How is everyone doing today?! And who’s ready for this week’s instalment? We’re officially halfway through the book! If you missed the Introduction to Disconnect: A Novel , the PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9, Chapter 10, or Chapter 11, do check them out before reading Chapter 12. 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 12 of Disconnect, my second novel, begins right below! Sound off in the comments! We’ve almost reached the end of this journey! Thank you for all your love, support, comments, and feedback! Love you all!

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CHAPTER 12 – 9 P.M.

YASHWANT doesn’t know what to think when, in the middle of the road, he sees a man vigorously criss-crossing his arms. He has never been flagged down by such an eager and desperate taker. Yashwant pulls to a stop on the surprisingly deserted road. The man tells to him to wait, for a moment racing off into the north gate of the famous park. Yashwant starts the meter in the meantime.

When his taker returns out of the gloom of the night, he isn’t alone: in his arms is the lifeless body of a man.

Breach Candy Hospital!” the taker demands, sliding into the back seat. “Hurry! He doesn’t have much time!”

Yashwant has never been one to panic in stressful situations, so instead he shuts down–unmoving, unthinking, unfeeling. When his taker realizes what has happened to Yashwant, he screams, repeating his destination twice as loud as before.

BREACH CANDY HOSPITAL!”

Yashwant gets frightened back into his wits. Emergency takers have sure come his way in the past, but the horrid sight of a dead man in his own ride is a first. Yashwant presumes him to be dead. All the blood and gore keeps him from concluding otherwise.

Without further delay, they rush. He is ordered to run past all the red lights they encounter and not to give a damn for any traffic police. This is an emergency. He is forbidden to lift his foot off the accelerator. It is a matter of life and death and every second matters.

Yashwant doesn’t need to be told twice now. Judging by the way his taker is fumbling to apply pressure on the dead man’s grisly wounds–like he is bent on trapping the life inside the man–and checking his pulse every few seconds, Yashwant knows time is not on their side. He abandons all the rules and races. However, as he makes constant glances in the rearview mirror, he is probed by an undeniable fact.

Yashwant has given a ride to this taker before.

He searches the rear-view for a red cap, but there doesn’t seem to be any within his sight. He shakes off the thought and drives on.

The strip leading up to the Emergency Room of Breach Candy Hospital is clear of any vehicles, conducive for Yashwant to make a swift stop, wheels screeching. His taker has already heaved the dead man onto a gurney that prepared ward boys come racing with. Before he can get out himself and make sense of all the commotion, people are being called for, medicines are ordered, and his taker disappears into the hospital with the dead man being rolled in. Yashwant is the only soul left outside the ER doors with his taxi.

Whining, he gets back into his ride, irritated for not having collected his fare. This has happened all too often when he is told to drive against the clock. In the panic and hurry, people forget to pay the cabbie who helped them, and the cabbie is often discouraged to go after his fare in light of the taker’s unfortunate emergency. In Yashwant’s case, he feels he will be pushing his luck by going after his taker, seeing as how he had double-takers earlier today and that he may have just helped save a man’s life. That should be a reward in and of itself.

Yashwant revs up his taxi and makes a u-turn to leave the hospital. Just before he zips out the hospital gates, a ward boy races out of the Emergency Room, and Yashwant slows as he draws up to his window. The boy hands Yashwant a hundred rupee note–twice his fare amount–and returns inside.

“Waheguru!” he sings in awe. “You haven’t left my side all day!”

*

GAUTAM is told that the only Operating Theatre available is OT3, and that has already been prepped for a scheduled angioplasty.

Clear it, Goddammit!

People are running to his every beck and call now.

The kidnapper is being transported upstairs in a gurney. He is being pumped with adrenaline and epinephrine by IVs through both his arms.

OT3 has been instructed to keep all sterilized equipment intact. The anesthesiologist of the angioplasty is confused by conflicting orders, but sends word that he is ready for Dr. Shah and the patient he has brought with him. The attending cardiothoracic surgeon demands an explanation for a halt in the smooth flow of his pre-surgery procedures, but when he learns that the order came from the senior attending surgeon Dr. Shah, he offers any help Gautam needs, putting his angioplasty on hold. Gautam tells him to stand by. He may need a heart and lung specialist. Gautam also asks for two top senior residents to be paged. In a matter of minutes, they meet him in the scrubbing room of OT3, where he is being dressed in a surgical gown, gloves, and a mouth-mask.

