Blood was slowly sliding down his face, like a teardrop. His right wrist was handcuffed to the steering wheel of the car. She could not see who it was… yet her silent screams echoed through the parking lot.
The sound of gunshot and the scream… a voice she knew well, yet she did not know where it came from and again, her screams were lost in the dark skies of the night. She wanted to run, but her feet felt very heavy all of a sudden.
She stood, freezing in the rain. She was chasing someone, but that figure melted into the backdrop of buildings that surrounded her. She had an uneasy feeling she was being watched. If it was true, she wondered from where and by whom.
Something hit her feet hard. Her knees buckled and she fell onto the ground. She opened her eyes in spite of the pain… to see a hand reaching for her hair.
Then she heard her alarm. And woke up, sweating profusely. It scared her. It really did. Her experiences before made her more afraid. In her past, such a terrifying dream had haunted her for weeks, and then one fine day it had come true. She prayed that at least this one did not come true. The digital clock on the side of her bed showed 6:00 am. She jumped out of bed with a start, dashed into the bathroom and began quickly washing her face. Then the cool water calmed her down, and she realized that it was her day off.
The newspaper had already come, by the time she had prepared coffee. She picked it up from near her Kinetic, where it lay that morning. She made a mental note to remind the paperboy to throw it somewhere closer to her door, rather than her garage. At the bottom of the front page, she saw her own photograph. She knew why it was there, but she had not expected the news to make it to the front page. But then, it was the Calcutta Chronicle. She couldn’t expect the newspaper for which she worked to leave her big day out of the front. She smiled, as she read the article.
She had won awards before for her journalistic ventures. The Journalist of the Year, The People’s Journalist, and Most Interesting Articles Award were some of the accolades that she had won so far. Yet this one which she was to receive that night meant something more to her… She did not want it, yet she could not refuse. The Indian Journalists Assn. was convening that night at Le Meridian in the city and they had chosen her for the Courageous Journalist Award, for her pursuit of Rajan Dey, the smuggler. That venture may have gotten her the award, but it had taken her dad’s life. She plucked two roses from her garden, and went inside. In the hall, there were two photos…her mom’s and her dad’s. She placed the roses in front of the photos after removing the dried ones.
She was the Chronicle’s chief journalist, second only to the editor in the entire management of the newspaper. Yet, Chinmayee Aditya Tripathy was more respected than the editor. Nobody called her Chinmayee or Miss Tripathy. She was known to everyone fondly as Cat. Even Shukla, her editor respected her opinion. She spent the day, deciding on what she was going to say when she accepted the award. By evening, her study was littered with a hundred paper balls. She decided she would say whatever came to her on the spur of the moment.
At 8pm, she was on the porch, having locked the door and given the key to her neighbor for safe keeping. She was dressed in a green salwar, given to her by her fiancé Atul. She loved that dress and had decided to wear it for the first time that night. He meant everything to her. She saw his car drive up to her gate and went. He got out and kissed her. She got in and they left for the hotel. Stylishly dressed in a tux, he looked every bit like the dashing prince who rescued the maiden in the fairytales. He worked at the Chronicle too. He was a photographer, who would go to any trouble to get shots which were very valuable and difficult to get. And he was also the only photographer Cat trusted on her jobs.
The award ceremony had started by the time she made her entry. Many journalists got up and congratulated her, but she could only utter “thanks” and smile. She went onto the dais when her award was announced. When she spoke, her voice seemed heavy. “Friends and fellow journalists… I am very thankful to all of you, for this gesture. I wish I could speak more, but I am a bit overwhelmed by the memories that accompany me ever since that fateful day. I hope you shall understand. This award shall be very close to my heart, and I dedicate it to the memory of my father, the late Aditya Tripathy. Thank you all once again.”
After a light dinner, the two of them walked out. They had not found parking space in the hotel, so they had parked some streets back. They were talking of the other journalists whom they had met, and how good or bad they were. It was Cat, who saw it first. A fire, near the car… it was close to it, as if to show her something. Her heart missed a beat as they ran towards it. Her dream was already beginning to come true. She looked through the passenger window, and she saw who it was. A tear slid down her face.
(to be continued…)