Hello, everyone! This is it! The finale is here! If you missed the Introduction to Disconnect: A Novel , the PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, or Chapter 13, do check them out before reading the Epilogue. Disconnect is fiction, comprised of a prologue, an epilogue, and 13 chapters. Every week, on every Thursday,  I have posted a chapter on the blog, non-stop, until the entire book is up. The Epilogue of Disconnect, my second novel, begins right below! It’s the final instalment of Disconnect! No more after this! The book is complete! Hope you’ve loved Disconnect! I’s been a crazy ride for 15 weeks. Thank you so much for sticking with the book all the way through! It means more to me than you can know! Next week, we will recap and discuss the book and all that jazz. As always, Happy Reading! And thank you! Love you all!

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EPILOGUE: 12 A.M.

SHAAN flies into Shakuntala’s embrace as she opens her arms for him. She holds him like he is her son, as she always has considered him. She has seen him grow up, helped raise him since he was born, after all.

“My sweet boy,” she says, kissing his hair lightly, just where his bandages are wrapped. “I knew our prayers would be answered.”

There is plenty of love and relief to go around. Shaan hops onto a stool around the kitchen platform as Shakuntala releases him. His mother looks on, and then winks at him. He blushes. Then she gets off her stool and opens the freezer. From it, she removes a tub of ice-cream. Shaan’s face lights up.

“Chocolate-chip!” he cheers.

“Your favourite,” his mother says. “And it’s all for you.”

She peels the lid off and sets the tub and a spoon in front of Shaan. Licking his lips, Shaan scoops out spoonfuls and shovels them into his mouth as fast as he can, as though the ice-cream could disappear anytime.

When Shaan is halfway through the tub, he notices he has an audience. The two women are watching him from acros the platform, chins resting on their hands, grinning. His mother reaches out to wipe the milky brown mustache from above his lips and then pecks his forehead, holding his face between her soft hands.

“I love you,” she says softly, and kisses him intently again, on the cheek.

When the back door in the kitchen opens, the trio whips around. Shaan beams, jumping off his stool and breezing past the two women, into the arms of his father. This is what he has been waiting for the entire day.

“Papa!”

Now, Shaan is really home.

*

GAUTAM bends to scoop up his little champ. He was beginning to forget the smell of his clothes and the sound of his voice. As soon as Gautam folds his son into his arms, he bursts into tears.

Gautam will never be able to let go, not when this yet feels like an illusion, like a dream, which he fears waking from. “I’m sorry,” he cries into Shaan’s ear. His legs tremble. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you, champ. I’m sorry for letting them take you.”

“I missed you, papa,” Shaan says back into his ear.

“I missed you too, champ,” Gautam says, choked.

To Gautam’s surprise, Shaan same-pinches him for their matching head wounds. Remarkable, he thinks. His little champ is quickly forgetting what happened today, which is definitely for the best. Children have always been resilient, he thinks.

Gautam sets him down, and Shaan takes him by the hand, walking him over the kitchen platform to show him a half-eaten tub of ice cream. His wife and Shakuntala smile warmly.

“Mummy got me this,” Shaan says, before feeding his father a spoonful.

Payal joins their side and hugs Gautam tightly, saying more by it than any words she could use. Gautam can tell that not only has his son returned, but so has his wife, having shaken off that cold, different woman who was controlling her. The day began with her repelling his touch, with her blaming him, then blaming herself; but it ends with them being whole again. The three of them. The family he can’t be more grateful for. What they are going to do is forget what happened, erase it from their memories and try to move on. It is the only thing they can do now, and there is no reason to dwell on the past. With a lesson learned, all they can hope to be is more vigilant and careful from now on.

For the first time today, Gautam can see what the future holds for him and his family, the fog having lifted, having cleared.

He likes what he can see.

*

ASHNI hears keys jingling in the hallway outside, even over the loud volume of the T.V. She’s been waiting for it, keeping her ears peeled for the moment. She gets up from the couch and Bear launches off too, following her like he knows he should, tail wagging.

“Where are you going?” Niloufer asks from the couch. She mutes the T.V for an answer.

Ashni, without looking back, says, “Uncle Ian is home.”

