If you missed the Introduction to Disconnect: A Novel and the Prologue, feel free to check them out before reading Chapter 1. Disconnect is fiction, comprised of a prologue, an epilogue, and 13 chapters. Every week, on every Thursday, a chapter will be posted on the blog, non-stop, until the entire book is up. Chapter 1 of Disconnect, my second novel, begins right below! I eagerly await your thoughts and feedback in the comments! The response to the Prologue last week was overwhelmingly heart-warming! I am so grateful and honoured and humbled. It means more to me than you can know. Thank you! Love you all! And Happy Reading!

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CHAPTER 1 – 10 A.M.

SR. INSPECTOR KAPADIA gets summoned to the grand marble drawing room of the Shah residence of Carmicheal Road. He leaves behind his silent ennui in the study, where he has been stationed for no good reason with the Technical Team, away from all the real investigation work, and rushes in all earnestness to where he is needed. It’s about time, he thinks wryly.

The Shahs are seated on the plush couch, an uncomfortable space between them that seems to have grown from the last time he saw them, which was only an hour ago. When they notice him skid to halt into the room, both man and wife lift their gaze from the floor to meet his eyes in a manner that can only be described as hopeful–just as he is, which is strange. The tough-faced ACP Omkar is standing rigidly beside them, and Kapadia waits for him to speak, thinking the ACP will finally give him what he wants. But when nothing is said, he soon comes to the realization that good news is actually expected from him. That explains the Shahs’ looks of expectancy.

Finally, the ACP clears his throat before reminding him with a prompt. “The update?”

Kapadia should have known. He was summoned for the benefit of the parents and not his own. He wipes the look of disappointment from his face before it gives him away. “Unfortunately, there are no new developments,” he says dryly.

Dr. Shah hears that and slides to the edge of his seat. “You mean we aren’t closer to finding them?” His voice sounds scratchy, like he has been crying.

Kapadia shakes his head, relaying the latest update the analysts of the Technical Team reported to him only minutes ago. “The city-wide search for a white van isn’t producing any clear leads. Since it has no license plates, it makes it that much more difficult.”

“But we told you the break lights were smashed. That has to help somehow,” Dr. Shah urges.

Kapadia can feel the plea in his voice, which doesn’t fail to strike an emotional chord and arouse sympathy. “Our men are canvassing the area around Inox theatre, close to the where the abduction took place. We’ve also been patrolling every toll station that leaves the island of Mumbai, in case they try to leave the city. But there is nothing so far. Sorry, Dr. Shah.”

“It’s been ten hours,” the father says, now turning to the ACP, seeming to abandon questioning the Inspector because he doesn’t seem to have any answers. “They should have contacted us by now. You said they would.”

“They always do. The call is imminent,” ACP Omkar assures him with conviction, nodding firmly.

“Haven’t you been able to do anything? Anything?” Dr. Shah shoots up on his feet, his voice nearly splitting. “My son has been missing since last night and you’re telling me you haven’t found a single trace of him?”

Kapadia takes a patient breath. Both he and the doctor are clearly tired of waiting for something to happen. His empathy for the doctor deepening, he tries to give some insight as to why that is. “Our system has not found any similar abductions that mirror this one, as per your statements. Unfortunately there is no CCTV surveillance in that area. This appears to be an isolated incident with a completely new and unusual method of operation.” He pauses, before adding, “Are you sure you can’t think of any enemies, doctor. Someone who would want to harm you?”

“No-no, we don’t have enemies. We already told you we don’t!”

“They were Muslims.”

Inspector Kapadia looks past the doctor. Her words are so muted that only his trained ears pick up on them. He angles his head to look at the woman better, and inquires, “Mrs. Shah?”

“The men who took my son were Muslims.”

The doctor turns slowly to his wife, looking surprised, and affording Kapadia a clear view. He prompts, “Payal?”

