Mrs Mathur munched a handful of banana chips, passing on the container to her husband in the driving seat.
He shook his head, ‘I am full, sweetie. I had three cutlets.’
‘I noticed. Sometimes you tend to forget your age, Vijay. You forget all your restrictions.’
Mr Mathur smiled, ‘My health-freak wifey was busy helping elders with the rituals. Who'd have reminded me? Is that my fault?’
She lightly struck his hand on the gear and looked outside. Had it not been a late monsoon night, the streets would not have looked so deserted. She rolled down the window to let the wet breeze whip across her face as they drove their car past the Hooghly River flowing underneath. She smiled, remembering her sister in her bridal costume. Time flies, isn’t it?
Her eyes fell on the wing mirror, and her parted lips sucked in the air in pure shock. She grabbed her husband's hand ‘Vijay! Stop the car!’
‘Oh dear, what is she up to!’ he muttered under his breath as they both looked in the mirror. Only a few meters from where their car had come to a screeching halt, a girl was trying to climb up the railings. Any moment she tips, she would fall straight into the streams of the river. They moved out of the car and tiptoed close to her. Mrs Mathur took a few steps closer and grabbed her waist from the back and pulled her down.
‘Got you! What on Earth do you think you're doing, girl?’
The girl, in her early twenties, turned back aghast. Water dripped from the tip of her curly brown hair as she trembled in her wet clothes.
‘He will kill me.’ she said in her shaking voice.
Mr Mathur came forward. ‘What’s your name, girl? Where do you stay?’
'Zara, Zara Dalenko' she said feebly and then broke all into tears, 'he will kill me.'
'Who will kill you, Zara?' Mrs Mathur said, to which the girl preferred silence. She stood perplexed, all gripped by the fear.
‘Don't worry. We can drop you home.’
‘Most certainly!’ Mr Mathur snatched her wife's words, ‘we're not leaving you here all alone.’
The girl was clueless. She didn't seem to remember her address. That got her into another bout of tears.
‘Hey! It’s okay.’ Mrs Mathur took her hand between her palms and rubbed it gently, ‘Check your bag...if by any chance you're carrying your ID in it.’
Zara fumbled through her bag, sitting on her haunches. She pulled out the card from her wallet and handed it to her.
Mrs Mathur gave it a quick scan and came close to her husband.
‘She's the same girl, right?’ she said in his ears.
‘Do you think getting involved in all these is a good idea?’
‘We won't get involved, Vijay. We'll drop her at her address, and that's it.’
He glanced at her and inhaled deeply, ‘As you say. C'mon Zara, we will take you home.’
‘I stood in the queue for the security check when the guard came and told me I had to remove my boots. For a moment, I stood clueless. I was in a trap. And I had only two options. Either I tell them the truth, or I decline to do this work for him. But surrendering would have meant my parents’ involvement, and I didn't want to ruin our vacation. Neither could I remove my boots, for the drugs I was carrying in them. All I knew was that I had to get rid of the LSD right away. And I had a plan. I moved out of the queue and went straight to the washroom where I flushed them out. A bigger threat was awaiting me, but I thought he would understand. After all, he was the mastermind behind everything, I was merely executing it, or rather I was forced to. But I was wrong.’
Kia was listening to her patiently, and now she spoke out, ‘But why did Zara agree to do this work in the first place?’
Zara stooped a little forward supporting her elbows on the table, ‘Promise you won’t tell my parents?’
‘I met him two weeks back in a pub. He bought me a few drinks and took me to the hotel he was staying. We made out there after which he told me about his plan. Maxim wanted me to help him transporting a few packets of LSD. I was supposed to carry it only till the security check. He said his men would be there in the waiting lounge. I hand the pouches over to them, and that's where the deal ends. Trust me I would not have got myself in this trouble had he not clicked photos of our intimate moments and threatened me of leaking them on social media.’
‘Okay, Zara. Now you can wait outside and ask your parents to come in.’
‘Can I also see the library? I have read the other books I borrowed.’
