Hello, everyone! How is your week going? If you missed the Introduction to Disconnect: A Novel , the PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, or Chapter 8, do check them out before reading Chapter 9. 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 9 of Disconnect, my second novel, begins right below! It’s probably the shortest chapter of the book! Let me know in the comments what you think! As always, Happy Reading! And thank you! Love you all!

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CHAPTER 9 – 6 P.M.

ADIL crouches quietly in the corner of the basement, listening to the faint scratching sounds that his guardian makes as he writes something on a piece of paper. The man is sitting at the table where all the equipment had been assembled earlier today. Now all of it has been dismantled and discarded, being of no further use to them. The T.V. has been set on mute, and he isn’t that interested to follow the match or learn about the current score. But from the looks of it, and how Ismaeel bhair has been religiously keeping tabs on it, it could be anyone’s game so far, an even match.

His guardian looks up a few times, as if collecting his thoughts, and resumes writing. Adil wonders what the man is doing and what the next stage of their mission is. The exchange cannot take place at Tata Garden. Adil understands that much. The place will be crawling with the police. It is a clever maneuver on Ismaeel bhai’s part, creating a distraction, and the man must be having a smarter course of action in mind. When he is done writing, the paper goes into an envelope, which is in turn sealed. Adil’s eyes stay on it as Ismaeel bhai rises, walk over, and presents it to him. The father’s name is written on the front of it.

Adil gets to his feet.

“Leave now,” Ismaeel bhai says. “Deliver it, but make sure you don’t draw any attention.”

Making sense of those words is impossible. “But, you s-said-”

“I know what I said, Adil, my son. But that was before you had proven that you will strive for our cause. I have seen the change within you. You were ready to take a life. If you wanted, you could have let the boy be when you found him but instead you brought him back here.” His pride is shining through, as though he is looking down at his own son, his own work. His guardian’s eyes are bright with it. “I trust you, Adil. You will do this without betraying our cause.”

Adil takes the envelope as firmly as he can, hoping Ismaeel bhai does not see through the brave front. He gulps.

“It is meant for the doctor’s eyes. His, and his alone.”

Adil needs a pawn that can help him accomplish this. He thinks he has just the right person who will not ask questions and not find him odd. “I c-can do it.”

“Hurry, now. There’s not much time. If you take a taxi, you can get there in half an hour. However you get it there…” He points stiffly to the letter. “… make sure no one but the intended recipient reads it.”

Adil moistens his lips. “I will.”

Ismaeel bhai closes the space between them and plants a ceremenial kiss on Adil’s forehead. Once he withdraws, Adil gives a firm head-nod and leaves the basement through the garage. Ismaeel bhai has full faith in him now. One of Adil’s problems in solved, and he could maybe use this advantage in his favour.

They have been listening in all this while. They know he will not disappoint. But They fear Ismaeel bhai’s mistaken conclusion. Adil has not subscribed to his view of good and bad yet. It could sully their mission. Adil assures them that if he can help it, it will. He is never going to view the world through Their or Ismaeel bhai’s eyes, no matter what they do to him. It’s brainwashing. He laughs, hoping it will take the edge off the voices. But it doesn’t work.

Instead, the voices roar with indignation, and it makes Adil shrivel to his core.

*

DIPAK doesn’t know why he did not agree to Ashni’s demand last night itself. Instead of resigning herself to a vow of silence and blocking him out, she would have been as bright and bubbly as she is being now, directing all her attention and devotion to Bear.

When they tried to bathe the animal, he ran the other way. But somehow, Ashni curbed its aversion to water by getting in the tub first, following which Bear meekly stepped in and hardly thrashed about. When she attempted to feed him the ice cream, Dipak believed it would be the death of Bear, but the dog lapped an entire bowl of it before pleading for more, whining with big round innocent eyes. Somehow, his daughter and his new dog seem to be communicating in a new language, one that comes with the kind of instant bond that they made. The way they are so taken by each other, it is as if they were written in one another’s destiny, and all that was needed was for Dipak to bring them together.

