SENSELESS

Author’s note:

This short story was written around October last year, one from among a group of short stories for a submission. Two other stories from that group got selected, this one didn’t. It lay forgotten by me as I moved on to other collaborations, projects and submissions. A news article was brought to my attention by my brother a few months ago, somewhere between April and May, who had previously read this story as a test reader. Going through that article gave me an uncomfortable and queasy feeling. To be honest, I am not over that feeling until now. But I will leave that judgement to you readers to decide whether I am justified in my discomfort or not. Do keep in mind that this story was written before the actual incident. Fact sometimes, is stranger than fiction.

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The short story:

“So…you have no idea what happened?”

Ayaan looked at his superior in discomfort. He has been an investigating officer for the past two years. This would be the first case which had baffled him. So open, yet without any motive. Devoid of any suspicious angles. A thousand witnessed the incident, yet no witnesses. It was a professional guilt, a shame to not bring closure to the grieving family…that feeling had him in its chokehold. Gulping down a lump in his throat, he answered quietly.

“No Sir.”

“What are you even saying Ayaan? You are among the best we have. This kind of a response is not expected from you.”

Ayaan hung his head in embarrassment. His superior looked at him for a while, then continued his inquiries.

“Any trouble at school or with parents?”

“No Sir. The usual. A little chastisement here, a rejection there. Nothing recent that would trigger this.”

“Any love angle?”

Ayaan shook his head in a negative.

“Depression? Was he acting out? Or was withdrawn?”

“None, Sir.”

ASP Kamat flung down his pen in frustration.

“So what you are trying to tell me is that a 14 year-old boy, who had no trouble either at home or at school, wasn’t bullied, wasn’t pushed to excel in his studies, had no love issues, and had a perfectly normal day, decides to come home from school, have his snacks, go to his room and then hang himself? That too broadcasting it on Facebook live?”

Ayaan met the scrutinizing gaze of Kamat.

“Unfortunately, Sir…that is what the investigation has concluded.”

“Talk to me about the people involved in this case.”

Ayaan cleared his throat. “There are twelve people who I have identified as closely connected to the case. Mohsin’s parents, Dr. Naeem Qazi and Mrs. Fiza Sheikh. His siblings, elder sister Aisha Qazi and younger brother, Raza Qazi. The domestic help, Seema. The vegetable vendor who witnessed the hanging and raised the alarm, Rama. His three best friends, Samir, Peter and Rahil. A girl he was said to have a crush on, Kulsum. She also was his classmate. His principal, Mr. Dylan. And his class teacher, who he had interacted the most during his last day, Mrs. Neetu Das.”

Kamat leaned back in his chair, brows knotting his forehead.

“Talk to me about their statements.”

***

Parents- Dr. Naeem Qazi and Mrs. Fiza Sheikh:

Ayaan took his seat opposite the grieving parents. This part of the job was something he feared and despised the most. But one which also kept him motivated. To provide closure to the families that needed it the most. In this case, an upper middle class couple whose 14-year-old son had hung himself without an apparent cause or insinuation.

The lady was sobbing silently, while the man sat quiet, eyes red and shoulders drooping.

“I am so sorry for your loss…” Ayaan looked at them empathetically. Dr. Qazi was the first to meet his gaze.

“Thank you, officer.”

Ayaan took a deep breath before continuing.

“I know this is difficult for you…but we need you to help us figure it out.”

Dr. Qazi nodded at him in a defeated manner. “Ask what you will officer. We will try our best to answer your questions. Almighty knows we have too many of our own.”

“Ma’am…” he directed his gaze at Fiza, Mohsin’s mother. “…can you please recount to us his movements on that day…?”

Fiza took a deep shuddering breath, punctuated by her sobs. Her husband patted her hand in support, as she closed her eyes. Ayaan waited patiently.

