The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 32]

 


Chapter 32


Raghu speaks—II

‘Let’s sleep, Zara.’

‘Five minutes, I promise,’ she said.

I turned on my side to avoid the light from her phone. I had to wake up early for a meeting in office. Zara was on a four-day trip to Hyderabad, and we had just come back from dinner at the Taj Falak numa Palace to celebrate making her a partner in my company. I wanted her in my arms.

I turned to her after a while.

‘Five minutes are up.’

‘Yeah,’ she said absently, eyes still on her phone. She had a smile on her face.

‘So, come.’

‘Coming,’ she said. She stroked my hair with her left hand as she continued to type with her right.

‘Who are you messaging?’

‘Someone on Insta. She read my blog and doesn’t agree with it. Just a bit of a debate with her.’

‘Seriously, Zara.’

I wanted her. I had missed her body next to mine.

‘You close your eyes,’ she said, patting my head.

I turned away from her again. I stared at the wall clock. Ten minutes later, I turned my head to watch her from the corner of my eye. She grinned as she typed a message. Who grins like that when they talk to a random stranger on the internet?

Ten more minutes and she shut her phone and slid into bed. I turned away from her. She held me from behind.

‘It’s easier if you spoon me,’ she said.

I pretended to be asleep.

‘I am sorry, baby,’ Zara murmured.

I turned around. She moved into position for me to spoon her.

‘This is the best place in the world for me,’ Zara said.

I placed my hand on her back, slowly sliding it to her chest.

She held my hand and moved it away from her breasts. I tried again.

Again she removed my hand.

‘Can we just hold each other tonight?’ she said, turning to look at me.

Her beautiful almond eyes shone bright. How could I say no to them?

‘Sure,’ I said.

‘Goodnight, love,’ she said and pecked me on the cheek.

She fell asleep in minutes, leaving me wide awake and worried. I had found Zara’s behaviour odd for weeks. When her breathing turned rhythmic, I leaned over to her bedside table and picked up her iPhone. She did not move.

I brought her phone near her hand, took her thumb, and grazed it on the iPhone’s touch ID. In a flash, the phone unlocked. I climbed off the bed and went to the bathroom.

I opened Zara’s WhatsApp in the bathroom.

Right on top was a chat between Zara and Captain Faiz. I scrolled up to a conversation from three days ago.

‘Are you tense?’ Faiz said.

‘Somewhat. Not in full panic mode yet.’

‘Don’t worry. It’s nothing.’

‘My periods are never this late.’

‘I pulled out. You checked the calendar too.’

‘I know … but … Worried ’

‘My darling, you are fine.’

‘Should I take a test? Prega News or something.’

‘Don’t overreact.’

‘Why not? I am two weeks late.’

‘Give it a few more days. Say a week?’

‘Can we do a test when I am back from Hyderabad?’

‘Sure.’

‘Sorry to put you through this.’

‘My fault too.’

‘No, I insisted you not use protection. I wanted to feel you.’

I went weak. I clasped the phone hard to prevent it from slipping from my hand.

I scrolled down to the more recent chats. The latest one was from tonight. This was what Zara was actually doing when she said she was in a debate with some blog reader.

‘How’s Hyderabad?’ Faiz had messaged.

‘It’s good. Just had a lovely dinner with Raghu at a restored palace.’

‘Hmmm.’

‘What?’

‘Am I allowed to say I am jealous?’

‘No.’

‘Okay. I won’t.’

‘We decided, Faiz. It’s over.’

‘I know.’

‘You have a family. Kids.’

‘I know. But for you, I can change that.’

‘Let’s not talk like that, please.’

‘I miss you, my little baby.’

‘What did you do today?’

‘I went to Khan Market. Bought Prega News.’

‘You did?’

‘Yeah. Ten packets.’

‘Ten?!’

‘Yeah. The chemist looked at me like I run a harem or something.’

‘Lol. Can’t believe you bought ten!!’

‘Because I want you to double check and be calm.’

‘More like a deca-check.

