-A short story
Lily sat on her father’s rocking chair, feet planted firmly on the floor. She stared ahead with glazed eyes, eyebrows entangled in a ferocious knot. After what seemed like a minute of furious thinking, she leaned back and took her feet off the floor, planting them softly on the rocker shift. The chair swung gently ahead, quickly acquiring its oscillating movement. If someone were to see her then, they would have concluded that she was a regular girl with nothing on her mind. Simply swinging peacefully on the chair. The scene before her would not have made much of a difference. After all, it was her father who lay asleep on his cozy daybed, covered by a plush comforter. The only thing out of place would be that small maroon cushion which lay askew near the old man’s head.
That small cushion made all the difference.
Lily looked down at her hand, staring at the number she had just dialed and spoken to. They will be here soon, she knew. Maybe she imagined it but she could hear the sirens coming closer. However, before they arrive and chaos ensue, there was just one more task to be completed. She must call her. Tell her what had happened.
Her fingers automatically dialed the number. They were used to it. The phone had rung just once when she picked up.
“Lily!” She sounded breathless on the other end. ” Thank goodness you called! After the way you left…I was…I was so worried. Are you ok? Did you talk to him? Did he say anything? Goodness…did he do anything to you? Lily…are you there…?”
“I am OK Natasha. He did nothing. He can do nothing.”
“Oh God…I am so relieved.” A nervous laughter sounded from the other end which quickly got stifled into a suspicious gasp. “Wait…what did you mean by he can do nothing? Hello? Lily?”
Sirens were louder this time, filling the whole neighborhood with their blare. Lily sat quietly swinging on the chair as tires screeched over the driveway, pulling to a stop. Natasha’s voice sounded desperate, hysteric.
“Lily! Lily! What’s that sound? Why are there sirens? What did you mean when you said he can do nothing? Lily! I am talking to you! Did something happen?”
Lily listened to the voices around her, replying calmly to Natasha’s questions as heavy boots thundered towards her front porch. before she switched off her phone and tossed it in a corner.
“I killed my father.”
Lily met Natasha on her first day on campus. She felt lost. Weirded out by the unfamiliar energy around her. Sure, she had studied in public school, still, the aura of a college was something else. Dumbfound, Lily stood staring at the building looming ahead until a warm hand brought her back to her senses.
“Lost?” A tan skinned girl with raven-black hair smiled at her. Lily felt as if she were staring into a mirror. The girl stood a few inches taller than her and had a strong, well-maintained physique. Other than this, she looked as if she could be Lily’s long-lost sister. They both had the same hazel brown eyes, hair and skin. While Lily had tied hers in a neat ponytail, the girl had let hers fly loose, occasionally entangling themselves in the large hoops that hung from her ears.
“Natasha. And yours?”
Embarrassment washed over Lily as she realized that she had done nothing but stare at Natasha for the past minute. “Lily.” Her name stumbled out of her lips. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to stare. Your appearance just caught me by surprise.”
Natasha laughed easily. “Well…that also led me to you. My friend over there, she pointed out how similar we looked. I saw you and recognized the look in your eyes. Guessed you could use some help.” She shrugged easily, then smiled at Lily. “Orientation is in Hall B, to your left. Keep walking straight. You’ll see a signboard with the name and event. Good luck! And we will be right here in this spot if you’d want to catch up afterwards. See you around!”
“Hey Nats! How about we get a DNA test done?” Lily asked Natasha as they lay on her bed; Natasha watching some crime documentary and Lily flipping lazily through the pages of a romantic novel she had picked up from the library.
“Uh…huh…” Natasha replied without looking up, her eyes focused on the grisly scenes playing on her phone screen.
It had been six months since Lily had joined grad school. Her and Natasha had become inseparable even though Lily was in her first year studying philosophy as her major and Natasha in her second year of psychology major. People called them ‘The Twins’ and for good measure. While Lily loved the name, Natasha pretended to barf whenever she heard it.
“Its stupid and cheesy. Stop calling me that!”
“Sorry hon…its just the way you both look together!” Roma, the friend who had initially pointed out Lily to Natasha had winked at her in response. While the rest around them laughed, Roma’s reply had stuck with Lily.
What if they really were long-lost sisters?
“Nats! You’re not paying attention to me!” Lily kicked Natasha lightly with her foot, inviting a reproachful glare from her. She paused the video and pulled down her earphones.
“But what if we are sisters? I already know I am adopted. You told me your mother was a severe drug addict who, and I quote, ‘could have sold her own children for money’. So how do you know she hadn’t? I mean we are only about a year apart. She could have sold me?”
