Years passed. He discovered Selvan’s drinking habit, when he noticed that his stock of liquor was diminishing a bit too rapidly. Sometimes he even thought he saw Selvan taking bottles out with him. He doubted Selvan was drinking with his friends in town. But he said nothing about it. He couldn’t dare to lose Selvan at this time of his life. Besides, he had more than enough money to satiate both Selvan’s and his friends’ drinking habit. He was in his early eighties now, and Selvan in his late twenties. His eyesight was dim, and his hearing capabilities were no doubt deteriorating. He seldom heard any sound that was more than two meters away.
It was that time of the year again. The cold seemed to grow more bitter with every passing year. His woollen overcoats weren’t as effective as before to counter the new found strength of the cold. The whisky was good however, and that was his only comfort in the harsh winter. That evening Selvan said he was going to town to buy some things. He agreed. He didn’t know what all things were needed. And he wasn’t sure if Selvan was in fact going out to “buy things” as he had said, or to entertain his “friends”. Only Selvan knew. And he didn’t care. After all, Selvan was running the house now. But he still made sure that he complained, if the water wasn’t of the right temperature. That evening was unusually cold. The cold was clenching its fists around his frail bones. He needed a drink. ‘Selvan!’ he called out. It was then that he remembered Selvan had gone out. He was exasperated. He decided to get the drink himself. He started descending the steps slowly.
It happened suddenly. He lost his balance. He was surprised that there was no step where he had put his foot. Before he could think more, he was rolling down the staircase. Rolling and rolling. It never seemed to end. Until it finally did. He lay sprawled on the floor. He was numb. He tried to move. His leg hurt. It hurt like it was going to be detached from his old body. He opened his mouth. He tried to call out for help. He couldn’t. No sound came out of his mouth; only warm air, which condensed in the cold surroundings, forming a mist. He wished he could spell what he wanted to say, in it. Perhaps someone would see, then. There he was, lying on the floor with a broken leg and no one to help him. Where the hell did Selvan disappear? He felt like he was falling. Falling deep into a dark black hole. He lost himself.
Suddenly he was brought to himself by a throbbing pain in his head. Something had hit him. He groaned. He moved his hand to his forehead. It was wet. He hoped it was sweat. It was not. He looked at his hand. ‘No!’ he thought. But it was. Blood. As red as ever. He didn’t know who or what had hit him. He couldn’t think. He suddenly felt like everything was going to end. He had no one to think about. His wife who died long ago? No. His two daughters? No. Selvan? Yes. Where was Selvan? Why had he forsaken him? Didn’t he give him all that he needed? He tried to call out. ‘Selvan!’ He thought he heard a faint laugh. The exertion was too much for him. In fact, it took his whole life breath away.
* * *
It was the day after the New Year. The Inspector was in his bed at home, pulling the warm blanket over his head, and prolonging the act of waking up. He made a quick glance at his watch. Its hands glowed in the pseudo-darkness under the blanket. He could make out it was almost 6 am. He stuck his head out of the blanket and looked out of the window. Mist covered the hills. They looked beautiful. As always. He liked this place. It didn’t have the frenetic pace of the city. Life was relaxing. And work as well. He had another look at his watch and then at his cosy bed. ‘There’s time’, he thought and closed his eyes under the blanket, slowly drifting into his dreams again. He heard someone calling him. Someone was shaking him, telling him to wake up. He opened his eyes. It was the constable who was supposed to be on night duty. And it was not a dream. ‘What is it? Why are you here?’ he asked. ‘Sir, a newspaper boy came to the station in the morning. He has something to tell you.’
‘Where is he’? the Inspector asked.
‘He’s standing outside sir.’
‘Wait. I’m coming in a few minutes.’
* * *
Soon the two men and the boy were in the jeep, driving to the sprawling mansion on the top of a hill. He stopped in front of the gate. The boy led him inside the house. There was the man, lying sprawled on the floor. He noticed there was a pool of blood around the man’s head that had dried up.
‘Sir, I came to check if there was anyone here, when I saw that yesterday’s newspaper was still lying by the gate’, the boy said.
‘Good. Did you notice anything unusual?’
‘What could be more unusual than this’, the boy thought. ‘Well, sir, the door wasn’t locked. I didn’t notice anything else. I cycled to the station straight away on seeing the body’, he said.
‘Constable, search all the rooms. Tell me if you see anything unusual.’
It was then that the inspector saw the stick. It was lying near the old man. It had blood on it. He picked it up and slowly rolled it in his hands. Then something caught his eye. A small grey, almost white, hair. It was stuck in the dried blood. It could only belong to the old man. ‘He was murdered.’ ‘What sir?’, the boy asked. ‘The old man was murdered.’ The constable returned. ‘Sir, all the safes and cupboards are open. I think there was a robbery here.’
‘Was the old man living alone?’, the Inspector turned to the boy.
‘I do not know sir, I am new in this job. In fact, I started delivering newspapers only yesterday. Sankaramama might now. He used to deliver newspapers in this area earlier. I can take you to him.’
‘Hmmm…’ He turned to the constable. ‘You stand guard here. I’m going with the boy. We may need more men.’
The Inspector put his arm around the boy.’Come, let’s go meet your Sankaramama…’
The constable looked on as the duo got into the jeep. He saw it winding through the snake-like roads through the misty hills.
‘Wonder, if I’ll get some tea nearby…’, he thought to himself.
* * *