The White Room (Part One)

Krish woke up with a start. His breath smelled like shit and his body ached all over. He tried to move his legs around and found that he could not. He looked around in panic. He was in a too pristine room, it was as if it had been stripped forcibly of everything. Chills ran through his body. He was strapped to a metallic bed with a thin mattress. Thin but strong cords snaked around his wrists and ankles, preventing any kind of movement. There was a sense of nothingness to the room. It smelled of nothing. There was nobody, it had no windows. It was just lit up by the garish glow of artificial lights. He heard footsteps in the distance. That’s when he first registered the two chairs by his bedside. He was connected to a strange looking machine that had multiple buttons, labelled FP2, T3, T4, F7, P4 etc. He racked his brains to come up with an explanation. How had this happened? Where was he? What was that strange machine? He had been divested of his clothing and was wearing what appeared to be standard hospital garb. The first thought that came to his mind was organ trafficking. Unnerved, he looked for evidence to support that possibility. A few feet away lay a door and panels of what appeared to be translucent glass. He could make out two or three shadowy outlines. He decided to lie still and pretend to be asleep.

“No, Mr. Sharma. No use pretending to be asleep. We know what you are thinking” The motion sensor operated doors opened and in came two people wearing white coats. One was a balding man in his late forties or early fifties with a wiry build, and the other was a woman wearing a red baseball cap, jeans and a black t-shirt. The woman held his attention immediately. That gait, those hands! The curve of her lips, he didn’t know why but Krish instantly felt like he knew that woman.

“I see that you remember Dr. Nirali”. The man spoke in an amused tone. “I know you!” Krish blurted out. “No you don’t, Mr. Sharma. Let me take your vitals and EEG. Please relax.” she said, without removing her cap. “Show me your face! Where am I? Who are you people?” he demanded to know. She went about wordlessly, while he kept throwing questions at them. “Please stay still, this will hurt.” she said, swiftly jabbing a needle into his side.

“WHAT DID YOU INJECT ME WITH? I don’t know who you are, but let me tell you that I have a very wealthy brother who will pay anything for my release. Please, let me go.” Krish’s bravado left him and he broke down, terrified at what they would do to him next.  “Shut up” she said, the composure in her voice cracking. Her voice had an icy edge to it. Completely belying it was the warmth of her grip on his shoulder as she pressed him down, her lips close to his ear whispering without barely moving “Stay neutral because they can read your thoughts via emotional cues”. He forced himself to do as she said, reluctantly trusting her despite his misgivings. The man said “You are at Paramjyothi.”

“What! You have put me in an abandoned mental hospital? You cannot illegally detain me like this!” Krish screamed. “You are mistaken” the man said silkily. “It is neither a mental hospital, nor is it abandoned. It is a research facility. Not everyone in the experimentation cells is… cooperative like you. You have been very good.” The man patted his left shoulder. Krish’s eyes pooled with tears of rage and helplessness. “Remove these chains and then take me on, you bastard!” he cried out, voice choked with emotion.

“Oh but it wouldn’t be a fair fight, Mr. Sharma.” he said, moving his white coat to the side an inch or two to show Krish the concealed weapon he was carrying.” What kind of scientist carries guns? Who are you guys really? Why did you bring me here? Where am I? Please tell me.” Krish said, looking at Nirali. “We are not at liberty to answer those questions” she said stiffly. “Then who is? I demand to see whoever is in charge here” he stated firmly.

The doors slid open to reveal a man in his late thirties, in a dark suit, hair parted mussily to the side. One ear was pierced. He strode in confidently like a man who knew his way about the place. He had eyes for none but Nirali, and came to a halt where she stood. “Hello darling” he said, pulling her to him for a swift kiss. “Saad, my good man. I hope you won’t mind if I don’t kiss you” The two men laughed, while her lips quirked upwards in the semblance of a smile. Something twisted painfully in Krish’s gut.

“Anil Anna, you know these people? I don’t understand.” The smile disappeared from the man’s face as he turned to Krish. “Ah, little bro. Hello to you too. Vitals stable? EEG okay? He hasn’t been giving too much trouble? Does the dosage need to be increased, Saad?” She passed him the files, while the latter replied unctuously “No Sir, he has been very cooperative. Everything is stable as you can see. We don’t think we need to increase the dosage. However, he has been full of questions.”

