It was around 3 O’clock in a night when darkness was at its peak and most of the people enjoyed a deep sleep in the silence which, prevails all over. Sid keeps on changing his sides in his bed beside his beautiful wife, Sumi, and newly born child, Aryan, staring at the darkness that prevails intensely inside room, listening to the sound of the tik-tik that every movement of clock’s seconds hand brought and interrupted the continuous soothing sound of moving ceiling fan in his bedroom. Several images were passing through his mind and eventually, he started visualizing his journey from roadside conmen to a respected well-settled family man.
Sid, unable to sleep, gets up and walks down the stairs, with the practiced silence that he honed down to a fine art. The faint ticking of the kitchen clock catches his eye, and the luminous dial tells him that it is four o’clock. He uses the light of the moon, filtering through the transparent lace curtains, as he moves around the kitchen, and makes coffee and sits down at the table.
Sid smiles to himself as he reflects that it was about this time of the morning in the bad old days, that he and Akash used to forage the neighborhood for easy pickings. How did it all start? They were friends in school and were about fourteen years old. They were born in the same year, the same month. Akash was five days older than Sid.
One day, Akash said let’s borrow a TV. So, they ‘borrowed’ one from a house three streets away, where bundles of newspapers were strewn on the lawn, indicating that the owners were away. Sid’s thoughts came back to the present. As he pours himself another cup of coffee, he hears soft footsteps. Framed in the kitchen doorway, is the silhouetted figure of his wife.
“Couldn’t sleep, Sid?” Sumi asks, leaning against the door, tugging at the cord of her gown.
“No, these memories keep flooding back,” Sid says, looking up.
“It must be very difficult getting rid of them, and we have a big decision to make today,” Sumi says as she walks to the table and sits down.
“Yeah… it is,” Sid says putting in some creamer in his coffee. “And yes. We have a decision to make.”
“I am sorry,” Sumi says as she takes his hand and places it in between both of hers.
“What are you sorry for? I am out of everything now but that doesn’t mean I cannot go down the memory lane.” Sid says with a smile; his gaze somewhere in the beyond.
“Do you know why we used to call it ‘borrowed’? Because I could open any lock with this,” Sid says pointing at the plastic stirrer he was using for coffee. “No scratch marks. No breakage. No sign of forced entry. It was clinical. It was an art.”
“And you were the best,” Sumi says looking down; her lips doing a reverse smile.
“And we used to put it back. It was just for the thrill of it. I did not want the goods or the money. I wanted to test my skills every time. Under pressure. Every time same performance.” Sid has a proud squint in his eyes.
“But it was wrong, Sid,” Sumi says tapping his hand.
“I know. Akash will disagree with you,” says Sid with a quick chuckle. “He wanted to make money out of the steal. He got us a buyer. We started earning more and more and stealing more and more. After some years, we found ourselves selling closed houses as if they were our own. His skill with his tongue and my skill with my hands. Akash could talk people into buying anything.”
“You were young; flamboyant; crazy. Mistakes happen, Sid. And, back then, there was no one who could have made you realize them. But now I am here.”
“I don’t know how I am going to do this today. Someone will be hurt, Sumi.”
Both looked at the clock together as Sumi says, “We should get going. We don’t want to be late.”
“Our lives will change forever from now. Please be with me, Sumi. I cannot lose you.”
Sumi gave him a one-sided smile and a quick nod.
As the dawn pours further into his room, stealing its way through the translucency of the curtains, he goes and sits on his bed, beside Sumi, who had fallen asleep waiting for him to lie down. He looks at the serenity that floats across her face even while she sleeps. He wishes he could take a dip in its peaceful composure. How could he do this to her? He wonders. She doesn’t even know she’s that ‘someone’ who will be hurt by the end of this episode. He wishes it wouldn’t be that way. But what can he do now? He’s already walked too deep into this deception.
Five years is no small time. Five years to establish himself as the respected well-settled family man. To establish himself as the man who took a stand against Akash’s immoral ways. As a man willing to punish his erstwhile friend-turned-foe. Willing to take up the role of the town mayor to ensure that justice is delivered. Except all of it was a well-written act. ‘The Act of a Changed Man’, as Akash would call it.
Today, after years he’d spent to win their trust, he is to be conferred the much-awaited title of the mayor. The first thing they are all expecting him to do is to take rightful action against Akash Jain. Except that his definition of that rightful action is to be different.
This is their biggest con. One that is to be remembered as the greatest heist in the history of the nation. He and Akash have worked towards it together for years. Played their roles to perfection. It was clinical, and it was an art. They are both looking forward to it – Akash for the riches at the end of it, him – for the adrenaline rush in the act itself.
Yet, sitting beside his sleeping wife, conscious of the presence of their son Aryan, equally deep in sleep in the next room, he feels a spirit hand pulling him from behind.
