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“We should be able to show the money to the judge before he starts the hearing; but she still hasn’t arrived with it. Where is she? Call her,” my lawyer asks me frantically. “She does not have a cell phone; but she will be here any moment,” I reply with a heavy sinking feeling in my stomach. “What? How come in today’s age, she does not have a cell phone?” I choose not to reply. This lawyer won’t understand the measures that one has to take with a young beautiful wife. But at this moment I wish I had allowed her a cellphone.
I hope I reach in time with the money; after all everything depends on me. I sat inside the auto, holding my handbag tightly, as if anyone may come suddenly and snatch it away. It’s a question of my life now.
I look up at the Magistrate, rather, the man who will decide my fate today. He is a man with a small build, thin moustache and a balding patch in his head. But today he is the God, sitting in judgment over my life. He had conveyed through his clerk that he will favour me if I pay him Rs. 50,000/-. When I heard the amount, I had laughed out loud. Just that much? He has absolutely no idea of my wealth! But then, no one has, not even my wife. No one knows where I stash away my wealth. I was initially wondering whom to reveal my secret location, to bring out the fifty thousand for the bribe. I finally decided on my wife – after all, she is dearer and more reliable than my crooks and I had already decided to start a new life with her, after this fiasco was over.
The Public Prosecutor started the proceedings. “Your Lordship, its a clear case of homicide. The accused, Charan Shaw is a local goon at Kalikapur, who has always terrorised innocent shopkeepers and vendors and extorted money from them”.
My lawyer jumped to his feet. “Your Lordship, my learned friend has no business describing the accused in such a manner. The question before the court is not what kind of a person he was but whether or not he had dealt the blows to Haru which caused his death.” The judge tells the prosecution lawyer to stick to the facts of the case. I look at him and try to figure out whether he has already received the money or not. But then, where is Smita? I look around the court room trying to locate her in the crowd.
I still remember the day he forcibly married me and I became the young wife of a man, ten years older to me. I was 19, beautiful, poor and vulnerable. Just when I started dreaming about beginning college and a whole new life, my father lost his job. Charan, the local goon showed immense concern for him, got him a part time job and in the process, made his move on me. I was forced to agree to his proposal by my father, by circumstances and by the love of my life. “I am in no position to marry you now and I cannot fight Charan,” he said remorsefully. I could not help but hate him from that moment and resigned myself to a life-long misery.
“Your Lordship, on the night of 12th December, at around 10 pm, the accused was sitting in the local club with three other persons, including the deceased. A fight broke out between the accused and Haru, one of the three present there, and the accused struck Haru in his face. Haru fell down on the floor and the accused repeatedly struck his stomach with his shoes. The other two pulled the accused away and Haru was taken to the hospital, where he finally succumbed to his injuries. Your Lordship has the doctor’s report and the post-mortem report before you to prove that death was caused by the injuries inflicted by the accused. I now pray your Lordship’s leave to present my witnesses.”
I am beginning to get restless. That thought again nagged me. What if Haru’s words had been true? “Charan bhai, keep a check on your wife. I saw her talking to that Madan Sahu in the market yesterday. I am sure you know of their old romance.” His words were cruel, demeaning and insulting. How dare my subordinate talk to me like that? Who is he to say such nonsense about my wife? Did he think that just because I considered him my best friend, it gave him the liberty to be insolent? Yes, I know that she had an affair with that boy before she married me. I had asked her too. She has told me that all that is behind her; a thing of past. And I believe her.
“I call upon Gouri Jha, one of the prime eye-witnesses before Your Lordship.”
I felt a nervous twitch in the hollow pit of my stomach. Gouri is Haru’s brother. He will take his revenge now. I did not hear what the prosecution lawyer was saying. I just waited for my wife to arrive with the money. May be I can be free if the judge is given the money after the trial is over; there’s still hope left.
“Auto, stop!” Madan climbed in and looked into my face. “Thank God, I found you. Why are you so late?” Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Did you get the money?” I showed him my hand bag. He smiled. “At last, we shall be free. I have waited for so long just for the day when both of us can start a new life.” I look at his handsome face, a face I have once loved and then hated, both with equal passion. I loved his free-spiritedness, his gay laughter and his boundless jest for life. And I hated him for his weakness of character. He abandoned me at a time when I needed him the most.
“What are you thinking? Do you still hate me? After all that I went through for your sake? Listen, I have told you that had I protested then, that goon would have mauled me to death; like he did to Haru. He is a killer. Instead, I waited for the perfect time. See, even God is with us. He gave us the best opportunity we could have ever thought of.”
“Do you love me?” I asked what sounded like the most irrelevant question. “Smita, what are you talking of? Don’t you know yourself?” “Please answer me, I want to hear it from you.” I looked searchingly into his face. I needed the answer because depending on it, I was going to betray the trust of my husband.
“Your Lordship, both the prime eye witnesses have established beyond doubt the innocence of the accused. They have both unanimously stated that the deceased fell from a broken chair and hurt himself. The injuries in his stomach were caused when the sharp edge of the chair struck him before any of the other three could help him. It’s my humble prayer before your Lordship to give his verdict and acquit the accused of all false, baseless and frivolous charges.”
I could barely believe those words of my lawyer. Gouri and Vasant lied to save me! I looked at their faces, beaming with unmatched loyalty. Did they love me so much? Was I going to win the case despite not being able to bribe the Magistrate? Where is Smita? Has anything happened to her? Was Haru speaking the truth? I kept asking myself that one question. Everything else seemed pointless now. Suddenly it seemed that it no more mattered whether I win or lose; I just wanted Smita to be present at the court, with the money. I wanted to prove to the world that she had not betrayed.
“He is not a bad husband, really”.
“What are you talking of? That man forced you to marry him. He never really gave you any freedom. He was always suspicious of you. Didn’t you yourself say that you feel asphyxiated in that marriage?”
“Yes, but do you know something? He did not believe Haru, his best friend. He never believed anything any one else said about me. Do you realise that he could have just killed me, or both of us, based on what Haru told him?”
Madan looked at me flustered. “Listen, I know what this is all about. Plain and simple guilt. You are too soft, Smita. Now give me that bag and meet me at the station in 1 hour. We should not be seen going anywhere together”.
“I shall bring the bag to the station,” I said, thinking what if I was taking the wrong decision.
Madan insisted, “It’s not safe for you to travel with so much money. Give it to me.” I stare at Madan’s face.
The court room was abuzz with discussion. I was led out of it by the policemen and instantly hugged tightly by Gouri and Vasant. The lawyer comes and smiles at me. “I can’t believe we won despite no bribe!” Even I could not believe the turn of fate. Gouri looked at me “Boss, I can never betray you. He was my brother, but you are the brother I have always admired and worshipped.” His words reminded me once again of her betrayal. I was not a killer, but my blind love made me one for life.
I stand at the bottom of the stairs, feeling scared that I may be too late. I can see him surrounded by his friends, laughing, patting his back. I do not understand the celebration. Did he win? At that precise moment, I catch his eyes.
What if I had believed what Haru said? I may have taken two more lives, without knowing the truth, which was standing a few feet away from me.
What if I had run away with Madan? I would have never known true love, which was standing a few feet away from me.
Edited to add: I did not win BAT but won the category of Masala (fiction) in the first edition of Blogeshwar contest for this post.
I AM A CERTIFIED BLOGESHWAR NOW 🙂