Why so curious?

Kathir pressed the calling bell and checked the tag dangling on Mohan. He looked down at his own attire and almost smiled.

‘I look like a thirty year old,’ he thought.

A middle-aged woman opened the door.

She ran her eyes through them, noticed the tag of Kathir’s ID card and sighed.

Mohan did not give her time to think, “It’s regarding Ramya’s case, madam”.

“Even the milkman doesn’t come to my doorstep as often as the detectives and policemen,” she said in a distraught tone.

“One last time. We won’t bother you much. We already read the reports,” Kathir said.

The woman ushered them in and had them seated on the couch.

Bold Hindi letters danced on the LED screen, with a Mute sign on the right bottom corner.

The woman surprised them by asking if they’d have something to drink. They tried refusing her, but she insisted.

She left to the kitchen glancing at the Hindi soap opera playing on TV.

Mohan found the bungalow in the soap opera similar to the bungalow he was seated in. The couch felt feather soft, the air ice-cold and the walls were paneled with wood, half a dozen speakers here and there. He was lost in awe.

“Work on your look, buddy. You look like a kid brought to a circus,” Kathir whispered to Mohan.

‘Beautiful bungalows hide ugly truths,’ he thought.

Minutes after the serial started rolling, the woman returned, and placed two cups of coffee from a tray onto the table. She pointed at the packets on the tray, “Sugar packets, in case you need more sugar.”

Kathir began even before she settled, “We’ll verify a few facts that are on the record, first.”

Mohan took out a recorder from his bag, switched it on and placed it near the tray. He drew out a pad and a pen and looked up at the woman.

She did not wait for a question. “Ramya was like a daughter to me. She was 19 when she fell from our terrace and died, during a party my son hosted for his graduation. Date – fifteen, six, two thousand fourteen. In the course of the investigation, my son revealed to your authorities that he had proposed her once, to no luck. He is perfectly sane and has had no history of substance or alcohol abuse prior to the incident. Okay? Make the other questions quick.”

Mohan was busy noting down when Kathir asked the next question, “So your son was a teetotaler prior to the incident. What is he now?”

The woman’s visage turned into a grimace.

“I’ve seen him smoke a few times, on the terrace and in a tea stall in the opposite. Your people are to be blamed. He holds himself guilty for her death,” she replied.

“What type of party was hosted by your teetotaler son?”

“It was more of a get-together. He’d asked me money for a party. Knowing the outstanding quality of his friend circle, I decided that I’ll give him the money but supervise the party. It was so much fun, to be frank, until she tripped and fell down.”

The lack of emotion in her tone was striking. Kathir wondered if it was the repeated telling or something else that had taken away the horror of a death.

Mohan questioned her next. “Why was the terrace parapet so small at that place?”

“I begin to doubt if you’ve gone through the reports,” she said sweeping a glance over them.

“We have, Mam, this is just for verification,” Mohan answered.

“The parapet had a minor crack that remained since this house was built. A few weeks before the party, it fell off, thankfully, on the lawn and not on anyone’s head, or we’d be dealing with the authorities from then.”

She turned to the TV. An advertisement was playing. A countdown timer showing ’13’ followed by hindi text was on the top left. “Shall I un-mute it, or will it a disturbance to the investigation?” she asked no one in particular.

Kathir sighed. “We are sorry for the questioning, but we need you to take this a bit more…”

The calling bell rang.

The woman got up to open the door. Kathir noticed Mohan’s face turn ghostly white and pressed his hand in assurance.

When her husband came in, she whispered something to him and was sent into the adjacent room.

The man winced. “Who the hell are you?” His voice sounded more manly than the man he seemed.

“We are investigating Ramya’s case, sir… there are some… things,” Mohan fumbled.

Kathir completed it. “We want to know if she’d worn her slippers to the terrace and if they were in her feet when she fell”

“I’d answered that… already… to a bunch of people last month,” he replied.

The shakiness in the man’s voice gave Mohan the confidence. “And what was the answer, sir?”

“She must’ve worn her heels to the terrace, but there was only one… when she was in the… hospital,” he replied.

He went into the room undoing his buttons. Kathir wanted to follow him in, but decided against it.

Mohan turned to the LED TV. An actress in the serial was crying inaudibly. He turned away on impulse.

The man came back moments later, in a T-shirt and a track pant, after a hushed conversation with his wife.

