It was Christmas Eve.
We had a planned party at Professor Rajiv’s house.
Professor Rajiv was my English professor when I was still a student back at my university. He was one of my most likeable teachers of all time, if not the most favorite.
It was a typical December climate. Chilly winds were prevailing. It was impossible to even step out of the house without proper outfits.
Hence, I donned my best-hooded jacket and a pair of gloves and started off for the grand party.
On the way, I kept remembering all the memorable moments we got to spend with Sir. Those heavy scoldings, those motivational pep-talks, those late-night classes, those dreadful exams, and of course, the Best Student Award.
That award was presented to the best writer of the batch. Sir had a friend who worked in a publishing house. The student who received that award had the privilege of publishing his first five books from that publisher absolutely free.
In three years, Sushant received it twice. And for the third year, the prestigious position remained vacant.
Sushant was undoubtedly the best amongst us. His stories and poems can make your heart of stone dissolve right from the word go.
He took most of his opportunity and published his ten books for free. And my word, those books became best sellers in no time.
But he left Sir’s classes in the third year.
The day he left was etched in the memory of every single soul present there, including Sir himself. It all started with friendly banter between him and Sir regarding the use of some ornamental words.
But, within some minutes, it turned into a heated argument, which finally ended with both of them talking trash at each other’s face and Sushant leaving the class after slamming the desk hard.
Nobody heard from him since then. Sir tried numerous attempts to bring his favorite student back, but all in vain.
He was so heartbroken that he didn’t give that award to anybody else after that. Fearing that he might lose another student in the aftermath.
The party was planned by Rajesh. Sir’s son and also one of our closest friends.
I wondered if Sushant was also going to come.
When I reached there, I met him. We all were delighted to see him.
He told us that he wanted to make amends for what he did that day. He wished to extend a friendly hand once again.
But, he had to wait.
Sir had a peculiar habit of taking a nap on Sunday evenings. And he was asleep that day too. But, Rajesh assured us that he was going to wake up soon.
He could never afford to miss the reunion party of his favorite batch, after all. We decided to play our favorite game until then—ketchup Holi.
Yes, as strange as it sounds, it is actually a game of Holi with ketchup.
Tomato ketchup was filled in polythene pouches, and they were thrown by us on each other till they burst, and a guy becomes covered in red.
Sushant was asked to prepare the pouches. He told me to fetch those bags from Sir’s room.
I went inside.
I saw my professor after a gap of five years. He was still the same, carefree, yet thoughtful at the same time.
Even in his sleep, he appeared to be wondering about tenses and voices. I gave a nostalgic smile. I took the bags on the table.
I took them and left the room silently. We switched off the lights to get a thrilling feeling and started pelting the packets on one another.
Finally, the moment of joy arrived, It was unlucky Sushant who got utterly wet by the ketchup. He gave out an annoyed sigh and then burst into laughter, followed by all of us.
He went into the washroom to clean himself as well as his clothes. We switched on the lights. Some ketchup was down on the floor. I took the mop to wipe it away. To my horror, I realized that it wasn’t ketchup, it was blood.
We were clueless.
None of us was bleeding.
We were pretty sure that Sushant wasn’t bleeding either. But then, we realized that we weren’t the only ones in the house. We rushed to the professor’s room. We ran towards his bed. To our horror, we saw him bleeding profusely.
He was stabbed in the stomach.
It could have been an even worse sight, but much of the blood was stored in the polythene pouches after all.
Without a second thought, we dialed 100!
The investigation started in full swing.
Nobody was allowed to leave the house until instructed to do so.
Poor Sushant was still in the washroom. Completely unaware of the events that were transpiring.
The police undressed Rajiv Sir.
He was stabbed by a triple-bladed weapon.
Repeatedly and mercilessly.
The killer was a cold-blooded one. He must have had extreme intentions of revenge in his mind to commit such a cruel act. It didn’t take the police long to find out the murder weapon.
The tip of the Trishul of a statue of Goddess Durga was missing.
Then, the chief turned to us.
‘Did he have any kind of issues with anybody? Like, some sort of conflict or anything?’
At this, Sushant came out of the washroom.
He was flabbergasted to see the scenery in front of him—the dead body of his professor, three policemen, and lots of chaos.
‘I asked you something. Did he have any issues with anybody?’
We turned our attention back to the chief. Sushant was looking at me.
With pleading eyes. They seemed to beg me to keep quiet. All the doubts would fall upon him all of a sudden. My heart was ready to show mercy on my friend.
But, my mind refused.
‘With him sir.’ I pointed my finger at Sushant. I described everything with inch-perfect accuracy.
Suddenly, Rajesh, who was still in shock, yelled out,
‘It was him who prepared the pouches. It was he who arrived first and went into Dad’s room first.’
In a matter of time, Sushant was bombarded with accusations. He knew he had to confess. And confess he did.
‘Sir, it’s true that I had a conflict with my professor. But that’s why I came today. To accept my mistake and ask for forgiveness. It’s true that I went into his room first. But that’s because I wanted to touch his feet and confess my sins in front of him. It’s true that I prepared the pouches . But they contained ketchup. Not blood!’
Sushant was weeping. He knew his confessions won’t help him. He was gone for good.
I was sad. I felt terrible for him. But one could never get away after killing my professor.
‘I’m afraid that’s pretty hard to believe Mr. Sushant. You have to come with us. All of you are advised to leave. But, don’t leave the city. The investigation isn’t over yet.’
We all dispersed. Quietly. Mournfully.
I was driving with a heavy heart. I couldn’t take the image of my teacher’s corpse out of my mind.
Suddenly, the chief’s parting words rang in my ears.
‘The investigation isn’t over yet.’
I slammed the brakes in a hurry. The car came to a screeching halt.
I put my hand in the inner pocket of my jacket.
I pulled it out. The tip of the Trishul was still covered in blood.
I threw it away immediately.
I drove home with a calmer mind.
I did what I had to.
He didn’t allow me to publish my works.
I became a life-long struggler only because of him.
Justice was served!
Aniket Das is currently a student in agriculture at OUAT, Bhubaneswar. He started writing eight months back. An avid book lover. What fascinates him the most are the stories based on mystery and suspense.