[Editor’s Note : As a practice (or policy) we do not publish non-Queer fiction stories, that too by non-Queer writers, however we are making an exception with this one. We received “I” as an entry for the Gaysi Zine contest, unfortunately it did not meet with the “Queer” guideline and therefore did not qualify. Nonetheless its a beautiful piece of writing, and we are thankful to the author for allowing us to share it on the blog.]
Had he not fallen in love, this tale would’ve had a different purpose. Or perhaps if anyone had warned him beforehand that love stories in life were not as fascinating as in movies, he would probably have managed to stay away from her. But he did fall in love, and that changed everything.
As an only child to his doctor parents, Akash grew up alone, enjoying his solitude: playing with his imagination, spending time with colours and canvases and paintbrushes – creating new worlds, re-living old memories, forgetting the present.
Although Akash didn’t have the luxury of many friends in school, a few boys did like to spend time with him. But then, they, too, were like him: silent, creative, and not so gregarious. In the end, Akash didn’t complain: for he kept himself busy, creating and destroying worlds on his canvas.
The city of Bangalore was too small a canvas for Akash to explore. He wanted to travel around the world, he wanted to soak in all the new things, he wanted to live and re-live his life. But he knew it wouldn’t happen for another few years: not until he graduated and made some money. For now he could only travel as far as his imagination took him. Again, he didn’t complain.
His parents weren’t surprised when he took Bachelor of Visual Arts (BVA) as his undergraduate course. Getting a seat in a good college was easy; explaining his “unconventional” choice to a few relatives was not.
Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore, welcomed him with open arms. A few professors had already seen his paintings and were impressed. Unlike most boys his age, Akash didn’t try to impress anyone with his creative art. He went about his business as if his life depended on it, as if nothing else mattered. He neither cared for his grades nor appreciation.
Akash’s routine never changed throughout his first year: wake up at six in the morning, workout, college at eight, get back home at six; and then paint or study – depending upon his mood or his priorities – till midnight. Thus went by his first year in a jiffy.
Second year began with no changes. Akash kept to himself: college, home, and painting. His routine, however, changed when the university announced a painting competition. For three days he spent alone in his room, flirting with colours and his imagination. At the end of the week he had his painting ready.
The evening was young; the students younger. For the competition was fierce with over three hundred participants, the college auditorium buzzed with young voices, and smelt of colours. With the theme being, “The Beginning,” the paintings stood evidence to the acute talent that the young artists had. The judges walked round the hall a couple of times, trying to shortlist the best paintings.
Unlike other extravagant ones, Akash’s painting was a simple one: a couple walking away from each other. For it was both unique and unconventional, it became the subject of everyone’s curiosity. Most of them didn’t understand it, some of them wondered if he even got the theme right, judges – one of them Akash’s professor – got confused and skeptical. Whatever the reasons were, Akash didn’t bother to explain. ‘It’s beautifully painted, no doubt,’ a few said. ‘But how does it justify the theme?’ ‘It’s difficult to explain a painting,’ Akash said.
When a girl walked towards him, Akash expected the same question from her. But to his surprise she didn’t say anything. He observed her as she stood with her arms folded, observing his painting. Several minutes later she took a deep breath, turned towards him, and said, ‘Well, I don’t want to insult you by asking you to explain it. But may I try to interpret it?’
‘The lovers are walking away from each other,’ the girl said. ‘Maybe they broke up, maybe it’s a simple goodbye, or maybe they are going to meet again the next day. What I understand from it is that every departure is a new beginning of a new meeting.’
Akash didn’t acknowledge her; neither did he take his eyes off her. ‘If the judges understand well,’ continued the girl, ‘you will definitely win the contest. But I doubt they do, and I doubt you’ll win.’
For want of something to say, Akash took refuge in shrugging.
‘I’m Shalini,’ the girl said, extending her hand. ‘First year, Visual Arts.’
‘Hi,’ Akash said, shaking her by the hand.
He didn’t win the competition, and he didn’t care.
As far as his art was concerned, Akash had never believed in the concept of “muse” – until now. Shalini’s company didn’t distract him; instead, it only made him paint more vigorously than ever. The only thing that changed was his sleep pattern. After having spent his time with her in the campus, in cafes, in restaurants, in movie theatres – at the end of the day, he resorted to painting. He painted, taking every little detail from the time spent with her: a girl having coffee, a couple having a conversation; or sometimes as trivial as just a girl’s smile, and a boy’s furrowed brows; a blast of vibrant colours against a dull background, colourful bubbles, a pair of eyes and a pair of hands… Whatever he felt about Shalini he manifested it onto the canvas. He slept at four or five in the morning. Sometimes he didn’t sleep at all.
One evening Akash took Shalini to a painting exhibition that was held at Srusti Art Gallery in Malleswaram. Painting exhibition was just a disguise. The real reason was much more beyond art: he wanted to confess his feelings he had for Shalini. And when the time came, the practiced words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. He broke into a cold sweat, and it wasn’t because of the bad air-conditioning in the gallery. He excused himself to go to the restroom.
No sooner had Akash gone than Bhargav approached Shalini. Although he, too, was from the same college, Shalini hadn’t met him before.
