The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 27]

 Chapter 27

‘Dear friends, we are gathered here to find peace. Peace to accept what happened. Peace for me, despite the fact that I miss my daughter every single moment. Peace to not feel so angry and keep asking why. Peace to trust God’s will,’ Safdar said, addressing everyone at the prayer meet.

People were sitting in a semi-circle on the floor, men and women separately, facing a collage of black and white pictures of Zara. Around forty guests, all dressed in pastels, had come. Most of them were Zara’s uncles and aunts, who sat with Zainab and Safdar’s aged and ailing mother on the floor.

Raghu sat three places to my left, while Saurabh was sitting right next to me. I recognised several of Zara’s hostel friends in the crowd as well.

Sanam, Zara’s friend from Himadri, spoke after Safdar.

‘Room 105 is still hers. It feels like Zara is going to walk out of it at any moment. I look for her in the lawns outside Himadri, where she used to sit with her books and study,’ Sanam said emotionally.

I checked the time—5:30 p.m. Faiz had not arrived yet. Safdar had personally called the captain, apart from sending him the card. Faiz had confirmed his attendance as well. As per my instructions, Safdar had sent a car to pick Faiz up from the airport. We didn’t want him to go to his Arjun Vihar home first and see the wreckage.

‘Westend Greens is right next to the airport. You come straight to our house. Why go home when Salma and the kids are in Dubai?’ Safdar had told Faiz on the phone.

I checked the Srinagar–Delhi flight status on my phone. Faiz’s flight had already landed.

‘What if he doesn’t come?’ Saurabh whispered in my ear.

I nodded at him in a pacifying manner.

After Sanam, Safdar invited Raghu to speak. As Raghu stood up to address us, I saw a Toyota Fortuner drive onto the lawns. Faiz was here.

Saurabh gave an audible sigh of relief as Faiz removed his shoes and entered the room. He folded his hands to greet Safdar and his family from a distance.

‘What can I say?’ Raghu said and paused. He adjusted his spectacles when he noticed Faiz enter the room. Faiz smiled at Raghu, who gave a brief nod in response. Raghu began his speech.

‘I wanted to say that if there is anyone who has felt her loss the most, it is me. When you plan the rest of your life with someone, and then that someone is gone forever, what do you do with the rest of your life?’

Faiz took a seat in the corner of the men’s section. As Raghu continued speaking, Faiz pulled out his phone to check messages.

‘I am shattered. I try to cope. I work so much because I want no time to think. But I know I am not alone in this suffering. All of you here, Zara’s parents, her grandmother, her friends… How can I say my pain is the most?

All of you have endured this loss and still continue to feel the pain. We will never be the same again.’

Faiz was still glued to his phone. Raghu paused as he fought back tears.

One of Zara’s young cousins gave him a glass of water. Raghu took a sip and continued. ‘In my whole life, I haven’t met anyone as kind, as positive, as generous, as compassionate and as loving as Zara. She is the best thing that ever happened to me. It is she who encouraged me to do whatever I have done in life. I don’t think I will ever feel the way I did with her again.

Wherever she is, I want to tell her—I am grateful to you. For all the memories and all the positive things I learnt from you. May God bless your soul.’

Raghu finished his speech. He continued to stand, eyes closed, overcome with grief. Sanam walked up to him, placed her arm around his shoulder and walked him back slowly to his seat.

After a few more relatives had spoken, a maulvi recited a prayer, signalling the end of the prayer meet. People came forward to individually offer their condolences to Safdar before they left.

At 7 p.m., a handful of people remained. Faiz came to hug Safdar.

‘Uncle, I will take your leave too,’ Faiz said.

‘No, no, no! You have come all the way. Have dinner and go,’ Safdar said.

‘Uncle, I told you. Our annual military exercises are on. My senior officer gave me leave for only one day. That too on compassionate grounds.’

‘Yeah, but your flight is tomorrow…’

‘Yes, but I haven’t even gone home and my senior officer is messaging me nonstop,’ Faiz said.

Safdar looked hurt. ‘Is this not home? Let me feel I can still have dinner with my children.’ He turned to Raghu. ‘Raghu, please, you also stay for dinner.’

‘Of course, uncle,’ Raghu said politely.

‘Keshav, Saurabh, you too. Sanam, please ask your friends to stay and eat. You girls give Zainab company over dinner.’

Sanam nodded.

‘Boys, come, we will all have a meal together,’ Safdar said.

Safdar Lone’s dining room impressed me every time I entered it. The ornate, eighteen-seater table had only five guests tonight. Safdar sat at his usual seat at the head of the table. Raghu and Faiz sat on his left, while Saurabh and I took the chairs on his right.

