Sooraj walked into the apartment complex with his customary smile plastered across his face. This smile was not necessarily a reflection of his mood, but simply a necessity. He was a well-known figure in this area. Every person he encountered knew him, and in return, he knew them or someone closely related to them as well. This was what necessitated the smile. Acquaintances tend to expect you to be happy to see them, and take it personally if your expression is anything short of mirthful, even if they are not the cause of your mirthlessness.
Greeting all the passersbys by their first name, stopping every few steps to greet yet another acquaintance, it took him a while to get to the elevator, where he finally was allowed to gather his thoughts to himself again. He stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor, and approached the apartment at the end of the corridor and rang the bell.
A woman, with the miserable countenance common to those of the lower strata of society, opened the door and sighed. Sooraj stepped inside, bowing to the maid, and requesting to meet the master of the house.
“Hi, Ramma. Is Jake in?” he asked.
“Yes, Mister,” she spoke, her voice sounding muted, melancholic.
He entered Jake’s room, staring enviously at the bed. Sooraj’s own room had no such luxuries, merely a mattress. Jake lay prone across the very same bed, deeply in the throes of slumber, mouth slightly open, breathing lightly. To Sooraj’s ears, Jake’s breathing sounded a bit ragged, and his skin seemed a bit pale, but he couldn’t be sure, since there was hardly any light in the room.
He walked back outside, looking for Ramma. He found her squatting near an empty vegetable crate, her shoulders silently shaking as she cried. Hearing Sooraj approach, she composed herself and turned to face him.
“Is Jake ill? He looks extremely weak,” Sooraj asked.
Ramma’s lower lip trembled as she spoke, “Yes, Mister. He has been getting worse every day.”
“Every day? How long has he been ill?”
“He has been ill for more than a fortnight now, Mister. Ever since Mr. Chandra came over.”
The alarm bells sounded for the first time within Sooraj’s head. Something was off here.
“What happened when Mr. Chandra was here?”
“Well, Mister, he came over three weeks ago. He refused to eat anything I cooked. They both stopped stocking up the vegetables. There is no rice, no flour, nothing for me to cook. Mr. Chandra ordered food for himself, but then would find the food not so much to his liking and give it to Jake. Every day the same routine. I saw it happen before my eyes, but they never listen to me.“
What was Chandra up to?
Sooraj knew Chandra well, having studied in the same class as Chandra’s father. He also knew the owner of the restaurant that Chandra was habituated to ordering from. Neither of these facts brought much comfort to his mind. In fact, it discomfited him no end. He had never considered Chandra to be of much consequence. In the areas that mattered, Chandra had always been a pawn.
But this situation seemed to be exactly the kind Chandra thrived in. He may have been only a pawn, but this was a pawnsy scheme.
Hesitating no longer, convinced that Jake had been poisoned, Sooraj pulled out his stash of homeopathic medicine. Feeling the vibes emanating from each of the bottles, he chose the one that exuded the purest vibes, and handed the bottle to Ramma, directing her towards Jake.
“Listen carefully, Ramma, you must feed Jake five of these tablets. Exactly five, no more and no less. That is imperative. Do you understand?”
Approaching her Master’s bed, Ramma’s hands shook. The gravity of the situation, coming as it did at the tail end of a stressful fortnight, was taking its toll on her nerves. Tilting the bottle over Jake’s mouth, she counted as the pills fell in.
She stepped back, relieved at the completion of the task. Sooraj, too, breathed a sigh of relief.
Suddenly, Jake awoke.
“What the fuck…” were the words of erudition to first emanate from his mouth.
Sooraj and Ramma chuckled, but their joy was short-lived. Jake had bent over the side of his luxurious bed, and was now retching and puking violently. Rushing to his side, Ramma noticed blood all over the floor, and shrieked in horror. Looking around to Sooraj for guidance, she saw the room was empty. She ran through the house, searched every corner, but he had vanished without a trace.
All the while, the sound of Jake disgorging the contents of his intestine impelled her to act faster and more decisively.
Quickly grabbing her cell phone, she called up the resident doctor, trying, between hysterical bouts of crying, to explain what happened to him. The doctor did not understand much, but understood immediate attention was needed. Showing up at the apartment, minutes later, he rang the bell, and was greeted by Ramma, almost on the verge of lunacy by now.
“Hello, Ramma,” he said, trying to introduce some calm into the situation, “What seems to be the issue?”
Ramma set off on another convoluted attempt at bringing him up to speed, but the Doctor was unable to make head or tail of what she said.
“Ramma! I need you to calm down and explain to me what happened. The quicker you calm down, the faster I can help you.”
The wisdom of his words seemed to register belatedly in Ramma’s mind. She visibly calmed down and, taking a deep breath, gave a brief, but concise synopsis of the situation.
“Doctor, Jake ill, and Mister hide.”