The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 16]

 


Chapter 16


I asked Prof. Saxena to meet me in Deer Park just outside the campus. This time he agreed immediately. He wore a blue IIT Delhi tracksuit with white stripes. He walked one step at a time, raising his left leg with effort at each step.

‘Prof. Saxena, I know you didn’t kill her.’

He looked at me, surprised.

‘What?’ he said.

‘Your limp saved you. You can’t climb a tree.’

‘I told you I didn’t do it.’

‘Prof. Saxena, neither did the watchman.’

‘He didn’t?’

I told him about the browser history on Laxman’s phone.

‘Our country is strange. Keeping an innocent man locked up,’ Saxena said.

I nodded. ‘Sir, the question still remains, who did it?’

‘How would I know?’

‘You knew her for years. You must have some theory.’

‘Have you met Zara’s family?’ Prof Saxena said.

‘Yeah. Her father and stepmother.’

‘Her stepbrother?’

‘Sikander? No. I heard about him a lot though. And I saw him at the funeral.’

‘Listen, I could be accused of being communal when I say this, but, I don’t get a comfortable feeling about Zara’s father or her stepbrother. I find them shady.’

‘Why?

‘There could be violent fundamentalists in her family. Those who eliminate people at will.’

‘You mean terror groups?’

‘Well, now that you say it, yes.’

‘Zara was far away from all that. You are basing this on something?’

‘We were in the big data server room once when I heard her talk on the phone to her stepbrother. She mentioned guns.’

‘Guns?’

‘Something like, “Guns are not the answer, Sikander”.’

‘That could be a general statement.’

‘Trust me, it didn’t sound generic. Her stepbrother seemed to be part of some group. Zara wanted him out of it. More details I honestly don’t know. I felt scared, so I never discussed it with her.’

We walked out of the park. The professor went up to his car and took the driver’s seat.

‘Anything else?’ I said.

The professor spoke after a pause.

‘Pammi said something after the funeral.’

‘What?’

‘The parents didn’t look as sad as you would expect. Not just the stepmother, but even her father. That happens, though. People can be in shock.’

‘Thanks, sir,’ I said. ‘That’s helpful.’

The professor turned on the ignition of his car.

‘It’s amazing. You are trying to catch her murderer even though she wasn’t with you anymore.’

I smiled. ‘Now I can see why she gave up her scholarship for you,’ he said. His next words were almost lost under the noise of the car’s engine.

‘Ah, young love.’

‘I don’t know what he meant,’ I said, sipping cold soda. ‘He just said that he finds the family shady.’

Rana and I were on the terrace of Raasta, a bar in Hauz Khas Village. I had offered to buy Rana drinks, to compensate for the Saxena fiasco. Not that the inspector had to pay at any Hauz Khas bar anyway. He ordered a large rum and coke. I stuck to soda.

‘Shady? Like what? Cousins marrying uncles types?’ Rana said.

‘No, no,’ I said, ‘what are you saying? Saxena felt the family had connections to terror organisations.’

‘These bloody Kashmiris! Anything is possible.’

‘Zara was not a terrorist,’ I said. ‘She took me to peace rallies.’

‘All surface bullshit. Inside, all violent,’ Rana said. He turned to his left to check out a table where three girls had just arrived. One of them, around twenty years old, was wearing a short red dress.

‘She doesn’t feel cold?’ Rana said, in a tone you only hear from Delhi men. I brought him back to the topic.

‘Zara’s father has a successful business. He left Kashmir because of the strife.’

The inspector ignored what I said and continued to talk about the girls at the next table.

‘These girls don’t feel scared coming out dressed like this? Then they blame the police if someone squeezes their ass,’ he said, eyes still on the girl in the red dress.

I kept quiet until he had had his fill of leching at them. Finally, he turned to me and grinned.

‘Sorry, what were you saying?’ he said.

‘I don’t think Zara’s father is associated with any terror group.’

‘How can you say that? He could have sympathy for them. Pay them money.’

‘His previous wife Farzana did have fundamentalists in her family. He hated all that. That’s mainly why he divorced her.’

‘Hmmm…’ Rana said. ‘Anyway if this is a terrorism case, it is out of our hands. The Anti-Terrorism Squad will get involved. A far more senior officer will handle it. Not a chutiya like me.’

I didn’t know whether to nod, and thereby affirm that he was a chutiya.

Or say, no way any other officer can handle it better than you, sir, and come across as a chutiya myself. I decided to sip my soda instead.

