Midnight, cold and dark. That’s what Randhir felt when he first walked out of his jail room. The world outside the bars was not that different from the twenty – four years of life that he had spent in the prison but something felt different. Maybe it was the air, still yet cold that made him uncomfortable. Or maybe Randhir was too adapted to the locked iron bars that it had become his comfort zone. A space with few criminal friends whom he considered to be good. But this feeling was the same from both ends of the friendship. They would often talk about how they were entrapped by the law and by the people in power.

Hari believed that he never harassed his wife. His constant betting on his beloved was only an act of concern like that of a parent for their child. And how can someone consider a car and some heavy gold jewelry as a dowry when it’s a gift for his ‘marriage’? Javed was quite different from the others. He would only rant about his brother who well deserved to be punished by Allah. How could he frame his brother for stealing the jewelry that belonged to their mother even if those were legally given to him? In Islam, men are not allowed to wear any precious ornaments anyway. While his friends would continue speaking of their crimes, Randhir would stay quiet. And when asked what he was imprisoned for, all he would say was, “ I don’t know. I don’t remember. It’s been twenty-four years“. And automatically everyone would become silent hearing a middle-aged man.

Hari would often whisper to Javed, “Oh such a good man he is. He must have been framed as well.”

“But for twenty – four years? It must have been not a small theft but surely a big crime.”

“Still. The poor guy doesn’t even remember his crime. Not even his real age.”

“Well, I think otherwise.”

And as always, the conversion would have no conclusion. But these discussions were ending. Randhir was leaving this dark and locked-up world. He signed the required documents and saluted the head police. He was a fat guy but he was kind. He had been kind to him for the past five years since he was appointed. He would not punish them like the head before and would ask for only a few thousand for easily leaving the prison. But that depended on your crime. He looked at him and said, “Take care. You are a good man.”

“I will, sir. Thank you.”

Randhir walked outside the main prison gate. He had made sure to salute every prison guard and police on his way out. As he steps out, he takes a long breath and looks back at the two guards.

“Salute, sir.”

“Hmm. Randhir. Hope to see you again.” The old guard laughed. “But outside the prison.”

“Yes sir.” Randhir smiled.

The two guards watched him walk away. As Randhir became invisible in the fog, the young guard questioned his senior.

“Sahab ji, what was his crime again”

The old man sighed out loud. “He was a murderer.”

“Whom did he murder?”

“Young women. Fair, beautiful with long hair”

“Women?” The young guard had questions. The old man had his answer.

“Yes. Women. Twenty-four innocent women.” The young guard again looked towards the road Randhir had gone. He couldn’t believe what he had heard about the man he has been seeing for the past two years.

The next morning, the young guard finished his night shift and went back home. Tired, he took a bath and sat on his sofa waiting for his breakfast. He turned on the news while he sipped tea and read the newspaper. He heard the news reporter and dropped his cup of tea.

“What happened? You, okay?” said his wife. He looked shocked. The wife turned her attention to the news headlines on the screen. A young nurse was found dead near the forest area of the city prison. Aged twenty-two, fair, beautiful with long hair.