The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 11]

 


Chapter 11


‘Mock-test in mathematics. This Sunday at 10 a.m.,’ I announced in my class at the end of my session. Most of the two dozen-odd students groaned. I ignored their passive protest and left the classroom.

In the corridor, I checked my phone. I had two missed calls from Raghu.

He had also sent me a message.

‘Leaving Delhi soon. Can we meet once?’

Before I could respond, the smell of Chandan Arora’s gutkha reached me.

‘No checking phones during work hours. I have told you before,’

Chandan said from behind me.

‘Sorry, sir,’ I said, mentally picturing smashing my phone on his bald head.

‘Thanks for coming,’ Raghu said.

‘No issues. How come you wanted to meet up?’ I said.

We had come to Social in Hauz Khas and were at a table facing the Hauz Khas Lake. He wore a black sweater, which matched his thick spectacle frames. He had a cast on his left arm. In his right hand, he held an iPhone X.

It had released three months ago and cost more than a lakh rupees.

‘I want to understand what happened,’ Raghu said.

‘I told you the sequence of events at the funeral.’

Raghu looked at me, unconvinced.

‘What? Why are you looking at me like that?’

‘You know, Keshav, you have bothered and insulted me in the past. A lot.’

‘What do you want? An apology?’ I said.

The waiter brought us two cups of masala tea. Raghu responded after the server left.

‘No. What would an apology do now?’ he said. He took a sip of his tea and continued, ‘And I don’t care about the insults. I am not a confrontational guy. All I ever wanted from you was for you to leave Zara alone.’

I shot up from my chair.

‘And I didn’t. I couldn’t get over her. Yeah, fine. Sorry. May I leave now?’ I said.

‘Sit down, please, Keshav. I said I don’t want an apology,’ Raghu said.

‘What do you want, Raghu?’ I said, sitting back. ‘And it was Zara who wanted to come back this time.’

‘Calm down, please. I don’t like it when you use such an aggressive tone,’ Raghu said.

Because you are a scared fuddu, I wanted to say but kept quiet.

‘The first thing I want is this,’ Raghu said, pointing to his cast. ‘This has to stop. I am not a violent person. I just wanted to live a simple life with Zara.’

‘Hey,’ I said. ‘Are you suggesting I am behind this? I sent people to hurt you?’

‘No accusations. While I would like to know what happened, my parents don’t even want me involved. Please, I beg you, don’t hurt me or my family.

My father and mother are really scared.’

‘I didn’t do anything, Raghu,’ I said. ‘Why would I?’

‘I’m not saying you did. If you did have something to do with this, please stop. I want peace.’

‘Raghu, I have called you names and made fun of you. But why would I hurt you? Zara and you dated for over three years. Did I do anything?’

‘I will kill that fuddu, you said to Zara once.’

‘I said that in anger. When drunk. Please, Raghu, I haven’t done anything. Anyway, they arrested the watchman.’

He became quiet. He still looked unconvinced.

‘Raghu, you don’t trust me, I get that. But I swear, I didn’t hurt anyone.

Not Zara, not you, alright?’ I said.

He gave a brief nod and looked down at the table, lost in thought. Then he spoke softly, so softly I had to strain my ears to hear him.

‘She was my world. The miracle of my life.’

I could have told him this myself, I thought, but he was still speaking in that slow-motion voice of his.

‘I had a new investor from Silicon Valley lined up. I have always wanted to move there, but Zara didn’t agree. She didn’t want to drop her PhD midway.’

‘She wanted to go back and teach in Kashmir, right?’ I said. That is what she used to tell me during ‘our’ days.

‘Yeah. But I finally convinced her and we decided to spend a few years in the US and then do something in Kashmir later. She was to get her PhD in a few months and we were to go to San Francisco. I had even shortlisted apartments in Mountain View. But now…’

His voice choked and he dropped his face into his palms. The sound of his whimpers was unmistakable. Others in the restaurant started throwing us curious looks. He cried without any inhibitions. Afraid of being mistaken for a kidnapper, I stuffed tissues into his hand.

‘Thank you,’ he said, wiping his face with the paper napkin.

‘I didn’t do anything. Do you believe me? Look into my eyes and talk, Raghu.’

‘I do,’ he said, finally making eye contact.

