Years of reporting true crime had jaded him to the brink of alienation. He needed a much-deserved break and the news of lockdown could not have come sooner. The relaxation of the crime rate should have eased his deadlines. But his boss had other plans. The Op-Ed section was under-staffed due to layoffs. Robin had celebrated one month of inactivity when he was thrust into the predicament of writing about spending the lockdown “productively”.
After a fruitless Skype meeting, he retreated to his bedroom. The wall was a mess of violent headlines staring at him and his desk, a litany of case files; a testament to his decade-long crusade. He was wary that a criminal vendetta could someday claim his life or livelihood. But their curses instead obliged him to write top fives for the editorial column.
He yawned and started scrolling his neglected social feeds. After an hour of effort, he felt that he had fewer ideas than he had started with. He fell asleep with a sense of dismay. In the dead of night, the lights were out. The alarm clock had been ringing for five minutes when he snoozed it. The corridor made way for a faint ululation. The familiarity of the situation scared him. Despite his fearful instincts, he exited his apartment in pursuit of its source.
By the time he reached his neighbour’s doorstep, the squeal had decayed into a whimper. The family next door kept a spare key under the mat. Robin flipped the fabric and desperately searched for it. He felt a gauzy texture on the floor and picked it up. He had half-turned the doorknob when a piercing knock from the other side loosened his grip. Knock by knock, his resolve vaporised. The cries intensified. He realised that the husband was hitting his wife again. So, he fled the scene like a consummate coward. He could not afford to get involved.
He was back in his flat — more sleepy than horrified. He had seen worse. He noticed that he had an opened envelope in his hand. It was what he had picked up earlier. He removed the letter and inspected it. The intimate tone of the salutations aroused suspicion but Robin focused instead on its contents.
The sender wrote at length of the way he had cleaned himself up during the past two months. He stopped smoking and taking drugs. He also started eating healthy and working out. Two pictures showed his transformation in progress. There was something about a pregnancy but Robin did not care enough to read further.
He fell asleep again. In the morning, he had his article ready. He excised the personal details of the letter and paraphrased it into a piece about healthy living. He needed pictures to validate his claims, and so, he pasted pictures from the letter with blurred faces. It was unethical as hell but he was not going to put effort into what he considered the dregs of journalism.
Hours later, the neighbour’s battered wife was carried to the hospital. Robin’s exploitation of the situation did not burden him with guilt, because he considered crime an obsession, not a commitment to justice. He had barely posted his attachment, when an email arrived with the subject “Layoff Notice”…
Arannya is a lover of stoic philosophy, peering at literature from a cynical perspective.