Being a star of the small screen affords you a couple of comforts, in this country. Recognition, definitely. But the real perks are the corners that you manage to cut by having access to all the right people in all the right places. It also helps to have a father and uncles on both sides of the family in positions of power across the lines of the state judiciary, legislative and executive. By 4 pm, I had enough background information, with more of it reaching me in fits and starts, as I rushed to Kilivalam to meet him.
Jonathan. Back in high school, that name use to send all the girls into a drop-dead faint. He was voted “Most Likely To Rule The World” at our graduation ceremony. Everything he touched turned to gold, or so it seemed. Most of all, though, he was a very good friend, my best friend, and if there was anyone in this world that I would turn to in my time of dire need, it was him. It was the same for him as well. But, even at this late hour, he hadn’t knocked on my door for help.
We’d been in touch until about a year ago. Before that, if I remembered correctly, he called me up out of the blue on Christmas two years prior. We were like that, getting in touch at a really random moment and intermittently, with a gap of about a year or two. But we always knew that the other person was doing alright and living a good life. In fact, when we last spoke, he was very excited because he was very much in love. “She’s the woman of my dreams, man,” he had said. Now, on my way to prison to see him, those words rang out, over and over again. Such happiness. Such joy. And now this?
“Sir,” the driver chimed in, “Would you like to stop for some chai? Something to eat?”
I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize he was around.
“Uh, no thanks Soman. I’m not feeling hungry or thirsty. Let’s just get there as soon as we can, ok?” I added at the end, as if to remind him of his purpose. I couldn’t think of anything else, except seeing Jonathan.
“Ok sir. Sorry sir,” said Soman, in cowering apology almost, indicating that he had understood his distraction was not appreciated.
My poor Jon. Jonny to everyone else, those who thought it was “cool” to call him that. But to me, he would always be Jon. When everything had been said and done, and the day had come to a close, Jon and I would sit around campus and shoot the breeze. He’d talk about the usual stuff, occasionally letting me into his real world, where there were problems at home, or with his newest girlfriend. That’s the Jon I remembered. And, that’s the Jon that came flooding back to my mind every time I thought of him. It made trying to accept the facts surrounding the present situation all the more unbearable.
Kilivalam, or “Kili Town” as the locals fondly referred to it was a haven for tourists. It had nightclubs and beach parties for the young, and a yacht club and seaside coffee shops for the old. It catered to the rich and the poor alike, and though there had once been a “Tourist Season” to mark the arrival in droves of people from all over the world, the season was pretty much a perennial state of affairs now. It was such an idyllic little paradise, that if even a whiff of crime or the intent to commit any misdemeanor was sniffed out, the authorities swooped down and nipped it in the bud. I suppose, then, that it was a matter of enforcing the law when on a Sunday morning six months ago, a bed-and-breakfast owner made a frantic call to the police. He was reporting a murder. Apparently, a lovely couple, soon to be husband and wife no less, had checked in two nights before. When he went upstairs on the morning of the third day to give them their scheduled wake up call, he turned white and froze. There, through the door, he saw the man sitting on the floor with his head on his knees, rocking back and forth ever so slightly, muttering to himself. And his bride-to-be, well, she was laying there next to him, her feet still on the bed, lifeless, and staring at the ceiling with her bright blue, but now empty eyes. It was an open and shut case. The man was of Indian origin, and his alleged girlfriend was carrying a foreign passport. I remembered glancing at the “Murder in Peaceful Tourist Town” headline and not thinking anything of it enough to read furthers. If I had, I would have discovered that Jon had taken his fiancée to Kilivalam for a short holiday, before going to go visit his parents.
Inexplicable. A word people use to show that any attempt at explanation is futile. This time, I’d have to agree with them. Try as I might, I couldn’t begin to unravel any of the potential answers to the endless sea of questions storming through my head.
“Sir. Sir,” Soman called out twice, just in case I hadn’t heard him the first time. “We are here.”
I looked up as we passed the large black arch with the name of the facility painted in absolute white letters across it, a simple but effective reminder of what lay beyond. We didn’t even stop to give the officer at the gate our name or purpose of visit. Even if it weren't for the fact that he recognized the vehicle as being the DGP's jeep, it would have been hard to talk to him, saluting the stiffest most unwavering salute he could muster, as we drove past his guardhouse. We were here indeed. But, if I had been waiting to get here all this while, now that I was here, I didn’t know what to say or do. What would I talk to Jon about? What would I ask him? Would I be able to look at him? Would he talk to me at all? I stepped out of the jeep, and walking up to the driver, I handed him 500 bucks.
“Oh no, Sir. Why? It’s ok…” and on Soman went to tell me that this financial gratitude was out of order, and that he was more than happy to serve me, his master’s nephew, without any pay if that was the case.
I quickly cut him off with a, “Keep it. And get yourself some dinner too. I’m going to be here for a while.” His reluctant acceptance of the money belied all the stories I had heard about him nicking food from the pantry to feed his large family. Like clockwork, and once he realized that overdoing the act would result in my withdrawing the offer, he hurriedly, but carefully, folded the note and put it in his shirt pocket.
“I will waiting over there in the parking area, sir. You please don’t worry. I will right over there,” he kept repeating, as if I was three years old. But before he could finish I was already making my way through the front door, to meet the inspector in charge. Oh Jon. Oh man.
Continue reading - "In The End: Deliberation"