By Ajay Patri
They draped blankets over our shoulders and slipped mugs of hot tea into our hands even though it was a warm night. Stella took a sip and made a face.
She spat the word out and looked at me with her eyebrows rising up in a delicate arch. I kept my own mug on the wooden table before us.
“Rough night, eh?”
The voice made me jump. It was the inspector, a large man with broad shoulders and dark hair combed back over a square skull. His face was bifurcated by a wide mouth that seemed to have a permanent smile emblazoned on it.
“The doctor tells me the two of you have suffered no lasting damage. Some minor lacerations and so on.”
His gaze alighted on Stella’s bandaged knuckles wrapped around the mug’s handle before taking in her shimmering dress and the giant rips at the knees which exposed her pale flesh underneath.
Then he turned his attention to my discoloured jaw. I had seen my reflection in the dirty mirror they kept in the bathroom of the police station. The bruise was magnificent, yellow-green with a hint of black. A decomposing leaf tattooed on my face.
“We’re fine,” Stella said. The inspector nodded and settled into the chair opposite us.
His voice was a happy drawl that matched his smile.
“Now, I just need to write down your statement for this. Normal procedure, you see, for a case involving a death.”
He paused and the chasm in his face widened.
“An accidental death,” He added.
“Of course,” I said, a bit too hasty. Stella’s lips twitched at the corners.
“Excellent! Let me get my ledger.”
He pulled a big notebook towards himself, flicked it open, and brought the tip of a fountain pen to a blank page.
“Now, from your initial statement, I understand you were walking down Promenade Road. That correct?”
I didn’t want to see another twitch of Stella’s lips, so I waited for her to respond.
“Yes,” She said.
“It was dark. No streetlights on that stretch of the road so you didn’t see the assailant lying in wait.”
“He jumped out at the two of you, took out your husband with a punch to the face.”
I winced. His eyes lingered on my face again.
“That’s right,” Stella said without looking at me.
“Then he turned on you. Was that when you saw the knife?”
“There was a scuffle and the two of you went to ground. You managed to get your hands on the knife. You picked it up and…”
He paused with the pen held aloft like a conductor’s baton. And then she stabbed him, I wanted to say. I closed my eyes and heard the sounds of the night gone by. The gurgling of blood escaping the man’s body. The sweet clinking of Stella’s silver bracelets as she raised the knife in the warm night air and brought it down with a flourish. The sound of manic laughter that was probably just in my head.
I opened my eyes. The inspector’s face was whole again, his lips a thin line stretching from ear to ear.
“Well, I think that’s about it. If you ask me, you folks got off easy here. People tend to lose more than their money in these cases.”
He stood up and dusted down the front of his uniform.
“I’ll get this statement printed and bring it over for your signatures. You can go home after that. And drink up that tea. It’ll help.”
Once he was out of earshot, Stella poured her tea into the wastebasket at her feet. She turned to look at me and frowned at the trembling hands in my lap.
“Are you alright, dear?”
Her eyes were sharp edges of amber. She reached out a hand and held my chin. I squirmed as her fingers grazed the bruise.
“Shush. It’s okay.”
“You said the man hit me.”
“Isn’t that the truth?”
The eyebrows arched up again as the grip on my jaw tightened.
“You’re right,” I said.