Best Friends (forever?)

TRIGGER WARNINGS: MURDER, VIOLENCE


“Come over na today. My parents won’t be home tonight so we could booze and have guys over...or maybe just bitch about Sheila here.” said Radhika over-enthusiastically to Akshita, who had been her best friend since forever. These two were inseparable. They had been friends ever since Radhika could walk. Well, Akshita suffered an injury to her spine when she was only 4 months old and had been paralysed from the waist below ever since.


This accident however, neither affected her personality nor her performance in her day to day activities which weren’t so different from Radhika’s. In fact, Akshita had represented her school for three years straight in the Inter-School Paralympics for her remarkable skill and tremendous upper body strength that was required to participate in Shot Put. Akshita was a bright student, she had represented her school in bounty Inter-School quizzes along with her exceptional participation in National and International Olympiads of Science and Information Technology. Obviously, she was very popular among teachers and over the years she had been idolised by them. This, though, never hindered her popularity among her peers. She was a pretty girl, her face was always radiating positivity and taped with an innocent smile. Her long, honey brown, wavy hair accentuated her ethereal beauty. Her personality was so radiant that it overshadowed her good looks and disability. Everyone loved Akshita and saw her for who she was.


Radhika wasn’t any less of a miracle either. Akshita may have mastered Newton’s Laws of Motion and Thermodynamics, but Radhika had mastered life. She knew exactly what to do in any given situation, she never froze and she never had to think twice. That is how she went on to master several Indian Classical as well as Wastern dance styles. She was also recognised for her innate aptitude in Mathematics and Logical Reasoning. All in all these girls were privileged but they never abused it.


“No, I have a tournament day after, you know I don’t drink a week before match day Rads. Why would you tempt me?” said Akshita furiously, in reply to Radhika.

Acha okay, just for an hour love, it's okay if you don’t drink, you can help me clean up afterwards.” replied Radhika.

Anyway, why wouldn’t Akshita attend Radhika’s party? Radhika was her best friend and it was not like the tournament was immediately on the next day. Akshita thought that it would be okay if she had just a little to drink because she’d have an entire day to sober up. She was sure it wouldn’t hamper her performance in the game. If the tables were turned and Akshita herself was hosting the party, she was certain that Radhika would have come no matter what. Moreover, what if Radhika needed her? She had just been through a rough breakup and could really use Akshita’s help to prevent herself from doing something stupid like confronting her ex-boyfriend who would certainly show up at the party with Neel, who was Akshita and Radhika’s close friend.


Anyway, right after Mrs. Sehgal, their Physics teacher left class, Akshita wheeled herself upto Radhika and said “Alright, I’m in, but just for the cheese poppers and nothing more.” Nothing could have made Radhika happier. For the first time Akshita had put their 17 year long friendship before a Shot Put tournament.


That day school ended as usual at 2 p.m., after which Radhika and Akshita boarded their respective buses to get home right after they had split a canteen ka vada pav. Radhika had already sent out invites from the phone she snuck into school that day. She was expecting people to start walking in by 7p.m. and hoping for their egress before 11p.m. Akshita had to complete a Chemistry project on alloys and also attend a practice session for her tournament before she could actually have any fun, so obviously she wouldn’t make it there before half past ten. Akshita got to work as soon as she got home since she did not plan to bail on her best friend. As hours passed, she finished writing as well as decorating her project, and she was prepared for a perfect score on her Chemistry internals.

After completing her project, Akshita attended practice. She got home pretty late after practice. It was already half past ten when she got home from practice and began second guessing her decision about attending. She thought to herself that maybe the practice session being extended was a sign for her to not attend Radhika’s party. Maybe it was, who knows? All Akshita knew was that she couldn’t break a promise and she ought to put on a nice white dress and leave ASAP. Akshita was Radhika’s best friend; they didn’t need to send each other formal invites and follow the common courtesy of please, sorry and thank you. Therefore, Akshita presumed that the party would still be on after 11p.m.

So Akshita put on a pompous white dress with her mother’s help and she looked absolutely gorgeous, her honey brown hair fell gracefully on her shoulders and her chocolate brown eyes nicely complemented her shade of lipstick. To add to this stunning look Akshita wore a gorgeous nose ring. It was her mother’s.