‘Drop it,’ the inspector said, squinting his eyes. ‘If there are terror groups involved, they will kill you. Not worth it.’

‘So, we never find out who killed Zara?’ I said too loudly. The three girls at the other table turned to look at us on hearing the word ‘killed’.

‘Maybe it is just a simple honour killing. None of this terror business,’

Rana said, shaking his glass so the ice cubes would mix with the drink better.

‘Honour killing? Zara’s father killed her?’ I said, shocked.

‘Or had her killed. It does happen. I have seen cases.’

‘Why?’

‘She liked to fuck Hindu boys, no?’ Rana said.

My ears rang. All I wanted to do was take his face apart. To rip out the mouth that had uttered those words. It took all my strength to sit still. Bad idea, I told myself, to hit a policeman.

‘Her parents liked Raghu. He was ready to convert too.’

‘That Madrasi would become Muslim? Just to be with her?’ Rana said, as if Raghu had agreed to a sex-change operation.

‘Zara’s father had asked me to do the same.’

‘And you said no?’ Rana said.

I nodded.

He slapped my back. ‘That is my brave Rajput boy. No girl is worth leaving your God. Well done.’

‘I couldn’t. My parents would have committed suicide.’

‘Of course. How dare they ask anyone to change their religion? I told you, they are strange.’

‘The point, Rana sir, is this. They didn’t hate Raghu, or Zara having a Hindu boyfriend. They actually liked Raghu for his success.’

‘They liked that Madrasi because of his willingness to become Muslim.’

‘Well, yes, that too. I don’t see any grounds for honour killing.’

‘You never know. Maybe the old man wanted her to marry someone else, a khandaani Muslim. Did you see, that old man didn’t cry one bit at the funeral?’

‘That’s what Mrs Saxena said too.’

‘That tharki dean’s wife?’ Rana said.

‘Yeah, Saxena told me,’ I said. ‘Also, now that you mention this angle, Safdar had threatened me in the past.’

‘When?’ The inspector’s eyes lit up. ‘See, you didn’t tell me this.’

‘When I said I can’t convert. He wanted me to leave Zara. He told me he can hurt me or have me killed.’

‘He’s just a goonda living in a farmhouse. The tharki dean is right. They are shady people.’

As I processed Rana’s words, the inspector turned towards the three girls again. ‘That one in the red dress. She wants it real bad tonight.’

‘What makes you think you can investigate my daughter’s murder?’ Safdar said. His voice thundered through his giant porch. Saurabh and I had gone to visit him on a Sunday morning. I told him the story so far, until the point where we found Laxman and Saxena innocent.

‘All this garbage about her PhD guide. What was the need for you to fish around?’

‘Aren’t you shocked, uncle? That her guide harassed her. Aren’t you angry?’ I said.

‘I am angry with you. You won’t leave my daughter alone even when she is dead.’

‘I just want to find out who killed her.’

‘Who are you? The police? Her family? Who?’

I kept quiet.

‘You and Zara had no rishta,’ Safdar said through gritted teeth. ‘Now get out of my house. And my dead daughter’s life.’

Safdar stood up, a signal for us to leave.

‘Uncle, don’t be agitated. It will only make things worse,’ Saurabh spoke for the first time, his voice steady.

‘Worse?’ Safdar said. ‘What can get worse? I have already lost my daughter.’

‘What could be worse, uncle, is people talking about an honour-killing angle here,’ Saurabh said plainly. Cute how he still called him uncle, all respectful even when accusing him of murder.

‘What?’ Safdar said, blinking. ‘What is wrong with your dimaag? Who is this mental friend of yours?’

‘He’s my best friend. And he’s not mental. He’s quite smart. Please sit down,’ I said.

Saurabh smiled. Safdar sat down again.

‘Uncle, why did you say no to Zara’s autopsy?’ I said.

‘What? And let all those haramis cut up my little girl’s body? Do you even know what they do during an autopsy?’ Safdar said.

‘They find out what happened,’ I said.

‘What do they find out? More masala for the news channels?’

Saurabh and I didn’t respond. ‘Did you see when she died how they feasted on the news. Nobody cared about Zara or her family’s feelings. What else did you want? For them to discuss if she was raped or not?’

‘She wasn’t raped,’ I said. ‘Nothing like that happened. I saw the body first.’

‘What if some lunatic TV anchor made it up? Do you know what the family goes through?’

If Safdar was hiding something, he was doing a good job of it.