She opens her front door, revealing Uncle Ian, who is trying to unlock his own across the hallway. He hears her and turns.

“Ashni,” he grunts, and then notices the enormous hound beside her. “You got your father to say yes.” His tone is impassive, just like his expression, like he is just making a rudimentary observation.

Ashni frowns. “Don’t you like him, Uncle Ian? His name is Bear.”

Uncle Ian snorts. He is in a grumpy mood, she thinks. But then, when isn’t he? Ashni has never really seen him happy or smiling, always looking bitter and annoyed at something or the other; like he hates people, especially his neighbours. Like he hates dealing with everything and everybody. Ashni, being a child, somehow found herself in his good books–or so she believes is the case. He has never said or done anything suggest otherwise.

“Yes,” Uncle Ian says blandly. “He’s big.”

That’s it? Ashni wants him to say more than just point out obvious facts. He wants his stamp of approval, some compliments, anything. Before she can weasel anything else out of him, he unlocks his front door and starts to step inside, disappearing into his flat. Bear looks at her with puppy-dog eyes and whines piteously.

She splutters, “But-but, Uncle Ian wait… !”

Stupid girl!” the man roars, whipping around fiercely. Ashni jumps. Finally there is an emotion lacing his words: anger. He snarls at her. “I’ve told you to stop calling me that! My name is Vivian!”

Bear bristles, but Uncle Ian slams the door on their faces anyway.

Ashni’s heart sinks. No one really seems to care for her and Bear. She looks downat him and his long face, sad eyes, his tongue lolling out, drooling all over the floor. She has never seen anything cuter, anything worth falling head over heels for. Why isn’t anyone else seeing what she sees?

“It’s okay,” she says, patting his head. “We have each other.”

The moment Bear barks, her heart soars again.

Ashni closes her front door. They return to the living room where Niloufer has just hung up a phone call.

“Who was it?” Ashni asks.

“Your father. He was just checking on us.”

“But he never does that,” Ashni says wonderingly.

“With all that happened today, he has good reason to,” Niloufer says pointedly. “Do you know how much he loves you?”

Ashni has a living, breathing reminder of the fact. She settles on the sofa beside Niloufer, allowing Bear to spread himself over her legs. “I do,” she says, rubbing his long body. Her father loves her a lot, but she loves him twice as much.

*

BAHAR reads the email that has just popped up on her phone. Reshma managed to fill in her vacant spot with an interactive questionnaire on gastronomy. Bahar doesn’t feel relieved, or anything, on reading the news. It somehow does not seem important to her now. Her job, or anything for that matter, cannot carry more importance than the news that turned her life around today.

     Jashan has turned in for the night, she learns as she walks past his bedroom.

Her stomach rumbles as she does, spiking her cravings. She wants left-over French fries at this moment, so she heads for her kitchen. But then the doorbell sounds, and she makes a diversion reluctantly.

     Sahil cannot wait to gather her in his arms. They stand together on the doorstep, as one, for a very, very long time; his hand at the back of her head, her face buried in his shoulder, his nose in her hair, her fingers in his. This rollercoaster of a day has closed its books, and she finally feels like she has someone to lean on.

Sahil feels like a rock.

“How was your first day?” she whispers.

“It was madness,” he says, pulling in a hard, shaky breath.

In the living room, they sidle up beside each other on the sectional couch. It is dark, but neither of them thinks to switch on the lights. Sahil slides a hand against her stomach.

“Are you sure?” he says with bated breath.

Slowly, Bahar nods.

It is far too early for the fetus to be moving, but they still sit in that position and don’t move. Sahil’s eyes shimmer. With hope, Bahar thinks. They show every sign that things will be all right. They are people whose lives are back on track. She is sure he sees the same thing in her eyes, because he can’t stop looking longingly into them. No more running away or hiding behind excuses or pretending like nothing is wrong. Everything is just as it should be.

Bahar and Sahil let the feeling completely engulf them; a deep sense of fulfillment making them lean in into one another.

They are on the cusp of parenthood.

“We’re us again,” Bahar whispers against his cheek, tears rolling down her face.

Sahil’s own tears roll down his face too as he nods, and their lips find their way to each other.

