Nina was found buried in the crook of a Wych elm deep into the forest. or perhaps what would have been deep into the forest before Sobha builders decided to make a home away from the city, in the lap of nature, eco apartments that were only five minutes from fairy falls, only fifteen kilometers away from the nearest school, hospital or office space; and only twenty minutes away from NICE road.
It was barricaded to the public; only Sobha resident joggers eroded it every morning and practically turned it into a freeway to the waterfall.
It was a dog that found her hand dangling like a T-Rex’s arm from the rotted core of the elm; one of those furry golden ones. I saw them often with the joggers, trotting along, burying their nose where it didn’t belong.
Devoid of skin, tissue or even rot, Nina’s arm had been licked clean to the bones. I was surprised that the foxes hadn’t ground the bones into a powdery puff, yet.
I stood among the few joggers, as the police pulled Nina out from the dark hole, one limb after another. Her torso came last and a small man was sent inside to fetch her head.
It was almost thirty minutes later that a head popped out, not Nina’s, but the man who was sent after it. He climbed out, panting and repeating, “Kuch nahee hai, Saab. There is no head.”
The Chief Inspector who looked like mosquitoes had made half a meal out of him, stomped his foot and shouted, “Where the hell is the head, then?”
“Kamraj sir…” said his deputy, smiling like a patient grandmother, “Where will the head go? It will be around somewhere. Mil jayega.”
“Chop the tree down, Rajan”, commanded the inspector, “and all the trees within 100 meter radius, dig everything around it. We’ll find the head and God alone knows what else.”
Just then a tree hugger wearing an organic cotton kurta from Fab India, and Nike neon pink shoes, stepped forward and shouted, “This tree is more than 200 years old. You can’t possibly cut it down and all the trees around. We’ve paid so much to come and live here only to be close to nature.”
“And Madam, who might you be?” deputy Rajan asked.
“I’m the Mrs. Bunty Kumar, the society secretary. I cannot let you cut these trees down,” she said, holding her head high; her eyes levelled with Rajan’s chest, her hands holding her faithful army of joggers back.
“Acha Constable, take everyone’s finger prints and DNA. We can not eliminate anyone from suspect list.” Rajan shouted out to his constables.
There was a sudden commotion within the group, people turning around to each other and whispering.
They couldn’t possibly have been involved with Nina’s murder, now could they? They’d only moved in two years ago. And the body looked much older.
“Sir, why sir?” Mrs. Bunty Kumar said. “How can anyone be a suspect? We only came to the Sobha Fairy Falls in 2017.”
“But Madammm…” Rajan said. “We need to find the head, naa, to ascertain how old is the body. But you won’t let us cut these trees.”
“Madam ji,” Kamraj said, giving Rajan a disgusted look for playing with his prey, “Let us do our job. We could get a warrant but this isn’t Sobha property, now is it? Even though you’ve encroached this space. This is government land.”
That was perhaps when people realized that curiosity could kill the cat. They started dispersing and I fell into step with them. Shuffling my feet on the wet grass, crunching dead leaves.
“Hello…” shouted Rajan. I didn’t turn around, just like everyone else. Reluctant bodies silently shuffling back home; back into the false security of four walls.
“Hello… Sobha residents.” he shouted again.
People slowly turned around. I heard a woman tell her husband, “You only wanted to live within nature. Now see what they found in our backyard.”
“How is this my fault?” he said; his hands in the air and his teeth clenching.
“Not your fault…! Not your fault…!” she almost shouted, incredulous. “You think, now that you’re a suspect, they won’t check your tax returns?”
That shut the husband up.
We all looked at Rajan, questioningly.
“Don’t leave town.” he said. “We will interview everyone.”
There were some groans, a spectacled man said, “Excuse me, but I need to travel on work to Paris tomorrow.”
“Cancel it.” said Kamraj.
“But… but… ” He said. “It is a multi-million dollar deal. You don’t know who I am.”
“Don’t worry, write your name and phone number down here.” He extended a notebook at him. “We will soon know who you are.” Rajan said, dismissing him with his left arm, as he picked up the hand with his right to examine it in detail.
The others hurriedly scribbled their names and numbers and just turned around to hurry back towards the building. I walked with them until the edge of the path, and then turned to the right.
The cottage lay hidden within a thick brush of wild rosemary bushes and wisteria trees. Geraniums and hibiscus grew wild in my tiny garden and the cottage was covered in creepers, such that only the door and one window were visible.
I walked slowly to the door, using my stick to clear the path off the over grown weeds; I nudged the door with my stick; it was unlocked.
I walked straight to the iron chest next to the bed. There was dirty brown crochet cloth barely covering the rusty iron.
I swept my hand and threw the knick knacks off the cloth, pulled the cloth out, made a mental note to reuse it as a cleaning cloth.
I took out the chest key from my tiny purse and opened the creaky lock. I hadn’t opened the chest in almost three years now, and it wasn’t easy. I had to oil the hinges and try again.
On my third try, though, I was able to open it. A cloud of dust blew into my nose and I coughed until my eyes watered. A blob of mucous and blood fell on my lap as I gasped for breath.
When the cloud of dust cleared, I looked inside the chest. It was pristine, just like I remembered. My orange silk saree lined the bottom of the chest, tattered in places, and on top of it, covered in the unstitched blouse cloth of that saree, lay Nina’s skull.
I pulled it out and uncovered the skull. My sister grinned back at me; all teeth and soulless eyes.
“Nina…” I said. “They found you. Those rich joggers and their fluffy dog.”
Nina stared still grinning. “You must be happy, wouldn’t you? You always wanted the world to know you. And now they will.”
I could have sworn that one soul less eye winked at me.
“What should I do with you now?” I said. ” They’ll come knocking. The police. Just like they did, when they couldn’t find you.”
Nina stay still, mocking the cotton balls clouding my mind.
A voice long forgotten whispered in my head. “Srinivas.”
“No”, I shouted. “Never with Srinivas. You’ll never lay with him.”
Silence. Nothing else. Only silence and that leering grin.
An old flame of fury burned my body. After all these years, she still wanted my Srinivas. I held her head tight, my teeth gritting. I wanted to punish her, punish that whore, just like I did ten years ago.
I smiled, “Fine! I’ll throw you into the waterfall. Let’s watch you swim.”