The day the mysterious house officer who fell from the top roof of the hospital hit the news, all was in a frenzy. The lounge had to be closed, the information counter had to further screen their calls, and the all administrative staff were present, working or not. Who was Dr Sheila? Why did she jump? And more importantly, how did they allow it to happen?
Nurul sat back on her semi reclining chair in her cosy office, her legs crossed and her hands holding a scalding hot cappuccino Venti, sniffing the aroma before each sip; a comfortable quirk of hers. She kept pulling on her hair, all wrinkly and tangled from the getting wet outside earlier. The rains made everything damp and moody. Her desk cluttered with files and folders, stacked. She took one look at the work she had before her and sipped a long hard one.
She heard her door being knocked on. ‘Hey boss,’ a man in uniform waltzed in. He grabbed the seat opposite the desk. ‘The Commissioner was looking for you, you know,’
She gently nodded her head implying she knew.
‘No, I don’t think it’s the reports,’
‘Off course it’s the reports. It’s been delayed for months. Just look,’ she pointed at the table.
‘Hmph,’ the man sighed. He stared right as if he knew something she didn’t and her interest immediately grew. ‘What?
‘I think it’s a case.’
Nurul was tickled, her nostrils flared and her cheeks twitched just a little. ‘Then let’s go find him.’ She immediately got up and marched out leading the way, passing several cubicles where weary staff sat punching letters on keyboards, all the way to the other end of the building where she found the door that read in bold letters, ‘Commissioner of Police’.
Much had transpired since Ram had gotten himself into the particularly tight situation. The rumors eventually died out and the news was no longer hot. It was now the morning before the planned get-together at the Lover’s Café. Ram had been absent most of the morning, his peers avidly looking for him while he turned his phone to silent and took an extra hour to smoke up on the roof. That same roof that now had police tapes all over it. He stayed clear past the line of course but he kept mentally going back to the night he was harassed in the police station.
‘I can’t believe he thinks he has won,’ Ram thought to himself. It played like a broken record, the same night repeatedly and how he wasn’t able to do anything. His job was threatened, his personality mocked and degraded. Ram was leaving this hospital in the sourest way possible.
‘Hey!’ A man shouted as he busted open the door. ‘You can’t be up here.’
Ram turned back and noticed his friend, Bala the janitor. ‘Ram?’
They shared a cigarette and soon Ram excused himself to head back downstairs to the wards.
’11 missed calls? Seriously?’ He noticed 7 were from Daniel and decided to call back.
The phone started ringing, and immediately Daniel picked up.
‘Hello? Hey Cha!’
‘What-up? Any reason for the 7 times you tried calling?’
‘You got people worried man.’
‘About what? Another suicide?’ Ram chuckled a little.
‘That’s morbid man.’ Daniel didn’t find that particularly humorous. ‘Where are you now?’
Ram noticed a vague shadow appear for a split second before disappearing in a flash. A woman in a white-coat crying by the stairs below. It reminded him of the day he met Sheila like that and how they made a very strong connection since. She was a very different woman back then, just quiet, alone, anxious about everything. As he walked down his eyes were fixated at where she sat and cowered herself. He remembered when she asked him, ‘It can’t be a race thing right?’
The door from the side barged open, and out came Daniel, his coat whooshing around like it had a mind of its own. ‘There you are,’
‘Yes Daniel. There I am,’ Ram replied casually.
‘Look man, you have a few days left. Just be around more. You going missing like this, it gets people talking,’
‘Aren’t they talking enough Daniel?’
Daniel sighed aloud. He was exhausted and not in the mood for a debate.
‘Look, just… be around,’ Daniel looked as if he had more to say.