In the middle of the theatre, nurses stand at the ready, surrounding the unconscious kidnapper who has been laid out on the slab. The anesthesia gas mask is fixed to his face to make sure he remains under. Blood bags are being prepared for transfusion. The heart monitor behind the nurses beeps intermittently. The heart is at a weak 43 beats per minute, and threatens to plummet. When Gautam steps into the theatre, the nurses hold up defibrillator paddles for his discretion, but Gautam waves them away.

It is not going to come to that.

Gautam and his resident doctors assess the damage. Animal bite and claw marks always paint a messy picture of what doctors have to deal with. There is massive exsanguination and internal hemorrhage. No vital organs have been punctured, save for a minor tear in the stomach, from which contents have spilled out. Shattered snippets of bone infest every gash. The jugular vein and femoral artery escaped untouched, which is the only reason why the kidnapper is still alive. The flesh on the right forearm has been ripped out completely, encrusted with something white, but the bleeding there appears to have stopped. The bullet wound just beneath the left shoulder is not threatening, though since there is no bullet still lodged inside, it was most likely removed by the kidnapper, and that worsens the overall harm. Risk of sepsis is really high.

The kidnapper is going to be disfigured for the rest of his life. Gautam knows he will have a future.

“He will not die,” Gautam groans roughly. His emotions are so strong it is a surprise the words don’t get caught on their way out. He sets his jaw. Not today.”

When he says it, it sounds simultaneously like a prophecy and a warning. He had not spoken since he stepped into the OT. He is not looking at anybody but his patient, though he can feel everyone’s eyes on him. He can sense it on everyone around him; that they are all speculating at the sequence of events that led him from grieving his kidnapped son at home to this OT, having brought in a stranger who is on the verge of departing this world. But now that he has finally spoken, the silence is the room grows deeper; everyone is more stunned than before by what Gautam intends to do. What the patient needs is a miracle, not doctors. Gautam knows this. But he won’t accept it.

I am the miracle, he thinks.

Gautam steps up to the slab and gnashes his teeth. “Towels,” he says through them.

The nurses hand the doctors towel upon towel, which are in turn stuffed into the open parts of the unconscious man’s body. All the rogue blood is soaked rapidly by the absorbent material.

Then, Gautam and his residents begin to stitch.

*

ASHNI collects Bear in her arms once she sees him stir a bit. She thought she lost him for good, but it feels amazing to see him awake again, though he doesn’t look as strong as before. His eyes look droopy, his mouth lopsided. His heroic feat has certainly taken a toll on his health. The paramedic who tended to him is not an animal veterinarian, but he tried his best to revive her pet. The bullet that jammed into the buckle of Bear’s collar had pushed up hard against his neck, cutting off his blood flow and making him lose consciousness. All he needed was the right kind of stimulation, at the right nerves.

Ashni lets Bear rest back against the cot and jumps out of the back of the ambulance.

“Thank you,” she says to the paramedic, hugging him by the legs. The paramedic says he is happy to have treated Bear for her.

Ashni turns back to her pet, who starts to whine. Bear’s mobility is stunted. His paws are too heavy for him to lift. She goes and sits beside him on the cot. He tries to lick her face, but his limp tongue does not extend more than an inch out his mouth.

“Oh, Bear,” Ashni sighs, patting his head. She prays for him to get back to normal. “I promise I’ll never leave you again. We’ll be together always.” From the faint wag of his tail, she can tell he likes the idea.

Ashni only wishes that Rahul did not have to pay the ultimate price. She will never forget him. Never. She is a small child who fears monsters, but she does not expect adults to match up to them either. Rahul tried negotiating with the monster; she didn’t run away completely, like Rahul told her to, but instead watched them hiding amongst the bushes some distance away. She couldn’t have just gone never to turn back again. She won’t forget Rahul’s dimming eyes as she knelt crying beside him after he was shot, as though a light inside them was being extinguished. Her heart squeezes in grief at the memory of it. Alas, no one is safe from monsters.

