No One Else Saw Anything
Every year I used to commit a murder. I’ll recount it briefly because I’m impatient to get to my real story. The first time was five years ago, in a common, when I drew a knife and drove it into a complete stranger. The idea had occurred to me as an image two weeks before that, walking home above Hampstead Heath at three in the morning. If it was unpremeditated, I was unconnected to my victim, and I never discussed it with anyone before or after, then who could ever out me?
So you grasp the pattern. And in repeating it for the next three years, my randomness remained my trump card – randomness, and the fact that I never crowed about it to anyone. I never felt the urge to deliver anonymous letters, leave calling cards, taunt detectives or give interviews. It wasn’t sexual, so that left nothing for the forensics. In fact, never did it require any more than the most rapid of thrusts, and I had never dropped anything or been spotted. I had no particular common I frequented or any sort of signature victim. Darkness, emptiness, the certainty there weren’t any witnesses, the first person walking along that looked likely, and I’d strike: once from the front, and then through the throat to be sure. No other touching, no lingering or gloating (I made it a point to avoid staring into a face), a hike through a few neighbourhoods, and I was on the night bus home. Even now detectives are divided: some discerned a pattern emerging, others declared it the work of copycats, and there are still a few obtuse enough to insist they might be unrelated. And of course they are obliged to investigate the victim’s biography, which leads them all over the place and occasionally makes for interesting reading when I discover who they had been after having murdered them for no reason.
For instance, this idea of ‘innocent’ victims, such as the headlines commonly proclaim after a bombing or a hijack – ‘fifty innocent bystanders were killed; they have heinously taken the lives of innocent people’. Well, from my retrospective perusal of the papers I realise everyone, no matter how randomly selected, is only relatively innocent, or rather, contextually innocent, which simply means there was no reason for them to be capitally punished at that particular time or place. Yet each accident, each outrage, mine included, freezes adulterers in their tracks, wife-beaters, sex-offenders, people with rapes and large-scale theft and participation in religious rioting in their history, yes, as well as bigots, arms-dealers, stock-brokers and corporate lawyers. This is strictly by-the-by, a mere observation – I’ve never attempted to formulate an ideology by which to defend my actions. Death snapshots the living in the full flow of life, which is never as pure and sacred as they claim. And anyhow, one thing you can be certain of: I never maintained a file of newspaper clippings.
First, a strange story, but one that has gripped my entire existence, and from long before I embarked on this career, in case you exclaim ‘Aha!’ and start making simplistic connections. I loved a woman once who was normal in every way except she could turn into a cat. That, and how she too once committed a murder. It was out of love for me, and there was no other way she could have done it. Her cat ability I had been aware of – it was always ginger with a bushy tail and bigger than you’d have imagined, because she had black hair and was tiny. She waited a whole year before confiding in me, to be certain we were absolutely in love first. But during that year she couldn’t resist playing a few tricks on me. I’d leave the room and when I returned she was nowhere. I would search every corner of the flat, call out her name, even look out the sixth floor window at the ledges below, and she had me sitting down in worry and bafflement before she rang the bell and entered. Of course she’d slipped out as a cat, changed back in an alley and calmly taken the lift up. The night she told me finally, she changed right in front of me. The first few weeks after that I kept requesting her to transform, but then it just became one of those things and almost never came up again between us.
Until the day of the murder. It was her uncle she disposed of, her father’s only brother. For some years now he had been an irritant. He disappeared in his twenties after quarrelling with everyone, and nothing was heard from him for four decades. It was her father who went and sought him out – one of the ill-planned actions he undertook during the excess of sentimentality that overcame him after his first heart attack, in the six months that he lived until the second. And now her uncle was claiming that one of the last things his brother had promised him was his rightful share of the family fortune, and he produced a written agreement to prove it. We were certain it was a forgery, but he brought out numerous witnesses who swore their presence on the emotion-soaked evening that the document was drawn up. His position was that his contrite brother had contacted him for no other purpose and would surely have redrafted his will as his very next action. He hired some lawyers of average skill and it had proved enough to keep the case simmering for two years already, two years during which no one else, not even the dead man’s only daughter, could touch any of his assets.
