By Ramprasath Rengasamy
I was in a hurry. I double-checked if I have taken the NY pizza that I bought in New York, an hour ago. While running, in my mind, over the things that I might have forgotten to take, I ran down the stairs to the door. As I held the handle of the door to open, I recalled, I had not taken chargers for my cell phone and camera. Cursing myself for my absent-mindedness, I then climbed up the stairs, slipped into my bedroom and opened the cup-board. I took my chargers and shoved them into my handbag. Then I came to the door through the stairs.
‘It’s nothing new. I have always been absent-minded. So, what!? We are humans after all, not machines. So, it’s ok’ I convinced myself.
When I opened the door, it was Princess Street in Edinburgh. It was cold but not that cold. It was the month of May in Edinburgh so one could guess the temperature. The climate of Edinburgh mostly stayed cool and moist, cloudy and rainy, being influenced by the ocean.
There was a purpose for my visit to Edinburgh. Edinburgh was where my mother and my biological father first met and fell in love. My mother was on a tour to Scotland and my father was on a business trip to Edinburgh. They met at Livingston which had the largest shopping mall in Scotland. Chance favored them and they met. So, there was a sentiment attached with the geography. I sincerely hoped that the same magic that brought my mother and my father together might just bring my better half to me.
All I wanted was a nice boyfriend. I wondered why it was becoming increasingly difficult to find genuine men. Most men that I knew were gays and bisexuals. I wanted a boyfriend who could share his bed only with me. Yes. I have always been a little possessive.
Most men were mere looking for a girl to take care of their bills. Some even had heavy debts. The good-looking ones were not very impressive in terms of intellectual companionship. Furthermore, the good ones were always taken and therefore unavailable. The geeky ones terribly lacked romantic instincts. The rigid ones were too difficult to handle. The innocent ones were too foolish. The ones that were in sports were too focused into the sport. The rich ones were predominantly lazy. The rich and hardworking ones were predominately greedy. The poor ones, I came across, terribly lacked motivation. Most were mostly inclined towards making easy money without hard work. I wondered if I was at a dead end of a journey where I only saw mismatches. Finally, I decided to try out of my league.
‘Oh God! I should have born as a man’ I told to myself the 1053rd time. Cultured, civilized, independent men were scarce as hen’s teeth. Why?’
I walked along the street. If it was in America, I could have worn a floral print maxi dress that could have given ample view of my thick thighs. For now, I was wearing stockings. Cold here didn’t seem to help in presenting myself in my elements. Every good-looking man I crossed, was with a lady companion. It limited my chances of picking one from the streets. I wanted to get into a bar. There were several bars all along the lengthy Princess Street. I chose one that showed five stars in google. Before entering, I noted the time. It was 11AM.
It was dark inside. Dim lights faintly illuminated the indoor. Disco music was loud on the speakers and a bunch of men and women were seen dancing to the beats. I wanted to join them but I knew no one. On such floors, I was aware, I was supposed to go with a partner.
Walking gently through men and women, I passed through chairs and tables, and snooker boards. I removed my jacket, a server collected it from me. I chose an empty table and sat on the chair. Gazes of men from around, gave me the much-needed motivation to misbehave. I was wearing a super down Dillon mini skirt. I sat there for a while. The bar was filled with decent crowd. I waited for someone to approach me, at least a server asking for my choice of drinks. But none appeared. I opened up my mobile and searched for manliest drink. Honestly, I never took a drink. But today, I was looking to try one. After a while, I stood up and approached the counter.
There stood a bartender at the counter, cleaning the table in front of him. I approached him and sat on the chair.
“Rusty Nail” I said but I heard it as if it was echoed. I turned around and saw a man, staring at me with surprise. The fact that he was looking good, gave me an instant excitement. I knew, the surprise on his face was because of my choice of drink. Rusty Nail, was one of the few manliest drinks one could order at a bar.
He smiled at me and I promptly returned his smiles.
“I am Mark” he said while extending his arm forward.
“I am Steffanie” I said while I shook his hand. Though, it was just a second of warm grasp, I could sense the heat in his palm. It was not normal. I wondered if he suffered diabetic neuropathy. I learnt from somewhere that, such a condition was caused by damage to the nerves and was a complication of both type 1 and 2 diabetes. I wanted to ask if he also suffered numbness and tingling sensations in his hand. His hand was soft and tender.
“Rusty Nail?!” he asked.
“Well, I kind of like it” I said with a smile. My chubby cheeks might have made him take it for a blush.
“I haven’t seen you around much” he said.
“I came here just a few minutes before” I said.