*

NAZNIN has been ten steps ahead of her mother ever since they left the taxi that brought them to the hospital, because she has to see it with her own eyes before she can believe even a word of it. What her mother told her cannot be true.

She tells the first police officers they encounter who they are, and they escort her and her mother to a hospital recovery room. Naznin storms in before the door is even opened.

Resting on a hospital bed is her father, his arms and legs encased in plaster and propped up on supports. He is heavily bandaged on every possible part of his broken and bent body, looking like he is hanging by a thread. The look on his face is an equal mix of shame, pain, and fear.

Naznin and her mother rush to his side.

“Naznin?” he squeals, staring at her like he doesn’t recognize her.

No, Naznin cried inwardly, her heart clenching. This is not how Naznin imagined the moment. He was supposed to be up on his feet, having come home from work, exhausted by all of his parental and spousal duties, only to be welcomed with the sight of his blessed daughter, who has finally embraced what she has been running away from.

Now, this moment, feels wrong.

“Alhamdolillah!” he wheezes, unable to tear his eyes away from her burqa.

“Abba,” she splutters. “Is what they say true? Did you do all those things?”

His nod is weak, but he does nod, and she can see how much it hurts him to do it, to confirm it. He looks so frightened that it radiates from him like heat, and she begins to absorb it–frightened of what this might mean, of what their futures hold.

“Ismaeel mia,” her mother bawls, her features creased in worry. “What is all this about? They say you kidnapped and killed somebody.”

“I’m sorry,” he says weakly. “I’ve done things I haven’t told you about.”

“What things, Abba? None of this is making any sense to me.”

“Things I am not proud of, Naznin. Things that will make you ashamed of me.”

By no stretch of the imagination will Naznin ever be able to believe this confession, not even one from his own mouth. “No, Abba!”

“I’ve used people, I’ve blackmailed them,”his voice creaks. “I’ve done terrible things that I never thought I would do. But we needed the money, Hafeeza. I didn’t know how to tell you I was fired last month. There was no other way…” He looks away in an attempt to hide his face, but Naznin can see the tears leave his eyes. “There was no other way…”

Naznin looks at the man whose days to come will be spent being incarcerated. It feels destructive, on what is supposed to be the best day of her life; her small, happy life that she was content with and that she was just beginning to understand. She could never grasp why or how this could be. She slips one hand into her mother’s and her other hand between her father’s frail fingers, and clutches onto them with an iron hold. She needs all the strength she can get now. They all do.

Naznin dreads the moment she will have to let go.

*

MAHINDER is having a hard time balancing as he rides his motorcycle. A towering pile of pizza boxes is stacked on the back of it. It makes him teeter, both literally and figuratively, on the verge of having two accidents in one day. This one would be his fault entirely.

He briefly considers stopping, before he topples, but he quickly finds what he is looking for. He parks at the side of the street, dismounts, and carries ten of the boxes across the road.

“Free pizza!” he shouts.

A group of homeless people sleeping on the pavement wakes to his voice. They rise and take him up on the offer. Only, they don’t do it nicely. They nearly charge him in a stampede. He assures them that there is enough to go around and that they need not get rough and claw at him like bears. But Mahinder knows he probably deserves what is happening. This is how he must repay for the fiasco he caused today. And he has a strange feeling that this is only the beginning.

The group soon disperses, having relieved him of all but one box. He grunts, calling them back, “Hey, you forgot this! Take this one, too!”

But they either don’t hear him or don’t want any more.

Grumbling to himself, he gets moving again, in search of somebody who can relieve him of this last godforsaken pizza box. He has no clue how he will tolerate the sight of these boxes after today. He wanted the job. He got the job.

Now I have to live with it, he thinks.

*

SR. INSPECTOR KAPADIA rings the doorbell and gets invited inside the flat. Respectfully, he takes off his shoes and walks into the living room. The house is clean and in good order, everything having its place, not one unnecessary object anywhere, no piece of furniture out of line. Exactly what he was expecting.

His ACP is a no-nonsense person, after all.

