By Neel Anil Panicker

“It was our darkest hour. We just didn’t know what to do.  It was as if we had reached the fork end of a long deserted road with two pathways branching out___both holding zero promise.”

Someone in the room muttered an expletive.

Inspector Mathews raised his hand. An eerie silence hung like a bat’s wings in the shadowy interrogation room located in the basement of Kochi Crime Branch Headquarters.

The boy continued.

“In the space of a mere two months, our lives had been robbed of all purpose. It was as if some evil eye had cast its shadow on us. Someone for sure was playing the Devil, trying to stop us from uniting, becoming one, from forging a new happy life for ourselves. Tell me Sir, is it wrong to fall in love, to wish and dream of a beautiful life with the one we love, to be happy in this world?”

The question was rhetorical; Inspector Mathews didn’t say a word; simply waited while earnestly looking into the eyes of the young man seated across him, a ray of light from a slit in the roof falling on the speaker’s face, accentuating the rugged handsomeness of the 27-year-old.

Soon after the seasoned cop’s patience was rewarded.

“So, we__Raima and I, decided to end our lives. First, we poured petrol on our bodies, and then I struck a match. As the  fire raged and burnt our skins, we held on, crying and screaming and vowing to get united soon in heaven. I don’t know what happened after that. Everything is a blank. I am told Raima, the love of my life is no more. The doctors tell me I was fortunate to have survived. I don’t think so. I feel utterly helpless. Hapless, too. I ask God why he has been so cruel and allowed me to live while the love of my life is dead. It would have been better had I too died. I feel…”

As the young man broke down and sobbed uncontrollably, Inspector Mathews stepped forth and patted his head.

“I feel sorry too. Take your time. Compose yourself. I will have someone down here to take down your statement.”

Later, seated in his upper floor chamber, Mathews lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

As concentric smoke rings whirled into the rarefied June air, the cop’s eyebrows burrowed an inverted U as his razor sharp eyes bored through the seven page medical report that had arrived an hour earlier.

Suddenly, something caught his attention, and he whistled softly.

‘The lying bastard’__the words that escaped his lips were a slow hiss.

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