“Has he, now? What do you wish to know brother?” Anil Sharma said, turning to his brother with a slightly feral grin. Letting his guard down a little now that his brother was there, Krish threw a bunch of questions. “You are right. Ordinarily, scientists don’t carry guns. But Saad is not just a scientist, that is one of the many hats he dons. Heck, I am not even sure Saad Ali is his real name. However I would suggest that you not try his patience because he can be quite unpleasant when he wishes to be. This is not just a research facility. This is a top secret Government one, we report directly to the Prime Minister. As for why we are here, I am not sure how much I should tell you but seeing as how you will be dead soon anyway…  I guess there is no harm in telling you. My lovely wife here has been working on techniques that allow us to not only access your innermost thoughts but even possibly, alter the state of your consciousness. You are here to test out our Thought Harvesting program. Whether those changes are permanent or not remains to be seen. Pretty cool, huh?” Anil said.

“Why?” Krish asked, taken aback. “We can use this to weed out potential terrorists, for one.” He said with a casual wave of his hand. “That is a violation of the citizens’ right to privacy. This is illegal. It is a violation of our fundamental rights as citizens of India!” Krish said, gasping out his words, because of the hand painfully pressing down on his shoulders as he tried to get up.

“When the safety of a billion people is at stake, there has to be some give and take” the man said, dismissively. In a small, totally defeated voice Krish asked “Why did you say that I would be dead soon? Do you plan on killing me?”

His brother shook his head and said with a sigh, “About a year ago, you were diagnosed with a terminal, incurable illness which leaves your brain in perfect condition even as the rest of your body starts to shut down. As a man from a military background who frequently suffered from PTSD, you were the perfect guinea pig to attempt Thought Harvesting on.”

The pieces started falling into place in his mind, but something that his brother said had Krish feeling a bit disoriented. “Wait, does this mean you planted false memories in my mind?” He asked Anil.

Anil tapped his nose, saying “Remember when you said that you knew Nirali? That was a false memory we planted in you. Can the memories be activated at will?” Anil asked, turning to Dr. Ali.

“It has to be done preferably when the person is asleep, else it could cause the individual to hallucinate severely, induce seizures or even death.”

“Do you think we can do it now with minimal damage to him?” Anil asked, ignoring his brother’s panic stricken expression. Dr. Ali nodded and took out a small device that looked like a pager. Activating it with his voice, he typed a few commands in. He then went over to the strange machine and turned the regulators on for multiple regions of the brain and pressed a button, sending a mild current of electricity to commence the manipulation of the memory trace, within the brain.

“Memories” flooded Krish’s mind with a startling rapidity that left him reeling.

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A Forgotten Evening (Part Two)

It was a balmy Friday night. Young people, tourists and locals alike milled about in the streets of Byblos. Local beer was being downed by the pot and people were heartily indulging in Lebanese fare. The speakers were blasting music loudly from the karaoke stage where people drunkenly headed to the podium and sang off-key love songs, their voices thick with passion. The thin, peeling walls of the studio apartment vibrated with the thundering sounds emanating from the bar next door. It was here that Krish aka KS stood, his clammy hands clutching the envelope tightly. The big brown envelope held 15,00,000 INR in cash. Krish was nervous about this sale from the first day that his brother told him about it. His brother had a small but successful curio shop in Chandni Chowk, New Delhi. Occasionally he and Krish did overseas transactions where they personally sourced heirlooms from estate sales or individual sellers, and negotiated acquisitions between the parties. It was one such transaction that had brought Krish here. The seller wished to stay anonymous and insisted on payment in cash, which worried Krish no end. His brother however laughed off Krish’s concerns, asking him to ease up. Krish wore the carpet thin from his pacing and smiled feebly at the old woman next door who was looking at him suspiciously.

“Um… Mr. KS?” a voice sounded from behind him. He turned around quickly. The speaker was a young woman, in her late twenties. She had shoulder length hair with purple streaks in it. She wore a lavender tank top and artfully ripped jeggings with silver jewelry. In that dreary dim-lit corridor, she looked like spring come alive. The corridor seemed impossibly warm and small for the two of them.

“Hi, call me Krish” he said, and extended his hand towards her. Shaking his hand with a firm grip of her own, she said “I am Maya, I work in the curio shop downtown. My uncle sent me here because he had some unavoidable errands to run at the last minute. I hope that will be okay?” Although he had been suspicious earlier, he looked at her and found himself relax. What harm could this young woman possibly do?

“Yeah, that’s okay” he said. Ten minutes of awkward small talk later, she said “Listen, I am hungry. I know a great place here that sells the best Fattayer pastries. Do you wanna come?” He gratefully nodded even though he didn’t know what Fattayer pastries were. He tucked the envelope into his backpack and left, happy to leave the seedy apartment complex at last.

