shameful,’ screamed the television news anchor on the debate. The molestation of some women who were out celebrating New Year ’s Eve at a well known area in the city by a bunch of drunk men in the crowd was a hot topic of discussion everywhere these past few days.

‘When will you learn?’ Sachin shook his head as he finished his dinner.

His cell phone beeped and he eagerly picked it up. She was online. He had met her on a friendship and dating app two weeks ago. And now Karishma had become his chat friend. He didn’t get many friendship requests from unknown women. It was usually he who sent them out, most were rejected. So he had been rather surprised when he received one from Karishma.

She confessed later that she had liked his profile and sent him a request on impulse. Well, he was glad that she had. They shared a lot in common. They had the same hobbies and interests. He thought she was a nice, simple girl. Of course, she took a couple of chats to open up to him. But the chats soon went from friendly to flirtatious. Now she readily responded to his advances. He wanted to take it a notch higher, fast.

‘When will you put up your profile pic, sugar?’ he typed.

Her display picture was a rainbow.

‘Ahem, sugar?’ she asked.

‘Well, women are like sugar, men are like ants.’

‘What?’

‘I just heard that from one of our netas.’

‘Oh really. If I put up a pic, don’t get jealous if lots of guys come after me.’

‘No, no, let’s keep the ants away. How about sending me one?’

‘Maybe later.’

‘When?’

‘Soon. Which is your favourite old Hindi film?’ she was asking him.

‘Changing the topic, huh? I like Deewar and Sholay,’ he typed back. ‘What about you?’

‘I love all those films where the heroine is wooed by the hero. I mean him chasing after her, singing songs, teasing her, until she finally says yes.’

He smiled, thinking that here too, their thoughts matched.

‘I love those films too. It’s so romantic,’ he wrote.

‘Isn’t it? I wish someone would do that for me.’

‘I could do that, you know,’ he said, adding a wink.

‘Really? For me? That’s so sweet,’ she said, sending a smiley.

They continued flirting in this manner, until he thought he should push matters along a bit.

‘So when can I talk to you, I mean, in person?’ he asked her.

‘What?’

‘I still haven’t seen you. I mean, how do I know you’re not a guy?’

‘Don’t you trust me? We’ve been friends for so many days and you think I’m a guy? Don’t you know me at all?’ she asked, sending a frown.

‘No, no, I’m sorry, if I’ve offended you. It’s just that I would like to see your beautiful face and hear your lovely voice,’ he pacified her.

He spent a few more minutes convincing her until she agreed to call him. She took his number, but didn’t give him hers.

All through the next day, he waited for her call. He couldn’t concentrate much on his work. But she didn’t call. Just after his dinner, his cell phone rang. He saw an unknown number flashing. He jumped and picked it up.

‘Hi, it’s Karishma.’

‘Hey, I waited for your call all day,’ Sachin said. ‘Thank God you finally called.’

‘I didn’t want to disturb you at work,’ she replied.

She had such a sexy voice, he thought and began fantasizing about what she looked like, as she continued asking about his day.

They chatted on the phone for about a week and then he asked her to video chat. She didn’t agree saying it was not possible for her, but he thought he would persuade her slowly.

They talked about everything under the sun. He told her about his family, childhood, education, work, everything. He shared some things with her, which he hadn’t even told his friends. Small things which didn’t matter to anyone else, but she was interested in listening about them.

He told her about the nights that he and his friends spent drinking and driving on the streets at night, racing their bikes. How they spent hours outside their campus passing comments on the hot girls in college, rating them on their hotness scale. He had even got slapped on one occasion by a girl, but it was all just a joke now. She laughed along with him at all his little tales.

‘So what are you doing tomorrow night?’ he asked.

‘Nothing, I will be at home, studying,’ she replied.

He knew she was a management student, but she hadn’t disclosed the name of her college.

‘Come on, it’s Saturday night. No partying, going to pubs?’ he probed.

‘I don’t go to those vile places,’ she said vehemently.

‘Why not?’

‘Have you seen the people who go to pubs? Especially the girls. Semi naked and drunk. No, I don’t think it’s the right place for me.’

