Haritha got down from the treadmill. Her whole body was covered in sweat. She swept away the sweat beads on her face using a hand towel. The drops of sweat on her neck travelled down through the middle of her sports bra and went past her belly button to slightly wet her panties, which made her uncomfortable. The muscles in her thighs were weak from the exhaustion of running for the past three quarters of an hour. Her legs shivered. She sat down near the wall beside the treadmill to relax. The sweat fell on the floor now.
Feeling content that she was able to make up for her morning exercises at least at night, she placed her head back onto the wall and closed her eyes. Ever since she turned 35, to be more specific – 7 months and 12 days later, she started a habit of exercising. Initially, she went for walks on normal routes like everybody else.
Her husband, Dinesh, got her to come along as he explained to her how exercising in fresh air bears more fruitful results. Even though she liked it in the beginning, later on, walks filled with questions and gossips of the people she knew there, didn’t feel so great. That’s why she insisted Dinesh and got the treadmill. This way she could peacefully run or walk at any time she wants, whether day or night, for, however, long she likes, wearing whatever she feels comfortable in and not having to fear other’s stares.
Haritha exercises once a week. Sundays are the only day she doesn’t exercise, it’s the day she treats her taste buds to their favourites. A Poori-masala after getting back from her temple visit and an Alfaham or Basted chicken at night for dinner. This is how she rewards herself for exercising 6 days a week.
Now since Dinesh had to go to Delhi, she skipped her morning exercise. Dinesh left at 7’o clock. She could’ve exercised but felt like going to sleep. It was 11 by the time she woke up and once it gets too hot and sunny, she feels uncomfortable exercising on it. That’s why she waited till night to exercise. Now, a relaxing bath in hot water, followed by a fresh juice and salad for dinner and then, sleep.
She got up from her sleep and drank water from the sipper. She looked in the mirror and felt better in her sleight of telling herself that the 7 months of exercises has definitely taken a toll on her body. Her muscles in her arms got stronger and her previously growing stomach has reduced a lot. She turned to see her side profile. Her hips shaped well, breasts had rounded better and her lower back had gotten more firm. Her body glistened with sweat. She thought of Dinesh for a moment. She stood proudly in front of the mirror, happy with her many little accomplishments.
She heard a noise from outside the house and went to look at what may have caused it. Since it was dark outside, all she saw was the bedroom and her reflection on the glass windows. She again focused on the glass. She unties her hair. She is startled on hearing the same sound again and turns around quickly!
Sounded just like a flea hitting against the glass. Oh God! If that thing somehow got inside, entering this room is not an option until Dinesh got back. If asked what she fears the most, Haritha would unhesitatingly answer fleas that can be killed with coconut oil. It gives her nausea thinking about seeing it on the floor and getting up.
As she worried about closing the windows before the fleas entered and how to react if they ever got in before that, she moved towards the window. She grabbed the hand towel, in case the flea targeted her body, flew onto her and she had to get it off. Slowly, with all her senses on high alert, she reached the window. One moment. She quickly shut the windows. That was close! Relieved, she peacefully locked the windows.
She mustered up courage to take a look at the flea, brought her face close to the window grill and looked outside. The garden and the courtyard, drowned in the darkness. Her warm breath formed a little mist on the window glass. The darkness outside scared her. Was her fear caused by fleas or seeing the darkness outside her house? Whatever may have caused the fear, she drew in the curtains of the window and quickly walked away. For some reason she felt the need to look at the curtains, twice. No. There was no noise. Maybe the fleas went away because she drew the curtains.
She removed and put away her sports bra, shorts and panties into the laundry basket in front of the bathroom and went in naked. She closed the door and turned on the hot water for the shower. As the warm water touched her naked body, she heaved a sigh. Her muscles that weakened from all the exercises, relaxed.
She put some Palmolive body wash onto her loofah and applied it onto her body. The bathroom air now smelt like Lavender. The mirror got covered in the steam from the hot water. Haritha imperceptibly noticed the fruit of all her hard work in front of the mirror. Suddenly the image of the window in the room she exercised came to her mind. It sent a shiver up her spine.