“The day was normal officer…”, her shaky voice commenced the narrative. “…the usual. Packing the lunch…making breakfast…sending the children to school, college, sending Naeem to hospital. Mohsin and Raza came home around 3. That is their usual time. As every day, they changed, took a bath and came down for a snack. Mohsin asked for an omelette and a glass of milkshake that day. I told him he had to finish the sandwich I had already prepared. We had a small argument, but I made him what he wanted to eat. He lay in the living room, watching TV for an hour or so. Then got up to start his homework, around 5. He went upstairs to his room. I stayed down to prepare for dinner. It was when Rama started banging on the door and screaming, did we rush to his room…by then….”

Ayaan knew what had happened by then.

Fiza broke down once more. Wordlessly, Ayaan pushed forward the untouched glass of water that had been placed in front of him, towards her. Dr. Qazi picked it up and soothed his wife to take a few sips. Deciding to give the mother a little while, Ayaan turned to the father.

“When were you informed Doctor?”

Dr. Qazi took off his glasses and pinched his eyes in exhaustion and grief. Although merely in his early 40’s, he looked way older in this moment.

“Aisha…my eldest daughter called me around 5:20-5:30. She was hysterical…initially I couldn’t make sense of what she was saying. When I did, I immediately instructed them to bring Mohsin to the hospital. The driver lives nearby. We call him whenever needed. I called him and instructed him to pick my family. He drove Fiza and Rama with Mohsin…” he choked on his son’s name, bit his lips to control his emotions, then continued with a heavy voice. “…they arrived around 6. I checked him myself officer…with these hands…these very hands I checked him…and pronounced him dead…” his composure went to pieces as he started to weep.

“There were no changes in his behavior? No indication of any trouble? Nothing that caused alarm?”

Both the parents shook their heads unanimously. This was something that had haunted them as well.

“Everything was so normal officer…why would he take such a step…”

***

“It’s making me uneasy as well Ayaan…the continuous popping up of the word normal. Why the hell would anyone, who had everything normal, was himself normal, take such a destructive step?” ASP Kamat rubbed his chin in deep thought, then asked. “Was the child introvert? They do tend to bottle up their feeling.”

Ayaan shook his head decisively. “On the contrary, he was known to be quite a loud-mouthed child. Not misbehaved, but someone who loved to let the world know what he’s thinking. We went through his social media. He has expressed everything there from his dislike of cabbage, to his love for sports, to his self-defense in talking back to his parents…it’s almost as if he considered Facebook to be his personal diary.”

“In your opinion then, this would be someone who would let everyone know if he was hurting or was dejected in some way, is it?”

“Absolutely Sir.”

“Whom did you talk to next?”

“I decided to give the family some time and talked to their domestic help.”

“That was wise…what was her name again?”

“Seema.”

***

Domestic help- Seema:

“Please take your seat Seema.” Ayaan gently indicated the chair in front of him. Dr. Qazi had generously given him his study for his interviews. Seema, a 30 something petite woman, perched herself anxiously at the edge of the chair, as if eager to escape.

“How long have you worked here Seema?”

“8th year running Sir.” She answered in a small voice.

“Your employers treat you well?”

She nodded.

“Any unusual behavior on their part? Any scandals? Any domestic trouble? Or trouble with Mohsin?”

She looked at him suspiciously, a slow creep of defiance now visible in her eyes.

“Are you trying to frame Sir and Madam for this…this accident? They are good parents…good people I tell you!”

“No…no…I am not. You misunderstand me. I am merely trying to understand Mohsin’s state of mind. If there were some trouble in their family life, it does affect the children adversely. Do you understand what I mean?”

She chose not to reply, merely looked at him in distrust. Ayaan changed tactics.

“You used the word accident. Why accident? Why do you think it was an accident?”

“What else could it be?” She asked, eyes wide. “There was no reason for him to kill himself. It must have been an accident.”

“He climbed up on a chair, tied the rope and hung himself. It’s not the same as falling off a flight of stairs.”

Seema went silent, eyes downcast. Ayaan chose another question.

“Tell me about that day Seema. The smallest detail you can remember might be able to help us.”

