“ACP Rajat, Crime Branch”, he said, showing a laminated card which I couldn’t see properly, my head and neck in bandages, immovable, resting on the raised hospital bed. “How are you doing? Can I ask you a few questions?” he added.
He was not dressed like a policeman, nothing like they show on T.V. No policeman’s cap to remove while talking to a victim; no trailing juniors to wait outside; no beetle juice on his lips, but pants and an easy t- shirt, on a broad frame. Something about him made me think back, but I was sure I hadn’t seen him. It was this queer sense of inexplicable déjà vu that gets me way too often to be taken seriously.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, managing a little smile, and grieving at its diminished impact due to the bandages that framed my face.
“So, tell me from the beginning, how did it happen?”
“Right”. I swallowed. “So I was in Amber Mall. I came back to the parking lot, shopping bags in my hands. I unlocked the car, opened the back seat door and put the bags in. I shut the door. Just as I was about to enter the car, I sensed somebody very close behind me.” I paused. It crossed my mind that just then, before entering the car and after sensing someone close behind me, I had registered something else too. But what, I couldn’t remember. I tried to recall. But it just wouldn’t come.
“Then what happened?”
I shifted my gaze from the wall, to him, and back, and half thinking, said, “I felt somebody right behind me. But before I could turn, whoever it was landed a massive blow on my head. I thought I would die. I remember thinking that. And the next thing I remember is waking up in this room, with bandages all over, and thinking that I didn’t die, after all.” I looked at him. “I’ve been told that the car was intact, with the shopping bags, and I was intact too, except for a fractured skull, of course.”
He looked interested. Studying me with a strange look, he said “Don’t you remember anything else? “Anything that may help us catch the offender?”
“I said I didn’t see him. That’s all that I know.”
“There’s nothing else that you remember? Are you sure?”
“Nothing else. Yes, I’m sure.”I said, trying as hard as I could to remember what I had thought in that fraction of a second before being hit. I closed my eyes and tried to peek through the opaque sheath of my memory of that evening, of that second.
He shifted in his chair, and my memory yielded to my insistence. A rent appeared in the opaque sheath, and it grew and grew into the gaping hole of a recollection. It was the smell. It was his smell. I had registered the same cologne back there in the parking lot.
A shiver ran through my body. Hell, no! He is going to kill me, I thought. I put a hand near my ear and winced. I rang the bell for the nurse. He gave me a questioning glance. “It’s time for the pain killer,” I said, as calmly as I could. The nurse came that very instant.
“You will have to excuse us for five minutes,” I said.
He searched my face for something. I smiled an apologetic smile. He looked at the nurse, who looked at me. He went out.
I asked the nurse to bolt the door, first thing.