past comes in again…

Chapter 7

Anshuman crouched towards the shop in the now-empty first level…the crowd had as though suddenly disappeared in thin air. He stuck to the railing bending and from the holes in the railing, he could see people assembled on the ground level and there were 4 masked men with guns guarding their escape routes looking around to check for any kind of police intervention. Speaking of, Anshuman wondered where they were. Was this the lousy security in a mall that boasted of major tourist influx…? Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any bloodshed.. thank God. Nonetheless, he now had greater things to worry about. He was much behind the toy store where he had hidden Manpreet. Did the boy come out of hiding…? What if they catch him…? But suddenly a greater doubt gnawed at him. Why…? Why on earth did they want the frail scrawny little boy…?

He stilled at a point where he could see a little of the shop interiors. He just had to check on Manpreet and assure the boy he was safe. Anshuman was sure the police would be here any moment and he had to buy time till then. But the shop lights were off and from the turning of the wall towards the shop, he saw 3 men in masks covering their heads peeping into the shop. The owner had probably locked the hard glass door before running off. Thank God for little mercies. But poor Manpreet must be scared shit. Anshuman crouched further and saw the trio trying something with a toolbox… Oh God… what if they. And just then the door clicked open and the trio rushed inside. Anshuman’s heart stilled. He had brought Manpreet here first, and he wouldn’t forgive himself if something were to happen to the little boy. As it is guilt ate at him because of Meera… he couldn’t lose another life… He had wanted to use his phone in the washroom earlier but it had fallen off probably in the earlier scuffle with the crowd.

Without bothering about the consequences now, he picked up a security guard’s stick lying in the corner and moved towards the entrance. Just then there was a loud announcement from the outside. Looked like the police finally had graced them with their presence. “LET THE PEOPLE ALL GO… OR LEAVE THE PLACE QUIETLY… DO NOT HARM THE INNOCENTS… YOU WILL BE SURROUNDED IN NEXT THREE MINUTES…”

What the fuck was that…? They were letting these assholes just run away…?

But it probably worked and the three men in the shop sprinted out through some entrance and they were soon joined by their brethren downstairs. Before Anshuman could reach the shop, police and the bomb squad rushed and one of them pushed him out of the way. “…Wait… wait… the boy… is in the shop… let me take him out…” Anshuman screamed and the policemen halted in their tracks. One of them walked towards him with questioning eyes and looked at the shop. Anshuman continued. “…the boy with me… he is hidden in there… please let me get him out… he must be scared…” His voice broke at the very thought. The policemen pretended they didn’t hear him and walked towards the shop pushing him away. Anshuman knew better than to argue. He stood his ground and observed them keenly.

A tall, well-built policeman with greying temples and a stern look on his tanned face, probably spearheading the group, came forward towards the shop from the other side and examined the hard door. He asked in a gruff voice. “…In this the… toy shop …? That’s where those bastards had been a moment ago…hadn’t they…? What were they looking for in that toy shop…?” the policeman looked back and forth. “… Jesus… is there a bomb planted…?”

All blood drained from his face as Anshuman stood rooted to his place in shock while the inspector ran making some arbitrary noises… But he had heard those guys… they were looking for a boy specifically. But before he could say something he saw the bomb squad at the shop’s entrance as the policemen kept a harried owner away. Anshuman rushed towards the shop. “…Please let me get my boy out… he is alone and scared…” But the police pushed him away yet again and the two men from the bomb squad disappeared inside the shop.

The policeman who had spoken to him earlier asked for the child’s name and Anshuman told him along with Manpreet’s description. After about 20 minutes the policeman walked out followed by the two men in the bomb squad complete with their heavy attire and all the instrumentation, he had only seen on TV. The head policeman came up to him. “… a little boy is fitting your description in some godforsaken dollhouse. But he didn’t respond to the name call… Are you sure he is your kid…?” the police looked at him suspiciously. Anshuman nodded. “…Please let me get him out…” “…go ahead but I am watching you, man…”

The policeman he now saw the name, Julio D’Lama watched him hawkeyed as he scampered inside the shop amidst the fallen materials strewn around. The dollhouse was in the farthest corner and he realized and even he could see Manpreet’s reflection in the mirror attached to the rack bang opposite. No wonder those bastards must have seen him too. Cursing himself he cruised through the litter and reached the dollhouse. Not wanting to intimidate the boy further he squatted there and knocked at the dollhouse door. “Manpreet…? Buddy, it’s me… Anshuman… you can come out…”Before he could complete the sentence, the door opened and Manpreet rushed into his arms almost toppling him in the process. The boy sobbed into the crook of his neck even as Anshuman rocked him and rubbed his back. He then lifted him into his arms and walked out of the store.

The inspector stopped them and Anshuman had to put him down. Manpreet hugged Anshuman and dug his head into his belly. Inspector D’Lama spoke softly. “…Little man, are you all right…?” Manpreet still clutching at Anshuman’s mid-section looked slightly at the official and nodded his head, his tear-streaked face, melting hearts all around. D’Lama continued. “…What is your name…?” Anshuman was impressed at the change of tone by the Inspector and his respect for the man increased. He knew his job well. Manpreet looked up at Anshuman who nodded the go-ahead. “…mmmm…Mmman…Pppppreet…ssssinnng …. Ggggil…” Manpreet stuttered away to glory.

“…Is that Manpreet Singh Gill…? Wait…I have heard the name somewhere… what’s your father’s name man…?” The inspector rose to his height and looked at Anshuman who was an inch shorter. “…And who is this man here…?”Anshuman was now a little shaken as reality sank in. “…Inspector, my name is Anshuman Khanna and I have recently moved to Varca… this boy is my neighbor and we had come to visit the mall today… His… grandmother knows he is with me…”

The inspector looked at Anshuman with suspicious eyes. “…look, man, no offense but it’s my duty to check your credentials… and vindicate what you just said…” Anshuman and Manpreet were taken to an office in the mall itself and as they waited, the inspector made a few calls. They were shut in the small room with refreshments and Anshuman arranged for blank papers and pencils for Manpreet. The latter in turn merrily sketched away without a care in the world and that’s what Anshuman wanted. The boy must have been traumatized…

He realized the other policemen had all left and the mall had been swept to check for anything untoward and given the all-clear. An hour later Inspector D’Lama stepped in and spoke. “…the boy’s mother is on her way…and man… she is furious if her voice could be judged over phone…” he chuckled and Manpreet stopped sketching withdrawing into his shell back again. It didn’t go unnoticed by the inspector who raised an eyebrow and shook his head before leaving the room. The door was now kept ajar. A few minutes passed and Anshuman noticed Manpreet fidgeting with the pencil. He pulled the boy close to him and folded the papers neatly. Their shopping bags had been retrieved and Anshuman pushed the papers and stationery into one of them. He held Manpreet’s hands. “…buddy… you don’t have to fear anyone or anything… I am always here for you… alright…? You know my house too…don’t you…? I will meet you every morning at the rock… If you have any problem, you can always come to my place…? Is that OK…?”

“…THAT WON’T BE NECESSARY….” The door opened with a bang startling Manpreet to widen his eyes and Anshuman stilled… hearing a familiar piercing voice. He slowly turned around to look into the angry eyes of a tall pretty woman with Kohl-laden eyes and the unmissable nose stud that had very often invaded his dreams last four years. He stood up even as the woman’s eyes widened, as recognition set in. “…Angie…?”

©priyagole. No part of the story can be copied or shared anywhere without the consent of the writer.

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