‘Come back soon and we can test it.’

‘Okay. Thanks, by the way. That’s very sweet of you.’

‘Just doing what I have to.’

‘I am sure it is nothing.’

‘Yeah. Me too. But listen…’

‘Yeah, Faiz?’

‘What if there is something?’

‘Please don’t say that.’

‘Just imagine how cute our kid will be. With such beautiful parents.’

‘Hahahahaha.’

Zara, good to know what you find funny these days, I thought.

‘Two beautiful Kashmiris. Giving birth to a beautiful Kashmiri angel,’

Faiz had said.

‘Faiz!’

‘Shh, Zara. Just dream with me for a moment. Can you grant me that?’

‘You are crazy!’

‘Yes, I am. So, say, boy or girl?’

‘Girl. Of course. And my brains. Not yours.’

‘Shut up.’

‘Hahahaha.’

‘And looks?’

‘I’m okay if looks are on dad. He’s mighty handsome.’

‘Aww. Thank you.’

‘Okay, need to go. It is late. Raghu is calling me.’

‘Stay.’

‘What?’

‘Have my baby.’

‘What?’

‘Even if you are with Raghu. At least our child will be super good-looking. With him, you never know!! ;) ;)’

‘What!! Faiz! Shut up!

She had asked Faiz to shut up. She had also added tears of laughter emojis. Fuck, the emojis, man. They change everything, don’t they?

‘Well, you don’t want Raghu’s looks for your kids, do you? All black black ugly ugly.’

‘Shut up, you racist captain sahib!

‘So, at least keep a good Kashmiri gene pool.’

‘How may pegs, Faiz?’

‘None. Honest.’

‘Goodnight. And bring those kits with you next time we meet.’

‘Wait…’

‘Goodnight.’

The chat had ended after that.

I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. Sure, I am dark-skinned, or ‘all black black’ as Faiz calls my future kids. ‘All black black ugly ugly,’ he said. Funny, isn’t it? I don’t know, I am not finding it funny. But Zara did .

Is this what a loser looks like? Am I a classic example of what the guys back at IIT used to call me—a chutiya? My girlfriend fucks a fauji on the side, doesn’t use protection, could be pregnant by him and, at least in digital emoji form, laughs hysterically when told my kids could be ‘all black black, ugly ugly’.

‘And what am I doing about it?’ I asked the person in the mirror.

Fucking nothing. In fact, I am scared. I am worried that Zara might wake up and find out I opened her phone. What will happen if I confront her about her cheating? What if she walks out? Will a loser like me ever get a girl like Zara again? More than being angry with her, I am still scared about losing her, despite what she did. Textbook definition of loser, isn’t it?

I went back to the bedroom. Put the phone on the bedside table on Zara’sside. Zara, fast asleep, had not moved from her position.

I lay down in bed and stared at the wall clock and thought about Faiz and Zara, Zara and Faiz, the entire night.

‘Hot idlis and coffee,’ Zara said, ‘just the way you like it.’

‘You didn’t have to wake up,’ I said. I sipped my filter coffee, something Zara had now learnt to make almost as well as my amma.

‘I wanted to say sorry about last night,’ Zara said. ‘I was just tense.’

‘Why?’

‘I wanted to tell you. I am a bit late.’

Of course, honey, I already know, I wanted to say, but didn’t.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘You think there’s a chance?’

‘Last month when you came to Delhi,’ Zara said, ‘I was mid-cycle.’

‘But I used protection. I always do.’

‘Then, what else? Unless it is a hormonal imbalance. No other possibility.’

How about you riding an Army man’s gun, I wanted to ask. I took a biteof an idli instead.

‘What do we do? Anything I can do?’ I said.

‘I will work it out. Just wanted you to know for now,’ Zara said, refillingmy coffee tumbler.

‘Let me know if you need anything,’ I said.

‘Sure.’

I stood up to leave for office.

‘Raghu,’ she called from behind. Is she going to confess, I wondered, tensing up.

‘Yeah?’ I turned towards her.

