The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 5]

 



Chapter 5


‘This is insane. Completely insane,’ Saurabh kept chanting. His teeth chattered as he sat pillion on my bike.

‘Ready?’ I said, putting on my helmet.

‘It’s freezing.’

‘Zip up your jacket.’

‘It’s late. We are so drunk. Why do we have to go now?’

‘It’s Zara, Golu. She herself invited me. On her birthday.’

‘Meet her in the morning. I am sleepy, bhai.’ He rested his head on my back.

I kick-started the bike. The vibrations of my Enfield woke him up.

 ‘You are not even a student anymore. How will you get into the campus?’ Saurabh said. His voice vibrated along with the bike.

‘I have my old ID.’

 We left the compound of my house and headed out towards the Outer Ring Road to reach the IIT main gate, a ten-minute drive.

 ‘Slower, bhai,’ Saurabh said. He held my shoulders tight. ‘My stomach doesn’t feel so good.’

‘Don’t puke on me, okay? Tell me to stop if you need to.’

‘Slow down, anyway. There could be cops.’

 Saurabh was right. We had so much whisky inside us, the cops’ breathalyser would probably blow up.

A police checkpost came up ahead, two hundred yards before the IIT

main gate. A cop signalled us to slow down.

‘Damn, we are dead,’ Saurabh said.

 ‘Wait,’ I said. I slowed down the bike, as if to comply with the policeman. I brought the bike to a halt a few steps from him. However, I did not shut the ignition. Two other cops walked towards me. In a second, I put the bike into first gear and zoomed off. I could hear the cops scream from behind.

  ‘What the hell was that?’ Saurabh said and turned around. ‘They have a bike too. They will chase us.’

‘Take out my ID. It’s in my jacket pocket. Quick.’

As Saurabh fumbled and pulled out my old IIT student card, I reached the gate.

  ‘Keshav Rajpurohit, Kumaon hostel,’ I said, with the same confidence as when I was a student. I didn’t remove my helmet.

‘ID?’ the security guard said.

Saurabh flashed my old ID. He hid the ‘valid until’ date with his finger.

  It is amazing how even under alcohol’s influence, the brain knows how to cover its ass from authorities.

The IIT security guard let us in.

  I tore into the campus. I took the road towards the institute building on the way to Himadri hostel.

‘Are the cops coming?’ I said.

Saurabh looked back.

‘No. They stopped outside the main gate.’

‘They never come inside campus,’ I said and grinned.

  The cops were familiar with IIT students, who often took their bikes for a spin outside at weird hours. For the most part, they left them alone.

‘Terrible idea, anyway. Now the cops have your bike number.’

‘They won’t care.’

‘How do you plan to get inside Himadri?’ Saurabh said.

‘Like I used to. Mango tree.’

  ‘Seriously, bhai? You are not a student anymore. You won’t just get into trouble with the profs. You will go to jail.’

‘Relax.’

  I parked the bike fifty meters away from Himadri. The main entrance of the girls’ hostel had twenty-four-hour security. A patrolling jeep also took rounds every hour to check if the guard had dozed off. The mango tree at the back was the only way I could get in.

  Room 105 was the corner room on the first floor of Himadri. It was somewhat cut off from the other rooms, and was where Zara had been staying from the time she joined IIT five years ago. It had a big window with a lush green mango tree outside.

  Fortunately for Zara, when she had joined IIT as a PhD student, the much-in-demand room had become available. We used to call 105 ‘our little home’, as this was where we met most of the time.

  I never took Zara to my hostel. Forget the rules, which did not allow girls, I was also aware of how female-deprived the boys there were. Walking in with a Zara and locking the door of your room—that would just rub salt in their wounds.

  Of course, I was not allowed into Himadri as well, which was a strictly girls-only hostel. However, if you were reasonably agile, the tree outside room 105 had uses apart from yielding delicious mangoes every year. At least one night a week I would climb it. Once at first floor height, I would jump across through the window of 105 and I’d leave before daylight. Nobody ever found out that Zara had a male visitor. The whole system worked beautifully.

Of course, until we broke up.

  Saurabh and I walked towards the back of Himadri to reach the mango tree. I removed my jacket.

‘So this is how you used to—’ Saurabh started, but I interrupted him.

