It was seventeen minutes past one when I received the text message.
‘Come to the terrace,’ it said.
Piyush, my son, had invited me for dinner at nine to his hostel room. His promises to come in fifteen minutes had added up to four hours. Still, I could wait for him for hours on end. He was all I had after my husband, Dev had left us six months ago.
I reached the top in no time. Despite the pitch darkness of the terrace, I could make out the silhouette of a man. I took a step forward and my eyes met his. They were grey in color. He didn’t look familiar, but then no one else did.
Suddenly, he charged to the ledge, where the sky met the cement. He hesitated for a moment and then fell. I blinked at the empty space where he had been standing a second ago. Slowly, I unfroze.
I peered down the ledge. It was too dark for me to see anything. I sprinted to the terrace door and tugged at it. It was locked.
The next morning, a small crowd had gathered near the hostel. To my relief, the terrace door was now open. I joined the crowd at the bottom of the building. Two police officers were barricading the crowd.
A lady officer marched up to me. The badge on her uniform told me that her name was Kavya Sharma. ‘Are you Nisha Talwar?’
‘You were the last person who entered the hostel. What was the purpose of your visit?’
‘I was visiting my son.’
Kavya narrowed her eyes and fished out a crumpled photograph. She showed it to me. I could feel her eyes gauging my expression.
‘This man was thrown off from the hostel terrace last night.’
I frowned. ‘Who is this?’
‘You don’t recognize him?’
I shook my head. I had an acute case of prosopagnosia or face blindness. It prevented me from recognizing any faces. At times, I couldn’t even recognize myself. The only way I could figure out the identity of a person was by their gait, hairstyle or manner of speech.
‘This is Piyush Talwar, your son.’
My heart dropped in my chest. I tried to run past the officer and to the crowd, but she yanked me back. ‘The only way you can help is by co-operating.’
Before I could protest, a young male officer came striding by. ‘Ms. Nisha, we require you to answer some questions,’ he said.
The male officer, whose name was Salim Zaid, took us to a car parked outside the hostel campus. I reluctantly sat in the back with Kavya, while Salim sat in the front.
‘Can you tell us what happened last night?’ Salim said kindly. I liked him better than Kavya. The way his eyes crinkled at the corners reminded me of someone.
I obliged to his command and told him everything.
Kavya sighed. ‘I have received a piece of evidence that changes everything.’
’What is it?’
She took out her phone and played a video recording. In the recording, a woman- probably me, was standing before Piyush. After a few seconds of indistinct conversation, she suddenly pushed Piyush down the terrace.
I gasped and turned to Salim. ‘This is fake! Piyush jumped from the terrace.’
’Recordings don’t lie. We’ll be taking you to the police station for the time being.’
‘But, I haven’t done anything!’ I protested.
‘The court will decide that,’ Kavya said coldly. ‘Now, you are allowed to make three phone calls to inform someone about your arrest.’
I dialed Piyush’s roommate’s number. He had no idea about Piyush’s fall. He told me that Piyush was perfectly alright and had left his room to meet a friend.
I cut the call bewildered and turned to Salim. ‘I want to make a second phone call.’
I dialed Piyush’s number. Suddenly, a phone rang in the car. My gaze fell on Salim, who as taking his phone out of his pocket.
‘Piyush,’ I whispered. Salim gazed back at me stunned. I leaned forward and removed his police cap. Locks of familiar brown hair sat on his head. I caressed his lined face.
‘Piyush,’ I said dazedly. ‘Why did you do this?’
His eyes were moist with unshed tears. I held my head in my hands, as just then, a thought struck me. ‘If you are alive, who’s there in the video recording?’
I snatched the mobile phone and played the recording. I observed the terrace keenly this time. It was certainly not the hostel terrace. I turned my attention to the man I had pushed. He was of medium build and he had brown eyes. I observed his clothing and his gait. My heart dropped in my chest.
‘Dev!’ I gasped. My hand shot to my mouth as I realized what I had just said.
I could feel Piyush and Kavya eyeing me gravely. ‘Go on. We know.’
‘How could you know? I buried him in…,’
‘You buried him in our backyard?’ Salim completed quietly. ‘Kavya, our neighbor recorded everything and showed this to me.’
‘Oh my god,’ I whispered dumbstruck.
‘You murdered my father and lied to me. How could you!’ Salim screamed.
‘It was an accident. We had an argument and I accidentally pushed him,’ I cried out pleadingly.
‘You shouldn’t have kept it a secret. I was angry, so I hatched this plan with Kavya. I staged suicide and locked you in the terrace to frame you.’
‘But, you could have directly confronted me,’ I said frowning.
‘Apart from the video, we didn’t have evidence. Father’s body was missing. No one would have believed us.’
‘But, how will framing me for a murder that didn’t happen help?’
Piyush sighed and took out a tape recorder from his pocket.
My eyes darted to the dial. A soft smile spread across my lips. Piyush raised an eyebrow questioningly. ‘What?’
‘The recorder didn’t record anything. You forgot to switch it on.’