“Oh! So where are you from?”
“I am from New York”
“You came by flight?”
I wondered if I should tell him about my secret place. I thought for a while.
“I usually finish my break with Rusty Nail” he said.
I was relieved as he didn’t press me on how I ended up in Edinburgh.
“So, are you done now?”
“Yes. I came here an hour ago.”
I wanted to spend some more time with him. So, I was a little disappointed to learn that he was about to leave.
“Perhaps we can walk outside and then, if we like each other, you can come to my place. How about that?” I said.
“Oh! Yeah.. Sure.. Works with me” he responded instantly.
We cancelled the order at the counter and we left the bar after collecting my jacket. As we stepped out of the bar, the disco music slowly faded away. We walked through the trams and taxis.
Something was telling me that he was the one. He was as tall as I was. My mom was a Gujarati and I was mostly like my mother by looks. From my mother, I learned that my father fled away once I was conceived. The only advantage to my mother out of her marriage with my biological father was, the citizenship. It allowed her to continue to stay in US and secure a job. It became the basement for my upbringing in US.
My mother worked in Walmart, Costco, and Subway for the living of the two of us. Sometimes, she even drove Uber taxis and took driving lessons for money. As half Indian, I could tell if someone else was half-Indian and I was sure Mark was. But it was immaterial. All I cared in him was a good soul.
I have had problems with other men. It has always been difficult for them to understand the Indian way of living. Unfortunately, because my mother was separated from my father soon after I was conceived, I never had the proximity of an American father ever in my life. This technically made me an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). So, the only person favored by proximity was my Indian mother. This had several side-effects.
I rarely ate pizzas unless they were NY Pizzas. I have always had a tongue for NY Pizzas. Otherwise, I could not cook anything without adding turmeric in it. I avoided taking non-vegetarian meal on Thursdays and Saturdays. I have always avoided taking onions, cheese and pork. I have always preferred my food to be super-spicy. I spent a lot of time in kitchen. I wasn’t sure if my being single was a side-effect of all these collectively.
On first look, Mark appeared trendy. He had dark thick straight hairs. He was clean shaven and had thick eye brows. I didn’t see signs of Cigar scars in his lips. He was lean. A doctor might categorize him, weak. He was wearing a slim fit jean and a gap casual neck t-shirt. I have seen the shoes that he was wearing in puma outlet stores. Overall, he looked just another guy of the modern world.
Mark and I had a good time walking along the Ross fountain and Princess street gardens. He shared a lot about his family, his work as a computer programmer and his interests in paintings. I found him talkative. Given a topic, he kept pouring all that he knew about it and all I had to do was to keep my ears open to hear. Keeping Edinburgh Waverley train station at one end and the Parish church of St. Cuthbert on the other end, we walked in between three four times. When we felt tired of walking, we took two tickets to Glasgow and once reached there, we again took tickets to Edinburgh and came back to Waverley station.
“So, where do you stay?” Mark asked.
“I stay in my room” I said. Mark laughed at it.
“Ok. Where is your room?”
“It is where I stay”
“I will take you there. Patience is virtue” I said. Just then, I noted the time again in my mobile. It was 11:59AM.
By now, I felt comfortable with him. It was crazy. But Mark seemed balanced. He was independent as he had a well-paid job. He pursued his passion in painting. I found a lot of common things in his tastes and preferences. Some of those common things were surprising to me.
Like me, he too hated noisy environments. He preferred calm places to spend time at. He too preferred spicy foods. He was more focused in staying active. While talking, I found that he was one of those who could think big. I found him a lot structured and organized. There was no wonder why I fell for him. In the end, I decided to allow him to step into my personal space.
Once stepped out of Waverley station, I took him to a lane. There was no light. I opened the door and Mark followed me. We came into my room.
“I didn’t expect a home in that dungeon-looking lane” Mark said as he walked across, in my room.
“It’s something that I inherited from my mother” I said.
“A posh-looking room this close to Edinburgh Waverley station?! What was your mother? Millionaire?” Mark asked.
I just smiled.
‘Why men can’t just take things as how they are?’ I wondered.
I took out the NY Pizzas I packed at New York.
“Do you want some Pizzas?” I asked while I unveiled the Pizzas for him to glance at.
“When did you buy these?” Mark asked in a surprise.
“I bought them in New York” I said.
“Oh! So, they must be at least 8 hours old” Mark said with a weird stare on his face.
I wanted to assure him that those pieces were fresh and warm. But there was no way to give that assurance without getting into the details of my secret room.
“What would you like to have? Coffee?” I asked just to change the topic.
