November 9, 2019
Viswanathan pushed aside window curtain to catch outer view. He had seen hovering clouds at 6 in the evening. Threatening clouds had made sky as dark as night. It did not rain for last few hours despite overcast condition. Now it was 7:30 pm. Lightening flashed across the sky and clap of thunder followed. He heard the roar of rain.
“Stormy night.” He turned back and looked at his wife.
His wife’s Saraswathi’s eyes were glued to TV screen. She ignored him.
“What’s so special about this serial? Can’t you hear when I talk?” He objected. “Come on, its not real, just acting.”
As a reaction to his quibble, atmosphere plunged into darkness with power failure. They waited for inverter to get activated. Nothing happened. The darkness remained. Ceiling fan stopped spinning and came to a halt.
“Inverter too conked out at wrong time.” Viswanathan was disheartened. “Please do not get up. Let me bring the emergency light.”
“What’s the use of inverter if does not work during power cut?” Saraswathi frustratingly grumbled. “They were about to reveal heroine’s killer.”
“Antagonist must have killed the heroine. It’s simple.” He picked the torch and switched on. The beam speared into darkness. Viswanathan grabbed emergency light from dining table and placed it on coffee table. He walked towards inverter and examined.
“Must be a technical fault. Will call technician tomorrow.” He informed.
“How do you know heroine was murdered by antagonist?” TV serial had captured her imagination. She struggled to think beyond.
“Every story has a villain. Period. Shall we eat now?” He advised.
Saraswathi was about to get up off the couch, there was a knock on the door. She looked up at her husband. Viswanathan shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s raining heavily. Who could be outside the door?” She murmured.
Viswanathan eased to the door and checked peephole. It was dark. He could see nothing. There was a knock for the second time. Lightening flashed simultaneously. There was someone standing out there. He found it hard to recognize the visitor.
“Who is the visitor?” Saraswathi asked him.
“It’s dark. I cannot make out.” He replied in low tone. “If someone known to us, would have called us over the phone to confirm his identity.”
“Be careful. Home invasion robberies are on rise.” She cautioned him.
Viswanathan partially opened the door without detaching security chain. He ensured safe distance from visitor.
“Who are you? Do I know you?” Viswanathan asked. The gust of rain rattled with whining wind.
“I am Ravi Naik.” He shivered in drenched state.
“How dare you! I had warned you, not to show up in this vicinity. What do you want to prove by visiting us?” Viswanathan gasped, his breath rasping his throat. He was angry and upset.
“I have something to talk. Can I come inside?” He pleaded. “I mean no harm.”
“You did enough harm. What more can you do?” Viswanathan gnashed his teeth, increasing blood flow to his face.
“Please.” He begged with folded hands.
Viswanathan hesitantly removed safety chain and opened the door. A young man stepped inside dripping wet from rain.
“We have a guest.” Viswanathan told his wife while closing the door.
“I did not hear your whispered conversation. Who is this? Poor thing might fall sick. He is as wet as fish.” Saraswathi expressed her concern and walked to bedroom to bring a towel.
“Thanks.” Ravi accepted the towel and placed his phone on coffee table. He wiped his hair and face.
“Who are you? It’s dark and stormy. Why are you here?” She continued to probe.
“I am from Bangalore.” He nervously replied.
“I know him.” Viswanathan interrupted. “No worries. You will come to know more about him.”
“Guest is wet. Give him some clothes. Let him change. There is no electricity. Otherwise you could have put your wet clothes underneath the fan for drying.” Saraswathi showed concern. “He has come from far-off city. I will arrange food. Let us eat.”
Viswanathan remained silent until his wife walked into kitchen. Then he turned towards Ravi Naik.
“Your audacity is making me sick.” He spoke in hushed tone. “Do you know what will happen if I introduce you to my wife? She will go crazy. Get out of house before situation goes out of control.”
Ravi ignored his advice and started to undo his shirt buttons. Viswanathan helplessly went inside, returned with used sweatpants and T-shirt. Ravi went to the washroom, changed his clothes and came out. He kept his wet pant and shirt on an empty chair.
