The Masked Criminal
Rima and she had never really been friends in school. In fact they hardly knew each other. Once Rima had a showdown with a girl in her section. Ms Barui was not popular among the students because of her sharp tongue and overbearing nature. She tried to meddle in Rima's affairs and ended up getting snubbed by the latter. The woman, at that time a girl, liked the way Rima rebuffed Ms Barui and became friends with her. But their friendship did not last long. Once she tried discussing Rima's close friend Mandira in maligning terms and Rima's vehemently protested. That marked the end of their superficial friendship. She never forgave Rima for renouncing her friendship for the sake of Mandira. 'One day she will have to pay for this,' she thought grimly.
The first thing she did was going out of her way to make friends with Ms Barui. She believed in the theory that the enemy of a foe must be befriended. Before long the two similar natured girls became fast friends. Years later, the two friends met at a get together. Ms Barui, abandoned by her husband, was now a lonely and frustrated alcoholic. She currently worked as a dance trainer in a Music and Dance Academy. The woman revived their old friendship and promptly added Mrs Barui to her Ladies Group. Mrs Barui was among those who had posted the maximum number of hate mails against Rima.
"How was your day, Rima?" asked Aniket after Rima returned from her chamber a couple of days later.
"Usual," replied Rima, sipping her coffee.
"No more harassment in that group?"
"Nah! She wrote that her lawyer has advised her not to discuss the matter in a public forum."
"Good advice. Then her big mouth is shut now?"
"Well, sort of. Actually some were pressurizing her to reveal the name of the culprit and produce the evidences so that the concerned woman could be thrown out of the group immediately. She would have taken the name with perverse pleasure, but the question of producing valid evidence must have stopped her from doing so."
"It's surprising that she at least has that much grey matter in her stupid brain," laughed Aniket.
"Looks like it. Hence she wrote about her lawyer's advice and said that she would call her close friends to her club and show them all the 'evidences' secretly. Then she'd probably whisper the name of the 'culprit' into their ears, one by one. Quite dramatic, isn't it?" said Rima sarcastically.
"How ridiculous!" exclaimed Aniket. "Then why the hell did she start the discussion in that group at all? Didn't anyone raise this question?"
"Nopes. They're too cowardly to raise any question. That woman appears to be the leader in that group whom everyone is scared of. They seem only too glad to get back a normal ambience in the group."
"Unbelievable! Nobody questioned the truthfulness of her allegations? No one demanded valid evidence? How can people be so spineless?"
Leave it, said Rima. Who cares? Everybody should understand what the truth is. In spite of that if they choose to remain quiet then let them do so. It's their conscience after all."
"True. Anyway, it's enough that they're not bothering you at least."
"Yes. By the way, I forgot to tell you, Sohom Dada called from Mumbai this morning. You were in the washroom then, so I received it. He asked you to call him when you're free."
"Oh I had a talk with him this evening. There's some good news. The Goa tour has been fixed in the first week of next month. He's asked us to reach four days prior to the trip. Monika's birthday is on the fourth. Our tour starts from the sixth. We leave on the second of next month. So that leaves only fifteen days in between."
"That's great news!" exclaimed Rima. "But I can't leave on the second. I have a medical conference to attend on the next day. But I promise to avail the morning flight to Mumbai on the fourth. You three leave on the second and help them make arrangements for Monika's birthday."
Rima felt very excited at the news. This would be her second visit to Goa. She decided to go for the river cruise on Mandavi River again. So it was decided that Aniket and the children would leave for Mumbai on the second and Rima would join them two days later.
She stared at the photograph in shocked silence. She had no idea how an outsider got hold of such a personal photo of hers. The number from which the photo was sent was entirely unknown to her. So long she had been making up stories, but this one was for real! She had no idea how such a private photo got leaked. Did the man who took this photo betray her? But for the past many years he was living in Dubai and had no connection with her. It was impossible for him to know this number. Who was it then? Was someone trying to blackmail her? Cold perspiration broke out on her brows as the thought came into her mind. The photo was so compromising that she could not even show it to anyone and ask for advice. Ultimately she decided to keep quiet and make sure what the sender wanted.
Nothing happened during the next few days. She was just beginning to feel relaxed when the next photo arrived. This one was even more compromising than the first one. She spent sleepless nights in anxiety and depression. She was sure that someone was trying to blackmail her. The photos did not contain any message; hence she got no idea about the sender's intentions. After spending two sleepless nights, she called her neighbour who was a software engineer. She narrated the incident by a friend's name and asked for his advice. He said, "I'm sure that your friend's phone has been hacked. Ask her to transfer all the documents of her phone into a laptop or pc. After that she should reboot her phone to get rid of any malicious virus that might be causing all this trouble. If she cannot do it on her own, then she may to my house on any Sunday morning and I'll help her."
