“That’s quite enough. You have made a joke of me and my work, with this.” Nirali said, her voice trembling with anger. She tossed her cap aside, and her eyes seemed to be shining in the yellow glare of the lights. Her long dark brown hair was tied up in a high ponytail, a few loose strands framing her pale, angular face in a sharp, regal way.
“I will make it up to you tonight, babe” Anil said, cupping Nirali’s cheeks. “I will fly you to the finest restaurant, take you shopping wherever you want and then, make it up to you” he said, winking and bumping shoulders with her playfully.
“That would mean something if you actually stuck to your promises” she retorted, hiding her smile. Anil walked over to her, embraced her from behind and said “I am so sorry babe, you know the assignment I am on is really important right? If I could, I would spend all my time with you and not let you out of my sight for one damn minute.”
She rolled her eyes and extricated herself from the embrace. Anil left the room with Saad to talk privately. Krish had an idea. He started screaming and pretended that he was having a seizure. Nirali jumped into action and freed him of the restraints that held him. As the curtain of hair masked them from Saad and Anil’s view, she said “Impressive. You have three minutes before Saad realises you faked it. Check my right back pocket.”
As she stepped away, Krish lunged into action and grabbed her, swiped the switchblade from the back pocket as she had indicated and pretended to press it against her throat. “Anil, Help!” she screamed. Anil and Saad came rushing in, guns drawn.
“Krishna, NO! Please don’t hurt her” Anil screamed with genuine terror in his voice. “If you dare take a step forward, I will slit her throat right here.” Krish yelled.
“Hands where I can see them, and stand to the side. Let us go, secure safe passage for us and I will let her go at the exit. If you try to act smart, I swear this will be the last time you see her alive.” Anil gestured to Saad to keep quiet and make way for the two of them. Krish snatched the gun from Saad’s hands and shot him in the kneecap. Saad fell to the ground, drawing breaths sharply. Just before leaving the room, Krish turned to Anil and squarely aimed the gun at Anil’s heart. Nirali closed her eyes. She opened her eyes when she heard shots ring out and found her husband doubled on the floor clutching his testicles, howling like a maimed animal.
The duo ran through the corridor even as they heard Saad say “Target’s on the move. Block all exits. Man down, Room 214”.
“Why are you helping me?” Krish asked as they ran. “Duck!” She yelled as they both did and swerved into a narrow corridor, to avoid being hit by gunfire. “Impressive.” He said, echoing her words from earlier.
“Gee thanks” she fired back. “We don’t have much time. Listen carefully. Keep moving, take the third left. It will lead you to a trapdoor. Open the hatch, go down the flight of stairs and it will take you to an abandoned storage room. I have placed some supplies there just in case, including water and extra ammunition. Stay put till I ask you to leave. Here, take this” she said, pressing a phone into his hand.
He watched in shock as she plunged the blade into her own thigh. She let out a scream of pain, and waved him off when he came to help. He looked back helplessly at the woman bleeding out on the floor. “Godspeed” she mumbled before passing out. He took one last look at her hair fanned out around her, tinged with red before leaving the place to do as he was told.
When he reached the storage room, the shock and adrenaline wore off. He felt suddenly tired and sank to the floor. His own brother? Was he really dying? Things just didn’t make sense any more. Who was this woman who claimed to be his brother’s wife yet had helped him escape? Why had she done that? If she was really a good person, then why had she started working on a project such as Thought Harvesting? So many questions spinning around in his mind. How had she gotten entangled with his brother? Would he even get out of this building alive?
Once the whirring in his mind had slowed down, he looked around. He was filled with admiration for Maya’s foresight and tactical planning capabilities. “Nirali, NOT Maya.” He corrected himself, wondering whether in that “memory”, they had kissed. He was almost certain they had. He “remembered” the sensation of his lips placed on hers, the way she smelt of wine and spices. The feeling of holding her firm, well-rounded shoulders, his fingers getting lost in that lovely, fragrant hair. He was brought out of his reverie harshly when he heard footsteps outside.
Krish recognised the high cold voice that said “Smoke him out” as belonging to that man, Saad. He began to panic slightly as he found no way out. He was going to die there. He was conscious of a sharp stinging sensation in his eyes. He felt the phone in his pocket vibrate slightly. “Lift the loose tile and take the narrow path to the exit. Call Shrinathji and tell him I sent you”. Nirali again! “That woman is such a godsend.” Krish thought, blinking sharply. She had included a phone number. He wondered how she was and where she was. He started tapping on every tile till he found one that sounded a bit hollower in comparison to the rest. He found that when two of them were removed, it created enough of a space for a person of average size to go through to a narrow corridor. The ground began to grow warm beneath him. He moved swiftly on all fours, as he smelled smoke. Seeing the literal light at the end of the tunnel gave him hope. Having deduced that there must be a window there through which sunlight was filtering, he raised his leg and swung it hard. The glass came down crashing. He was careful to cover himself, as he crawled out of that tunnel and rolled on to the floor. Krish looked around and kissed the Earth, his eyes welling up slightly when he realised he was still alive.
“This must be the back of the Paramjyothi complex, and the exit leading to the highway.” He turned back and saw the small shed like building that he had been in, burn brightly. It was being licked by the hungry flames viciously. The flames grew taller and brighter till all he could see was a big ball of bright orange in the distance. He dialled the number she had given and waited with bated breath for a response.
“Shrinathji? Hello? Nirali gave me this number.” The man on the other end sounded like he could be about sixty or older.
“Kathmandu, two persons?” He said. Bewildered, Krish said “No, just one.” “I will send a vehicle and supplies. Text me your coordinates.” The man stated. “Yes, I will. Please hurry. I may be in some danger still.” Krish said, and the call ended with a click on the other end.
Ten minutes later, a truck with the most garish decoration came to a halt. The number plate checked out. “Mitesh?” Krish asked, before handing over the sum of money as promised. With mixed feelings as he thought of Nirali, he hopped on his ride. The truck drove for some distance before coming to a small, private hangar. There stood a man in all black attire. He was small and portly, with a fierce moustache that reminded Krish of Hercule Poirot. His gait had a honed military precision to it. Out of habit, Krish saluted the man. “Shrinath Awasthi” the man said, offering his hand with a small smile. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir.” Krish shook his hand firmly.
“Why isn’t Nirali joining you?” The man demanded to know. “She will join me later, Sir. She had some things to take care of.” Krish said, sounding more confident and optimistic than he felt. Would she join him? Would she contact him ever again? All these thoughts were at the forefront of his mind as their runt of an aeroplane took off. Scarcely believing what had transpired that day, Krish sighed as he embarked on his flight to freedom. Thinking about Maya as the plane began to gain altitude, Krish felt imbued with new zeal and a sense of purpose.