Editor’s note: A new Saturday Story series by Gopi Chandroth
A short version of this story recently won the first prize in a competition held by the Society for Civil and Public Service Writers (SCPSW).
The SCPSW membership is open to civil and public servants, current or retired, including local government, NHS and the police. Contact Gopinath.firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“999 – what’s your emergency?”
“I need an ambulance”, is what I planned to say, but didn’t. Sometimes, the best ideas in life come in a flash. In that brief interlude between hearing the operator’s voice and opening my mouth to speak, I was struck by a thought that changed my life forever, and threw me in prison.
In 2008, I was charged with the first-degree murder of Charlene Smith, a street walker in her early twenties. The jury was unanimous in their ‘guilty’ verdict and I got a life sentence.
Life before prison was filled with trivia. Facebook notifications, Tweets, WhatsApp trivia, emails, text messages, movies on demand, 24-hour news, serials I had to watch … intruders who came in to my life as polite guests but soon became masters. I was unable to concentrate on anything. My mind was a monkey jumping from tree to tree. I had the attention span of a moth.
I have spent the last ten years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. I was not allowed to have a phone or connect my laptop to the internet. In these ten years, I have completed my life’s work. I have written the trilogy that I only dreamed of writing all my life. I have read all the books I wanted to read. I think I am now ready to demand a retrial and prove my innocence.
So, what’s my story? I was walking home one evening after a particularly unproductive day at the office. It was late January, and as I negotiated the icy patches on the streets of Soho, I lamented the futility of my life and I knew that I had to change my life if I wished to continue living. I entered a quiet service lane without shops or cafes.
As I reached halfway down the street, I saw a young woman lying motionless on the street. Instinctively, I ran to help her and saw she had been stabbed. Her blood gushed out and formed little rivulets on the tarmac turning the ice on the street, crimson. The smell of cheap perfume melded with that of fresh blood.
As I looked around in panic, I saw someone – a man – running away. I wanted to help her and the first thing I did was feel her pulse. She had none. Her eyes were wide open, the pupils dilated and fixed and she wasn’t breathing. I knew she was dead and I could see she had a kitchen knife buried deep in her chest. I reached for my phone and dialled 999.
‘999 – what’s your emergency?’
‘I have just killed someone.’