The three men in the room all wait on her. She commands their undivided attention, but strangely, she only sits silently now. At first it doesn’t look like she is going speak further, after her husband addressed her, indeed neither like she said anything to begin with, her gazed lowered like it was before Kapadia stepped in. Absently, she shifts her head towards the men, as though becoming aware of them for the first time, and her eyes skirt their faces by turns. First Kapadia, followed by the ACP, and finally stopping on her husband. Then she suddenly throws her hands up like something she knows should be fairly obvious.

“They were Muslims, Gautam!”she shouts, frazzled. “They were wearing white kurtas and had Ravana masks. They are mocking us, don’t you see?” She turns shrill very quick, quicker than her husband did. “They want us to know evil can strike at any moment and take away what we hold dear. What kind of a person would do that?

The question is rhetorical, but she pauses as though she is waiting for an answer as to why this is happening, but none of the men know what to say. Lapsing into silence once more, a glazed look spreads over her eyes, as she returns to that trance-like state, this time trembling with her entire frame. The doctor impulsively moves in an attempt to offer comfort, but his wife notices him approach. With a start, she breaks out of her thoughts, gets up, and stalks out of the drawing room.

The doctor watches her go. “You have to do something,” he then begs the Inspector and the ACP. His hopefulness seems to have deserted him. A painful desperation is all that is now written across his crumpled face. “Find my son. Find him.”

It is spoken like an order, not a request. And with that, he hurries out of the room, after his wife.

Finally, Inspector Kapadia finds himself alone with his ACP. This hasn’t happened all day. Despite the troubled exchange that took place between the parents, it feels like an opportune moment. He shouldn’t let it slip, and he has wasted too much time here in the mansion already, doing nothing but practically twiddling his thumbs.

“I need to be out in the field,” he says, imbuing all urgency into his voice. “Let me–”

“That will be all.”

The words slice through Kapadia’s like a hot knife.

Kapadia feels a flash of anger, his fist clenching so hard his nails dig into his palm. Why is this man being so difficult? It is clear the ACP will not entertain him. He won’t even look at Kapadia as he speaks. His back is stiff as a rod, chest and shoulders proudly out, hands behind his back with a steely look of superiority on his face that demands immediate obedience. The Inspector has no choice but to build a strong case and argue later. That will give him a better chance of getting out of this damn house. He is a consummate field operative. ACP Omkar had better have a good reason for promoting him when he is bent on ensuring that the Inspector’s abilities are wasted in technical work. Whatever that reason may be is shrouded in obscurity, and he can’t believe it good enough to let it interfere with the time-sensitive issue of the retrieval of a kidnapped child.

For now, the Inspector must resign himself to the lethargy of the Technical Team in the study. Keyboards pattering, phones ringing, analysts reporting: a steady hum that accompanies a high-priority investigation.

*

GAUTAM finds her in the empty kitchen, looking past the windows, where a gaggle of unruly news reporters are close to ramming the gates, attempting to get an unobstructed view into the grounds of the mansion. He despises them; they’re only after a good story, like this is only a game to them and the winner will be the one who gets to pick apart their grief first. His stomach flips at their disgusting behaviour. He can’t believe this is happening to him.

“Don’t worry about them,” he says tartly, unable to keep the sourness out of his voice.

“I’m not worried about them.” Payal turns, faces him, and crosses her arms. Her expression is somber. “I’m worried about our son. I’m worried about Shaan.”

“We are going to find him, Payal. I promise–”

“They say it on the news all the time,” she says distantly, as though she wasn’t listening to him. She is still shuddering as much as before, and it translates into her voice when she speaks. “A child missing for 24 hours is as good as…” The word is unimaginable, unspeakable. Her fingers jump to her lips where that horrible word stopped in its tracks.

No! Gautam thinks. His breath rushes out, as though he took a blow to the chest. One of the things being a surgeon has taught him is that children are surprisingly resilient, even more so than adults. He doesn’t know why that thought comes into his mind now because if it is meant to be a reassurance it is failing at that.