“Where are we going?” he asked, jogging to keep up with her long strides. “Souk el Akel, best street food you will ever have in your life” she replied without turning around, to look at him.

She drove through the streets with an ease that seemed effortless, the night coming alive with her words and laughter. “Are you done checking me out?” she asked suddenly. “I was not… I mean, yes I was. I apologise” he stammered. She laughed. “That’s okay, I don’t mind. Plus, you’re kinda cute” she said, patting his knee. He coloured and said nothing.

They had reached Souk el Akel. The smell of the food alone nearly brought him to his knees, his stomach growling and reminding him that it had been a long while since his last meal. It was a chaotic and intoxicating mesh of colours, textures and smells all coming together to weave the most fantastic sensory experience. They walked some distance, and finally halted at a kiosk that looked quite unimpressive, except for the huge crowd that stood in line waiting for the famous meat and feta cheese pies. Making casual conversation while they waited, he learned that she was an only child of her parents; born and educated in London till age 14, when she was orphaned. She hated moving and her new life in Byblos till one day she discovered her uncle’s antiques shop. She fell in love with the exotic items in the shop and became a shop assistant after school. The passion which she spoke with, and her tender affection for her uncle was apparent in every sentence. As they lazily munched on their Fattayer pastries, he told her how his dream of medical school was thwarted because of his father’s premature passing. After a few years of handling deliveries and client interactions, his brother promoted him to the position of Acquisitions Manager. They traversed through the cobbled pathways of the souk. He thrust his jacket at her when she rubbed her arms, and hugged herself for warmth.

“Do you want to go have something to drink?” she yelled, to make herself audible in the loud streets. He yelled back in the affirmative. She took his hand and expertly guided him through the narrow alleys packed with street food lovers. “Where are we going?” he asked her, when they reached the car. “Have you ever been to a bar here before?” she asked him. “No, didn’t have the time to. Just landed last night.” he said. “Then, I think you will like Frolic.” She said, slamming her foot on the accelerator.

Pulsating coloured lights cast lengthy shadows on the wall. Krish gazed around in wonder at the wooden walls and stone-inlaid flooring of Frolic, the massive mounds of colourful cocktails being passed around, people playing carrom in the same space as couples dancing around. Outside, there was a huge canopy filled with writhing silhouettes.  

“Tamma Tamma? This is my favourite song! Come!” Maya said, all but dragging Krish to the dance floor. Even as he danced along with the rest of them, he couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the ophidian movement of Maya’s body to the music. They danced to a few more songs and then she snuck them out towards a quieter part of the city, a six – pack in hand.

They sat in the town square near some rose bushes and drank deeply. “What is the one thing you wish you could do right now?” Maya asked him. “I want to sing. When I was standing there being tortured by that karaoke happening next door, I just wanted to go there and show them how it is done.”

“Oh yeah? Go for it then, show me” She challenged him. He stood up and started singing Un Poco Loco. She laughed and started dancing along as he sang “The way you keep me guessing, I’m nodding and I’m yessing, I’ll count it as a blessing, That I’m only Un poco loco…” He ended it, looking her squarely in the eye adding “For you.”

She clapped and whooped, adding “That was so good, man. Like, really, really good”. “I know” he said, making his magnificent Cara Delavigne – esque eyebrows dance along in a funny fashion. “Teach me how to do it!” she said, trying unsuccessfully to do it.

“Come here, learn from the master” he drunkenly beckoned her forward. No matter how hard she tried, she would laugh and raise both brows. “Not like that. Perhaps we could try this, instead” he said, placing his thumb on her brow and holding it still while the other brow lifted. “I didn’t know you had all these freckles” he said, tracing the light smattering of freckles across her face with his thumb fondly. The cheap sodium powered orange lights cast a golden glow on her countenance. The streaks in her hair stood out even more, their noses brushed up against each other and bumped foreheads slightly. They both laughed. Just as they were about to kiss, everything went black.

Flight to freedom (Part Three)

“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.

 

Forgiveness

They say that when we are about to die, our whole life flashes before our eyes. False. Certainly not for me. For me once again, it is January 1985. The fog of memory has cleared. I am standing there, with him. His hands are behind his head, he is on his knees. Eyes closed. He has already accepted what is to come. I consider briefly, walking away. I remember my promise to him, and I raise my revolver. Then, the shots ring out. Bam! Bam! Bam! He is dead.

I woke with a start, coughing. There are concerned faces looking around at me. This is my large and loving family. Worry lines are writ large on my sons’ faces.