Now, this new family of three is gathered around the couch, as Ashni sits at Dipak’s feet on the floor, with Bear spread out in front of her, as she gently grooms her pet’s long black and blond body with a prickly brush. Bear’s tail has not stopped wagging since she began. He really likes this massage and grooming session, Dipak muses. And the peppy Abba vinyl Dipak set on the record player plays as the most-suited soundtrack around the living room. Dipak doesn’t want to stop feasting on this moment. He is happy that he could make his daughter happy. This is precisely how he wants the days to come to be. His small family to be full of love and contentment.

How perfect.

But, then, the landline begins ringing and disturbs their newfound peace. Reluctantly, Dipak gets up to answer it.

“Dipak, you should get down here now.” It is his boss, Frederick.

“Why, Freddy, what’s up?”

“The guys from social services are down here. They want a word with you in person.”

Dipak is reminded of the Caller. His day has finally brightened when the sore reminder of this imposed responsibility grates him. “They’re early,” he says sharply. “Tell them I’ll meet with them when I get in tonight. I’m with my daughter now.”

“They’re insisting,” Frederick says. “They want a clear picture of what we’re dealing with. Nobody knows the Caller better than you.”

Dipak’s grip on the phone tightens. He shifts his head to gaze at his giggling daughter, her arms around Bear’s furry tummy. He nibbles at her ear.

“I’ll be there,” Dipak says, much against his will, and replaces the receiver before his boss can respond. He dials Niloufer’s residence next, but only gets her mother, who tells him Niloufer is yet not home. He walks back to his daughter, feeling guilty.

Ashni looks up at him warmly. “Who was it, daddy?”

“Work, sweety. I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you alone again. Something important has just come up.”

Ashni frowns. “Do you really have to go?”

Unfortunately, Frederick is not giving him a choice. “Yes, sweety. I know I’ve never left you to be alone this late. Niloufer isn’t back yet. But I won’t be long. An hour tops.” Dipak waits for a response.

But his daughter merely hugs her pet dog tighter. “We’ll be fine, daddy. I have Bear to protect me.”

“Ok, good. I promise I’ll hurry back before it gets dark.” He stoops down to tweak her nose and then dips to plant a kiss on her head. “Remember, do not answer the door for anybody, okay?”

“I promise, daddy.” Ashni chuckles when Bear begins to lick her face. “Aw, silly Bear. I’m not a lollipop!”

And Dipak thought he was the only one who could make his daughter chuckle like that.

*

NAZNIN is sitting with her legs dangling over the edge of the stone promenade of Marine Drive. Down under her feet, the waves of the ocean crash lazily against the tetrapod-shaped rocks. The feel of his hand, as it accidentally brushes against her fingers when he moves it, sends an electric tingle running down her back. A hundred times she has wanted to place her hands in his and a hundred times she has had to stop herself. For a reason she cannot tell, her eyes are drawn to his lips. Thin lips. Plush lips. She cannot dare to make a move and defy better judgment. But with the way he is, it is making things obscenely hard.

She wonders how a kiss would feel. The men usually lean in first as they do in the movies. She’d be hesitant at first, maybe pull back. But she’d give in. She’d move closer. And then they would…

Her daydreams end when GoodGuy187 nudges her and gives her his signature smile. “Day dreaming again?”

“Not anymore,” is her reply with a bashful half-smile. She wonders if her cheeks look red. She tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear. “You know, I need get back home soon. I should catch the bus.”

“I was going to ask about that,” he says, a breeze playing in his supple hair. “But before we part ways, I thought we’d do something together. I’ve not told you this, but every time I feel thankful for something, I like to… pay it forward in a sense. May I make a proposition?”

Naznin is intrigued. “You may.”

“Do you think you will remember this day?”

“Of course, how could I ever forget one of the best days of my life?”