“I said it because I was bitter. Doesn’t mean she actually did it. Anyway…it doesn’t matter now. She’s dead.”
“But what if…”
“No. And what will getting a DNA test achieve? It won’t change anything. We are soul-sisters. Do you need a printed report to help you decide whether you want me to be in your life or not?”
“I didn’t mean it that way…of course I love you like a sister. I just thought that maybe we do have a connection. A blood connection you know? We do look alike…it is a possibility. Maybe distant cousins.”
Natasha stared silently at Lily for a minute. “Have you discussed this with your father?”
Lily smiled, leaning back into her pillow and picking up her book. “He would only need to know if something comes up. Otherwise, it will be just between you and me.”
“That’s not right Lily! He’s raised you all his life. Even after his wife, the woman who adopted you with him, left. He did his best. Never tried to hide anything from you. Why would you want to hide anything from him?”
“He still hadn’t told me about my birth parents.”
Natasha sighed exasperatedly. She looked at Lily with a steady look in her eyes. ” You do know how closed adoption works, don’t you?”
Lily felt guilt rise in her but quickly swept it away with a shrug. “Whatever! I am an adult now. I can take my own decisions.”
“You know who says that? Exactly those who cannot be trusted to make decisions.”
Lily threw a cushion at Natasha, hitting her squarely in the face. “Hey!” A muffled protest rose from her.
“So what do you say? Test or no test? Look, you promised me you’ll gift me anything I asked for if I scored well in my first test. I did. This is what I want.”
“Fineeee…I’ll take this stupid test you want. But whatever the result, we do not speak of it ever again.”
“Agggreeeedddd Miss Full Scholarship!” Lily grinned from ear to ear while Natasha stuffed her ears with her earphones, unpausing the video on her phone. “What on earth do you find so interesting in these gruesome murder cases?”
Natasha replied without taking her eyes off the screen. “I want to pursue criminal psychology. Studying these cases give me a window into the minds of criminals.”
“Ew…its gross…” Lily wrinkled her nose at Natasha who chose to ignore her comment. Smiling to herself, Lily turned the page to another. Much like the female lead in this romantic novel, she was about to get what she wanted. For now.
Lily had not seen Natasha for a month now. She had tried to call her multiple times but she hadn’t responded. Her messages also went unanswered. None of their friends knew where she were. Lily stopped by her dorm room multiple times but all she got from her roommates was that Natasha wasn’t around. Lily cursed herself every moment.
Why did she have to do that stupid DNA test?
Nats was right…what would have changed after that?
But then, what did change?
Last Lily had seen Nats when she had stopped by to pick up those stupid samples. “I’ll drop them off at the lab, don’t worry. Will see you tomorrow!”
See you tomorrow…she had said. So why wasn’t it tomorrow yet?
Even her father noticed her misery. “Ask her professors. Maybe one of them knows something.”
“Ah Natasha…of course I know her. She met me a few weeks back…came in with a case she wanted to discuss…” He smiled at Lily. “You must be her sister.”
‘I DON’T KNOW!’ Lily wanted to scream at him, but said instead. “No…we just look alike. We are best friends though.”
The Professor had smiled at her and hurried away. Presumably to his next lecture. Presumably to his long coveted break. Who knows? Who cares?
Lily started back to her class, shoulders slumped and tears in her eyes. She bit her lips hard to stop herself from sobbing out loud. Why would Natasha abandon her just like that? She could have just told Lily if something had bothered her. If she had bothered her.
At that exact moment, her cellphone buzzed. Extracting it from her bag Lily stared at the name and let out a yelp, almost dropping it. She answered immediately, screaming at the speaker.
“WHAT THE HELL NATS…??? WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU? DO YOU EVEN REALIZE HOW FREAKING WORRIED I’VE BEEN…”
“Are you in class?” Natasha’s strained voice asked at the other end.
“AM I IN…ARE YOU FOR REAL…? NO I AM NOT AND…”
“I’m in my car near the gate.”
The line disconnected. Lily stared furiously at the screen, contemplating heavily on not going. Why should she? Natasha had ghosted her for no apparent reason. Why should she run to her on her command like some damned slave? Yet, she knew she would make her way to the gates and into that rickety green car of hers. She knew she wanted to talk to her in person, ask her, see her. Resentful towards her own self for giving in so easily and fuming at Natasha, she slammed the car door extra hard to make her displeasure known. Natasha started the car without so much as a glance at her, smoothly gliding it towards the main street. Lily sat fuming silently, hands folded together firmly across her chest. She waited until they hit the freeway, then exploded.
