Anshuman stood rooted to his spot his eyes wide and unblinking as he stared at the woman who had raided his dreams more often than not over the last four years. Here was the woman who had ruined him for everyone else and there hadn’t been a straight week where he hadn’t thought about her. And here she stood her unruly curls all over her head, radiating anger and she was Manpreet’s mother…? The thought got him back to the present. He didn’t know what shocked him more… seeing Angie or the fact that she was Manpreet’s mother.
Angie too hadn’t moved as if the cat bit her tongue but then she recovered fast enough blinking her stunned kohl-laden eyes. She looked pale and Anshuman realized she looked fatigued as hell. Was she working too hard to support her family? He felt for her. Manpreet had said he was 9 years of age that meant she was already a mother when they had their rendezvous in Mumbai. What on earth was she doing in a Godforsaken nightclub in a shady corner of Mumbai…? Was there a husband in the picture at that time… gosh… had he bedded a married woman…? He shuddered at the thought. And what was that about the note she had left behind? He still had it with him…it had plunged him into a chasm of curiosity and he was yet to find an outlet for the same.
The atmosphere crackled up in the tiny office room and Manpreet moved towards Angie with the shopping bag. She sighed and almost snatched the bags from him and handed them to Anshuman. “…I am sorry but we can’t accept this from…strangers…” As she held Manpreet’s hand and ushered him out Anshuman spoke.
“…Angie.. wait… this is a gift… for Manpreet and I am not a stranger… am I…? I mean… I am Manpreet’s friend… aren’t I buddy…?”
“…Manpreet doesn’t need friends…” Angie abruptly replied. “…And henceforth do not get in touch with my son…” She dragged the boy outside followed by Anshuman who was now annoyed at her attitude.
“…Angie, wait… we need to talk…”
She suddenly halted making Anshuman almost crash into her back. “… As I said, there is nothing to talk about… just stay away from my son…” she started to walk again.
“…No, I won’t do that Angie…” making her stop once again near the mall’s exit. She turned around and stood folding her hands and her bright full-length loose t-shirt which flirted with her curves wasn’t helping him one bit as her firm bosom moved up causing a hopeless stir in his loins. He looked away and then back at her face now clearly beautiful sans the heavy war paint he had seen that night years ago. The fact that she still affected his libido after all these years, spoke a lot about their connection. “…look Angie…I… Manpreet is…”
“…Is MY SON… he is my business… my responsibility…” She glared at him staring daggers as she interrupted whatever he was to say. “…And today I almost lost him because of your… stupidity…” She held up her hand as he tried to reason out. “…Look, Mister… um… whoever you are, this is my last warning to you… henceforth if I see you hovering around my place or my son, I will not tolerate it… I shall have a restraining order issued against you…”
Turning around she grabbed Manpreet’s hand and rushed out towards a waiting autorickshaw. Anshuman watched the vehicle speed away till it disappeared out of his sight. What on earth had just happened…? The only living humans who tugged at his heart were related and now they were just torn away from him… He touched his heart as the pangs settled and he sighed. Just then a police constable ran towards him with his phone which they found lying around. He was sure they would have gone through his call records… of course, he had nothing to hide. But as he checked his phone gallery, he saw the rascals had deleted all the pictures. Manpreet’s pictures to be specific. He only had two more pictures, an old picture of Meera and Manpreet’s sketch of his. It was a warning to him to steer clear of the boy. What they didn’t understand was it made him more curious about the little guy and his beautiful mother. There was no father in the picture now… that he was sure.
As he stood looking around taking the place in, he got a call. It was Kader Shah. “…yes Kader…”
“…Hello Anshuman… all OK…? you don’t sound so…”
“…No… nothing… just a little tired. What’s up…?”
“…I have some news for you brother… I don’t know how much it will help you though… why don’t you come over to Passion…? How about 7 PM…?”
