The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 25]

 


Chapter 25


Spit was Chandan’s weapon of choice; he was like a fireman with an out-of-control fire extinguisher that day. His emotions ranged between hopping mad to completely deranged.

‘Two weeks. In the middle of the peak months. I allowed you. I did,’

Chandan said, with blended gutkha and saliva landing everywhere within a four-feet radius of his mouth.

‘I fell sick, sir. Gastroenteritis,’ I said. Saurabh and I had Googled

‘stomach infections’ a few minutes ago.

‘What is that?’ Chandan said, chewing his paan extra-hard.

‘Gastroenteritis, also known as infectious diarrhoea, is inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that involves the stomach and small intestine,’ I said, repeating the first line verbatim from the Wikipedia page.

Chandan looked at me, his mouth twisted in disgust.

‘Symptoms may include diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Fever, lack of energy, and dehydration may also occur,’ Saurabh said, finishing the Wikipedia description.

‘You teach JEE or medical?’ Chandan said.

‘JEE, sir,’ I said.

‘So why are you talking like medical?’

‘Pardon me?’ I said.

‘Three weeks you disappear. I am going to cut from your salary.’

Did that mean the idiot was not going to fire us? Fine, I could live with a pay-cut.

‘Of course, sir,’ I said. I coughed twice. When you fake sickness, you have to cough.

‘I don’t care about your threats. My wife is going to leave me anyway, let me tell you.’

‘Sorry to hear that, sir,’ Saurabh said.

‘Yes, she said I am impossible to live with. I don’t care. She can go.’

‘Her loss entirely, of course,’ I said.

‘What?’

‘Nothing, sir.’

‘I hope you will take extra classes for the time you were absent.’

‘We will, sir. We just need a few more days off,’ I said.

‘More days?’ Chandan said, his volume so loud the classes outside could hear him.

‘Medical tests, sir,’ Saurabh said. ‘He has recovered, but we need to do some tests.’

‘You have to go back to Srinagar?’ Chandan screamed.

‘No, sir,’ I said. ‘In Delhi only. Only for a couple of days.’

‘So, you go. Why does Manish have to go?’

‘My name is Saurabh, sir,’ Saurabh said.

Chandan looked at him with suspicion.

‘Is it?’

‘Yes, sir. Anyway, I will go to help him around the hospital.’

‘I am still weak, sir,’ I said. I coughed five times. Chandan pushed his swivel chair back, as if a few inches further from me would make him escape my germs.

‘Collared sports T-shirts and white cotton shorts. That’s what Army officers wear in the evening,’ Saurabh said.

We stood on the road, across from the guard post at the Arjun Vihar entrance. We had scanned the entire outside perimeter of Arjun Vihar, the Army colony with twenty apartment towers located near Dhaula Kuan. We observed the security checkpost at the main gate for a couple of hours. In the evening, there was a heavy flow of pedestrians in and out of the colony. If people looked like residents, the security guards let them in without any special checks. If any officers in evening sports attire walked in with confidence, the guards did not so much as even look at them. Women and children moved in and out without any trouble. Only those men who looked somewhat lost or not fauji enough were stopped and questioned at the security gate.

‘Let’s come back with the right clothes,’ I said.

Three days later, Saurabh and I arrived at the Arjun Vihar main gate again.

We came from different directions, but at the exact same time in the evening.

Both of us wore the same attire as other officers, a collared white T-shirt and white shorts.

‘Good evening, sir, good to see you,’ I said. We had decided that since Saurabh was fatter, he had to be my senior.

‘What timing, young man, good to see you,’ Saurabh pronounced rather strangely, in what he thought was a colonial British accent, and patted my back hard, somewhat overdoing the Army commander bit.

‘I just finished my evening walk, sir,’ I said.

‘Come, young man, come home for a drink,’ Saurabh said.

I think we overdid the drama. The guard barely noticed us anyway.

We went inside Arjun Vihar and walked to the central garden quadrangle. The residential towers encircled this public garden.

‘How do we find Faiz’s place?’ Saurabh said.

‘He mentioned ground floor,’ I said.

‘There are so many ground floor flats.’

‘Twenty towers. Two ground floor flats in each tower. It is one of the forty apartments.’

‘It will take so long to check each one. We should just ask someone,’

Saurabh said.

‘Avoidable,’ I said. ‘Let’s take a walk. Read as many nameplates as we can.’

We walked along the edge of the central quadrangle. We ignored homes that had lights on. It meant people stayed there, and Faiz had told us his family was in Dubai.

