There has been a murder. The owner of the hotel. My boss. Was murdered on his way to the market yesterday evening. His body was found on the deserted stretch between here and the nearest market.
The cops were here. They had the employees of the hotel stand in a line in front of the hotel. One of the cops walked about shouting at each one of them. Trying to break them. Trying to figure out if one of them was the “guy.” The murderer.
My boss' brother, who had a stake in the hotel, shouted at me and the other 2 boys to hurry up and clean the tables. He wanted to close the hotel for a week in memory of his brother. I hurried up and cleaned the tables with my thin 13-year-old arms. From time to time, I would turn around and look at the commotion outside.
As I looked up, I noticed that Sandeep was staring at me. He was one of the guys standing in the line-up. The truth is there was a secret. A secret that only we both knew, and to make matters worse, both of us didn't get along that well. But the truth is, the secret can never leave my lips. Because I am mute by birth, and I couldn't tell it to anybody even if I wanted to.
After about half an hour, the cops left. They told the owner's brother that they would be back if the investigation led them back here.
Later that day, the owner's brother told us that we can go to our homes if we wanted to because he's shutting down the hotel for a week. Most of the guys decide to travel back to their families, but I stayed back.
I had to take care of my little secret.
The employees were provided accommodation behind the hotel. A total of 3 rooms with bunk beds in them. Luckily for me, Sandeep stayed in one of the other rooms.
The week went by pretty quickly. I would sleep in longer and go on long walks or just sit somewhere outside and observe people.
The cops never came back. They said they found some evidence at the scene of the accident, but nothing conclusive.
The truth is, even though I was living in constant company, I was alone. The 2 other guys I stayed with are little brothers of the other employees and get to go with them wherever they went, but they never called me. Its like because I am mute, I was invisible to them. Its like just because I can't talk, they assumed that I don't have any feelings. I had gotten used to it though.
At the end of the week, everybody had returned.
Making sure nobody noticed me, I went outside to the back of the hotel. I once again made sure nobody was around or watching me and walked towards where there were a lot of rubbish thrown about. Old furnitures, cardboard boxes, and everything useless. I walked through them towards the corner, where a shoebox was carefully placed. I went down on my knees and carefully lifted the lid off the box. Inside were squeaking little baby rats. Naked without their fur and their eyes shut tight. They started squeaking louder almost as if they could sense me.
This was my little secret. They were my friends. My only friends.
I heard the noise of something making its way through the rubbish. I knew it was the mother mice. I didn't want to scare it away. I quickly took out the pieces of coconut which I had stolen from the kitchen and placed them into the box and then carefully placed the lid back on the box.
As I got up and turned around, I realized that the noise wasn't of the mother mice, but of the owner's brother, who right then stood before me, his face red with anger. And beside him stood Sandeep, grinning.
The owner's brother grabbed me by my shirt and started slapping and hitting me. I began to cry loudly, at least in my head. If you were there, you would have just heard me sob.
“What the hell do you think you are doing??!! These rats are going to get into the kitchen and eat the groceries!! How stupid can you be?!!?” he shouted at me in the middle of the beating.
He finally shoved me aside and asked Sandeep to get him some kerosene from the kitchen. And while I watched in horror, he threw the kerosene on the box and lit it on fire. The fire engulfed the box, and I heard my friends squeal. Their cries for help. My friends dying. My only friends.
My eyes were blurry with tears. I looked at Sandeep and saw him with a satisfied smile on his face. The sick guy!
The owner's brother turned towards me and shouted,
“Get your stuff and get out of here!! You are a bad omen!!” He then stormed out of there.
I packed my bags. The train to my home was at night. I spent the entire afternoon crying over my little friends.
About 4 hours later, I am walking back to the hotel. I had been somewhere to take care of some business. It was dark by then. The cops were once again there. The employees made to stand in a line like the last time and a cop shouting at them. People stood on the roads staring at them. I heard someone whisper that the owner's brother had been murdered. I heard people saying someone is trying to wipe the entire family out starting with the brothers. I walked past the cops and the lineup. I didn't look at them. I walked right into the hotel. People were standing all around there, watching, but no one noticed me. Its like I am invisible. The 2 other boys my age were standing inside the hotel with a frightened look on their faces. They were too shocked with what was happening that they didn't notice me. I headed to the back of the hotel. I needed to get my luggage and hurry up to the railway station. But before I went into my room, I walked over to the room where Sandeep slept. I knew which bed was his. I removed the bloody knife covered in a cloth from my pocket and placed it carefully under his mattress. I caught myself grinning while I imagined how Sandeep must react when the cops or someone found the knife under his bed. The cops for sure will give him hell.
I then walked to my room. grabbed my bags, and walked out from the back. I can still hear the cops shouting at the employees. I hear people whispering that may be someone is killing off the people in the family one by one. I keep walking down the road till I am out of their sight.
- Rejo John and Manu Prabhakaran.
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