“NO EXPLANATION…? SERIOUSLY NATS…?”
Natasha sighed, eyes still fixed on the road. “Just a few more minutes Lily…you will get all the answers.”
The rest of the ride went in a strained silence. One that made Lily feel mad, scared and suffocated. She badly wanted to find out the reason, and simultaneously didn’t want to tread in these treacherous waters. Heavens known what monsters she would find lurking there. The stifling atmosphere turned into a foreboding one as Natasha glided to a stop in front of a small coffee shop. She got out of the car, waiting patiently for Lily to join her. Lily glared at her, but got out eventually. Natasha gently led her towards the café, expressions somber.
“There is someone I’d like you to meet…”, she gently took hold of Lily’s hand, “…and remember, no matter what happens, I am here for you.”
Lily stared back at Natasha, eyes wide in fear. “Nats…you’re scaring me now…”
Natasha gently guided Lily inside. It stood empty except for two men at the far end. One was somewhere in his 50’s, the hint of a round belly protruding from under her checkered shirt. The other seemed to be a few years younger than him, dressed in casual jeans and polo shirt. Both got up from their seats as they spotted the girls. Lily noticed two cups and a folder on the table. Somehow that folder gave her an ominous feeling. One that told her that her life would never be the same again. She clutched Natasha’s hands.
“Nats…who are they? Why did you bring me here to meet them?”
“Relax Lily. Here…” Natasha gently nudged Lily forward. “…meet Detective Ingles…”, she motioned at the older detective, “…and detective Anwar.”
Lily nodded at both who nodded back. The one called Anwar gave her a small smile which she found herself unable to return. Detective Ingles looked at her, then at Natasha, then mumbled. “I know what you mean.”
Natasha pushed Lily on to the seat opposite the detectives.
“Is this about that DNA test?”
“What…? No…!” Natasha looked at her, shocked.
“Lily…” the detective called Ingles spoke up, his eyes sharp but sad. “You are not who your father says you are.”
“What…what do you mean?”
“Lily, you weren’t adopted. You were kidnapped as a child. By those who murdered your parents.”
“I…I don’t understand…” Lily stared at the two men who sat before her. Is this some type of prank? Some concoction of Nats’ mind? No…Nats never played pranks. She liked to keep her facts straight. Despite knowing about the nature of her best friend, Lily rounded on her. “Is…is this some type of joke? If it is…let me tell you Nats that its cruel. You’re hurting me….!” Her eyes started welling up with tears of pain and anger.
“Its not a prank.” The detective called Ingles pushed the folder towards her with his badge on top. “This is the case file of your parents. Take a look.”
Lily stared at the folder, as though afraid the slightest of touch might send it exploding. Still staring at the ill-omened folder, she asked. “Why are you here Nats? What did you do?”
“What did I…Lily! I did nothing!” If anything, Natasha’s voice was shocked. Tearing her eyes away from the objects in front of her, Lily’s gaze now scorched her friend.
“If what they are saying is true…then why are they with you? Why have they contacted you instead of contacting me? How do you know them? And…and you could be wrong…Daddy never hid anything from me. He told me I was adopted. I have known it for so long…he…he loves me. He has never harmed me in any way…you…you are lying. All of you…! He’s not a murderer and he did not kidnap me!”
Detective Ingles, who had been quiet until then, spoke gently. “I understand this must be difficult for you, but take a look. Anwar and I were in charge of this investigation. The case went cold after a year of intense investigation. The only lead we ever had was a man calling a few days after the murder that two people matching the description of the suspects were seen in a small town with a girl matching the description of the kidnapped child. Local police was alerted but they cleared them before we could arrive and interview them. Said that the caller must have been confused by the child. She was quite similar looking to the one kidnapped. They verified the identity of the child with her mother. She said they were her friends and the child’s godparents. After this one last lead, we had to file it cold.”
“Until now.” Anwar nodded solemnly.
Ingles agreed. “Until now. If it weren’t for your friend here, we would have never been able to find you.”
Beside her, Natasha cleared her throat. “Lily…please trust me. I didn’t want to hurt you.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “You know how much I love watching crime documentaries. The day we last met, that night I started watching another one. This time a compilation of cold cases. There was a case featured where a suburban couple were murdered in their home. A burglary gone wrong. The couple, along with their four year old daughter, were supposed to be at a party. Supposedly, the daughter started feeling sick while at the party and they returned earlier than planned. Right in the middle of the robbery. The intruders most probably panicked and bludgeoned the couple to death to stop them from calling for help. They then made off with the child and the car. A welfare check by the employers of the murdered man the next day prompted the investigation. By then, they had vanished with the child. After the last lead went cold, the case was shelved and forgotten. It would have remained the same had I not looked at the sketch of the suspects and the picture of the kidnapped child on the documentary.”