“Oh. not now” he said while still going over the things in my room.
“What do you do for a living?” he asked.
“Well, honestly, nothing much. I have few other properties that I inherit from my mother. I have let them out on lease. I get income from them” I said.
“You are so lucky” he said.
“How much are you getting a month?” he asked further.
I was not comfortable with him paying attention to what I earned every month for my expenses.
“Not much. Just a few hundred dollars for food and insurance. That’s all” I said.
He rolled over his eyes on the various photos of mine that were arranged on the showcase.
I almost guessed what he was going to ask me next.
“Can we just focus on us for some time now? You might have entered into my room but you are still very far from my personal space” I said.
“Can I use the bathroom?” Mark asked.
“Sure” I said.
He stood up, walked towards the bathroom and slipped inside. I sat on the bed and relaxed. I heard water flowing in the washbasin. I noticed that the bathroom door was not latched. I wondered, if I should remind him to latch the door from inside. Moments later, I heard a loud thud noise from the bathroom followed by,
Instantly, I recognized his voice. I ran to the bathroom only to find him on the floor, right in front of the wash basin with his legs on the bath tub. I could realize what might have happened. Suspecting he must have slipped and fallen down, I ran close to him. He was motionless and unconscious. To my shock, he was not breathing. I wondered, if he died instantly due to the sudden fall.
I have never faced one such scenario in the past. I didn’t know what to do. But I recalled the first aid procedure, I was taught in school. The procedure was to be given to someone who was rescued from drowning. I wanted to give it a try before I could reach out someone for help. It was not a lengthy procedure too, which gave me the needed courage to try it on him.
I pulled up his t-shirt to reveal his chest and abdomen. He had no hairs there. I kept my right-hand palm in the middle of his chest. I held my palm firmly using my left hand. I began to push at a regular rate. After 30 chest compressions, I reached out to his lips to help him with the rescue breath and that was when he held my head from behind with his hand and pushed towards his lips. I was thrilled to learn that he was alive and it was all his drama to kiss me.
First of all, I liked the idea. Secondly, I liked the way he trapped me. Honestly, I had not expected that from him. It was so sudden and sweet.
I kissed him on his lips. Our tongues swirled in rhythm. His lips were so tender and soft. I didn’t know how long we kissed each other like that. Being a girl who was brought up by a Hindu mother, I was never exposed to such things before.
He then rolled over me. His hands moved quickly on my dresses. He undid them as though he was in a hurry. I began to feel a little shy about losing my clothes one by one to his hands. Looking at the way he undid my clothes, I thought, it could not be his first time. I yielded myself to his advances.
I was also kind of excited on a man’s smooth handling on my private parts. Initially, everything was pleasant. But soon things began to turn rough. With me below him, his first rough handling on me came in the form of a violent slap on my face. I felt thousand needles hitting my cheeks, all at once. For a few fractional seconds, my vision blurred and I saw dark spots floating in my view.
“Do you like it, bitch?” he shouted. I thought, he got it all wrong.
Honestly, I didn’t like it. By now, I was only in my bra. With his hands, he grasped my neck and made me stand on my knees. Then he pushed me from behind. Involuntarily, I extended my hand to the floor to hold myself from falling. Then he spanked on my butts with his bare hands and it pained a lot. I almost cried.
“You like it, bitch?” he shouted again.
I was frightened with his rough handling. I cursed myself for my poor evaluation on his character and attitude. His choice of words, I found, disrespectful. I figured; he was not that strong too. I gathered all my strength and kicked him on his chest. He fell at the corner of the room as his head hit on the wall. There he laid motionless.
I gathered my clothes and wore them all. I was prepared to retaliate if he bounced back at me. But, to my surprise, he was still laid motionless. I wondered if it was his trick to trap me again. I reached out to the kitchen and took a sharp knife to face him. I slowly approached him. He was not breathing this time. With the knife in my right hand in tight grasp, held against his neck, I leaned forward to check on him. I examined his breathing and pulse.
“Oh, my holy god?!” was all I could say.
He was dead. His soul had departed. He was never going to wake up. He was done from head to toe.
At first, I could not believe it. I didn’t really want him to die. It was thoroughly unexpected. There was no motive, at least from my end. I only wanted to have some fun. I only wanted to spot the right guy. I only wanted to step out of my league since it was no longer useful in spotting the right one.
I only thought of disproving the phrase: we don’t cross anyone by chance.