‘Major Yadav. Not this one,’ I said.

‘Captain Ahluwalia. Not this one either,’ Saurabh said.

Fifteen minutes later, we passed a ground floor home in tower eight. It had no lights switched on inside. It did not have a nameplate either. However, it had a circular sign with Arabic calligraphy.

‘I know what it means. God is great. Zara had a pendant like that,’ I said.

‘So it is a Muslim person’s house,’ Saurabh said.

I looked around and saw that no one was near us. We went close to the apartment entrance. I peeped into the garden. I saw a somewhat old and neglected double stroller.

‘How old did he say his twins were?’ I said.

‘Three years old. Oh, that’s a double stroller. Meant for little twins.’

‘This is the place. Let’s leave. We’ll come back again next Sunday, the day of the T20 finals,’ I said.

‘When does the match start?’

‘Eight o’clock.’

We had entered Arjun Vihar again using the same method, with Saurabh and me meeting at the gate in sports attire. This time we had brought a backpack with us. As we still had time before the match began, we climbed up the ten storeys of tower eight and waited near the terrace landing area. We had decided to enter Faiz’s house at the time of the T20 World Cup Finals, when every family in Arjun Vihar would be busy watching TV.

‘One more hour,’ I said.

Saurabh played a game on his phone.

‘I am on level three hundred in Candy Crush,’ he said.

‘Candy Crush? Why? No more Tinder?’ I said.

‘Screw Tinder,’ Saurabh said, sliding his finger on the phone as he tried to eliminate all jellies.

‘Didn’t you get a Tinder match last week?’

‘Turned out to be a transvestite.’

‘What?’

‘He said I have boobs, dick and a heart. Wanna meet?’

I burst out laughing.

‘Two out of three isn’t bad,’ I said. ‘You could have adjusted.’

‘Shh. Be quiet. You want the faujis to come and clobber us?’ Saurabh said, eyes still on his phone screen.

An hour later, it was time.

‘Careful,’ I whispered.

Saurabh parted the hedge so we could get into Faiz’s garden. We tiptoed over the lawn. The match had begun, and the colony looked desolate. I looked around and at the apartments above me. In the darkness, I couldn’t see anyone.

Saurabh sat on the grass and opened his backpack. He took out the power drill, a battery pack and three towels. He inserted the battery pack in the drill and switched on the power. The loud whirring noise from the drill made both of us jump.

‘Damn,’ I whispered. ‘This is too noisy.’

‘Wait,’ Saurabh said. He switched off the power drill and wrapped the three towels around it.

We walked up to the front door, which faced the garden, and I switched on my phone’s flashlight to check the lock.

‘Can you do this?’ I said. ‘It is a doorknob lock.’

Saurabh said, ‘Yeah. But once I open this, the lock will need to be replaced. He will know someone broke in, whenever he comes.’

‘As long as he doesn’t know who broke in,’ I said. ‘And, he won’t be coming anytime soon.’

Saurabh used a thin drill bit attachment on the power drill and pressed against the keyhole.

‘Ready?’ he said. I nodded.

He switched on the drill. It whirred into action.

‘It’s still noisy,’ I said. The towels weren’t helping much.

‘Shh. Just a few seconds. Wait, I felt one lock pin go.’

Saurabh switched to a thicker drill bit. He continued to drill.

‘Stop, Golu. Too loud.’

‘Relax,’ Saurabh said, full attention on the towel-wrapped machine.

‘Done. All six pins gone.’

‘What?’ I whispered. He placed the drill back in the backpack.

I held the doorknob in the darkness. The drilling had made the metal warm. I turned it to the right. The door opened.

‘Welcome home, honey,’ Saurabh said.

We stepped into a dark room. Saurabh and I flashed our phone lights around.

I saw some paintings of war scenes and a sofa in the drawing room, but it was too dark to see much else.

‘What to do now?’ Saurabh said.

‘Nothing. Find a bed and sleep. We can only search in the morning. We can’t switch on the lights.’

‘Are you sure we can’t search using our phone torches… Oww!’

Saurabh screamed in pain as I heard a loud thud.

‘What happened?’

‘I hit a table,’ Saurabh said. He hobbled and sat down on the sofa.

‘Bedroom, Golu. We do nothing until morning.’

Saurabh was snoring next to me. My 5 a.m. phone alarm continued to ring. I sat up on the bed and saw twilight outside. Scared someone would find us, I had not slept a wink all night.

I saw a study table with a desktop computer in the bedroom. It had a framed picture of Faiz’s family. We were in the right house.