‘Uncle, I am only asking this because the question may come up. Where were you that night?’ I said.

Safdar looked at me and spoke after a pause.

‘At home. Preparing for her birthday party.’

‘You have witnesses?’ Saurabh said.

‘The entire staff of the farmhouse.’

‘They are your staff. On your payroll.’

‘Ask anyone. Separately. They will all tell you the same thing. Wait a minute, are you actually accusing me?’

‘Some people might. Honour killings do happen,’ I said.

‘What nonsense,’ he scoffed.

‘I didn’t see you distraught or in tears. At the funeral. Or any other time.’

‘I am not an emotionally expressive person in public. My little girl…her room is still there, just as she left it. I step in and I cry alone. Don’t you dare say I don’t feel pain.’

‘Maybe you do. But if—’

‘What “if-if” you are doing? I didn’t do anything. I am not the kind of a person who can hurt anyone, forget killing my only daughter.’

‘You threatened to kill me,’ I said.

Safdar locked eyes with me. We continued to stare at each other for a few seconds before he spoke again.

‘You think you can just accuse me of killing my own daughter? And people will believe it?’

‘So is that it? You didn’t do it because I can’t prove it?’ I said.

‘Can you prove it?’

‘Let’s go, Saurabh.’

I stood up to leave. Saurabh followed me to the garden. We passed the swing, where Zara’s father had told me to take the shahada. I almost expected Zara to be there, running behind Ruby. I walked fast as I didn’t want to cry.

‘Stop,’ Safdar’s voice came from behind us. I turned around. I expected to see film-style ruffians waiting to thrash us at their master’s command.

However, Safdar was standing there alone.

‘Come in,’ he said.

Saurabh and I froze. I wondered if he would take us to a dungeon and feed us to hungry crocodiles he kept in a secret pond.

‘Follow me. Let’s talk in my study,’ he said.

Safdar’s study, like the rest of his house, had a nawabi opulence. Expensive silk carpets from Kashmir adorned the wooden floor. One side of the room had a giant teak study table and oversized leather chairs. A black leather sofa set occupied the other end. Bookshelves with hundreds of books covered an entire wall. Safdar, Saurabh and I sat on the sofas.

‘How much do you know about Sikander?’ Safdar said to me.

‘Zara liked him a lot,’ I said. ‘She was always nostalgic about growing up with him in Srinagar. She said he was a simple boy, too innocent.’

Safdar gave a sneering smile at my last word.

‘And? What else?’ he said.

‘You discouraged Zara from keeping in touch with him.’

Safdar sighed.

‘I did discourage her. Because Sikander is a member of T-e-J,’ Safdar said.

‘What’s that?’ I said.

‘Tehreek-e-Jihad. A separatist group in Kashmir.’

‘Separatist, as in?’ Saurabh said. ‘Like actual terrorists?’

‘Depends on who you ask,’ Safdar said, rubbing his hand on his thigh.

‘I don’t understand,’ Saurabh said.

‘The Indian government thinks T-e-J is a terror group. T-e-J and its supporters think they are working to liberate Kashmir.’

‘Liberate it from what?’ I said.

‘From India,’ Safdar said.

‘And do what? Make their own country?’

‘Well, T-e-J wants Kashmir to join Pakistan. Some other groups in Kashmir want independence. There are so many of them, more than twenty maybe.’

‘Twenty? Why so many?’ Saurabh said.

‘It’s usually because leaders of one organisation fight over power. They break away and make their own group.’

‘Power is more important than being united for their cause?’ Saurabh said.

‘Of course. Who cares about Kashmiris, anyway? You think if twenty organisations truly cared about Kashmir, the valley would be in this state?’

While understanding Kashmir was interesting, I had to get back to the topic.

‘Uncle, sorry, but how is all this connected to Zara?’

‘I fear,’ Safdar said, ‘Zara became involved with T-e-J too, because of Sikander. Something happened. And so they…’

Safdar stopped mid-sentence and sighed again.

‘You should have told the police this. So they could find out what really happened,’ I said.

‘And have them label my daughter a terrorist?’

‘Zara could not have been a terrorist. She was a smart, rational person who believed in debates and activism. She hated violence,’ I said.

‘How will you convince anyone of that? Her own stepbrother is part of a terrorist organisation. She went to Pakistan. It’s apparently there on social media. Enough for those media vultures.’

‘Pakistan?’ Saurabh said.

I remembered Zara’s Instagram posts from last year.

She had visited a literature festival and posted pictures from there.

