He bets on stocks at 3am. On his desk: a computer, a mug of tea and a baby monitor. He works in solitude while his petulant wife snores in her room. When she was in labour, he scrolled phone texts and learned of a departed lover. Conceivably, the father of the child he was staring at spreadsheets at witching hour to finance. Sound comes over the monitor, the creaking fan, the slurping dog, the purring wife, and then a hiss. He turns off the jazz, and listens to the air, to the squeak of the fan’s metronome. To another hiss. The child. Is not yours. He hoofs it to baby’s room, feels the air, sees the window. The fluttering curtain and the hooded figure bending over his tot’s cot. The figure, wrapped in cloak, reaches in. Our man screams. The stranger carries the baby and shuts the window. What is it darling, asks the wife pulling on a t-shirt. The stranger lets the hood fall from his face. I don’t know love. I think your dead husband’s back in the study. I thought I heard jazz.
Around these parts people go missing all the time. Though few of them make the front pages. It helped that his family owned the papers and that his uncle ran the country. The jealous spoke of his private jet, his tea business in Asia, and his boutique hotels out east. The gossips spoke of his taste for gin, gambling and married women. When his jet went missing in ‘93, there was much talk and many theories. The government, who owed him favours, did it. The mobsters, who he slandered, did it. His wife, tired of his roving eye, did it. His plane was hijacked by aliens, swallowed by the Bengal triangle, or borrowed by the CIA. After a year, people stopped talking theories. After another, they stopped talking him. After a few more, those suspected in his vanishing, died of natural causes. While he sat, free of the limelight, on an island not far from here, writing his story on the wrapper of a teabag. Surrounded by books and fruit. And holding large binoculars.
Despite his name, Soodu Sampath never played cards or made money from them. His casino had roulette tables, Vegas croupiers, slot machines and call girls. When found dead at his desk at 6am, there was no shortage of suspects. Until the crime scene narrowed it down. 3am, blue label whisky delivered to office, seal in tact, both bodyguards testify. Only Soodu’s glass had traces of cyanide. Two clean glasses on table belonged to his two visitors that night. 4am: Minister’s son, infamous hothead, drops in to discuss investments. 5am: Business partner, notorious thug, comes in for a meeting. 6am: Brazilian call girl, Soodu’s mistress, enters room, screams at the corpse. Nothing on desk except a paper with a scribbled number. Detectives unsure if motive is blackmail, money or jealousy. All the above. But not by kid, thug or tart. Soodu Sampath put two capsules in his drink thinking it would cure his limp prick. I gave him them wrapped in a paper with our useless plumber’s new number. Should’ve listened to my late mum and never married a gambler.
He says he will shave his head and marry her if Bangladesh beat Pakistan. He likes to place decisions in the hands of Gods, in the gloves of batsmen, or in the paws of match fixers. He knows Bangla will never beat the country that once owned it, especially in a World Cup. But if it did, he would shave his mane, give up art, take a 9 to 5, and marry her. However, if Pakistan won, he would go to a place where artists can have multiple women. He would ask her to come, knowing she would not. Win-win. He announces it to the folk huddled around his TV. He mentions only the head-shaving bit. “If you want to be bald, be bald. If you want to go to Amsterdam, go,” said his beloved, tired of holding teacups and smiling. “Stop making excuses.” When the match ends in a tie, he realizes there are things more important than cricket and hair. He gets on his knees before all present. She exits the room and returns ten minutes later, with a pair of clippers.
The funeral was never meant to be a somber affair. He had stated clearly to all visitors at the cancer ward. So there was laughter, music, whisky for the old, ganja for the young. The spread was sumptuous, no frugal mala batha here. The guests were mostly friends of his wife who knew him hardly, but pigged out on cured ham, mince pies and pastries filled with curried flesh. The champagne was served when the video came on. Projected on the wall was his smiling face delivering his own eulogy. If-you’re-seeing-this-I-must-be-gone, sort of thing. He thanks them for coming and insists they eat, drink and make merry. Boasts of a spread prepared by star chefs flown in especially. He talks of struggle, of unfairness, of parting gifts, of vaccines made from cancers. The video cuts to his torso hanging from a hook. Then to masked cooks with cleavers. Then to familiar looking short eats. It ends with him grinning at camera. Saying bon appetite as Pachelbel’s D minor soars. The guests stare at the closed casket and begin to retch.