Bad Influence

“Radhika is dead,” said Mayuri, rather more cheerfully than she should have.

Rajnath frowned for a good few seconds before he spoke. “No, she is not. I just met her in the stairway. She didn’t seem to be having a great day. But she was definitely alive.”

Mayuri washed her hands as she considered this. Had she missed something? Radhika did fall off the ledge. She remembered this well. The back of her head did hit the edge of the low wall. She remembered this too. There was a sound that anyone other than Mayuri might have described as ‘sickening’.

As she dried her hands, Mayuri decided that Rajnath was wrong. Radhika was most definitely dead.

“Radhika isn’t dead,” said Rajnath, standing by the window. “Look. There she is.”

Mayuri went over to the window and found that what Rajnath was pointing at did bear a resemblance to Radhika.

“That can’t be Radhika,” Mayuri said, and added, “Who is that boy with her?”

Radhika, if it was indeed her, was in some strange company, which was not surprising in and of itself. But this boy was stranger than usual. He was dressed in tatters and, from what Mayuri could tell from her fourth-floor window, his face was bleeding.

“Here comes Hariram,” said Rajnath, pointing at the building watchman.

Mayuri, who was still not sure if the girl down there Radhika, turned and went inside. The television had a breaking news update.

“…advised to stay indoors. Unconfirmed reports are saying… This just on… Our reporter Neelima… Neelima! Neelima! Can you hear me Neelima? What is the condition on the ground? Neelima? … I am afraid we have lost contact with Neelima. We strongly advise our viewers to exercise caution and to not open doors to…”

Mayuri heard Rajnath scream in terror. She turned and found him closing the window. He closed both windows and turned to her, his face pale and drained of blood.

“What is it Raju?” she asked.

“It is nothing. Don’t open the windows. Is the door shut?”

Rajnath rushed to the door and pulled at the latch to make sure. Mayuri tried to ask him what had happened but could not catch his eye. He was in the kitchen now, closing the window, then in the bathroom, staring at the skylight helplessly.

“Do we have food? And gas? Batteries! We will need batteries.” Rajnath spoke breathlessly.

Mayuri stopped his running around and forcefully made him sit down on the sofa. “Raju calm down. What happened? Tell me.”

“Radhika. Her friends. They. They. Oh. They… Hariram. Poor Hariram. He is… They…”

“They did what to Hariram? Let us call the police. I have always told you that girl does not belong in this colony. And those boys she brings home. I have told you to raise this at the housing society meetings. But you don’t listen. I don’t know why you let that girl be!”

But Rajnath was already on the phone. “The police lines are busy. I called Appu also. He is not answering. I hope he is alright.”

“Raju, tell me what they did to Hariram,” Mayuri asked, but Rajnath was calling more people.

Someone banged at the door. Mayuri approached the peephole cautiously and put her eye to it. It was the watchman Hariram. His eyes were white, he was missing his left ear, and the skin on his face hung loose as if peeled off with claws. His neck had a gaping hole on the side and the blood that trickled out of it was black.

“Hariram is dead,” said Rajnath as he dialled another number.