‘Nothing’s going to change is it?’ Ram stopped him at his tracks. Daniel felt forced to turn back and continue the rest of this futile conversation. Ram was attracted to drama, he loved it and that was why he did what he did. He always demanded the most attention and Daniel was always a sucker that would feed into his ego and give him that satisfaction. However, things have changed and Jenny was no longer a variable in Daniel’s life. Her exit seemed to have upset a balance. He kept thinking back to that night he had with Damia and how all his problems ceased to exist. He was tempted to call back the countless phone numbers that he had received and even Damia for the matter. ‘Maybe just a “Hi” or a “You up?”’ but he did no such thing. He just sat and prayed whenever the thoughts took over.
‘Things have changed Ram. Only you haven’t,’
‘What does that supposed to mean?’
‘Why do you do this?’
‘Do what? You have something you want to say to me, Daniel? Come on, say it,’
Daniel sighed aloud again and peered meekly into his friends eyes. ‘You thirst for conflict,’
‘You like it when there is something that you can be upset about,’
‘I didn’t do this for me,’ Ram spoke alluding to the events that transpired on the night he was caught.
‘Then what? For her?’ Daniel suddenly snapped.
‘Of course,’ Ram exclaimed.
‘You got a sex tape that proves nothing. You got YOURSELF in trouble,’
‘Only because of what you said,’
‘I said look into him, I didn’t think you would commit breaking and entering.’
‘And? How else would I get details? How else Daniel? What would you have suggested? Talking to the guy who might have pressured our friend? Going to him and say things like, “Hey Boss, did you make sexual advances toward Sheila? Did you touch her in places? Or worse? How was that? Care to share the details?” Is that what you would have done?’
Daniel quieted. He never wanted to fill in those shoes. It was never his job to investigate Mr Jamal. That was purely Ram’s initiative. That was what Sheila wanted. Was she a fool? Of course she was. She killed herself, so she must have been the fool. But why was Daniel doing this? Why did he open his mouth and start revealing the foolish last words of his dearly departed friend? What was to come of this but total chaos?
‘Sheila wasn’t smart. She had something on Mr Jamal but she never really told me. You yourself said that Mr Jamal promised you that he never hurt her.’
Ram found that statement to be deeply disrespectful. ‘What are you saying Daniel? That she would half-ass a confession like that. Did she mean he is a wonderful man? Would she have meant that minutes before dieing?’
The door to the stairwell opened and nurse in uniform casually walked out, smiled at them, and descended down the stairs, briefly bringing their conversation to a halt. He noticed there was tension and hurried his steps.
‘I’m saying she might have miscalculated this. Mr Jamal is quite a respected figure.’
Ram hit his knuckle on the metal railings echoing vibrations through all the floors.
‘Who’s side are you on? You tell me to do this and you turning back on your word, you coward?’
‘This is just getting way out of hand. And now you’re going to leave the hospital. And we are your friends and we have never talked about it,’
‘We NEVER talk about anything. In case you didn’t notice, one of us DIED, motherfucker. Guess why? Because none of us responded to her texts, none of saw her crying and helped her. You were off fucking that little bitch of yours and…’
Daniel impulsively leaped forth and punched his fist into Ram’s cheek. The capricious nature of it almost pushed Ram backward, causing him to flinch. He got up holding his face in embarrassment. There was a small bruise but nothing too severe. There was still silence for a brief moment. However, Daniel was not done.
‘If you had the balls to tell her you loved her, maybe it would have been you up on that roof that night with her instead of me. And maybe you would have stopped her and she would have never jumped.’
Ram was livid, his teeth clenched and his fist tightened. ‘You didn’t just say that,’ he whispered with a sullen intensity.
Daniel regressed a little, knowing his friend was ready to strike. He took another step before Ram launched at him, pinning him to the tiled ground. ‘You little piece of shit!’ he yelled with his fist tightening, vibrating high up in the air. Daniel was quick to barricade his face with his forearms.
THWAP!’ The raging fist had mellowed to the hard slap on the cold ground just adjacent to Daniel’s ear while his heart pounded out of his chest as he listened to his quick-tempered friend breathe heavily inches above him.
Ram slowly calmed himself before he gradually stood up. He took a moment before he reached out his hand to Daniel to assist him to his feet. ‘Maybe you’re right,’ he conceded.
