We all were asked to assemble in the main room. There was an important announcement that the jailer wanted to make. I was seated in the corner quietly watching all the inmates gather, some had handcuffs while others walked on their own accompanied by armed cops. All of us had a similar uniform, half torn and dirty khaddar pants and shirts with our respective numbers on them. There was a specialty about us prisoners that we did not want any disturbances in the daily routine and preferred to stay behind the bars, as I believed it gave us our own space. A space that we needed desperately to think; for some it was all about what and how it all went wrong and for some it was about befriending other inmates and discussing their modus operandi. This type of exchange of talent too was prevalent in the prison. The only thing common about us was we were sentenced to death; so, all of us knew some day or the other the knock of death would come and get us out of that small prison where we felt safer and Kingly. I could sense the smell of it nearing as the nervousness was running among all of us. Those who could not take it, cursed the cops, for them they were the sons of bitches who wanted to disturb that eternal slumber and made them face the bitter reality called death.
When all the men were gathered, a few police women came up to the jailor and asked him if it was comfortable to let the women prisoners in. I could hear them speak as I was the last or for that matter first prisoner in the queue, 3330. I was taken aback; I had never known that we had women in the prison. Nobody had seen a woman inmate here and this all came as a shock to me. Having seen a woman after a long time, the prisoners went mad, some started shouting, whistling to allure her but she seemed a strict cop as she just looked up touching the pistol tied down to her belt, and everyone was quiet. After she left the jailer asked us to move back a little and make some space for women prisoners. Everyone welcomed the idea of having women and there was a round of applause. I smiled at myself; last time I had seen a woman was a few years ago before I was taken to the prison here. It was in the court, she was a reporter who fiercely questioned my practice as a therapist. My smile dried away, and the entire bad dream was back in place, that reporter reminded me of the girl who had killed herself and it was her murder that I was accused of. I became restless. My heart began to beat faster, I was furious at the idea of being in a prison when I should be out practicing and talking people out of their problems. But here I was in a bigger problem, a problem that only death had a solution to, death was going to talk me out of it and walk me out of my life. A permanent solution, I thought. But there was no point in mourning over this; I had done it till date and the only solution was to wake up the next day to realize that your life has not moved even an inch and you have all your life to think about it.
I got back to my senses and saw a few women walk silently in the main room. They wore similar color like us but Salwaar kameez, torn and ugly. Most of them had their hair half cut; it looked as if the hair has not been combed for ages. One by one they all marched in right opposite to us leaving a passage for the Chief to address us. There were not many of them. But they all looked as if they have just been through a dozen of domestic chores and that they have now been forced to come here.
Opposite of me was a girl, who looked in her mid twenties, her hair was disturbed but long. I could see that her hair was flossy before she got here. She was fair, and had sharper features unlike her other inmates. She was beautiful. A shower and another clean Salwaar kameez would make her the most stunning woman I saw till date. She was probably shy of looking up at everyone around us, there could be someone who had seen her outside, someone who knew her, who would be surprised to know where she is and might just go and tell someone about it. ‘Oh my God! I saw her in the prison, I did not know she would be there or any such bullshit. But there was no scope for this gossip here. Everybody who was in was not going anywhere but back to the small room he or now she too is put in. I saw her move her head in a denial; suddenly she looked up, watching all of us men, looking at her with hungry eyes. This was the time I got to see her eyes, she had the most incredibly gorgeous eyes, they were black and there was something more to it. I was looking right into her eye, when our eyes met; she looked at me for a while and then looked at the jailer then back at me only to find out that I was still staring at her, with an amusement. She was really a pretty girl and she did not deserve to be in prison. My heart began beating faster, I was drawn to her, I wanted to keep looking at her, and I wanted to know about her. The therapist in me pulled his socks to find out more, I started studying every expression on her face to look for a small hint, I wanted her to look into my eye, so that I can have a better idea, she was my new client and for an instance I forgot that I was in a prison not to meet a client but I am an inmate here, being punished for no god damn fault of mine. I could not take it. For her, I wanted another life, I knew I could talk her out, probably with the help of best lawyers I could get her out of this and start another life with her, I wanted to be free, I wanted her to be free, and I wanted another life to live, for her, with her. I felt low at my helplessness.
My array of thoughts was broken when the Chief cleared his throat. He coughed looking at all of us and then began,
‘As you all know boys, (and girls, I thought, looking at her), what we do when we see a cockroach in our home? Anybody?’ He asked raising his hand at us one by one for an answer.
