‘Papa, its my birthday tomorrow…so…’ Ten-year-old Krish walked hesitantly into his father’s study. His father lay slumped on the table, papers flying all over, the room redolent with the whiskey all over; Krish wanted to gag. The man’s hand lay hanging loosely holding the glass of the half-drunk liquid while the rest had spilled on the red carpet staining it black… It was his mother’s favorite and he hated to see his father like this. His mother’s gift to his papa, the musical lighter also lay without a care in the world. He picked it up and pocketed it. At least there would be something besides a few pictures of his mom to remind him she existed.
But Krish had been used to this. He had barely known his mother and papa was always wasted whenever he was at home. The rest of the time he was gone to the ‘factory’ in Mumbai. So Krish was all alone with the staff in the vast villa… till he had made local friends a few years ago.
Tomorrow too he would celebrate with them like the earlier year. One of them would bring him a homemade pudding and another would get fish curry. These would taste better than anything his cooks prepared here. He often wished for his papa to be at home when he was sober and spend time with him and ask him about his school and friends.
But either his old man would be sloshed or string along his newest arm candy for the week sometimes, for the day. No one lasted… Initially, little Krish had hoped one of them would eventually be his mother. But after multiple heartbreaks, he had given up on the idea.
He had hoped his tenth birthday at least would be different. He wanted a special gift… he wanted his father’s permission to meet his grandparents. His aaji had once called on the home landline and expressed her desire to see him. So for the first time, there was someone who wanted to meet him… But his father lay strewn drunk to oblivion and he knew the man would be gone in the morning before he woke. Then he would be gone away for days together on business trips.
Disappointed surged through his body and erupted through his eyes, rivoluting down his cheeks. He turned to go back to his room when his eyes fell on something peeing out of his father’s sleeve. His father always wore full sleeves, even at home. Today the sleeve had moved up and curiosity got the better of him as he bent forward and raised it a little more.
It was two Z-shaped structures intertwined together. He had seen similar structures outside some of the homes of his friends here and even in the temple. But why did his father have that tattoo and it was strange… one of the arms was bent….’
Suddenly he was eighteen and running in the dark tunnel, the breeze out of nowhere hitting his body, impeding his movement and chilling him to the core. An infernous ball of fire followed him. Then, suddenly, a man standing ahead with no face but just a machete and his hand had the same tattoo as his father did. As he ran he wanted to scream to the man to move … but he collided and the sharp instrument made its way into his abdomen. Oh hell… it was so painful…. Aaaaaaa….he screamed….Aaaaa…
“KB…KB… wake up KB…”
Wait… was that Kajal? What was she doing in the tunnel?
He heard beeps around him and the strange antiseptic odor. The fireball or the man was nowhere in sight, but the pain was there… his body was on fire… there was no part which wasn’t in agony and he tried to open his eyes. A blurred vision of the beautiful Kajal swam before his eyes. She was worried and saying something. His fudged mind was clueless…
Someone came on his other side and began to check him… wait, was he in a hospital?
It was then some things began to clear. First, his meeting with the investigative agency and then that wait on the traffic island , being pushed…
“Mr. KB, you are better now, out of danger and extremely fortunate, I must say. It must have been your lucky day. I am sure you will recover completely in the next three weeks or so…” the doctor continued his tirade and he saw Kajal paying attention to every word. She was so adorable… What the hell was wrong with him now?
The doctor went away and the police arrived. First, they asked him standard questions. Then, finally, the inspector said.
“Mr. KB, can you tell us what you were doing in that area? Of course, the likes of you would never go there…”
“I… I had gone to gauge the people’s behaviors… we actors do that often to see them in the natural settings. “ He fibbed.
“Ok…Mr. KB we will go with your story. You are lucky to have escaped death twice… last night was tough, but thanks to the presence of mind of your fiancé, you were saved. I assure you there wont be any more such trouble…”
“What… who came last… night?” He struggled to speak. The policeman gave him a brief of the incident.
“We don’t have an ID of the man… he killed himself. He isn’t on the criminal database… so except for the strange Swastika tatoo there was nothing else…” the rest of what the police Inspector said fell on deaf ears as his heart thudded and fear gripped him. Was that dream he just had a mere coincidence or some sign from his subconsciousness…? Wait, what about Raj? Was he OK?
He couldn’t tell anything to the police right now. It would only open a Pandora’s box. So he had to find things on his own…
A day went by with Kajal fussing over him. He wasn’t used to anyone hovering around him all the time, but he found her gesture very cute and smiled as she fluttered like a confused butterfly, talking to doctors or coordinating with Mr. Mehta or giving him the medicines or reminding the nurses about his meal schedules. A couple of times she went out, she made sure Mr. Mehta was with him inside.
He missed her like crazy though the moments gave him a chance to talk to the grim PA.
“Mr. Mehta, there is something I need you to check discreetly. Do you remember you had given me a contact of that Investigating Agency guy, Raj? I want you to check on him without him knowing… just if he is OK. Can you do that?”
Mr. Mehta raised his eyebrow as if wanting to know more, but KB only looked away. He was still in pain, and the meds were playing with his head. He only wanted to hear Raj was safe.
Later that night, Kajal kept regaling about some media stories about him and other actors, and he smiled at her efforts to brighten his mood. The little fool didn’t realize it was her mere presence that brightened up everything around him.
After a week, he was all set for discharge, and it struck him Kajal hadn’t gone for her exams. So as she stood packing his stuff while he sat up in the wheelchair, he asked her. “Kajal, what about your exams?”