Daniel felt an array of emotions and one he couldn’t control any longer. ‘Jenny left me,’ Daniel threw him a surprise.
Ram immediately felt sick to his stomach. ‘I’m sorry.’ He muttered facing the floor. There was instant regret for his words earlier.
‘It’s alright,’ Daniel replied.
There was a still silence only accompanied with the whooshing of air through the vents. Footsteps approached them from below. It was the nurse from earlier who awkwardly smiled at them again before leaving walking past back to his floor.
‘We’re the only friends you got Ram. Don’t push us away. I hope you can understand that we can’t afford to lose another.’
‘We have planned something tonight. I know how much you hate these things but it’s going to be small and just us.’
Ram’s eyes opened just a little and he raised his head to meet Daniel’s gaze. He was never really expecting anything from his friends but a small part of him lit up.
‘OK.’ He pushed himself to smile, grateful.
That evening at the café, all were present, all chatting, but the small talk and jokes fizzled out fast. In truth, the group hadn’t spent enough recent time with each other that there was nothing really much they could talk about. The only thing was probably worth bringing up was work gossip, who they liked, who they hated, which patient did what, lived for what reason and died for what reason. Besides that, they were not their usual chatty selves joking about one another, talking about politics, movies and travelling as they once used to. One plausible reason was any such topic relating to the past would eventually bring up Sheila which nobody wanted to do. Another reason was because they had become reclusive, stuck in a smaller world, walled off by work hours, ward duties, operating theatres and blood banks. They were now the people they swore they would never become.
‘What to say next?’ That was the theme of the night and Ram found it hilarious. As the silence took over, there was less chatter and more the awkward buzz on personal cell phones or the slight scratching of metal forks and knifes on ceramic plates.
For Tzen however, the sounds were all too irritating, especially when he could even hear the chomping noises of the mouths beside him. He never really noticed how Daniel ate before but today, it was all he could fixate on. Every grinding, every gnashing, every micro-movement his jaw made was heightened, slowed down into intricate detail. He was honestly doing his best tonight to calm himself. ‘STOP!’ he eventually broke.
The entire table flinched. They paused mid action in whatever they were doing. ‘Tzen?’
‘Sorry!’ He apologized. ‘I just need some sleep.’
Damia realised that whole time he was there he never looked in front, as though there was something ahead he was trying to avoid. He would usually face them or right back his phone but never just take pauses to stare into open space.
‘You want to switch places Tzen?’
‘No!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s really ok,’
‘I can move my chair closer to you, then’
‘NO! Please just…’ he was already sweating through his pores trying to stop her from pressuring him.
‘Damia, just leave him alone.’ Jenny attempted to diffuse the situation.
Daniel & Damia exchanged looks for a second. It appeared that Jenny knew something they didn’t.
Damia however insisted on helping. ‘Maybe if I just,’
‘You can’t “mother” yourself to help out everyone Damia,’ Tzen burst out. Damia was offended deeply, not at the fact that he shut her down but that it was something Sheila always used to say to her, and only she did.
‘I’m sorry. I’ll be fine.’ He calmed himself down. ‘So, Ram. How are you gonna handle the new hospital huh?’ Tzen decided to tangent the conversation away from him.
Ram sat back, with a furrowed brow, thinking very carefully what to say next, making sure not to trigger his friend who was obviously going through something.
Daniel instead spoke for him before he could reply, ‘He will finish this damn internship, that’s what he’s gonna do. And he’ll come back and kick Jamal’s ass.’
‘Whoo! Preach!’ Damia raised her glass, one hand hitting Daniel’s shoulder. To the general onlooker, this might have felt like a casual friendly gesture, but these five knew each other very well, and one thing they knew for sure was that Damia never touched any man that wasn’t Salim, not for a handshake, not a nudge, not unless he was a patient and it was for professional reasons. Jenny’s eyes immediately locked on Daniels’ and he knew what she was thinking.
