It was afternoon and the sun headed into the west as the doors of the prison closed behind her, closing down the fourteen years of imprisonment, and moving it into history.
Vespera stood there, uncertain, undecided which way to go, a lone figure of a lady who had once been thronged wherever she went. The years in jail had made her leaner, greyed her hair. Now she was free, and lost.
The evening traffic was not yet building up as she weighed the options available to her. Her house, with its five bedrooms, each with attached bathrooms, the large kitchen and the large garden at the back where she had hosted so many parties with the cream of the movie industry, was no longer available to her. The city where she had been born, which had celebrated her as one of its own, busied itself with its own business, oblivious to her release.
She became aware of her name being called, rather tentatively. She turned to the lady whose neck was craned forward in hesitation.
“You know my name?” she said.
“Everyone knows your name. Vespera D’Souza is a household name”, said the lady.
“Was. Nobody knows, or wants to know Vespera.”
“I do. I want to know more about Vespera. I want to know more than what the tabloids put out there. I want to know the real Vespera.”
“Do you really? You want to make money by writing the real story of Vespera. Nobody cares about me. You should look at other ways.”
“Can we sit down and talk? I’m not looking for money. I’m looking for Vespera.”
“Look, let me introduce myself. My name is Debasree Ghosh. I’m a journalist. If you have a few moments to sit down and chat, I’d be grateful.”
“Well, there’s a tea shop there. I’d like a cup of tea”, Vespera said.
As they settled down on the bench outside the Debasree pulled out a notebook. Vespera raised her eyebrow, but said nothing, as Debasree opened up a fresh page and wrote down the date and place, in a neat and practiced hand.
She sipped her tea, ignoring the plate of samosas that had appeared.
Debasree watched her without comment.
“Well, what do you want to know? I made my statement in court. You must have read it already. They said I had disfigured that man, cost him his livelihood and I had to pay for it. I did. I lost everything I had earned and spent fourteen years in that place over there. They call it a prison. I call it a place for reflection. An ashram, if you want.”
Debasree said, “And how do you feel about it?”
“I would do it again, if I had to. If you’re looking for remorse, a story about rehabilitation, you’re not going to get it. I earned what I earned, money, awards, fame, fortune and the notoriety. I slashed that man and he deserved it.”
“Tell me about your life. Growing up, you had your mother. What about your father? Did your mother ever talk about him, like who he was, whether he was alive or dead? That sort of thing.”
Vespera looked at Debasree, her lips twitching. Debasree thought she heard a faint snicker, drowned by the noise of a motorbike.
“My mother never talked about him. I did not know who he was. After my mother died, I saw his photograph. I met him for the first time at that award ceremony.”
“Oh, what was he doing there? That must have been a shock.”
“Shock? I think he got more of a shock than I did. Mine was momentary. His is more permanent, I think.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Can’t you guess? Sunil Kumar, that famous actor, was attacked and his face mutilated beyond repair as he was presenting the award for Best Actress to Vespera D’Souza. He was my father. He is the man I attacked. I spent fourteen years in jail for that.”