“That is not going to happen.” Gautam moves for her, arms outstretched to provide a safe haven.

But Payal flinches, putting her hands up as if to form a barrier between them. Gautam takes a step back, pondering this.

“You didn’t fight for him,” says Payal, wonder in her voice. “Why… why did you let them take our baby?”

What? Gautam cannot see what this is about. He feels like he is missing a vital piece of information. “What are you talking about? I tried to–”

“Is that all you can do? Is that all you can say? You… you tried? You didn’t try hard enough, Gautam!” Her voice rises. “How did they get the better of you? You… you could have overpowered them both easily. Why didn’t you? Now they have our son. We don’t know what they must be doing to him. We may never see him…” She wraps her arms around herself, a film of fresh tears flowing down her cheeks.

Gautam doesn’t want to push her even further, and he can see that holding and helping her now would do just that. As much as he wants to do something to help, his only option is to do nothing at all.

“Neither of us has slept since last night,” he says dimly regretfully. I’m sorry. I really am. “Why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest?”

“I’ll sleep when my son is back in my arms,” she hisses, uncharacteristically. “Safe!”

The housemaid then walks in on them, stopping short just at the threshold. Judging by her demeanor, she has felt the tension coursing in the room, and so turns around, preparing to go back the way she came.

“Forgive me, sahib, memsahib,” she says, looking down.

“It’s okay, Shakuntala.” Payal mops her face and exits the kitchen in her stead. “Stay.”

Gautam remains where he is, looking at his wife’s trembling back as she drifts out of the kitchen, sniffling into her hands. Shakuntala starts to tell him that she has spent all morning offering prayers in the house mandir before the goddess Durga, the destroyer of evil, for Shaan to return unharmed. She knows Shaan will come back home. But her voice is dull and distant and his wife’s accusations still linger and echo in his ears. And the way Payal looked at him stung. Like he isn’t the man she married twelve years ago.

Unthinking, his fingers reach up and brush over the bandages that are wrapped around his head injury. The soreness still aching in his hand makes him realize he tried to skim his hair. The glass splinters had pricked him in multiple spots, embedded themselves in all his fingers. In all three spots, his throbbing hands and his pounding head, the pain is not as intense as it was last night, but all he can see is the blood that he and his son were drenched in. He hopes his son’s injury was bandaged like his is now. They were both bleeding from their heads as he lay powerless on the ground, trying uselessly to extract every ounce of energy left in his electrified muscles to get back up on his feet and reclaim his little champ from the kidnappers. But it was just impossible and he felt just as hopeless to see them drive away. He remembers straining to scream, watching the white van and its smashed tail lights as it drove off till the very last moment that it rounded a corner. Then it was out of sight. He thought Shaan was lost for good.

It is unlike Payal to speak as bitterly as she did, but now her allegations makes Gautam think on it. Payal is right, he admits to himself. He was twice the size the kidnappers were, and he could have overpowered them easily. I really could have. He asks himself if he has been shirking his responsibility towards his family. He always had a propensity to be a workaholic ever since his early days as an intern, trading on-call hours of peers to boost his progress. Perhaps now that he is immersed in work involuntarily it is tough to emerge from it, and that has clouded his priorities. He realizes is really starting to become an outsider to his own family: clocking more hours in the Operation Theatre than in his own home, rarely showing up at the dinner table and even more rarely to tuck his little champ in bed. He asks himself why.

He also asks himself why he didn’t try hard enough.

*

NAZNIN enters the kitchen to find her mother frying eggs on the stove. Steeling herself, she calls softly, “Ammijaan.”

The woman spins around, her hands jumping to her cheeks in an expression of mute shock when she sees her daughter. For a moment she doesn’t move, then she races over to Naznin, looking utterly thrilled to the core.