Seema hesitated. Then said. “Madam and Sir are good people…. don’t harm them. They are good people. Sir even makes sure my family gets good treatment at the hospital for free. They have taken care of us.”

Ayaan nodded his head in understanding. Loyalty didn’t just spring from a genuine affection, but also from a place of financial security. Maybe none of her other employers treated her this well. “I understand. Please go ahead Seema.”

The petite woman in front of him swayed uncertainly, but then commenced her part of the narrative.

“I usually come around 6 in the morning, to help Madam with getting things ready. It helps her when I am around, to take care of the kitchen. The four of them in the morning are a handful. Especially Mohsin. He is always creating trouble. Sometimes with breakfast. Or demanding something quite opposite to what we had prepared. He did the same that day. And as usual got into a row with his mother until Sir stepped in.”

“Was he upset? Mohsin? After the argument?”

Seema shook her head, eyes a little watery. “He was stubborn that way. Would go quiet when chastised by Sir, but soon enough would spring forward another argument with his mother. Sometimes she got overwhelmed by his behavior. But when he would see that Madam’s patience was edging, he would be on his best behavior for a few days. Then go back to normal again.”

Ayaan nodded at her in encouragement to continue.

“I leave to work at other houses at around 8 and come back at 1:30-2:00. Then I stay until 7:00-8:00 after which Sir gets the driver to drop me home. That day Mohsin again had an argument with Madam. She had made sandwiches for their snacks, he wanted omelette and milkshake. Eventually, Madam conceded, as usual. He had his snacks and went to the living room to watch TV. He usually did that too. We took a break, Madam and I, had tea and sandwiches and chatted a bit. After that I got busy in cleaning the kitchen and preparing for dinner. Madam sat down to read a book. She was also in the living room. Mohsin went up after about an hour of watching TV saying that he needed to complete his homework and that nobody should disturb him.”

“He said that?”

“Yes.”

“Your Sir and Madam never mentioned it?”

“Madam might not have heard it. The TV was still on and Mohsin shouted it as he ran up the stairs. I was in the kitchen, so I heard it. The stairs going upstairs are right in front of the kitchen. Raza had already gone to his rooms to study. Aisha was sitting with Madam in the living room. She doesn’t like to study by herself, only goes to the room to sleep and when necessary. About half an hour later, someone started banging on the main door and screaming. We all got a bit scared. Even Raza came down to see what the matter was. I opened the door to see who it was. Rama, the vegetable vendor, still screaming, pushed past me and ran upstairs. We all followed him. He was shouting Mohsin’s name. Between us, we tried to break open the door, but couldn’t. Until I got the key from Madam’s drawer. By the time we opened….”

She started crying noisily, rubbing her nose on the corner of the sari. Ayaan knew what happened next.

“Tell me…how was his behavior that day? Was he upset? Seemed sad? Or too thoughtful? Something out of the ordinary?”

Seema seemed to think for a moment then said. “Not sad…but…”

Ayaan felt his heart leap. Finally! A different insight.

“But…?”

“He seemed excited…eager…his eyes were shining as if he was looking forward to something.”

***

“Excited?” A slight disbelief coated the question and ASP Kamat’s face. Ayaan relived the moment his heart had sunk at the answer. “Nobody would feel excited to hang themselves.”

“I agree Sir. Every aspect of this case seems so clear, and yet, has left me baffled.”

“The media hasn’t made it any easier. Have we managed to put a stop to the video circulation on Facebook?”

“We have put out a notice Sir…but it was a live streaming. Quite a few people have recorded it on their devices. Some opportunistic people have also sold it to media houses. Not to mention, that whatever goes up on the internet, stays on the internet. No matter how hard we try.”

“Poor parents…” ASP clicked his tongue in sympathy, “…it’s hard losing a child, let alone be harassed for information by media.”

“Dr. Qazi hasn’t been to work since the incident. None can go out of the house without some reporter shoving a recorder in their faces.”