While they sit in the ambulance, Bear gadually drifts off again. She begins to skim his long body to make him feel better, to know she is contributing something to his recuperation. After all, he nearly killed the monster for her. Ashni owes Bear the world. His body rises and falls under her hand to the rhythm of his breathing. She thinks she can actually feel him gaining strength with every new breath.

A few minutes later, Ashni notices someone walk out of the park’s south gates. It is the man who renewed her life when he informed her that Bear was not really dead like she thought, but still very much alive. She recalls his name.

“Inspector Kapadia,” she calls.

“Ashni.” He comes to stand at the ambulance doors, shoving his hands into his pockets, smiling warmly. “How are you holding up?”

“Fine,” she says mildly. “Bear is catching up on his sleep.”

The Inspector reaches out to give a light rub between the dog’s eyes. “A hero’s sleep,” he points out.

Ashni enjoys that notion. “What happened to the monster? Did you catch him?”

“Yes, we caught him. But he’s hurt very bad,” the Inspector says grimly.

But Ashni couldn’t be happier; she grins happily. The hurt monster will stand as a reminder to the rest of them. They are sure to steer clear of Ashni and Bear henceforth.

Bear has lived up to his namesake, and it is all she has ever wanted.

*

DIPAK melts with relief when he sees his daughter. “Ashni!” He piles out of the police jeep that has brought him to Priyadarshani Park before it has even rolled to a complete stop, pumping his arms and legs to race to her.

His daughter looks over the shoulder of the man she is talking with, and her face lights up. Before she can climb out of the ambulance, he hurtles toward her and scoops her up. To have her wrapped in his arms after he thought he may have lost her for good is indescribable. He kisses her forehead, her cheeks, her hair.

“How are you, sweety? Are you hurt?” he says, faming her small face in his hands.

“No, daddy, I’m fine,” she trills.

“I told you not to ever answer the door.” His voice shakes from relief and a pinch of hysteria. He knows he should not be reprimanding her, but he cannot help it. “What were you thinking? Do you know how scared I was?”

Ashni looks repentant nonetheless. “I know, daddy. I’m sorry. It was Niloufer and I thought it was fine. But then I tried to make Bear meet Uncle Ian and he just ran away. I had to go after him, daddy. I couldn’t let him go. I didn’t want you to be angry with me, daddy. I’m sorry.”

Dipak plants another kiss on her brow and skims his hands over her head multiple times, holding her to his chest, almost as if to confirm that she is safe and physically present with him and that he is not just imagining this moment. Over her shoulder, he notices the animal dozing on the ambulance cot. There is an oxygen mask, one meant for humans, affixed to his long nose. He pants hard.

“Is he hurt?” Dipak says.

“No, daddy, he’s fine!” Ashni pulls back, standing in the ambulance, so their faces are leveled, and launches into a story Dipak can’t begin to believe. About the dog springing out of nowhere and battling monsters and how he was shot, but not really. It must be a yarn. “…and he fought the monster so well, daddy! You should have seen him. He didn’t let go of the monster till he had won. He was like a real Bear. He was so brave. Bear saved me from the monsters, like I told you he would!”

Dipak is hit by a cocktail of mixed emotions. He does know what he should be feeling, so he feels a many number of things at the same time. The pet he never wanted saved Dipak from losing the only person that he is living for. A pet he never would have agreed to if it wasn’t for that chance meeting in an ice cream parlour. Bear came to Ashni’s rescue, in the most unlikely circumstance where she was nearly shot, an altercation she was just unfortunate enough to walk into. He could never comprehend what something like that means. He doesn’t have a name for it–kismet, providence, random chance, an instance of divine intervention. But whatever its name is, he wants to give his eternal gratitude to it. Ashni is safe. She is alive and well.

Dipak wants to cry even more.

“He’s sleeping a hero’s sleep now, daddy.” Ashni sings, glancing at her pet, and then addresses the man beside them, “Right, Inspector?”