“Oh you’re shining! Subhanallah! See? You were fussing over nothing.” Her mother gushes, her voice going so high and pitchy that Naznin cringes inwardly.  “Oh, and you’ve tucked your hair inside so well! On your first time too!”

She can’t believe that one of the first things she sees this morning is Naznin wearing the burqa. Neither can Naznin herself. She feels like the burqa has entirely insulated her. Not only is it latching onto her skin, like she has attained the next stage of human evolution wherein one develops a new kind of black epidermis, but it is also chafing, and something as simple as walking has become a chore, like trying to wade through muddy waters, her movements stunted and slow. It is all she can do to keep her fingers at bay that are dying to itch everywhere at once. To hold up this smile on her face feels just as heavy as the burqa around her shoulders.

“I’m going to meet my friends now,” she says hollowly.

“Good, you should go,” her mother says in a sing-song like manner. “And come back and tell me what they think. If they don’t like it, don’t be sad. You are doing this for yourself and no one else. When you begin college you will make new friends who will appreciate and understand.” She rests her hands on Naznin’s shoulders, holding them. “I wish your Abba hadn’t left for work so early, but you know he has to put in those extra hours. You have to show him when he comes home.”

“I will.”

They stand in silence for a while as her agitation gradually builds and her mother’s delight fills the room, until Naznin feels like she is being smothered by it.

Then her mother beams, unable to contain her glee, and says conspiratorially, “You know, I never told you this, but on the night of our marriage, do you know what Abba told me? He saw me for the first time without my burqa on. He came to me and said ‘Hafeeza, as beautiful you are without your burqa, your true beauty shines through when you have it on. It is the mark of a true woman and the way you wear it is the reason why I’m falling in love with you’. I’m sure he’d think the same of you.” She plants a kiss on her daughter’s open forehead, which is visible through the slit for the face, and frames her face in her soft hands. “This is your protection. Remember that. It will guard you from any harm.”

Naznin gives a light nod and tears way to take her leave, her backpack slung awkwardly on her shoulder. It keeps slipping down against the fabric of her burqa. Bad friction, she muses. Another downside. “I don’t know what time I’ll be back.”

Her mother clasps her hands and does a small hop. “Oh, that reminds me. I was thinking we’d call for something. Remember that new pizza place that came in the papers yesterday?”

“Can we afford that?” Naznin says doubtfully.

Her mother waves her off. “Oh your Abba doesn’t need to know. We’ve been saving up for something special anyways and we haven’t treated ourselves in months. We can celebrate the start of this new chapter in your life!” It is this spirit, this heart Naznin did not want to break, so she relented to putting on the burqa without further fuss. But Naznin already wants the chapter her mother is speaking about to end. Maybe even the whole book, she thinks wryly. “I can order the smallest one they have, by four o’clock, before he gets back.”

Naznin can’t deny her mother this. And it’s pizza, after all. She can’t deny herself that either. “Fine, I’ll get home by then.”

“Allahafiz.”

“Fi-Amanullah.”

Naznin chats nicely with the liftman and a few neighbours who

catch her on her way down the building. They are pleasantly surprised to see her in a new avatar and don’t fail to be dazzled and offer all sorts of compliments. She doesn’t fail to act like she isn’t dying on the inside.

Before she leaves the building, she notices that the deserted entrance hallway offers the perfect opportunity, and so she slips into the recess under the stairwell. It doesn’t take her nearly half as long to get out of the outfit as it did when she put it on. Once she has taken it off, she stuffs the entire thing into her backpack, making it pregnant. It is a breath of fresh air to be able to see her arms and legs again, that are clad in harem pants and a kurti, and to wipe the sweat that has dewed behind her neck and ears. She can’t begin to picture herself trudging down the road in something so ruthless. The stifling heat alone would make her pass out and collapse. There were demented bullies in her school who were definitely kinder in comparison to this so called “dress”.