‘Wow, I agree. It’s no place for someone like you. I’ve thought like that for years, but people always said I was crazy and didn’t have the right mindset. Girls don’t dress properly and then complain if they get groped. I mean, why are you dressed like that then, for heaven’s sake? What’s a guy expected to do? Just look away? Don’t turn him on and then say, stay away from me. It’s exactly what happened during the New Year’s Eve celebrations with those women. Don’t they get it? I’m so happy that you’re not one of those so called modern chicks. I always knew you were a sweet, decent, homely girl.’

‘Enough, I can’t handle so much praise,’ she chuckled.

They said their goodbyes and hung up. Sachin had a huge smile on his face. He was so lucky to have found her. He had to meet her, he just had to. But whenever he mentioned it to her, she clammed up. She was afraid of meeting a stranger.

A week later, he spoke to her about his weekend plans. He had talked lovingly and kept her in a very good mood.

‘So what are you doing tomorrow night?’ he asked.

‘Oh, the usual,’ she answered. ‘Studying and other boring stuff.’

‘Why don’t we meet?’

‘Oh, don’t start again now.’

‘Come on, am I still a stranger to you? I mean we know each other so well. Don’t you trust me? I promise you I’ll be a perfect gentleman. We can meet in a public place. Anywhere you want.’

‘Well…’

‘I want to see you, please.’

She was reluctant. He begged and cajoled until she gave in. They decided to meet at seven the next evening, outside a restaurant.

He was excited all day and couldn’t wait to see her. He hoped she was good looking. He pondered for a long time on what to wear and also got flowers for her.

He reached the restaurant ten minutes before seven. At fifteen minutes after seven, he received a call on his cell phone. It was her.

‘Change of plans. I am sitting in a car, right opposite the restaurant. Come and join me.’

He looked across and saw a red car. He crossed the road and reached it in a jiffy. She was sitting inside, wearing a fitted top, jeans and huge dark sunglasses. She smiled as she saw him. He thought she was really pretty.

‘Get in, what are you waiting for?’ she asked.

He entered the car, as if walking in a dream and gave her the flowers. He couldn’t take his eyes off her face. Her body was amazing too, he thought glancing at her, while she talked animatedly.

‘So where are we going?’ he said finally.

‘Actually, I have a surprise for you. I have a place just out of town. We can reach there in an hour. We’ll have the place to ourselves. No one will disturb us there. What do you say?’ she smiled coyly.

This was beyond his wildest dreams. He wanted to scream ‘yes, yes’ in delight, but he managed to just nod and smile saying, ‘Okay.’

As she drove them to their destination, he kept thinking of all the scenarios that could happen. They would be all alone. All alone. He couldn’t stop grinning.

They reached the place in an hour. The house they drew up to was a quaint little cottage, with no houses around. No one would be able to see or hear them. This was getting better and better.

‘Are you sure there is no one around?’ he asked her, as they went in.

‘Absolutely. There is no one here, but us,’ she said and winked, as she locked the door. ‘Why don’t you make yourself comfortable?’ she added huskily.

Was this really happening, he thought and grinned.

‘What’s your poison?’ she asked.

‘I’ll have beer.’

She placed some food and drinks on the coffee table. As she sat down on the couch next to him, her scent sent his heart racing. He sipped his drink and sat back, admiring her beauty. She switched on the TV and soon they were chatting.

He took her hand and slowly took it near his mouth. As he kissed her fingers, he saw her blush.

‘I’ve waited so long for this,’ he said.

‘So have I,’ she said softly.

As he touched her face, his vision began to blur. He shook his head as he tried to focus on her face. He felt his head was spinning. He didn’t remember what happened after that, as he lost consciousness.

When he awoke, he found himself lying on a bed. He felt groggy and tried to recollect the evening’s events. He tried to get up. That’s when he got the shock of his life. He was tied down to the bed, with metal chains. Now that he looked closely, it wasn’t really a bed. It was a kind of stone slab. The walls were made of stone too. There wasn’t much light in the room.

Where am I, he thought. There was no sign of Karishma. Had somebody kidnapped both of them? Was Karishma in danger too? He felt nauseous. Another thought flashed across his mind. Maybe she was a con. She had drugged him. It must have been his drink. And now she wanted his money. He had been such a fool.

Well, he wasn’t going to give away his money to her. He didn’t have much cash on him anyway. But he was in a helpless situation. No one knew where he was. How was he supposed to call for help? A million other thoughts rushed through his mind as he lay there, waiting for her or whoever it was who had put him in this situation, to appear. He had no idea of the time or the day. How long had he been unconscious? He was beginning to feel very afraid.

