|Courtesy: Dr_Zoidberg (Licensed under Creative Commons)|
Fortunately, I lived alone and hence was spared reliving the dramatic events that followed Suvarna's death with my co-dwellers everyday. My family lived far away in Chennai and I had told them nothing about the suicide next door. I told them nothing of the scores of visitors, pretending to be relatives but merely wanting to scan the site of a murder like vulturous sadists. I never breathed a word about the cops who questioned me repeatedly until I wanted to plunge a knife into their uniform-covered paunches. I said nothing of coworkers pumping me for details and reacting with indignant anger at my studied reticence. All I told them was that the apartment next to me was no longer occupied and I was spared those awkward neighbourly smiles and stilted conversations that we are forced to have whenever we bump into those people who live a few feet away from us and yet mean nothing in our lives.
The worst part about apartment number 13 was the incessant ringing of the telephone. For some reason, their telephone was still active. Considering the blaring inefficiencies with which literally every system in this country operates, I shouldnt have been surprised. The bills kept piling up at the door but the phone stayed alive. Hadnt anyone informed the telephone company that there had been a death in that house and the tenants had moved out? Some days I would grow so frustrated listening to that persistent electronic sound from beyond the wall that I would contemplate marching up to the telephone office myself. I pictured myself looking at them with absolute disdain and the sarcastic tone in which I informed them that Apartment 13 had been vacated. But I never got around to doing it. I didn't have to because suddenly one rainy monsoon day, Apartment 13 was no longer empty.
Before you start thinking that ghosts had taken the tragedy-stricken family's place, let me assure you that they didn't. It was a lone stranger like myself that moved into the apartment next door. I was fast asleep since I went to work only around noon when the shrill ring of the doorbell had me walking groggily to the door. A tall, lanky man stood bearing a box of sweets and shuffling from one foot to the other awkwardly. "I'm told that this is what I'm supposed to do since I've just moved in here!" he declared. I chuckled croakily, taking in his rough, dark complexion and long hair in disarray. They were in complete contrast to the docile box of pedas he held out. "Don't you know by now that you should never do as 'they' say?" I said, making quotation marks in the air for 'they'. He merely looked confused. "Okay, come on in," I invited, surprising myself. You must have met my type. The kind that never lets a 'hi' turn into a real conversation or a neighbour turn into a friend. Yet, there I was, inviting this veritable stranger into my home. I didn't even have any proof that he really had moved in next door, though the casual kurta and trousers he wore sort of tipped me off. "Sure, thanks," he said and he smiled. That smile upon his rough-edged face nearly took my breath away. Like water on a smooth marble floor or a muslin cloth upon a table of wood, that smile stole across his face and transformed it to beauty.
--To be continued--