They sat around dining table.
“You are generously extending hospitality to a guest without knowing his background.” Viswanathan sarcastically asked his wife.
“Shame on you.” Saraswathi disapproved. “Does anyone speak such words in front of guest? You are a Professor by profession. I have seen unknown students visiting this place umpteen number of times. This is not new for me. I find it difficult to remember names and faces. I am not stupid. He must be one of your students. So simple.”
“Thanks.” Ravi responded.
“We are vegetarians. I hope you would not mind.” She offered him a plate.
“We were non-vegetarians.” Viswanathan clarified. “We stopped eating meat products, roughly from last 4 years.”
“It has a reason.” Her eyes grew moist with tears. “We lost our only child Sneha in a road accident in Bangalore. She was studying medicine. Sneha avoided meat when she was alive. We turned into vegetarians after her death.”
“It wasn’t accidental death.” Viswanathan corrected her. “Killer had the intent. Every story has a villain.”
“Do you mean she was murdered?” Ravi curiously asked.
“She became a victim of stalker.” Saraswathi shed light. “Rejected in love, the scoundrel sought revenge. He deliberately killed our daughter by ramming his car at high speed to my daughter’s two-wheeler. That was proved in court of law.”
“Every story has a villain.” Viswanathan got up and washed his hands unable to continue eating.
Saraswathi stopped eating as well. She pushed the plate, broke down and sobbed like a child. Sniffling and rubbing her nose, she ran to bedroom and closed the door. Perhaps, she felt awkward to cry in front of guest.
“She has been crying for last 4 years. Remember, you are responsible for our sorrows.” Viswanathan pointed his finger. “I am begging you. Please walk away from here without causing more damage to our emotions.”
Viswanathan went closer to window and peeped out. The rustling rains and whipping wind continued relentlessly. The storm had not stopped. Feeling helpless, he glanced at his guest without knowing ways to drive him out.
“Can you do me a favor? Whatever has happened, we cannot change. I am not heartlessly unkind to throw a visitor out on a stormy night. You may rest on couch until rain stops. However, vacate the place before my wife wakes up. That is Sneha’s room. We believe that our daughter still lives in there. That’s restricted area, stay away.” Viswanathan insisted.
Ravi did not reply.
Viswanathan carried dishware to kitchen. The noise of running water in kitchen sink suggested he was engaged in task of washing dishes. He came out, paced into bedroom and returned with a sheet. He threw the sheet at his guest to cover while sleeping.
“Why are you here? I warned you not to come when you called my number last Monday. By the way, how did you get my number?” Wrinkles appeared on his forehead.
“I managed to get it. I have few friends in this town.”
“What is your motive?” Viswanathan frustratingly asked with a scowl on his face.
“I want you and your wife to know the truth.” Ravi replied.
“There is nothing to learn anything more. Truth was proved when guilty was punished by law.” Viswanathan sounded impatient. “You can’t force us. If you do not vacate my home before tomorrow morning, I will call the cops. You will be charged with forced invasion and criminal coercion.”
Ravi remained silent. Viswanathan carried emergency light to his bedroom and closed the door, leaving the guest in utter darkness. Viswanathan looked at his wife. She was lying on bed trying to fall asleep. He went to bathroom, returned after a while. The emergency light was switched off before reclining at his side of bed.
“Who is that guest?” She whimpered. “Has he gone?”
“There is heavy rainstorm. He is sleeping on couch.”
“His face is not familiar.” She continued. “What made him to visit us at night? Are you sure you know him? He could be a thief…”
“He is not a thief. I know him.”
“Who is he?”
“Get some good sleep. Let us talk in the morning. Good night.” He closed his eyes.
Thoughts began racing through his mind. Bothered by anxiety, he struggled hard to fall asleep. The brain was pulling back files from archives that were unpleasant. They evoked fear in his mind. At 4 in the morning, fan blades slowly began to spin. He fell asleep after realizing that power was back. Suddenly he woke up as if triggered by a nightmare. It was 6:30 am. Viswanathan came hurrying to living room. The buzz of pouring rain had come to a halt.