“Then did you have fun today, TeenGirl1242? Are you happy with this anonymous rendezvous? That the mysterious forces at work chose to make our lives touch at this moment in our lives? That today is forever etched into your memories? That you are proud to have something that nobody can ever take from you?”

Every passing moment with him has been generating a new feeling. It is at this moment that she feels something she has never felt before. This one is new. So, this is how Love feels. That’s how she pictures it, with a capital L. Love, not for this boy, per se, but for who he is, what he is, how he is.

This spirit. This soul. This entity, she thinks. Love for his state of existence.

A different kind of love than she has for her parents.

It is a first for her, and she never wants to unfeel it. It is doing many things to her, the most striking being that she can see the world in colour for the first time. She wants to hold onto this feeling for the rest of her life, surrender herself to it and live in its natural high. She has never thought an addiction could be so worth it, make her soar so high in the stratosphere.

“Yes, GoodGuy187!” she chirps. “Yes, yes, yes!”

He stands. “Then let’s thank those forces at work, TeenGil1242. Let’s give back to the universe!”

*

ADIL does not find getting through the security at the back gate of the mansion much of a hassle. He is apparently on the list of people who are allowed on the premises, being in the employment of the Shahs. The policemen standing as sentry let him in after he provides some identification, and he gingerly strolls up the stony path to the back door. He passes by a few policemen in the lawn who are on a smoke break. They have no way of knowing what he has done, or indeed that he is the one they are after, but that does not stop chills of terror from crawling up his spine.

He knocks on the back door, grabbing the attention of the housemaid, and when she sees him through the glass windows her eyebrows knit together. She opens the door into the kitchen to let him inside.

“What are you doing here?” Shakuntala asks wondrously.

“I couldn’t come to work today,” Adil begins. “Because something came up. But when I heard about what happened, I came running.”

“That’s very thoughtful, Adil. I’m sure sahib and memsahib will appreciate it.”

“How are they, Shakuntala didi? Any news of Shaan?”

“Those criminals who took them will pay,” she says in sudden zeal, her head tipping back. “They won’t get away with it. I hear they are going to return the boy tonight at nine o’clock at an exchange at Tata Graden.”

“That’s good. The sooner he comes home, the sooner this will all be over.” Adil cannot mean this enough.

“Did you want to meet sahib and memsahib?”

“That won’t be necessary, Shakuntala didi. I wouldn’t want to trouble them. As long as they are coping well, I’m glad to know it.”

“You’re such a sweet boy, Adil.” She turns her back on him to remove a few pans on the stove that have been sizzling with exotic vegetables. “Will you be staying long?”

Adil doesn’t let the opportunity slip. The letter has been tucked away in his kurta pocket, but in one swift move he fishes it out and deposits it an arm’s length away, hiding it between a fruit bowl and the wooden stack of knives.  Shakuntala doesn’t see or hear a thing. “No, I won’t, didi,”he says in a conversational tone. “I have somewhere to be. I think I’ll be going now.”

“Well, I will let them know you had stopped by.” She empties the food from the pans into pristine white serving dishes and then dumps the pans into a running sink. Turns to face him, she wipes her hands on her apron, a small smile on her face. “It will please them.”

“Goodbye, didi,” he says, turning to make a move. “I’ll see you tomor–Oh!” He stops short. Quizzically, he reaches out for the envelope he planted, drawing her attention to it. He turns it over in his hands and gives her a funny look. “This is addressed to sahib.”

“Where’d that come from?” The woman blinks at it.

“It’s not opened. You should get this to him.”

Shakuntala looks stumped. “That’s funny. I could have sworn it wasn’t there when I scrubbed the platform an hour ago.”

“It must have just been delivered,” Adil says quickly to prevent her from questioning it too much. “It could be something important. I think sahib should see this right away.”

Shakuntala mulls it over for a moment. “You may be right. Here, give it to me. I’ll take it to him.”

“Oh, I don’t mind doing it, didi.” Adil says politely. “I’ll just pop in and hand it to him. You look busy as it is.”