Oh god! Please don’t let that be true!
She closed her eyes and observed that image again.
Wasn’t that just a thought?
Nothing was visible when I looked out of the window, right?
It was bright inside the room and the garden was dark!
When I brought my face close to the window grill, what did I see behind those bushes?
That was just a thought, right?
The next second, nothing was seen in that same spot.
Didn’t feel anything unusual, back then.
But her mind says, what she saw right now when she looked into the mirror, it wasn’t just a thought.
She stopped her shower. A few big droplets of water fell on the ground and splashed. Her heart rate increased, she could tell her body was beginning to sweat.
In the darkness, in the garden, was what she saw behind those bushes a face?
Oh god! Yes. It was a face.
That unclear face kept coming up, repeatedly.
Was the door in the kitchen area closed?
I had closed it in the evening! Or after that? Did I open the door to throw the peels of the vegetables for the salad, in to the waste basket outside the kitchen? Was the door closed after opening it? Was it locked? That was when the phone rang! I had attended the call after coming into the dining hall with the salad.
Didn’t go to the kitchen after that. So did I not close and lock the door? Having grown up alone with anxiety, she started to feel choked up. She turned to look at the bathroom door, scared. Is the door handle moving? No. Any noise from the rooms? She slowed her breathing and listened carefully.
The only sound was that of drops of water falling out of the shower. She even tightened the knob of the shower.
There was no other sound now. She quickly grabbed the towel and dried her herself. As soon as I got out of the shower, I should call Rachel aunty, who lives next door and then inspect the kitchen door. She slowly turned the knob of the bathroom door, as her heart drummed.
Saturday night 11:30.
DYSP Sharon Thomas’s white Innova entered the gates of the collector’s office. In the back seat, Sharon sat anxiously, wearing a USPA blue polo T-shirt, Levis blue jeans and Woodlands boots. Age, 32 years old. Eyes and a personality that attracted everyone. The smartest IPS officer in the Kerala Police force, since R. Sreelekha and B. Sandhya. After completing her MA in 2012 with an all-India rank of 189, Sharon passed her civil services examination. IAS, IFS, IPS and IRS; these were the career choices ahead of Sharon.
As she was in the general category, the first two options were out of question. So she chose IPS and developed an interest for it.
After training in the National Police Academy in Hyderabad she was appointed as an ASP in Ernakulum rural. Sharon had married her classmate from school Dr Vimal Varghese. When she took up responsibility to be in-charge of areas from Ernakulum to Kottayam, there was a lot of backchat and retort in the department.
Many of her seniors had a problem with having to work under a young girl. Sharon had experienced their displeasure, directly and otherwise, in many ways. Even then, Sharon has always faced all her obstacles with determination and self-belief. But her self-belief, smartness and determination stumbled on certain cases due to her lack of experience. Some of Sharon’s situations had become the laughing stock of her subordinates and superiors.
The driver brought the car to a halt in front of the SP’s office. Putting away the video she was watching on her iPhone X, Sharon entered. On the basis of her instruction to her subordinates that they could contact her at any point of time and with regard to the case that the Kottayam police department is looking at, Sharon Thomas got a call from the Cyber Cell at night.
A mobile video that came, before the murder, into the hands of SP Thoufeeq Muhammed, Sharon and other DYSPs via the Kottayam Police head’s official email ID – firstname.lastname@example.org, was ignored. Primarily, the video was viewed by the Cyber Cell under the orders of Administrative DYSP Santhosh Pillai. A video that showed a woman working in the kitchen and watching TV. It seemed like someone had shot it from right outside the house.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the video, so they thought someone may have sent it to prank them and just ignored. Two days later, all the senior police officers of the Kottayam district had to watch it many times. It was linked to the murder of that woman!
The body of Haritha Madhavan was found, fully naked, she was brutally tortured in her bedroom. The wounds left on the body were so bad that no one could not take a second look. It was pure brutal murder!
What amazed the investigation officers the most was the room in which the murder took place. The room was decorated. They found big, completely burned out, candle wax on the table. Flowers were scattered all over the bed, floor and even the door – pink Hydrangea flowers!