Not soon after every adolescent had left Radhika’s residence except for Radhika herself, Akshita showed up and brought with her a vase of lovely white tulips. When Radhika opened the door to Akshita, both of them were equally shocked at seeing each other. Radhika thought Akshita wasn’t coming to the party so she blocked her from everywhere owing to a broken promise. Akshita on the other hand was shocked on seeing Radhika wearing pyjamas and a Winnie the Pooh T-shirt.

“She’s definitely lost it. That breakup has really messed her up. Why is she wearing this to a party?” Akshita thought to herself. Owing to her shock, she didn’t even greet her. It was Radhika who broke the silence by saying “Stupid, I thought you weren’t coming. Now I’ll have to unblock you from everywhere, including LinkedIn. Ugh!”

Akshita just nodded her head, put her hand around Radhika’s waist and gave her a nice hug. She then proceeded to make herself comfortable. Akshita and Radhika were always comfortable at each other’s house because of the amount of time they spent together. Their fathers were business partners afterall. They owned a clothing franchise called Elixify.


Radhika told Akshita that her parents were home earlier than she had expected and she was receiving a lecture about how she couldn’t have fifty absolute strangers in the house while her parents were not around. It went without saying that Radhika would be a while before she could be with Akshita. Radhika went back into her parents room and shut the door behind her. Naresh, Radhika’s father, was a kind man, at least to Akshita. He had always treated Akshita like his own daughter, just like how Arvind, Akshita’s father had treated Radhika. The four of them had collected countless memories, like when they went on a joint family tour of Austria and Switzerland, back when both Akshita and Radhika were twelve.


It had been over twenty minutes and it was getting late. It was a school night and Akshita knew she ought to be home before midnight. All the waiting made Akshita thirsty, so she headed to the kitchen to grab a glass of water after which she had planned to bid Radhika goodbye. While drinking a cool glass of water in the kitchen she heard a muffled voice from Radhika’s parents’ bedroom which was across from the kitchen.

“-Take out who Dad? Arvind? Have you lost it?” said the muffled voice which was none other than Radhika’s .


In response to Radhika a voice that sounded like her father’s said, “Not just Arvind beta, his entire family. Arvind will certainly be the end of our business since he’s too weak to handle it. He doesn’t have what it takes to keep a multi-national company up and running. His family will just be a burden on my shoulders after him. They will eat away at our profits without actually bringing in any money. We might as well just shut down the company then.”


“No dad, I won’t allow it. How can you be so cold and inconsiderate? Akshita is my best friend.”


“I know, you think this isn’t hard for me? Arvind is my friend too but I know my priorities. My priorities are to ensure that my children are well fed, well clothed and well educated. We all have to make hard decisions.”


“Dad, please try talking to him. I am sure he’ll come around. He has to, this is his company too after all.”


“You think I haven’t tried? Believe me beta this is the only option left. Tonight a team led by Bilal will diffuse carbon monoxide in the air conditioning vents at Arvind’s residence. They will all be out by morning after which we can deal with their bodies.”


“Dad, no. Akshita is my best friend and I won’t let you do this. Not to her. I won’t be able to live with this. In fact she’s here. I'll just go outside and tell her what your plan is.” Akshita froze in her wheelchair and she did not know how to react or where to go. Silence had struck inside the room. They would hear her if she moved the wheelchair. With that she heard footsteps approaching the door. They were Radhika’s, who probably wanted to warn her. Just then she heard Radhika screech. “Let go of me! I can’t believe the malice of my own father. Your greed repulses me and I won’t let my friend fall prey to your malice.”

“Okay, okay, she’s here right? Why don’t you ask her to stay the night while I take out her parents. She’s welcome to stay here permanently then. You two best friends are inseparable as it is, and now you get to stay under the same roof. Isn’t this a master plan?”


“No. You disgust me Dad. You disgust me!” With this, hardly in a second’s time, the door burst open unexpectedly and now Radhika and Akshita were standing face to face. Akshita had been crying. But her hands were covering her mouth tightly so no-one heard her. Her cheeks were flushed and tears rolled down her face in a continuous stream. Her throat ached. She was certain something bad was about to go down. She knew Naresh would get what he wanted and her father would lose. She didn’t want to lose her parents and she certainly did not want to die.