“Same dream?” a voice asks me, placing a soft hand on my shoulder. My heart beat calms down. Yet as I acknowledge the presence of my family and reassure them I am going to be alright… I sense his presence. Why is he here? I wonder… Will I ever be free from him? For forty years since that day, I have been haunted by that memory. By his twisted smile. By his calm eyes. His question that I still don’t have the answer to. Did I lose faith in myself, or the system?

As my eyelids begin to droop, I am thankful that I don’t need to look for that answer anymore. I hear gasps around me, and flatlining. It must be me. He holds his arms out wide. As he embraces me, I think that if I could feel… I would have surely broken down. This man, the bane of my existence, the ghost of my past has now become my saviour. He has freed me. As I am walking with him, a sweet fragrance envelops us and I feel a lightness of being… like never before.

The Window and the Great White Bird

I looked through the shimmering glass window. I saw her ornate writing desk, half opened like someone had gone through it looking for something. A lot of things I remembered placing there were missing. A few journals, I think. There were a few loose sheafs of paper. I recognised her handwriting. Those were my words, in a different time. The Sun was setting in the distance, I looked to my right side. The bed so perfectly made. Mine. But it wouldn’t be slept in, it had not been. For a long time. Briefly I considered just that. I sat there and soaked in the room. My one and only chance to see it. This wasn’t my time. I had to go back after all.

I closed my eyes. I remembered. She walked around, she seemed restless. She had never been more alone, but she had also never felt more free as she looked at the elephant that seemed to have materialised before her. The elephant didn’t seem afraid of her, she felt calm looking at it. She walked towards it. It sat down, so did she. She stroked it gently. Murmured words of comfort, and also relaying her predicament. How strange, she thought… That a creature she had only encountered a while ago should make her feel so safe, as though everything was going to be just fine. She sat down, her back resting against the elephant and closed her eyes. And waited. I felt the hours pass by. I knew what was coming. Sure enough, there appeared a white bird in the sky, the wings flapping majestically. The bird rose up towards the Sun, as though to devour it. There was a great explosion of light, like a canopy of shimmering fragments of diamonds enveloping the entire forest they were in. She rose, she was free.

She had arrived at the beach. She watched as the waters lapped at her feet gently, an ever present cool breeze playing with her curls, casting them about hither and thither. She opened her arms wide and received all of it, smiling serenely.

It was at once, the most peaceful and the most heartbreaking thing I had ever seen. I wanted to see no more, I opened my eyes. My eyes flooded with joy and envy, I know not if those tears running down my cheeks were mine or hers. It does not matter.

Here I am. Once again. Till the great white bird comes, I bid you all adieu!

Free Writing – piece 1

Yesterday, the sixteenth of July 2017 I attended a writing workshop conducted by Rohini Malur and Queer Arts Movement India (QAMI). I had a great time, meeting new people and an adorable dog that wandered in. So, the workshop began with a free writing exercise, sort of stretching out the mental muscles in order to keep them limber and flexible before embarking on the journey, for the day. The only rule we had was that we had to write without pause. The topic was Movie Character. The timer was set for five minutes, and here is what I wrote:

“She is this amazing, free spirited woman. She gets up to all sorts​ of shenanigans with the boy next door, who wants to be a writer when he grows up. I like her because she is relatable in that we both want to live our own lives, unshackled by societal expectations. She leaves home at a very young age, to pursue her dreams. And boy, does she have a LOT of them. It is not that she is just confused about what she wants to do professionally, but she wants to do many things. She has one vision of herself, standing before a cheering crowd and receiving all the fame, and adoration as she belts out tune after tune. She has this lovely, scattered energy about her, which is what the aspiring writer falls in love with. Unwittingly, each day the friends grow closer, as they both are in the same city. They are new there, and don’t have anyone but each other to lean on. So the duo help one another with their professional aspirations, she becomes his muse after a fashion. Eventually, the inevitable does happen. The two friends fall in love. But while he is okay with taking their relationship to the next level and obey the diktats of society in doing so, she is not.”

The timer ran out here, and I had to stop at this point else I would have been able to flesh out a great deal about the external conflict, and the internal conflicts that threatened the friendship, the relationship as well as the growth that both characters have to undergo before they can come back into each other’s lives once again. Indeed, the brightest dawn follows the darkest night. But setting all that aside, let’s continue with what happened at the workshop. We had to guess which character each person had written about. Nobody got mine. You know why? She is the every day woman.  She is striving to live her life, pursue her dreams while subsequently wanting to break free. She is extraordinarily ordinary. She is you, she is me.

