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Short Story Contest 2020-21

Blood Lies

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There is something oppressive about silence. Everyone is afraid to break it. I can see the fear mirrored on the faces of the people surrounding me. Papa has fear lurking in his eyes. The sight of a uniformed officer in our home bodes no good. Having been the father of a police officer for years, he knows all too well what it means. Mummy decides to sit down on the chair and rock herself rhythmically. The rocking of the chair seems to calm her. Barun pulls his lower lip down and runs his tongue over it nervously. He reminds me of a lizard with its tongue darting in and out. Aarti, our maid, turns her back to the officer and looks into the garden. I wonder if she is really able to enjoy the profusion of flowers or if this is her means of escape. Raghav remains frozen, as though someone had shouted “Statue” and forgotten to say “Over.” There is only one way to break this silence. I speak.


“What brings you here, officer?” I ask. There is a palpable sense of relief in the room. Faces that earlier seemed to have frozen in a tableaux now begin to get animated. The officer moves forward and almost holds my hand in his. I eye his large hand with its profusion of black hair warily. He drops it by his side almost immediately. He then begins to grope for words.


“Ma’am,” he says and then falls silent again. Whatever he has to say is difficult to utter. He is unable to find the right words. Somehow, I suspect that he had practiced his little speech on way to our house but had hoped to encounter just one or two persons. Maybe it is the crowd in the drawing room that intimidates him, or perhaps he is afraid of me.


It was not he but someone else who had come a month ago to break the shattering news of Abhi’s demise. The man had no realisation that he had walked into a party; it was Barun’s 17th birthday. I had seen the shock on the officer’s face when he entered, just as Barun blew out the birthday candles and we all began singing, “Happy birthday to you.” There was mourning writ large upon the officer’s face and he could obviously not school his expression into one of happiness. “It’s Abhi, isn’t it?” I had asked, and then unexpectedly his eyes had filled with tears. “I am so sorry, Ma’am,” he had muttered. “Abhijeet Sinha’s apartment in Kosovo was bombed this afternoon.”


Kosovo. The image of the city flashed before my eyes. We had been to Kosovo almost two years ago. Barun had been coached by Abhi during his summer vacation for his class X examinations. I closed my eyes and visualised Abhi’s apartment building. It was brownish black and dilapidated from the outside but surprisingly well-furnished inside. An old-fashioned lift took one to the fourth floor, unless of course one preferred to take the steep and at times uneven stone stairs. A small pizza parlour at the ground floor ensured that there was always a throng of customers outside the apartment building.


We all knew that Kosovo was dangerous. While taking us through the mountains, Abhijeet had shown us the red flags that had indicated the presence of landmines; even so, nothing had prepared me for this.


“They bombed his apartment,” the officer repeated. “He must have died instantaneously.”


Both he and I knew that this was not true. Abhi must have burnt to death slowly. He must have felt his hair singe and flesh burn. He must have smelt the acrid stench of burning flesh as he perished. He must have died slowly and agonisingly. By the time the fire brigade came, he must have been dead.

Death need not have been so painful,” I had said, after an interminable silence. Barun had asked me for an unforgettable party for his 17th birthday. He had got his wish. I was reminded of the play, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and the unexpected way in which the family’s wish for money was fulfilled, by way of compensation for the death of their only son. The party was over. The guests, mostly Barun’s classmates, disappeared soon after the officer left.


What now? I wonder. What could it be this time? What could be worse than Abhi’s death?

“I don’t know how to say it,” says the officer, his face downcast, his eyes focused on a small black stain on the floor.


“There is only one way of saying it,” I murmur. He looks at me expectantly and I say, “Just speak.”


Somehow he lacks the courage to go on. Instead, he puts his hand into his pocket, takes out a wallet and fishes out a photograph. I see a petite woman with black hair and black eyes standing beside Abhi.


“What does it mean?” asks Papa in an unnaturally loud voice. “We are not here to play dumb charades.”


The man gulps and mutters, “She claims to be his wife.”


“What?” Papa’s voice resounds in the drawing room, even as he brings his fist down on the glass tabletop. The ash tray jumps into the air and then topples onto the carpet, and the pile of coasters collapse on the floor like a pack of cards.


“She claims she was married to him,” the officer says hesitantly.


“That’s nonsense,” denies Papa. “My Abhi was not like that.”


“She says she had proof of the wedding,” claims the officer.


“What is she?” I ask. “Serb or Albanian?”


“Albanian,” he says.

“Mother Teresa was also Albanian,” chimes in Barun. “Of Albanian descent,” he corrects himself hastily as I glare at him. I wonder why I asked the question. Did it matter?