Shakuntala looks relieved that he volunteered himself. “Oh, thank you so much. I’ve got some chapattis to roll anyways. Go on. He should be in the front room.”

Something tells Adil he is not welcome here. He feels like his guilt is branded on his forehead, and he is entering a different house than he remembers it being. Grim officers and other police agents have replaced the usual life and laughter he is so used to seeing in the mansion. Some house-servants acknowledge his presence by nodding as he passes them on his way in, while some policemen don’t give him a second look.

From the main hall, he sees his sahib. Dr. Shah sits alone on a sofa in the front room, absorbed in thought. Adil advances toward him, his mission nearing completion. He clears his throat a bit as he nears his sahib, so that the doctor will be alerted of his arrival.

And he is. Gautam looks up to him, with eyes that are empty, like he is hollow from the inside. Adil breaks out in a cold sweat. Suddenly, he wants to be anywhere but here.

Oh God, forgive me.

“Adil,” his sahib says. His voice is thick with emotion, contricted.

“Sahib.” Adil’s throat feels bone-dry. He swallows, but it doesn’t help. “I came over as soon as I heard. I wanted to see if everything was fine.”

“It will be,” Dr. Shah murmurs, more to himself than Adil. “Soon. What have you got there?”

Adil shakes his head. “Oh, yes.” He pretends to recall why he came. “Shakuntala didi sent me in with this. She just found it and thinks it was just delivered. She thought you may need it.”

Dr. Shah takes the letter from him, turns it idly between his hands, like he doesn’t know what he must do with it, before mechanically setting it on the coffee table before him. “Thank you, Adil.”

“I hope Shaan returns soon,” Adil says.

“He will, Adil. He will.”

*

GAUTAM returns to deliberating what is to be done.

“Salaam, sahib,” the gardener says and withdraws.

“Salaam,” Gautam murmurs absently.

ACP Omkar has just informed him that the Tactical Team has set up surveillance in Tata Garden. Over two hours remain until the exchange is to take place, but the police are not known to be procrastinators. Over two dozen officers are camouflaged in civilian clothing, to be incognito. Many snipers have been perched upon thick trees in strategic vantage points. Every second person is with the police. The only measure they could not afford was to seal off access to the garden by the public, for that would forewarn the kidnappers. It would be fatal to the rescue attempt. Gautam’s prescribed dark jacket and red cap have been procured, the duffle bag of ransom money is ready, and he is in the mindset of leaving home and returning with no less than his son.

But time has reduced to an agonizing crawl, and it is the worst torture in the world–when you know you can’t do anything but wait it out.

Gautam lost the fight to the ACP, who sought and acquired authorization from powers above himself. The State police and Crime Department are to have final say in what goes, and while Gautam can give input, he is not the one calling the shots. The State has a vested interest in securing Shaan, and they will do it the way they think is right. Gautam felt that move brought him a step closer to losing his son, though that scenario cannot exist in any realm of possibility.

Not today. Not ever, he thinks defiantly.

The white van too is a dead end, with no matching prints or anything to suggest that it was ever used, aside from the traces of his son’s…

No. He cannot think of that. Needing something else to occupy his mind, he diverts his mind to the envelope that was just delivered to him. He takes it from the coffee table. It mustn’t be about formal business because there is no address on the front and the small sheet of paper inside has been packed in a hurry, crumpled at the edges. The letter is handwritten in cursive, so he has to squint to read as he holds it in both hands.

 

MALABAR HILL POST OFFICE

DARK JACKET, RED CAP

MONEY FOR YOUR SON

COME ALONE. 8 P.M.

 

The back of his neck tingles.

*

ADIL watches from the far end of the mansion as his distant sahib reads the letter. Now he has done his part.

Adil wastes no time in removing himself from the premises. With kind goodbyes to and from Shakuntala, he slips out the back door and out the gates, out of the premises, safely.

The voices congratulate him on a job well done, and commend him on his staunch loyalty.