Mohan recalled the tennis court near the lawn that he’d noticed when he walked into the bungalow. He wished the man would move them over there for the rest of the conversation. The room felt like it was closing in on him since the man had entered the scene.

“Do you have a warrant to question us? You have not shown my wife anything as proof,” he asked just as he sat on the opposite.

Mohan looked for the papers inside his bag. He closed one zip after not finding them inside, and opened another.

The woman hurried from the adjacent room and handed a phone to her husband. She picked the coffee cups from the table and headed to the kitchen.

Mohan felt the papers in his hand, but knew they’d be of no use.

After about half a minute on the call, the man slammed the phone on the table, and turned to them in fury, “Who the fuck are you? You cannot investigate a closed case. No one’s got permission to question us, bastards!” His yell echoed across the room like thunder.

Kathir thought of so many things to say, but it was Mohan who answered, “Sir, we’d come for our… project…”

The man pulled the recorder from the table and smashed it against the wall. He tore down the sheets from the pad and dragged the two out of the bungalow.
——————————————————————————————————————–

Kathir had changed to his T-shirt by the time he was called to Professor Surkanan’s house. He stopped only once before he reached there.

The gate of Sarkunan’s house was open, and as he removed his slippers, he noticed Mohan’s.

‘Coward!’

The Professor was pacing left and right in the hall.

Mohan was seated facing him, with a coffee cup in his hand, still in the dress he’d worn earlier in the day. The fake ID card was lying on the glass table.

“Here comes the main culprit, eh?” Professor Sarkunan noted.

“Sit down,” he said in his firm voice. Kathir sat beside Mohan.

“When I meant you had to submit a project, I wasn’t this serious,” he said.

Mohan tried to justify his position, “I asked him, no, begged him, sir, to do something less criminal.”

“You said a bad case could get us failed,” Kathir protested.

Sarkunan sat on his bean bag. “I don’t want you solving a high-profile murder mystery, lads. You could have got into jail. You most probably will in the coming days.”

“But the other day, you talked about the Detective Instinct… And I just happened to follow it.”

“That’s where you went wrong, mister. You are not even half-a-detective.”

He continued, “You guys remind me of my mentor, being wild, brave and stupid.”

Kathir wondered if that description fitted Mohan except for the ‘stupid’ part.

“There are simple ways to pass this subject. Take this Karthik’s case for example,” he said, gesturing to a stick file on the dining table,”he has solved a domestic mystery. Missing ice creams – refrigerator – black hand print on freezer door – bam! His father was the culprit. Very good observa…”

Kathir had been thinking of the elusive title. “He’s given you a short story I studied in my sixth grade text. I can’t recall the title.”

The amusement in Sarkunan’s face slowly faded.”But it’s okay, I guess. The first school lesson that has helped someone I know.”

Mohan smiled, but Kathir was honest enough to keep mum.

Sarkunan’s eyes were on Kathir, “The point was this. You needed to show your skills of observation and deduction. It’d be easier to observe details in simple cases. If you’d only solve something highly challenging, then I suggest you start with a societal mystery. How about trying to find who lifted this street’s CCTV camera to which marriage hall.”

Sarkunan turned to Mohan, “I’m not used to having sugared coffee. You might add some sugar from the kitchen if you want.”

Mohan drew a packet of sugar from his pant pocket, “I can manage, sir.”

Kathir didn’t hide his smile.

When Sarkunan looked at him, he continued, “But the girl has a cinema background which kindled my curiosity. A Death Under Suspicious Circumstances was filed, but that was the end. Her death was labelled an accident. Isn’t it…”

“So, you mean to say nothing is an absolute accident. No child of a big shot is allowed to die by accident?”

Kathir did not know what to say.

“Understand this first, you two.”

“It was Kathir’s idea, sir, not mine,” Mohan protested.

“Whatever. Stop questioning everything around you. That is the thumb rule. Nine times out of ten, you are not dealing with subjects and suspects, but people, like you and me, and such people do not like to be questioned the way you’ve done today. Did you even imagine what sorrow your questions would evoke in that businessman’s family when you went to his house? You need to weigh the damage your actions can cause.”

Kathir did not take his eyes off his professor. There was a long pause before he began. “True, sir. I think I’ve learnt a valuable lesson here. I’ll go find the CCTV camera for the project.”
———————————————————————————————

A faint bit of excitement struck Kathir when he wore his sandals, but he decided to ignore it.