Thank God that’s over, she thinks, and, tossing heavy the backpack over both shoulders, runs out for the bus. She doesn’t want to keep GoodGuy187 waiting.

*

ASHNI, who keeps surprising herself this morning, has managed to rustle up a perfect batter, but it spills all over the counter when she pours it onto the waffle-maker. When they come out a bit too tough, she waggles her nose in irritation. The tea turns out oversweet and nearly boils over the stoves, but if she knows her father right, he should love it. Her last attempt to salvage whatever she can of this perfect meal is lost when she burns the toast.

She huffs out a breath, hands on her hips, looking around the kitchen. She started out to create the most scrumptious breakfast she could but, instead, she has created the most stunning mess she has ever seen. She can’t help but giggle. Anyways, it should be the thought that counts. And she will gladly clean up all of this later. Once her father says “yes”.

She assembles her troops into the wooden breakfast tray that on any other Saturday morning her father would be bringing to her. A tray cluttered with the slab of butter, syrup and jam jars, a glass of chilled orange juice, salt and pepper shakers, a mountain of stone waffles, a hot cup of tea, charred bread, spoons and knives and forks. She faces some difficulty trying to lift it the laden tray her dainty hands and carrying it through the apartment, but not once does anything spill or fall off. She siles to herself–she has always been deft.

At her father’s door, she turns, pushing her back into it to enter. Her father stirs hearing her footsteps. When she pokes the hard corner of the tray into his arm, he stops snoring, prying his eyes open. After some more poking, he begins to blink at her.

“Wake up, daddy,” she trills.

“Ashni?” He shifts sleepy and rubs his eyes. “What are you doing up so early. And what is this?”

“I made you breakfast!” she announces, propping up his meal on top of him with great care so he can get started. “I wanted to cook for you today.”

Her father looks surprised. “You made this? All these things? How did you–”

“I learned from you, daddy. And this is all for you. I already had my cornflakes. Enjoy! ” She stands at his bedside, hands behind her back, in mute appeal.

The assessing look on his face says he can sense her agenda. Concern on his brow, he seems at a loss for words. “Ashni, I really like how you thought of doing this,” he says, unsmiling. “I can’t wait to eat it all. It looks really good. And I love you for doing this, but–”

“But what?” she interjects. Please, daddy, please, she thinks.

The corners of his mouth turn down, like he doesn’t like what he has to say. “But we still aren’t getting you a dog.”

It hurts worse than it did last night, his denial, refusal, betrayal. In a fit, she throws herself at him and flings her arms around him, gazing up at him with eyes that are starting to glisten. “But why, daddy? Please, please. Uncle Ian says I should get a dog, too. He says they are a man’s best friend and can protect us. Please, daddy. I can’t face the monsters again.”

“Ashni!” He sounds so rough, more so than he did last night, that his voice grates agasint her like sandpaper, and she can’t understand why he is doing this. But she still clings tightly to him. “You have to learn. Okay? Sorry, but no means no,” her father says flatly.

And that does it. Her face wilts, her arms unhook themselves.

“I knew I shouldn’t have burnt the toast!”

Halfway through making the declaration she has fled his room. She races towards her own, and without a thought slams the door in deadly rage. Just as it bangs shut, she lets out a violent scream. A moment later, she suddenly realizes that she has never done anything out of anger like that in all her life. Ever. It is not until that tremendous bang is done reverberating in her ears that she can hear her rampant pulse thrumming at her temples. But over that, she can also hear his voice from outside. Beyond the door, she hears her father calling after her, calling her name, saying he is sorry, but she doesn’t want to hear what he has to say or see his mean face again. He is in for a nasty surprise in the kitchen and she feels a slight hint of pleasure that he will have to clean up after her. But her heartbreak is stronger. That is why all she intends to do is to stay here, in her room, for good, and cry. And try to find a reason why her father just doesn’t love her anymore and why he is perfectly willing to feed her to the monsters.