At that moment Radhika and Akshita simply stared at each other. Neither knew what to say to the other. Radhika took a step forward and Akshita pulled her wheelchair backward. This house that had seemed like home for seventeen years, now felt like a prison. Akshita was so scared that her teeth were chattering. Her palms were placed on her mouth so tightly that now the constant whimpering only left her mouth as soft moans of pain. “Everything alright sweetheart?’ inquired Naresh,a malicious grin spread across his face as he stood behind Radhika. He thought Radhika had seen a ghost so he gently but quickly pushed her to one side and now stood face to face with Akshita.


“Oh dear, are you looking for the caramelised papaya seeds Richa prepares especially for you, Akshita? Come, I’ll help you look.” He walked toward Akshita who wheeled herself backward. “Stay away. Please.” said Akshita firmly, finally lowering her hand from her face. “I want to go home and be with my parents. Please.” Her lips were quivering and her voice was trembling. Naresh knew that Akshita had heard all about his master plan. So obviously he couldn’t let her leave.

Naresh receded and went back to his room. “Radhika, please give Akshita a change of clothes and I’ll have you both tucked in. There’s no need to attend school tomorrow, you can go watch a movie.” Akshita’s heart was pacing even faster now. She felt it pounding like a hammer in her chest. Her fingertips were going numb and the world around her was spinning at such a high speed. She couldn’t think clearly. She was afraid that her brain might be haemorrhaging. She was astounded at Naresh’s greed, blood-lust and insensitivity. Akshita felt suffocated and she couldn’t believe what was happening. She couldn’t comprehend how seventeen years of friendship had amounted to this, right here.

“Akshi, don’t do anything stupid. I get that you’re hurt and I am too, and I know this sucks more for you but please don’t do anything stupid that will get you killed. Literally.” Radhika warned. Akshita kept wheeling herself backward until she hit a kitchen cabinet. “Akshi I promise I’ll try to come up with something, just trust me.” Akshita didn’t say a word, she just sat there frozen in her wheelchair. Her eyes froze and then her eyelids clapped shut. She became unconscious.


After two hours Akshita woke up in a very cozy bed with a paracetamol kept at the side table along with a glass of water and a note which read: ‘You fainted so I tucked you in. -Rads :)’ Akshita kept praying for the events of this night to be a nightmare and nothing more, she wanted everything to go back to normal. As it was. After several minutes of being in that bed, Akshita made herself believe that she was fine and what she heard and had seen was nothing but a nightmare.


After Akshita regained complete consciousness, she heard Naresh say “I don’t care about them sweetheart, I care about you. You do know how many troubles Arvind and his pious schemes have caused me. Arvind has even threatened to file a lawsuit against me and I know he will win. I know he will, he has all the evidence he needs to prove that I am a criminal. Why can’t you trust that what I am doing is right? All I want is a bright future for my children, which won’t happen if I go to prison. Princess, this is how the world is. You do what it takes to survive. You do what it takes to save your own flesh and blood.” Akshita at this point realised that this wasn’t a nightmare. It was a fight or flight situation and she must do whatever it took to save her parents and herself.


Akshita couldn’t contemplate what kind of sick joke she had landed herself into. She put on a white dress and only wanted to have a good time. Akshita managed to place herself onto her wheelchair and she began to wheel herself outside. The fear in her drove her from being mute to now being fearless and doing whatever it took to survive. She stormed out of the room to find Radhika and her father standing at opposite ends of the living room. “Radhika, why don’t you show your friend to the washroom. I think she couldn’t reach the light switch from that wheelchair.” said Naresh a little impatiently.

“I know what your master plan is. Can you stop pretending like I didn’t hear a word you said?” replied Akshita rather frustratedly.

“Please try making this right Naresh, nothing’s happened yet. We all can walk away from this. My dad doesn’t need to know. Please just let me go home and be with my parents now.”

“Akshi, have I ever told you that you’re so intelligent but equally naive for your age? You aren’t going to get anywhere in life like that sweetheart...well, it’s settled you’re part of the family now. Go back to bed now, Radhika will join you in a bit.” On hearing this Akshita lost her mind. She picked up the vase she got for Radhika and flung it at Naresh’s head. Not too hard, just hard enough to put him out for a couple of hours. Not even a second after Naresh fell to the ground Radhika let out a shriek. “Why would you do that?” Radhika said, sounding very surprised. Akshita just sat there, confused more than ever. What was wrong with Radhika? Naresh was plotting to turn her into an orphan. How was any of this fair? Akshita had never asked for this. She never asked for any of this. However, Akshita knew if she stopped now she would probably never make it outside Radhika’s house. She had to be home before Radhika’s father woke up so that she could warn her parents and her father could do something about it.