Kapadia sets the duffel bag of money, that he retrieved from the park shed, on the floor, and takes the seat he is offered. ACP Omkar drops into a large armchair close to the Inspector, but inclined, so that he is not directly facing his subordinate. Even without a clear view of his face, Kapadia can see that the ACP has been mourning, and from the sound of his creaking voice when he speaks, it is clear something inside him has shattered.

“What brings you here?”

As Inspector Kapadia’s eyes sweep the living area, he notices the photographs that hang on all the walls. It feels eerie to see the youthful face of the man who died today plastered all around him, full of such life and happy smiles. “I… I wanted to check…” To check on the ACP, see how he is coping, is what Kapadia fails to say.

The ACP leans back, following the Inspector’s gaze.

After a minute, Kapadia says, “He was your–”

“Son, yes. He… was.” The man closes his eyes.

Suddenly, a phone begins to ring, crying through the house. Kapadia spots it on the dining table behind them. It’s the one he used in the park. It belonged to the deceased… to the ACP’s son, who met his end because he was being a Good Samaritan.

Rahul.

“Someone’s been calling since an hour now.” The ACP says, keeping his eyes closed. “Thatcher. Must be a friend. I haven’t been able to answer it.” Then, unexpectedly, the ACP turns toward Kapadia, and their eyes meet. “Do you have children, Inspector?”

This is the second time someone has asked him this question today, but when earlier it had hurt an empty space in his heart, now there is no void there to ache with pain. “No,” he says.  “But… my wife… we’re expecting.”

The cell-phone stops ringing.

“You start to have these expectations from them, your children.” The man sounds thoughtful, looks as thought perhaps speaking from experience–an experience that didn’t end well. “And you are never really prepared when there comes a time for them to change, which they inevitably do. They always do. And I never was ready.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.” Inspector Kapadia meant to say this sooner, and wonders why he waited till now. But those words feel so inadequate as well. What else can he say? “I can’t imagine what you must be going–”

The ACP cuts him off abruptly. “Will you love your child, Inspector? Once he or she is born, will you really, truly do all the things it takes to keep them happy?”

He wonders what kind of question that is. “Yes,” he says firmly.

Kapadia can’t bring himself to look away. Who is this new man? He wonders, staring at his ACP. This new man who preaches patient, and benevolence, and love? They seem so alien, in no way attributable to him.

“Then you must make a promise to yourself,” ACP Omkar says stiffly. “Do it now, because the sooner you do it, the more prepared you will be.”

Kapadia shrugs. “I… don’t understand.”

“Don’t try to change them, Inspector. Your son, you daughter. You must let them be who they are. Love everything about them because if you don’t, you will end up pushing them away. And that is when things get dark. When you may do things that cannot be undone. When you start having regrets.” The parental advice is coming out of nowhere, but Kapadia doesn’t dare blink incase he misses something important. He watches as ACP Omkar pushes up out of his armchair, slowly, painfully, like the death of his son has crunched the life out of every bone in his body. He walks to the closest wall of framed photographs and takes one of them off its hook. “He’ll never know how much I needed him back.”

Kapadia understands the sudden change in temperemanent and attitude of this man. Grief can do things like this to a person. It can take them to the brink of madness, and it can bring them back too.

In this instance, grief is giving the ACP crystal-clear clarity.

Kapadia reaches into his pocket, thinks for a second, and removes the pocketbook. “ACP?”

The man sniffs, taking the pocketbook silently after carefully replacing the photograph, and settles back down on the armchair. He runs his tough fingers over the spot on the first page where his son’s initials have been inscribed, probably in his own handwriting.

He pages through the rest, comes across the essay, and reads.

Inspector Kapadia gets up and withdraws, intending to take his leave without saying another word. He had done what he came to do. The man needs privacy now.

Kapadia is almost out of the living room when the ACP calls, “Inspector,” without turning, but it is clear that he is using the best of his ability to use an even tone. “I am sorry. You did not deserve to be treated like that. I should not have used you to satisfy my own personal needs. The Shahs did not deserve to have me compromise the investigation like that. I would not hold it against you if you were to abandon your post, file for a transfer, or lodge a complaint against me with the Department. However, I did promote you based on your merit as well. There is no doubt as to you capabilities. I am just sorry a selfish man like me crossed you path. I hope everyone can forgive me. I don’t know how I can forgive myself.” He falls silent, turning his attention back to the pocketbook. His hand shakes visibly when he puts it to his mouth as he reads the lines.

