Imagine you're on a thing made of battered strips of metal tacked together (they call it a bus, I don't), with seats with unsightly sweat-stained stuffing spilling out of them. It jolts up and down one of the endlessly stretching thinly tarred series of potholes (they like to call them roads, I don't) cut into barren fields; your book threatens to fly out the window, the jumping letters form aberrated patterns in front of your eyes, and you get into an irritable mood and finally decide to snap it shut.
But if you've been reading Agatha Christie (juvenile? I don't think so) over the weekend, you needn't languish of boredom on the twenty-minute trip to office. You never know when crime is around the corner, especially when you can feel it strongly in your bones. In any case, you should always be on your vigil. A horrid, inconsistent world, this is. Start with suspects. Remember all those lists good old Fatty and his devoted followers made out, crossing out people by and by as their innocence was proved? (I'd like a Mr. Goon in my story too, and I am tempted to think I wouldn't be hard-pressed to find one.)
My list of suspects gleaned from the people I came across on a morning when the possibility of an act of crime seemed promising:
The lady in the elevator – She was old, wearing shoes that indicated that she'd gone for a walk and a sleeveless bottle green sweater on her simple, drab outfit. She gave me a generous smile as I entered the elevator and struck up a conversation about the merits of the tenth floor and its misty views of far-flung areas, and how she disliked the fourth floor for its lack of vantage points. The fact that she was elderly, though, wasn't reason enough to let her off the hook – paraphrasing Lady Bracknell, age isn't quite a sign of respectability. I mean, think Warren Anderson.
The bilingual beauty – I'm not sure she was a beauty- but I'll give her the benefit of doubt (because when you're observing people clandestinely, you don't stare them in the face, even if you're an amateur). She had freshly shampooed, medium-length hair that she kept flicking back. She kept up a steady stream of Malayalam into her mobile phone, then switched effortlessly to Tamil. (I wasn't eavesdropping – she was loud.) Remember those polished Ludlum men who speak German, Russian, Polish and any other language they might need at a moment's notice?
The man with the stubble – Now he was the one I was really suspicious of. He punched something into his mobile phone, looked all around furtively, then called someone and spoke in hushed tones, giving the whole act a rather secretive nature. Something was definitely fishy.
Rip van Winkle – He slept through the bus ride, his head reclining on the seat, the grey roots of his thinning hair exposed as the black dye wore off. More likely to be the victim of the 'biscuit bandits' than the culprit? You never know.
The talk-till-we-drop sisters – They talked throughout the twenty minutes of the journey without a pause; you shouldn't ask me about the nature of the conversation- it isn't polite- and they weren't loud enough, either. But yes, the chatter could have been a screen, so I'm not excluding the seemingly innocent women from the list.
The girl in blue – She patted her watch into position with curiously abnormal care; she was poker-faced, glazed-eyed, had long hair. I know her rather well. I might be inclined to trust her a little more than the others.
Now, for the crime. It didn't happen. Premonition deceived me, the feeling in my bones just turned out to be a case of more rattling than usual on that rickety bus. The stars sure know how to thwart an adventuress in the making. A big, wintry damp squib.
Maybe I'll just go back to planning a Polynesian raft trip. I've added a few new stops to it.