‘You mean her trip to the Karachi Literature Festival?’ I said.

I opened Instagram on my phone. She had posted three pictures from the litfest a year ago. The first picture was a selfie as she sat in the audience at a Fatima Bhutto session. The second showed the entrance of the litfest, with the ‘Karachi Literature Festival’ sign. The third showed her in a silhouette, at Clifton beach at sunset. Her long hair was blowing in the wind. The dim light hid most of her face. I remembered how I had called her after seeing this picture, begging her to take me back.

I forced myself back to the present moment.

‘You mean this trip?’ I said.

Safdar took my phone as I continued. ‘Zara used to attend literature festivals all the time. She went to the one in Kasauli, Bangalore and Kolkata too. In fact, I went to the one in Jaipur with her five years ago.’

‘I have not seen these,’ Safdar said, his voice soft. He gently touched the pictures on the screen to make them larger. ‘How did you get them?’

‘She posted them on Instagram. For all to see,’ I said.

Safdar wiped his tears.

‘I miss my girl. So much,’ he said.

Unlike at the funeral, Safdar seemed vulnerable and weak.

‘So, help us. In finding out who did this to Zara,’ I said.

He shook his head.

‘You don’t understand. We are Muslims. People start with a doubt. Even both of you. You felt I could have killed my daughter.’

Saurabh and I looked at each other.

‘Everyone is a suspect, uncle. Until we find out who did it,’ I said.

‘If the police link Tehreek with Zara’s killing, she will be branded a terrorist. And me too. A rich Muslim businessman has to be a terrorist sympathiser, right?’

‘Are you?’ I said, my face expressionless.

He looked at me, surprised.

‘Have you lost your mind? I absolutely hate these extremists. They have ruined my state. Their actions taint all the good Muslims in the country. They killed my daughter. Forget giving them money, I will pay to get all of them killed,’ he said, his voice filled with anger.

Saurabh and I remained quiet. Safdar spoke after composing himself.

‘What can I do, anyway, for you or anyone else to stop suspecting me?

It’s not like I know anything. They did what they did.’

‘Uncle, you mentioned that Zara’s room is still as it used to be,’ I said.

‘Yeah.’

‘If it is okay, we would like to search it,’ I said.

Zara’s room in her father’s house had more square footage than our entire Malviya Nagar apartment. It had a four-poster teak bed in the centre, with an elaborate blue embroidered silk bedspread, and several framed pictures on an enamelled sideboard. The antique furniture in the room made it resemble Rajasthan’s top heritage hotels. Apart from lighter curtains, her room had not changed much since I had last visited several years ago. The intricate carpet, with a pattern of zinnia flowers woven into it, was still there.

‘We clean her room every day,’ Safdar said. ‘She still lives here.’

I scanned the framed pictures. Most were from holidays with her family.

One was of her and Raghu, holding hands at India Gate. I saw one of Zara as a child. She was standing next to her father, a little boy and a woman in a traditional Kashmiri kaftan.

‘Is that Sikander?’ I said.

‘Yeah. And that’s my ex-wife, Farzana,’ Safdar said. ‘It’s the only picture from the past that I allowed in this house.’

I noticed the six antique closets. Zara kept her clothes and other belongings here.

‘Uncle, is it okay if we open these?’ I said.

Safdar nodded. Saurabh and I divided three cupboards each between us.

I opened the first closet. They held Zara’s clothes. I recognised a red and white floral print salwar kameez that I had gifted to her on our first anniversary as a couple. I felt like a trespasser as I fumbled through a box of accessories, comprising necklaces, earrings and hair clips.

‘What do you expect to find?’ said Safdar, only mildly curious.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, as I moved to the second cupboard. ‘Never done this before.’

The second cupboard held her undergarments. I shut it and moved to the third, which had handbags and shoes.

‘Anything?’ I said to Saurabh.

‘Just clothes, clothes and more clothes,’ Saurabh said. Zara had four cupboards full of clothes.

Forty-five minutes later, we had rifled through all her closets apart from the one with the lingerie.

‘You checked that?’ Saurabh said, pointing to that cupboard.

‘Nah. I don’t think we should,’ I said.

Saurabh glanced sideways at Zara’s father. Safdar was checking his phone, bored with our pointless exercise.

‘Uncle, excuse me,’ Saurabh said. He pointed to the second cupboard.

‘Can we check this one?’

‘Do whatever. If I stop you, you will doubt me. Shameless you are, going through my dead daughter’s stuff,’ Safdar said, still busy with his phone.

