Rahim Bux was meticulous. He prided himself on being meticulous. His account ledgers were the neatest, the most accurate, in the office – perhaps the neatest in all the brokerage business. He had no patience with the crooked unaligned columns of the junior newcomers. In a fit of anger he would take an iron strip he kept in his desk drawer and laying it on the page draw a heavy line with a thick black marker over the ends of the lines to show how ragged the margins were.
“Do it again,” he always shouted, “and if you spoil another page, you shall pay the cost of a new register.”
It was the same at home. He would fly into a fit whenever he saw things lying out of place. He was particularly angry if his wife had not entered the day’s spending in a thick black notebook he had given her for that purpose.
“I did not get the time, I was going to do it just now, but you came back early.”
“I did not come back early. I come back every day between 5:30 and 6:00, depending on the bus. It is now exact 5:40. Why did you not write out the accounts?”
“I was busy with the cooking and the cleaning – ”
“Yes, the poor thing has to do all of the work by herself,” said the fat old mother-in-law rushing as usual to her daughter’s defense. “Every other house has a servant, or two servants, but here! The unfortunate child has to work unaided from dawn to night. My cousin’s daughter has a separate cook and a separate general servant. I made a mistake to thrust my poor daughter into – ”
“You keep out of this, you permanent freeloader!”
“Don’t speak to my mother like that!”
“And don’t you dare call me a freeloader! I give you a substantial amount for my stay every month.”
“Substantial? That could hardly cover half of the cost of the food you consume. And what about the rent?”
“Rent?” shouted Kariman, his wife, “would you have kept a man in this tiny two-room quarter?”
“I could have kept a woman,” he grinned offensively, “and maybe she might have given me a son, which you have not been able to do.”
“Don’t blame her!” screamed Kariman’s mother, Bashiran, “It is you who is so old and fat and incapable.”
But at this point Rahim Bux advanced on her so threateningly that she ran out into the small courtyard, and then outside onto the street.
“Why does she not leave us? She does nothing to earn her food, and she eats twice what the two of us eat. Why do we have to put up with her? Why doesn’t she go home?”
“You know very well that after my father’s death she has no home.”
“So, it is not my responsibility to house and feed her. What about your loafer of a brother?”
“I have told you several times that he himself lives in one room in a men’s hostel. How could he keep her?”
“Well, then, turn her out to earn a living whatever way she can, decently or sinfully. Only, she is too old and fat and ugly for the latter.”
“Baap re baap!” exclaimed the subject of discussion who had silently slunk back into the house, afraid of the street dogs who had come running to surround her. “What a vile-tongued man you have married, Kariman! He is completely crude and backward. My cousin’s daughter’s…”
She had deliberately left the street door open so that he would not be able to shout out other insulting things within the hearing of the passersby, and he went into his own room and closed the door without bolting it. He took off his ‘half-coat’ as he called it and hung it up and on the other of the two cracked and split pegs he placed his greasy cap. He removed his imitation-leather shoes which had been giving him good service for five years. Before putting them back into their cardboard box, he wiped the dust from the surface with a rag he kept for this purpose. He was particular about packing them heel over toe, and toe over heel. Meticulous, he was.
Kariman brought in his tea in a cracked cup turning yellow and a thick biscuit out of the half kilo that she had told him several times her mother had bought with her own money.
“Show me your list of purchases for today,” he growled. She had made the list ready by now – it being brief – and brought it to him. He ran his eye down the short list.
“Onions again? You bought a kilo only three days ago… That hungry mother of yours is going to turn us bankrupt and what is this ‘coriander, mint, green peppers; all listed together for ten rupees? Why did you two not ask the shopkeeper to tell you the prices separately? That is how they fool and cheat you. You do not know that money is hard to earn. Next time I will make your fat old mother who went with you, pay for this.”
“Baap re! All this shouting for a few paisas! Here, take a rupee from me!” the old woman shouted insultingly, throwing the coin at him. He sprang up to hurl the coin back at her, but the old woman adroitly ducked into the next room where her son entered at the same time from the other door.
Rahim Bux suspected that the thin pock-marked man came to his house regularly in his absence and ate his brother-in-law’s hard-earned food, and no doubt wheedled money out of his doting sister.
He detested him. He loathed the mother. Because of them he hated his wife also, since she unquestioningly took their side, even when she knew they were wrong. Her loyalty was all with them. And she had permanently taken the old woman as part of their home, without even actually asking him beforehand, and even though she knew how much he detested her.
He did not know how to get rid of them. They would never leave. He could not just forcibly push the fat woman out into the street. She would raise such a hue and cry that all the neighbours would come running. And of course they would all sympathise
with her and say she had nowhere else to go. Of course they would say it was his duty to support her. And she would loudly proclaim that she paid for her keep. She, and his wife, and most probably the hungry-looking brother were together robbing him stealthily and steadily.
He had often seriously considered divorcing his wife of seven years, so that the other two went out with her. The huge obstacle was the wretched ‘mehr’. It was a full Rs. 51,000, and by paying it he would have left a huge hole in his hard-collected life-long savings.