ASP Kamat rubbed his chin as he contemplated the information provided to him. Ayaan waited respectfully. He knew better than to interrupt his senior’s thoughts.

“Ayaan…did you talk to his siblings? Sometimes the siblings know more than the parents.”

“I did sir…”

***

Siblings: Aisha Qazi and Raza Qazi

Ayaan strode about in the room, waiting for Mohsin’s siblings to arrive. They had all discovered the body hanging in the room. If it were hard for the parents, Ayaan couldn’t even begin to understand how traumatic it must have been for a 19-year-old and a 10-year-old. A short knock on the door alerted him to their arrival. They walked in, hand-in-hand, Raza dragging behind his older sister as if afraid of what might be awaiting him. Ayaan tried to smile at them in sympathy, but the distress in their eyes dissolved everything else. He felt sympathy engulfing him but discarded the thought quickly. Too many emotions could hamper his good sense so imperative to a mindful investigation.

Aisha, the 19-year-old, was slightly better composed than her brother, who, Ayaan noticed, hadn’t let go of her arm. Both their eyes were red, and cheeks rubbed raw from crying.

“I am sorry to bother you both…would you like this interview to take place at a later time?” He asked gently. Aisha slowly shook her head.

“Delaying it won’t make it any easier.”

Ayaan understood. Without further hesitation, he plunged into the routine questions.

“Tell me about what happened that evening.”

The duo looked at each other. Aisha began.

“Mohsin had an argument with Mummy as usual. He wanted to eat something else than what she had prepared for him. It was his normal behavior. I wanted to take a short nap, so I ate and left for my room. I met him on the stairs as he was coming up, shouting for others to not disturb him. He had homework to do.”

“How did he seem?”

“Normal. Eager to get to his room. I heard him slam the door as I reached the bottom of the stairs. I then went into the living room to finish my assignment. I don’t like to stay alone if I don’t have to. When Rama started shouting and banging on the door, we all got scared. It seemed as if someone was trying to break in. Seema went to open the door, Mummy and I, a few feet behind. Rama more or less threw her out of the way. He kept shouting Mohsin’s name and ran inside like a mad man trying to catch something.”

“He ran to Mohsin’s room, didn’t he?”

Both nodded their heads.

“How did he know which one was his room? Had he been inside your house anytime earlier?”

“No.” Raza spoke up in a small voice. “I heard the shouting and the screaming from my room. Its right beside Mohsin’s. I rushed down the stairs to see what was happening, when I heard someone shouting his name like a maniac. Instinctively, I ran to his room and tried the door. Rama followed me. When I couldn’t open the door…I knew something was not right. Rama joined me, banging and screaming. We tried to break it, but it’s not easy like how they show in movies. Then Seema opened the door and…”

He started crying, as children do. Ayaan offered him his handkerchief. Aisha held Raza’s hand tighter, he noticed.

“I am going to ask you a question, and I need you both to be absolutely frank with me, alright? No hiding anything. No sugarcoating, ok? No matter how undesirable it is…your parents need to know the truth.”

They nodded, shaken but resolute.

“What did Mohsin watch online? Did he talk to you anything about practical pranks? The kind YouTubers post these days? There are lots of them online. Was he into them?”

Aisha and Raza shook their heads with conviction.

“Papa was quite strict with us on the correct use of internet. He time to time monitored our online presence. As long as it wasn’t something degrading, or any form of bullying, he let us be. Just last week he sat us all down and spoke to us about responsible use of social media. Some friend of Papa’s had sent him video about a prank a YouTuber did on his friend. The friend ended up having a nervous breakdown. Papa told us how he had to be admitted to the hospital and how the YouTuber had to be arrested. Our parents are quite firm on that.”

“But Mohsin could have been watching in secret, wouldn’t he be?” Ayaan pushed gently.

“No…Mohsin could never stomach not telling others what he was thinking or what he wanted to do. He was a loudmouth. Really bad at keeping secrets.” Aisha answered.