The first thing Bhargav said was not hi or hello, but, ‘Where are you from?’
‘I think I know. You must have been sent from heavens to make us understand the meaning of beauty, no?’
Shalini crinkled her eyes. ‘Are you trying to flirt with me, mister?’
‘Oh, no, I am not trying,’ Bhargav grinned. ‘I’m actually doing it…’
Bhargav had arrived in Akash and Shalini’s lives when either of them had least expected. He was gone when Akash returned to Shalini a few minutes later. And when Akash realized what had happened in his absence, he feared, for the first time, that someone would steal Shalini from him.
Unlike Akash, Bhargav was more of an outgoing type: always lazing around, he didn’t engage himself in anything – neither studies nor hobbies. He dressed stylishly, smoked, rode a fancy bike, missed his classes and hung out in cafes and in malls. If there was one activity he enjoyed – much to Akash’s disgust and envy – it was spending time with Shalini.
As time passed by, Bhargav and Shalini hung out more often than before. When Akash expressed his feelings through his paintings, Bhargav did the same in a more obvious way. Shalini, too, reciprocated her feelings for Bhargav. And until now, Akash had never believed that he could hate someone as much as he loved another.
One day when Shalini was sitting with her friends in the canteen, Bhargav came bursting through the door, and announced that he had been nominated for the “Student of the Year” award. Shalini kissed Bhargav on the cheek. A few girls gave a quiet scream.
‘It’s incredible. How is it possible, when all you did was laze around all the time?’ Shalini asked, not bothering about her friends’ reactions.
Bhargav winked. ‘You just said it, love. I’m incredible.’
That same day Akash called Bhargav: ‘We have to meet.’
Akash had chosen the place where it had all begun: Srusti Art Gallery. It was eleven o’clock in the night when the two met in front of the gallery. The city was throttled with cold wet chill. Akash zipped up his jacket and led Bhargav behind the hall. There wasn’t a single soul in sight. The place had the silence of a graveyard.
‘What is it about?’ Bhargav asked.
‘Shalini,’ Akash said.
‘What about her?’
‘You have to stop seeing her,’ Akash said.
Bhargav waited for a few seconds; and then he broke into a prodigious peal of laughter. ‘You are funny, Akash.’
Akash kept mum. Bhargav lit a cigarette and took a heavy drag. Exhaling a cloud of smoke, he said, ‘I love her, all right. She loves me, too. So stop being a sissy about it and mind your own bloody business.’
Akash knew words were not going to solve anything; only the might of his physical strength would do the needful. He made a fist and punched Bhargav in the face. It was so sudden, and the impact so powerful, Bhargav reeled back, stumbled, and fell on the ground, striking his head against a small rock. Blood oozed from the back of his head. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ he cried, holding his bloodied head.
Akash didn’t waste any more time. He gripped Bhargav’s throat with his left hand, his thumb centering on the rings of trachea cartilage. He pressed as hard as he could. Bhargav started choking. Now Akash used both hands and clutched Bhargav’s throat, his fingers clawing the windpipe, tightening around it. Bhargav wriggled helplessly as his eyeballs bulged out of their sockets.
‘The land of software and beer witnesses another pathetic murder!’
‘Murder? You could be right.’
‘So what is the cause of death?’
‘Strangulation? What about his head injury? And the blood found at the crime scene?’
‘The victim must have tripped and fallen while fighting. But the autopsy report says that the death has been caused by strangulation, and not by head injury.’
The inspector nodded, staring into emptiness. ‘Either ways, we shall have a lead soon,’ he said, more to himself than to the doctor.
‘I’m afraid that’s not going to be easy,’ the doctor said. ‘In my thirty years of experience I’ve never come across such a case before.’
The inspector tilted his head and furrowed his brows as if asking the doctor to go on.
The doctor continued, ‘I’ve seen them all, you know. People have been shot, stabbed, poisoned, burned, hanged, and many more. But this, here, is something new, something very uncanny.’
‘But it’s a simple case. The man has been strangled to death.’
‘Well, inspector, what did your fingerprint experts say?’
‘It seems like the killer used gloves. There is only one pair of hands all over the place: the victim’s.’
It was freezing inside K. C. General Hospital’s mortuary cold chamber with -15º C. But the two professionals didn’t seem to mind the cold. The dead body lay on the stretcher.
‘Do you see those marks on the neck?’ the doctor asked.
‘If the killer had worn gloves, those marks wouldn’t be there.’
The inspector remained impassive, pondered for a moment and said, ‘The killer must have,’ –
The doctor interrupted: ‘There is more. Those strangulation marks,’ he paused, took a deep breath, and continued, ‘match the victim’s hands.’
‘What?!’ the inspector almost screamed. ‘That’s impossible!’
‘Even I thought so – until now,’ the doctor said, not taking his eyes off the dead body.
The inspector looked down at the corpse, which seemed to mock at his intelligence. ‘Oh, my God,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘The guy has died in a battle,’ the doctor said with finality. ‘A battle within!’
Both stood there, in the cold, looking after the dead body. They didn’t know which one of the two they were looking at.