‘We smash that son of a bitch!’ said one from behind, and everyone laughed including the chief. I was still staring at her to see how she smiled. But she didn’t, neither did I.
‘So are you my friend, aren’t you? A sun of a bitch, a cockroach for our society I believe.’ The chief said smiling with pride for his statement and looking at other jailers for a response. They nodded with applaud. Then he continued,
‘We are going to smash you one by one, but now no, there will be two at a time. From now on, we’ll smash two of you on the same day. One from you he said pointing at us and one from you said waving hardly at women. And we have two special people here today, a woman, a beauty with brains who had conspired to kill a man, our fellow, for no fault boys.’
The word beauty made me look at her, I could see her bosom fill with breath, and I could sense she was nervous, breathing harder. I was wondering if he was talking about her, if it was her then all my plans were in vain, my dreams of getting her out were shattered. I was disappointed. The chief further continued to speak, as everyone now heard with more concentration, it could be anyone of us who has neared his death.
‘Not just that, we have another man, a gentleman, who usually talks people out of their problems, but he talked a girl out of her life and walked in the prison holding himself in his hands.’ To this dialogue almost everyone in the prison laughed to the fullest. It was none of their turn, it was mine. The jailer had spoken about me, my day had finally come. All others laughed because their death was postponed for some reason, they had some more days of life, a life that would see no change at all but still, it mattered, there could be an escape, so they welcomed it. My life was over, the hope was gone, I was lost in thoughts, and my eyes were wide open, facing the bitter most reality, my own death. Now for me at least there was no hope. I could never go out, to the outside world, to my office, have clients, understand people’s problems, solve them or at least help finding a solution. Here, now when I was facing a problem, there was no solution to it. The problem itself was a solution. My eyes were filled. I could hear nothing, see nothing, and feel nothing. I was half dead; I was collapsed even before my execution. I managed to look up, wiping the tears off my eyes. The chief was looking at me, smiling, I felt as if I am in a school, he is the teacher who will now punish me for my stupidity. Then send me back home, ask me to never do it again or there will be even stricter punishment. But it was not a school, he was not a teacher. My stupidity had caused the end of it all, an end to all the punishments I could have had. I bit my lower lip harder to make me face it, I realized I was thirsty, my lips were dry, I rolled my tongue over it a few times but there was no water within. It was all dried out. I sighed and looked up at the chief again. This time my eyes met hers, she was crying but not begging for mercy. I was sure she must be fighting a battle inside with herself, battle that I was fighting till now only to lose. So it was all clear by now. Both of us were to be executed tomorrow and we were going to be granted our wishes, given clean clothes to wear. Every wish except escape was granted and escape was the only thing we wished for. The chief waved the other guards to take rest of them away starting from women and asked both of us to follow him to his office. We both had the disbelief, we were facing the moment in life which nobody anticipates.
As we followed the chief, his body language looked drastically changed. He looked more cordial. I had read somewhere that, prisoners before their execution received special treatments. They were made to feel special. It was our time. I never foresaw this moment for myself. As we entered the office, he ushered us to another room inside with an air condition and comfortable sofas. The room reminded me of airport’s waiting lounges. It was neatly kept and had marble flooring with velvet carpets. There was an abstract painting of man whose mouth was wide open and a cloud right above his head that was dark as it was filled with water. The painting was wisely chosen I thought. This room somehow gave me feeling of sickness. There was everything in the room but light, it made me feel low, and I wanted to go out in open, where I could breathe free at least for the night. As we sat, the chief began to speak.
‘We deliberately put two of you together. Your conduct has been good so far.’ He paused and looked at us, then after a second or so, rang the bell on his table and asked the servant to send in two glasses of water. I was watching all this quietly; I was finding it difficult to face her. Till now I was not a criminal but suddenly I had become one and was going to be executed. The chief had been offensive in front of all, but here he was gentle. He said good thing about us. Our conduct was good; I wanted him to say further that we are going to be released. But he didn’t.
‘You know, there was always an ambiguity about both of your cases. There was the other side as it were. That always remained in the dark. Sometimes I feel-‘I intervened before he could finish.
‘Chief, please! Don’t say that. We have learnt to live with it now let us die with it. It hurts.’
‘Oh yes, I should apologize. I am sorry!’ He said grinning sheepishly.
I felt stupidly proud for having a chief jailer apologize to me, that too in front of a woman. I felt better, as she looked at me with respect that I saw in her eyes for the first time. A closer look of her eyes and her face made me irresistible. She was incredibly beautiful.