“Even in the bus that day, he kept up with his restless movements until I got annoyed at being kicked by him constantly and changed my seat”, Raza wiped his nose noisily. “He ran back home, leaving me to walk home by myself. He was always too impatient.”

“Impatient you say? To do what?” Ayaan asked more to himself than to the two before him.

“Everything…”

***

“No! Not quite convinced by this. Whom did you interview next?”

“The vegetable vendor.”

“Rama, right? He must have said something important? Anything he saw? Any suspicious person? Or heard something from Mohsin?”

“I thought the same Sir…”

***

The vegetable vendor: Rama

For Ayaan, this interview was of the utmost importance. This man had witnessed the suicide take place. In person. Had raised the alarm. If it were not for him, the body wouldn’t have been found until later. Or at least until the people who must have seen it streamed on Facebook might have called the family.

A tiny, dark man entered. Ayaan was immediately struck by his sincere eyes. His small face was clouded with grief. On any other day, Ayaan wouldn’t have paid him another glance, so ordinary was he. But today, he was crucial to this investigation.

“Rama…” Ayaan strode forward, taking both his hands into his. A gesture of respect and gratitude. “…thank you for agreeing to see me.” He gently led the man to be seated on the chair. As opposite to his other interviews, he chose to sit beside the man, facing him, rather than sit across from him.

“Are you alright…?”

Rama nodded, a couple tears splashing from his eyes which he wiped with a thin towel he had draped around his neck. Ayaan gave him a moment to himself.

“They are good people Sir…Doctor Sir and Madam. This shouldn’t have happened to them.” Rama looked at him, pain accumulated over his features and voice. Ayaan agreed slowly.

“No parent should have to go through something this tragic.”

“I can’t stop thinking about Mohsin…if I had been a few moments early…”

Ayaan patted his shoulders in sympathy. Survivor’s guilt manifests itself in different ways. He had seen most forms of it.

“You did the best you could Rama…can you tell me what happened that day…?”

Rama sniffled, wiping his face on his towel once more.

“I have been selling vegetables from this spot for about 8 years now. Not once did Sir and Madam ever told me to remove it. I had shifted my area from the lane before this when those house owners told me I couldn’t do business opposite their house. But not Sir and Madam. They have been my regular customers ever since. I have seen the children grow. Sir and Madam had always asked after my family. A lot of the times Doctor Sir had even sent free medication, treated us when needed. Madam has also been very generous…sending toys, books, sweets for my family.”

‘The ideal citizens’, Ayaan thought to himself, gently prodding the grief-stricken man before him.

“Tell me about Mohsin…what kind of a person was he?”

“The most mischievous of the lot. A lovable boy. I knew he used to trouble Madam a lot…Sir, Madam, sometimes Seema also used to tell me about it. Every time he returned from school, he would either shout a greeting to me or come over and chat for a little while. I loved to talk to him…he shouldn’t have gone this way…not this way…”  

Rama started sobbing, wrenching Ayaan’s heart. He murmured soothing words to him and helped him drink some water. After Rama had calmed down, Ayaan waited for him to resume. Hiccupping slightly, he did.

“That day, I saw him run inside the gates. He called out to me as usual, Raza was trailing far behind. Mohsin seemed in a hurry. I thought he must be rushing for some tv program as my son does. His room is on the upper floor. If the window is open, I can easily see inside. There weren’t many customers that day, so my mind was wandering. I looked up and saw him walking around his room. He seemed…. excited…restless…and I thought I saw a phone into his hand. Then he disappeared from view. I looked elsewhere, and next when I looked at his window by chance, he seemed to have climbed up on a chair and was struggling. I thought that he might have climbed up to fix something, until I realized that his feet were dangling in the air. That is when I started calling out to him and ran to the house. If I had been a few minutes early….”

***

“He has been constantly called as being restless and hurried that day, have you noticed that?” ASP Kamat observed.

“Yes Sir…but nobody has been able to tell me why. Neither have I been able to figure out by myself.”