Now, without saying a word to Radhika, Akshita headed straight for the main door. Just as Akshita reached for the door with her right arm, she felt a lifetime of pain concentrated in her neck and she let out a loud, painful shriek. This was the highest degree of pain she had ever felt. Thousands of neurons sparked up with pain. Radhika had just stabbed her best friend in the neck, right into the carotid. She definitely stabbed hard enough to kill. Akshita twisted her aching neck and looked straight into Radhika’s eyes with eyes so full of pain. Radhika then pulled out the knife lodged in Akshita’s neck and stabbed again. She repeated the process for a third time until large volumes of red started gushing out of Akshita’s neck. Akshita’s eyes began to go lifeless as her lips turned white and parted in pain. Radhika’s eyes were just as lifeless as she stood with a knife which was wet with the blood of the person she had loved most in the entire universe.


Radhika huddled herself into a corner of her living room as she sat there crying. She was in a room with her unconscious father and the corpse of her best friend. Radhika knew she shouldn’t have done it. It was the wrong thing to do. She regretted it instantly but in that moment, while stabbing Akshita, she felt nothing. She didn’t feel a single emotion as she drilled a knife into her best friend’s neck, her best friend who was paralysed from the waist below. Radhika instantly recognised a darkness within herself. She was afraid that she was turning into her father.


Radhika tried reviving her father even though she knew he would be passed out for a few hours. Nothing she did was successful in waking him up from that state of unconsciousness. Radhika thought that she might be going crazy as she heard Akshita’s voice. It sounded like she was crying in the distance and asking for Radhika’s help. Radhika knew there was nothing she could do to help that voice as Akshita’s corpse lay still, right in front of her. The voice began to get louder and even more persistent as it begged Radhika for answers. At one point Radhika exploded, she couldn’t hold it in any longer as her own guilt had begun getting the better of her.


“Shut up! Just shut up! I said now. I did it for my family. I had to protect my own flesh and blood. You know you wouldn’t have spared him if I had let you go home. You would warn your father and mine would be imprisoned the very next day. What would I do then? What about my future? What about the future of my five year old brother who just learnt how to spell his own name?” Radhika said, speaking to the voice in her head. After fifteen minutes she let out another loud shriek.

“You don’t get to make me feel bad about what I did. I was looking out for my family. I know you’ll come around and forgive me. You know what, fine you can just go away and not talk to me ever. I am just going to block you everywhere. You don’t get it. Do you? I was trying to protect you too. My father, he was going to kill you. I tried to protect you and you ruined it. We had the opportunity of being together forever. You would be mine and I would be yours. You left. I didn’t, you knew you were more than my best friend.” It was clear that Radhika had begun to go crazy. This incident broke her as her hallucinations about Akshita began to become more vivid. She kept mumbling and negotiating with the ghost of Akshita throughout the night.


At about 4 a.m. in the morning, Naresh regained consciousness. Naresh was shocked at the sight of Akshita’s corpse in his living room and his own daughter sleep deprived and disoriented talking to it. Naresh knew that having to murder her own best friend broke Radhika but he didn’t say anything so as to discourage her from sharing any of her emotions with him. Naresh decided that it was only right for Radhika to make peace with what she had done and quickly bottle up her emotions. Naresh was certain that Radhika would recover from this and grow to be stronger. Naresh simply hugged Radhika and reassured her that she would be fine and they would get over it. Soon, the doorbell rang. It was Bilal, who had completed his mission of poisoning Akshita’s family. Naresh then instructed him to dispose of Akshita's body carefully and respectfully. Radhika was not permitted to be seen anywhere near the corpse and hence, was not allowed to pay her respects while her best friend was being buried.

***

After years of therapy and staying in the company of her father, Radhika took over as the C.E.O. of Elixify. She got married and had two very talented girls with a righteous man who was very generous. He was the perfect father and husband there could be in this whole wide world. Radhika eventually grew old and cold, so much so that she forgot that she once had a friend named Akshita whom she herself had stabbed to death.

***


Author: Vedant Vaswani

Editor: Janki Nair


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