The other prisoner in Ramanath's cell was Haripada Rakhit. Haripada was a hardened criminal and had become used to the life of a prisoner since early age. People who deal with prisoners are aware of the fact that there is one class of prisoners who create a pouch in their throats. This may sound incredible but it is true. Many prisoners are addicted to drugs and they need money to bribe the jail staff to get them drugs from outside. But since they are not allowed to carry money in jail, they have devised this method to hide the money."
"Haripada had also created a pouch in his throat. When Ramanath was lodged in the same cell, the two developed a friendship. Ramanath soon learnt about the pouch in Haripada's throat. One day, the police suddenly arrived in the jail. There was no place in the cell to hide the sapphire. Ramanath gave the sapphire to Haripada and requested him to hide it in his throat pouch. Ramanath had shown the sapphire to Haripada earlier and Haripada coveted it. Haripada swallowed the sapphire and it slid into the pouch. It is no surprise, therefore, that the police could not find anything in the cell."
"The very next day, Haripada was shifted to a different cell - this has been mentioned in the jail records. This was convenient for Haripada - he betrayed Ramanath and did not hand over the sapphire to Ramanath before leaving. Ramanath could say nothing before the jail authorities and he bore the betrayal in silence. But it is probably from that moment that he began planning a revenge."
During the course of Byomkesh's narration, I glanced at Ramanath and although there was no noticeable change in his expression, I saw that the veins on his neck were throbbing and his eyes had become blood-shot.
Byomkesh continued with his narration. "Ten years passed away and Haripada was released from jail six months ago. Immediately upon his release, Haripada approached Singh. He had wanted to get acquainted with Singh and return the sapphire to him - of course after claiming the reward money of Rs 2,000. He would immediately have been caught had he tried to sell the sapphire elsewhere. Therefore, he did not attempt to do that."
"But from the very beginning, Singh behaved so cordially with him that Haripada felt ashamed to extract Rs 2,000 from Singh for the sapphire. He did bring up the matter of the sapphire with Singh once but he did not pursue it. It is no mean thing that Singh's altruism should cause the heart of even a hardened criminal like Haripada to be filled with gratitude."
"Gradually, however, Haripada's good days were coming to an end. Ten days ago Ramanath came out of the jail. He was not aware of Haripada's whereabouts. It was by chance that he saw Haripada in Singh's house. Upon seeing Ramanath, Haripada fell ill. There were no other reasons why he should have fallen ill so abruptly."
"The desire to take revenge that Ramanath had been nursing for ten years, intensified beyond endurance at the sight of Haripada. Ramanath easily discovered Haripada's address and the same night ....."
Byomkesh had till then been facing the others while speaking but now he abruptly turned towards Ramanath. Ramanath looked back at him unblinkingly like a snake under a spell. Lowering his voice slightly and pointing his finger accusingly at Ramanath, Byomkesh said, "Ramanath, that night you slit open Haripada's throat and removed the sapphire. Where is it?"
Ramanath could not look away from Byomkesh. He ran his tongue over his dried lips, tried to rise from the chair, and then as if to free himself from Byomkesh's hypnotic spell, cried out in a hoarse voice, "I don't know - I have not killed Haripada - I do not know who is Haripada - the sapphire is not with me."
Byomkesh's finger was still pointed at Ramanath. The rest of us remained seated in silence as if watching a play in which two powerful forces were engaged in a battle unto death and we were curious to know who would win.
When Byomkesh next spoke his voice had a strange tenor to it. He slightly pressed himself forward towards Ramanath and continued in the same low voice, "Ramanath, you do not know that the sapphire is cursed and therefore you cannot overcome your temptation for it. Just think this over - till the time you had not stolen the sapphire, the police had been unable to arrest you. But you almost immediately went to jail after you stole the sapphire. Then think of what happened to Haripada. He had kept the sapphire hidden in his throat and no one knows better than you as to what happened to his throat. If you desire your own good, return the sapphire. It is not a sapphire - it is the poison of a deadly cobra. If you wear the sapphire on your hands, you will find them trapped in handcuffs. If you wear it around your neck, the sapphire will turn itself into a noose."
Ramanath let out a howl and rose from his chair. We had not been able to realise the violent emotions that were tormenting him within. He looked around like a mad man and, then, tore off a button from his coat and threw it away while exclaiming, "I don't want - I don't want! Take the sapphire and save me!" He then fell on the floor unconscious.
Byomkesh wiped the sweat from his brow. I saw that his hands were quivering - he had won the battle but it had taken a mental toll. The leather button had rolled to a corner of the room. Byomkesh picked it up and peeling off the leather he told Singh, "Here is your blood-stained sapphire."