He checked his watch. “The tea was so good there.”

“What? You just heard what the man said, right? We are not going back to that case. Moreover, I had coffee just now.”

“I never said about taking the case again. That’s done, it’s just that we both loved the tea, and why should a bad day stop me from getting good tea?”

Mohan could not convince him otherwise.

At the tea stall, Kathir’s eyes were fixed on the bungalow, looking into a glass pane that showed a flight of stairs inside.

“Kathir, I’m telling the Professor,” Mohan warned.

Kathir ordered a tea and sipped it leisurely. “It’s not as you think, Mohan. It’s over, I promise. It’s just…”

A guy in a stained shirt, riding a tricycle of gas cylinders, stood at the gate of the bungalow. The watchman let him in. Mohan frowned. He couldn’t fathom what Kathir had set up.

A few minutes later, as the two watched on from the tea stall, the boy struggled up the steps dragging the cylinder, with the woman close behind. When he re-appeared behind the glass pane, coming down, he showed Kathir the thumbs-up gesture.

Mohan sighed, “What in fuckin’ hell does that mean?” His words were more curious than angry.

Minutes later, the boy casually drove his tricycle out of the bungalow and stopped at the tea stall. His face did not show any sign of familiarity even when he walked past Kathir to order tea. He settled on the bench and ran through the newspapers.

“That’s the face I always wish I can put on while investigating,” Kathir whispered.

Before he went, the boy left a smart phone on the bench next to his half complete tea glass.

After the boy was gone from the place, Kathir filled his seat, and casually put the phone into his pocket.

Mohan tried not to sound curious. “What did the guy do with your phone? Photos?”

“Remember what Sarkunan sir said? We must forget what happened here. This case is over, Mohan. We shall burn this phone… Or better, use Factory Reset, huh?”

Mohan’s ego hesitated to beg him further.

Kathir took some time to finish his tea, pondering pensively about something, and left the empty glass beside the boy’s half-complete one.

He took the phone from his pocket and turned to Mohan. “Do you want to know what’s in this?”

Some two feet behind them, inside the tea stall, a guy of about twenty-two stood with a cigarette between his fingers wondering what details these two strange men could have collected from his house.

———————————————————————————————

Memoir of the Forgetful (A Web Series) #1

PROLOGUE:

The gentlemen stood blank. Their device had picked the first signal in ten months. Too Late. Things were falling apart. They hoped this wasn’t bad news.

The Officer scratched his head in confusion. ‘The signal is from his gadget. No doubt. But Sir…’ He recollected his thoughts and continued. ‘This does not completely match his gadget’s signal transmission range. Though most of the received signal is in the range, the rest looks like it has been added which could mean interception and decryption of his messages before they reached us. And curiously, the presence of these additional signals is uneven’.

‘Then how did our device detect an out of range signal’, the first gentleman quipped.

‘Well… It falls within our tolerance range sir. Not too off the mark’, The Officer answered, quite ridiculed by it himself.

The Officer continued, ‘So the interceptor possibly didn’t know that our device had a transmission band?’

The first gentleman spoke again, ‘Rubbish. Anyone intercepting this signal would have unmistakably identified the uniformity. So we assume the other option’.

The second gentleman completed, ‘The interceptor wanted to establish his presence‘.

‘Try finding what the additional signal corresponds to’, the first Gentleman said. Though this had turned out to be one tight mission with very little time to spare, the three men in the room were immensely educated to not make blunders out of rush. They liked to play things slow and, more importantly, safe.

Though the signal contained plenty of these off-the-mark ones, the Officer selected the first one and clicked icons so fast that it seemed random. Now he had better riddles to solve. ‘The message is 8 words of text with two pictorials in-between Sirs’.

There was a moment of silence. The last thing they wanted to see was their dead ‘leader’ and a threat message. The message wasn’t any better though.

“If you call it galileo   then I’m newton ’s Observer “.

The first scientist, the physicist, was the only one to decipher the two signatures instantly. If he hadn’t, he had no eligibility to stand in that innovative place. ‘Galileo’s and Newton’s’, he thought about the signatures. Yet, he didn’t want to make mistakes of memory.

He waited as the Officer searched for the two signatures and found matches instantly. The other two looked lost.

‘The Interceptor knows a lot. A hell a lot about us’, the second Gentleman, the All-powerful, thought.