But they must be done away with, that he had already decided – all three of them. They should not be allowed to continue to live to destroy his life. They had to be physically and permanently, eliminated.
All that was left to consider was, how?
He had toyed with the idea of poisoning them secretly, then rejected the option as too risky. He had no knowledge of the stuff – which one and how much would be effective. Obviously, he could not ask the chemist, or anyone else for that matter, how much of it would be sufficient to kill a person. Nor did he want, in case the dose was not adequate, to leave the old woman screaming out to the neighbourhood that she suspected someone had given her poison, she was sure it was her son-in-law, and that they should call the police to arrest him. Or on the other hand, if by great good luck she did die – hopefully of an overdose, there was this practice, he had read of, of hospitals cutting open the body and discovering the cause of death. If they discovered poison, they would be sure to investigate till they had found out where and by whom it had been bought. No, that would not do.
A gunshot would have been the best, used with the aid of a silencer. He could always make out that robbers had got in, in his absence, and killed the old woman when she refused to give up the two thin, dull, worn-out gold bangles she wore constantly. The daughter had been killed trying to protect her fat mother. He would have mourned unceasingly for a week, and wailed louder than the rest.
But he had no gun and buying one at this stage would be the stupidest thing he could do. And why should he have to spend so much money on removing these useless creatures?
* * *
No, a knife stab would be the quickest, the most effective – and the most satisfying. He relished the image of the dirty blood spurting out from the fatty layers of the old woman’s sweaty shoulder. Not the shoulder. He would stab at the neck. So that no further insulting and inciting sentences could pour out of that evil throat.
And then, how to dispose of the bodies, so that no trace of the filthy trio remained?
It was they whom he wanted to punish, not himself. The crime had to be committed in such a way that there was no connection to be traced between the deed and the doer. He suspected that probably, if not his wife, then that venomous witch, her mother Bashiran, went around telling the whole neighbourhood that the cruel husband habitually mistreated his poor patient wife, when it was actually the other way around. It was she who kept his house a mess, it was she who fed her fat mother on his hard-earned money, it was she who gave secret hand-outs to that leech of a brother. But scandal-loving neighbours, he could well imagine, must delight to lend an ear to these concocted tales.
No, they had to be removed and the corpses skillfully and artfully concealed – the sooner the better.
But everything must be meticulously planned.
He had a good collection of large sharp knives which he used every Eid-ul-Adha. Ever since the fat woman had moved in with them, they had sacrificed a sheep or goat on that festival, for which, as she repeatedly announced to the whole street, it was she who paid. To save on the butcher’s charges, he had bought a number of large sharp knives and had become quite adept at slaughtering the animals, so that he followed this up by slaughtering the neighbours’ goats also, and earned quite an Eidi for himself every year.
He did not need, therefore, to bring suspicion on himself by buying a new one for these tougher beasts.
And the bodies? He could not throw them out on the rubbish heap where they rightly belonged. He had to carry them out far away. But the fat woman was too heavy to be lugged by himself, and he could not possibly bring in an accomplice. He must skillfully transport her in a box that could somehow roll.
He had seen some cheap foreign-made suitcases, large but lightweight, with smooth-moving sturdy wheels, in the Friday bazar. That was it. He must buy one of those. A large one. Two, in fact, or three.
But the dealer should not be able to recall the customer’s face, if questioned by the police detectives. That is how stupid criminals were caught.
He needed a good disguise.
He remembered that while travelling on the bus through Kharadar on his way to the office, he would every day pass an old dilapidated shop selling musty false moustaches and beards and perhaps wigs, obviously for amateur theatricals. That is what he must acquire. But this seller of these also should not remember the customer’s face. One clue led to another.
Rahim Bux was meticulous in every detail.
* * *
Next day, when his wife was busy in the kitchen, he pulled off one of her cotton dupattas from the washing line and stowed it in his briefcase.
At the office, when everyone had gone out and the sweepers had not yet commenced their perfunctory cleaning, he slipped into the smelly bathroom. He took out a bottle of paint he had brought with him, and carefully painted his face a deep brown, almost black. He then wrapped the dupatta round his balding head like a turban and donned a jaunty crimson embroidered jacket he had picked up from a cabin selling used garments then he walked out through a side door.
He selected the bushiest beard and the widest moustache. He completed the deal by taking a luxuriant wig, the thick, long, black hair reaching almost to his shoulders. Then he thought of making the change of appearance doubly baffling, by purchasing a second set also, this one of a reddish brown hue, with short cropped hair. By interchanging them, he could effectively confuse the investigators.
The skilled police detectives would instantly suspect that the hairy appendages described by possible witnesses were no doubt false and would go around questioning all the sellers. The man who had sold him the two sets would describe a very dark man with a Marhati style turban and flamboyant clothes who had bought the two sets of disguises. No one could possibly relate the description to the medium-complexioned, thought Rahim Bux.
He concealed the purchases in an old used brown business envelope which he put in his brief case.
to be continued...