ACP Omkar kept Kapadia on a tight leash not because he doubted him, but because Kapadia reminded him so much of his son. Kapadia understands this too, and he forgives the man. In his heart, Kapadia forgives ACP Omkar.

Inspector Kapadia starts to slip on his shoes when something pungent stings his nostrils. He looks around and notices an unfinished glass of scotch on-the-rocks placed on the kitchen counter. He stares at it no longer than a second, realizing he missed it on the way in.

Without further delay, Kapadia leaves, closing the front door behind him, and pushing his back against it as his mind whirls.

It was a silent cry for help, what happened in there, and the ACP mustn’t have even been aware of it. He will not lodge a complaint against the man. It is the last thing he needs. ACP Omkar came this close to reuniting with his son, and then lost that chance forever is a freak stroke of bad luck. Neither will Kapadia abandon his post. If he does, the Inspector has a feeling that it wouldn’t be just his post that would be abandoned. What Kapadia will do, however, is reach out. He thinks he should help with arranging the last rites and cremation to start with.

But first, he needs a good night’s sleep. His wife must be staying up too, waiting for him to come back after leaving her to complete business for the day.

Sr. Inspector Kapadia pushes off the door and walks down the hallway, thinking of his child to be–considering it as one of the mysterious ways in which the universe works–his wife, his young brother-in-law, his long-deceased parents and long-deceased in-laws. It is the family that has been given a real chance to live the life they’ve always wanted.

*

ADIL lurches down another gully, one foot after another. Every step is an effort for him. At the end of it, where the pavement gives way to the stairs of the sky-walk, he decides to stop.

He could have been walking for hours or day; it’s hard to say which. He doesn’t realize until now that he has wandered quite far away from civilization. He thinks he knows where he is, as he looks around the area to confirm, but he can’t be sure. To his right, beyond a fence, are railway lines. They rumble when a local train arrives and comes to a gradual stop. He is at some station, somewhere in the metropolis. He climbs into the underside of the stairs, so that no one can see him, and sits, extending his arms over his bent knees.

It has been a long day.

He can smell food being cooked somewhere. Spices, and the smoke from cinders. The smell of gutters and rat droppings also wafts toward him. But he doesn’t have to put up with it for long. He won’t be staying here for long.

The lighting is dim here, but he can easily make out every vivid scar and cauterized wound on his forearm. They worm and stretch and wind. Each has a painful memory of its own, and he remembers clearly how he got all of them over the years. He rolls up his sleeves, pant legs, and lifts his shirt to take one last look at his punished body: cigarette burns, razor marks, singes, and welts from belt buckles, purple blemishes that streak across his otherwise dark skin. Every inch of his body is branded with some sort of injuries or another. He wonders how he has the stomach to see them now when he never has before. Over the past twelve months his own hands have inflicted some of these, but before that They were the ones who marked his body, ever since he was a child.

He reaches back and pulls out the revolver stowed behind his waistband, turning it over in his hands. All he knows is that pulling the trigger will release a bullet, and the chambers show there to be four. Three more than he needs.

He hears the train that stopped begin to rumble and pick up speed again. Soon it is gone, hurtling out of earshot, out of sight.

The sky is alive with a full moon, and a billion beautiful stars scattered in every direction. They wink at him, as if beckoning to him, inviting him over so they can talk. It is so quite now he feels he can just speak in a normal tone of voice and they will be able to catch every word leaving his lips. He wonders what they would have to say to him. Stories of all the happy lives they’ve seen people live out, maybe; tales of freedom, of never-ending joy.

He doesn’t know what any of that is like. But he will soon.

He places his phone on the ground before him, and waits for the right time.

*

DIPAK wears his headphones, sits down at his console panel, and gets to work. He cranks up the volume, flips this switch, pulls that lever, turns this dial, pushes that button, and the system hums o life, ready for the broadcast.

Frederick is in his ear, telling him he will be live in sixty seconds.