‘Rise and shine, Golu.’

Over the next three hours we learnt a lot about the Khan household.

They ate two brands of breakfast cereal, Chocos and plain cornflakes. They had two crates of Milkmaid condensed milk on the upper shelves of their kitchen. They used Cinthol toilet soaps for themselves, and Johnson’s baby soap for the twins.

One of the two bedrooms in the house was a kids’ room. It had two cribs and two closets. We checked the closets. One of them contained clothes. The other had toys kept in steel boxes. Saurabh pulled out one of them.

‘So heavy,’ Saurabh said.

‘What’s inside?’ I said.

Saurabh took a peep inside.

‘Spiderman, with a broken leg. Superman with a moustache drawn on it.

Works as evidence?’

‘Let’s check the master bedroom,’ I said.

‘This is locked,’ I said, standing next to Faiz’s large bedroom closet.

‘As if we haven’t broken locks before,’ Saurabh said.

Saurabh took out a flat-head screwdriver from the backpack and inserted it between the closet doors. A few hard twists and the door snapped open.

‘You are getting good at this,’ I said.

‘Alternative career. Maybe I should mention this skill set in LinkedIn.’

I moved forward to open Faiz’s closet.

Trrring. The ringing of the doorbell made us both jump. We checked the time. It was 8:30.

‘Who is it?’ Saurabh whispered.

‘The hell do I know,’ I whispered back.

‘We are fucked.’

The bell rang again.

‘Let’s see who it is,’ I said.

We tip-toed out of the bedroom and came to the living room. We walked to the main door, Saurabh two steps behind me.

The bell rang again.

‘Bhai,’ Saurabh said, his voice filled with fear.

‘Shh,’ I said. I looked into the peephole.

‘Who is it?’ Saurabh mouthed.

I kept a finger on my lips.

A minute later, the person at the door left.

‘He’s going to the opposite house,’ I said, my eye still at the peephole.

The person rang the bell of the opposite house.

‘What is he going to tell them?’ Saurabh said.

The door of the apartment opposite opened. A maid was standing there, holding a bundle of clothes. She gave it to the person ringing the bell. The person took the clothes and left. I removed my eye from the peephole and stood up straight.

‘It was the dhobi. Came to collect clothes for ironing,’ I said and smiled.

‘He’s ironed my heart flat. I think it will explode.’

‘Let’s go back to the bedroom.’

I headed to Faiz’s closet and opened it. One side had his wife’s clothes. I rifled through them, but found nothing of relevance. The other side had

Faiz’s army uniforms and civilian clothes. In the bottom shelves were multiple pairs of heavy, black boots.

I took out the shoes and kept them on the bedroom floor.

‘What are you doing?’ Saurabh said.

‘Checking the lower shelves,’ I said.

Stuffed in the back, behind where the shoes had been, I found a sports bag. I dragged it out and opened it. It had two dozen tennis balls inside. I ran my hands through the bag. I touched something cold and rectangular. I pulled it out.

‘Wow,’ Saurabh said out loud. I was holding a hundred-gram gold biscuit in my hand.

‘Is this real?’ I said.

‘Yes, bhai. Are there more?’

I turned the bag upside down. The tennis balls bounced and rolled across the room. Nine more biscuits fell out.

‘This is one kilo of gold,’ I said. ‘Worth what? Thirty lakh rupees.’

‘Army guys are paid that well?’ Saurabh said.

‘No, Golu. This is screwed up,’ I said. The gold glittered in the early morning light.

‘Did you say the box of toys felt heavy?’ I said.

‘Yeah. Why?’

We ran across to the children’s room. Under the Spiderman, Superman and other figurines, we found twenty more biscuits, neatly arranged at the bottom. Of course, the biscuits were not Parle-G.

‘Everything for desh,’ I said.

‘This is messed up. Is he possibly doing wrong things?’ Saurabh said.

‘He’s possibly a fucking murderer. Golu, let’s check his computer.’

As Saurabh switched on Faiz’s PC, I noticed the four drawers of the study table.

‘We need to check these too,’ I said.

‘He has a machine from the 1800s. Taking forever to boot up,’ Saurabh said, eyes on the computer monitor. ‘I am going to hack this old horse good.’

I rummaged through the drawers. The bottom three had nothing apart from stationery and other household items like measuring tapes and charging cables. The top drawer was locked.

‘This needs a key,’ I said.

‘Key?’ Saurabh smiled cockily. ‘What’s that?’

He pointed at the drill. Two minutes later, the top drawer was open.