There in lies the beauty of it.

Version 1 – Delusion

(This is the first, and the more realistic version of what might happen in these sort of scenarios. The second one, the happier version is to follow… shortly.)

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the email.  “Dear Maya, it has been fourteen months since you dropped that incisive, amusing and insightful critique of my book. We have been corresponding since then.  I think your acerbic wit is delightful, you have a way with words and our mutual love for symbolism brings me to this decision. I will be in your city next week, and I thought of sharing a first draft of my next release. I want to gather your thoughts on it, I will be there for about ten days. So, think about it and we can set it up. As always, I hope that the odds have ever been in your favour”

This was followed by a ten-digit number. Had he given out his mobile number? Surely not, it was probably his P.A. or agent. My hands were trembling only slightly as I picked up the phone and headed outside to the Cherry Blossom cafe and sat at my favourite table beneath the rose gold lights casting long shadows, even as the Sun was about to go down in the distance. I gestured to the waiter that it would take a while, I had run here all the way, patting the paper in my chest pocket. I took out the print of the e-mail and re – read it several times.

“Irish coffee and a slice of the red velvet indulgence” I said to the waiter who nodded smilingly, looking curiously at the paper in my hand. As he walked away, my head was full of questions. My heart was palpitating as I pressed the numbers on my phone.

“Hello? ” a smooth baritone said. I dropped the phone in shock. No Way! This was his personal number! I could still hear him saying hello, before the line was finally disconnected. I took a fortifying sip of the scalding coffee that had arrived and winced. He would think I am such a wuss. I called again. He was busy. Of course, he would be, he was a best-selling author. Not a carefree teenager sitting by the phone, waiting. I wrung my palms, trying to stay calm and I started counting to a hundred. I had gotten to 86 when Shape of You by Ed Sheeran rang out loudly. My phone, it was him! He had called back! I blew on my cold hands before answering.

“Hi?” I ventured nervously knowing who was on the other end of the line.

“Maya, hey! How are ya? This is Amit” he said. What followed was a delightful eleven minute conversation with me oscillating between excitement and nervousness. We fixed up a weekend meeting.

The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.

I went over to Sunshine Cafe, smoothing my hair nervously as I walked inside. He was already there. Smiling slightly as he sipped from his own cup. I held out my hand, smiling a little too brightly. We sat down. I looked around, the whole room held one table. Ours, and the setting reflected the very same as that of the first time Pedro and June, my favourite characters from his novel go on their first date. First Date? Wait, whoa. Why was this room done up in this fashion? I backed away slightly, feeling a bit strange as he took in my appearance and his eyes held a strange light I didn’t understand. I tugged at my “Owl Always Love You” tee self – consciously.

“Nice choice of attire” he said, smirking at the reference to a quote from a novel by one of our favourite authors. I shrugged. He then took out a slightly voluminous bundle and handed it to me.

“280 pages, I trust that you will not show it to anybody. We will meet just before I leave to discuss your thoughts on it. Okay?” he asked. I nodded. Then talk shifted to politics, books and movies etc.

As we parted ways, he said “I really enjoyed meeting you. I think there is a pretty good author hidden away, somewhere within you.” I waved to him and began walking away rapidly in the opposite direction feeling happy and floaty, as I clutched the black bundle tightly to my chest.

Oh, how lovely if that had been the case. But it was not. For the truth made the headlines. The body was found in an alley, close to the highway. There had been no sexual assault. A bunch of titles by Amit Dwivedi had been found, along with an email, and a phone number, the address of a cafe. When the police questioned the author, he claimed that he had never known the victim or corresponded with her. He did not understand the diary entry either, had she written a fictitious and hopeful account of what she thought their meeting was going to be like? He had been in Bangalore, sure but not on the dates mentioned in the email. That was not his phone number either, and he furnished sufficient proof to back up his claims. The police were satisfied and let him go. They looked at the CCTV footage of Sunshine Cafe where they were supposed to have met. The baffling thing was that she had never showed up there. They looked at the call records, there had been a bunch of calls suggesting some possible last-minute plan changes. She was an extremely private person, or had not confided in her friends about the change in plans. Tracking the phone was to no avail either. The killer had gotten away scot – free. What the police, the author and media couldn’t figure out was why someone would spend over a year impersonating the author, and then fix up a meeting only to kill the girl. The sight of the mangled corpse was a grotesque one, one that would haunt the author for years to come. He explored it over the course of several years through his various stories but was never able to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Neither did the police.

Finally, the case file was closed and put away with the rest of the cold cases rotting away in the precinct’s Records Room.