On the eve of the New Year of 2005, myself, Papun, and her younger brother Ishaan were chatting on the terrace of their apartment. It was a cold winter night and the terrace was quite airy making us feel the chills. Suddenly, Ishaan noticed a jute gunny bag behind us. It seemed as if there was something heavy packed inside it. He noticed reddish marks beneath the sack. He went near the sack to take a proper look and we followed him. There was indeed a reddish mark.
The light in the terrace was not proper, only a yellow bulb was flickering yet we were convinced that what we saw was a reddish mark. Ishaan went and tried to move the sack a bit and exactly then the heavy sack toppled and a red border of a sari popped out of the sack. The edge of the sari was enough to freak our little brother out, he screamed out in horror “laaaaashhh” (dead body) and immediately started running down the stairs. The remaining two of us stood there baffled for some time and then we also followed him.
Papun was my best friend in University. We shared a special bond as both of us lost our mothers pretty early in life. Papun was crazy, witty and full of life. Her fragile body was always full of action. I did few of the craziest things in life with her. Out of many incidences the one that stands out is the one am going to narrate.
It was 31st of December; Papun invited me to spend the New Year’s Eve with her as she was going to be alone in the house. Well, not exactly alone because her kid brother would also be there. With Papun I always used to dangle in a state of uncertainty as in many previous occasions she had ditched me. ‘Ditch’ would be a strong word, basically she used to forget her appointments whenever something more interesting came up. For example, once she planned a movie with me. I got ready and reached the theater hall and she was nowhere to be seen. Those were the pre-historic days when mobile phones were not rampant. I kept waiting. The movie screening also started and she was yet not there. Finally I went to a nearby PCO and dialled her home number. Ishaan picked up the phone and said “Didi to Shantiniketan berate geche, tomay boleni?” (Sister has gone on a vacation to Shantiniketan, did she not tell you?) Later when I met her in University I felt like strangling her but looking at her innocent giggles my heart melted. Instead of scolding her I joined in her giggles.
On 31st, I reached her house after University. Thankfully she was home and was also cooking dinner for me. At dinner we had hot steaming rice with chicken curry that she had made. I had no idea she was such a good cook. After the sumptuous dinner we sat down to talk. Her house used to be full of books and I loved the smell of books that always emanated from her rooms. It was almost 11pm and midnight was approaching. We decided to go to the terrace to usher in the New Year. We took a bottle of Pepsi and a packet of potato chips and went to the terrace to have our own small New Year party.
Then after a while of chatting on the terrace and gulping down couple of glasses of pepsi and half a packet of chips, Ishaan saw the “laaaaashhh” (dead body) and all of us immediately started running down the stairs. We came hurriedly down the stairs and after entering the house sat on the sofa and started panting.
We were convinced that it was a dead body inside the gunny bag. We now tried to figure out the victim and the murderer. Papun said that the couple who lived on the third floor fought regularly; we alleged the husband must have killed and put the wife in a gunny bag on the terrace. He was just waiting for the right opportunity when he could dispose the body in some forest or lake. We started thinking whether to inform the police or call the building security. Even in a cold winter night we started sweating. Papun said we were now the primary witness in this murder case, we would be dragged to court to give evidence. In a moment we visualised the court room scene similar to Hindi films.
Lawyer: Where were you in the night of 31st ?
One of us: Me lord, we were drinking Pepsi and stale potato chips on the terrace
Lawyer: Only Pepsi or Pepsi and vodka?
One of us: Me lord, only Pepsi
Lawyer: Who saw the dead body?
One of us: All of us
Lawyer: You bunch of liars. How could you see a dead body? You must have seen a body that was dead.
Our thought process was now following a zigzag bizarre pattern. We were both thrilled and scared. We even imagined ourselves giving interview on Khaash Khabar. In those days Khaash Khabar used to be the most popular television news show, which usually pioneered in showing bizarre stories that later on became the trend of Bengali as well as Indian Television. In a quick moment we also planned to change clothes before the TV crew arrived and wear something good so that we look presentable on TV. It was our first time on TV, so we better look good.
While we were thinking all this, someone rang the doorbell. None of us were brave enough to get up. Ishaan said in a hushed tone “What if the police think we committed the murder?” he paused and said “Our fingerprints are all over that place, and our Pepsi bottle, cups and packet of chips are also there. The police might think we ate and then killed and came down.”
This was a new thought that had earlier not crossed our mind. This scared the life out of us. All three came close to each other as we were now sure that it was the police hunting us. From hero we turned to zero in a fraction of minute. The door bell rang again. We opened the door carefully trying not to make much noise. Like typical murder stories the door creaked when we opened it. The watchman was standing in front of the door. He looked at us angrily and asked in an accusatory tone “chader dorja tomra khule rekhe esecho?” (Did you guys keep the terrace door open and come down)
We guiltily nodded our heads. Now we were completely trapped, there is another witness who knew we had gone to the terrace. I felt my throat was parched; I tried to utter something but couldn’t hear a single sound coming out from my mouth. Ishaan calmly asked, even though I could hear his voice was also trembling a bit, “Watchman Kaku, chade tank er niche, ekta bosta pore ache..”( Watchman Uncle, there is a gunny bag on the terrace under the tank) he couldn’t complete the sentence, the watchman said “Hain, ota Lal Sir er barir toshok chire geche, tai chaade rekheche, balishwala ele natun banabe oi tulo diye.” ( Ya, that is the mattress of Lal Sir, it is torn so they have kept it on the terrace so that when the mattress maker come they can make a new one)
This anti-climax ruined our every hope and also all our trepidation. From a scintillating murder mystery it turned into the mundane story of a torn mattress. From becoming the centre of a sensational media coverage we were back to being ‘good for nothing’.