So she grew impatient. She stole up to his room one night and fixed his nightly medication. She told me how she’d watched his habits for two weeks, and practiced entering and leaving his room and garden. She had pinched samples of his medicines to find out what combinations would prove lethal. That night, she slipped into his garden as a cat, climbed up to his room, changed in the dark once she was certain of being alone, placed the altered tablets at his bedside, then changed back and retreated into the verandah until she was sure he’d swallowed them. She watched him convulse and collapse. She knew from her source that his heart would stop in another half-hour. All this she told me she’d accomplished just forty-five minutes ago: she was still breathless with excitement and tension.
‘Of course they will have an enquiry, and even a post-mortem, but they’ll be bound to conclude it was an accident. What else can they say even if one of them suspects how convenient it proved for me? There’s no poison to be found, no signs of any struggle or weapons. There are no finger- or footprints. No one saw anybody enter or leave the compound; no one could even claim to have noticed anyone familiar in the entire neighbourhood. Anyway, he made enough enemies during his long and charming life to send them off on numerous false trails. And finally we can be married. We’ll have our home back, and we can flee on the longest of honeymoons’.
What looms large of her from those moments and keeps returning in my memory are her eyes: at first wild while telling her story, then brimming over with tears, of relief as much as anticipation, then suspended in uncertainty, wondering why I wasn’t reacting. After that they probably screwed themselves into expressions of disbelief and terror, but those I don’t really remember, because by then I had lost myself.
My first words were silly: ‘but that means you have killed him’, I exclaimed, to which she didn’t reply. The tears had stopped forming and she had run out of justifications. After all, what more was required: she had meant it to be a huge surprise, she expected me to understand instantly. I had been with her from two years before her father died. But she took a few steps towards me and was possibly going to say something when she realised I was shrinking away, moving back around the bed on which I’d been sitting. Neither of us knew then that we had already touched each other for the last time.
Anyone would have reasonably expected me to be startled, even shocked, and afraid immediately like any law-abiding middle-minded type of the crime not being perfect after all and somehow being traced back to us. Perhaps even an instinctive recoil, a lightning reconsideration of the person before me seeing what she’d proved herself capable of. But I have never understood myself what next overcame me, what extremely powerful feelings of revulsion, what absolutely blind terror. With my back to the wall and my hands guiding me against it I crept as far away from her as possible, and in a voice that kept rising commanded her to stop approaching. She continued ahead with outstretched arms, asking me what had happened, asking to let her come near, eventually begging me merely to recognise her. But by then hysteria had transformed me and wiped away every faculty until it was I that had become an animal. Holding a vase in my left hand I started screaming for help, and that there had been a murder. I screamed continually; then to make some extra noise I hurled the vase at the mirror. She was living at the time in a single room along a corridor that went around an inner courtyard, and I knew the neighbours on either side would have heard me. She was still trying to comfort and stop me: ‘Darling, what’re you doing, darling what’re you doing? What are you afraid of? It’s only me, don’t you see that? Everything is done already. Just let me come close to you, let me come and hold you, let me explain how I did it,’ even though she must have started to realise something utterly unforeseen had gone wrong, that I had snapped, out of shock and fear.
But until the minute I sprang to the door to answer the knocking, she could never have understood that we were no longer in this together – that not only was she alone, but from now on I was actively against her. ‘There’s been a killing and she’s the one that did it. I know, because she just confessed to me,’ I announced to the three men who were outside, one of whom was her neighbour, ‘so shut the door and spread out if you want to get her.’
