Darkness set in quite abruptly that day. It was nothing unusual for a day in the last week of November. Winter was gaining momentum in the poise of The Nilgiris. Jay possessed an unremitting void in his thoughts. His eyes were still and stared at nowhere in particular. Thick layers of mist were hopping in between the various hillocks. No element of a night sky was visible to the humanly eyes. It was just an impermeable inky black darkness that defined the mien of nightfall. Jay shook from his reverie as the wooden window pane banged against the wall. A chilled breeze wafted inside the room. He looked around only to find a heap of crumpled papers with his scribbles lying on the floor.
“I need a change,” Jay voiced out loudly in that lifeless room. He stood up, closed the window, donned his windcheater and went out for a walk. His phone beeped a couple of times with some Whatsapp messages which he intended to ignore. He took out his phone to switch it off but soon realized the throat-choking competition in the market of script writers. In that dimly illuminated street artistically chiseled around a small hillock, Jay halted for a minute to make a courtesy call.
“What a pleasant surprise Mr. Roy. I was just messaging you!” Jay paused to hear him out. A feigned smile was intact on his face.
“Sure Sir. I am just crafting the climax of the story.” With a few more affirmative nods, Jay kept down the phone. Lying through the skin was certainly easy over the phone but those crumpled papers back in his room were the harsh reality. One week had passed since he came to the posh locality of Lovedale. He considered it the appropriate ambience for penning a script for a short film. Mr. Roy, a famed producer, was well-known for sending his scriptwriters to unflustered locales for framing stories. Jay was not naïve in his field. He had six prestigious awards from all over the globe. But where was the story? One week into the forced retreat and no outcome in hand was bizarre.
There was no dearth of talent in Jay. The problem lay in the genre. He was simply asked to write a hard core thriller with a comical end. Those crumpled papers had some marvellous ideas but was not apposite for Jay’s artistic mind. With innumerable contemplations swirling in his mind, he entered a quaint little coffee shop to have a sip of his favourite cappuccino.
“Your coffee Sir,” a young boy, probably in his early twenties and waiting on tables as a part-time job, served the strong frothy coffee to Jay with a big smile. Jay, who ordinarily reciprocated well, was scatter-brained and remained emotionless. He kept stirring the coffee while concentrating on thinking out of the box. The café was unoccupied except for him and the waiters and stayed so for a while. Suddenly, a weird sound at the café door distracted them both. An extremely fair, thin young girl was struggling to get into the café with a huge leather suitcase. There was a mystifying beauty to her visage. Her pale skin was marked with only a pinkish tinge on her nose and cheeks, probably an outcome of the chillness outside. Her eyes were curiously big, black and placed like an owl. A sharp thin aquiline nose was quite similar to the atypical image of Sherlock Holmes. Her thick black curly mop of hair really looked like noodles, which she kept on adjusting while dragging the suitcase inside. She vehemently denied for any assistance from those waiters in the café and somehow managed to accommodate herself next to Jay’s table.
Her spooky appearance and attitude drew Jay’s attention. She looked like the perfect protagonist for a crime-thriller. She sat on the chair hurriedly and started searching something in her bag impatiently. Every single eye focused on her when a big knife stained with blood fell down from her bag. Jay and others detected a blood stained piece of cloth too wrapping three fingers of her left hand. She was anxious and unmindful. Droplets of sweat on her forehead in this wintry atmosphere were inexplicable. She picked up the fallen knife and kept it inside the bag blissfully not caring about people around her. One waiter approached her for the order and she impassively denied him for the moment. While nobody dared or cared asking her anything, the writer within Jay was concocting something.
Shanaya Mazumdar, a young beautiful girl brought up in Mumbai for her whole life, secures her first job in one of the up-market boarding schools at Lovedale as an Art teacher. Shanaya bore a consummate love for colours. She never knew anything monochrome. If at all monochrome was the ultimate requirement, her canvas would bear an unparalleled magnificence. Her creations adorn many a famous art gallery but somehow a desire to teach burned within her since her childhood. Lovedale, being one of the most picturesque and serene places, drew her like a moth to a flame. It was the ideal location to practice her art along with fulfilling her ultimate goal to teach.
Shanaya moves out of the chaos of Mumbai and relocates to the more serene Lovedale. She stays as a paying guest in a big bungalow of an old widower, Alfred D’ Cruz. One month passes by, with weekdays brimming with professional artistic work and weekends roaming amidst nature’s stunning splendour. Everything is fine outwardly. However, Shanaya is a bit unnerved whenever Alfred comes around. Alfred is a genuine gentleman; a retired professor of Chemistry with his son settled in the US, he prefers to have a paying guest so that the rooms and appliances are used. He is polite with the perfect touch of intellect while speaking. None can have any reason to dislike him. Even Shanaya did not dislike him but she becomes a bit bumpy due to his repeated coughing and his permanent companion, the medicine box.
On a fine Saturday morning, the maid takes leave. Alfred requests Shanaya to go out and buy one of his medicines. Though Alfred tries to convince her that she can procure the tablets without a prescription, Shanaya doesn’t agree as she is totally naïve to the medicinal world. She never takes even a dose of paracetamol without consulting a medical practitioner. Alfred’s growing age takes some time to recall the whereabouts of his prescription but finally finds it and hands it over to Shanaya with the required cash and a genuine sign of gratitude. Shanaya buys the medicines while pondering about the reason of them being so expensive. While walking down to the bungalow she opens the prescription to see the disease. Though the handwriting on the prescription was woeful, she manages to read one word of the diagnosis; LYMPHADENOPATHY.