‘Shh … low volume, please.’

‘Where is her room?’ Saurabh whispered.

I pointed at her window.

‘What if you fall?’

‘Done it a dozen times.’ I waved my hand airily.

‘With Blenders Pride in your blood?’

  ‘Relax, I am fine.’ I twisted my body side to side as warm-up. I clasped the trunk with my hands and lifted one leg up to the first branch. I had done this so many times, my movements were reflexive. Once up on the tree, I looked down at Saurabh. We whispered to each other.

‘You wait here. If anyone comes, cough,’ I said.

‘How will that help?’

‘That’s true. It won’t. Okay, if anyone comes this way, distract them.

Give them some reason why you are here.’

  ‘What? What is a coaching class tutor doing at a girls’ hostel at quarter past three in the morning?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said, brushing leaves off my face.

‘Bhai, you haven’t thought this through.’

‘It’s fine. Nobody will come,’ I said and looked up. I climbed a few

more inches and looked down at Saurabh again.

‘Damn. Big problem,’ I said. Saurabh’s face dropped.

‘What?’ Saurabh said.

‘I didn’t get her a gift.’

‘Seriously, bhai, that’s your big problem?’

‘I’m meeting her after years. On her birthday. With no gift.’

‘Send her an Amazon voucher later. Now please go up. Just get it over with.’

  ‘No gift, no cake, damn,’ I mumbled, pulling myself up with my arms. I noticed that my fitness levels had dropped. I guess teaching maths at Chandan Classes didn’t keep me as fit as when I was the volleyball captain at IIT Delhi. I reached Zara’s window. She had kept it slightly ajar for me, just like she used to.

I stretched out my hand to push the window wide open so I could enter.

  The room lights were switched off. Maybe she had gone back to sleep. Or maybe she was pretending to have done so in order to enhance my surprise.

  Zara had a bit of crazy in her, just as I did. At least she used to. Maybe that is why we connected in the first place.

  The branches had grown since I last climbed them. Instead of jumping into the room as before, I simply hooked one leg over the windowsill. I held the window frame with my hands and pulled the rest of my body in.

  ‘Happy birthday to you,’ I sang softly as I shut the window. I tiptoed into the room, my eyes adjusting to the darkness. I only heard the mild hum of the convection heater in response.

‘Happy birthday, dear Zara,’ I continued to sing, standing near her bed.

  She’s the one who had invited me. However, I couldn’t presume she’d be okay with me sliding under her sheets and hugging her like old times. No, I couldn’t just cuddle her. We weren’t together anymore, I reminded myself.

  But she did say she missed me, a voice in my head said. I took out my phone and switched on the torch. The white LED light lit up wherever I pointed it. I saw Zara in bed, fast asleep. The quilt almost covered her face.

‘Zara,’ I said, my voice soft. I did not want to startle her.

‘It’s Keshav. I am here,’ I whispered again.

  She didn’t react. I found the bedside lamp’s switch with the help of the phone flashlight. Watery light filled the room. Zara lay in bed, covered in her white quilt with pretty pink flowers printed all over it.

‘Hey, birthday girl,’ I said. ‘It’s me, I’m here to wish you.’

  No reaction. Okay, nice acting, very cute, I thought. I looked around her room. She had a bundle of white paper sheets, probably study material, on her bedside table. Her iPhone lay on top of the study material, and was connected to a charger. Like always, Zara had Johnson’s Baby Lotion next to her. She applied it on her face and body every night, and always smelt like a baby.

‘Hey, Johnson’s baby,’ I said, ‘wake up.’

I placed my hand on her shoulder, over her quilt, and shook her gently.

She didn’t move.

  Had she been drinking, too? Maybe those were drunk messages, I thought. Is that what made her call me to her room? She sounded pretty articulate though.

  Was she acting? Was it her way of making me wait? Or maybe even making me get into bed with her, without actually asking?

  My mind grappled with the alternatives. It was so hard to be a guy and choose what action to take with a girl sometimes. A part of me wanted to be bold and go for it.

Slide into bed with her, kiss her happy birthday, that voice said.

 Okay, maybe not on the lips but on the forehead. Forehead kisses are fine, right? another voice said.

