April 4, 2012
Chirag’s elder brother Ketan’s house was adjacent to school compound. Chirag unlatched the gate and walked in. The chained dog roared and attempted to lunge forward. Chirag’s last visit was almost a year back. Hence, the unfamiliarity existed between them. He signaled the dog to stay quiet and stood still for a while. Subsequently, he ignored the barking dog, climbed steps and raised his hand towards doorbell.
“You may come in.” Ketan sounded frail as he whispered from window.
Chirag dropped his hand and pushed the door. Strong smell of booze greeted him while stepping inside the house.
“Mosquitoes wait to enter in. Would you shut the door?” Ketan cautioned him. “This wooden window warps as season changes. The swelling makes it difficult to close properly.”
“Velcro attached window screens are available in the market.” Chirag suggested.
He left the window a little open and coughed incessantly on his way to seat. Chirag felt uncomfortable while he ogled at his elder brother from close range. Ketan’s pale and drawn expression made him distinctly uneasy. His had not seen him in quite sometime. The difference was noticeable. Then he enjoyed good health and sounded energetic. Now the heavy breathing, sagged eye bags, dark circles, swollen cheeks and wrinkled appearance hinted some kind of illness. The stubble and pooped voice exemplified the status of his poor health.
He had met Ketan roughly a year back to seek much needed financial aid. Chirag’s son wanted to study medicine and they had fallen short of financial resources. Once Ketan declined to support, Chirag stayed away from his brother. In that way, their kinship never had exemplary warmth. They were born with ten years of age gap. In Chirag’s perspective, Ketan’s character always had been conceited, detached and unfriendly. He had found him enigmatic and mysterious. Chirag had deemed himself upright, outgoing and assertive. The tattletales in social circles pointed at their father’s riches reckoned to have earned from illicit liquor business. Chirag secured a job in government sector soon after graduation and diverged from their ancestral ill reputed booze business. Ketan had prospered financially by persisting with his father’s liquor shop.
Today Ketan was around sixty. However, he looked utterly old to his age. His wife had departed from life about ten months back caused by some negligence of doctor. They were not blessed with any progeny. Ketan had put up his wine shop for sale around a month back and the store immediately was snapped up. People in the circle gossiped about Ketan’s secluded and secretive life without the assistance of any domestic helper. Now it appeared as if the bad-tempered and unfriendly devil is caught up in an unanticipated misery.
“Would you like to have a drink?” Ketan glanced at his bar. “Please pour a large one for me. The glass and soda cans are in bottom compartment.”
“I was under the impression that you only dealt in booze and never really liked to drink!” Chirag was taken by surprise. “Are you in the habit of drinking? When did you start?”
“Yes, I never had the proclivity towards alcohol while I was trading.” Ketan made a weak attempt to look cheerful. “Once business was winded up, I learnt to unwind with drinks. Couple of drinks and then a sleeping pill means I go dead to the world and I am through with my night.”
Chirag spotted blots of liquor on floor and at wooden bar. The bar was filled with variety of dazzling bottles. Fully sealed corrugated printed cartons of whisky bottles were stacked up beside the bar. The piled up liquor stock should be good enough for next few years. Chirag thought so while filling the glasses. He offered the drink to his brother and took his seat.
“Cheers.” Chirag raised his hand. “I was surprised by your call for an urgent meeting. Could I know the reason?”
“………….” Ketan sipped and took a deep breath.
“You sound weary and exhausted. The spark is missing. Are you all right? Do you have any health issue?” Chirag caringly inquired.
“I have not invited you for any superficial chatter.” Ketan placed his glass on the table and coughed. “Nor I am interested in any shallow talks on our misplaced brotherly connection. Shall I come to the point?”
“I am listening.” Chirag nodded.
“Fine, now listen carefully.” Ketan picked a white envelop from the table. “The sealed envelop contains an exclusive note that I have written for your eyes only. I want to entrust this to your custody under a precondition. You will not open this until you see me dead.”
“You make me scared.” His voice shuddered in panic. “Is it related to your health condition?”
“Oh, shut up!” Ketan cut him short. “You must regulate your sentiments. We cannot win battles of death by forging emotional chords. No one knows who will die first. You might go before and I may remain or it could be the other way round. There is no guarantee. Anyway, let us assume that I am the first to depart. In that case, would you keep it sealed and safeguarded? You have every right to go through the contents once I am dead.”
“…………” Frustrated by obscurity in situation, Chirag rapidly emptied the glass.
“I am waiting for your word of promise.” Ketan reminded him.
“Fine, I assure you. I will keep it securely well preserved.” Chirag asserted.
“Yes, keep it sealed only until I die.” Ketan corrected him. “Thereafter you will have the right to read every word of my note.”
“Is there anything else I could do for you?” Chirag sympathetically asked.