Dressed up and sitting on couch, it appeared as Ravi was fiddling with his mobile.
“Good morning professor.” Ravi got to his feet, bowed his head and placed his phone on table.
“Are you ready to go?” Viswanathan was curious.
“I told him to have breakfast. He is not listening.” Saraswathi came out from kitchen.
“I am sorry for the inconvenience caused by my unexpected visit.” Ravi folded his hands. “I never had the plan to stay overnight. I wanted to clear the air and vacate immediately. It took some time for my inner storm to settle. I was nervous.”
“Ravi, you may leave now.” Viswanathan ordered. “Storm has calmed down.”
“Ravi? The name sounds familiar.” Saraswathi’s heart missed a beat.
“I am Ravi Naik, son of MP Krishna Naik.” His voice shuddered with emotion. “Four years back a crash took place between a SUV and scooter at a signal in Bangalore. Sneha, medical student riding a scooter died shortly after the accident. I was driving the SUV and...”
“And you killed my daughter.” She cut him short and looked at her husband. “You knew him. Why did you allow him to enter our home and stay overnight? You should have called the police immediately.”
“I am thinking in same lines.” Ravi added dramatically. “Despite knowing I could be dangerous, why did he let me in? Why did he not alert the cops? What made him to hide my identity from you?”
“…..” Viswanathan’s mouth dropped open.
“I truly regret for accidentally killing your daughter and causing extreme pain in your lives.” Ravi cleared his throat and continued. “It was an accident and not premediated murder. I didn’t even know your daughter before the accident. Despite knowing the truth, professor falsely testified against me. Being politician son, I was dragged and crucified in media trial. Professor dishonestly nailed me by declaring I was stalking his daughter. He went to the extent of claiming he had seen me forcibly holding his daughter’s hand at hostel gate and threatening dire consequences if I was rejected. Professor became a key witness. I was proved stalker, drug addict and killer in court of law. Prison term of 5 years was given. However, on grounds of good behavior, I was left free in less than 4 years.”
Ravi paused for a moment to catch his breath. Viswanathan and Saraswathi looked at each other.
“He professed the world that I was pure evil. However, when I unexpectedly appeared yesterday evening, reluctantly he let me in, helped me with clothes, extended hospitality and allowed me to stay overnight. Professor could have easily called police for help. Instead, he preferred to keep you in dark. Don’t you think it was uncharacteristic? Perhaps he avoided friction, thinking his lies would be exposed if confronted. Or ridden by guilt was he left demented?” Ravi defiantly threw his eyes upon him.
“Is he telling the truth?” She confronted her husband face to face.
“You must not have been aware the kind storm that you created in my life by giving false testimony in court.” Tears split from Ravi’s eyes. “My education was discontinued. I was humiliated in my family and social circles. I was tortured and raped by inmates in prison. Currently trapped in darkness, I cannot see any light in my future.”
“You have not answered my question.” Saraswathi asked her husband. “Did you knowingly lie under oath by making false statement?”
“I would not have it in any other way.” Viswanathan’s face turned pale. “I could not have done it differently in such circumstances. Once attorney was hired, he guided me to make up a story to win the case. My lawyer coached me. He told me bluntly, you would be severely punished only if case was fabricated.”
Saraswathi sat down dumbstruck. No one spoke for a while.
“This is what I wanted to hear from you. Nothing else. Once again, I apologize for the pain and inconvenience. I am sorry.” Ravi picked his phone.
Viswanathan and Saraswathi showed no reaction.
“Yes, storm has calmed down.” Ravi opened the door and looked outside.
“One minute…” Viswanathan said, creeped by uneasiness. “Did you record our conversation on your phone?”
“You were right, every story has a villain. You have committed perjury. Do you know the punishment for making false declaration during a judicial hearing? Minimum imprisonment of 3 to 7 years. You better prepare yourself for the impending storm.” Ravi stepped out and closed the door.