  No. Don’t ruin it. She’s called you over. Let her decide the pace, a counter-voice, total killjoy, said.

With reluctance, I chose restraint. But acting or not, I had to wake her up.

  I shook Zara’s shoulder again, this time with more force. She didn’t budge. I pulled the quilt away from her face. She lay there still, as if in deep sleep.

‘Okay, Zara, enough jokes. I came to wish you in person. Happy birthday.’

She didn’t react.

‘Are you going to wake up?’ I said.

No answer.

  ‘Zara, I know what will work. I will slip into bed with you. That will make you wake up.’ My breath caught on a laugh.

She still didn’t respond, so I bent to push her a bit, to make space for

me. It felt heavy.

‘Zara,’ I said, this time my voice loud. ‘Are you okay?’

I touched her forehead. It felt ice-cold. My heart pounded hard.

  Something was wrong. I pulled the quilt down further from her face. Her neck had dark red marks on it.

  ‘Zara, baby,’ I said. I touched her cheeks, eyes and ears in quick succession. Everything felt cold.

  ‘Wake up,’ I said, I don’t know to whom in particular. I switched on the main light in the room. The light from the bright hundred-watt-bulb made me scrunch my eyes at first. However, it also let me see Zara clearly, lying absolutely still.

  ‘Zara,’ I called out loud. I brought my fingers close to her nostrils. I felt nothing. I had seen in movies how they check someone’s pulse. I lifted up Zara’s thin, cold wrist. No pulse. I tried checking it a few more times.

Nothing.

Zara was … dead?

  I felt nauseous. I needed air. I stood up and pulled the window wide open. I looked down. Under the moonlight, I could make out Saurabh. He stood there, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He noticed me at the window and waved to check what was going on. He pointed a finger down, suggesting I come back. I couldn’t respond. I tried to throw up but couldn’t. Confused, Saurabh threw up both his hands in exasperation.

  I turned back into the room. No, my Zara couldn’t have died. This was a bad dream. I stood still and stared at her body, hoping she would wake up.

The phone vibrating in my pocket jolted me. I picked up Saurabh’s call.

He spoke in a naughty, teasing voice.

‘Bhai, what’s going on? You went back in. Getting lucky? Should I stay or leave?’

‘Saurabh,’ I said and stopped.

‘Yes?’

‘Saurabh, come up.’

‘What?’

‘Just come up.’

‘Why are you calling me to your girlfriend’s, or ex-girlfriend’s, room?’

‘I beg you, Saurabh, come up,’ I said, close to tears. He sensed something was wrong.

‘Will Zara be fine if I come up?’

  ‘Come,’ I said and hung up. I went to the window again. I pointed the phone flashlight at the tree trunk to help him.

  He looked around nervously and lifted a leg to climb. The mango tree creaked. They are designed for monkeys, after all, not overweight, ninety-kilo humans.

  ‘Careful. Now put the left foot on the next stump,’ I whispered as he reached closer. Fortunately, nobody heard the commotion on the tree this late at night.

He placed his leg across the window. I pulled him in.

‘What’s going on, bhai?’ he said.

I shut the window and bolted it from inside.

He saw her lying in bed.

‘She’s sleeping?’ he whispered. ‘You haven’t woken her up yet?’

‘She’s dead,’ I said.

Saurabh jumped back a step.

‘What?’ he screamed.

‘Keep it quiet. It’s a girls’ hostel. Male voices should not be heard here.’

‘Screw the male voice, bhai. What the hell are you talking about?’

Saurabh said, his volume rising higher, along with his blood pressure.

I grabbed him by the neck and covered his mouth with my hand. He groaned.

‘Please, keep quiet,’ I said. ‘You are freaking me out. Quiet, understood?’

Saurabh nodded, my hand still on his mouth. I released my grip.

Saurabh coughed as he spoke again, this time in normal volume.

‘Are you sure?’ Saurabh said. ‘Maybe she isn’t well.’

‘She’s gone. Her body feels like ice. She isn’t breathing. Look at her face,’ I said.

He noticed the red marks around her neck.

‘How did she die?’ he whispered.

‘How the hell do I know? This is how I found her.’

‘But she just messaged you,’ Saurabh said, pacing up and down the room.

