MONEY: THE NECESSARY EVIL
Help—the solemn word that comes when one is absolutely destitute and Sukanya Pathak was always the first on my mind whenever I needed help. It was her selfless act of kindness that always reminded me of her. But every act of kindness has its price.
Sukanya, growing up in genteel poverty, acquired a Master’s Degree in Journalism and started her work in a renowned newspaper publication house. Her keen interest towards journalism was always an inspiration to her circle; wherever she went, her positive aura made the atmosphere lighter.
One of her faults though was her selflessness. She never said No to anyone who asked for help nor did she ask for anything in return of the hard labour she put for other’s work. Even if it was not a possibility for her, she would go beyond her depths to provide the help so asked. Work but never wait for result— was the motto she lived by.
At times I had to go and stop her, as I could see her health decline rapidly but she would not even listen for once. It became her duty to serve every new person that came to our office. Foolish she must have been, as who would stand and tolerate reprimandation for acts which had nothing to do with her. She took all others blame and gave her deserving credit to others.
I was eighteen when I first met Sukanya in our college; she was a year senior to me and I admired her with all my heart. For I, like the rest, was also one to take endless help from her. One thing that always bothered me was that she seemed to be hiding something but I never understood what it was.
I joined the same office last February and thus I got to spend much time with her. It was perhaps around September, during one break, I first noticed that she had a dark countenance about her. She stared outside the window at the street below. Her eyes were fixated at something or someone which I could not make out.
“What are you thinking? Is it about that new project?” I asked her with a fervid enthusiasm, shaking her.
She started, looking at me as if coming out of a trance.
“Did something happen again at the office?” I asked.
“Why did my life turn a certain interest to everyone?” she said, furiously. “Am I now answerable to you?”
I did not say anything thinking she might be having a bad day thus did not want to disturb her. These sudden bursts of anger started to grow day by day, and even though I tried to persuade her to tell me what was going through her mind, she kept changing the topic to something else.
Being the only child in the house might have impacted her. Her parents were elderly people and were wholly dependent upon her earnings. Thus all the burden of running the house fell upon her shoulders. She could not even think of marriage. She occasionally said to me that no one shall be left to look after her aged parents.
I often noticed that at work she ran at every beck and call. Because of her worries she never could go to on-site projects, which fetched some extra earnings. She was there for every project but never got her proper earnings which she was so working hard for. For hours she used to give her labour for as poor a sum as naught. It was her only source of earning but it barely made a ripple in the consciousness of the rest.
I found that she had this pathetic problem that she could not even ask for her deserving payment. Endlessly, I told her to make a protest but she always said “If they think my work is deserving they will pay me. I can’t go begging for it.”
What stopped her I never understood. Everyone else was doing it, why couldn’t she? Other’s considered my friend’s kindness to be foolish and misused her for every cent her poor weary soul could bear. Thousands gathered around her to only use her simplicity but when their work was done they hardly noticed her existence.
In the month of October, unknown burdens were thrown upon Sukanya. Her father had a heart attack and all her savings started to drain away rapidly for his medical expenses. I helped as much as I could. She could not give as many hours to work anymore which lost her many opportunities of taking the on-site project. Day and night, we waited in the hospital.
That was the first time, when I saw her breakdown. On the stairs of the hospital, I found her weeping covering her face with her hands. I took a seat beside her and put my arm around her shoulders. I was taken aback to see those eyes; they begged for help.
Everything fell apart in a month, when I was commissioned to go to Varanasi for a project. I never could have imagined that my friend, who was known for her kindness and simplicity, could have done such an act. It was rather impossible for me to believe it, thus I had to go around asking a couple of people, when I first heard the news that my friend has been sent to the correctional home.
Soon after I returned, the news of her father’s death made me run to her house from where I first learnt that shocking news. She always said, “Kindness cures almost everything.” This was the one preaching which I never could truly follow. Kindness did not work out well for her. Each day I witnessed how my friend was misused for hers and painfully she cried alone unable to speak up for herself. Now, I had to listen to people saying that she had murdered the Editor-in-chief.
“How did it all happen?” I asked Mrs. Pathak one day, thinking that her mother would be the best person to know the true incident. She narrated the story, one after the other, and the more that I heard, my heart sank far deeper.
Her mother was convinced that someone purposefully might have set her up; so did I. Sukanya, the girl, who would have come at one call for help, could have been taken into custody for such a grievous offence.