‘You know how you always talk about us taking the next step and settling down?’

‘Yes.’

‘Let’s get engaged. I am ready,’ Zara said. She smiled and hugged me.

Of course you are, honey, of course you are, I thought, and hugged her back.

Safdar Lone spared no expense for his only daughter’s engagement. He covered his entire house with flowers and lights. My parents had come from Hyderabad with a dozen relatives. They never said a word when I told them Zara was Muslim. How would they say no to their favourite son? Didn’t I achieve whatever they wanted me to achieve? I slipped the three-carat solitaire ring onto Zara’s delicate finger. She looked ethereal in a green lehenga. She placed a ring on my black black ugly ugly finger too.

‘When is the nikaah?’ one of Zara’s aunts asked Safdar.

‘It’s up to them,’ he said.

Zara looked into my eyes, as if trying to find an answer. She couldn’t.

She had no idea what was going on in my mind. Here’s what I was thinking: Zara, why are you getting engaged to me? So that if you are pregnant, you can marry me and make me raise Faiz’s child? Is that your plan? What would that make me? A cuckold?

‘Whatever Zara says, uncle,’ I said.

‘Abba, not uncle,’ one of Zara’s aunts reminded me and laughed. I nodded and smiled. I will change my religion. I will give her half my equity stake. I will work day and night. I will call Zara’s father abba. I will do all this to make Zara happy. What will she do in return? Make me raise a bastard.

‘Next month?’ Zara said. I looked at her, surprised.

‘Really?’ I said. ‘So fast?’

‘Or as soon as we can. I want to leave all this behind. I have had enough of India. I can’t deal with Saxena, these relatives and all the noise and pollution.’

‘Okay,’ I said.

My mind continued to churn. If I break up with her, what if she doesn’tgive the stake back? I am her nominee, but if she is alive, she can hold on to it. Damn, what will I do then?

‘Let’s make a fresh start,’ Zara was saying into my ear.

‘Yes, soon all this will be over,’ I said, and patted her hand.

Chapter 33

Safdar looked at Raghu and Faiz, gobsmacked. Saurabh and I waited as Raghu paused in his story to drink water. He finished the whole glass in one gulp and spoke again.

‘I know all of you are emotional right now. But if you look at it logically and from my point of view, I had little choice, guys.’

Everyone looked at Raghu, shocked. He continued.

‘Here were my options. Option one, I am the idiot who raises a bastard.

Option two, I break up with her and bear the pain of her loss while she walks away with her lover and half my company. Both ways I am screwed for life.’

Faiz cleared his throat, as if wanting to say something at this point, but Raghu went on speaking.

‘Thus, my only option was a third one. Eliminate Zara. If I did it well, I would never get caught. I would lose Zara, but I had lost her already. Zara would get her punishment. Faiz would suffer. I would get my company back.

If the plan worked, this idiot Keshav would be found on the scene and create enough confusion to keep me safe. Hell, he almost ended up getting Faiz jailed. Sweet justice. It all almost did work, but…’

‘But I got you,’ I said. ‘Last night, when I landed in Delhi, Rana told me they have the CCTV footage from Hyderabad airport. Just a matter of time before they find a person with a cast and backpack who looks like you.’

‘Well done, I already told you. I clapped too. What else do you want? A Nobel Prize?’ Raghu said, his voice irritated.

‘She wasn’t pregnant,’ Faiz said in a firm voice, looking at the table.

Everyone turned to Faiz.

‘What?’ Raghu said.

‘No. It was a real scare, but she wasn’t pregnant. And she wasn’t trying to marry you so soon because she wanted you to raise my child.’

Faiz covered his face with his palms and broke down then.

‘You guys know why we became so close?’ Faiz said, crying.

He took out his phone and showed us a selfie of Zara and Sikander with the machine gun.

‘This is the same picture we found in Zara’s Pak phone,’ Saurabh mumbled to me.

‘Zara came to me with this picture,’ Faiz said.

‘Why?’ Safdar said.