 ‘Yeah,’ I said. I opened my phone again. Yes, this wasn’t a dream. I had her messages. She missed me and wanted me to wish her in person. I sat down on Zara’s study chair. I examined her face, as calm as a sleeping baby’s. The love of my life had died. But the shock of it all meant I couldn’t feel any pain.

‘What do we do?’ Saurabh said.

‘No clue,’ I said, ‘but sit down, please. You pacing is making me nervous.’

  ‘I am so scared,’ Saurabh said. I felt fear too. But I couldn’t have a meltdown like him. Someone had to think.

  ‘I have never seen a dead body before,’ Saurabh said, as if I hung out with corpses all the time. ‘Bhai, do something.’

‘Shut up, Saurabh. I am thinking what to do. Do you have any ideas?’

  ‘No, bhai. We should have never come here. We were happy at the booze party in our apartment. I said before itself that it is a terrible idea…’

  He continued to rant, jamming my thoughts. I wanted to slap him, but couldn’t. Yes, he had tried to stop me from coming to her room, so I let him vent for five minutes. After that, more out of exhaustion than anything else, he sat on the wooden easy chair in the room.

‘We have to inform someone,’ I said. ‘We have no choice.’

‘How?’ Saurabh said. ‘What do we say we are doing here? In a girls’

hostel room. At this time in the morning. With the occupant dead.’

‘So what do we do? Run away?’

‘Maybe. It’s still dark. Let’s leave the same way we came and vanish.’

  I considered the idea. We sneak out, go back home, and pretend this never happened. However, something didn’t seem right about that option.

‘How did she die?’ I said.

‘What?’

‘How did Zara die? She was alive an hour ago. Healthy.’

‘I don’t care, bhai. Right now, we need to get out. Fast.’

‘She wasn’t sick.’

‘Yeah, so?’

‘Someone killed her,’ I said.

Saurabh sprang up from his seat.

‘What?’ he said. ‘We are at a murder scene? Let’s leave, bhai. Now.’

He went to the window.

‘We can’t leave like this, Golu. Sit down, please. Let’s think this through.’

With heavy steps he went back to the easy chair.

‘Why stay? So people eventually find us? And assume we did it?’ he said.

‘If we run away, they will definitely think we did it.’

  ‘How will they even know we came here?’ Saurabh said, wiping sweat off his face. ‘It’s still dark outside. Let’s go.’

‘You don’t understand. This is big. A PhD student murdered in an IIT hostel. Not only the insti, but the entire police and media will be all over this one.’

‘So?’ Saurabh clasped the armrests of the easy chair tight.

‘So they will dig.’

  ‘Anyone could have done it. There are over a thousand students on the campus alone.’

  ‘But the main-gate guard might remember us. And, of course, the policemen at the checkpost might remember my bike too. And that we went into the campus.’

‘So what? We came for a ride at night.’

  ‘And they will search for fingerprints in the room. Mine are on the window. On the bed. Even on her face.’

‘Fingerprints?’ echoed Saurabh, his face white.

  ‘Your prints are on the easy chair now,’ I said. He immediately released his grip on the armrests.

‘Bhai, what is going on? Some Crime Patrol shit?’ he said and stood up.

‘Can’t we wipe everything and leave? I really want to leave.’

‘We can’t, Golu.’

‘Our lives will be ruined.’

‘No, Golu. If we wipe fingerprints and flee, then we are ruined.’

‘So what do we do?’

‘We stay and say the truth.’

  ‘That we drank a bottle of whisky, chose to ride drunk, dodged a cop, showed an invalid ID to the institute guard and climbed up into the girls’

hostel late at night. Are you insane, bhai?’

‘Those are bad things, yes. But that doesn’t make us murderers.’

  ‘Murderers?’ Saurabh squeaked. ‘How can you even say that word? We haven’t done anything.’

‘I know. That’s why we need to stay. Now, who do we call first?’

I took out my phone.

‘Are you sure, bhai? You are not exactly having the best ideas today.’

‘If you want to leave, Saurabh, you can,’ I said. He didn’t have to be a part of this mess.

‘I didn’t say that, bhai.’

  ‘I mean it. Whatever happens, there is going to be some trouble. You don’t have to be here.’