Irrationally, he can’t stop worrying for Ashni. But Niloufer is with her, he reminds himself. And there are officers standing guard in the building of his apartment because Dipak insisted and the police obliged–he wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. Though it isn’t likely, if anything should happen, she will be safe. He will never forget how she scared the life out of him.

Frederick says, “Three… two… one!”

The jingle plays for ten seconds, and Dipak takes his cue, leaning into the microphone.

“Your listening to your favourite radio station, 96.1 FM, and this is your host, Dipak Sharma.”

His voice is expressive, musical. Even as he says these words, he wonders from where, week after week, he summons this boisterous version of himself, and most of all today. It’s a curious thing.

“If you want a song to cure that insomnia, to celebrate that anniversary, or to just bring you out from that long-hard-week-at-work blues, you’ve come to the right place. I hope you guys are ready. We have two hours, and the time entirely dedicated to you.” A line lights up on the console. “And it looks like we have our first caller!” He connects the line to the ON-AIR link. “You’re up, caller. Tell us what we can do.”

Dipak loves every song request he gets. Some ask for romantic dedications, some for rock songs, one mother requests a birthday song for her six-year-old. Dipak has it all. Time flies as he reaches his fifth request of the session, a long-time listener but first-time caller, who has asked for a make-up song to apologize to his girlfriend. Dipak furnishes him with what he needs: Please forgive me by Brian Adams.

When the song ends, he wants this streak to keep going. Caller after caller, he wants more spirit, more rhythm, more groove, reminding him why he became a radio jockey with an infinite love for music in the first place.

A line lights up again on the console. “Caller, your connected,” he says in a sing-song like way into the mic. “Talk to me!”

“I’m happy.”

Dipak goes cold, his playful mood deserting him.

This is it.

In the gallery outside the broadcast room, the social workers, Shanti and her associate, and Frederick, appear. He sees them mime something to him through the glass wall.

Dipak hears his boss’s frantic voice in his ear, and sees his lips move. “We need everything you can get out of him.”

Dipak looks to the technician, the only other person in the broadcast room with him, whom he has acknowledged for the first time tonight. He is supposed to help trace the Caller’s location. And the man simply glares back at him, equally insistent using silence.

“Are you there?”

Dipak remembers that he can speak. “Y-yes,” he says, stuttering. “I c-can hear you.”

“I never thought I’d be happy, but I am, now.”

“W-why,” Dipak says, touching his temple with a shaky hand. “Why are you happy?”

“Because I’m free,” the Caller says plainly. “For the first time, in a long, long time, I’m not worried about anything. I know I’ll be fine.”

The trio in the gallery urge Dipak on. He feels he needed the prompt. “I’m glad to hear that. I’m happy… that you’re happy…” He gulps. Why does the Caller have to call him, and him only? “You know you haven’t told me your name. What is it?”

“I just called to let you know that I’ll be fine. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“What about your parents. Where are they?”

“They’re not here. They’re gone for now. But they can come back. Which is why I have to say bye before they do.”

“No wait, listen!” Dipak panics. “W-we can help you–give me a name before your parents find out.”

“They aren’t going to. Thank you for listening to me. I don’t really know why I call you, but I love the songs you play. And you were really nice to me. You listened. I liked it.”

“I like you too, so please don’t hang up. I like talking to you. You don’t have to worry about–”

“Aren’t you listening?” the Caller says, as though it is something obious. “I’m not worried anymore.”

The Caller’s sounds eerie, unnerving Dipak and leaving him tongue-tied. This declaration of happiness throws him off. The trio in the gallery grow even more frantic when Dipak goes silent. With urgent hand gestures, they compel him to try harder and speak before they lose the Caller who has not disconnected yet.

At first reluctant, but then finding a renewed sense of purpose, Dipak takes a deep breath and opens his mouth to speak.

At the same moment, a gunshot booms through his headphones.

The deafening sound makes Dipak shudder to his core. The entire floor of the radio station, which has been playing the live broadcast through speakers, roars with that tremendous sound. It echoes, and in a few seconds it dies down.