“Thank you. Now I prefer to be alone. You may take this envelop.” Ketan readily handed over the letter.
Ketan’s communication had lacked clarity. Puzzled by ambiguity, Chirag unhurriedly vacated the place. Bothered by curiosity to know the contents of the wrapped note, he reached home. His wife Pallavi probed him as he stepped in.
“You ran to his house like a slave on his master’s duty.” She ridiculed him. “Last year when you pleaded for financial help for our son’s medical seat, your brother indifferently disregarded your honest plea. The fellow is old and has no child. What would he do with the swollen bank balance? Now he has made our son to pursue an ordinary science degree. Poor chap…. Anyway why did he call you?”
Chirag flaunted the sealed envelop and narrated his brother’s curious tale.
“What’s written in the note?” Pallavi turned inquisitive.
“We are not allowed to read until his death.” Chirag clarified.
“What’s such a big secret?” Pallavi became increasingly impatient. “How would he ever come to know if we go through the note?”
“I have given my word. Sorry, I will not break my promise.” He refused and walked across to bedroom. Chirag opened the cabinet and dropped white envelop in drawer. His wife silently followed him. She remained unspoken for a while. However, the curiosity brimmed in her expression.
Ketan’s topic was not singled out for conversation in presence of their children during evening meals. Nonetheless, the subject was brought up again while going to bed.
“I think Ketan’s final journey is confirmed and he must be in God’s waiting list.” Pallavi cautiously resumed the subject. “Otherwise what made him to give a secret note that’s not to be read until his death? Come on, let’s find out.”
“Why are you so impatient?” He turned on to his side and closed eyes.
“I know you too are curious.” She nudged him. “You only pretend to be honest and honorable. Deep in heart, you too are keen. What is wrong in having a look? What would Ketan lose? Just open it once and then leave it sealed.”
Inwardly Chirag too felt tempted by her opinion. However, he stayed tight-lipped. The sleep quickly gripped him, followed by continuous spells of dream that tormented him. He opened his eyes in anguish as Ketan appeared in trance. His mouth was dry and he craved for water. Suddenly he realized the empty space on his side. Pallavi was not asleep next to him.
Where could she possibly go? He assumed that perhaps she is in washroom. Chirag picked up the water bottle from bedside table and gulped few sips. In the process, his mind turned active. Needled by suspicion he walked out. To his amazement, the kitchen light was on. He was stunned to find his wife with a letter in her hand.
“What the hell are you doing with Ketan’s letter?” Chirag gawked at unwrapped envelop. “How dare you could do this? I had promised him that I would keep it under wraps.”
“You must have given the word, I have not!” Pallavi tried to hold back her exultation. “Any way, believe me, no harm in reading this. Our good times are not very far!”
Chirag pulled the note and impulsively glanced at Ketan’s statement:
Perhaps I may not be alive by the time you read this note. I know that death has come closer to me. My Last Will, Testament is already written, and it is with the lawyer. I am diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare fatal degenerative syndrome that affects one in million. The non-curable ailment is caused by progressive death of brain's nerve cells; the brain tissue develops holes and takes on a sponge-like texture. Doctor says, usually fatality is certain within one year. The onset of illness is characterized by psychiatric and behavioral changes, followed by progressive dementia, accompanied by abnormal vision and involuntary movements. After analyzing my condition, I would prefer to distribute my belongings. Jewelry and car have been already disposed. I am donating my land and house to adjacent school next to my plot. I know you are passing through hardships and you are short of cash. All my cash that should be a minimum of five million will go to your entitlement. My Last Will and Testament contains necessary instructions. You may contact the lawyer for further details only after my death.
Lawyer’s address and contact information were cited at bottom of note. Chirag quickly looked, folded the note and pushed it inside envelop. He was left bemused and befuddled. The joy of acquiring a bounty was at the cost of losing his only brother, regrettably not precious to him!
“What’s cooking in your mind?” She impelled him.
“Right from childhood, we never had any great feelings of brotherly affection. Yet, today I am overwhelmed by his compassion and thoughtfulness.” He inhaled lungful of air.
“I wish if we could get the money within month.” Pallavi explained her logic. “Medical college enrollments for current year are open at the moment. We could have utilized the funds for our son’s seat. Poor fellow may have to lose one more year if Ketan survives for a longer period. Did you detect the veiled point in Ketan’s letter? He is expected to have psychiatric disorder. I suspect he might change his Will and Testament once he is affected by mental illness. We can’t rule out such possibility.”
“Nothing can be done if situation goes beyond our management. We have no control over our fate.” Chirag argued.
“Once you were stupid to walk out from your father’s business without rightful compensation.” She turned dark with rage. “Now the opportunity is knocking at your door for second time. You must be a real fool to leave out such realistic chance in hands of fate.”
“What’s your intention?” Chirag was anxious.