  ‘Didn’t we decide at our booze party that whatever we do, we do together?’ he said. I looked at him. In some ways, having a best friend is way more important than having a lover.

‘I love you, man,’ I said.

‘Me too, bhai. Who are you calling?’

‘Her parents, her boyfriend or the police. These are the choices.’

  ‘Should we just walk down? We can find the watchman and tell him everything. Let him make the calls.’

I let out a huge breath. He did make sense.

‘Not a bad idea. But,’ I paused.

‘But what?’

  ‘But if we don’t call these people ourselves, they will find out we were here and never stop suspecting us. Let’s call them first and then go to the watchman.’

‘I have never called the police in my life,’ Saurabh said.

‘Same here. I’ll call the police last.’

‘Parents?’

‘That will be hard too. Let me call that Raghu first.’

‘You have his number?’

‘Yeah,’ I said.

He had called me a few times before, to tell me to stay away from Zara.

  I had saved his contact, to have some way of reaching Zara in case she blocked me. I checked the time. It was 3:36. I dialled his number. The phone rang. Nobody picked up. Eventually, I heard a service message in Telugu, perhaps telling me that the person could not be reached. I tried again. No response.

‘Seems to be sleeping,’ I said.

‘Call her dad,’ Saurabh said.

I dialled Safdar Lone’s number. What would I say to him, I wondered.

  Hi, uncle, sorry to bother you. It’s me, Keshav. Remember you said to stay away from your daughter? Well, I am in her room. Oh, and by the way, she is dead.

‘Yes?’ Safdar said, his voice sleepy and angry at the same time.

‘Uncle, it’s me. Keshav.’

‘I know. Have you seen the time?’

‘3:38, uncle.’

‘What do you want?’ he said.

‘Uncle, Zara…’

‘What?’

‘Mr Lone, Zara…’

‘You need to forget about Zara. I thought I made this clear years ago.

Are you drunk again?’

was drunk, sort of. Most of my high had vanished though.

‘Uncle, please listen to me, it’s important,’ I said, trying to collect my thoughts.

‘What?’

I couldn’t break the news.

‘Can you please come to Zara’s hostel? Now.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Please. It’s important. Come right now. I am here.’

‘Wha…’

  I cut the call. I don’t know why, but speaking to her father made everything more real. Zara had died. Gone. No, I couldn’t go to pieces. Not right now. I had more calls to make.

‘Police,’ I said out loud, ‘what’s their number?’

‘100?’ Saurabh said.

‘That’s the general number. Should we call the local police station?’

‘You mean the same guys who just chased us?’ Saurabh said.

  ‘Shut up,’ I said. I Googled the Hauz Khas police station number on my phone and called them.

Someone picked up after five rings.

‘Hauz Khas police,’ a tired voice said on the other side.

‘We are calling to report a crime,’ I said.

Saurabh looked at me with a worried expression.

‘Where are you calling from?’

‘IIT Delhi. Himadri hostel. Room 105,’ I said.

‘Nature of crime?’ the voice said in a monotonous tone.

‘Murder. Of a student.’

I heard something drop at the other end.

‘Who is speaking?’ the voice said, now alert.

  ‘This is Keshav Rajpurohit. I will be waiting here for you. At the entrance of Himadri hostel, IIT Delhi.’

‘Who’s the victim and what’s your relationship?’

‘Zara Lone. I am her friend and an ex-student.’

‘Please stay there. We are sending a team,’ the voice said briskly.

I ended the call. Saurabh and I looked at each other.

  ‘Let’s wait downstairs?’ Saurabh said. He just wanted to be out of the room, and away from the dead body.

  ‘Yeah,’ I said. I stood up and opened the door to the dark and empty corridor outside. Saurabh walked out of the room. I remained inside.

‘What? Let’s go,’ Saurabh said.

  ‘Wait. Just one minute,’ I said, turning back. I walked up to her bed. I leaned forward and kissed her forehead. A teardrop fell on her cold face.

‘Happy birthday, Zara. I love you.’

Zara remained still.

‘Bhai,’ Saurabh said and knocked on the door, ‘let’s go.’

  ‘Coming,’ I said. I straightened up, looked at her one more time, and then left the room.



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