I liked the coat the moment I saw it. Swinging lightly on its hanger, silver buttons gleaming. I draped it over myself and felt the new confidence surge into me. I wallowed in its warmth. My terribly ordinary existence as part-time usher in the city’s premier theatre drifted away and I could easily imagine myself one of the figures I always dreamt of when younger.
The coat’s owner was obviously rich, someone say, who owned a fancy apartment in Cuffe Parade, probably also a farmhouse in Alibagh. With the coat on, I walked with its owner’s swagger to the door, swinging an imaginary stick, impatient to drive away in his Mercedes E220. It was all so easy. Outside, the moment I was spotted, I heard the anxious flurry of feet, urgent whispers offering help. “Shall we get your car, sir?”
I flicked impatient fingers. A sleek Mercedes flashed to a halt before me and someone, his mackintosh pulled low over his head held the door open. I tipped him generously, with a ten rupee note that obligingly slid into my cold fingers the moment I slid them into the coat’s pocket. I sank into the leathery softness of the car, lulled by music and the air-conditioner’s hum. But the very next moment, I felt an icy coldness press into my neck, heard a harsh whisper in my ear.
“You bastard… You fooled us … and then coolly decided to enjoy a play, eh?”
“It wasn’t so good…” I wriggled, the gun only pressed harder into me.
“You think it’s a joke.” The man at the wheel turned to speak to me. I knew then I had walked into a trap. Tehmina had warned me about her husband. He was mixed up with the underworld and if he found out about our affair, he would kill us both.
The voice, filled with a nasal menace was in my ears, “Listen you said the money would be delivered. But only half the amount came.”
The steel ring of the gun drilled a hole into me, I heard low groans filling the car and knew my own terrible fear. “You tried to pull a fast one … You were in the end, Naseerbhai’s man.”
Naseer. That was the name of Tehmina’s husband. It was a mistake but I had just begun to explain the situation to them when they shot me. I felt a blinding heat in my neck as the bullet entered me, and the blood spurted out like a cola fountain. The car skidded to a halt but the blood was already running down my shirt, soaking my legs. Through a rapidly falling mist before my eyes, I saw the driver and my killer engaged in a frantic debate. What were they to do with me?
I awoke next to the splash of cold water on my face. They had thrown me into the sea, hoping the tide would carry me away in a few hours further down the coast.
But the loose end of my coat had caught against the rocks lining the seawall and this saved me. I lay quiet the next few hours, fearing my killers might return. The city’s debris floated near, splashing against my damp, heavy shoes. Hours later, when I deemed it safe enough, I followed the empty moonlit streets back to the theatre. Only the city’s mongrels followed me briefly, growling suspiciously before they gave up too.
Half-blind Ghani, the doorman who had served in the theatre the last fifty years, etched a salute as I entered. “I knew you would return, sir. Never believed you were dead… There was after all body found. And your coat is still there.”
I strode quickly to the closet. My bones were numb with cold, I wanted to change to my old self again. But the buttons were now glued to my skin. I tried to prise the coat out of my shoulders, my hands pulled at the sleeves but to no avail. I shrank into the shadows as the door closed on me, my struggles now futile. My new surroundings are all too warm and comforting. Also I have a lot of time on my hands now. To plot my revenge against the men who would always try to kill me. Or I could just wait for someone else to walk in. It could be a long wait though.
* * *
Aditi Kay is a writer whose first novel is due out early next year. She works as a freelance editor and management consultant. Presently, she is based in Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived mainly in India and Singapore.