He has ensured that he doesn’t end up loving them for real, for they are not to be part of his future. He has kept reminding himself – he is an actor. And yet he is human as well. Even though he might have succeeded in keeping love at bay, how could he just chase the fondness away? The fondness that grew along with Aryan. Like a second child.
He looks at Sumi, once again. How innocently she had assumed, it was Akash whom he’s going to hurt, that it’s his vicious past that he wants to cross with her by his side.
What is he doing? What are the chances that she’ll still love him once she learns that this is an act and he is an actor, and their son was born on a stage set? Where does he go?
He finds himself standing at the crossroads of fondness and fortune.
“Please be with me Sumi,” he whispers once again, “I cannot lose you.”
Sid stretches over to the other side of the bed and listens closely to Sumi’s dozing. She is fast asleep. He fleetingly wonders when he’ll see her and Aryan again, perhaps during the trial, perhaps never; but that is the sacrifice he was always prepared for. Act is bigger than the actors…even bigger than himself and Akash.
He tip-toes downstairs to the kitchen again. The first rays of dawn bounces on a mirror placed near the stairway and Sids sees his image – it has been five years since they began this brilliant game and in that time his face has developed subtle changes. Of course, Akash is getting older too. And they were always meticulous about their planning especially on days like this.
They mostly did this thing once in a month but at times, at his insistence, just for the adrenaline rush, they did it twice in a single day…and never in five years Sumi or anyone around them got even a little bit suspicious.
Shrugging-off his thoughts, Sid walks through the kitchen, and towards the back door of his house. Akash is waiting there for the switch. He looks at Akash from top to bottom – not the fake beard and ponytail that he had to sport for obvious reasons but the real Akash – the boy who was his first and best friend. Akash – the boy who was born five days earlier than him. In the same year. In the same month. Of the same mother.
“Big day tomorrow, right brother?”, said Akash with a cunning voice.
“yes indeed”, replied Sid in a soft uncertain voice.
“What’s wrong, J? Now, don’t tell me you’ve got feelings for Sumi, have you?”
“Oh, it is the child. You’ve always had a weak heart, didn’t you?”
“Let’s get over with this Akash. Our father will always be my first priority, and you know it.”
“Well then, ready for the switch?”
“Hm… Akash tomorrow is the final act, after which it ends here.”
“You know it’s the end when I get what I want, little brother.”
“You will get it. Now let’s exchange and get it going.”
Next day was a pleasant one. Clouds occupied the sky, while people occupied the streets. The cool breeze continued to flow, and so did people’s voices in unison for the new mayor. Sid stood in front of thousands of people of the city and the new mayor, Akash. None knew, neither did Sumi, that her Sid was now playing the role of Akash, while the con man became her husband and the new mayor.
“For all his crimes, he is punished with life imprisonment. A man like him should not be left free with just a few years in prison, as it is known to all, that a con man will resume his notorious acts”, Akash addressed to all the citizens.
All hailed his name while the authorities carried out their procedures. Sid stole a look towards Sumi who was standing on the podium beside Akash. She seemed happy and that gave Sid the motivation he required.
On being put into his cell, his first job was to look out for his father’s cell. He took the help of the small metal wire he managed to bring into the prison that he hid very well inside the cavity of his mouth. A master of locks he was, he slipped into the secrecy of night and searched for the cell no. 147, a number he could never forget. His heartbeat escalated when he finally found it. 15 years of longing was now going to pay off.
“Father!”, said Sid so low it was almost a whisper.
“I’ve waited so long to hear that word, my son. You are finally here.”, said a trembling voice that seemed to come from the darkness.
“I’ve come to take you, but we need to hurry”
His father rose from the darkness, his skin pale, wrinkled and aged. This wasn’t how Sid remembered him.
Through the darkness, through the silence, two con-men were now escaping life imprisonment. Sid’s mind was working in the direction of the last act that was left to perform. His thrill was reaching its epitome. The con-man in Sid was back.
Akash waited in the kitchen as Sumi and Aryan were deep asleep. Two silhouettes appeared against the moonlight of which he recognized one of them immediately. Akash jumped onto his feet to open the door. The door creaked with its moment.
“Sh… You were never good with doors and locks, isn’t it?”, joked Sid with a sheepish smile on his face.
“Ok. So, we have enough time for the grand plan. I will get you to the city bank. Sid, you need to open the door with your magnifico hands, and we will take out everything quickly. There’s a secret door no-one knows about except the mayor, that is indeed Me.”, Akash laid out the plan with a wink.
“The con-men are back!”, said their father, excitement brimming in his voice.
“Only if Sumi could see, only if… I can’t lose her.”
“Sid, this is who we are. Let’s go.”
Sumi stood there on the threshold of the kitchen. In silence, she bid her goodbye to her love, while she prepared herself for the big day that’ll come for her tomorrow.
“The con-men are back, and they are going to strike the city bank tonight. Catch them before its late.”, she spoke into the speaker
“Copy that!” She heard, before letting the landline slip through her hands.