“That’s right, Ashni.”

As the two men shake hands, a fleeting sense of recognition passes between them. The Inspector is modest when Dipak expresses his gratitude for ensuring Ashni’s safety. Kapadia says he only doing his job, and besides, Bear is really the one to thank. Then the Inspector excuses himself. Dipak keeps his eyes on the man till he vanishes into the park.

That gait clicks with Dipak. He can’t recall where from.

“I love you,” Ashni coos into his ear, as she leans into him to hug him. He turns to her, smiling, slipping an arm around her waist. Remembering why he always gives her the best of everything. They say those three words to each other every single day, and he was beginning to think today was going to be the first day that they didn’t. And Ashni never fails to say it with that adorable, child-like lilt–she takes after her mother in that way–and Dipak loses himself, like he always does, in that fleeting glimpse of the woman he loved. “You know, you saved Bear today, too? You said we should get him that collar, remember? I love you for that, daddy. I love you so so much.”

*

BAHAR cozies up into her sectional couch, watching Hafeeza go about the kitchen. Now that they have walked into Bahar’s flat, the woman undoes the veil of her dress to uncover her face. “Are you sure you don’t need some help?” Bahar says.

“I’m sure,” Hafeeza calls back. “Besides, I wouldn’t dream of you doing anything right now. Doctor’s orders.”

“You seem to know your way around,” Bahar comments.

“All kitchens are essentially the same. What one needs, one always finds close at hand.”

Bahar hugs a cushion, lounging after a long tiring day. She wishes she had the energy to get up and make the tea, but her guest seems more than happy for the role reversal. It fees like she has just run a marathon three times over and now her head and gut are paying the price. But seven months more of this sort of giddiness sounds absolutely exhilarating.

Oh my God.

The possibility of birthing her own child is something she thought she lost a long time ago. She doesn’t know how she could have been so blind. She had buried her heartbreak so deep that she wasn’t listening to her body as it tried to tell her it had mended itself. It was because she was convinced it was not possible, or at least she was told so. By so many doctors. And so, her mind instantly latched on to the next most likely offender, namely food poisoning, to help explain the sudden shift in the dynamics of her health. She wouldn’t have thought it was pregnancy in a million years. Today, she is beginning a new phase of her life, the one she thought had been cruelly taken away from her. But now, she is destined for motherhood and the journey to come is going to be life-affirming.

As she waits, she takes the time to compose an email to Reshma. She does not apologize, merely typing “I cannot meet the deadline”, and sends it. Now, her career takes a back seat. And it will remain there forever.

Hafeeza returns to the living room with the teas in a tray. “While I was in there I came across some coffee,” she says pointedly, sitting down on the armchair facing Bahar.

“I know,” Bahar wrinkles her nose. “I will have to say goodbye to it for a while.”

“That and many things, dear.” Hafeeza looks around the flat. “Aren’t you feeling a bit stuffy? Are you sure you don’t want me to open your windows?”

“NO!–I mean, no. It’s fine.”

Hafeeza gives a light laugh. “Ok, dear.”

She looks old enough to be Bahar’s mother, and perhaps that is why she cannot help but see Hafeeza as this strong motherly figure. She is probably filled to the brim with advice that Bahar could use.

“You have children?” Bahar sips at her tea.

“A daughter,” Hafeeza lifts her head up, chest puffing out. “She’s sixteen.”

“I’ve always wanted a daughter,” Bahar muses. “My husband always longed for a son. But now with this surprise.” She places her hand on her belly. It is flat now, but it will grow in the weeks to come. “All I want is a healthy baby.”

Hafeeza giggles. “I remember, when I fell pregnant, my husband was so thrilled to be starting a family. He wanted a daughter, and I a son. But in the end, when you see those pure eyes staring back at you, holding that small healthy infant in your arms, you don’t care anymore about all that. You just want it to be happy.”

Bahar feels the same way. “Happy,” she echoes.

The word is left to hang in the air for a while.