In the year 2016, when every bit of information is just a click away, any new term attracts people to unleash its hidden meaning. Shanaya was no different. She hands over the medicines to the ailing old man with a courteous smile on her face but her thoughts remain occupied on the diagnosis. She trawls through every possible medical website on the internet only to find Lymphadenopathy to be a fancy name for Tuberculosis. A creepy chill crawls down her spine. She is anxious. Her thoughts jumble in between the scribbles on the internet. Her soul runs between fear and anger. She is perplexed to realize that she has already spent over a month with this ailing old man who is supposedly a carrier of a dreadful contagious disease. Shanaya is NOSOPHOBIC. This psychological issue of hers is right from her childhood. She is always worried on seeing any ailing person. Her usual discomfort with Alfred is an outcome of the same. However, nosophobia is a condition which takes prominence in case of infectious diseases. Shanaya gradually starts panicking. She twiddles her fingers and starts biting her nails. Her scalp starts sweating and all her senses become crippled. She sits on the floor for a moment and the very next moment she starts walking.
All of a sudden, the prevailing silence is wiped out as Alfred starts coughing. Shanaya feels her legs getting heavy. She drags herself till the door of Alfred’s room which is partly open. Her strange big black eyes peep from that sliver of an opening. She sees Alfred coughing acutely though intermittently. She walks back till her bed, sits down petulantly and twiddles her fingers again. She rubs her feet over each other, bites her lips impatiently and rocks her body front and back. Gradually, Alfred’s coughing intensifies. Every single time he coughs, Shanaya’s fright reaches new bounds. His coughing intensifies and so does her fear. She is petrified with the doubt of contracting TB from Alfred. She comes out of her room again and spends a couple of minutes witnessing Alfred suffering. She is not concerned about the old man but tensed about her own being. Her protruding eyes, partially covered by those dense black curly tingles of hair, look desperate to terminate her trouble. A frisson of fear runs through her veins. Her ears perceive only one sound, Alfred’s incessant cough. She yells mutedly, while closing her ears with her hands, but it fails to stop Alfred from coughing. She falls down on the floor fighting to stop the sound reaching her eardrums. She fails miserably. Her eyes perceive only one vision, Alfred’s guttural coughing. Her ears refuse to hear any other noise. Her soul pleads for her survival. She gets up in a flash. The only thing she sees in front of her is the big knife on the table. She runs, grabs it and stands just behind Alfred who is prone over the wash basin. She places her left hand on his right shoulder and pulls him back to make him stand. He stands and she runs the knife through his throat. Alfred’s body shivers like an animal sacrificed in the name of God without making any sort of sound. The house is engulfed in an eerie silence. There is no clamour anymore. Peace reaches its pinnacle. Shanaya sits down next to Alfred’s dead body like another dead soul. Hours pass by and her eyes remain fixed on Alfred. She is blank not fully comprehending what she has done and what she has to do next. The knife is still in her right hand. Every single memory of hers keeps moving before her eyes. Tears roll down her cheeks as she realizes her act as a sin. However, she is a human who has a basic instinct to escape from any suffering.
Her hand reaches the wash basin for support to stand up. She gets up to run away but skids on the pool of blood. The knife in her right hand slips and cuts into three fingers of her left hand. She sees her fingers spitting out a jet of red blood. She finds her lying on Alfred’s blood while his dead eyes stare at her. She feels handicapped with the encumbrance in her soul, still glides out from there. Her beige colour frock is splattered with heavy tinges of crimson. She presses her bleeding fingers and runs to her room to find a piece of cloth. She tries to tie her hand hurriedly with a handkerchief. Her body feels the wetness from both his blood and her own sweat. She falls down on the floor and yells with guilt. But she has to run away otherwise she will be imprisoned. She calms down and musters some patience. She changes her attire, packs her belongings and drags her leather suitcase strenuously till the hall. As she halts to gasp for breath, her eyes capture the blood stained knife. In the spur of the moment not knowing what to do with it she puts that in her handbag. Taking a cab from Alfred’s address will be a risk so she plans to take a cab from the nearby café.
“Excuse Me.” An amiable voice startled Jay who was drowned in his own world. He took a few seconds to come back to the present scenario. The voice was from the other table. It was the same girl whom he saw entering the café the last time. He flickered few times and looked at her.
“Hi. I am Shanaya Mazumdar.”
Jay’s eyebrows rose. With a blend of fear and apprehension he uttered, “And you killed Alfred D’ Cruz?”
“What?” She exclaimed as if it was a bolt from the blue. She blinked in astonishment and uttered in a laggard voice, “My cab had an accident some 100 metres down the lane. I was cutting an apple inside but my fingers were cut due to the jolt of the accident.” She paused to surmise Jay’s reactions and then requested, “Could you please help me in tying this bandage on the wound? I am unable to do it on my own.”
Jay was silent for a while and then burst out laughing on his rampant imaginations. He nodded his head in affirmation at Shanaya’s request. She bore a confused look on her face having failed to comprehend Jay’s words and actions.
Jay’s phone rang. He finished the much needed job of bandaging the wound and picked up the phone. It was Mr. Roy again. Jay was no more in deficit of a script. His own experience of the past few hours was indeed a wonderful script; a scriptwriter’s derisory imaginations on seeing a doubtful face and a knife and later discovering himself as slapstick Sherlock.
Jay bore a smile of success and replied, “Yes Mr. Roy. The script is ready and I have a name for it too. SLAPSTICK SHERLOCK.”