The dhoti-clad, barefooted old man was sitting on a boulder facing the Brahmaputra river at a lonely place near the Don Bosco Institute. Kharghuli in Guwahati is a beautiful region with green hilltops on one side and the river on the other side.
It was a beautiful afternoon with soft sunlight. Feeling tired after a long afternoon walk, I sat next to the lone old man who showed no interest in me whatsoever. I was a bit annoyed.
He was instead gazing intently ahead at something. To break the monotony of silence, I simply murmured, “The river looks so beautiful with its natural rhythm of flow.”
There was no response from the old man.
For a moment, I thought the old man must be deaf or dumb. But I was proved wrong. He looked around and asked me, “What is your hobby?”
“Story-telling. I write short stories for newspapers and magazines.”
“Nice. Everyone has a story to tell. But everyone is not a writer. I have a great story to tell you. Would you like to hear me?”
And the old fellow told his story.
There was a beautiful girl in college. Anamika was her name. She could sing too. She was a popular figure in college. But she lost her mother at the age of 12, the most crucial period for a girl child. The risks during the age of puberty were high. She needed the company and care of her mother.
Anamika attained her puberty just after the death of her mother. Her father nurtured her like a mother. Their servant Ramu also loved her like his daughter.
Time slipped by. Then there arrived another male member Rintu, a lovable boy. He was the son of Anamika’s maternal uncle who just managed to get an employment in the High Court.
Anamika took the initiative to ask her father to allot the solitary room on the roof of the house to Rintu. Her father had no objection as the room on the roof was lying vacant for long. Rintu was very happy to occupy the rooftop room facing the river Brahmaputra.
In between, six months elapsed.
That was a cold December night when Anamika returned late after attending a musical programme at the college auditorium. She was suffering from headache and after taking a tablet given by Rintu, she went straight to her bed.
In the morning she woke up feeling uncomfortable and tired.
Anamika played Holi all day long with her friends. The weather was dry and windy. The entire city turned dusty.
In the afternoon, she returned home and found the floor of her room covered with a thick layer of dust. Too tired to clean her room, she asked Ramu to prepare dinner early. At about 8 o’ clock she went to bed. She fell into deep slumber.
Even in her sleep she could feel the weight of someone on her tender body. She tried to open her eyes but failed. In the morning she felt her private parts hurting. She rushed to the bathroom, removed her night gown and stood naked before the Belgium mirror.
She was shocked. She had lost her virginity. Who could have done this to her?
She returned to her room. The floor was dusty. She sighted a set of peculiar footprints still fresh on the dusty floor. She could not believe her own eyes.
That was the first Monday after Holi. She left for college in the morning as usual but didn’t return home.
It was late evening. Her father waited for her impatiently. Darkness had already settled. Her cell phone was found switched off. Finally, her father approached the police who registered a case and started a vigorous investigation for her whereabouts.
Thursday came. A large number of people gathered by the riverbank at Kharghuli. A fisherman and his minor son had recovered the lifeless body of Anamika. The police arrived at the scene and sent the body for post-mortem examination.
Several weeks passed since the recovery of the dead body of Anamika. Meanwhile, Ramu left his job and went back to his village. Rintu also decided to shift to a rented house in Uzanbazar area close to his work place. The unfortunate father of Anamika had to stay in the house all alone. He spent sleepless nights, disturbed by the wailing of his daughter Anamika in his dreams. After about a month, he went to the riverside at Kharghuli at the exact spot where the dead body of his daughter had been recovered. Uttering a prayer, he leaped into the river.
So, that was the old man’s story. He refrained from disclosing the identity of the person responsible for the death of Anamika. He only said that Anamika saw something on the floor of her room that signalled her as to the identity of the mysterious rapist.
“What did Anamika see on her room floor that led to the identity of the rapist?” I asked the old man out of curiosity.
After a long pause, he replied in a coarse voice: “She saw the footprints of the rapist. He had six toes on his left leg.”
I had seen people with six toes- one additional toe attached to the small toe. In the house, there were three males- Ramu, Rintu and the father. Who had six toes?
I asked the old man: “Who had six toes?”
The man was visibly annoyed, got up and suddenly vanished in the thin air.
The sky was turning dark but still the remnants of the setting sun, left in the western sky, feebly seen as a dull reddish blanket spread over that area. Even in the soft light that was available, I saw something unusual that sent shivers down my spine.
The dhoti-clad, barefooted old man had six toes on his left leg!!!