The sound of footsteps shuffle outside the front door, and keys begin to jingle. Hafeeza moves to get up, but Bahar tells her not to trouble herself. The door lock clicks, and Jashan enters the flat.

He hesitates when he sees they have company.

Jashan smiles warmly, shutting the door behind him. “Oh, hello, aunty.”

“Hello, beta,” Hafeeza says.

Jashan takes one look at Bahar and frowns, noticing how his sister looks pale and exhausted. She enlightens him. “I had a small accident today. Aunty was kind enough to take me to the hospital. And bring me back home.”

Jashan gasps. “Accident! What happened, didi? You don’t look fine. Why didn’t you call me, or Sahil jiju?” He sits next to her on the couch, going shrill. “Tell me what’s wrong!”

Bahar stifles a laugh.

Jashan draws back. “What’s funny about this?” He looks to Hafeeza, who also covers her mouth to disguise a smile.

Bahar’s eyes slowly travel around Jashan’s face. “You know, you’re going to make a wonderful uncle.”

Jashan’s frown deepens. He pulls back further from her, eyebrows screwed together. Then, it dawns on him. “Oh!” he says. “You and Sahil jiju have finally decided to adopt?” Then he is wears a conflicted look again. “But… what about your accident? Didn’t you say you went to the hospital? Oh God, I think I’m losing my mind.” He rubs his hands down his face.

“Let me put it this way,” Bahar says, a hand on his shoulder to calm him. “In about seven months time, we’ll be rushing back to the hospital again, and there’ll be a baby coming back with us.”

Jashan’s jaw falls to the floor. He lunges for his sister, hooking her in a tight embrace. Much to everyone’s surprise–perhaps including Jashan’s–he then gets up and hugs Hafeeza as well, unable to contain his excitement. Hafeeza seems so happy for them she doesn’t let go till Jashan does.

“Oh, I’m going to spoil my nephew!” he finally says, bouncing on his feet. “Or niece. He or she is going to be a brat. And to think of all those nitwits who said it would never happen.”

Jashan seems to ecstatic tha he drifts into a state of disbelief.

The women sip at their teas and chat among themselves until Jashan can properly wrap his mind around the news. Hafeeza gives Bahar pregnancy tips and other tricks that can fight her morning sickness. When Jashan finally sinks into an armchair, a dreamy smile stretching across his face, she directs her questions towards him.

“Hey,” she says. “How’d your orientation go?”

“Hmm, what?” He stares blankly at her. “Oh that. Yeah, my orientation. Umm… it was… eventful.”

“Eventful?” Bahar repeats.

“Well, what do you want me to say?” Jashan squirms a bit. “Okay, then. It was… informative. That’s better right?”

Before Bahar can ask why he is being so oddly combative, Hafeeza reminds her of her doctor’s advice. Bahar gives Jashan a needy look. “McDonald’s?” she says.

He laughs. “Your craving something, aren’t you?”

“Last night it was all about the spice,” she says mournfully. “Now I want some crispy fries!”

Jashan takes her order and goes into the next room to place it on the phone. Hafeeza politely declines an invitation to dinner. It’s getting late, and she should be taking her leave. With their little escapade, there isn’t any food prepared for her own family. They exchange phone numbers, something Hafeeza initiated, and something Bahar was hoping for. What she did for Bahar cannot be repaid with just tea and biscuits, which Hafeeza herself put together.

I owe you so much, she thinks.

“Call me for anything,” Hafeeza says, slipping on her shoes at the door. “Pregnancy advice or otherwise.”

“I definitely will. I would love to catch up anytime.” Bahar gets up to escort her out. Hafeeza says it is not necessary, but pregnant-lady insists.

Bahar opens her front door, revealing, on the other side, a familiar face.

*

MAHINDER’s hand hovers over the doorbell. He didn’t expect to see these two women together still.

“You!” the women say in unison.

“Y-yes,” Mahinder says, remembering why he has come here. “I’m sorry to bother you… again… but…” He removes two paper slips from his pocket and offers them. “Please accept this.”

The women exchange a dubious look. The one in the burqa takes the coupons and she keeps one, passing on the second one. “What’s this for?”