*

GAUTAM bursts into the kitchen, giving Shakuntala a nasty fright.

“Shakuntala!” he says, chest heaving. “Where did this letter come from?”

She looks at his eyes, which are large and penetrating. “It was lying here, on the platform. Someone must have signed for it, sahib,”she says, half from fright and half from obligation.

“Do you know who delivered it, Shakunatala?” he says hotly. “Think, did you see who?”

“No, sahib. I don’t know anything but it,” she replies instantly.

Shakuntala inquires many times about the problem, but her voices turns dull and distant in his ears. After things have processed, Gautam comes to the realization that he must compose himself. Immediately, he stuffs the letter into the pocket of his tweed coat, hoping no one else saw it in his mad dash to the kitchen.

“Sahib? What’s wrong? Is it about Shaan?”

“It’s nothing, Shakuntala.” His demeanor flips one-eighty, instantaneously calm, and he doesn’t know how he is managing that. He waves her off. “Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing.”

Hoping he buys it, he leaves the kitchen. His footsteps more certain and confident than he ever remembers them being, Gautam heads upstairs, trying his best not to seem suspect and avoiding the gaze of officers and everyone else on the way there. Nobody else is supposed to know about this. Gautam understands the importance of what he has been given. Once alone in his bedroom, he locks himself in. He takes out the letter to read again, and again, and again, absorbing line after line, letting the weight of each word sink in.

This is how his little champ comes home.

*

NAZNIN and GoodGuy187 step into the Subway outlet at Nariman Point.

They walk up to the cashier and GoodGuy187 says with a smile, “A hundred Veggie Delights, please.”

The cashier looks like he has been dead for some time. “Are you being serious?” he drones.

The two customers nod.

“It’ll take a while.”

Naznin and GoodGuy187 trill in unison, “We can wait.”

*

DIPAK zooms into the basement of the radio station building, parks, and leaps out to run double-time. Traffic was not favourable, and it took him longer than it usually would take to get here. He shoots through the building and heads straight for his boss’s office on the sixth floor.

Shoving the glass dors open, he careens into the room without announcing himself, finding Frederick at his desk, and two individuals he does not know seated across from him. A man and a woman, both in their fifties.

Dipak skids to a halt, closing the door behind him as the woman stands up, offering Dipak her hand. “I’m Shanti Arora from the Social Services Department,” she begins. “And this is my colleague–”

Dipak brushes past her, his face tight. “Freddy, I don’t see what couldn’t have waited till tonight. I’ve had to leave my daughter all alone at home.” It strikes him how incriminating this admission makes him sound in front of a social services representation.

But the woman barely seems to register his words. “We won’t take up much of your time,” Shanti says to him. Dipak gives her a stony look, which doesn’t seem to affect her the way he wants. “We just need a few things about the Caller beforehand. If he does call tonight, which is likely given his wont and pattern, we need to be prepared.” She is all business, no nonsense.

Dipak appreciates that she is willing to cut to the chase. “Well, what do you want to know?” Dipak crosses his arms and perches himself on the edge of a cabinet, looking and sounding gruff. His hair is unkempt, disheveled by the race here.

Shanti gives a cursory look at her colleague. “Well, all we know so far is that your mysterious caller is physically abused by his parents and has called your radio show, only yours, three Saturday nights in a row without fail. We think there is something more to it. There has to be a particular reason he calls just you.”

“I’ve thought about it,” Dipak says, running a hand down his face. “I know what you mean. But no, I do not know anybody like him and can find no connection between us.”

Shanti doesn’t look sold; she gives Frederick a pointed look over her shoulder before taking her seat again.

