Bali is purring loudly. She looks at me with huge green eyes. She is not my cat. Rather, she is the fifth floor cat. There are three of us on the fifth floor. Ginny Kalra across and the Mudgaonkars on the other side. The flat next to mine is mostly locked up. Someone comes and goes for sure but in my one year here I have never seen that person. Sometimes I can hear the shower running and sometimes a muffled voice. The wall between our flats is only five inches thick. I can tap tap and hear an answering tap tap. Sometimes I wish Ginny Kalra lived in that apartment. Then we could talk in Morse code in the night.
Ginny Kalra is an air hostess. She has been here much longer than me. She flies to New York and Stockholm and Rio and Vegas. When she is in town, we spend a lot of time together. She is very tall, fair and slim as a reed with blonde streaks in her short cropped hair.
We sit and drink wine from small bottles bought from duty free shops and laugh a lot. She gets funny stuff for me. Perfumes and toiletries that she picks up from hotel rooms. Sometimes chocolates and fridge magnet stickers proclaiming “I love Rio” or “I love Vegas” or “Paris Je t’aime”.
The Mudgaonkars keep to themselves. They are in their sixties. She is corpulent, always dressed in an oversized maxi dress with a stole draped around her heavy bosom and he, fit as a fiddle and still quite handsome in knee-length shorts and tight T-shirts. I have often seen her peeping from behind the curtain of the window that looks out onto the landing, but the moment I look towards her, the curtain is hurriedly drawn as if no one was ever there. I can sense her, though, from behind the curtain, her heavy frame silhouetted against the thin fabric.
Just below my flat lives Percy. Percy the tall, Percy the drooping, Percy the silent disapproval. If I hang out from my bedroom window I can see a bit of his balcony. That day my skirt fell down from the railing of my balcony and got stuck in the wire stretched across his, I rang the bell and Mrs Delnaz opened the door. I stuttered, “My skirt...”
‘Come in, come in...’ Mrs Delnaz opened the door wide and I could see into the flat. The hall was chock- a-block with heavy carved furniture. Sofas and deep chairs and dresser drawers. Mrs Delnaz’s daughter Shireen sat in her wheelchair, smiling vacantly.
“My skirt...?” I stuttered again as Mrs Delnaz pushed me into a chair. “Tea? Biscuits...? Jamset... Jamset...?” Mrs Delnaz rambles on. Jamset is the teenage nephew. I know him because he’s always lurking in the stairway.
I can see my skirt fluttering on the wire across the hall. Resolutely I declare, no, Mrs Delnaz, thank you, but no tea, just my skirt, and march towards the balcony, grab my skirt and march out.
I can sense Mrs Delnaz wringing her hands and smiling a dilute smile and muttering apologetically, “Maybe you can come later for tea...”
I like Shireen. She is pretty and sweet. But she has some problem with her legs. She can’t walk. As a result, she is mostly depressed. When she is cheerful, it can be good fun to talk to her. But otherwise it is best to steer clear. Mrs Delnaz is another matter though. She must have been quite a beauty when she was younger but now she looks like a faded comical version, a caricature. Her hair has thinned into tiny wisps and her face has lost all its contours. It is only from the black and white pictures adorning the living room wall that one can make out how pretty and elegant she once was.
I come back to my room and spend the Sunday doing nothing. Ginny is out. She may come back next week. I sit and moon about Percy.
I have a hunch Ginny too is soft on him even though she has all the handsome pilots and stewards to flirt with. But Percy is something else. He works in some foreign bank. He is mostly very aloof, very handsome, very full of attitude and full of contempt for us, the two giggly young girls
When Ginny comes back four days later, we are up the whole night. Her body clock is all awry and since I have been bored the whole week, I don’t mind staying up. She is wearing very short shorts. She stretches out her long bronzed legs and crosses them in front of her. They seem endless to me. Ginny is svelte and stunning. I am podgy and plain. And to forget that I eat more chocolates and drink more wine that she has brought.
We talk about sex, the different postures. I have never had sex but my imagination is quite fertile. I make up in that department what my lack of experience doesn’t. It’s almost three in the morning when I stagger back to my flat. I am humming, “Falling”, the Peter Blake song, and feeling fudgy happy at the seams. It takes me hours to fit my key in the door and open it.
My head is splitting open and someone is hammering relentlessly at my temples.
I mumble, stop, stop. My eyelids are glued shut and I use my fingers to pry them open.
“What the fuck...?”
The door bell is ringing. I stagger out and there is a crowd outside. Someone pulls at me and I walk, zombie-like, into Ginny Kalra’s flat. Into her tiny bathroom. Into the bathtub. Into the blood that is everywhere.
I scream and black out.
Inspector Ruby Ghorpade is very business-like, very stern. But despite her sternness she looks like the next- door amma. Comfortably fat and rounded, a nose pin on her blob of a nose, and brown twinkling eyes.
“So, tell me miss...your name first?”
“Elena D’souza,” I mumble. My mouth is full of ash. My eyes hurt; my stomach is a mass of knots.
“So, Miss Elena D’souza, tell us when was the last time you saw the victim?”
“Ginny Kalra.” She is not the amma next door. Anymore.
“Last night.” My voice is a whisper.
“Why did you do it?”
I concentrate on her bulges. Her uniform is straining at her tummy. The buttons look ready to pop. I am fascinated by the buttons. In my numb state I begin to recall the crime films that I have seen.
“I want to call my lawyer.” (What lawyer? I do not know any lawyer.)
They tell me later that I fainted, blacked out. An excess of chocolate, alcohol and murder can make anyone go round the bend. Potent cocktail, yes sir.
“Shock and trauma,” the doctor says in a dry monotone.
Percy is with me in the hospital.
He takes me back to his house. Mrs Delnaz fusses around me. Jamset is nowhere to be seen.
Inspector Ghorpade has warned everyone that she will come again, soon.
Ginny’s flat is cordoned off. The door is sealed. I hanker after the rust silk scarf that she had bought for me, and the perfume, the purple Davidoff. I had left them on the couch when I had left in a drunken stupor in the wee hours. I am concentrating on the perfume bottle. Both of us had dabbed it on our wrists. The fragrance still lingers.
They say Constable Naik had noticed the smell. The smell of the five-star hotel madamji, he had exclaimed, the young lad from the seventh floor reported.
I sleep in Shireen’s room.
Her body lay in the bathtub. Her throat slit. The blood all over. She lay as if she was sleeping. Her limbs arranged properly, her ankles crossed and her hands folded on her stomach that was stained red.
Obviously someone had done this to her. That is, slit her throat, stabbed her and arranged her limbs.
The investigation team are leafing through the semi-porn magazines in her bedroom. Laughing. Cussing salaciously, a vicarious voyeurism coursing through their veins
Inspector Ruby Ghorpade asks, “Who was her lover? Who was she sleeping around with? Tell me, Elena, you will be saved a lot of trouble.”
They have found my fingerprints all over. On the glass, on the bottle, on the magazine and the door knobs, in her bathroom, even. I remember the last pee there. I had flushed the cistern. I had washed my hands, then picked up the hand lotion, I had touched the mirror.
“I know nothing, nothing,” I tremble and cry. Percy is with me all the time. Jamset tells me Mrs Mudgaonkar was telling the downstairs neighbour that she had seen me coming out furtively from Ginny’s flat in the morning.
Excerpted with permission from ‘Ginny Kalra, I Loved You’, by Pratyaksha, from She Stoops to Kill: Stories of Crime and Passion, edited by Preeti Gill, Speaking Tiger Books.