The Girl Who Died Next Door - 6

There was hell to pay with my friend. And also the inevitable suspicion when I mentioned that I had spent the   evening with my neighbour instead. As it is, the sexual connotations of attractive neighbours are legendary. So I hemmed and hawed my way through our murky conversation and heaved a sigh of relief when she finally let me off the hook. Niyati could be immensely dogged in her persistence of the truth, especially when it came to me. Later in the day, Suvarna made her ghostly presence felt in a disturbingly inescapable manner. I was at the terrace above our office, sipping on Irish coffee and watching the construction workers atop a building in the distance. What really is the difference between stunts, adventure sports and construction work, I wondered. Out of the three, the last is actually the most productive, and I imagined, equally life-threatening and exhilarating. Yet, the profession never got its due, instead being relegated to the ranks of mundane, menial labour. We have strange standards and even stranger definitions. "Lord knows how they even call that stuff Irish coffee," my boss rasped, his voice permanently hoarse thanks to the incalculable number of cigarettes he smoked. I sighed imperceptibly and turned to nod at my ever-blasé Editor. "It's better than the Cappuccino," I said mildly. He was an impressive-looking man, tall and broad-built with distinguished salt and pepper hair and chunky red and black spectacle frames that added a hint of the eccentric. Viewers loved watching Anant Narayan on screen because he was focussed and opinionated without being overtly passionate. He made you gauge the forcefulness of his points from his eyes and his gestures rather than the tone of his voice. But as my boss, I often wished he would exhibit more enthusiasm and less criticism for my ideas. "We've been mulling over a special episode for Realty Check on how tragedy affects the value of real estate," he said. Uh oh, I knew where this was leading. "And I recalled you mentioning something about a girl that committed suicide in your neighbouring flat. Think you could dig up the details and perhaps arrange for an interview with the family?" Oh, don't you think that's a little callous, I wanted to ask. But all I said was, "We could speak to the present occupant." Anant's eyebrows rose in surprise. "They found a new tenant so soon? This could be the one exception to the trend," he mused. "Actually the occupant didn't know about the history of the flat when he rented it. But he was not perturbed even when he found out," I said. "Interesting. Handle this part of the episode then. Coordinate with Taruni," the boss said brusquely and left me alone with my Irish coffee and the intrepid construction workers in the distance. The only silver lining I could see was that this would give me a legitimate reason to spend time with Shayan.

After lunch, I curled up in my car for my customary afternoon catnap. I was used to the surreal, disturbing dreams that usually kept me company in my sleep during this time but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day. I saw that sweet, young face, heartbreakingly guileless and carefree and then I saw her eyes fly open in terror and nearly explode out of her face as the oily servant man snaked a rope around her neck and tightened it, the fibers fraying, her veins bulging, until those eyes fell shut, and that beautiful face slumped forward, inert, dead. I saw the satisfied, sadistic smirk snake across his leering face and I woke up, wanting to retch. The harsh afternoon sunlight streaming into my car helped me calm down as I marvelled at my twisted imagination. Of all the things to reconstruct, it had to be Suvarna's death. A girl who never even gave me the time of day. So why did I even care? I could feel the glimmer of a thought lurking right beneath my conscious mind but I couldn't quite grasp at it and the thought slipped away.

I wrapped up so late at work that day that my eyes were blurry, my bones weary and I had no idea what time it was when I finally headed home. All I was aware of was a burning desire to see Shayan. Common sense told me not to knock on his door so late in the night, yet again. But common sense be damned, said my hungry self. And I rang the bell.

"Well, if it isn't the subject of my portrait-to-be," smiled Shayan. He didn't look like he had been sleeping, I noted in vague relief. The smell of him made me want to sink into his arms and inhale deeply. "You look beat," he continued. I realised that it was time I said something. Instead, I stepped right into him, shut the door, and kissed the breath out of him.

I don't know where the bravado came from and I had no desire to question it. Perhaps it was my extreme tiredness which had blunted my inhibitions, rather like alcohol. But I wrapped my arms around his neck and I let my fingers rake his hair while I poured myself into his seductive lips, revelling in the feel of his body against mine and the uniquely intoxicating scent of his skin. In a matter of mere seconds, my body was wracked with intolerable desire, stoked further by his aggressive response to my kiss. I moaned when Shayan bit my lip, his hands moulding the flesh of my back near painfully. "So you do want me," I murmured when we finally paused, spent from consuming each other. He stroked my cheek gently, sending shivers rippling through my skin, denying me the satisfaction of a reply.

--To be continued--