All the facts fell upon me like an avalanche and I could not gather myself together as every other person confirmed the same. Some even said that “She always seemed to be a bit delusional. It must have been her plan for a long time.”
I, being the closest of the people after her parents, could not accept any of the nonsense that had spread around like wildfire. The girl I knew, Sukanya Pathak, would die before even thinking of committing any such act, thus every hour from that day onwards I started to research on why such news had been spread about her.
The visit to the accused was available for a brief period and once in a month that I saw her, I couldn’t gather courage to ask her about it. We were allowed to bring food for her and her mother took a tiffin carrier everytime she went to visit Sukanya. The first day I went there with her mother, I saw there were two other women. Sukanya sat curled up in the corner facing the wall.
The thought of her innocence kept bothering me to see Sukanya suffer in such a pathetic condition, day after day. As we entered, one of the women jumped up and scratched my face with her sharp nails. She was quickly caught hold by the jailor and dragged out to a different cell. She kept murmuring something which I couldn’t make out with a deranged laughter which rang in my ears.
When we reached by her side, she smilingly talked to her mother and asked for her health. “I’ll be out soon, don’t worry,” she said to her mother.
I stood by her mother’s side. She barely noticed my presence and kept on chatting with her mother. She gladly ate her tiffin, and even said the food was great. The hour went soon and we had to leave.
Her mother and I were about to walk out of the cell when she said, “Thank you for coming. I feel so lonely here,” she said with a weak voice, looking at me.
One day after the visiting hours ended, I could not resist my inquisitiveness and snuck past the guards, hiding behind pillars till everyone was out. As the sounds of every step faded, I came out to the corridor and slowly walked towards her cell making sure no one heard, peeping at the stairs every now and then.
Just as I was about to reach the cell, a fast step approached and I saw the jailor coming down. “What are you doing here?” inquired the jailor, looking at me curiously.
“I lost my ring and was trying to find it,” said I, showing my ring which I took out instantly, hearing her loud steps, at which she stared for a couple of seconds.
“You are not supposed to be here, your visiting hours have ended.” Pretending to be sorry, I left the premises.
Now my eagerness rose to its pinnacle. Months went and I started to make an elaborate sketch on how to have a proper conversation with her. I dedicated all my time in planning out a proper strategy as if my life depended on it. Each time I attempted my plan, the jailor came in between.
This continued for seven months and after seven attempts, each time though I came closer and closer to my goal, I kept on losing hope. My curiosity had the better of me and after all those months I had failed every possible outcome. I thought of trying one last attempt.
On the last day for the visit of the month, I asked her mother to hand me the tiffin that she would have taken. I emptied the box and filled the same with rolls of money. I could only manage upto twenty thousand and carried it calmly into the office of the jailor.
The jailor was alone in her office and thus it was the opportune moment and I opened the box in front of her and placed it on her desk, offering it to her.
“All of this shall belong to you,” said I, pushing the tiffin box in the center of the table, and stopping before she could reach it. “But you need to give me more than an hour to speak with Sukanya and make sure that the other two women are not in the prison cell so I can talk to her alone.”
“Very well then, but this cannot be done today,” said the jailor, pulling the box towards her. “Come next week, I’ll see what I can manage.”
“NO!” I dragged the box towards me, jealously. “If not today, then you get nothing.”
“Look! There are things that I have to take care off before such a stunt can be pulled off.”
“I don’t CARE,” I said, banging my hand on the desk, which made a loud noise, “I need to see her TODAY.”
“Hush! Okay. Okay. I’ll see what can be done,” said the jailor looking at the door, seeing if anyone heard. “But be careful,” she whispered.
Careful. I thought. She is innocent, why should I need to be careful? Her words were appalling to even hear at that moment. The behaviour of Sukanya towards the jail staff must have been inflicted by the gruesome atmosphere that is there, not because she is guilty of any crime.
I waited there, pacing to and fro, looking towards the door every now and then, checking if she came back. The thought of her taking the money and running away kept bothering me. I could not lose this opportunity to get to know the real story.
I stared outside the window and Sukanya’s sweet sound of laughter rang in my ears. Those days when we were in college flashed before my eyes one by one, laughing and joking about like two close friends who were there for each other. We had such a different life.
The jailor came in after quite some time with a bag and two other lady officers. I started hearing the words of the jailor.
“We would be going out for one and half hours. Speak whatever you have to, but that is the only time you get.” She kept the keys to the cell on the desk and went out.
