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If Not For Them

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“When will we meet next?” She asked him expectantly.

His heart crumbled at the sight of those pearls glistening already with the longing for that next hug. He didn’t have the courage to tell her that he had no idea when and if he will ever see her next.

With a heavy heart, Imran turned letting the painful tears of separation from his eyes touch the land, he so dearly loved and which was now threatening the love he had for anyone.

He didn’t want her to see him go away, so he had asked them to park the car at a distant turn. As he was struggling to walk towards the car, he felt the touch that had always soothed him to the deepest nerve, probably for the last time now. Geeta slid her slender fingers and intertwined them with his cold trembling ones.

She hadn’t stopped crying since then and her beautiful face had aged in just two days. It ached him to see her this way. “I am sorry”, he managed to say within the sobs swelling up to his throat now. She caressed his face, smiled her characteristic confident smile and said, “I love you! We will get through this together. Don’t worry”. This was just what he needed to hear and he hugged her tight like a child lost in the woods, who finally found a shelter.

“Please tell her I love her. Tell her that her father is..”, he gasped at what he knew could be a possibility, “or was not a bad person”, his pleading eyes bore into her soul.

“You are the best dad ever, the best son, the best friend, the best husband and most of all the best person”, teary eyed she rebuked him. “And you are coming back for her, for me…for us”. They hugged and cried for what might seem an eternity to others, but what was just an eloping moment to them.

The impatient police constable then called out to him, handcuffed him and took him away in front of her eyes. She wanted to break down, to question God, to shout hysterically, but she knew she had to hold it up for their love, for their daughter Aisha.

“Mummy, why did Daddy look so sad this time? He didn’t even take me out for ice cream like always”, Aisha could sense something amiss, when her father didn’t take her out for a stroll like all the other times whenever he was about to leave for one of his frequent ‘Save the World’ trips.

“Daddy was in a hurry Aisha. He will come back soon and then we will all go have dollops of ice cream”, she tickled her but couldn’t console her own stressed nerves.

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THAT EVENING

Inspector Imran Sheikh was arrested from his Lajpat Nagar residence at 11:30, today morning. He is the major accused in the Jamal Khan fake encounter case. Trusted sources have revealed that Jamal Khan had agreed to become a state witness and was willing to testify against the recent temple attack mastermind Atif Ali and to protect Atif Ali, Imran Sheikh staged a fake encounter of Jamal Khan.

Our correspondent spoke to the Commissioner of….

“Mummy is that daddy on television?” Geeta hadn’t noticed Aisha standing behind her. She immediately switched off the television.

“Yes baby. But you know na this is not the first time Daddy is on television. You have seen him so many times.” She held Aisha in her lap, while silently wiping the tears that had moistened the corner of her own eyes.

“Yes mummy. You know when I grow up, I will also save the world like daddy”, daddy’s little angel was all swelled up with pride for the hero of her life.

Geeta hugged her tight and said, “You know I will be the happiest if you become like him”. Aisha thought she was crying maybe because daddy has again left for his trip.

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NEXT MORNING

“Happy Anniversary Mummy”, Aisha came up to Geeta all cheerful and excited. She hugged her tight and gave her the card that she stayed awake the whole night to prepare for her parents’ anniversary.

This wasn’t the first time Geeta was alone on her wedding anniversary. Because of the nature of Imran’s job, he has been away on eight of the twelve anniversaries they have had since the day they tied the knot after seventeen awesome years of friendship.

But today, unlike the previous times, he hadn’t called up in the morning to wish her with that sweet poem, which he had written for her at the age of thirteen. There were no nonstop messages beeping on her phone with his longing for her. But there still was that bouquet of lovely lilies that were her favorite. Like every year, he had pre-ordered it for this anniversary as well.

She kept staring at that bouquet, worrying about him. She had tried to seek an appointment to visit him, but they didn’t allow her.

“Mummy, I have been calling Daddy since morning. He isn’t even picking my call”, Aisha was visibly upset. Imran loved her dearly and would take her calls even in the midst of a case investigation.

“Aisha, daddy is very busy today. He called me in the morning when you were sleeping and said that he loved the card you had put in his bag”. Geeta had no option but to lie to her daughter.

“He has never been so busy to not pick my call. He hasn’t called even once since he left yesterday. I am not talking to him at all. Tell him that if he calls you”. She couldn’t fathom the reason for this deranged behavior of her father and ran into the room. Geeta knew that sooner or later, she will have to confront her.

Despite being really upset, Aisha loved Imran beyond measures. She typed on her mother’s whatsapp - Happy Anniversary Daddy, waited for a few moments and then pressed enter. She waited for the one tick to convert into two and then to blue color, but even after ten minutes, there was only one tick.

Enraged at not getting any response, she typed another message Where are you? Fifteen minutes passed by and still only one tick for both the messages.

An hour later, she checked it again and finding no response, she wrote If you don’t call me soon, I promise I will not have milk. And she didn’t have it, despite Geeta trying all games to coax her into drinking milk.

Geeta knew he wouldn’t reply, because his phone was confiscated by the authorities and they would in fact be tracking his calls and messages. But she didn’t know how to explain this to Aisha.

Imran had recently bought another number, which he hadn’t given to anyone but his family till now. Aisha flooded even that with messages, but no response.

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3 DAYS LATER

In the past three days, his phone was indeed operated upon by the authorities. All his messages checked. His whatsapp opened. All the ticks converted to double blue ticks, but no response. This was enough to make Aisha feel ignored.

She willed herself to not check the phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his 'last seen at' status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn't stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.

And then, just as she sat down in her chair, phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked the phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.