Dipak sighs. He wants to help this cause as much as he can, but he too is as in the dark regarding the Caller as they are.  “Look,” he says, uncrossing his arms and leaning off the cabinet. Just believe me, he thinks irritably. “You’ve listened to the recordings we’ve made. He calls the radio station, during the live midnight broadcasts, which leads us believe it’s the only time he is fee of his parents. Now, his parents don’t spare him in the least. If what he tells us is to be believed, they are brutal when they lay their hands on him. If he steps out of line, they beat him. If he forgets to do something he ought to have done, he gets a whipping. They have even tried to drown him once in a savage fit. Based on his voice he isn’t an adolescent, he’s definitely passed puberty, but based on the way he speaks, the language he uses, based on that we know he is very young. Our listeners have sent in thousands of complaints and enquiries. Some don’t believe the Caller is genuine. But you can hear the fear in his voice. He is scared for his life. We believe he is real. He could be anywhere in this city, and the only way we can find him is with your help.” Shanti slides to the edge of her seat, like she knows the responsibility she has and intends to see it through. Dipak continues, “He dodges every question I ask. The call lasts no longer than five minutes every time. We called you because we don’t have the means to find him. But you could help us trace the call and get him the help he needs.”

Shanti, who definitely looks like the one in charge, again gives a look to her silent colleague, and then to Frederick, and this time it is a slightly appeased one, though barely. She is taking Dipak’s word for it. As she should, Dipak thinks.

“Well, gentlemen, it looks like we have a difficult case on our hands.” She and her colleague get to their feet. This time when she sticks out her hand, Dipak accepts and shakes it. “When he calls tonight, Dipak, we need you to be very comforting.” Dipak tries to retort that he has been nothing but that to the Caller, but she continues before he can object. “You need to make him feel like he is not alone, and that if he discloses his location, we can make sure his parents don’t hurt him ever again. We have to put an end to his misery today.”

Dipak is struck by the rock-like conviction in her voice. He remains mum for the next couple of moments, as the others discuss the location-tracking arrangements and what will happen once they are successful in pinpointing the Caller’s location. Deepak waits, wringing his hands, too pressed for time, itching to leave. The Social Service representatives finally leave after minutes of discussions, mentioning to Freddy as they head out the door that they will remain in the building until Dipak’s midnight radio hour.

When it is just the two of them in his office, Freddy nods to Dipak firmly. “This ends tonight.”

“I agree,” Dipak says without missing a beat, opening the door. “But I’m sorry, Freddy. I’ve really got to go now.”

*

ASHNI picks out the balls of knotted hair that have gathered on the prickly brush, wiggling her nose. “You’re so hairy, Bear!”

Bear cranes his head around, offering his his round, brown eyes, and it almost looks like he is pouting. Like it is not his fault he is shedding so much hair. It’s what dogs do.

“Aww, Bear!” Ashni throws her arms around him, feeling a thrill in her chest as his paws wrap around her in return. She jostles the big animal in her embrace and he starts to lick her face like a lollipop again.

Aww, she thinks.

Not only is Bear so hairy, but he’s so wet too.

Deciding to have some fun, she pulls out a rubber ball from her stock of doggy supplies and hurls it across the living room. Bear takes off after the bouncing ball, darting at lightening speed to retrieve it. When he returns to put it back in her hand, the ball is covered in his saliva. They keep at this game until Bear drains out all his energy, refusing to chase after the ball one last time.

Bear pants at her, lowering his head and whining. Ashni thinks he looks hungry, which he can’t be for he only just ate ice cream. To test her theory, she waddles to the kitchen to refill his doggie bowl with some doggie biscuits. When Bear attacks his meal before she even steps back, she realizes her father is always right about these things. Bear will be a big responsibility, she remembers him saying. Ashni has so much to keep track of, so much to learn and discover about having a new pet, another living thing to look after. But she had not been more ready for anyting else in her life. It doesn’t feel like a responbility–no, to her, it feels like a priviledge to be able to care for an animal who needed a home.

Smiling, Ashni kneels beside Bear to run her hand down his long body–

–and jumps out of her skin when the doorbell rings through the house.

Automatically, Bear leaves his food-bowl half-finished and waddles out of the kitchen. He starts to scratch at the front door with his hard, sharp nails. Frantically, Ashni gets off her knees to bring him back.

