Mydhili R. Varma
For a police sketch artist night jitters is an occupational hazard. Nobody knows the topography of the suspect’s face like I do as I sketch and rub off and re-sketch a face out of the memory of an eyewitness. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, except without the grandiose wand-waving or a trusty assistant ready to pop out a rabbit through a secret trapdoor upon your cue. Given an option, you should choose the wand-waving job over being a sketch artist. By the time you finish reading this you’ll know why.
I was top of my class at art school but an ugly war of words with the professor made me discontinue college in my final semester. It was a glorious blunder. With that art degree certificate, I could’ve found a job at some gallery and lived a crime scene-free life.
I thought I had seen it all – death in all its macabre forms. My assignments have spanned from the skin-crawling gruesome to the shocking weird. My god-fearing mother would shake her head and mumble, ‘Kalikaalam,’ every time she heard a new case update. ‘Bad times, yeah,’ I would concur. I have done everything imaginable – or unimaginable, depending on your disposition – sketching faces out of skeletal remains of unidentified victims, sketching a suspect from a blurry video footage and weird personal requests to sketch an imaginary soul mate or a scene out of someone’s dream.
Until Case 59 came along.
Until then I had never come face to face with monstrosity, not even close.
It was a brutal triple murder case. Bodies inside a rusty, abandoned car consumed partially by vegetation, less than a mile off the forest trail. The eyewitness was a woman in her late forties who had suffered head injury and had lost her memory. When she had had a flash of memory, they called me in to piece together the image in her befuddled head. We went through different templates and I got on to my job. She kept fiddling with a rubber band and threw in helpful inputs every now and then. It took me about an hour to finish the sketch. I sighed and turned to her for her validation. My skin broke into a million goosebumps as realization dawned upon me. She was the woman I had drawn!
My god-fearing mother would freeze and run out of words.