When the mattress shop caught fire, the police suspected no one. In fact, the police aren’t involved at all. But if they are, it is obvious that they will try to arrive at the culprit by a simple process of elimination. They will start with the obvious suspect: the owner of the mattress shop. They will then proceed to question the cleft-lipped maid who sweeps and mops the shop every day. If all goes according to plan, they will end the investigation with the cashier, a boy with his mother’s name tattooed in green on his forearm. Or, maybe, if they still haven’t reached a conclusion regarding the identity of the culprit, they will even investigate the secondary suspects: the wife of the owner of the mattress shop, the husband of the cleft-lipped maid, and the brother of the boy with his mother’s name tattooed in green on his forearm.
When the mattress shop caught fire, everything was burned. Even now, everything is black and charred: the tube lights, the walls, the cash counter, the ceiling fan, and, of course, the mattresses. The owner of the mattress shop claims that the fire was caused by an oil lamp placed on a shelf attached to the wall. The police found the oil lamp next to the incense stand in front of the framed painting of a goddess with her legs on a man’s corpse. The man in the painting has a thick moustache twisted at the ends (the police appreciate details like that).
When the mattress shop caught fire, no one was inside: not the owner, not the maid, not the boy. So, no one died, no one was injured. The incident was not really sad or tragic or anything of that sort. The owner of the mattress shop was running a loss anyway. No one wants to buy mattresses anymore. Everyone sleeps on the floor. It’s hot, that’s why. Even the owner of the mattress shop sleeps on the floor. He sleeps next to his wife and two kids. He sleeps on the floor not because it’s hot but because when he sleeps at night, he dreams that he has wet the bed. In the dream, a warm stream of urine passes through his underwear, spreads all over, passes through his pajamas, spreads all over, and then at last passes into the tiny pores of the mattress and spreads all over. The urine forms an oval stain approximately the shape of his body, sort of like the chalk outline of a murder victim but not just the outline. And when he wakes up, there is nothing, not a drop. The wife of the owner of the mattress shop sleeps on the floor for a different reason. The kids of the owner of the mattress shop sleep on the floor for some other reason. The police will not go into that now, at least not during the preliminary stages of the investigation.
When the mattress shop caught fire, no one was inside. It was three in the morning, that’s why. The cleft-lipped maid was to start sweeping at seven. Even she sleeps on the floor, next to her husband. She cannot afford a mattress, that’s why. Whenever she swept the floor next to the mattresses at the mattress shop, she could only look at the mattresses with a deep yearning. It has been years since she has slept on one. When she sleeps at night, she closes her eyes and pretends that the floor is a foam mattress with the plastic cover intact. Even though she tosses and turns all through the night, she does not feel the hardness of the tiled floor, because in her dream, everything is made of mattresses: tall mattress-buildings swaying in the wind, square mattress-cars hopping their way through mattress-roads, miniature mattress-airplanes roaring overhead, bumping into mattress-clouds in the mattress-sky. Unlike the cleft-lipped maid, the husband of the cleft-lipped maid is a sound sleeper. He sleeps on the floor for a different reason, but the police are not ready to find that out yet.
When the mattress shop caught fire, no one was inside, not even the boy with his mother’s name tattooed in green on his forearm. Every night before he closed the shop, he would stack the mattresses one on top of another and push them into a corner. When he did that, he always managed to pinch the seams of one of the mattresses. It gave him immense pleasure because he associated how it felt with the texture of a woman’s skin. He did not know what a woman’s skin felt like, but when he pinched the seams, he would feel strangely aroused, and he would imagine a woman moan, and he would hold on until the moans turned into screams and the screams turned into sobs.
The boy with his mother’s name tattooed in green on his forearm does not sleep on the floor. He sleeps on a jute mat with his brother. Every night, when he sleeps, he dreams of the moans and the screams and the sobs, and he ejaculates even before he has woken up. The brother of the boy with his mother’s name tattooed in green on his forearm doesn’t know about it, but you would think he does by the way he mutters in his sleep. When he sleeps, he does not dream. But the police do not care about that.
The police will have to consider several possibilities regarding the manner in which the crime was committed. Before the owner of the mattress shop closed the mattress shop for the day, did he place the oil lamp toward the edge of the shelf so it would fall down on the floor several minutes after he left? Or did the cleft-lipped maid visit the shop at night when no one was inside so she could toss a burning twig into the open window? There is, of course, one more possibility: the boy with his mother’s name tattooed in green could have messed with the wiring in the power-supply unit before he left the shop for the day so that there would be an electrical short circuit. What could also have happened is that all the three events occurred at precisely the same time: the twig was tossed, the oil lamp fell, the power-supply unit was short-circuited.
Once the means and the opportunity are determined, the police will try to filter out the suspects by finding the motive. But if they can shut the case by claiming that it was all an accident, they will no longer be required to document one. So, the police will not be interested in the motive either.
While it is true that when the mattress shop caught fire, there was no one inside, what is also true is that they were all there, and in their own, unique ways, for their own, unique reasons, they all burned the mattress shop. What is true is that in a way, they were all sleeping on stacks and stacks of mattresses, and even when the fire was swirling in circles, even when it was gyrating all around their bodies, licking every inch of their skin, breathing plumes of smoke into their nostrils, they all stayed asleep, without tossing or turning, without snoring or talking in their sleep, dreaming their mattress dreams.
But it doesn’t matter what the truth is. The police aren’t involved at all.