She could never disclose that the incident had actually happened to her. She thanked him and disconnected the call. She knew nothing about transferring and rebooting. The first thing she did was delete all the photos from her mobile. After that there was nothing else for her to do than to wait and watch.
Two more photos arrived within the next five days. She almost became a paranoid. If those photos became public she would find herself in a most humiliating position. They would cause intense distress to her family as well. She stopped socialising and receiving phone calls. After a few days she called her neighbour again.
"What happens if someone's mobile phone is hacked?" she asked.
"The hacker will get access to all the documents in that phone and can easily misuse them," he replied. "By the way, is your friend's problem solved?"
"Oh yes, her husband helped her to get rid of the virus," she lied.
"Good. After what happened, she should have gone to the police."
"If it happens a second time, she will. Thanks for your kind help."
She looked at her mobile and felt a chill running up her spine. Her phone numbers! Did the hacker get hold of her contact numbers too? Bloody hell! Who's doing all this and on what purpose? She had no answer.
Mrs Raha had a bad showdown with her husband. He returned home in the wee hours of dawn, stone drunk, a distinct lipstick mark on the left side of his off-white shirt. Mrs Raha had been so busy tarnishing others with her friends, that she had paid no attention to her husband's promiscuous ways. But certain incidents in the past few days had changed her life. To kill time, one day she tried watching a movie with her daughter. But the movie was so boring that she slept through most part of it. Her daughter was so offended that she refused to speak a single word during their journey back home. She spent the evening surfing through the TV channels. At ten she had her dinner alone. Her daughter always dined in the privacy of her own room. For the first time she realised that she had no bonding with her family. Her husband had stopped caring for her years ago and now slept in a separate room. By spending too much time with her friends, she had distanced herself from her daughter as well. To her utter envy, there was a strong bond between father and daughter. She was the one who was treated like an outsider within her own family. She sighed as she cleaned the dining table.
For a long time she lay awake in her bed thinking of her life. She had to struggle a lot to reach the position she was in now. But what did she gain in the long run? She had material comforts, but was that enough to make a woman happy? At one time she thought it was; but now she was not too sure. She looked at her mobile clock and saw it was nearly midnight. Her husband had still not returned home. She was not sure if he would return that night at all.
She opened the medicine chest and took two sleeping pills. Nowadays she suffered from insomnia.
The sound of a car entering the garage woke her up. Her husband was back. Sleepily she looked at the mobile screen. It was four in the morning. She got up and stumbled to the washroom.
From her room she could hear her husband humming loudly in the other room. Suddenly she felt she had the right to know where he spent the night. She went out and boldly knocked on her husband's room. Mr Raha opened the door and was surprised to find his wife standing there. She wrinkled her nose as the whole room reeked of alcohol.
"What're you doing here?" he slurred.
"I want to have a word with you. Let me come in."
Mr Raha moved aside to let her in. She closed the door behind her and confronted her husband.
"Where had you been throughout the night?"
Mr Raha continued undressing and did not reply. She repeated her question. He threw her a dirty glance and replied, "That's none of your fuckin' business. Get lost!"
Suddenly her eyes fell on his shirt. There was a distinct red lipstick mark on the left side of the chest. She grabbed him by the shirt collar and screamed, "So you again slept with that whore?"
Mr Raha threw her aside and said, "Yes, I did. So what? And look who's speaking! You too are nothing but a slut."
"Stop abusing others! Everyone is not like...like that hooker you sleep around with.
"No? You mean to say you're holy Mother Mary? Thats a joke!" Mr Raha let out a low, sarcastic laugh.
"Stop you shameless act! How dare you come to your wife after visiting another woman?"
"You flatter yourself!" replied Mr Raha with a sneer. "I didn't come to you. I just returned to my apartment... my property which I bought with my own money. Understand? It was you who trespassed into my privacy and threw yourself at me."
"How dare you speak to me like that? You forget that I'm your wife."
"It's high time you remembered that. Anyway, what's wrong with you today? Instead of your usual bitching and backbiting you suddenly want to act the wife? You okay?"
"Who told you all this nonsense?"
"Aww come on! Who doesn't know about your worthless, abusive group? What intellectual topics of discussion you have! Who's a false batchmate, who's a false doctor, whose husband's having an affair, who's repeating the same dress in parties, who's cheating customers in exhibitions... Don't you bitches have any other work?"
"Who are you to criticise? It's none of your business."
"Right. It's none of my business. Likewise, who I sleep with is none of your damn business. Now get lost and let me have some sleep."
"You can't brush me off like that. I'm your wife."
"High time you stop being that. If you wish, we'll talk of a divorce tomorrow. Now get the hell out of here. Or else I'll throw you out!"
She stormed out of the room. He closed the door after her with a loud bang. It felt as if she received a slap on her face.