“An apology, madam.” Mahinder joins his hands together in forgiveness, his smile wavering. “My new boss, Anil, wanted you to have these, since you had to leave without your refund. For any inconvenience caused, and he hopes you are well.” He directs his regards to the woman who had fainted. She looks better now, the colour has returned to her cheeks and she stands upright instead of slouching.

“These are your restaurant coupons,” the burqa lady says, studying them. “One-time use. No cap on the value?”

Mahinder nods. “Yes, madam.”

“But wait a minute,” the younger woman says. “Weren’t you fired?”

“Actually, they took me back. I mean, many complained about Vivian and the Head Office got involved. The new manager Anil put me back on the job. I have to visit all the people whom I troubled today. I’ve come to apologize.”

“I think I speak for the both of us when I say we accept your apology for the mix-up,” the younger woman says. “But we can’t accept your ex-boss for what he said. It was–”

“Was uncalled for, and unacceptable,” Mahinder says quickly. “And nobody stands by him. But Anil hopes you will forget the things Vivian said. And the blunder I created.”

They look at him without saying anything, their expressions unreadable. On the inside, Mahinder squirms anxiously. He wonders what they could be thinking.

The burqa lady is the first to speak. “It could have happened to anyone, your accident.”

“Did you hurt yourself?” asks the younger one.

“A scrape on the leg, madam, nothing more.” He brushes it off.

“You can tell your boss he has nothing to worry about. I’m sure he sent you to make these amends so that I wouldn’t write that review I threatened the restaurant with.” Mahinder nods subtly to confirm this. “But I suppose, in a way, we’ve forgotten that too.”

The burqa lady adds, “Next time, just be more careful. And be sure to report any… problems like this, before they snowball into something out of your control.”

Mahinder laughs nervously. He finds this hard to believe. This can’t be all there is to it.

Indirectly, he caused both these women some anguish. If it wasn’t for him, this one woman wouldn’t have landed up in the hospital, and this other woman wouldn’t have had to bear a racist attack. He feels he is being let off too easily. There must be something more to it, he thinks. But the women say they have forgiven him, and they do appear to be smiling down at him. Kind smiles. Honest smiles. Perhaps his own self-loathing is the problem. He needs to be able to forgive himself. His chest had been feeling too tight, as though it was trapped in a cage, but now he can breathe easier.

“I appreciate this so much, madam, madam,” he bows before them in revenrance. “My name is Mahinder. If you do find yourself using those coupons, please request me as your delivery boy. I promise that next time I will get you the correct order and in record time.”

They say they have no intention of ordering from Pizza Paradise any time soon.

Mahinder laughs along with them. He doesn’t blame them. If he could, he would keep clear of pizza too, maybe for the rest of his life. But he is back on the job. Incredibly, he has been given a third chance. For how long that will last, however, is anybody’s guess.

*

SR. INSPECTOR KAPADIA is biting his nails. He had quit that habit when he was an adolescent, but in this moment he can’t keep his fingers away from his mouth. After all, there is a body-bag at his feet. Usually there would be a chalk outline of the body, but this man died on grass. Kapadia wonders if he should have let the coroner take it away on the stretcher. He cannot see how he could be held responsible for the death, but it cudgels his mind, and he knows that one way or another, either by his delay or his ineptness, it is his fault.

It’s all my fault.

What troubles his further still, is that Rahul, the dead man, looks almost exactly like him. Befoe the deceased was zipped up in the body-bag, Kapadia closely studied his face. The similarities between them don’t seem to stop: close-cropped dark hair, dark brown eyes, low cheekbones, square jaw-lines, broad shoulders, six-feet tall, and the same shade of wheat-like complexion. They share so many features that Rahul could have been his brother. They are probably the same age too. If he had encountered Rahul anywhere in public, Kapadia is pretty sure he would have stopped and stared, unable and unwilling to believe his eyes, perhaps even approached Rahul. But that would never happen now; the man is dead.

Even though he is biting his nails, the dead body is also being a strange source of calmness, as if having it close to him lessens the seriousness of Kapadia’s mistakes. Perhaps if the body were taken away, the civilian’s death would feel more real, and perhaps the weight of it would finally crush Kapadia.