‘Relax,’ Ram saw the looks they exchanged and thoughtlessly decided to speak, ‘it’s over right? I trust my boy,’
‘What’s over?’ Jenny turned toward Ram, just realising that he might slipped his tongue.
Daniel was right, Ram loved drama and he loved chaos, as though pathologically drawn to it, whether consciously or not.
‘YOU TOLD HIM?’ Jenny glared at Daniel.
‘It came up,’ Daniel replied.
‘And how long has this been happening?’ she waved her finger pointing Damia and him together.
‘God NO!’ Damia retracted. ‘I would never. I’m a married woman, Jenny.’
Daniel immediately took to the defensive. ‘What about you Jen? What is it about Tzen you’re not telling me?’
‘TZEN? Are you kidding me right now?’
Tzen in turn was getting anxious again. He couldn’t stop what was happening to him. He felt frozen, shackled and he just needed to break the chains lose. He eventually burst into a rage, standing up, grabbing his steak knife and carelessly knocking over his drink. The glass rolled over the table and fell shattering, enough to stir the ambiance, catching the attention of other customers inside.
‘NO! They’re not like that!’ he screamed ahead of him, holding the steak knife as if to attack.
The manager took notice from the registration counter inside. He alerted some of his waiters to follow him to the patio. He was not going to have this ruckus in his restaurant.
‘Tzen?’ Jenny slowly touched his arm, now frozen stiff, all his muscles contracted. She tried to lower his knife. Everyone was on high alert, wondering if they should approach him.
Damia wasn’t afraid though. She peered into his sad weary eyes and saw something. She knew the feeling as her eyes were doing the same. He was hiding something and it had been there a lot longer than any of them had noticed but it was evident he was going through something deep inside. ‘Who are you talking to? What are we not like?’
Tzen kept looking straight and customers from the inside peered back but he didn’t see them, instead, he only saw ‘HER’, Sheila standing before him, in a black top, black miniskirt and black leggings, standing still, her hands clasped together hanging below her waist, looking back at him with a sad smile.
‘They are not going to understand,’ Sheila said. ‘This is just between us. I keep telling you.’
Tzen was tearing as he dropped the steak knife to the floor beneath him. His defences finally down.
‘This is all I know,’ Jenny confessed, rubbing her hands over his shoulders.
‘She keeps talking, and sometimes I have no choice but to talk back. Or it’ll just seem rude,’ Tzen replied. He wiped his tears and just walked out, not even saying sorry or goodbye to the rest of them. He made steady pace and left the building without even a slight turn, afraid to see her.
The manager in fact just saw him walk past him without any sort of acknowledgement. Though he was happy Tzen decided to leave on his own, it would be best for the restaurant if the entire patio was cleared of their party.
‘I’m sorry Damia, but I’m afraid I have to ask for all of you to leave,’ he said sternly. Damia was deeply embarrassed at how they were now the centre of attraction.
‘Sir, just give us five minutes,’ Daniel pleaded. ‘We’ll pay the bill and be off,’
‘It’s the least you can do for us,’ Damia added.
‘No!’ Ram stopped. ‘This night is over. That right there, (pointing at where Tzen sat earlier) that was what needed to happen and I’m glad it did.’
‘So what you want us to just fight over everything? That’s not a friendship Ram,’ Jenny retorted.
‘Then maybe we’re not friends, Jenny. Maybe we never were. Maybe we were all just grasping at straws for some form of human connection. And now we can finally see each other for who we really are.’
‘Bull!’ Daniel felt disgusted at his friend’s statement.
The manager cleared his throat. ‘I’ll bring the bill, and please… co-operate.’ He headed back inside to bring them their bill personally, while 2 other waiters just stood there by the table waiting for further instructions.
The four doctors stared at each other. Damia still found Jenny’s suspicions unsettling and she didn’t want that lingering over them.
‘I went out with him once. It was just dancing and…’
Jenny genuinely looked surprised. ‘What?’
Daniel sighed aloud.
‘You’re having an affair?’ Jenny patiently asked.