‘Sorry, uncle. We just…’ Saurabh said before I shushed him.

I opened the second closet again. It had boxes made of canvas kept on various shelves. The boxes were filled with bras and lace underwear. Saurabh lifted a few garments from a box.

‘We don’t have to go through this,’ I said.

‘Fine,’ he said, placing the contents back in. I pushed one of the boxes back into the cupboard. It hit something hard at the back of the shelf.

‘What’s that?’ I extended my arm deep inside. I touched a keypad.

‘There’s a safe,’ I said.

‘Pull it out,’ Saurabh said.

Safdar noticed.

‘What happened?’

‘Uncle, there’s this little Godrej safe,’ Saurabh said. He tried to pull out the iron box from the cupboard. He couldn’t. Safdar walked up to us.

‘I remember this. She bought it online. She said she wanted to keep some jewellery and money.’

‘It’s bolted to the back,’ Saurabh said.

‘Yeah, of course. I got it done,’ Safdar said.

‘Do you know the keypad code, uncle?’ I said.

Safdar shook his head.

‘There must be keys,’ Saurabh said.

‘I don’t have them,’ Safdar said.

We searched the entire room for an hour but couldn’t find the keys either.

‘We will have to break it open,’ Saurabh said.

‘How?’ Safdar said.

‘It’s just a small safe. Any hardware guy with a metal cutter can do it,’ 

Saurabh said.

Clang! The front plate of the safe fell out as the fabricator shut his welding torch. He took his thousand bucks for the five-minute job and left.

I emptied out the contents of the safe and placed them in the middle of Zara’s bed. Safdar, Saurabh and I sat around them.

I then picked up the items one at a time. The first was a passport.

‘That’s Zara’s passport,’ Safdar said.

‘Should I make a list?’ Saurabh said, taking out his phone.

‘Sure,’ I said.

I dictated the contents as Saurabh noted everything down on his phone.

‘Money in various currencies. Indian rupees, around twenty thousand.

US dollars, nine hundred. Pakistani currency, ten thousand rupees.’

Safdar’s phone rang.

‘It’s from my godown. I need to take this call. Do what you have to. I am in my study,’ Safdar said and left the room.

I turned to Saurabh after Safdar left.

‘He seems genuine, right? Or do you think he is faking it?’ I said.

‘Can’t say. He didn’t stop us from searching though.’

‘Fine. Let’s keep going. Velvet pouch. Let me see what is inside.

Earrings,’ I said as I shook out the contents.

‘Gold earrings with diamonds and other inlaid precious stones. Old, traditional types,’ I said.

‘Look expensive,’ Saurabh said as he noted the details.

I went through the remaining contents of the safe.

‘A brown paper bag,’ I said. I turned the bag upside down. Several items fell out.

‘Wow, condoms,’ Saurabh and I said in unison.

‘And what is this?’ Saurabh said. He lifted up three, white, rectangular paper boxes, the size of a chocolate bar.

‘Prega News’, it said on top of the boxes.

‘These are pregnancy kits,’ I said.

‘Oh, yes. I have seen Kareena Kapoor advertise these. Do they help you get pregnant?’

‘No silly. They tell you if you are. Why does Zara have these?’ I said.

Saurabh shrugged.

Each box had a small sticker on it. The sticker had a barcode and text that read, ‘PregKit. INR 50’.

‘Well, she was in a relationship,’ I said, answering my own question.

‘Engaged, too.’

I swallowed the lump in my throat and picked up the next item.

‘An Oppo phone box,’ I said, opening the box. It had a cell phone in it.

‘Switch it on,’ Saurabh said.

It took a minute for the phone to boot up. The phone connected to a network, indicating it had a SIM card. No numeric lock.

‘Zara’s phone?’ Saurabh said.

‘Not her main phone for sure. She had an iPhone.’

‘What number is this?’ Saurabh said.

To find out, I dialled myself. My phone rang.

‘It’s funny. The number starts with +92,’ I said, checking my phone.

‘Bhai, that’s a Pakistan number. It’s a Pak SIM.’

I threw the phone aside. There’s something about Pakistan that makes you jump in fear.

‘She had a Pak SIM?’ I said. ‘Let’s note down the number.’

‘Anything in the phone? Contacts? Pictures?’ Saurabh said.

I opened the phone. It only had three contacts. They were ‘S’, ‘I’ and ‘W’.

I went to the picture library.