Why, daddy, why? She leaps into her bed and buries her face in her pillows, moaning.

*

ADIL’s head began its daily pounding last night. It barely allowed him to sleep a wink. He didn’t need it for the job because he had to babysit the boy and would have stayed awake regardless. He removes the tiger balm container from his pocket, opens it, and applies the last of it to his temples, rubbing it in with two fingers. He needs to buy more balm. He needs the shooting pains to go away. It is like a thousand serrated blades taking a go at his brain. One year has not done enough to make him develop a tolerance for it. Perhaps no amount of time will.

Ismaeel bhai is downstairs in the basement, working conscientiously at the electronic consoles, laptops and microphones that he recently procured. There are a number of dials, cables and wires that require meticulous connecting and reconnecting for the whole system to work in harmony, so intruding on his work defies better judgment. But when Adil approaches him, he doesn’t mean to wince so audibly from his headache in such a manner that Ismaeel bhai can hear it.

“What is it?” The man demands without taking his eyes off the equipment.

“Wh-wh-” Adil stutters, like he always has. “When will th-this be over?”

“You have somewhere to be?” Ismaeel bhai looks up from the range of devices, sounding more gruff than usual, an eyebrow arched with unmistakable concern.

“N-no, I’m just… I don’t… I’m not s-sure about th-this.

“About our mission? Being sure is your only option,” his guardian says matter-of-factly.

“But he’s j-just a small b-boy,”Adil stammers, wriging his hands. “His parents n-never did an-anything–”

“Those sinners you speak of are anything but innocent. They deserve what’s happening to them.”

Do they really? he thinks. “N-not like this. Not b-by–”

“When you don’t acknowledge the One True God, this is what happens. They transgress all bounds and live in sin and disbelief. The country is overrun with those evil-doers. Not even your parents were safe. Or have you forgotten about them?”

Adil buckles, though Ismaeel bhai is not bearing down on him. In fact, there is a table of equipment separating them. But he is anticipating an assault, verbal and physical both, and his body is preparing itself for the worst that can happen. His voice has receded somewhere deep inside him and he struggles to locate it.

“Y-yes–” he manages.

Ismaeel bhai howls. “Louder!”

Adil forces it out with all his might, “Y-yes yes, I remem-b-ber!”

“They were good friends of mine. Do you think I liked it when they were arrested for something they didn’t do?” Spitle flies from his lips. His words launch from his mouth like weapons. “But what do these idol-worshippers care? That is what they do. They make us live in oppression. Our families were on the wrong side of the wall at the time of the separation!”

Why did I say anything? Adil scolds himself. Why?

He shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have spoken against their mission. Punishing himself, he smacks the heel of his hand into his head. It worsens the headache, but he deserves this. Unable to bear the consequences of yet another mistake, he sinks to the floor, sniffling and on the verge to tears.

Footsteps scuffle. Wires and cables scrape the floor. Ismaeel crosses the room and strides over to Adil. With every step that he gets closer, Adil’s heart hitches in his chest. Looming over him, Ismaeel bhai bends down to grasp him tightly by the shoulders and he brings Adil up from his knees to his full height. Adil shivers.  He has been asking for it. He closes his eyes and braces himself. The thrashing will start now.

But Ismaeel bhai’s voice is surprisingly tempered. “We can never live in harmony with them. You were a minor and God knows what they must have done with you. I promised to look after you and that is what I’m doing.” He sounds gentle, which is the polar opposite of what he is. “I found you a place to stay, I found you a job. But this is what you do? This is how you show your gratitude?” he says piteiously.

Adil cannot understand why he is not being beaten. He questioned his guardian, he should been made to pay for it. But all the man is doing is looking at him with a pained expression. Maybe he will be spared. He realizes his only move now is to remove himself from the delicate situation he has entangled himself in by giving the man what he wants. He starts to surrender and make his plea. “N-no, Is-Ismaeel bhai. I-I’m sorry. I’m s-so sorry I w-won’t doubt y-y-you again. Please, please…” He tries to join his hands in supplication as best he can.