“What about his friends? Teenagers tend to gravitate more towards their friends than towards their family members.”

“I met up with his Principal, class teacher and friends at the school next day. All of them said that same thing.”

***

Principal and Class Teacher- Mr. Simon Dylan and Mrs. Neetu Das:

“Shocked! Absolutely shocked we are!” Mr. Dylan declared, as the middle-aged teacher nodded beside him.

He was visiting Mohsin’s school. The incident had spread like wildfire. But as most private schools do, his school stayed open. Ayaan had suspected a school assembly, pep talks and counseling sessions in the weeks to follow. A memorial service after the burial. And then the usual dissolution into normalcy. That was how the world ran.

His visit was expected. The staff and the principal were prepared. As soon as he entered, Mr. Dylan summoned Mohsin’s class teacher, Mrs. Neetu Das. So, there they were, in the conference room.

“Tell me about Mohsin Mrs. Das. What kind of a student was he?”

“Very inquisitive.” A small smile appeared on Mrs.Das’s face, a fond memory perhaps. “In a 40-minute class, he would ask at least 10 questions.”

“Was he a troublemaker? A bully?”

“Mischievous surely, but neither a troublemaker nor a bully. His mischief was usually making fun of his classmates and friends in a harmless manner.”

Ayaan thought for a moment, then asked. “He was interested in a girl from his class, wasn’t he?”

“Umm Kulsum…yes. It was a harmless little infatuation as is common in this day and age. Nothing more than that.”

Ayaan thought for a moment. “Has the girl…Kulsum ever complained to you about Mohsin? Of him bothering her? Stalking her? Or her parents come to you about that?”

“No.”

“How was he that day? Did you notice any change in his behavior?”

Mrs. Das thought for a moment before replying. “I am sorry officer…I wish I could be of some help to you. Mohsin was completely normal that day. The same questioning boy. Completely normal.”

“And yet the completely normal boy hung himself within a few hours.”

Mr. Dylan spoke up, looking from one to the other. “Depression can manifest itself in many forms, you know. A laughing person can also be depressed. Besides, it doesn’t need to have any reason. Sometimes depression just occurs without even a good reason.”

“That’s true Sir…but I can’t see it with Mohsin”. Mrs. Das answered. “A boy about to kill himself wouldn’t have fixed plans with his friends.”

“What plans?”

“He wanted to show them something awesome, as he called it. I heard as they left the class after the final bell.”

“Can I talk to his friends and the girl, Kulsum?”

“Sure officer. I have the boys waiting outside. Let me get the peon to call Kulsum as well.”

“If you don’t mind Sir…” Ayaan leaned forward, “…I’d like to speak to them without your presence.”

***

“Did his friends reveal anything?”

“Nothing that we didn’t already know Sir. Plus, an add-on for further confusion.”

“Meaning?”

***

Three friends and the crush: Samir, Peter, Rahil and Kulsum

“Would you like to talk to me separately or…?” Ayaan asked Kulsum. She shrugged, pushing her fiber glasses back into place on the bridge of her nose.

“I don’t mind talking in front of them. Nothing they already don’t know.” She glanced at the boys. ‘Uncomplicated girl.’ Ayaan liked that.

“What about you guys?”

“We are alright Sir.”

The kids looked shaken up. The friends more than the girls. To her credit, Kulsum had maintained excellent composure. Ayaan turned his attention to the boys.

“Mrs. Das had spoken of something Mohsin had told you three. About showing you something awesome. What was it?”

The three friends looked at each other.

“Please don’t hide anything guys…Mohsin’s parents are hurting. You must help them.”

“We would if we could Sir.” The boy named Rahil spoke up in a small voice. “Mohsin had said that he wants to show us something awesome but never told us what it was. We asked him repeatedly but all he said was that we needed to wait. He would either send a video or show us the video when we meet in school the next day.”

“Did he say he would come to school the next day?”