The Officer started aloud, ‘There is something else. The message came farther from where he was sent’. Just plain faces this time. They were just recovering from the message and this one hit them off guard. ‘Now show the other part of the message supposedly from the President’, said the first gentleman, the Professor.

‘Not a message sir, more of an essay. Five pages of text. And Sirs, the in-between signals are clearly poetic’, the Officer said.

‘Poetry?’ The physicist vented. He knew poetry was definitely the President’s favourite piece of art. He suddenly felt a surge of hope. ‘Was the President too pleased with the proceedings? But then, it shouldn’t have been in the out-of-range part’ he thought.

‘He was well informed that the messages had to be short. This can’t be from the President. Even at an utmost emergency he’d simply follow the protocol’, the All-Powerful said with a voice that flickered between trust and suspicion.

‘I’m afraid’ The Officer murmured without taking his eyes off the gigantic screen. The second Gentleman’s gaze flickered through the page of text spotting a poetic part in the middle before it finally hit the first line.

‘Holy Shit!’ the All-Powerful cursed for the first time in a decade.

The three lost even the slightest hopes they had. They felt like staring at a sky high white wall.

‘So five pages is all we’ve got?’ The All-powerful enquired suddenly feeling it was not enough.

‘We had only two pages of data ten minutes ago. It is being sent in parts’ The Officer said still petrified by the first line.

‘So what do we do? Keep reading an encyclopaedia of text? Don’t we have action waiting to be taken’ The Physicist’s ego protested. 

‘Is there an alternative?’ the All-powerful erupted. He was too preoccupied to be at his dignified best.

After a few exchanges of looks and fear, the three, with no other immediate alternate, stared at the screen. The Physicist felt a blood curling chill all of a sudden. He cursed himself. ‘You enjoyed the Nobel. Now take its complimentary.’

THE MESSAGE:

I lay with no recollection of where I was. A troubling feeling of hallucination gripped my thinking. As my eyes adjusted to the high contrast of the orange-ish sky above, I doubted my vision. My eyes saw the two sources that supplied this place. Astrophysicists would call this wonder a Binary System. ‘A system of two ‘suns’ orbiting their centre of mass’ reminded my mind. I painstakingly lifted my head pushing my hands on the ground which felt more like rubber. My eyebrows hindered most of the view. Even then,The place’ looked sylvan and breathtakingly colourful. It was a garden of colourful flowers I hadn’t seen anywhere my entire life. My head fell back to the ground. My body felt numb. Before I closed my eyes, to the best of my memory, I saw a small bright fly.

There on the bare floor,

Slept your dear hero,

Not in the comfort of his room,

Not with his Earthly mind,

But In some land far away,

Far from his legendary memory,

Farther from his homeland,

In the Traveller’s Inn,

Which you call Galileo.

 An ocean of thoughts, dreams, sounds, hatred, violence, stars, planets, Physics, happiness and arrogance flipped like the pages of an album. I woke up to a melodious sound. The sound of rushing wind. This time I was sure I wasn’t dreaming. The hallucinating feeling was gone.

I tried to stand up, my body resisting the sudden work my muscles were required to perform to get me upright. The floor’s softness kept poking my curiosity. After a few steps of laboured walking, I yielded to my desire to try jumping on this rubbery ground. This is one hell of a dream. The jump immediately took me some 10 feet upward. Air borne, I wondered what units people used on this planet for distance. The possibility of not landing on the ground loomed large. Midway down, I let out a loud cry. The cry gave me a feeling that I was indeed enjoying. I wondered if any Earthian physicist, Newton in particular, could ever be trusted in this strange place. My nose touched the ground 5 seconds later. I fell flat on the ground, face down, completely unhurt. I tried it a few more times, shouting an extra decibel each time. Adrenaline consumes glucose. I may need it later. This activity better wait.

            I went down on my knees to examine a curiosity invoking multi-coloured flower. The stem was as slender as a rose’s. On it stood a flower, which looked dense and heavy. I touched it. This could only be felt. Not described. I pulled the plant up with the fear that it would indeed trigger a Hydrogen Bomb. Even that wouldn’t surprise me given the things I had seen the past few minutes. There are only two possibilities. Either I’m dreaming or… I’ve gone nuts. The plant had stood on the ground. It had stood on the ground. I meant what I said. It had no roots. The VIBGYOR of the flower was why I was examining that in particular. Otherwise, I’d have gone for those black ones or better, the shining gold ones.

