The Silver Lane stood brooding over the grandiosity of an elapsed city. The abandoned houses, tattered shops and eroded trails held an eerie stench. It was an abode of solitude. The lane traced up an incline to the gates of a majestic mansion; once home to the city’s old perfume baron. An area stretched at 400 acres, later donated to the Society of Mental Health Studies as an asylum.
The institute thrived on humane sessions and therapies; even more than conventional medical methods. They aimed to create a homely ambience. Hence the yearly photograph album, the patients along with the resident staff clicked together. The album of 1985 deserves a special mention. It was regarding a particular old man, Julio; short and tanned with thinning brown hair. His hands were rough and scarred, as if from intense outdoor work. He wore a smug, sinister enough to scar any man for a lifetime. But his most prominent aspect was a pair of emerald green eyes. His eyes, so unique, they screamed his foreign origins. Julio appeared out of nowhere, seeking help for his lunacy. With zero visitors during his period of stay, none could validate their assumptions. The Proctor found this self-proclamation intriguing. As the institute never ignored a plea for help, so they offered him food, accommodation and treatment.
Julio did not associate much with anyone. Meek and obedient by nature, he complied with the house rules and posed no threat to the other residents. He sat by the window silently, staring out into the garden. At night, he used to retire early and scribble all over his secret diary. In appearance, he was just a broke introvert. The doctors at the institute declared him mentally and physically sound. Hence, it was puzzling why such a person would wish to stay in an asylum, let alone willingly partake in receiving treatment for some abject mental anomaly?
The Proctor followed the case. He knew it was not a simple, plausible case of lack in social skills and self-awareness as it met the eye. The other doctors vouched for him, a prodigy and a man of strict principles. They knew that the mere case of an introvert would never pique his interest. They had failed to diagnose the patient.
The Proctor frequented Julio’s room, talking for hours straight. Their conversations always held in private. He made sure no one was to bother Julio by pursuing questions on his condition and recovery. These sessions carried on and with time became vigorous. The discussions pursued fields beyond mental health. They seeded deep into art, science, literature, architecture, culture, economics and history. This man turned out to be a walking library and an active chess player. His mental prowess was equivalent to an academic expert in any field. The Proctor looked forward to their sessions together. Julio made a delightful conversation partner, and they bonded well as mates.
Sensing no behavioural misconduct or mental instability, they finally declared Julio sound in mind. The staff organized a grand farewell feast. Everyone rejoiced and prayed for his well-being. On the day of discharge, the Proctor accompanied him to the front gates.
They had vanished that night.
The local police authorities pulled out the 1985 commemoration picture from the stacks. The Proctor sat in the middle. He had captivating eyes; ones that resembled the colour of the sea. Staring at him sheepishly from the right-hand corner was an old man with a devilish grin on his face. He had an equally enthralling pair of unique emerald green eyes; features you could never unsee.
A decade later, the Proctor’s dead remains, unearthed from under the birch tree in the garden. There were signs of his eyes being gouged out. The police also found a small diary, filled with incomprehensible scribblings and coloured sketches of a pair of sea-blue eyes.
Julio’s diary, his wayward glances at the Proctor and their disappearance on the same day were shreds of evidence enough to prove his guilt. To this day, the murderer runs loose.
I was a mere intern, bearing all the constant non-sensible blabbering. That senile old man thought he could win the Proctor over with his bookish knowledge and shy nature. He was after my gems. The desire to attain them consumed me entirely. Those beautiful blue topazes, so entrancing; quickly changing colours with his emotions. Initially, glances were enough. But with time, they drove me wild. The thought of holding them in my hands aroused me. That day I was unsure, so I followed them on their way out. Thanking him courteously, the man looked up at the Proctor and grinned, “Dear Sir, your eyes are beautiful!”
My inhibitions melted when that vile man complimented his eyes, my eyes. The beast woke. My heart soared at the thought of snatching them at any cost.
I hammered their heads, and later, at ease, gouged out those precious gems. Framing this man for the Proctor’s murder was easy. I burned his body with the trash, leaving behind no traces. The diary and sketches were a thorough touch. I had created a masterpiece. I got to keep the green emeralds. They belong to my favourite collection. I watch them time and again. They shine prettily. My gems in a glass jar!
As the current Proctor, I have to uphold the tradition. Today is the day for the commemoration photograph.
Oh, I almost forgot! Yesterday, I had come across a pair of charcoal black, twinkling marbles. I need them in my collection. Let’s see, maybe this time I might pose as a proper gentleman and go flatter him, “Dear Sir, remarkable eyes you have there! May I keep them?”
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The story was first published here.