“Yes…we had plans…” Peter began but trailed off. Ayaan gently asked.

“What plans Peter?”

Peter looked at his friends as if seeking permission. Samir spoke up instead of him.

“We had plans to bunk school and go to a movie. We had written the leave notes for the next day and signed on each other’s notes as we always do.”

Ayaan smiled to himself as he recalled his school days. But to them he said.

“Are you speaking the truth? Because if you are not…”

In response, Peter extracted four tickets out of his back pocket and extended them to him. It was a matinee show for 11 am.

“This doesn’t make sense…” he muttered to himself, then asked Kulsum. “Was he sad after you said no?”

“I don’t think so…” she answered in as straight a voice as she could, then looked at her classmates for affirmation. They all nodded their heads vigorously.

“He wasn’t sad or anything officer”, Samir supported her. “He liked Kulsum and he told her that. But when she declined, he didn’t lament over it.”

“Are you sure? Sometimes people do keep thinking about such matters without telling anyone.”

Rahil spoke up. “He did feel a bit sad after the rejection but didn’t think much of it. Mohsin wasn’t the one to bottle anything up Sir. He used to tell us everything. We were really close. When his grandmother passed away, he openly cried in front of us. All three of us. He wasn’t the one to cover what he was feeling…”

That much Ayaan had gathered from all his interviews. The loud mouthed, curious, happy young man. Then what went wrong in these few hours?

“Did he ever stalk you? Online or in person? Try to convince you? Bother you in any way?”

Kulsum shook her head, now close to tears. “No…never… Do you think I… I am the reason behind his…”

“No! No!” Ayaan hurried to get that thought out of the young girl’s mind. “Listen here Kulsum. You have the right to say ‘no’ to anyone. What they think is none of your business. Do you understand me?”

The teary-eyed girl slowly nodded back. Ayaan continued, looking at her.

“The reason I ask these questions is to get an idea of the victim’s mind and what drove him to take such a step. Not to frame innocent individuals. Yes, there are some filthy people who push others to take their lives. But they are far and few in between. Do you understand? All of you?” He looked at the four young people in front of him. Unsure, earnest, scared faces. Uncertain of the world they are about to step in. The reality hadn’t yet set in completely in their lives.

“Listen to me all of you…no matter how hard life gets, no matter what happens, taking your life is not a solution. Imagine the people you would leave behind. When we are stressed, we feel as if no one loves us, no one is there for us. Often, we are so blinded by our own grief that we fail to see those around us. Look at Mohsin’s parents. Look at yourselves, his closest friends. Look at his siblings. Think of this experience whenever life pulls you down. Nothing is worth this.”

“But why did Mohsin do it Sir…?” Samir had started crying in earnest now. With him, the rest. Ayaan felt the most apologetic towards these children.

“I don’t know Samir…I don’t know…”

***

“That’s it Ayaan? No other leads? No other theories?”

“Sir…we need facts to back up any theory. Besides, there are genuinely none. The picture I have is of an expressive young boy, who loved his friends, who troubled his parents like any teenager, who planned to bunk class and go to movies, who liked a girl but never bothered her or lamented after her. He was eager to get home that day. He was excited to show his friends something but never got to do it. Because he hung himself without any obvious cause.”

“So, no motive found? Do you want to probe more into the matter? If we close the case now, the media will shred us to pieces.”

“With all due respect Sir, they are doing the same even now. At least if we close the case, their interest might die down in a few weeks. The burial is tomorrow. If you permit me, I will talk to Dr. and Mrs. Qazi after that. Explain it to them.”

“What about his online search history?”

“Clean as a bone.”

ASP Kamat leaned forward on his desk, scrutinizing him. Finally, he said.

“If you are satisfied with this investigation, you may close it officially. Or you may look for other narratives and leads. Either way, you have my permission.”

Ayaan left his chair, saluted his senior, and left.

Was he satisfied? No.

But did he have any ground to investigate? Also no.

Still…would he like to probe more from a different angle? Maybe.