“My intentions are very simple.” She elucidated. “In any case your brother’s death is certain. Nothing can save him. Why should we allow his brain to go rotten? His soul will have a sense of relief if we liberate him from suffering. If we ensure to see him pop off immediately, he will get no option to change the Testament. We will get what we want and he will be set free from pain. There can’t be a better chance than this for our son to become a doctor.”
“Your intentions are dark and scary. We might land up in prison.” He was shaken.
“How would the cops suspect if we work on a well designed infallible plan to unshackle Ketan from suffering?” She was adamant. “By the way do you think Ketan has kept his money in one or in more than one bank?”
“Your mind is captured by devil and preoccupied with money. Let’s stop this debate and go to bed.” Chirag switched off the light and walked out of kitchen. Pallavi robotically followed him.
Once on bed Chirag thought that he would drift off. However, he stayed restless and sleepless. To some extent Pallavi’s logic seemed reasonable and sensible. Five million could be good enough to support the dreams of their son as well as daughter. Their ambitions would fizzle out if Ketan decides to revise his Last Will and Testament. After being so close to success, it could be agonizing to end up hopelessly unproductive…. By crack of dawn, he concluded Ketan’s storyline. It made sense to liberate Ketan’s soul from physical confinement. Chirag plotted the modus operandi. Ketan’s preference to be inebriated during dusk, the sleeping pill, deeply seized slumber, unlatched window, liquor stock, its flammability and such factors had given Chirag the clear advantage. Then he cautiously thought the ploy to silence the dog!
Next three days were consumed in analyzing the pros and cons with Pallavi. By Saturday evening, he called his brother over phone to ensure Ketan’s presence at home. Chirag walked across the school at 2 o’clock in the morning and reached Ketan’s house with a bag on his shoulder. As expected, unchained dog snarled by charging at the gate. He pulled out a biscuit from his bag that contained ‘pentobarbital’ a deadly poison used in euthanasia of dogs. The dog jerked and mumbled after consuming biscuit. He returned to doorsteps, tilted back and dropped his head down. Chirag waited in darkness in anticipation of likely reaction from Ketan’s room. The stillness in the night continued without flutter. The combination of alcohol and sleeping pill were bounded by harmful side effects. Ketan had perhaps passed out by double impact of sedation.
The gate was locked. He climbed up and descended to other side. After pulling the chain, he clipped the collar around dog’s neck. Chirag stood in front of half-open window and pushed the door in. A bottle of whisky was hauled out from bag. He stretched his hand and splattered the booze all over the place in sitting room. The empty bottle was placed back in bag whilst he gasped for breath in fear and anxiety. Chirag lit the match and threw it in combustible liquid. The fire caught on to furniture and spread quickly. He stepped back and hurriedly sprinted out of the scene.
Chirag trotted to some distance and decelerated at school playground. Standing next to a tree, he looked back. The wall of compound obstructed the spectacle. The blazing glow was partly visible from upper side with bluish yellow flames leaping out from window. After brief interlude, shattering noise was heard in succession. Caused by the increase in temperature, the ruptured bottles at the bar must have had activated the blast.
Once the explosion engulfed Chirag checked out of vicinity.
A cop visited Chirag’s house early in the morning to inform Ketan’s death in fire accident. By the time Fire Brigade arrived, the house was completely strewn into rubble except for blistered wall and ceiling. People assumed the chained dog had died in suffocation. Ketan’s charred body was found in ruins. The dead body was taken by police for an autopsy and investigation. The corpse was released for final rites after three days of examination and inquiry.
The lawyer called on a meeting at his office after a quiet period of one week. Chirag and Pallavi entered lawyer’s office with concealed contentment. The headmaster of the school had already occupied his seat. The lawyer made his entry to the meeting room with a file in his hand.
“Late Ketan voluntarily had made his Last Will and Testament in presence of witnesses free of coercion and undue influence.” Lawyer declared. “I have been authorized to execute his Last Will effective upon his death. Would you like to go through or shall I read it for you?”
“You may read out.” Chirag’s voice tensely quavered.
“Thanks. Kindly pay attention to my words.” Lawyer cleared his throat. “Ketan’s house and plot goes to the authority of school as endowment. Car and jewelry have been sold. His only brother Chirag has been given the complete rights to Ketan’s all money assumed about five million.”
“Could we know the banks where the money is kept?” Pallavi indelicately meddled.
“The bank details are not stated in his Last Will. As far I know he had this idiosyncratic aversion toward banks and he had terminated all his accounts once his wine shop was sold.” Lawyer shed light on. “An individual of unusual characteristics, Ketan always had preferred secluded life and had an eccentricity in his pattern of thinking. Please read this statement… All money is packed in sealed printed corrugated whisky cartons that are stored beside liquor bar in sitting room!”