A pang of guilt makes his heart pound hard.

Did the kidnapper really have to take a life? What was he thinking? Was he trying to create a distraction so that he could get away? What was going on in that hate-addled mind of his? These are questions the answers to which Kapadia might never find either.

A few petty officers at the scene approach Kapadia to hand over a zip lock pouch of personal effects of the deceased. He digs into it. There are keys to a car, a wallet, a passport and a moleskin pocketbook. The passport will only remind him how much he resembles the dead man, so he doesn’t even touch it. It is the last item that interests him. Only the first few pages have been utilized, he learns as he leafs through the pages of the pocketbook. Expenses have been accounted for, followed by an essay spanning four pages. This small pocketbook is an odd place for something of this length to be written down. Intrigued, he skims through it, and after finding a bold use of words, decides to switch on his flashlight to read the entire length of it.

I’m getting married. There. I have to come straight to the point. The last time I was beating about the bush, and when I finally got to it, you ended up calling me a deviant. If you remember. But now, it’s the first thing out of my mouth, so that you know what this is about. Why I’m here. Why I’ve returned. Assuming, that is, that you even let me past the doorstep, into the house you snatched from over my head without the slightest hesitation.

His name is Thatcher and I just can’t imagine my life without him. But I will spare you from this kind of talk because I know you will not tolerate it. About how everyone deserves to be loved for who they are, and to love who they want. You find it repulsive. But I cannot blame you for that. I too hated myself for a very long time. I couldn’t accept who I was, just like you couldn’t. But I learnt to. I don’t expect the same from you.

I cannot find the right word for it. It isn’t closure that I want, or forgiveness, or acceptance. Honestly, when I got here, I had no idea what I wanted. I don’t expect anything from you. There was a time when I needed something from you. Love. Support. Money, even, when I was forced to fend for myself in a foreign country. I found that love you didn’t give me someplace else, in someone else. I found a home. So now I don’t want anything from you. I guess all I want is for you to know that I am still living a life, as the person you couldn’t accept. I guess all I want is to give you an understanding, to show you my side, because you didn’t let me defend myself the last time. If you want to hear what I have to say, then I will answer all your questions and let you in. I’ve been praying you will, not least because I want us to clear our conscience of anything that must have been said or done in hate and haste, but because you have a right to know me. I feel a filial duty. I have only one parent, and besides Thatcher, you’re all I’ve got.

Nine years is a very long time to stetch a strife. You must have hated me for leaving, for not telling you where I was going. I even understand that you may have not cared. It may have been a good riddance for you, to be free of a deviant son, so that you were saved from losing face, saved from society’s judgment. I knew how much posterity meant to you, and how it may have hurt you that you would never have it.

So you must tell me right now whether I am wasting my breath, or I’m worth your time, because I don’t want to overstay my welcome. You want me gone, just say the word and I’ll walk away never to return again. If you’ll have me, I’ll stay, and we can begin anew.

I cannot promise you anything, except that you can have a son again…”

The Inspector feels like he is heavily invading private matters. He should have stopped reading two lines into the essay. He doesn’t know what possessed him right now. Even though the writer is dead, he feels like he is in the wrong. He is astounded how just three short pages told him a man’s entire life history. Maybe Kapadia just wanted to better understand the man he so uncannily resembles, so he kept reading without stopping. But now he returns the pocketbook to the bag of personal effects, regretting his selfish action.

When he glances up, he sees the bane of his day, his ACP, climb out of a police van that has driven into the park. The man stalks right toward him, lifting and bending under the DO NOT CROSS police tape which cordons off the crime scene from the public. Random onlookers stand shoulder to shoulder, trying to get a sense of what is going on.

A man is dead, because of my stupidity, Kapadia thinks bitterly. That is what is going on.

The ACP approaches closer, stepping around blood spatter on the grass. Even in the dark of the night, or perhaps because of it, his mountain-like build looks threatening. But the Inspector is not intimidated in the least. He has to have a spine and defend his actions. He won’t play down the damage done, and he knows there will be hell to pay even though the ACP has been all bark and no bite the entire day.