Finally she reacted, in the only way left her. It must have been a moment’s decision, because no one even had time to shut the door before she’d turned into a cat again. Or perhaps everyone was so transfixed from not quite knowing what was expected that it bought her a precious few seconds. After all there was no one else in the room, just me shouting until they noticed a cat. Only, and I realised this later – at the time I thought it further evidence of her cunning – she was so transformed by terror herself from the prospect of being cornered that she went straight to being a kitten, less than a fifth of her usual size.
It was I that broke the silence as she dashed into a corner. ‘Don’t stand there like that, don’t be fooled. It’s a trick of hers, I know it well, that’s how she committed the murder. Grab the cat and you’ve got her,’ pushing the man nearest to me towards her. He knelt forward uncertainly and she seized the chance to make for the door. I shouted at the others to close their legs and bunch together. But by the time they reacted, she was outside and scurrying down the verandah.
The neighbours were proving useless; if anyone was going to achieve anything it would have to be me with my first-hand knowledge of her wiles. I chased her down one side, we circled once and once again, the others merely watching. By the time we finished our second round, I could tell that she was tiring. I was gaining upon her, and in a flash of quick thinking, I shut the door leading to the staircase. Now I would get her; now in one smooth motion I would bend while still running and grab her.
Except once again she outwitted me, she leapt up and stood on the railing. And as I drew nearer, preparing to make my lunge, still with no sign of recognition or understanding of what she would do next, of what she would have to do next, I fancy I saw her eyes flash – her eyes, not the kitten’s, and that was the last time I saw her.
Everything crashed in upon me in the few seconds it took the little ginger ball to shoot down seven storeys: who was actually falling down, what I had lost forever. I screamed her name in terror and my heart stopped for an entire lifetime before I realised she hadn’t quite fallen. There was no smashed mess on the courtyard; somehow she was lying suspended just above it.
Someone else shouted ‘the spider’, and then I noticed. It was a giant black creature hanging right in the middle of the emptiness, and it had spun an invisible web to every corner of the second floor verandah. It was large even from that height, twice as large as the kitten which was lying still a few feet away from it. I shouted her name again and begged her to wait, that I was coming, that I was sorry, and I had now understood everything. Just to wait until I ran down, just hold on and trust me, and we would see this through together. We would run away the moment I picked her up and never return to the area. She was right, I shouted, even now, no one else had seen anything.
I don’t know how much she could really hear of my reassurances, or how much she believed me, because I was speeding down the stairs as I screamed. Perhaps she would have held on if she’d heard everything; perhaps she thought it was all a ploy. But it wasn’t: my whole life had been about to shatter before me, I had pushed it myself over the edge and now only a miracle had saved it. I was running down flooded by tenderness; I was running down in absolute terror; I was running down full of love. Just her eyes kept pulsing before me, as she had stood on the railing. That, and the picture of her in the corner, so cowered she could only turn into a kitten. Now all I wanted was to hold that kitten – it seemed even if I never saw her again that all I needed to be happy was in that kitten.
The web gave way around the time I reached the second floor; I saw her last paw letting go when I looked out of the little window. She didn’t land on her feet as all cats are supposed to do, perhaps because this time she was only a kitten. There was no blood on the courtyard when I reached her, and for a second I continued hoping. But my hands felt wet the moment I picked her up, and then they both turned red.
I never knew whether the web collapsed from the strain of holding her, whether she fell through one of its holes, or whether she let go out of fear of my approaching. I don’t know if she heard those last words, if she realised I had changed completely, that I was ready to see us through anything, that I only and unconditionally loved her. I don’t know. What I can tell you is that the incident didn’t even go to the police, because no one had seen anything besides a raving man chasing a kitten. Everyone shunned me afterwards; they thought I had lost it out of worry for my missing woman.
Yes, the police did question me, but only about my missing woman. Not a single question about her uncle. That case was closed without any fuss, as a pure and provable accident. The only case that remains open is the one about my missing woman.
© Rajorshi Chakraborti