The Mysterious Stranger

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Beads of sweat on Raghu’s forehead dripped off his brows. A gloomy silence was in the air. Flanked by rocks on all sides in the deserted far end of the beach, Raghu controlled his breath. His eyes looked around frantically as if searching for a missing key. He closed them for a moment, and when the eyelids gave way to vision, a bulky man, horror-faced, lying down motionless, could be seen. Raghu was pleased with his work.

Now, he had to escape as quietly as he had entered. This part of the beach was littered with huge rocks. A bird’s eye view would look akin to a bowl of pepper-sprayed thin, clear soup. The dead man’s shrieks as he strangulated him relentlessly, came back to Raghu now and then. A shiver went down his body as he saw the corpse for one last time. He walked up to the body, set his P-shaped legs straight. Raghu had a sense of symmetry in every pursuit he chose to undertake. He climbed a solid boulder and in no time, was walking along the shore. To his surprise, a girl was sitting alone with a notebook, not more than a hundred meters from the spot of action. He got a little nervous. The panic buttons were pressed. Had she overheard his item’s shrieks, crying of help? If she had been sitting there for even so much as ten minutes, she must have been an uninvited audience to the dead man’s “help!” music party. Raghu reasoned out that he had to take down the stranger. He couldn’t afford to let a potential witness go. He took a few steps and was now facing the girl. “May I?”, Raghu asked courteously pointing to the space beside the girl. The girl stared quietly at him, and then dissolved into a smile. Taking the cue, Raghu positioned his buttocks comfortably on the loose, slightly wet sand.

Raghu was no stranger to attractions of flesh. After all, his sexual curiosity had been dulled by ladies who resembled the ones one sees on their screen. But a mysterious smile like that had never adorned his view. It was no time for such trivial matters, he reminded himself. Raghu had no sooner started to think about various methodologies he could employ to shut out a life than the girl opened her notebook. She tore an unblemished white page off the middle. Making many folds and curating one out of them, she jotted down something on it. She folded it neatly and passed the chit to Raghu in a sly way as one did in the exam hall. Raghu smirked, wresting it from her hand.

“What’s your dream?”

Raghu couldn’t help hide his contemptuous laughter at the question. All his life he had chased money, and now when he could afford to hang up his boots, he knew no better way than to keep at his business. Dream? What fucking dream? Raghu came from a background where people couldn’t afford to dream. This made him a little emotional. Raghu slipped into a trance. Flashes of his childhood rushed in front of his mind’s eye. Something stirred within, he was transported back to those humble days, when life didn’t involve taking away somebody else’s life.

Many years ago, growing up in a shack in the outskirts of the city, Raghu had always dreamt of a better life. The pungent smell of his locality stung him. The slum dwellers were sanitation workers, cleaning everything- streets, parks, public toilets, and every imaginable public space. While the city remained clean, their own homes suffered from neglect. Wiry bodied souls went about their work in silence. After a day of strenuous labor, there was no energy left to spend on washing the stinking clothes, and not enough money to prepare a tasty meal. Raghu resented his existence every time he went to the city. The city’s colors were a stark reminder of his black and white existence. Inked in his fate was a life not worth living, he thought. He desperately wanted to alter it. The desperation reached the pinnacle on Raghu’s eighteenth birthday. His childhood sweetheart got married to a laundry man’s son the same day he was to become an adult, a man. The marriage was hailed as a success as the girl was now going to a laundry man’s house; one level higher in the social strata; a case of peculiar social mobility. Although it was largely unrequited love, Raghu took the disloyalty to heart. Through some twist of fate, he got recruited as a footman in Don J’s mafia world. He did some amazing work and got promoted several times. But after a point, he didn’t like the fact that he had to dance as per Don J’s music. He went out of the mafia organization to create his own music. It was Don J’s generosity that allowed Raghu the freedom he craved. He acknowledged the Don’s magnanimity by paying half of what he had saved. Raghu then transformed into a hitman. The intoxication of money was all over him. He now did anything and everything for money. He fell in love too. But nobody was so blind in love to accept Raghu’s profession. This pained Raghu, but he soldiered on. Living a nomadic, solitary life was his fate now, and he had accepted it.

“Wait. You have a job to do”, an inner voice spoke. Raghu wrote back.

“I dream, someday I can love somebody and be loved too.”

“I hope the time comes soon.”

“What’s yours?”

“I wish to be an acclaimed writer someday.”

“What do you write about?”

“I write about the abundant life that surrounds me.”

A shiver went down Raghu’s spine. What if she had noted the event in her notebook? She now even had spent enough time to be able to describe him in plenty of words. The idea scared the hell out of him. He had to execute her before it was late. He looked to his left. Far away, he could see throngs of people flocking the shore, but not a soul whispered in his vicinity. This was a regular affair for him. He could do it clean and calm in a few seconds. He waited for the right time to pounce. It was getting dark. The safest way would be to take the step a few minutes after. He waited.

“You’re a writer. I should have known. Such a pretty girl and all alone watching the sea!”

“Aw. Thanks. What do you do?”

“I run a general store.” Raghu didn’t miss a beat telling the lie.

“You’re fortunate. You have an opportunity every day to look at unfiltered lives.”

“Do you see poetry in everything? It gets boring after a point.”

“I try to. Without magic or mystery or poetry, I am as good as dead.”

You’re soon going there, Raghu mumbled inaudibly. Enough of this letter crap, he protested to himself. It was dark now. The moonlight was feeble. He floated around his eyes to do a final customary check. Unfortunately, a gang of three youngsters was hurrying in their direction. His senses grew alert. Why were they coming this way? ‘I should leave.’

As Raghu got up, he saw the girl’s mysterious smile shining in the dim glow. He didn’t utter a word. He paced briskly now. Soon, he was going to run into the group coming from in front. Like a bolt from the blue, one of them stopped him with a soft hand on his shoulder. He froze.

“Hey man. Have you seen our friend Mariam? She must be somewhere here writing.”

Swallowing a gulp that had taken birth in his throat, Raghu responded. “No. I don’t know. I am getting late.” He brushed off the tall guy’s hands and hurried away.

In the background, Raghu could hear the guy speaking to his other mates despairingly “What do we do now? She can’t hear us!”

Raghu froze. The letters made so much sense now. He smiled and walked away into oblivion.

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