‘Okay, let us not waste any more time having these discussions.’ He said pouring the chilled water into two glasses for us and added further, ‘Do you have any wishes? Anything you would like to eat, wear, and do? Any place you want to visit? Obviously it should be alright with the department. Take your time and tell me.’
‘The beach, I want to go to the beach!’ she said, looking somewhere down at her toes. She sounded confident. She had a unique voice, a voice that sounded mischievous to me. I liked it immediately. Her words echoed in my mind several times. I tried imagining the line in several other situations to check how she might be sounding in them.
‘What about you Mihir? The chief asked as I looked up at him with surprise. In these many years my name was pronounced for the first time. I felt so good and alive. I liked his calling my name. She knew my name now, I thought.
‘I too want to go to the beach chief!’ I said, her words still echoing in my head.
The chief was laughing excessively, but I ignored him, I was watching her, she did not hesitate nor tried altering the place. She wanted it too, I thought. After all I was not a common prisoner like others; I made difference, just like she did.
We sat with the chief for some more time. He asked us to take shower and offered new clothes. I asked for my jeans, tee and the jacket that I had worn before coming here. I wanted to wear it, have it close to me again. She asked for a clean khaddar Salwaar kameez. She did not want to relive that life, which she left long back. That night we had the supper with the chief and his family. It truly was a special privilege. I knew it. The chief was an old man close to his retirement. He had seen people, from innocents to hardcore criminals; he knew how to differentiate between them. I could sense his helplessness and I also knew that he meant what he was saying earlier. But it truly was very late to discuss any of it. I somehow felt an honor having dined with a man, who understood things. I always had a respect for people who had respect for smaller things in life. He treated us like his own children, Shalini, so was her name, was his daughter’s age I was two years older than her. The fact that, I may have lived 4 important years of my life as a criminal but I was not going to die one made me feel special. My honesty was in the hands of an elegant man, a true gentleman, who I was sure knows the value of it. I forgot about every other fact and enjoyed the time spent with the chief and his family and Shalini. Now it was time for me to know Shalini, more about her, discover her.
We were escorted to the beach in a police van with two guards each. There were two women guards for Shalini. All four were armed. Chief knew we would not run away but he had to do his duty. When we reached the guards made sure the beach was clear enough and made us sit near a pillar. They sat at a distant place, a place from where they wouldn’t miss our sight. This too meant a lot for us.
As we sat there, I sensed our nervousness. We were not made to be alone on beach; we knew each other for a few hours only, till now we were accompanied by the family of a jailer who knew everything about our lives. It was easy to interact when you are surrounded by many people. Being alone with her made it difficult for me to interact. But I was a professional therapist. I exactly knew how to break the ice, how to fill those silent empty spaces. I had to start a conversation and make Shalini feel comfortable. I decide to kick start casually.
‘Shalini, I am sorry, I asked directly that I too want to go along with you.’
‘That’s alright.’ she said and smiled at me. She was playing with the sand. The way, with which she smiled at me, I sensed that she wanted to tell me something, she had something to share but she wanted me to go on. She wanted me to ask questions till she felt comfortable to speak. I was ready to do it. I looked up at the sky, it was a night of full moon and the water sparkled with the light. It looked as if someone has drawn a line of light on the ocean till the other end, till the point one could see and the line started from us, I thought. The sand was clean and there was nobody on the beach except six of us. I added further,
‘I am going to tell you something about myself today. I am sure you won’t regret hearing it.’ As she heard me say this, she smiled wryly at me to make me realize the fact that I was beginning to forget in her company, the fact that there was no time to regret. ‘I know’, I said, ‘we somehow need to live with it.’ This is the wish that has been granted we need to make the most of it.’ I said and smiled at her. She did not respond but kept drawing something on the sand. She looked thoughtful. I felt a gap in the communication for a while, I thought, may be because I am out of touch; there is nothing I have been doing for the past few years. But Shalini was not a client, she was not going to pay me or having a client like her was not going to be fruitful for my business. Everything was going to start now and end at a point which none of us knew. I decided not to think of the end.
‘Please do not take me otherwise, I meant we should talk, lighten our hearts a little. I am sure there is something that you want to tell me about yourself.’ I said.
This time, she rubbed her hands over each other, pushed her hair back into its place and said, looking right into my eye, ‘I thought you were going to tell something about yourself.’