After what seemed like a very long time, he heard footsteps. He looked at the door, waiting breathlessly. Karishma walked in. She was wearing a short red dress and a yellow scarf was tied around her neck. She had let her hair loose and was wearing bright red lipstick. She looked gorgeous. Sachin didn’t know what to make of it. Was she playing games with him? Was she trying to turn him on, in some way? Maybe she liked kinky stuff. As if on cue, she gave him a seductive smile. He smiled back, relaxing a little.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked, even though he was pretty sure by now.

‘I thought we could play a little,’ she purred.

‘You would like that, wouldn’t you?’ he teased.

‘There is nothing you can do about it anyway.’

That part was true. He couldn’t move at all. He had to do whatever she wanted. Well, he was looking forward to it.

‘Is that why you tied me up? I guess I was mistaken. I didn’t know you were such a naughty little girl.’

‘Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet.’

‘But why did you spike my drink? I would have let you tie me up.’

‘It’s more fun this way. Well, for me at least.’

‘So what are you going to do first?’ he asked huskily.

‘What would you like me to do?’

She ran a finger down his chest. He trembled under her touch.

‘Ooh, excited, are we?’

‘Untie me and I’ll show you how much.’

‘You are so proud of your so called masculinity,’ she laughed. ‘Today we shall see how much of a man you are. So tell me, which part of your body do you like the least?’

‘Why?’

‘Oh I think you won’t be needing that, so I’ll start by cutting that off.’

He gave a nervous laugh.

‘Don’t kid about things like that, honey.’

‘I’m not kidding. Today I’m going to teach you a lesson.’

She pulled out a butcher’s knife.

‘You think women are objects to be used as you like. They invite trouble, right?’ she continued, her voice hard.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘You harassed women in your town. You first made attempts to rape women on two occasions, but were caught and thrashed. Then you raped another woman, but got out of jail after just one year. After that you left town.’

‘How do you know this?’ he squeaked.

‘You thought no one would know about your sordid past. But secrets have a tendency to resurface.’

‘I don’t…’

‘Shut the fuck up and listen, you sick bastard. The time has come for you to pay the price.’

‘What?’ he cried.

‘You know what we do to ants when they crawl all over our house. We crush them, do pest control. You are a serial offender against women. Yet you roam the streets freely and women have to be careful. With you away, at least they will have one pervert less to worry about.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Have you still not understood? Your life will end here today, in this dungeon, below my cottage. I’m going to slowly cut off your body parts one by one and watch you die. You can scream all you want. This room is sound proof. No one is going to hear you.’

She paused to relish the fear rushing into his eyes before continuing. ‘I’m on a mission to make this city safer for women. I’ve already slaughtered a few perverts like you. Haven’t you been reading the newspapers?’

‘But there’s nothing in the papers.’

‘Well, the police have not yet linked the murders. I’m very careful, you see. They are all done in a different manner. I choose my victims randomly. I approach them all in various ways. Of course, I use fake identities and numbers. I take my time to research. Each one is special for me, you see,’ she smirked.

‘My god, you’re crazy.’

‘Really? You go about raping women. And I’m the one who is crazy?’

‘But this is not right,’ he moaned.

‘I’ve waited for things to change. Nothing has.’

‘But who are you? Why are you doing this? Have I or the others harmed anyone you knew?’

‘Why, should I wait until one of you animals attacks me or my family? No, I’m just an ordinary woman, trying to clean my city of filth, in my own small way. My name doesn’t matter.’

‘Please, let me go. Have mercy,’ he pleaded.

‘Not a chance. Any last words?’

‘I was wrong. Women are individuals. In fact, I think they are better than men. They can wear and do whatever they want. See, I’ve changed. Forgive me,’ he snivelled.

‘It’s funny how mindsets can change when death is imminent. Too late for you though, too late.’ She laughed like a maniac and placed the knife at his groin. And that’s when the screams began.

It was dawn. She was back in the city. She sat in the cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. His pathetic pleas and shrieks reverberated in her ears. This one was especially satisfying.

She turned to the sheet of paper on the table, closed her eyes and ran her finger down the list. She stopped and opened her eyes.

‘Sohanlal Singh, Age 34,’ she murmured.

IR
IR
Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.

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