All of a sudden, a strange fragrance took hold of my olfactory. The smell grew larger each passing second. I had the feeling this would suffocate me to death. A few choking seconds later, the smell seemed to have got to the acceptable range of my olfactory. The fragrance reminded me of a song people loved in my world. I felt a sudden warmth. Warmth I had never felt before. My shoulders felt easier. Her hands had eased them. I turned to see her.

Struck by her immense beauty and the depths her eyes took me, I wished this dream continued at least for a few more days. She then leaned onto my shoulder. The first women I’m ever touching. She guided my hand onto her waist. It was the endorphins this time. I knew what next to do. Walk. I see movies.

They walked like the hopeless Romantic,

Though he felt like a lost lunatic.

In this dreamy a place,

They walked with the slowest pace.

Two stars are less calm a sight,

Than a full moon on a breezy night.

‘Haven’t you still not got back your memory? What is the last thing you remember?’ she asked me rapidly. I gave it a thought. I could remember graduating from college, then, receiving my first salary, almost dying at the hands of Tuberculosis and finally, Riya’s death. I was sure that was my last memory. Before I could speak, ‘So Riya’s… is all that you remember?’ she asked. As if all this mind-reading, rubber flooring and the twin stars weren’t enough, I understood the language unmistakably. It was my mother tongue, Tamil. Her voice brought back memories of a jungle safari I undertook, when, I couldn’t place. The waterfalls, the lovely spotted deer, the smell of pristine greenery and the chilled body of dead Pinto, my cat. We walked for a few more moments as slowly as I could because I kept thinking about my last memory. Riya’s death was the last chronologically. But I had a feeling that it happened long ago.

I was completely unsure why I didn’t ask her questions. I must have asked her a million by now. She felt home.

Don’t wanna ask me where you are, who I am, what you are doing here and why you are bald?’. I checked my head and looked at her.

Well. To begin with, to answer where you are, you are at Atuka. It is a planet by the way. To be precise, it is some other planet other than the Earth. If some fellow Atukan asked me where he was I’d have said “The Windfield” though I don’t even have to ’.  As my ears listened, my eyes were busy studying her. She looked completely Earthian and was wearing a saree with a few bangles on her right hand and simple ear-rings hung from both her ears. That should have been why I felt home with her.

To answer who I am’, she continued ‘I’m just one of the 1.5 billion Atukans, and am a descendant of migrants from Earth. Well, a lot of species, races and life forms live here. A total of 53 unique ones so far. As to what you are doing here or why you are bald, I have no idea and you should tell me that. Ya. I know you have forgotten a lot or maybe even the reason why you came here but just try.’ My memory felt intact and perfect except when I tried to think past Riya.

You said you are a descendant of people from the Earth’ I pressed. She answered ‘Yes. I am. My great grandparents were offered a place here and that was too much to refuse even back then. They hated the Earth because science was unwelcome there. Religion eclipsed Science. They had migrated some 400 years ago. You guys didn’t know things like ‘codes’ that decide who we are and that they are they are passed through parents.’ ‘We now know that and we call your ‘codes’, Genes’ I thought. ‘Ya. Genes you call that this late? When my grandparents came here, Atuka was doing ‘assisted Code enrichment’ by which we disabled or created new sections of codes and improved ourselves. My Grandfather said he hardly had an IQ of 150 when he came here. When my father conducted those IQ tests, I scored 320’. She said with a matter-of-fact tone. What is 13301 times 11056?’ I asked. ‘One four seven O five five eight five six’ she said almost instantly. Though I did not have a calculator to verify her answer, I knew that was right, because the answer was a turning point in my life (on Earth) and I’ll never forget that. It was, by the way, my first lesson in failure.

Is that how you are able to read my mind?’ I asked. ‘Most Probably’ she said and I could detect something absurd in her. I might not have an IQ of 320 but I definitely knew something was amiss. That was my instinct, something that DNA will never explain. ‘Human instincts have to be trusted’ is what I’d always tell myself when I faced dilemmas in my life. I never did that and that was the primary reason for my miserable life (Yeah. On Earth). ‘For a change’ I thought and asked her, ‘Are you capable of reading any life form’s mind or is it just humans’. ‘Humans, I do well. Other species I’m not very familiar.’ She said now sounding in control. It was the better-luck-next-time moment and I had to stop it there.

(To be continued)

This post was made a response to the Weekly Writing challenge