‘Yes of course I am going to tell you. What would you like to know? You know something, in prison, they ask, what are you in for? Do you know what am I in for?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know, the chief was telling something. I overheard it. Are you really a womanizer?’
‘I am not. Perhaps, I have dealt with them with sheer respect. I had a client, a girl in her early twenties who had tried to kill herself but failed. She was involved in a guy, she loved him passionately. He was her life.’
‘Oh, why did she try to commit suicide? The guy must be having another affair, I guess.’
‘You are wrong. The girl was a go-getter. She wanted to own everything she liked and she liked almost any and everything. Her parents wanted me to solve her problem so they took her to my office. When I met her, I knew, it was going to be difficult. I hesitated a bit, but finally took the case. As my regular examinations began, she responded positively. I was happy that she had proved me wrong. But sooner, she started developing a liking for me. I sensed it during our sessions.’ I said looking up at the sky leaning back on the pillar to relax.
‘What about the guy whom she loved?’
‘Her parents told me that she stopped seeing him the moment her treatment started. They did not like him, so they were happy. But somehow how I felt he was better for her unlike her parents. I was later on told that they encouraged her to fall for me. It was not her idea in first place. They wanted a settled man.’
‘Fair enough from her parents’ perspective I think. But how did you know she liked you?’ She said curtly. I looked at her, amazed. She looked back at me tried sounding casual. I nodded and added,
‘Fair enough? Sometimes, a settled man can’t do things that a lover can do. He understood her very well. I could gather that. But her answers made it clear. She wanted to have me in her life. Things got bitter with time, she stopped responding to the treatments, and she had other intentions which I could never cater to.’ This time it was my turn to reply briskly so I did.
‘She deserved you. I agree what a settled man can’t do, can be done by a lover. But a therapist can do it, can’t he? She said biting her lower lip harder to tame her laughter. She looked delightful. I could see the joy on her face for the first time. I did not want it to vanish; I felt I wanted her to smile more and more, till she could. I liked how she laughed my situation out because seriously discussing it was not going to result in any positive manner. I appreciated her attitude. She had given me, a therapist a completely different view of my own problem which suddenly appealed to me. She had actually started making the most of the night on the beach; I thought and decided to continue on the same track.
‘So does that make me eligible to marry each and every female client?’ I said smiling mischievously. She liked my stupid sense of humor in the dialogue and laughed out loud, tapping my hand. I liked the touch of her hand. It was smooth. Prison life had hardly affected the softness of her hand and I could see that prison life had not even touched the softness of her heart. I was watching her laughing, her flossy hair flew rapidly due to the breeze on the beach, she did not bother to push them back as she was busy laughing it out. She looked beautiful. The moonlight lit her face wonderfully that I felt a sudden desire of touching her face, her hair, holding her hand tightly in mine. Most importantly she knew I was looking at her. When she was back to her senses, I asked her about her story, how a girl like her could come to a place which was not made for her.
She was a scholar in the college who studied languages. She knew many of them with expertise that could have taken her to new heights. She was born in a middle class family, where she got an education dominated upbringing. She had an interest in philosophy and used to write her feelings in a dairy. This doubled my respect for her. I was simply mad at her. She had written many poems so far and had an interest in reading as well. Her reading habits had made her fight for her rights, ‘the rights that we women deserve’, as she pointed out. She had attended many campaigns to spread awareness, wrote many articles and was known to be aggressive about it. In her college magazines, as she told me, she wrote extensively to make everyone realize the fact that women existed alongside men in the society. She was truly an activist. But that day had marked a disastrous change in her life. While returning from her college, she saw a man beating his wife to death with an iron rod, she could not see it. Before she could get there, the wife had gotten hold of the iron rod and hit her husband right between his legs. The man was deeply hurt, she hit him few more times, cursing him. After the man was conscious enough he grabbed a bigger stone and caught his wife unaware to hit her harder on the head. Before he could do that, Shalini hit him with the rod on his head and he was unconscious again. Later on the man was found to have been dead. The postmortem reports confirmed that he was dead due to major injuries on the testicle but and as Shalini had hit on the head, which too was not much harder, there was no chance she could have killed him. But the man’s wife backed out of the case and accused Shalini for the same, as he was a cop; they saw to it that she gets the best of punishments. They put severe charges and now she was here. The first thing it did was that the activist in her died. She lost the spirit she once had as she was completely collapsed. The family tried getting her out of it, but they failed and lost the hope. They visited often in the initial days but sooner or later the visits vanished. She was left with her own life. This was a kind of a similarity that I had with her. We were wrongly trapped, deserted and completely lost with our lives. We were living a common life that we did not deserve. But now the period of sorrow, shame was gone. We had lived with this fact for all these years and we had habituated ourselves.