But something is different about ACP Omkar. His eyes fix squarely on Kapadia, and the Inspector can see how the man appears to have aged in just a matter of hours. His expression is somber, his posture shrunk. This change is not an effect of the dark setting of the park, but of something internal, organic. Like something inside the ACP collapsed.

Finally, with his hands folded to the back, the ACP comes to stand in front of him. “You’ve proved me right,” he says dryly.

“Am I demoted?” Kapadia says without inflection.

“Even that does not seem like an adequate punishment. You put the doctor’s life in danger. And a man died today. Don’t bother taking responsibility. I already know you will tale it.” ACP Omkar glances at the body bag without feeling. “You could have died today,” he adds darkly as he looks up again and their eyes meet, his voice strained.

The Inspector wonders whether he sensed a pained emphasis on the word ‘you’.

Kapadia tries not to think too much about it. “We have the kidnapper,” he says firmly. “I have confirmation that Dr. Shah performed a citizen’s arrest–”

The ACP’s raises his hand; a stop sign. “Why don’t you keep running away? I tell you to stay close, and you disobey. I entrust you to stay with the Shahs while I go and handle the other missing case report, and you still take off.” His voice cracks. “Why is it so difficult for you? To be where I need you? I need to know where you are, at all times–” Abruptly, the ACP stops speaking. Not because he cannot continue, but because it looks like something glitched in his head. He went off track a little, as though he hadn’t realized. Squeezing the bridge of his nose, he continues, business-like again. “When the kidnapper dies, it will be you who explains to the doctor’s wife why her husband and the Senior Inspector on the case had abandoned her when the exchange was to take place in an hour’s time, and why she will never see her son again.”

Silence fills the absence of words, as they glare at each other, until the ACP finishes in his trademark impassive tone.

“I’ll be expecting you back at the doctor’s.”

With that, ACP Omkar wheels around and walks away. Inspector Kapadia doesn’t move from where he is standing, simply watches his ACP go wonderously.  This man was not himself for a moment, like his unfeeling mask slipped for a moment, and Kapadia got a glimpse of a kinder person underneath, someone who feels, someone who cares.

He has no idea what to think of it.

Petty officers approach the Inspector again, this time with a fresh update, but he cannot pay attention to what they have to say, for some reason. Their voices play in the background of his mind as he chews on the strange conversation he just had. He can hear the officers tell him something about the kidnapper, who is close to being pronounced dead, and the doctor has taken it upon himself to transfuse his own blood due to the blood bank’s lack of the units needed. Kapadia does not know what to think of it after the news penetrates his mind, other than a father’s desperation. He tells the petty offices inform the ACP of this as well before he leaves the park. They take off, calling to ACP Omkar and stalling him before he can cross the DO NOT CROSS tape and get back into the van to head off.

The Inspector wants to be at the hospital. And after that, he has to go back to the Shah residence like the ACP ordered. Before he can do any of that, however, he has to follow protocol. From the pouch of personal effects, he removes the deceased’s cell phone. The Inspector has never liked the position he is in now. Informing the family of their loss is always a grim duty. He can never find the right manner to deliver the blow. He redials the last number, which is of Rahul’s parent, steeling himself as he wanders a respectful distance away from the body.

He doesn’t know what to think when the ringing of the outgoing phone-call starts. There are two different ringing sounds he can hear. Two.

Two sources.

Both almost in sync.

One playing in his ears. And one nearby, in his close proximity.

This co-incidence is too jarring to ignore. Kapadia looks in the direction that the sound is originating from. He notices his ACP reach into his trouser pocket for his phone. He sees his ACP accept an incoming phone-call. He sees his ACP hold his phone to his ear.

And then the ACP says hello to Inspector Kapadia, and things slowly fall into place.

*

END OF CHAPTER 12

© Amaan Khan, September 20, 2018.

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Glossary:

  1. Waheguru: the way Sikhs address their Lord
  2. beta: meaning ‘son, or ‘little one’
  3. burqa: a veiled garment women wear to cover their face out of modesty