Natasha slid the folder towards herself and opened it. She took out two sheets, placing them side by side in front of Lily. One was the sketch of the suspect with a shocking similarity to Lily’s father. The other was a photo of a young girl, four years of age. It was easy to see why they all thought what they thought. Still…it could be a mistake…
Lily eyed the child in the picture with resentment building inside, head buzzing from an overload of senses and information. “This…this child could be anyone…even you…”
“It’s not her. We matched your DNA with that of the victims. You are her. Amaya. That was the name your parents gave you.” Anwar looked at her sympathetically.
“DNA…how did you…” Lily rounded on Natasha, nostrils flared, “..you…you gave it to them…”
“I’m sorry…” Natasha’s eyes started welling up with tears, “…I didn’t mean to go behind your back. When I picked up the samples from you, I intended to drop them off at the lab. But I went to my dorm first to pick up some items I wanted to return. Once there, I remembered a paper that was due the next day. So…I thought I’d just submit our samples the next day. But then that night I watched that documentary…and…and it didn’t feel right. I have been trying to gather facts about this case, hoping that I am wrong. Eventually I discussed the case with one of my professors. I told him I was researching cold cases. He advised me to seek out the detectives who were in charge. After weeks of searching, I was finally able to get in touch with them. Lily…I am so sorry…”
Detective Ingles looked at Lily steadily. ” You are Amaya. There is no doubt about that. Natasha told us why those samples were in her possession. You are not sisters. We had her sample tested as well. We would have arrested your father first and explained later, but Natasha practically begged us to tell you the truth first. We were just waiting for that. I am sorry Lily…but trust me…life will find a way…” He extended his hand to pat Lily’s but she flinched violently away from his touch, standing up suddenly.
“I need to go.” Lily grabbed the folder from the table. “Keys Nats.” She held out her hand demandingly. Natasha looked scared at the sudden change in her demeanor.
“But…but I can drop you off…”
Visibly trembling at the steel in Lily’s voice, Natasha handed her the keys. Lily stormed off without another word, the folder clutched tightly in her grasp.
That was the last time either of them saw the other.
She drove blindly. Not really registering where she was going. Until she pulled into the driveway of what she called home.
What a funny word.
Did she really have a home now? Or all she had were a lifetime of happy memories with her kidnapper, the murderer of her parents. How twisted was that?
Hands still clutched on the steering wheel, she glanced at the folder sitting peacefully on the passenger seat. Grabbing it, she sprinted inside the house, a naked urgency visible on her face. She found him sleeping peacefully on his daybed as she knew he would. He hadn’t been keeping well but that could wait. Truth couldn’t.
For a moment though, she stood silently, staring at the lined face, asleep like an innocent child. The man who had given her everything she had ever asked for. The man who had made her laugh and cried with her. The man who toiled hard so she didn’t have to be in want of anything. The man she called Daddy and who had lived up to his responsibilities. But had all of this been an act of pity? Or remorse?
Lily snorted loudly, wiping the snot from her nose on her sleeves. Her face was wet with tears, which refused to stop flowing. Her noises had woken up the man on the bed.
“Lily…is that you…? Flower…are you crying…? What happened my Flower…?”
Rage building inside, Lily threw the folder at him. Shock rippled across his face.
“Is this you?” She demanded as he slowly opened the thick cover. His eyes widened as he stared at the contents inside. “IS THIS YOU?” Lily screamed, unable to find any other outlet for her rage.
“Yes.” The answer was so soft, it could have been her imagination. She knew it wasn’t. “But it’s not what you think Flower…let me expl…”
“YOU KILLED THEM!” Lily advanced upon him, her senses overtaken by pure rage and betrayal. “YOU BEAT THEM TO DEATH. YOU KIDNAPPED ME! YOU RAISED ME WITH LOVE! WHY? WHY? WHY DIDN’T YOU KILL ME TOO?”
“I…I loved you Lily…like my child…”
Lily heard nothing but the sound of fire in her eyes as she pushed the man down on the bed, squeezing his throat as hard as she could. She had to get that murderer out of him. She had to! This was her father. He loved her. That murderer had to go.
“LEAVE MY FATHER YOU KILLER! LEAVE HIM! LEAVE US! HE KILLED NOBODY! YOU DID! YOU DID!”