After telling most of the things that were hidden in her heart, she looked lightened to me. She often smiled, touched me casually and responded to me equally whenever I looked into her eye. As the night went on, the sea breeze became colder; I could see she was shivering. I took my jacket off and offered it to her. She hesitated first but took it. She asked me to put it around her. I liked her asking that. Whenever I saw something, I made it a point to appreciate her, and she would reply saying tell me one thing that you don’t like about it me. And I liked her when she said so. With every moment we spent together, we were getting closer; as we spoke we wrote each other’s names on the sand.
She had spoken more than she intended to, she had almost expressed herself that made a constant smile appear on her face which made her look even more attractive. She felt relaxed. We had held each other’s hands tightly leaning back on the pillar. As we leaned back, the breeze made her hair fly heavily, her hair hit my face every now and then and I could smell the shampoo that she had just used. It was delightful feeling. A feeling I thought should be eternal. What else could one desire, I had in my hand the hand of an incredible girl, who had seen the bitter part of life, survived it knowing she was not guilty.
As the temperature began to drop further, she hid herself in my chest, now I was leaning on the pillar and she was leaning on my chest. I pushed her hair back with my hand and looked at her face, tried to think of her more and more. She was with me almost in my arms and still I was nervous about the moment of missing her badly. I felt a longing for her. Her hair played with the air and I kept playing with her hair, I kept pushing it back and caressing her gently. When I sensed she was asleep, I watched her face, pushing that one strand of hair back in its place. She still had that smile. Her grip on my left hand was pretty tight; I did not want to leave her too. I wanted this moment to last forever and ever; I wanted to hold her close to me this way all my life. I kept reiterating whatever she had told me about her life watching her smile, sleep soundly. In such a less time we had come so closer, we had nobody whom we could call our own but we just had both of us who shared the same plight. That attracted us probably, I thought. All night I kept writing our names on the sand; sooner or later a wave would come and wash it away.
After a while, she moved a bit, and I was suddenly awake. I realized I was asleep. I regretted to have slept and missed her sight, but when I saw her looking at me, I was pleased. She was watching me since I was asleep. We had played our parts in the story and now it was life’s part that was yet to be played. As I saw her I looked up at the beach, the Sun was coming up gradually. The rising sun reminded me of the end of it all and the frustration became unbearable for me. I hit my head hard on the pillar and said,
‘The bastards-‘Before I could finish she put her hand on my lips and said with a sleepy voice that sounded sweeter than any sweet dish on the earth.
‘Shh… Don’t say that dear, curses do not suit you, you are a gentleman, my gentleman!’ I could see her eyes filled with pride in saying that. My eyes were filled when she said that. Everyone till date had said that curses were bad and we should not be using them, but she was the only one to have said that they did not suit me. It made me feel special. It had respect in it for me. I liked it. She put a simple thing but very immaculately. Everything about her drew me more and more towards her. It made me want her more and more, I wanted to speak with her everything that I ever wished to tell, I wanted to tell her all the secrets that I hid about myself. I wanted to open the book of my life to her. But her presence and the night on the beach had made me forget that the book of my life was about to finish and I was writing the last chapter of it.
I saw her, as she tightened her grip of my hand and held me close to her with the other; I smiled back at her and held her close to mine with my left hand. As it was cold, I adjusted the coat to make her feel comfortable. We looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments and I gently kissed her on her lips. She smiled at me blinking her eyes and kissed me back on my lips and cheek softly. I realized it was time for us to say whatever that we felt for each other. It was time for us to express it and start a new life together, a life that would have just the two of us, completely free, probably of everything.
As we were nearing the point of saying it, I heard the guards coming closer. One of them tapped on my shoulder from behind and said,
‘It’s time fellows, we got to go, hurry up!’
“I know it is time. It was the time!’ I said it more to myself than to him. ‘If you don’t mind, I would like to walk her out to the prison myself; you shouldn’t have a problem with that!’
As the guard nodded, we began walking back from the beach, back to the bitter truth. We both felt a sudden desire for living another life but the flower was crushed before it could bloom. The fragrance was gone before it could spread. As we walked, I looked back at the pillar, I saw a wave come and wash both our names away from the sand.