She ignored his question and continued doing the chore.
“Kajal… I asked you a question… can you answer me?” the effort caused him to cough. And she rushed towards him with water. His hands were in the cast and would remain so for a couple of weeks at least. She had been helping out all the time. She did it all without batting an eyelid, whether feeding him or helping the ward boy change his clothes.
“KB… I wasn’t prepared to write the exams so I forfeited them… I will appear after six months… it doesn’t matter.” She dismissed it and turned around to go back. Her bloodshot eyes and the mouve shadows below her lids broke his heart. She had lost weight as well…
“Kajal sit here please…” he indicated to the bed next to his wheelchair.
She sat placed her cold palms in his. “What is it Kajal? What is wrong?”
She began to sob laid her head softly on his chest. The position was awkward, but he had wanted to take her in his arms desperately, fracture or not… he mentally swore at his inability.
“KB… I was scared to death… I thought something would happen to you, especially since that attacker came in and tried to…” She gripped his fingers, and he interlocked his inbhers. “…I have brought you bad luck KB…”
“Relax Kajal… I am OK… thanks to you…In fact, I got saved because of you. So cut the bad omen crap all right? You are my lucky charm… and right now, my charm is withering away… You took care of that plant in my house… and now you need to take care of yourself too.”
Kajal nodded, and after an hour, they left for his home. On the way, Mr. Mehta kept him abreast of all the developments in the shoots and the stalling because of his accident. The Mahabaleshwar shoot was postponed for a couple of months because it involved him hiking… the ad shoots were postponed indefinitely.
Mr. Mehta had arranged for a nurse and a ward boy 24/7 to look after him.
“I… I will be there as well.. so don’t worry Mr. Mehta…” Kajal blurted out, surprising him.
He looked at her determined expression and couldn’t help but smile. “Kajal, are you sure? Your folks will be OK with it?”
“Of course they will… don’t worry KB. Just focus on recovering… your… fans are missing you…” She said and looked at the passing scenery.
He was settled in his bedroom, and he saw Kajal look around his plain white room with the extravagant ceiling and wondered what she must think of it. But she didn’t react, too busy setting up his stuff. Instead, she had arranged for her stuff to be delivered here and her uncle would be arriving later in the evening.
As she walked out of the room to get started for the lunch preparation, Mr. Mehta shut the door and latched it getting back to him.
“KB sir there is something I had to tell you for last couple of days but Kajal madam was there all the time so couldn’t.”
“What is it Mehta?”
“Its about Raj…”
That caught his attention and his heartbeats accelerated.
“Sir, Raj killed himself on the same day as your accident…his body was found hanging in his cabin in his office premises by the peon the next day…”
“What did the police… say?” his voice cracked in grief… yet another dead body on his count.
“Sir, they have shut the case a suicide. His family consists of old parents, and they didn’t want to pursue the case. But sir…”
“…I have known Raj from his childhood… he isn’t someone who can kill himself… there is something sinister. I have the pictures taken by theta peon… Raj was murdered for sure…”
Mr. Mehta showed KB the pictures on his cell phone. It was a child’s play to know it wasn’t a suicide given the body position and the injuries on him… KB had done lots of research for his TV soaps to learn about these intricacies… but never in the wildest of his dreams had he thought he would have to analyze something like this.
His eyes filled as a strange fear gripped him. The perpetrator, whomever it was calling the shots, was no small guy. He was influential, and now KB even began to doubt if his father had killed himself or was that cold-blooded murder?
In the other corner of Mumbai, Dongri.
He wiped his mouth as he consumed the cheap liquor. So he was soon going to get out of this dingy chawl, have a house of his own, and drink the best scotch money could buy. Saab had promised and had delivered so far.
All he had to do was push that man pointed to him. Easy-peasy, and no one could guess. It had gone well, except for the fact that the man was saved. The car whirled around, reducing momentum right then, and though he was hit, the man escaped death.
The other one was a cakewalk for him. He had walked into that guy’s office and as prior arranged, it was empty except for that man. He had bruised him and strangled him. He had strict instructions against using the blade, which would have been easier… the guy wasn’t too heavy to hang either.
Saab had still been furious. His payment was halved to teach him a lesson and he had been told to lay put for a while.
He was annoyed too. His Chameli was not satisfied with the mere change she got from him. There were wealthy patrons readily waiting for her to shower her with money. He had promised her a gold chain that she had eyes for long, so her loyalty was tilted in his favor. Besides, he had contacts in ‘high’ places; else the brothel madam wouldn’t have allowed him to have his way.
Saab had recognized his talent years ago and given him jobs in return for new currency. He had loved his life.
Today Chameli kicked him out, literally, and if not for Saab’s dikkat he would have shown her what it meant to insult him. One slash on that tender neck, and it would be the end of her.
Just like he had done years ago, the woman never knew what hit her. She had run, but the saree wasn’t the outfit one could sprint in. He had first hit her with a stone as she ran through the lanes in that basti in Virar. Then, she unknowingly had run into his lair. It was his area those days.. he was barely in his twenties, and the adrenaline rush was like a tsunami.
The stone had hit the target, and she had fallen. He moved close to her, and in her last moments, he lifted off his mask and revealed himself to her utmost horror. He had chuckled at her wide-eyed expression as she had recognized him.
She had given up the fight even as he had deftly used the blade cutting the jugular, draining the life out of the woman….
The gritty woman’s body had spasmed as she had whispered last words. ‘Ka-jal’