Kia smiled and nodded, switching off the recorder.
Mr and Mrs Sen looked anxious. It had been more than three months now that Eva, their daughter, was getting treatment under one of the most renowned psychiatrists in Kolkata, and still showed no sign of improvement.
Mrs Sen used the end of her saree to wipe away her tears, ‘Today she's trying to jump into the river. God knows what plan she will hatch tomorrow! It's only for the couple, who saw her last night and brought her home, that she's alive. She told us she had a group study at her friend's place.’
Mrs Sen sobbed while her husband tried to console her. ‘It's okay Hem. She's alive. And soon she will be fine. What do you think is the exact problem with Eva, doc?’
Kia tucked the falling strand of her hair behind her ear and cleared her throat. ‘I have been seeing her for three months now, and what I understand Mr Sen, your daughter is suffering from a personality disorder. She is unable to differentiate her reality from her dreams. To be more specific, she can't come out of her dreams. There is a formal name for this. We call it the borderline personality disorder.’
‘Now, what's that?’
‘Patience. I will explain everything. But before that, I have two questions. Have you ever promised Eva to buy her a two-wheeler? Or do you know that she takes interest in mountain bike racing?’
Her parents looked surprised at each other.
‘We never promised her anything like that, doc! And mountain bike racing...? I can't believe! Years back, I tried teaching her cycling. She gave up in a week.’ her father said.
Kia flipped through her diary to open a page and then she showed it to them, ‘Eva herself told me this a month back. She said you had promised her a two-wheeler and when I asked her why she wanted it, she said she would like to participate in a mountain bike race. Do you remember Mrs Sen, you once complained of her wearing a face mask even inside the house? She told me she had stolen your diamond ring and she was afraid, you would find out who was it.’
‘But...’ Mrs Sen looked perplexed, ‘I never lost any diamond ring, doctor!’
‘You haven't lost it, Mrs Sen. George's mom did.’
‘Who is this George, doc?’ Mr Sen furrowed up, ‘we’re confused!’
‘Eva's imaginary character, Mr Sen, one of the many names she calls herself. Even I was confused, trying to connect all the dots until my husband showed me his library's register. It was my eye-opener. I remained jolted by the truth that I think has the answer to the puzzle we all have been trying to solve for so many days. I am sure that you know, Eva loves reading. She borrows books from my husband's library every time she comes here for her visit. She borrowed this book called 'The Diamond Ring' almost three months back on her second visit.' Kia opened the page in the register and showed it to them, 'See, at the time of issue, she signed her name. However, when she returned the book, she signed as George. One time it could be a mistake. But this a pattern. For the next three books, she signs as Eva while issuing, but uses different names while returning. This made me read all the books she borrowed. And I found the answer to the puzzle. Eva starts living the characters in her dreams. Even when she wakes up, she believes she's George who has stolen his mother's ring, or she's Rita who loves mountain bike racing or some Zara, who has been trapped by a Russian drug dealer.’
‘That's grave! What do we do now?’ her father said.
‘Observe, Mr Sen. We need to observe her, give her time. This is indeed serious, as her dreams have now become some undetachable parts of her reality. She doesn’t know where her dream ends and where begins her reality. The treatment has to go on. But as her parents, even you have to be very, very cautious all the time. What does she watch, hear, talk or even read about...you have be to extra vigilant all the time. Now that you know her problem, you choose the books for her. There must be something very special to Eva. It might be a movie or some childhood memories, photos, some foods...things which she likes, things that define her. Show her those photos, make her those dishes and share all those stories with her. She has to find herself.’
Her parents sat frozen in their seats. They hadn’t expected this, not even in their wildest dreams. But then, who knows the depth of the subconscious where the fine line between the dream and reality could dissociate and let them flow into each other? Right in the middle of an extraordinary nightmare, clinging to the ordinary seems the only hope.
A light knock drew three pairs of eyes to the door. Eva came in. ‘Mom, dad...see, I got the new book from the library!’ Her face beamed with an ear-to-ear grin.