But he didn’t breathe after that. It was like he was not going to breathe at all, forever. I didn’t know what to do? That was just one kick and he was dead. I checked his pant pockets to find a mobile. I was expecting to find some emergency number that I could use. Unfortunately, there was nothing except a HSBC credit card. I saved it in my hand bag. I noted the time again in my mobile. It was 12:30PM.
I stood up. I drank a glass of water to calm down. I thought for a moment.
In my humble opinion, Mark deserved what just happened. I chose him. I saw the best in him. I gave him an opportunity. But he didn’t honor me. Now, there was not many choices left for me. I had to forget whatever happened and move on. But there was certainly a lesson to learn.
Mark reminded me about ‘Intersection’ a mathematical concept in Venn diagram, I was taught about in high school. It was also one of my favorite subjects in high school. Except at the point of intersection of right men and right women, at every other point, only mismatches could happen. The question was: ‘What made us right?’.
There was nothing more left in it. Now, I had to act fast, do the right thing. I devised out a plan to save myself from getting imprisoned. The plan was so interesting that I loved it myself.
I quickly opened another door and it opened up at Tai Mo Shan mountain peak in Hong Kong. I left Mark’s credit card in his pant. Then I left his dead body at the mountain peak and returned back to my room. There was a reason why I chose Hong Kong. It was under British control till 1997. Hong Kong was considered a crown jewel among the colonies of the United Kingdom. United Kingdom maintained an administration roughly modelled after the Westminster system. In the ongoing political turbulence, I hoped, it would take months before Mark’s corpse was brought to Edinburgh. I needed those months because I have heard that, on an average, most outlets only maintain 6 months of security camera recordings. Furthermore, I trusted on people’s memory. With time, it fades. Even significant things become insignificant with the time.
Now I had to prepare counter evidence. I took my handbag and went to Macys. I bought a brazier and purposefully tried to leave the outlet without paying. Then, once the alarm beeped loudly, I returned to the counter and paid for the bra. At the counter, I apologized for my absent-mindedness. I took advantage of the fact that everyone I knew, knew about my absent-mindedness. I stood there long enough so that the security cameras registered my face in their hard drives. I noted the time again. It was 1PM.
Once I returned back to my room, I took an online subscription of Edinburgh evening news and Hong Kong post.
The disappearance of Mark was listed in the regional news section in Edinburgh Evening News newspaper. The newspaper announced that Mark was last seen with a woman wearing super down Dillon mini skirt. It even had a blurred picture of mine printed at a corner. I was not really surprised at this. I anticipated that one or more of the outlets in Princess Street must have got security cameras. One of them must have spotted us on that day, as we were walking back and forth between the Edinburgh Waverley station and Parish church of St. Cuthbert. So, there was really nothing much to wonder.
I looked through the Hong Kong post.
It announced the retrieval of a dead body from the Tai Mo Shan mountain peak by the trekkers. It had not mentioned anything on the identity of the dead body retrieved.
I never even had the slightest idea of how countries extracted dead bodies of their nationals, from other countries. At some point, I knew, these two countries might collaborate to resolve the mystery in the disappearance of Mark. Just like how it was done in the case of Elisa Lam, a Canadian student who was recovered from a water tank atop a hotel in Los Angeles. Then somehow, someone might just knock my door in New York.
In my mind, I had it all enacted.
If anyone came asking for Mark, I was prepared to give clear answers. First, I was prepared to say, I never left New York in first place on the day Mark disappeared. My name and my passport number were not going to be featured in any passenger manifest of any of the flights from New York to Edinburgh.
When I reached Edinburgh, I had not changed the time to reflect the UK time zone. Mark was last seen in Edinburgh at 11.59AM New York time, which was actually 5PM UK time. The fact that the shortest flight from Edinburgh to Hong Kong would last 14 hours, could not accommodate the time his corpse was retrieved at Tai Mo Shan Mountains by the local trekkers. Furthermore, I made a purposeful transaction at Macys at 1PM New York time, which would be a strong evidence in my defense. How could somebody belonging to country A, meet someone in country B, kill him and abandon his corpse in country C and return to country A without even taking a single flight which was the fastest means of transportation known to the world?
The only thing, I had to ensure, no one came to know about, was the little secret about my room and its many doors.
My room had several doors. These doors took me to anywhere I wanted to go in the world. If one took me to Edinburgh, another took me to Hong Kong, another took me to Agra in Delhi and another took me to Sydney in Australia. I never knew how it all worked but this was how I got it from my mother. But I was not going to let anyone know of this little secret. Without this little secret, no one could put the events in the right order. As long as the events were not going to put in the right order, I was never going to be convicted for the accident by which Mark lost his life.