I thanked them and ran towards her cell. Passing the dim dungeon-looking prison corridor I reached her cell. There she was still looking at that same empty wall, which she stared at when I first saw her there. I opened the cell and in a leap or two reached by her side.
“Sukanya, I am here.” She kept gazing at the wall blankly with barely a blink. “Sukanya, do you hear me?” I held her hand. She sharply turned towards me. My blood went cold in an instant. That was not my friend that had a warm welcoming look every time she saw me.
“What is it?” she asked plainly, those soulless eyes as if staring directly into my soul.
“I—I am here to know why…” my words vanished, unknown fear crept in.
“Oh! You are here to know why I murdered him as well?”
“I know you didn’t do any such thing. I am here to know, why are you being falsely accused?”
“Falsely accused?” she said, raising her brow, with a maniacal laugh. “I murdered him,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. In a moment she stopped laughing and the prison cell went as silent as a graveyard. Her change of expression was ghastly.
“WHY?” she gnashed at me. “It was because of him my father died. I requested and even begged him for my money that was due for almost seven months but he kept turning me back saying ‘I am trying…The cheque is pending…I know dear, but what can be done…I feel so sorry for you,’ she said, taunting the editor.
“My father died on the hospital bed, waiting for his medicines which I could have easily bought if not for him,” she turned towards the wall, staring darkly into the unknown and continued:
“One day, seeing that he is alone, I went to him. ‘My father is hospitalized, Sir. I needed the money, urgently,’ I pleaded.
“‘What can be done?’ he said, shrugging in a casual way. ‘Okay, wait,’ and he called the accountant, asking, ‘Has the cheque been released yet? No, right?’ suggesting the answer to the accountant, and as per his direction he nodded like a trained parrot. This was a humorous act for him.
“‘You see that I am trying my best.’ he continued with his pretentious help. I cannot do anything further. Here take five hundred and take a holiday for the day. Happy?’ he said to me in a tone of sarcasm, handing me the money.”
I intently listened to her, without moving a muscle. All these days she had to keep this from everyone. She was being tried by life too gravely to fight back. Her patience was burning in the fire that was being fuelled by the instant changes that were brought upon her by the people whom she helped for all these time.
“I was disappointed, disheartened and absolutely destitute,” she continued. “I would have quit the job had it not been for my increasing responsibilities. Father was on his deathbed and I was struggling to get my year long due payment.”
“My father died two days later and thus on that same day, I went to his office after everyone was out. He was sitting on his desk, drinking his old favourite whisky, finalising some draft prints. ‘When will my payment be made, Sir?’ I asked him for one last time.
“His reply was the same as before: ‘Dear, I have informed today and it will be here in a week. You don’t have to worry, I have taken care of everything,'” she said, recalling the incident, clutching her hand in a fist and grinding her teeth like a mad dog.
“I could not bear to stand and listen to his rhetoric day after day,” her rising anger showed in her eyes. They glowed darkly in the obscured background of the prison cell.
I stood there shaken to my very core. The deeper her story went, I looked at her with building anxiety. Who was this person in front of me? I thought.
“Di—Did you really…” I said, fumbling to speak a sentence.
“Yes! Yes I did,” she replied swiftly, crazily, turning sharply towards me. I stepped back in horror towards the corner as her eyes sparkled in the dark cell with an intense thirst for revenge.
“I took the bottle from the desk and broke it on his head. With the blow he fell on the floor, bleeding furiously. He tried to crawl away but I seized him by his leg and stabbed him on his chest with the glass bottle. I kept on stabbing till I was sure he was dead.”
I fell on my knees. What am I listening to? That is not my friend I thought, looking at the floor. A cold hand grabbed my throat with a maddening strength. A shiver ran down my spine as I looked up and saw Sukanya’s murderous look.
“Sukanya, I—I am your—your friend,”
“I HAVE NO FRIENDS,” she said with a penetrating voice. “You took the opportunity and went to Delhi, for which I worked hard for three years. You knew very well that I needed the money the most in those days,”
“What—what are you saying?” said I struggling to loosen her grip. “Y—you said—that—that I deserved it.”
I wrestled to get out of her grip but it was impossible. Her strength was impracticable; she was guided by insanity. She pushed me to the wall strangling me with all her might. The silence of the empty cell, echoed with my plea for mercy.
As her face started to get blurred before me, I could hear sounds of footsteps from the corridor. Gasping for air, I could only make out a solemn cry—”Help!”