‘She had tried to get Sikander to change, leave his terrorist activities, but he wouldn’t listen. Zara told me she had found out that Sikander had stockpiled guns in a hotel room in Old Delhi. For a potential terror plot in the capital.’

‘How did she find out?’ I said.

‘She won Sikander’s trust; convinced him she had changed her mind about what he was doing. He told her about the grand plan to hit the capital.

She played along. He took her to the storage location. That’s where she took the picture.’

‘That’s what I felt too about this photo, that Zara was smiling for a reason,’ Saurabh said.

‘What happened then?’ Safdar said.

‘I wanted to report it to the authorities. However, Zara had a condition.

She wanted me to foil the plot but spare Sikander,’ Faiz said.

‘What did you do?’ I said.

‘My first mistake, I agreed. What else could I have done? I had fallen in love with Zara by then,’ Faiz said, gaze still down to avoid any eye contact.

‘Love, my foot. You didn’t think of Salma? The kids?’ Safdar said.

‘I don’t know. I had always wanted her even before Salma. But she was dating Keshav, and never gave me any attention then. It was only now, when I found her vulnerable, I was able to get her.’

‘Vulnerable?’ I said.

‘You guys had broken up, and yet you used to get drunk and call her, all miserable. Meanwhile, she had chosen Raghu as a stable option. Which is what she said she wanted. However, every now and then, and especially after your calls, she missed the craziness she had with you. I gave her that. And had her, at least for a while.’

‘It is shameful what you did,’ Safdar said.

Faiz did not answer.

‘Complete what you were saying about Sikander and the guns,’ I said.

‘I took five men from my Army unit at night. We shot the two men who were guarding the stockpile. However, I let Sikander go,’ Faiz said.

‘What happened next?’ I said.

‘We handed the guns and ammunition to the police. They happily took credit. A small news item came on the arms haul the next day.’

‘No wonder she liked you, doing these daredevil acts, even though illegal,’ Raghu said, without looking at Faiz either.

‘She liked me because I actually cared for her and gave her the passion and attention she missed,’ Faiz said.

‘While you were married,’ Raghu said.

Faiz didn’t respond.

‘Anything else, Faiz?’ I said.

‘I took money too. Second mistake,’ Faiz said. He closed his eyes and scrunched them hard, as if he found it difficult to make this confession.

‘Sikander sent me a gift. Gold biscuits. I kept them. You don’t really make much as an Army officer. I thought, if I get divorced, I might have to give a lot of what I have to Salma. The gold from Sikander would give Zara and me a good life.’

‘Gaddaar. Not just to my family, but also to the country,’ Safdar said.

‘I am not a gaddaar!’ Faiz shouted. ‘I saved my country from a major terror attack. And I would have left Salma and married Zara. Done the right thing,’ Faiz said. His entire frame shook. ‘I have lost everything.’

‘Don’t expect any sympathy,’ Safdar said.

‘I got tempted. I will surrender the gold biscuits to the police,’ Faiz said.

Saurabh took out the plastic bag with shiny yellow biscuits from his backpack.

‘You mean these?’ Saurabh said.

‘What the…’ Faiz’s pink face turned pomegranate red.

‘Long story,’ I said. ‘And you don’t have to surrender the biscuits to anyone. We will ensure they reach your Army seniors.’

‘But—’ Faiz began, before Raghu interrupted him.

‘You used her. She was weak when it came to her stepbrother, and you used that,’ Raghu said.

‘No. Zara and I had something real.’

‘Zara loved me,’ Raghu said. ‘Not you.’

‘You never had time for her. You say you built the company for her, but you never gave her your time,’ Faiz said.

‘My company is all I have. And it was for us. She should have understood…’ Raghu said, his voice trailing off.

‘She did understand. And she regretted what we did,’ Faiz said. ‘She ended our relationship. Didn’t want me to divorce my wife. She just wanted to get away. Make a fresh start with you.’

‘But you had an affair!’

‘It was a mistake, yes. But you don’t murder people for that.’

‘You have no idea how it feels—’ Raghu said as the sound of a siren interrupted him.