She never noticed when the limbs stopped flailing. When the frail body shuddered to a stop. When the eye turned from red to glassy. When the gurgling sound from his throat transformed into complete silence. When she did, she let go, bewildered and shocked at what she had done. Yet, no tears formed this time. No cry of pain emanated from her throat. No sense of loss overtook her actions.
Instead, she straightened her Daddy. Smoothed out his clothes. Fixed the bed. It was chilly, so she covered him snugly with a comforter. Daddy never liked things to be out of place. She wiped off the saliva trickling from one corner of his mouth with her sleeve, then gently closed his eyes and kissed his forehead.
There Daddy, the Killer has been killed. Now you must rest.
She placed herself in her Daddy’s favorite rocking chair.
‘Let’s spend some time together Daddy...‘ Lily smiled at him, ‘…then I’ll make the calls…’
She drove on the freeway, her old car discarded in a junkyard. She wouldn’t be needing it anymore.
She would be needing none of her old life anymore. Her purpose had been fulfilled.
She flicked a switch to open the sun roof. Wind blew her pale brown hair around. The hairstylist had done a great job. She loved it. Smiling to herself, she thought of Lily. The same Lily who thought she was Amaya.
Natasha laughed out loud.
Amaya was dead the same day her parents died.
Amaya was killed repeatedly when the killers of her parents forced her into the car with them.
When they exchanged her with a junkie woman’s child who looked like her so that they would have more chances of escaping from the law.
When she was forced to grow up with people who cared nothing about her.
Amaya never let herself forget that night.
Every morning she recited the same chant: Mom and Dad killed. Amaya taken. Find the killers.
That chant had been etched into her memory. Something she recited. Until Lily killed that man. Unfortunately, the woman had been shot and killed by an abusive boyfriend some years after she left her murderer boyfriend. Amaya had tracked her down to her tombstone when she turned 16.
The man was easier to find. Junkie had sealed her lips in exchange for money. Money which arrived via a letter every month. A letter and a picture of Lily. Junkie’s real daughter. Not that anyone really cared for her. Junkie just wanted cash to feed her addiction. Amaya, renamed Natasha by Junkie, wanted to keep track of her.
Social media made it easy.
Also, the postal stamp on the envelope helped her out. Amaya kept receiving the envelopes of cash. Even after Junkie died of overdose. Cash is always handy.
She worked hard at school. Never let anyone know of her condition, her history. She aced her tests. Acquired a full scholarship. Was celebrated by her teachers. All the while, just to get closer to this man and the girl he had raised instead of her.
She had hoped that Lily’s life would be miserable. Maybe as abusive as hers was. Maybe they could bond over their shared misery. But her hope turned into resentment when she saw what a spoilt little princess she was. That killer had switched her, Amaya, the girl he wronged, with another girl, and raised her lovingly…?
Why was she subjected to so much abuse because of him…?
And why was Lily bestowed with so much love instead of her?
It should have been her. It should have been her instead of Lily. She would have forgotten her past. Would have loved this man as her father. It should have been her.
That DNA sealed the deal. As spoilt as Lily was, she was also dumb. She practically put the planning and its tools within Amaya’s reach. Initially, the plan seemed weird to Amaya. But as she went deeper in it, each step a success, she was sure about the outcome. The final nail in his coffin was her switching the name sticker on the samples. That was a stroke of luck and ingenuity.
Although, what came next she couldn’t have anticipated.
All she had expected was that the man be brought to justice. And maybe Lily being distraught for the rest of her life. Eh…collateral damage was unavoidable. She would have absconded even then.
But now, she needed to vanish urgently. It had turned into homicide. Lily had anyway refused to meet her. Fine by her. She just had to pretend to be distraught in front of those two detectives. Still, she couldn’t take a chance. There was every chance they will figure things out sooner or later. Not that it would make much of a difference. Lily had still killed a man.
By the time they would notice she’s gone, she would have left everything behind with no clue anywhere.
It was easy to vanish. Fake IDs were easier to obtain than most people thought.
Amaya pulled into a gas station. As she entered the convenience store, she bumped into a woman hurrying out the door, her arms filled with packets of chips.
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” she mumbled as a few packets spilled on the ground. Amaya smiled and helped her carry her purchase to the minivan where her children fought over the plastic packets like baboons over a banana.
“They are a handful…” the woman smiled apologetically. “Thank you for helping me. I am Jasmine.”
“Hi Jasmine…” Amaya smiled gently at her, “…I am Maya…”