“I called up Ittichen as soon as you called me. He asked around and was shocked to hear that Philip was the talk of the town. It seems he had developed the drug problem after his MBA. He had no job and was living alone in an apartment in New York.” Rani explained the next day.
“Did his parents know that?” asked Shikha.
“They say they didn’t but they knew he was betting on horses”.
Shikha understood why Philip’s father did not give him free access to money.
“Didn’t you make enquiries about him mama?’ Shikha asked between sobs.
“We did, but no one told us. I guess no one knew. He was hardly in India. He left soon after school, so nobody seemed to know anything about him. Mebbe we didn’t ask the right people”, said mama sadly.
“Guess this is what one calls fate”, said Shikha.
Shikha appeared to have calmed down a little after sleeping it out but she still seemed to be in a state of daze. She had a bewildered look on her face which made Rani uncomfortable.
“What happens now?” asked Shikha. They were having breakfast. Rani noticed that Shikha hardly ate anything but was playing around listlessly with the Puttu in her plate.
“We’ll have to talk to papa’s and my siblings’, replied Rani. “I’m thinking of asking them to come over”
“Please don’t, mama”, exploded Shkiha hysterically. “You go to Kuttiparambil house. I don’t want to see anyone.”
“OK, OK, Shikha, as you say. But I can’t leave you alone here”, said Rani.
“Don’t worry mama. I’ll not kill myself”, said Shikha bitterly.
“Please Shikha, don’t talk like this”, said Rani and began to weep helplessly.
Sobbing like a child, Shikha got up and went to her mother and hugged her. It was Maria cheduthy who came in and pacified them. “What good is all this crying going to do? Ranimole, you go to Kochin and decide what is to be done. I’ll take care of Shikhakutty”.
“Yes, mama. You go. I’ll ask Lavanya to come and stay here till you come”.
Mama left for Kochin the next morning. Shikha lay on her bed, her mind wandering. She tried to see if she could, in hindsight, recognise any signs of Philip’s drug addiction. She couldn’t, probably because she was not familiar with the symptoms. He was never violent, she thought. Maybe all addicts don’t get aggressive. She hadn’t ever seen that telltale glassy expression in his eyes. Maybe that too happens only in films and novels. But she had noticed, after the early days of their marriage, that nothing she told him ever registered. He seemed to be abstracted all the time, avoided looking at her or being alone with her. All on a sudden, she got an eerie feeling, thinking of how, for eleven months, she had lain in the same bed with a man whose mind was fogged up by the fumes of narcotics. What if he got some hallucination and strangled me, she thought, a shiver running through her.
Mama ’ll call any minute now. Would have reached Kochin by now, she thought, distracting herself, and she switched on the TV to take her mind off gruesome thoughts.
She scrolled down the channel list listlessly and selected Asianetnews.
And what came on the screen jerked her out of her slovenly posture into a bolt upright position, and with terror written all over her face, she stared at the TV screen from where Philip’s handsome face smiled down at her. And even as she watched, his face was minimized to fit into the right hand corner at the bottom of the TV screen, while visuals of gory images of her disfigured husband filled the screen.
And the newsreader continued with the story which hit her like a thunderbolt!
The news reader’s voice repeated, in different words, the horrifying news that Philip Kottayil, the only son of the industrialist Varkey Kottayil, was murdered and his body was found with multiple stab wounds in the Country Club he frequented.
Shikha let out a piercing scream.
Maria cheduthy came running into her room to see Shikha staring at the TV. She jerked her head around to look at the TV screen.
‘Oh my God’, screamed Maria cheduthy and then clapped her hand over her mouth.
Just then the doorbell rang. It was Rani’s cousin Lucy who lived in Chennai. Veliiammachi had made an SOS call, asking her to rush to Shikha’s house and convey the news before Shikha heard it from the TV.