“We can’t, Bear,” she whispes, trying to make him understand. “Daddy says not to.”

But Bear simply barks. She cannot tell if it’s an “I agree” bark or “Please open the door” bark. It has to be the latter, because Bear doesn’t stop barking.

Panicked, she tries to wrap her small hands around his wide mouth. “Shush!” she says.

“Ashni?”

The voice from the other side of the door at first frightens her, but when she recognizes it, she replies, “Niloufer?”

“Ashni, are you in there? I think I heard a dog!”

Ashni unlocks the door. Niloufer lives just a few doors down and is Ashni’s go-to babysitter. Her father could not have meant that answering the door even for her babysitter is forbidden.

Niloufer, a woman of her early twenties, takes one look at the beast-like animal and backpedals. “Ashni? Who is this?”

“This is Bear!” Ashni beams. “Daddy let me get a dog!”

“Because of the…” Niloufer seems reluctant to say it. “…monsters?”

Ashni nods.

“Oh Ashni, darling, I keep telling you, you don’t need a dog. The monsters aren’t real. Nothing’s under your bed. They’re just in your head.”

Ashni’s smile disappears in to a scowl. Bear bristles like he is offended, baring his teeth, his tail going stiff.

“They are too!” Ashni says, stamping her foot. “I know we’ve never seen them, but they only come when I’m all alone in my bed.”

Niloufer insists otherwise.

“I’ve got Bear now. They won’t come near me with him sleeping next to me.”

“Ashni…” The woman clearly wants to tell her something, but holds her tongue, shaking her head in dismay. “Okay, fine. Your daddy’s not home?”

“He’s out. He’ll be back any time now.”

“Oh, I keep telling him not to do this. It’s not safe to leave you alone.” Noloufer grimaces. “Well, I just got home and my mother told me your father’s been trying to get a hold of me. Do you want me to stay with you till he comes back?”

“No,” Ashni says bluntly, folding her arms. “I’m safe with Bear.”

Niloufer gives up, like she knows it’s pointless to argue with Ashni. It is, Ashni thinks.

She tells Ashni to be safe and walks back to her flat. Ashni waits to hear her neighbour’s door close four doors down. When it does, she closes her own door, and then remembers her other neighbor from across the hallway.

Uncle Ian knows how important a dog is. He will love Bear as much as Ashni does. He will surely give his stamp of approval.

Her little fingers clutched tightly around Bear’s collar, she wears her slippers and leads him out of the apartment. “Come, Bear.” She crosses the hallway with him and rings the doorbell with her free hand.

Uncle Ian doesn’t appear to be home. She feels all the more disappointed when she keeps ringing the bell for five minutes and nobody opens the door.

Her heart sinks. “Okay, Bear, let’s go back to your food,” she says sullenly. “We’ll meet Uncle Ian later. You’ll like him. He’s a good friend.”

At the mention of the word “friend”, Bear howls like a wolf at the moon.

Then he bolts down the hallway.

His collar rips out of Ashni’s grasp. The coarse leather on the underside scrapes her skin so hard she cries out. Her hand stings, blood rising to the surface, and she sucks at her bruised palm. She hears a bark and looks up, just in time to see a flash of a blond tail disappear around the corner of the stairwell.

Ashni pales.

“Bear!” She rushes for the stairwell and searches down, but her dog is nowhere to be seen. “Bear!” she call again, listening desperately to hear him answer back.

And after a long, bleak silence, he finally does; the stairwell echos faintly with a bark, telling her that Bear has travelled too far down. Maybe even all five stories.

Ashni glances back at her open front door for a moment, then turns back around.

“Wait, Bear!” she calls, hopping down two steps at a time. “Wait! I’m coming!”

*

END OF CHAPTER 9

© Amaan Khan, August, 30, 2018.

To continue reading Disconnect, head on over to Chapter 10.

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Glossary:

  1. bhai: meaning ‘brother’, a term of endearment or respect for a gentleman