I kept my phone in my lap. I typed a message to Inspector Rana.

‘Are you ready?’

‘Of course. Now will you tell me what this is about?’ he replied. I had told Rana to be on standby for something urgent.

‘How far are you from Westend Greens?’ I messaged back.

‘I am in Hauz Khas. Maybe forty minutes.’

‘Okay. You can start now. 238 Westend Greens.’

‘This is that girl Zara’s parents’ place?’

‘Yes. Come with a few men. I will give you her killer. With evidence.’

‘What? Who? How? You sure?’ he replied.

‘Come and get all your questions answered.’

I looked up from the phone. Safdar smiled at me.

‘This generation is so addicted to their phones. Even Zara was like that.’

‘Sorry, uncle,’ I said. ‘My mother just wanted to know if I had eaten.’

‘Nobody can love you like your parents,’ Safdar said.

Two servers came into the dining room, each with a tray full of food.

They placed the dishes—yellow daal, phulkas, gobi aloo, chicken soup and a raita—on the table. In keeping with the sombre occasion, the Lone family had arranged a simple meal compared to the typical feasts served at their residence. The servers ladled out individual portions of the dishes on our plates.

‘I too joined Facebook last year. Now they say you should be on Instantgram,’ Safdar said.

‘Instagram,’ Saurabh said.

‘Yes, that one. It is so confusing. Anything else I should be on?’ Safdar said.

‘Saurabh has a favourite app,’ I said. ‘Helps him make new friends.’

‘Which one?’ Safdar said.

‘Nothing,’ Saurabh said, kicking me under the table.

‘Apps rule the world now,’ Raghu said. ‘By the way, Facebook owns Instagram.’

‘Does it?’ Safdar said, surprised.

‘Yes, WhatsApp too,’ Raghu said. He ate rice and daal with his hands, just as he used to in the hostel.

‘I love WhatsApp,’ Faiz said. ‘Helps me stay in touch with people so far away.’

The domestic help had finished serving the food.

‘Shut the doors when you leave,’ Safdar said to them.

Faiz looked at Safdar, somewhat taken aback but still smiling.

‘Sorry, I thought we might discuss Zara’s case,’ Safdar said. ‘Didn’t want anyone else to hear.’

Faiz nodded as he tore his chapati and dipped it in the daal.

‘That watchman’s trial will start soon?’ Faiz said.

‘The watchman didn’t do it,’ Safdar said in a cool voice.

‘He didn’t?’ Faiz said, his chapati morsel stopped mid-way to his mouth.

‘No,’ I said. I kept my fork and knife on the table.

‘You are sure? It isn’t Laxman, the watchman? The police said he did it on TV,’ Faiz said.

‘I am sure,’ I said. ‘In fact, I even know who the killer is.’

All eyes turned to Faiz. The hand that held the chapati trembled.

‘Why is everyone looking at me like this?’ Faiz said.

‘Gaddaar. I treated you like a son,’ Safdar said.

‘What are you saying, uncle?’ Faiz said.

Safdar pressed his temple with his hand.

He said, ‘Continue, Keshav.’

‘Captain Faiz Khan,’ I said. ‘Please stand up.’

‘Huh?’ Faiz said, hesitant at first. Safdar glared at him and Faiz stood up.

‘I need your help.’

‘What?’ Faiz said.

‘I will need your strength. In case the killer tries to escape.’

Saurabh, Raghu and Safdar looked baffled.

‘You said—’ Safdar began, but I interrupted him.

‘Uncle, I have said enough. It is time the killer tells us the truth himself.’

Everyone at the table looked at each other, confused.

‘All I can say is this. 6E766. 8th February 2018,’ I said.

‘What are you saying, bhai? This is not what—’ Saurabh said.

‘One minute, Saurabh,’ I said. ‘I have airport CCTV footage. Own up or…’

There was a creaking sound as Raghu pushed back his chair and stood up.

‘I need to use the restroom, I’ll be right back,’ Raghu said.

‘Captain Faiz,’ I said. I rolled my eyes towards Raghu. The military commando understood the message in an instant. He jumped up from his seat at lightning speed and grabbed Raghu from behind with his strong arms.

‘You are not going anywhere,’ Faiz said, his strong biceps bulging.

‘Hey, I just want to use the toilet,’ Raghu said, adjusting his spectacles with his free arm.

‘No, you don’t. Sit down, Raghu, and tell everyone what happened,’ I said.

Faiz released Raghu. Raghu sat down again.

‘What happened?’ Safdar said.

‘Bhai. What?’ Saurabh said and looked at me.

‘He was in Hyderabad!’ Safdar exclaimed.

I turned to Raghu.

‘Can you please end their confusion?’ I said.




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