But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn't know if he was joking or not. What was this?

It was from the new number he had. She immediately ran up to her mother. Geeta was washing the utensils when Aisha gasping for breath, nudged at her tee. Alarmed to see her daughter so confused, Geeta was alarmed. Aisha held out her phone, while fumbling for words.

That the whatsapp window ‘Imran’ was opened and that ‘Imran’ was online, baffled her. In response to a series of messages Aisha had sent in the past few days, there was a message 1 minute ago:

Pout LIvers sprouts

The gushing water overflowed in the sink, but Geeta was drowning in the sound of that message.

“Mummy what is he saying? He didn’t reply for so long and now this? What does this mean?” she was desperate for answers. This conundrum was a game she had now become tired of and sought answers more than anything.

But Geeta finally knew the answer. She knew this message was intended for her and this was the key that Imran has given her to unlock his prison gate.

She and Imran used to play detectives as children. The time they graduated from friends to best friends to lifelong sweethearts, they would leave mumbled poetic codes for the other one to figure out the sweet nothings or to convey the venue for their dates or to secretly crib about their workplace.

Having spent most of her living years with a police inspector, she knew that soon this other number will be figured out and she didn’t have much time before she acted upon it.

Pout – But neither she nor Imran pouts. In fact Imran hates pout. So what does that mean? You pout for pics? Is he referring to some photograph?

LIvers – what is livers? Did he mean l’e’ver? L-I-v-e-r-s. L-I-v-e, v-e-r-s, L-I-e-r? L and I are in capital, so maybe he intends them to be there. They are liars? Yes my dear I know that, but what are you trying to convey?

Sprouts – This should be simple. Looking at it metaphorically, it must mean something protruding..attached to another thing..maybe something organic like sprout grows.

She knew she was running out of time with no headway. She splashed cold water on her face and looked in the direction of his photograph on the table. She had to save him. Suddenly it all started coming to her.

Pouts (photo) L-I-v-e = live photo = video

(LI) = Lilly

Bingo! The bouquet. She rushed to it. Searched within the lilies. There was nothing. Then she remembered ‘sprouts’. The flowers sprouted from the wire mesh at the bouquet base. She hurriedly separated the mesh, snatched open its outer covering and ruffled through the soggy mesh, which she had been soaking in water these past days to keep the lilies alive.

Wrapped in a mud stained cloth, she found the tiniest pen drive. Without any delay, she rushed into her room, bolted it from inside and inserted the pen drive into her laptop. It prompted for a password. After a moment’s thought she entered Pout LIvers sprouts and a video file opened.

She wasn’t sure what the video would do to their lives, but she had to know and she clicked play.

It was the investigation video where Jamal Khan was being interrogated by Imran and Vikram (Imran’s colleague and close friend). Vikram was missing since the day of Imran’s arrest. She had tried to contact him multiple times, but he was not reachable.

Imran and Vikram entered into Jamal’s cell. They hurled abuses at him to confess his crime. Then Imran aimed the gun at Jamal, accusing that because of inhumans like him, people are being ostracized for their religion and not their ingenuity. Vikram immediately took the gun from his hand, saying he feared Imran would kill Jamal in a fit of rage. Imran then beat Jamal black and blue to obtain a confession from him and suddenly Vikram shot Jamaal with Imran’s gun. Shell shocked Imran turned to look at Vikram, who now looked confused, threw the gun and immediately ran out of the cell.

Geeta stood there dumbfounded at this discovery. Discovery not of the truth. That she already knew. But discovery of the key to her husband’s freedom.

That she finally had some control made her shed her guards and she cried unhindered for the first time in the past few days. She hugged her scared daughter and wailed “Daddy will be home soon now”.

She knew it now that when Vikram ran out of that cell, he disappeared for the next two days and meanwhile Imran was being investigated for the case. All evidences pointed towards him and he was arrested. Vikram resurfaced later to claim that Imran had antinational propaganda and threatened to kill him if he revealed anything.

Imran and Vikram were batchmates and were the best of friends. While the zest for country brought Imran to police, for Vikram it was the power. Power of power negates any emotion, she thought!

Imran was always an honest officer, respected and admired by his colleagues. They all trusted him, even in the face of system’s bureaucracy and she knew that one of them had helped him convey this message to her.

She had the evidence, but she didn’t trust enough the investigating officers, who were masking the entire fiasco with communal connotation. She knew what she had to do and immediately rushed to her friend who worked with a news channel.

As the tape went live on one news channel, the others pounced on this juicy news of corruption plaguing their own country to make millions worth out of it. The case was re-examined for new evidences and Vikram was held guilty of murder and framing Imran.

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FEW DAYS LATER – THE DAY OF RESTORATION

Just like he didn’t want them to take him away in front of his daughter, he asked them to drop him a few blocks from his house. The air that had distanced him sometime back, welcomed him like marigolds. Those slender fingers again intertwined with his now rough hands. Her touch curved his parched lips into a smile after a long time and his frail self, wrenched her heart. They had longed to cry in each other’s arms and they kissed their pain away.

Holding her in his arms, he whispered into her ears

“Oh beautiful girl

My Maths is very poor

I hear your English is also very clear

Will you teach me so that I don’t fear?

By the way I like the way your hair curl”

This must be the umpteenth time she listened to this, but she still couldn’t control her laughter. Just that, this time she couldn’t control her tears also.

“Happy Anniversary”, both said to each other and hand in hand walked to their small heaven to their little angel.

As soon as she saw her father, Aisha hugged him tight “I am not letting you go anywhere now. Now you will rest and I will save the world for you”.


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If Not For Them

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Part of the Life collection

Published on March 07, 2016

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