‘That should be Inspector Rana and his team,’ I said.

‘Are you serious?’ Raghu said.

I shrugged.

‘You committed the crime. You have to pay for it.’

Raghu looked at Saurabh and me.

‘How about I give both of you more money than you would ever earn in your life?’ Raghu said.

‘What?’ I said.

‘All you have to do is tell the police to take Faiz. He’s a crook. Let him rot in jail.’

Faiz stood up, frowning.

‘Ten million dollars. Five for your friend. Deal?’ Raghu said to me, his face dead serious.

I walked up to Raghu and grabbed his collar.

‘She left me. For a sick person like you. Son of a bitch,’ I said.

Inspector Rana entered the room just then with two cops.

‘What’s going on here?’ Rana said.

‘Inspector sahib,’ I said. ‘Time to replace the watchman with a millionaire.’

I turned around on the backseat of the police jeep to look at the van behind us.

‘Don’t worry. He can’t run away. That happens only in the movies,’

Rana said.

Saurabh and I were in the inspector’s Gypsy, driving towards Hauz Khas police station. Rana, who sat in the front, had a permanent grin on his face.

‘Keshav,’ Rana said.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘You guys are good. You never gave up. Well done.’

‘Thanks, sir,’ I said. Saurabh and Rana smiled.

‘There’s no traffic. You could drive faster,’ I said to the driver, who was moving at the pace of a bullock cart.

‘It’s okay. I told him to go slow,’ Rana said.

‘Why?’ I said.

Rana winked at us in the rear-view mirror.

‘Gives enough time for the media to arrive,’ he said.

‘Of course,’ Saurabh said.

Tomorrow morning, Rana would be the star cop in Delhi. Which other inspector had the guts to release a watchman and toss a multi-millionaire into jail?

‘I am thinking double promotion,’ Rana said, his back to us.

‘Not triple?’ Saurabh said.

‘What?’ Rana said. Before he could get the sarcasm, his phone rang. The Delhi Police PR department had called to assure him that the entire Delhi media was on its way.

As Rana spoke on the phone, I stared out of the window at the full moon.

‘Bhai,’ Saurabh said.

‘Yeah?’ I said.

‘Congrats.’

‘Yeah. To you too,’ I said, my voice soft.

‘Are you happy?’

‘Yes, I am.’

‘Why don’t you sound happy? You found out who the killer was!’

‘I also found out something else.’

‘What?’

‘She didn’t miss me on her last day. All those chats didn’t come from her. She was already dead.’

‘Yeah,’ Saurabh said. ‘Raghu sent them.’

‘I wish I hadn’t found that out.’

A tear fell from my eye, even as I tried to hide it by leaning my face out of the window.

Loud noise and flashing lights greeted us at the police station.

‘Rana sir, look left,’ said a photographer.

‘Rana sir, right pose, please,’ said another one.

‘Rana sir, ABP news, first statement here, please,’ a reporter said.

The yelling from media persons, the clicking of cameras and the hundreds of flashbulbs overwhelmed us as we stepped out of the Gypsy. I heard Inspector Rana speak to one of the reporters at the police station entrance.

‘I am happy to say we have solved the Zara Lone murder case. The murderer is Raghu Venkatesh, Zara Lone’s fiancé and owner of a tech company in Hyderabad. As you can see, the courageous Delhi Police is not scared of arresting rich people. Mr Raghu Venkatesh is under arrest.

Watchman Laxman Reddy will be released immediately.’

I had woken up at 4 a.m. to reach the cemetery at 5; early enough so nobody would see me.

I placed a white rose, Zara’s favourite flower, on her tombstone.

‘I don’t know if I mattered as much to you, but you did mean a lot to me,’ I said. I sank to my knees. I bowed and touched my forehead to the ground.

‘I loved you, Zara,’ I said, ‘perhaps too much. Thank you. For showing me what love is all about. And thank you for also teaching me to never love someone too much.’

I stood up to leave.

‘Goodbye, Zara. I unlove you.’



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