“Very strange. One evening I had tea with you on the veranda of your bungalow. You spoke about your family. You said you had no children, and that you had lost your wife 10 years ago. Your only brother had died insane, which is why you didn’t want to visit the mental hospital in Ranchi…”
When Bipin Babu had paid for the books and was leaving the shop, the man was still looking at him in utter disbelief.
Bipin Babu’s car was safely parked in Bertram Street by the Lighthouse cinema. He told the driver as he got into the car, “Just drive by the Ganga, will you, Sitaram.” Driving up the Strand Road, Bipin Babu regretted having paid so much attention to the intruder. He had never been to Ranchi — no question about it. It was inconceivable that he should forget such an incident which took place only six or seven years ago. He had an excellent memory. Unless — Bipin Babu’s head reeled.
Unless he was losing his mind.
But how could that be? He was working daily in his office. It was a big firm, and he had a responsible job. He wasn’t aware of anything ever going seriously wrong. Only today he had spoken for half an hour at an important meeting. And yet…
And yet that man knew a great deal about him. How? He even seemed to know some intimate details. The bag of books, wife’s death, brother’s insanity… The only mistake was about his having gone to Ranchi. Not a mistake; a deliberate lie. In 1958, during the Pujas, he was in Kanpur at his friend Haridas Bagchi’s place. All Bipin Babu had to do was to write to — no, there was no way of writing to Haridas. Bipin Babu suddenly remembered that Haridas had not left his address.
But where was the need for proof? If it so happened that the police were trying to pin a crime on him which had taken place in Ranchi in 1958, he might have needed to prove he hadn’t been there. He himself was fully aware that he hadn’t been to Ranchi — and that was that.
The river breeze was bracing, and yet a slight discomfort lingered in Bipin Babu’s mind.
Around Hastings, Bipin Babu had the sudden notion of rolling up his trousers and taking a look at his right knee.
There was the mark of an old inch-long cut. It was impossible to tell when the injury had occurred. Had he never had a fall as a boy and cut his knee? He tried to recall such an incident, but couldn’t.
Then Bipin Babu suddenly thought of Dinesh Mukerjee. That man had said that Dinesh was in Ranchi at the same time. The best thing surely would be to ask him. He lived quite near — in Beni Nandan Street. What about going right now? But then, if he had really never been to Ranchi, what would Dinesh think if Bipin Babu asked for a confirmation? He would probably conclude Bipin Babu was going nuts. No — it would be ridiculous to ask him. And he knew how ruthless Dinesh’s sarcasm could be.
To be continued