“I don’t understand, why don’t your parents just give you money?”
Opening a kitchen drawer to take out a coffee pod to place in the Nespresso maker, Corinne shrugged, “They still think they can teach a man to fish, I guess.”
Her roommate, Layla, laughed. “Do they not understand how far that yacht has sailed by now?”
Corinne pressed the button on the machine, which made a noise like a gurgling garbage disposal. “Well, I don’t know what you want me to say. I can’t get the money. I can’t go on the trip with you, and, to be honest, I probably can’t renew our lease when June comes either. My parents have made it abundantly clear: emotional support only.” Well, that and also still paying the cost of her six-figure tuition.
Layla set the book on economics she was loosely studying on the bed and reached over to the end table next to the couch to light her pipe. “Jesus, how is a girl supposed to live on that?”
Corinne could sense that their friendship was fading before her very eyes because of this sudden financial discrepancy between them. Layla was the youngest daughter of the Trellman family, a dynasty in East Coast construction. There wasn’t a block you could go down in any major city on the Eastern Seaboard without at least one building belonging to the Trellmans. Layla would never have to work a day in her life if she didn’t want to, and probably wouldn’t. Corinne reckoned she would collect “passion projects” and call it “being an entrepreneur.” On the other hand, Corinne would have to settle for some middling position at a law firm that her father would pull the strings to get her. That was the level of pedestrian “wealth” she was at. And though it might seem like a lot to a black person or something, in the white world, Corinne was fast about to be branded as a charity case. Unless, that is, Layla felt obliged to “take her on.”
Inhaling from her pipe after packing the bowl, Layla chortled, “I keep forgetting your parents are Republican. That’s why they act the way they do. It’s so anathema to me. I’ve never been told by my parents that being denied money will help me learn how to make it myself. That’s just such fucking bullshit.”
“Well, nonetheless, that’s the position I’m in,” she iterated again, hoping to make it clear to Layla that if she really wanted her “best friend” along for the trip to Goa, she would need to foot the bill. Or rather, her father would. And what would be another ten or so grand to Grant Trellman? The man had enough money to buy the world if he wanted to (except maybe Asia, that place was becoming impenetrable as an economic force). Layla, who was already slow on the uptake in general, was even slower now in the midst of getting high, her daily ritual becoming more frequent throughout the day as the school year went on. When they had known each other in high school, Corinne had been the one who was fonder of smoking–because even despite her fears of making herself stupid, as her parents already warned her she would be if she “got hooked,” her anxiety over the pressure to get into a college of prestige was too overwhelming not to be medicated in some way.
So it was that she introduced her “medicinal” marijuana to Layla, who found it to adversely affect her performance in academics and athletics, so she put it aside until college, never forgetting how it made her feel. And now that she was “safe,” having achieved the apex of what children of privilege were expected to–attending an esteemed university–Layla felt obliged to treat herself to the daily reward of finally being able to blaze without worry of consequence. Her life was secure now. Layla’s had never felt less so–in which case, why wasn’t she smoking too?
As she sipped the coffee from her pink “Bad Bitch” mug, she started to head for her own room. Maybe if she threw herself into an assignment, she could forget the pain of poverty. Of being trapped in the city for the entire summer while everyone else in her soon-to-be former circle went off gallivanting across India and the other few non-ghetto parts of Asia where white people like to go.
Mercifully, just as she was about to close the door behind her, Layla called out, “Corinne, wait! Why don’t ‘I’ just pay for you to come with me, okay? It will be so much better with you there. I don’t want to be alone with all those prim bitches. You’re my ‘woman of the people’ now.”
Derogatory as that sounded, Corinne would take it. She was the “handout” girl now…yet she didn’t understand just how fully that would render her into Layla’s slave over the course of that determinative summer.
They barely made their flight from London to Goa. After five consecutive nights spent partying throughout the neighborhoods (none of which Corinne could really remember anything about, let alone who she slept with), they groggily awoke at six a.m. (after returning to the hotel at four) to make a seven-thirty flight. The odds felt stacked against them when their driver came across several traffic patches, but in the end, they made it to Heathrow by the skin of their teeth (none of which had been lost during any of the drunken benders of the last few days). Layla found it easy to fall asleep for the entire fourteen-hour flight, while Corinne struggled to distract herself with books or movies, neither of which could hold her interest long enough to quell some sense of foreboding within her.
That sense manifested into a nonstop hurling spree once they arrived at their hotel (or rather, luxury resort), The Leela (probably only chosen for its similarity to Layla’s name), during which Layla saw fit to leave Corinne to her own crumpled over the toilet devices while she joined the other five girls on their journey (who had taken separate flights the day before) to soak up a bit of sun by the pool. Corinne could immediately sense that she was the odd woman out on this trip. That she had essentially been brought as a lackey whenever Layla wanted someone to vent to as Corinne offered to do her hair, nails and/or makeup. She was a glorified member of the help in Layla’s eyes now that Corinne had surrendered to taking her financial gift. One that presently included Layla’s parents paying the entire rent of their apartment for both of them. It wasn’t a “favor,” Corinne was aware, so much as an agreement to indentured servitude. She was no longer mere friend to Layla, but the sort of “aid” who needed to be willing to bury a body if necessary. And, yes, it would come to that soon enough.
Layla woke up early one morning to go to the Golden Temple. Though she had promised she would wait for Corinne if she wasn’t up yet, clearly that assurance meant nothing in her role as master to Corinne’s slavery. Not sure what to do–if she should try to find Layla and the others by going to the Golden Temple on her own–Corinne decided, ultimately, to simply get absolutely plastered by the pool. She had brought a copy of Camus’ The Rebel, in preparation for one of her literature courses, though it quickly fell by the wayside of her chaise lounge, getting dampened by splashes of water as she jumped in the pool every time she felt like vaguely sobering up. “Looking alive” in case Layla and the other Pastels came back. The Pastels returned first, giggling at Corinne as a greeting. When she asked one of them, Estelle, where Layla was, she tittered, “Oh she met someone. This really hot British guy. She said she’d be back later.”