“It doesn’t matter,” I say briskly, “even if she claims that Abhi married her. In our country, bigamy is a crime. The second wife has no status; she has no rights.”


The officer looks at me in amazement. I have taken the idea of Abhi’s second wife inmy stride. But with Abhi dead, how does it matter?


“But the child from a second marriage had rights,” he argues in a low voice, “andthe woman claims that she is carrying Abhi’s child. The baby is expected any day now.”


Papa’s face begins to turn red. I see the veins sticking out in his forehead and begin to get alarmed. Shocks are not good for his health and he has had one last month, when he lost Abhi. Papa hollers, “Tell the woman not to besmirch the memory of my only son; my son was a hero, not a villain.”


“Abhi would never do something like that,” claims Raghav. I look at him in surprise, wondering if he always sounded so sanctimonious. I do not recall, I am seeing him after 15 years. He is only visiting to condole with us for Abhi’s death.


“We could always run a DNA test, couldn’t we?” asks Barun brashly. He watches too many movies and reads too much science fiction, except that DNA testing is science fiction no more. It is a reality.


“There is nothing of Abhi left here,” I say flatly. The officer looks at me in surprise. “He took away everything with him to Kosovo,” I add. The police officer continues to look perplexed. “Abhi was posted in Kashmir,” I explain, “and from there he left for Kosovo directly. He was there for five years. We shifted to this house only three months ago. Abhi has never been here.”


The officer looks crestfallen. The DNA test would have solved his dilemma. I can understand his compulsions. Abhi had not merely earned a UN pension but had also been covered for an insurance of one million dollars. A DNA test would prove whether the Albanian woman had carried his child or not.


“Is there nothing, nothing at all of Abhijeet Sinha?” the officer asks.


“Officer, his clothes, his belongings, his books were all in Kosovo,” I murmur. “He was paid to get them shipped there.”


“Is there nothing that is his?” he asks once again.


“There is,” I say, and all eyes in the room are riveted towards me. “There is Barun.”


He looks at me wonderingly. “Can’t the doctors test the DNA of both children to find out if they had the same father?” I ask. I see a look of admiration in his eyes. Am I willing to share Abhijeet with another woman, in case the DNA turns out to be positive? he wonders. Papa is happy. He would do anything to save his son’s memory from being sullied. Abhijeet’s friend, Raghav, thinks I am being a fool. “Why invite trouble?” he asks me afterwards.


Three months later we have all but forgotten the visit of the police officer. Barun is sitting at the dining table, his hand inside a large bag of Ruffle’s Lays plain salted chips, while he pores over his books. I see him masticating, his jaws moving slowly as he crunches a mouthful of chips. He reminds me of Bruno, our black Labrador, who is salivating at the sight of the chicken drumstick our maid Aarti had offered him. Barun wants to be an engineer. It was what his father wanted. It becomes so important to fulfill a dying man’s wish. Barun has decided to sacrifice his dream of being a guitarist to be an engineer. Perhaps Abhi’s soul will now rest in peace.


When the doorbell rings Aarti goes to open the door. The police officer Aditya Virmani is at the doorstep. There is a half-guilty look on his face. What is it, I wonder. “Sit down,” I say to him graciously. After all, this is his second visit to our home and that makes him an acquaintance of sorts.


“There is a test,” he says, his words coming out in a rush, as though he has a well-rehearsed script but is afraid that there will be no one to prompt him if he misses his cue. “It is called the Y-STR Male Lineage test.”



Barun looks up from his textbook and listens intently. He thrives on trivia. Mr Virmani continues, “The Y-STR male lineage test is used to determine whether two or more males are related through their paternal lineage.”


I look at Mr Virmani in admiration. Is he a Biology major or has he merely mugged up passages from the internet?

“This test focuses on the Y chromosome and results in a unique Y-STR profile for each male who is tested. If a male child and his alleged half-brother want to know if they have the same biological father, and it turns out that they have the same Y-STR profile, it is practically proven that they share the same father. If the profiles do not match…”


At this point, the officer’s voice peters off as he shrugs his shoulders expressively. Without saying anything else, he has disclosed one thing. The Albanian woman has given birth to a son.


“How long would it take the results to show up?” I ask.


“Just five days,” he says, beaming.


“But the Albanian woman’s son is in Kosovo.”


He begins to look sheepish. I notice the half-guilty look on his face once again. I cannot make out what it means. “Does he plan to take Barun to Kosovo?” I say to myself. I will not allow it.