‘There are some pictures from the Karachi litfest,’ I said, going through the images. ‘Wait. Here’s one of Zara and Sikander, a selfie.’

‘Show me,’ Saurabh said. ‘He’s holding a machine gun!’

They were sitting on the floor of what looked like a hotel room; Sikander was holding the gun in his arms.

‘Damn,’ I said. ‘He is totally a terrorist.’

‘They are smiling. Zara too,’ Saurabh said. I was in a tizzy. Was Zara part of them? The Tehreek-e-whatever they called themselves?

The room in which the picture was taken had a window. I couldn’t see much apart from a lot of wires, advertisement hoardings and some ad banners.

‘Is this also taken in Pakistan?’ Saurabh said.

I zoomed in closer to the picture. The resolution dropped, but I could make out a couple of Devanagri words on the hoardings.

‘Hindi ads outside. They are in India,’ I said.

I kept the phone aside and moved to the next item.

‘A business card,’ I said. ‘In Urdu? Or is this Arabic?’

Saurabh shook his head as he noted down the details. He had no idea.

‘A small plastic pouch with white powder,’ I said.

‘Talcum powder?’ he said.

‘Why would she keep talcum powder in a safe? Want to taste it?’ I said.

‘Are you crazy? Could be cyanide or something. You never know with these terrorists.’

‘Zara wasn’t a terrorist,’ I almost said, but why did Zara Lone, who I thought of as the perfect woman, have these things in her safe?

‘A brass capsule. Whoa, is this a bullet?’ I said.

Saurabh lifted up the tiny piece of lethal metal.

‘Yeah,’ Saurabh said. ‘What else?’

‘Some coins from Pakistan.’

‘Fine, let’s take photos.’

Saurabh used his phone to take several pictures of each item we had found in the safe.

‘This is not the Zara I knew,’ I said.

‘Bhai, with women, you can never tell what is going on,’ he said, zooming in on the bullet.

Safdar finished his call and came back to Zara’s room.

‘Ya khuda,’ he said, when he noticed the pregnancy kits and the bullet.

‘What is all this?’

‘We should ask you. It’s in your house,’ Saurabh said.

Safdar picked up the phone and saw the picture of Zara and Sikander with the machine gun.

‘I swear upon Allah, I didn’t know about any of this,’ he said.

He picked up the white packet. ‘What is this?’

‘No idea,’ I said. ‘By the way, can you read this?’ I handed him the business card.

‘Hashim Abdullah, Commander. Tehreek-e-Jihad,’ Safdar said.

‘Anything else?’ I said.

‘No. No phone number or address.’

I collected all the items and placed them in my backpack.

‘We have to take all of this with us,’ I said.

Safdar thought for a second and then nodded.

‘You loved her,’ Safdar said as I stood up to leave.

It was not a question, but I still answered. ‘Yes.’

‘She loved you a lot too, Keshav.’

‘Did she?’

‘She badly wanted to be part of a family. She thought she would get that with you. But when your parents didn’t like her, it broke her.’

I stayed silent. Did he not know this was a raw nerve?

‘She fought with me for a year because I had insisted on your conversion. She lost you. Cut off from me. That is when she became close to Sikander again.’

‘Maybe. I tried to reconnect but she kept avoiding me,’ I mumbled.

‘Because even though she loved you, you couldn’t give her what she craved—a stable family. Neither could I. My three marriages kept things … unstable. She lost her mother, then Sikander and then you. My poor girl went through so much alone.’

‘I am sorry, uncle,’ I said gently. ‘No need to tell me all this.’

Safdar pointed to my backpack.

‘If this goes to the police or media, it is all over. Zara, the girl you say you loved, will be labelled a terrorist forever.’

‘I won’t go to anyone yet. Because, if this comes out, the killer or killers will get alerted,’ I said.

‘Bhai, are you serious? You are still interested in chasing the killer?’

Saurabh said, speaking after a long time.

‘Why not?’ I said.

‘Because if terrorists are involved, they will blow our brains out too,’

Saurabh said. He climbed off the bed.

‘Can we talk about this later?’ I said to Saurabh.

‘There’s nothing to talk. I am going home,’ Saurabh said and walked out of Zara’s bedroom.

‘Your friend is right. These people are dangerous. Painful as it is, it may be better to accept they killed Zara and just move on,’ Safdar said.

I zipped up my backpack and slipped it onto my back. I stood up to leave.

‘I have a problem in life, uncle. I have always found it hard to “just move on”.’





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