He wished he could look inside Mohsin’s mind. Understand what happened to him for him to end his life. Till then, all they could do was guess…

***

Mohsin:

Mohsin was excited. And not just about the movie he would watch tomorrow. But about a new trick he had learned by himself. Of untying oneself with both hands tied.

He had seen a short video while scrolling on his Facebook page where someone was teaching people how to escape with their hands tied. Mohsin had become enthralled with it!

He had snuck a piece of thin rope from the gardening shed which he kept hidden inside his sock drawer. He had been practicing with it for the past five weeks. Now, he could do it perfectly. He had wanted to show the trick to his friends but thought otherwise.

Why not live stream it on Facebook for everyone to see and appreciate? Like the man in the original video.

Would Papa- Mummy be mad at him?

Even if they are, he would handle them as always!

He was excited! So excited!

Almost told his friends about it. It wasn’t in his nature to keep secrets. This would be a first. There would have been no harm in telling them but then, he would have missed the awestruck expressions on their faces. The idolizing tone of praise that came from their lips. It would be fun!

The bus was too slow for him that day…Raza walked like a tortoise.

He ran home leaving Raza to take his leisurely walk.

Rama smiled at him as usual. When he finished the streaming, he would come down and show it to Rama. Rama would be mesmerized and oh so appreciative. Mohsin shouted a greeting to him and practically smashed the doorbell until Seema opened it for him.

Why the hell was everyone so damn slow today?

Mummy had made sandwiches. He liked sandwiches. Those he would have for dinner. He could see Seema chopping cabbage. Yuck!

For snacks he would have omelette and milkshake and eat the leftover sandwich for dinner. He could have just told Mummy this but then she would have made sure he first ate the cabbage, then give him the sandwich. Once he finished the video, he would come down, grab the sandwiches and escape to Rama’s stall. Yes! That was a good plan!

He barely watched the show on tv. He didn’t want to, but if he didn’t, everyone would notice something was off. He had never missed this show if he could help it.

As soon as the show was over, he rushed up to his room, instructing everyone to not disturb him. Aisha gave him a disapproving look as he passed her on the stairs.

Once inside the room, he first took out the cord. Then a thought passed his mind as he looked up at his ceiling.

Why not pretend to tie himself from the ceiling and then come free?

Won’t that garner more views? It might even become viral! Perfect!

And what if he can’t untie himself? Well…he could always call out for someone to rescue him.

What could he use to reach the ceiling fan? His bed would cause too much noise. And he can’t get the dining chair from downstairs for obvious reasons. The only option available was his study chair. A small navy-blue colored swivel chair. A bit unsteady because of the wheels, but he was sure he could make do with it.

Positioning the chair carefully beneath the ceiling fan, he cautiously climbed on it.

Woah! A bit unsteady!

But he managed to tie the cord successfully like a noose. Both his hands must fit in for him to be tied. He checked the knot. He also didn’t want the knot to be so loose that he would fall down. It was perfect!

Now time to start the live stream.

Checked into his account and selected live stream option, then positioned the phone on his desk. Once again climbed on the chair.

The noose was large enough for him to fit his neck.

If he were a depressed person as they show in movies, it would be now that he would cry and reminiscent on his life and then slowly get the noose around his neck. Chuckling inwardly, he scrunched up his face, trying to get into that character, and put the noose around his neck.

It was then he noticed that the phone’s front view camera was positioned in a way that it showed from around his neck. His face was cut off. He sighed.

He must get down and fix it to get the magic trick started.

Mohsin moved to get his neck out of the noose. The movement shifted the chair from beneath him, he tried to get the cord off his neck, but it got tighter.

The chair slid away.

He tried holding on to the rope.

He didn’t want to die…not now…not like this…he couldn’t scream…there was nothing beneath him but air…

Too tight…choking now…can’t breathe…can’t breathe…can’t…breathe….

*****

The news article: Playing dead on April Fool’s Day costs 17-year-old his life in Alappuzha

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