‘No! HE is!’ Damia exclaimed. Her face swelled up and started to redden. Her mascara too was starting to melt and that smile that was there the whole night had finally dissipated into a deep frown.
The manager brought their bill and placed it on the table. Ram quickly grabbed it and filled the bill folder with a wad of cash before presenting it back to him.
‘No! Ram, come on!’ Daniel begged but the manager couldn’t bother to wait, instead just took the money and headed straight to the counter. He couldn’t care less who paid as long as his patio was cleared and the other customers could go about having an uninterrupted dinner.
Ram realised there were many secrets among them. He then cynically remarked, ‘Let’s do this again,’ before he walked out of the patio. He smiled and winked at everyone at the restaurant who starred, all the way back to his car. The others dispersed quietly as well, just nodding at the each other and saying quiet awkward goodbyes.
Overall, it was not a night they had expected, and not the farewell Ram deserved but it was the type he wanted, filled with drama, commotion and most importantly, ‘the truth’. At least that was what Daniel thought of him.
Ram headed to his empty house that night after downing several beers at the local bar. A part of him relieved that night was over, and a part of him was worried about what came next. He just wanted to lie on his couch, get himself more beer, a joint and unknowingly fall sleep. He was working the night shift the next day, so there were no plans to get up early. He just wanted to dull all his emotions for the next 12 hours.
Ram took out his keys to unlock his door when he realised something. The door was already open.
He pushed it slightly only to realise the horrible mess that was staring back at him from inside. The cushions were everywhere and the tables cleared with everything on the floor. The whole place ransacked. The area was dark and the lights didn’t work.
‘Shit!’ he ran to his bedroom only to suddenly find a tall shadow pushing him back. He moved back and noticed there were easily five of them, all men, slowly encroaching him to his living room. He fell back on the sofa and dropped on the soft cushioning.
‘Doctor?’ a husky feminine voice crept from behind the shadows. As she approached, the little from the streets hit her and Ram could make out an older woman in a ponytail, a leather jacket and jeans. She came out of his bedroom holding something. She sat before him on the opposing couch, lighting a cigarette on one hand and dropping a bag of his marijuana on the table with another.
Ram figured out that they must have been thugs, eying the place for the perfect time to break in and tonight was their night. If only he came home a little later, they would have already left. ‘Look, Miss?’
‘Detective,’ she replied, ‘Doctor,’
Ram was puzzled. ‘Detective? You’re not thugs?’
There was a soft chuckle from the men around him.
She then took out what appeared to be a thumb drive from her pocket and placed it next to the bag of marijuana.
It had also belonged to Ram, one he taped underneath his mattress. It was his second backup in case his cloud storage got hacked. He thought he was being smart by having it.
‘You’re not Narcotics are you?’ he made an educated guess.
She smiled as she blew a cloud of smoke into the air and starred back at him in the dim glow of the the streetlights piercing through the curtains. ‘No, Doctor. You can call me Nurul. CID.’
‘And what do you want?’ Ram appeared puzzled. What was Criminal Investigations doing in his house? Unless this was about Sheila and Mr.Jamal was making his next move by pulling more favours from the police.
She pointed her cigarette at the thumb drive, ‘It’s password protected, and we found it in a very odd location. Any reason why?’
Ram was cornered. He couldn’t dis them as all his angles were blocked by the two grams of illegal marijuana staring back right in front of him. ‘I’ll tell you everything. We can go to station.’ He conceded.
No!’ she inhaled before blowing another puff. Ram hated tobacco and wished he could tell her. But he was impressed as honestly he could swear that she had the lungs of a man. ‘No station. That’s not how I do things.’
Ram was oddly impressed even more. Why not the station? Was she here on behalf on Mr Jamal or was she here because she didn’t trust the police herself? Either way, she was going to be a game changer in this whole mess. ‘Maybe this night wasn’t so bad after all,’ he thought.
He watched the officer closely, studying her mannerisms, her body language and her style, while she tried to figure him out as well, waiting patiently for his next few words.
END OF ACT 1