‘Good,’ I said. ‘I bear no grudges. Not anymore.’

‘Sorry, my parents are in a panic. They have hired twenty-four-hour security. They feel nervous when I leave for office. We are all so scared.’

‘I can imagine. But I have no interest in you … except…’ I paused.

‘Except what?’

‘I want your help.’

‘What kind of help?’

‘In finding out who killed Zara. I am helping the police.’

‘You are? Didn’t the police say the watchman did it?’

‘He may not have.’

‘Actually, even I was surprised when they said it was Laxman.’

‘You were?’

‘Yes. I have met that watchman. He didn’t have that murderer look. But the police said so on TV.’

‘The police sometimes say or do things to shut the media up.’

‘So, who killed Zara? I want to know too.’

‘That’s what I need your help in finding out.’

‘I want to work on this with you. My parents want me to cut off completely from all this. But let’s do this.’

‘No, Raghu, I don’t want to work with you,’ I said, interrupting him. ‘I only want you to help me. You knew her and her world well.’

Raghu looked at me, startled. I kept a firm expression. He sighed.

‘Whatever you need,’ he said.

‘Okay,’ I said. I took out my notebook. ‘I have some questions.’

‘Sure.’

‘Firstly, why did it surprise you when you heard the watchman did it?’

‘It seemed unlikely. Sure, Zara complained about Laxman. However, he had begged her for mercy many times after that. Once even in front of me, when I visited Zara on campus.’

‘So what did Zara do?’

‘She softened. She didn’t withdraw her complaint, but delayed follow-up. He had told her about his little daughter and that he was the sole earning member in his family.’

‘Anything else that makes you feel it is not him?’

‘The people who came to beat me up.’

‘What about them?’

‘They didn’t seem to be from a village like Laxman. From their clothes and accent, they appeared to be city-dwellers. I told this to the police. I don’t think they really listened.’

I looked up from my notebook.

‘What exactly happened to you that day?’

‘I finished work late. Came out of my office building. While I was waiting for my driver, four guys came and started beating me up. I thought they wanted my phone or wallet. They didn’t. Just wanted to hurt me.’

‘For how long?’

‘Until Gopal, my driver, arrived with the car. They threw stones at the car, smashing the windows. Then they ran away. Gopal stepped out and found me lying on the street, bleeding.’

‘And he took you to the hospital?’

‘He took me home first. My parents took me to Apollo Hospital.

Doctors there told me I had a fracture in my left arm and a concussion. They admitted me to keep me under observation.’

‘You told Zara about this?’

‘Of course. I messaged her from the car itself. She wanted to come down to Hyderabad. But that horrible Saxena didn’t let her go.’

‘Prof. Saxena? Her guide?’

‘Yes, he said he had a deadline on a paper and needed her help. She couldn’t leave.’

‘Didn’t she protest? Knowing Zara, she wouldn’t have listened.’

‘Yes, she wanted to come anyway. But I stopped her. Her final thesis approval was three months away. Why upset Saxena at this time?’

A waiter hovered over us, expecting us to order something else apart from tea.

‘One egg bhurji and pao,’ I said. ‘And for you Raghu?’

‘What do you have in veg? Something light?’ he said to the waiter.

He settled for a vegetarian club sandwich, one of the most boring dishes ever.

‘Were you in touch with Zara from the hospital?’

‘All the time.’

‘What did she talk about, if you don’t mind?’

‘Usual stuff. She checked on my health. I told her I missed her. We spoke about our marriage function plans. Our move to the Bay Area.’

‘Was all this done on chat?’

‘Some WhatsApp chats, some calls. Would you like to see my phone?’

He extended his iPhone towards me.

‘No, I don’t think that’s right. Did she say anything about being in danger?’

‘No.’

‘Was she was upset with someone?’

‘Only Saxena. I will tell you exactly what she said about him,’ he said and scrolled through his WhatsApp chats.

‘I hate him. I just simply hate him,’ Raghu read from the phone and looked at me.

‘Anything else?’

‘You see for yourself,’ he said, handing the phone to me. I hesitated for a second before I took it. I went through his chats with Zara.

