The glass coffin was being laid off on the ground floor, as the people stood watching silently; Priyanka being the only one whose eyes weren’t open, seemingly etched in a deep peaceful sleep. The pain is not hers anymore, Yuva thought. It’s all his. But there is another problem that he needs to address as soon as possible. He turned to his right, where Maya was standing. It’s still early in the morning, the sun is just beginning to show itself, and Maya’s eyes were red due to the lack of sleep she had last night. He is unable to explain what happened last night, in fact he is unable to explain anything that has happened in the last 12 hours. His life and everything didn’t make sense anymore. It all seemed and tasted like a bad nightmare full of haunting riddles, only that he knew he wasn’t dreaming. This is all real. But that’s how he is surviving this nightmare. By convincing himself that it is all, afterall, a dream.
Priyanka’s body was place in the coffin and the funeral house workers carefully closed the coffin. Priyanka’s parents were flooded with grief, sitting by her coffin, watching their daughter motionless. Yuva needs to know. He needs to know what went wrong, whose fault it is, and everything related to it. He needs to find out, even if not for his own sake, at least for Priyanka’s sake, because she died without having the faintest idea what is causing her death.
“We’ll talk after this,” Maya patted on Yuva’s back. She knew this was not the right time to discuss what has happened last night, even though she is eager as ever to find out more about this sickening mystery that has descended their lives into a living nightmare.
Prakash was busy tending to the funeral works. It was something he didn’t have to do. But he felt like doing it for Maya, to help all three of them recover from these haunting murders, to be able to recover and finally find the culprit who is behind all this. He knew neither Maya nor Yuva would be able to do it. Yuva is broken into pieces, and Maya needs to be there by his side in order to put him back together. They needed his help. And he is more than willing to do it for them even though they never asked.
Priyanka Raj was buried that very morning, before noon came upon, at a small graveyard at the outskirts of Chennai. There were people from the film fraternity, the police force, her parents, her one-day husband, her one-day sister-in-law and few others who attended the funeral. Her death was classified as sudden death due to severe brain damage. The medical practitioners are still split as to whether she was murdered or whether there is a natural cause to her death. They do not know the murder patterns that have been happening of late. Only Yuva, Maya and Prakash were all aware of them. The funeral was an incomplete one. Yuva did not dare to face her parents as their looks itself told the story that they demand answers for her death, and that they suspect he might have done something to cause her death.
Yuva held his head down, only occasionally looking up to see her dead body. He felt as if everyone else who came to the funeral want answers, want to know this and that, and in fact many of them asked questions aplenty, but Prakash was quick to send them away under the reason that everything is being investigated and no further questions should be asked. Forensics were not allowed to see the body; none of the normal procedure took place. Prakash used all the authorities that he and Maya together possessed to make sure Priyanka is buried and not used as a specimen to aggravate the grief that they are already suffering from.
Yuva sighed, and slowly looked up. Maya was looking at him. Yuva not only felt like a suspect, but instead he felt like he was the criminal. Now the closest person to him will tell him that he indeed that the best clue as to what is actually going on.
“Maya,” Prakash said slowly, exhausted, and he strolled over in almost slow motion towards the table they were seated at. “I did some checking, and a lot of tracing,” he added, sweat pouring profusely, something that he clearly wasn’t used to being the normally elegantly dressed man that he is. He let go a sigh himself. Yuva and Maya looked at him eagerly.
“Yuva is somehow connected to all these people who died. Of course Priyanka is the closest, but that guy Pritam is the one who shot Maya a couple of years back,” Prakash said.
Yuva was looking for words. He needs to defend himself. He didn’t even know the identity of Maya’s shooter.
“I’m not accusing Yuva,” Prakash explained before Yuva would come to any conclusions. “There’s something we need to figure here. I know something happened last night as well. You need to explain to us,” he added.
What will Yuva explain, when he does not know anything?
“The figure I saw,” Maya started. “Was a bearded saint-like person, something like a saadhu, he had a stick on his hand, he had a very cynical look on his face,” she said. She was struggling to explain his appearance, but there was a glow on Yuva’s face as he spoke.
“One of the dead guys, Pritam, apparently called one of his friends before he died, and asked him whether the friend had sent any saadhu to his house to do any rituals,” Prakash said.
“And what Pritam said on the phone matches, somewhat, to what Maya has said,” he added.
Yuva looked stunned. But he wasn’t about to make a deduction.
“Then you know how the culprit looks like. Do I look like you friggin’ saint to you?” he asked.
“He went away when you woke up Yuva. And I could only see a reflection of him on the mirror. He did not exist in real,” Maya said.
Yuva felt a surge of ridiculous thoughts. He did not like it. These didn’t make sense. But it’s time he starts considering aspects that don’t make sense. They might all make sense at the end of the day.
“What color was his cloth?” he asked, after two minutes of utter silence to regain his composure.
“Orange,” both of them answered simultaneously. Yuva was exasperated. He is indeed living a nightmare.
He turned around and looked at his desk, on where he had been doing an abundance of writing work of late. Maya walked to desk, intrigued. There were a stack of papers clipped together, all written on, about a 100 pages.
On the cover, in Yuva’s scrambled handwriting, there was etched- ‘A Reality without a Shadow’.
“A Reality without a Shadow,” she said. “This is the novel you have been working on,” she added. He nodded.
“This sounds ridiculous, but that book might have some answers,” Yuva said.
All three of them were dumbstruck. This is impossible. But nothing that has happened so far seemed even remotely logical.
To be continued..