“I’ll kill you.”
The hissed statement came from right behind me. I was in an awkward position. The hood of my old Ambassador car was up and I was bending over the engine that had stalled on the deserted mountain road leading down to the plains from my friend’s cardamom plantation.
Don’t panic, I told myself.
“Do you hear me?” This time it was almost a shout. “I’m about to kill you.”
It was a strange place where I wasn’t known. Obviously, there was some mistake. But murdered in error or otherwise, a dead man was a dead man.
“Take all you want,” I said. “But don’t do anything drastic.”
“Do you think I’m a highway robber?”
“Sorry, didn’t mean that.”
“Okay, I did,” I admitted. “Why else should you hold me up?”
“To finish you off.”
A chill ran down my spine. The man apparently meant business. “But why?” I asked in desperation. “We don’t even know each other.”
“I know you, great sinner. And you know of me.”
Nut case? Drugs? Drunk in the afternoon? That was immaterial; I had to find a way out. The voice direction gave me a fairly good indication of where the assailant stood. But from my vulnerable situation it was impossible to whip around quickly enough to overpower him. And I didn’t know what weapon he was carrying.
“I don’t,” the voice came again, “like stabbing people in the back.”
I wondered why he made that statement. “That’s decent of you,” I responded.
“Stretch your arms,” I was told, “sideways, palms open.”
“Take one step backward and straighten up.”
That was at least a great relief to my back.
“Turn around slowly.”
Now I was facing a young man who stood about ten feet away. His shoulder-length hair that was parted in the middle, and beard were neatly combed. The eyes were clear and focused and had an unusual intensity. His hands were behind the back.
I looked up and down the road.
“No chance,” the stranger said. “There won’t be any traffic at this time.”
“Do you recognize me now?”
“No, but you resemble Jesus Christ.”
“I am Jesus.”
I had anticipated something of the sort. “Jesus,” I said, “didn’t go around killing sinners. His mission was to save them.”
“Was that the script?
“Then we’ll change it in your case.”
“To kill you. Imagine tomorrow’s banner headline, ‘Jesus Slays Great Sinner!’”
By now, instead of fear it was exasperation that I was feeling. If he were carrying a gun there wasn’t much that I could do. But if it was a knife, I had a fairly good chance of defending myself.
“Why don’t you,” I asked, “shoot and be done with it?”
“Can’t. I don’t have a gun.”
“Okay, stab then.”
“Not possible from this distance. If I get closer, you’ll fight me.”
“Well,” I said, “you have a problem then.”
I stared at him, trying to understand.“Knife throwing,” he explained. “Can hit a flea at twenty-five feet.”
He sounded convincing. “Bastard,” I shouted.
The chap went into peals of laughter, throwing his head back first and then doubling up. I quickly moved a little closer to him.“They have called me that before.”
“Okay mad man,” I almost screamed, “throw your damned knife.”
“Not yet. Sudden death would be a relief to you. Sinners must suffer in this world and in the next.”
The fellow started asking questions about my family – whom I loved most, how that person would react to my death, whether my wife would marry again, and so on. Then he described what would happen to my body after the execution. He would roll it down the mountain slope to the forest below. The animals and the birds would have a feast. Perhaps the skeleton would be found on some future date.
“It could,” I said, “very well be your bones.”
“Because I’m going to kill you.”
The man quickly brought his left hand forward in an underarm throwing motion. I leapt aside and steadied myself, getting a foot nearer to him in the process. But nothing was thrown.He laughed aloud.
Rush him now, my mind whispered.
In a split-second his right hand came up, holding a mini-dagger by the tip of its perfectly shaped blade. The handle looked colourful.
”Hey, that’s a beautiful knife,” I said, thinking quickly.
The man looked at the weapon and back again at me, and asked, “You really think so?”
“Absolutely. Where did you buy it?”
“Fool,” he shouted. “Which shop will have such a treasure?”
“Sorry. Where did you get it?”
“My grandfather had it specially made by the best blacksmith of those days. He was a great man, my grandfather.”
“Great knife for a great man.”
“The handle,” the man said moving towards me, “is ibex horn. See these studs. They are 24 carat gold. The stones are real rubies.”
Perhaps what he said was true. “This must be,” I commented, “the finest knife in the world.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Can I have a feel of it?”
“Sure,” he said, came forward, and handed over the weapon.That was incredible. I backed to the car door quickly.
“Hey,” the man hollered, “Give back my knife,” and came forward.
I took out my Beretta from the glove compartment. The idea was to leave provided the car started and chuck the dagger to its owner.
The moment he saw the gun the stranger screamed, “You’re going to kill me.” He turned around and raced away taking a narrow footpath that led down from the road.
“Stop,” I shouted after him. “I won’t harm you.”
There was no response. He had already disappeared.I was left holding his knife and wondering what to do with it. Abandoning the apparently valuable piece there wouldn’t have been right. One option was to locate the nearest police station and report. But I didn’t know the locality and had a four-hour drive ahead of me. Finally I went home taking the knife along.
Next day I contacted my plantation-owner friend. His advice was not to bother. He said he would try and trace ‘Jesus’.
Six weeks later a police inspector came home accompanied by a constable. He said they were investigating the roadside incident. I assumed that my friend had contacted the police.
The officer said to call my lawyer if I wished, but I felt there was no need for that. The inspector wanted me to describe in details of what had happened that day at the roadside. The constable took notes. After the narration I was asked for the knife and told to see if there was any inscription on it.
The word ‘Eso’ was etched on the hilt.
Eso. That meant Jesus in the local language!
The policeman stepped forward and asked me to place the weapon on the handkerchief spread over his palm. He wrapped it carefully and put it in a plastic bag.
I was wondering why all the formality when the inspector asked, “Were you driving under the influence of alcohol that day?”
“No. Had a couple of gins for lunch at the estate bungalow. That was an hour or so earlier.”
“Are your driving license and the car papers current?”
“We’ll be,” the officer continued, “taking the pistol into custody.”
“What’s all these about?” I asked, feeling that something was amiss.
“I told you we are enquiring into the complaint.”
“What complaint? I just want to return the knife to its owner.”
“Well,” the inspector answered, “we’ve received a petition against the person who was driving Ambassador car number KLK 1232 that day. We traced the vehicle to you.”He gave the details briefly. The allegedly drunken driver nearly knocked down the complainant, who protested loudly. The accused jumped out of the car with a gun, threatening to shoot. Then he noticed the valuable knife tucked in at the waist of the complainant and grabbed it. When the complainant tried to take it back, the accused pushed him over the edge of the road.
“Who,” I asked after the initial shock, “has filed this complaint?”
Eso, grandson of Eso, I thought with wry humour. “Its all rubbish, inspector,” I said.
“The man is still in hospital. His shoulder, two ribs and thighbone are broken. Some woodcutters found him, almost dead.”
I thought of saying, ‘Serves him right,’ but restrained myself.
“I suppose,” the inspector went on, “you understand that the charges include robbery and attempted murder.”
“You can,” the officer added, “still call your lawyer because I’m arresting you. I can quote all the relevant sections if you like.”
“No need,” I said, reaching for the telephone.
Copyright: Abraham Tharakan.