Corinne’s knee-jerk reaction, naturally, was panic. Layla had gone off with a stranger in India when it’s pretty much cardinal rule number one for a white girl not to do so. She genuinely considered calling the police right then and there, but all at once she remembered the police were but an illusion in a country like this. And they wouldn’t care enough unless the American Embassy somehow got involved, a force Corinne wasn’t yet prepared to invoke. She continued to sit by the pool for the rest of the day anxiously waiting. Nothing she drank now could seem to get her to her desired state of inebriation. Just when dusk was turning into full-stop darkness, and Corinne was mentally preparing what she would need to say to Layla’s parents, Layla appeared, like a not so divine apparition. She was caked in various places with dirt and mud, her hair disheveled, her face bruised, and her arms and legs displaying cuts as though a feral cat had gotten hold of her. Corinne rose like a jack-in-the-box from her reclined position, rushing over to Layla to comfort her and ask what had happened. All she could seem to sputter was, “It…was…self-defense.”
Corinne knew what had occurred without needing any further detail than that. Whoever this “hot British guy” was had gotten it in his mind that he could have his way with Layla if she was stupid enough to separate from her friends in favor of going off with a rando, not realizing that it was in Layla’s nature to be impetuous without thinking of the potential consequences. And one of those consequences had most definitely been committing murder. Yet Corinne couldn’t find it within herself to ask directly. So she waited until Layla emerged from her state of catatonia, after pumping her full of rosehip tea to try to calm her down. Soothe her in any way possible short of tranquilizing her. At around eleven p.m., Layla finally came out with it. She was lying on the bed staring blankly at the ceiling when finally she confessed, “I had to kill him Corinne, I had to.”
Trying to be as nonjudgmental as possible, Corinne returned collectedly, “What did he do?”
“He took me somewhere. He said we were just going to get a drink at a ‘little place’ he knew of. But we were walking for almost an hour, getting farther and farther from civilization. And I let it dawn on me that he was going to do something awful. I froze. He could see that I was freaking out and that’s when he decided to make his move while my guard was still partially down. He lunged at me, right there on that dirt road in plain sight. He started to…to rip all my clothes off. A car passed by and I started screaming for help–but it just kept driving. I guess no Indian wants to get involved in some white girl drama… I didn’t know what to do. He had already started to… and then somewhere, something inside of me conjured up every muscle memory I ever had about all those private kickboxing lessons my mom bought for me in high school–you know, it was after they had just caught that rapist on the Upper East Side… and suddenly, I was just kicking and punching the shit out of him. I finally got to the point where I was standing over him–I was the one in control. I could’ve just left him there, badly wounded…but I kept kicking. I kicked his face in. And then I walked back here.”
Corinne furrowed her brow. “We can’t let the police find that body.”
“What does it matter?”
“We don’t know who this Brit was. If people–his family–start asking questions, if the media sounds that alarm, whoever saw you when they drove by could identify you.”
“Like a fuckin’ schizophrenic. Layla, do you understand what would happen if you were identified in this guy’s murder? And this guy turns out to be someone important–as all British people traveling in India turn out to be?”
Layla, getting back to her old self, chortled. “You think he’s gonna be from a family more important than mine?”
“I don’t fuckin’ know Layla, what if he’s from nobility? They all fuckin’ are.”
Layla started rocking back and forth, reaching for her last dregs of tea as she did so. “Okay, you’re really stressing me the fuck out, and I only told you to ease my nerves. I was actually starting to feel really good about the whole thing.”
“You were? You were feeling ‘really good’ about murdering someone?”
“A rapist. Jesus, what the fuck kind of friend are you? I’m even paying you to be one and you still can’t do it right.”
Corinne shot her a look of sheer disdain. Layla didn’t register it, or if she did, she didn’t care. She had spoken the truth of the matter. Of how she viewed Corinne now that she was her benefactress. Steeling her anger into complete stoicism, Corinne replied, “Fine Layla, you want your money’s worth? I’ll give you your money’s worth.”
Layla pursed her lips. “Oh God, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Can you remember how to get to the location?”
“Yes bitch, I still have my map up. You think I got back here on my wits?”
“Great, even better for evidence if they confiscate it.”
Layla sighed. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m gonna fucking handle it. I’m gonna bury the body in a place that’s far enough away from the scene of the crime so that no one ever fucking finds it. And when his family comes snooping around their former colony, he’ll be gone without a trace.”
“Damn, you’re really serious.”
“Yeah. I am. Now why don’t you just stay here and relax?”
Corinne found her way to the site in less than two hours. She stole a shovel out of the maintenance room she had scoured the hotel for, not wanting to directly make the request for one as it was a highly suspicious demand. The road was desolate at this time of night, so she was unafraid of being seen ambling eerily down the road with a shovel, like a common serial killer. She espied the corpse instantly. From a distance, the body appeared like some sort of deflated rock. An anomalous stone protrusion amid the dust. She stopped in her tracks momentarily, before swallowing a sudden excess of saliva–and, with it, any remaining sense of morality.
The British guy started flailing as she proceeded to drag him across the dirt. He shouted and swore, calling Corinne everything from a crazy bitch to a filthy whore. It was up to Corinne now to finish the job. She bludgeoned him until he stopped moving. The crime committed was hers officially. And if they ever did come looking, it was Corinne who would end up being implicated. She only hoped the subsidization she was getting from Layla might include the cost of a lawyer.