‘Medicines here. A bit of cash,’ I said, fingering the contents. ‘And these are … wow … so many pregnancy kits.’

‘What?’ Saurabh said.

I took out three packets of Prega News. Saurabh took one from me and opened it. It had a plastic strip with a clear rectangular window in the middle.

‘What exactly do you do with this?’ Saurabh said.

‘You pee on it.’

‘Faiz does?’

‘Are you stupid, Golu? The woman does. If two lines appear, it means she is pregnant.’

‘This could belong to Faiz’s wife,’ Saurabh said, pointing to the family picture. ‘Maybe they want a third child?’

I examined the Prega News box. On one side, it had a small white sticker. The sticker had a barcode and text that had ‘PregKit. INR 50’ printed on it.

‘Golu, you have pictures from Zara’s safe?’

‘Yeah, I do,’ Saurabh said, typing on the computer keyboard. ‘By the way, this idiot doesn’t even have a password on his computer. No hacking required. What a let-down.’

‘You could get in?’

‘Here you go. This is the desktop,’ Saurabh said, slapping his hand on the computer mouse.

‘But can you show me the pictures from the safe first.’

Saurabh passed me his phone. I opened the pictures of the pregnancy kits in Zara’s safe.

I zoomed in.

‘This is the same chemist tag as the kits here,’ I said.

Saurabh compared the picture with the Prega News packet.

‘Oh, yes.’

‘They were bought at the same place,’ I said.

‘Faiz bought many of them. Gave some to Zara. The affair is confirmed.

Earrings explained too.’

‘Zara was pregnant? With Faiz’s child?’ I said.

Shell-shocked, I sat on the bed, staring at the ceiling above me.

‘Likely. But what happened? Did he make her abort? Was she pregnant when she died?’

I covered both my ears with my hands.

‘Are you okay, bhai?’

‘This is fucked up. I never imagined Zara could do this. Idiot me, thinking she’s some perfect soul of this universe while she goes and fucking…’

‘Shh. It happens, bhai.’

‘She told me, “I am happy with Raghu. Leave me alone”. I thought that is why she wasn’t coming back.’

I stood up. I lifted Faiz’s family picture and smashed it on the wall in front of me. The glass frame shattered in hundreds of pieces.

‘Bhai, control yourself. If people hear us, we are dead.’

‘I’m already dead. Let’s leave.’

‘Can I at least finish checking his computer?’ Saurabh said.

‘Whatever,’ I said.

‘Meanwhile, pack up the biscuits. Let’s take anything that could help as evidence to nail this guy.’

‘Fine,’ I said. I worked on autopilot as I transferred the gold biscuits into the backpack.

I don’t know what upset me more, Faiz killing Zara, or Faiz making her pregnant.

‘Nothing here on the computer. I only have the captain’s browser history.’

‘We need evidence, Saurabh. I don’t want the police saying we don’t have enough.’

‘He likes porn. Pornhub features a lot. I like that one too. He likes them white and young.’

‘Shut up and tell me something useful.’

‘Calm down, bhai. So he Google-searched “best divorce lawyers in Delhi”.’

‘Clearly, the perfect Khan family isn’t perfect,’ I said.

Saurabh continued to talk as he scrolled through the history. ‘Usual online shopping sites, and damn, many searches and clicks on abortion clinics in Delhi.’

‘What?’

‘Yeah. In December 2017. Two months before Zara’s death. The idiot never deletes his browser history.’

‘Let’s take his computer too.’

‘No need. I took the browser history on my pen drive,’ Saurabh said, showing me a memory stick.

‘Good. Anything else?’

‘I found some pictures on the computer. Backup from a phone,’ Saurabh said.

Saurabh opened a library of photos. Most were pictures of the Baramulla camp in Kashmir. In many, Faiz posed with his Army colleagues. Thirty pictures later, we saw a selfie of Faiz and Zara. They stood in a houseboat, probably in Srinagar, his arm around her. They stared at the camera like lovers who had just woken up from a nap. The next picture showed a sunset, taken from a houseboat window.

‘Need more evidence?’ Saurabh said, clapping his hands.

‘This sunset picture is the same one Zara posted on Insta,’ I said.

‘Fine then, we take the pictures too,’ Saurabh said. He plugged in the pen drive into Faiz’s computer and sucked out everything. Once done, Saurabh shut the computer down.

‘Let’s go,’ I said. ‘We have classes to take.’

‘Wait, just one more thing, bhai.’

‘What?’

‘You think I can eat some of their Chocos before we leave?’






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