Ismaeel bahi seems easily convinved. Too easily. “You are committed to this, my son. The only way is forward.” His guardian lets go of him, and Adil can’t stop himself from shaking in his shoes. Ismaeel bhai returns to the table of devices to resume doing what he was doing with purpose that seems to have been fortified by what just happened between them.  “I will pray to Allah to strengthen your resolve. Don’t think of it anymore. I will take care of that. Now go check on the boy.”

Adil nods, and keeps nodding, willing to do anything that doesn’t get him into deeper trouble with his guardian than he already is. He can’t believe he is being leaving unscathed. But, before he can edge away to safety, his guardian has one more last thing to say.

“And Adil,” the man says between “that are unmistakably clenched teeth. “Don’t ever question me again.”

Seemingly  relaxed,  Ismaeel bhai concentrates on his work again. Adil didn’t know what he was thinking trying to temp his guardian. He needs to learn.

When will you learn?

Adil lurches up the stairs, still shaking, but not as much as before. At the end of that paint-shedding hallway he unlatches the battered door of the dark storage room where the boy is being held captive. He doesn’t open it all the way, but peers between a slight crack in the door to find the boy sleeping soundlessly. Even if he isn’t, Adil cannot hear anything over the tumultuous migraine in his head that is now reaching a boiling point.

He feels overheated.

It is the cacophony of sharp voices that really won’t leave him alone. They have not stopped exerting their influence on him for a full year now. They come and go, but They are mostly there; watching him, controlling him.

But this, he doesn’t agree with. This is not fine. This has to stop.

They always want him to do the wrong thing. They always get what They want. The only things that help subdue Them temporarily are Crocin tablets, so he cracks out two and takes them dry. It will take some time till Their voices fade away. But before that, he must be punished for his mistake from last night.

He enters the room opposite from where the boy is being held prisoner. He latches the door to secure himself in the room, takes off his loose white kurta and undoes his belt.

He tells Them he is ready.

They tell him to start.

Adil fills his lungs, holds his breath, and then, holding the open end of his belt tightly in his right hand, whips it over his left shoulder. Pain. A torrent of excruciating pain as it wreaks havoc across his body. The buckle has added a fresh welt to his back. There is a slew of old ones that have riddled his flesh and left discoloured marks by failing to heal. Today’s is different because it is the hardest he has ever whipped himself, and he nearly bite off his tongue because of it. But Adil has learned control. You can take it. You can take it. He has mastered the art of numbing himself, a mental process, out of necessity. He can feel warm blood begin to trickle slowly down his back. When he can, he releases his breath, and then gulps hard, his heart pounding.

They tell him to keep going, till They are satisfied.

*

RAHUL is standing stock-still, gazing at nothing in particular, though his eyes are locked on the far end of the revolving carousel from where his luggage is supposed to materialize. It is not until someone lightly bumps against his shoulder while trying to maneouvour around him and apologizes for it that he is knocked out of this trance.

He glances around, as if noticing for the first time where he is.

He sighs. He has spent almost an hour at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Out of all the possible passengers, it has to be him who gets held up.

At the Help Desk, he is asked him to fill out a short form and provide a general description of his luggage and its tags. The bored clerk informs him, rather noncomittally, that Lost & Found will get in touch with him shortly. Rahul may have been gone a long time but he distinctly remembers how people in this country love to twiddle their thumbs and expect the work to do itself.

Nothing’s changed, he thinks morosely. Typical.

Having nothing else to do to bide his time, he decides to wait out the delay in the airport bar. He can’t help but see the hold-up as an omen intended to keep him from doing something that won’t end well. As if that matters, he muses. He hasn’t come all this way to chicken out. You’re here, and there’s no going back.