Shanti and her associate turn their backs to Dipak, burying their faces in their hands. Frederick looks dazed. The technician in the room has tears in his eyes.

No. Not possible. What Dipak heard could not possibly be what he thinks. It cannot be. Because if it is, that means the Caller just–

“Hello?” he says into the mic. His voice tears through his throat. “Hello… are you still there… Please… hello… ?”

The call is still connected, the line still lit up, but there is only silence on the Caller’s end. Dipak holds his head with one hand and clutches the microphone with the other. Vehement, he begs for a response, his voice going high screechy, refusing to accept that the Caller is not replying because he isn’t there anymore. But he has to accept it.

Dipak has failed. The Caller is gone and so is the responsibility Dipak resented being imposed with. All he ever did was complain about it, so why does he feel crushing guilt now that it’s over?

Dipak still begs fiercely into the microphone for a response, and eventually he realizes that someone is listening to him. Not just someone, but many people. The people who are tuned in. His audience. Millions upon millions of listeners all over the city, who have just witnessed the most horrific thing ever.

*

YASHWANT switches on the little blue incandescent bulb of his taxi, opens his tin money box, and counts his earnings of the day.

“One-thousand, nine hundred and seventy!”

He breaks into the balle-balle, in that cramped front seat. Soon enough, his taxi is rocking from side to side too.

Waheguru is pleased with him for some reason. What is it, Yashwant does not know, but he prays that Waheguru looks out for him for a very, very long time.

Yashwant hasn’t eaten dinner yet, so he removes fifty rupees from the bundle and stows the box away, tucking it in the nook under his seat. He is parked at Nariman Point, so he wonders where, at this late hour, he will get some good feriwala to serve him warm, wholesome food before he has to return home for a good night’s, well-deserved rest. Maybe a toasted sandwich, he muses. Or a kheema pattice. Or some chinese–

Someone knocks on his window.

Yashwant rolls it down for the motorcyclist, who has probably stopped to ask for directions.

“Free pizza,” the rider offers, almost shoving a box into Yashwant’s taxi, a box he is all too familiar with.

“Umm.” Yashwant doesn’t take it, hesitant.

“No jokes. If you want it, it’s yours. Just take it, bhai.”

Yashwant does, not least because it solves his dinner problem, but because the riderm who is also wearing a turban under his helmet, looks disgusted by the box. He decides to help a brother out.

Without a word, the rider then rides off, wheels screeching.

But how can Yashwant complain? He hasn’t even opened the box and the exciting smell of the food makes his mouth water. For the sake of good fortune, he plans to gobble it down like it is his last meal. If it has come to such snappy fulfillment of his needs, he had better try to please Waheguru in every thing he does.

But at the same time he wonders why this foreign food has been so popular today. It hasn’t spared even him. That something so simple can take this busy city by storm is impossible. He can’t put his finger on the last time he ate pizza, and that is probably because it was not the highlight of his life. There is nothing remarkable about bread, cheese, and few toppings.

It is a ten-inch pizza, and it looks incredibly appetizing. He tears a slice, sinks his teeth into it, and chews. The flavours slowly unravel one after another, bursting across his mouth, awakening his taste-buds one at a time. He takes his time savouring the tang and spice and salt, to get a full sense of it, closing his eyes to focus and take it all in. He finds himself taking another bite, and another, and another, moving on to a second piece, then a third, then a fourth.

For Yahswant, when it comes to food, it isn’t about the way it looks, or the way it smells, or who prepares it. No. It’s all in the taste, and taste alone. He has to be sure about it, so he doesn’t reach a conclusion until he had gobbled down the entire pizza. Burping, he pats his big stomach and finally reaches a verdict, nodding to himself.

He has had better pizza before.

*

END OF EPILOGUE AND DISCONNECT: A NOVEL

© Amaan Khan, October 4, 2018.

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Glossary: 

  1. mai: meaning ‘darling’
  2. Waheguru: how Sikhs address their Lord
  3. balle-balle: a type of Indian dance (can be googled for clarity)
  4. burqa: a veiled garment worm by women to cover their body and faces out of modesty
  5. feriwala: a street hawker selling fast food
  6. kheema pattice: a pattice of minced meat, like a meat pattie