“…I will be there Kader…”
“…And one more thing… get a picture of the person whose information you are looking for…”
Anshuman nodded and disconnected the call. Holding the bags of clothes, he had purchased for Manpreet he hailed a cab for his condo. At home, as he kept the bags away, he saw the folded papers on which Manpreet had been sketching. He took them out and straightened the pages. He smiled looking at the topmost page…it was a simple drawing that Manpreet had just started… of him. As he moved the paper, he saw the next finished sketch and he couldn’t help the tears that sprang into his eyes. It was a beautiful sketch of them holding hands together. It showed how much that grasp meant to Manpreet. Tears escaped the confines of his lids as he remembered how the boy refused to budge from his hiding place despite his fears. The embodiment of trust initiated by Manpreet meant so much to him. He decided, no matter what… he would help the boy. he couldn’t sit on the fence anymore… within a couple of days the boy had etched his mark in his heart and it was irreversible. He would make headway in his argument with Angie… for all her toughness he knew she was a softie inside… he was sure he could convince her. He couldn’t wait for the next morning.
But before that, he had to make that visit to Passion. It was still afternoon and he had a few hours. He used the time to do his research that was long due.
The same evening, he walked into the brightly lit club and walked to the backside shacks as Kader had instructed earlier. He saw a well-dressed Kader seated with an old man with a skull cap and a beard. They both stood as he walked up to them.
Kader shook hands with him and indicated to him to sit while the orderly served them fresh fruit punch. On Kader’s indication, Anshuman showed Meera’s picture to Kader to pass it on to the old man. Kader held the picture up to his eye level and Anshuman saw a strange emotion pass over the man’s face. Kader cleared his throat and passed the phone to the old man who squinted holding his glasses as he looked at the photo. Kader looked back at Anshuman and patted his hand. “…your sister… was a beautiful woman…she looks like a kind-hearted soul too…” Kader’s deep voice was seductively soft and Anshuman even sensed it cracking towards the end of the sentence, But Meera’s picture always evoked a similar response in people. The goodness of the soul reflected in her pictures and her sketches. He nodded and sipped on his drink as they waited for the old man to recall something. Kader continued. “…this is Zukfikar chacha… he was the supervisor in charge of the entire row of shacks belonging to a famous club this side. He retired eight years ago after the club was dismantled and the owner’s sold the property. But he had been there at the timeline you mentioned…”
Zulfikar chacha returned the phone to Anshuman. He spoke with a voice heavy and cracking due to age. “…Look beta, I am not very sure… but about a month back there was a high-level inquiry into the nikahnamas and death certificates in this area with regards to a similar case. It was from very high authority and I had been called as well… but the name wasn’t Hindu…”
Anshuman bent forward in anticipation. “…Actually, she was married to a Muslim and had changed her name to Shifa…Shifa Begum…” the old man was lost in thought but he thought Kader just cringed…or was he just seeing things…? Anshuman had got this information from Crime Branch Mumbai and Amandeep as they had decoded their decade-old case.
The old man shook his head. “…I am sorry but that’s the information I could unearth for them as well… the woman who died was by the name you mentioned…”
Anshuman sighed. “…Actually, she was also pregnant… and…”
The old man sat upright. “…wait a minute beta… there seems to be a mistake… Shifa Begum…her body was found for sure and I remember signing off with the police as they shut the case… but I do not recall anything about a pregnant woman…”
“…What…? My sister wasn’t pregnant…3 months pregnant…?”
Even Kader sat up and was all ears to what Zulfikar chacha had to say.
“…I am sorry beta… but my memory isn’t helping much… the woman who died… I don’t think she was pregnant… didn’t hear anything of the sort from the preliminary investigation on the scene…”
Anshuman bid him adieu and walked out towards the exit with Kader in tow. He rubbed his face at the absurdity of the situation. As they stood at the exit, Anshuman saw young guys and girls without a care in the world thronging the entrance of the club and he couldn’t help but smile at their antics. Kader saw that and patted his shoulder. “…Don’t worry brother if one door closes there is another one that opens up…”
“…I don’t know Kader… off late my luck sucks… whenever it was about my sister…luck always was the traitor… I couldn’t do anything for her when she lived but even now… a decade after her death… I am helpless… I feel everything is just slipping away…”
“…sincere efforts don’t go in vain brother… keep faith in yourself… you will unearth the mystery behind Meera’s life someday…”
Just then someone called for Kader and he excused himself and left the place. As Anshuman took the route towards his home something troubled him at the back of his mind about the turn of events today evening.
It was only when he went to bed that night he suddenly sat up and realized, he had never mentioned Meera’s name to Kader. How on earth did the man know…?
©priyagole. No part of the story can be copied or shared anywhere without the consent of the writer.