Scotch on-the-rocks becomes a repeat-offender–it is not even noon, but he is still functioning on British time, so he doesn’t think twice about it–and he chooses a stool beside a fellow drinker.

“An Englishman!” The Frenchwoman catches his accent when he orders and sits. “It must be my lucky day.”

“I was actually born here,” Rahul enlightens her.

“And you get more interesting! How arousing. Tell me more.”

The extent to which she is inebriated is evident on her acrid breath. Rahul can also see how she can barely support her addled self on her bar stool, one bad sway from toppling over. Something like bad news must have driven her to this, plying herself with drink after drink. But he won’t learn what exactly, because he is not looking for a conversation. She also looks well over fifty; an excellent reason why she shouldn’t be flirting with someone who could be her son. She inquires of his line of work.

Not to be rude, he tells her. “I’m a barrister.”

“Well, Mr. Lawyer,” she is slurring half the words, and it is not because of her accent. “I sure hope you can help me… I have a problem that needs… solving.”

Rahul is not the least bit fazed. “Sorry, I’m taken.” He flashes her the gold band around his finger. “My fiancé wouldn’t approve.”

The Frecnhwoman sniggers. “Oh, mon cher! You’re meant to have one final tryst before tying the knot, no?”

Rahul doesn’t indulge her after that. She very soon becomes irate when her advances get unrequited, one after another. Rahul politely turns her down for the last time when she decides to throw back the last dregs of her Cosmopolitan is a messy, dramatic swig. Some of it rolls down her chin and stains her blouse. She gets off her stool, pouting, and throws her Gucci handbag over her shoulder. Her feet shuffle unstably in five-inch stilettos.

Rahul is able to keep a straight face as she silently sums him up, particularly noting his finely groomed hair, perfectly manicured hands, and tailored suit.

“Well, no worry. I’ll try my luck somewhere… more likely.”

He curiously watches her precariously trot away in high-heels till she turns a corner. Rahul muses that she could trip and break her neck. Then he forgets about her and sips at his drink.

What in the world? he thinks the next moment. He realizes his hand has been nervously playing with his phone again, going in search for DAD in his contacts. He can’t seem to peel his hand away from the device. It keeps happening, like some part of him, deep down, wants to get this over with. But he knows he can’t hasten this. No, this needs careful planning. Otherwise it could end like the first time, all over again. And that won’t do either of them any good. It’s how and why I wound up returning here after nine years.

Rahul can feel is heart-rate spike at the tought of seeing his father again.

He switches his attention to his chilled drink to makes things easier and let its dulling powers work on him, trying to consume it slowly and calmly, but failing. Forcefully he downs it, and orders another one–a double this time. Now even his throat is going dry when it has no reason to. The closer Rahul is getting to do what he has come to do, the harder it is getting to rein it in.

He cannot begin to imagine his father’s reaction to a son-in-law.

*

END OF CHAPTER 1

© Amaan Khan, July 5, 2018.

Note to the lovely reader: Not all of the 11 Main POV Characters of Disconnect will appear in each chapter.

To continue reading, head on over to Chapter 2.

———-

Glossary:

  1. Ravana – the Hinduism approximation of Satan/the devil
  2. kurta: a loose collarless ethnic top ending at the knees
  3. memsahib –  Ma’am
  4. sahib – Sir
  5. mandir – temple
  6. ammijaan – mother
  7. subhanallah – glory to Allah
  8. abba – father
  9. Allahafiz – may God protect you (goodbye)
  10. Fi-Amanullah – may God keep you safe (goodbye)
  11. kurti – like a kurta (see point 2), but for women
  12. bhai – a term of endearment meaning ‘brother’ or ‘respected person’
  13. tiger balm – a balm for headaches
  14. “at the time of the separation” – the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 when both countries attained their Independence.
  15. Crocin tablets – like Aspirin, for headaches, pain, etc

 

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