The officer looks at me imploringly, walks out of the house and walks in with a petite Albanian woman who has a baby nestling in her arms. She is very beautiful. But that does not surprise me. Most of the women I saw in Kosovo were beautiful. There is an air of vulnerability about her that Abhi must have found appealing. No wonder he fell in love with her. But her shoulders are hunched and her eyes are sad. Perhaps she did love Abhi and is still grieving his loss.

“Get out; tell her to get out,” shouts Papa, and the woman, who looks like a half-woman, half-child, cowers in fear and rushes out of the house.


Papa has made his antipathy to the woman evident. I look around to gauge the reaction of the others in the room. Barun looks awestruck. Mummy’s face is inscrutable. I have no idea what she is thinking. Does she want this child to be her grandson? Does she want Abhi’s genes to live on, in not just Barun but this child as well? I will never know. Aarti, however, cannot disguise her surprise. Like Barun, she is struck by Shahin’s beauty. She cannot blame Abhi for straying.


“The test will be done in India. Shahin has insisted on coming here for the test,” says Aditya Virmani.

Barun mutters, “She doesn’t trust us.” He loves to state the obvious.


“How long will it take for the results to come out?” I say once again.


”Five days,” confirms the officer.


“I am ready whenever you are,” says Barun, although no one asked him for his opinion.


He shoves his hand into his bag of chips and begins chomping again.




Aditya Virmani takes Barun to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences the next day and I decide to accompany him. Like Shahin, I am concerned that the tests should not be messed up.


The next five days are the most difficult ones of our lives. As usual, we pretend that everything is normal. Mummy spends more time in the prayer room. Papa buries his face in the newspaper while I watch the television, switching channels with great adroitness, my attention span not exceeding five minutes on shows that I used to be glued onto in the past.


On the sixth day, we are all tense. Papa paces around the drawing room like a caged lion. Mummy sits and rocks her chair as if her very life depends on it. Barun puts the stopwatch in action and begins to attempt the IIT JEE mock question paper as though it is the real thing. I sit with a novel in my hand, my eyes glued on to the door, waiting for the bell to ring.


At last, the doorbell rings. Aditya Virmani enters with a big smile on his face. “The tests prove conclusively that the two children are not related; they cannot have the same father,” he beams.


“Does that woman know?” I ask, not willing to utter her name.

“She does,” he discloses.


“And what does she say?” I cannot resist asking him.

“She says something is terribly wrong. She swears by the lord that her child is Abhijeet Sinha’s son,” he mutters. “She says one day she will prove it.”


“Science can never be wrong,” states Barun solemnly, as if he is the Oracle of Delphi.


“The slut,” says Papa softly, but the venom with which he says it makes me cringe.


“Something is terribly wrong,” Shahin had said, and she was right. Something was very wrong indeed. Only I know the truth. Only I know of the truth that drove Abhi from me and kept him away for the last many years. Only I know the suspicion he had and the courage he lacked, in asking me to undergo this Agnipariksha, the DNA test to prove that Barun was his son. He suspected, but could never confirm, that while he was away in Kashmir some 18 years ago, I was guilty of adultery. Barun is not Abhi’s son. Barun is Raghav’s son. I knew the outcome of the test before it was undertaken.


“There is something terribly wrong,” Shahin had said, “and one day I will prove it.”

I can understand her dismay. If the DNA test had turned out to be positive, her son would have been entitled to a share in Abhi’s wealth. But it is not about money alone; it is her reputation that is at stake. Besides, she wants her son to share his father’s name. I am afraid of her threats. Today, traces of a man’s DNA can be found in many of his possessions. I hope Shahin has none of Abhi’s.


Aditya Virmani told me that Abhi’s marriage had been kept a secret. According to Shahin, Abhi could never meet her in her house. It was she who visited him at his home. And Abhi’s home had been destroyed by a bomb. Everything of his had turned into ashes.


I must begin destroying anything and everything that has association with Abhi. And now I have an excuse for it. I am the distraught wife of a dead man, who, a woman half my age claims, was married to her as well. In a way I am glad that we are Hindus, and that Abhi’s ashes, having been scattered in the Ganges, are at one with the elements. I do not really think that she will be able to prove anything. I look at Barun and smile.

Vandana Jena

Vandana Jena is a retired IAS officer by profession and a writer by inclination.She has published over 200 middles in leading newspapers like The Times of India, Hindustan Times. The Indian Express and The Statesman. She has published two novels- The Dance of Death (Har- Anand 2008), Clueless (Lifi- 2019), three short story collections< The Incubation Chamber (Lifi- 2014), The Future is Mine (Ocean books-2015), and One Rotten Apple (Niyogi Books-2017). She also writes poetry.

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