  I scrolled up to the day Raghu was attacked. He had sent a picture of his bleeding arm to Zara. She had reacted in shock, and had called him. I saw chats in which they discussed who could have done it, but could not figure it out. The subsequent day, the chats had a lot of ‘how is my baby’ and ‘baby misses you’ kind of stuff. He had sent a selfie of himself on a hospital bed.

She had sent kisses and love back, and a promise to be in Hyderabad as soon as possible.

The next day, Zara had sent Raghu a message calling Prof. Saxena an ‘asshole’. Raghu had replied, ‘Don’t piss him off. Just twelve weeks and you never have to see him again.’

On the night before Zara’s birthday, Raghu had sent a selfie with a message on his arm’s cast: ‘The pain of being away from you on your birthday is way more than any physical pain I feel.’

‘I wish I could be there with you,’ Zara had replied.

When you have been with someone, you never imagine they can be intimate with someone else. I wished I didn’t have to see this. I took a deep breath to remain calm. I scrolled down further.

Raghu had sent a message at midnight sharp.

‘It’s midnight. Not supposed to be up so late in the hospital, but happy birthday, baby! You are the love of my life! Wish I was with you. I love you.’

‘Thank you. I love you too, so much,’ Zara had replied.

Raghu had replied with a hug and kiss emoji.

A couple of hours later, Raghu had sent another message: ‘Hey, birthday baby, good morning’. Half an hour later, he had sent another one.

‘How’s my birthday girl doing? Still sleeping? Called you twice.’

However, these last two messages did not have two blue ticks on Raghu’s phone. Of course, they had remained unread.

I returned his phone to him.

‘I am sorry,’ I said.

He nodded.

‘I loved her so much.’

I didn’t want to hear any more about Raghu and Zara’s romance. I decided to change the topic.

‘Was there anyone Zara truly hated or disliked? Apart from Saxena?’ I said.

‘You knew Zara. Such a positive person. Saw the best in everyone.’

That is why I was with her, buddy, I wanted to tell him.

‘Nobody?’

‘Just Saxena. She hated him. I do too.’

‘Why? Because he didn’t give her leave?’

‘No, much more than that. He intentionally delayed her thesis for over a year. And I think I can tell you now, he made a pass at her.’

‘What? A pass?’

‘He propositioned her. To approve her thesis sooner.’

‘Dean Saxena? Seriously?’ I said. ‘He’s like forty-five years old.’

‘Forty-eight, actually. Zara put up with him for years. Stuck on because he controlled her final PhD thesis approval.’

‘I can’t believe it. Prof. Saxena taught us when we were in college, remember? Such a workaholic.’

‘People have a different side to them when they have power over someone.’

‘It’s shocking. Zara never reported it?’

‘It’s not easy taking on your PhD guide. Throwing away years of work.

Giving up your career maybe. She sent me an email in frustration once.’

‘Email?’

‘Yeah, a year ago. Wait.’

He fumbled with his phone for a few seconds.

‘Check your email,’ Raghu said.

I read the email Zara had written to Raghu. As I went through the contents, my mouth fell open.

‘Sick. What a bastard,’ I said.

‘I felt the same at the time,’ Raghu said. ‘If Zara’s career wasn’t at risk, I would have personally reported him.’

‘Anything else you would like me to know?’ I said.

‘Yeah, you know about Sikander, right?’

‘Zara’s stepbrother? Saw him at the funeral.’

‘Yes, he hangs out with shady people in Kashmir. Zara was always telling him to take up a proper job.’

‘What shady people?’

‘She wouldn’t tell me. You know how she was, you couldn’t push her to tell you things. Especially her family matters; “off-limits” is what she used to say.’

‘So how do you know?’

‘I heard her scold Sikander on the phone a few times. Something about taking the right path. She would avoid talking or meeting him in front of me though.’

‘Fine, thanks,’ I said.

‘Anything else?’

I shook my head. Raghu stood up to leave.

‘You have my number. Please keep me updated if you can.’

‘I will try.’

‘Thanks. And let me know if you need anything,’ Raghu said. The waiter arrived with the bill and Raghu settled it with his black Centurion American Express card.

‘Would you like anything else, sir?’ the waiter said to me after Raghu left.

‘Three large whiskies, neat,’ I said. I sat alone, drinking, with only Zara’s memories for company.





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