It felt weird to look at Madhav through a glass. Before this, every time Nandini had seen Madhav, she had been able to reach out and touch his face. Through the glass, it felt… wrong.
She had heard things about how imprisonment worked. Before they’d come to see him, she had known that there would be a glass. She thought she had been prepared. Now, looking at her Madhav through the glass, she realized she was never going to be prepared.
But it couldn’t have been him! Madhav was not like that! He had a bit of a temper, sure, but he wouldn’t… he wouldn’t! It was unthinkable, grotesque, monstrous. Yet there he was, sitting on the other side of a glass, the shackles biting into his wrists.
She took her seat beside Arnav, Madhav’s best friend. It had been his idea to bunk school and come here. He’d come to her after lunch, saying that he’d stolen their House Parent’s phone and scheduled a meeting with Madhav. She didn’t exactly know how he scheduled such an appointment, but his mother had been a detective. She put it down to that.
Madhav smiled when he saw them. His eyes were red, with dark circles underneath them. He pressed the button in front of him. “How did you get here?” he said, the words coming out like croaks from his throat.
“What does it look like?” said Arnav, pressing their button. “We bunked.”
“Thanks for coming to see me.”
“Are you kidding?” said Nandini, reaching up as if to touch his face, and touching the glass instead. “I don’t like this. We need to get you out of here.”
“Really?” said Madhav, scoffing. “You and what army? I’m never going to escape this.”
“Who said anything about escaping?” said Nandini. “You’re innocent!”
“Try telling them that.” He jerked his head backwards, gesturing to the guards behind him.
There was something about them that filled Nandini with dread. When she had seen police officers in TV shows and movies, they always had an aura of authority around them that made Nandini feel safe. When she saw them in real life, she was relieved that such strong people were there to protect her, to avenge her. Now, everything about them seemed dangerous. The green uniform, the arms crossed across the chest, and above all, the gun. For the first time in her life, she understood the true extent of a gun’s destruction.
“They’ve got hearts of stone.” Madhav said, keeping his eyes fixed on her. “No matter how much I tell them that I’m innocent, they… they…”
He suddenly broke down crying. Nandini wanted to go to him, put her arms around him, hold him until the end of time. But the hard glass stood firm. “It’ll be fine, Madhav,” she said, trying her best to console him. “We know you didn’t do it!”
“That does me no good, Nandini!” he shouted, suddenly. There was a pause in which only Madhav’s sporadic sobs could be heard. “The only one who was in the room with Dhule was me! I was asleep, and the only person who could attest to that is now dead. And the worst part? They used my razor to…” his voice faltered. Nandini’s ears rang from the shouting. She sat there, shocked. Then Madhav spoke again, soft as ever. “to slit his throat…”
Suddenly, Nandini thought of something. “Wait!” she said, suddenly, “If they used your razor, their—”
“—fingerprints would be on it? Do you really think the police didn’t think of that?” he paused to sniff. “There were no fingerprints on the razor. None.”
“None?” said Arnav, “but that means—”
“It couldn’t have been me!” finished Madhav, “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But they just threw it right back at me. If it was really my razor, why are there no fingerprints? Not even mine! My fingerprints should be on my razor! Why wouldn’t they be, unless I killed someone with it, and wiped my fingerprints off.”
Nandini was stunned. She was utterly speechless. Her heart began to sink, deeper and deeper. Something nagged in the back of her head. What if…
She banished the thought immediately. How dare she even think like that? How dare that thought even begin to formulate in her head?
“But if you had killed him with it—” Arnav began.
“Arnav!” Nandini cried. “How can you say that?”
“Wait, listen to me!” he said, “If you did kill Dhule, why would you keep the razor back in your own cupboard?”
“Overconfidence,” he said, the words thick with crying. “Oh, God, they think I killed him!”
The pain Nandini felt didn’t subside even afterwards, as she lay on her bed, staring up at her ceiling. She could feel her roommate Bhavna’s eyes. Even though Nandini didn’t see her face, she could feel the emotion like the stab of an ice-cold dagger straight into her heart: pity.
She hated it. She hated feeling small, and insignificant. She hated people feeling that she was small and insignificant. However, with Madhav in jail, she did feel that way. She knew he hadn’t killed Laxman. She knew it in her heart. But the testimony of her heart wouldn’t matter much in court. There was nothing she could do. She was helpless and hopeless.
She was small and insignificant.
She turned around until her stomach was on the bed. Her head hanging from the side. She stared at the space between her bed and her cupboard, when a lightning bolt struck her.
In that tiny space, the book she was reading last night sat discarded. It was a black cover, with a pair of glasses, covered in blood, with “Neha Kulkarni” written in big bold letters at the top, and the book’s name, in thinner letters across the bottom: Red Christmas. It was a murder mystery, and it gave her the best idea she’d had in a long time.
Her heart began beating faster. She picked up the book in her trembling hands. She sat up, and a smile appeared on her face. She dropped the book and grabbed her bag. She ripped the zip open and rummaged frantically, until she found a notepad and a pen.
She was going to help Madhav. She was going to be significant. She was going to make a difference. She was going to prove them wrong. She was going to change their pity into awe.
In neat, capital letters, she wrote at the top of the page: “SUSPECTS”
She’d read about it. She knew how to do it. She knew how to help her boyfriend.
She was going to investigate. She was going to work the case, and she wasn’t going to stop until she had the proof that the police needed. This was how she was going to stop feeling small and insignificant. This is how she stopped the pity. This was how she was going to make a difference.
And by God, was it going to be fun.
TO BE CONTINUED…