“Can you drop me at my place,” Nikhil asked, realizing immediately that it must have sounded well rehearsed.
“Yeah sure,” said Megha, mildly surprised and then led the way to the car. When she was about to start the car, Nikhil said Wait with some command. As she turned to ask why, she found him leaning towards her and then he pulled her towards him. Their mouths were now almost grazing each other as they looked into each other’s eyes, none making a move. Nikhil was trying to think what to do next, without much success. He felt intoxicated by the smell of Megha, or probably it was her perfume. It was strong and spicy reminding him of exotic flowers he hadn’t smelled before, a smell of love maybe. With her heart trying to beat its way out of her body, Megha couldn’t keep herself in check and kissed him with a passion as if this was their last kiss before they parted for good.
“Keep quiet and drive,” interrupted a heavy voice. It went unheeded till Nikhil was knocked back to his seat, too swiftly for him to react. Megha screamed but no sound came out as she was dealt in the same manner and instantly lost her
consciousness. Nikhil could hear the frantic discussion as if happening in a big hall far away and he saw two guys moving Megha to the back and a third taking the wheel. He tried to turn around to look if she was safe but the pain in his neck moved downwards as if piercing the spine fading out his vision.
“Drink” commanded the youngest member of the trio holding a dirty bottle of water. He looked too young for the job, probably just entered his teens. There was however no trace of nervousness on his part. Nikhil touched the back of his neck to check the pain which had subsided and was now a periodic throb. Megha was huddled close to him on one side and a heavily built guy was sitting on the other side. The mobile phones were gone along with their wallets, which were being investigated by the man in a white turban whose was at the wheel.
“Four ATM cards and three credit cards,” he said in a gruff voice startling Nikhil and Megha.
He looked back and continued, “ok so here is what you two will do, we will stop at the relevant ATMs, you go inside and take out the cash as much as the withdrawal limits allow.” He sounded like a man who was used to giving orders, definitely the leader of the pack.
“Any smart moves on your part will be dealt with smarter moves,” he said as if remembering something he had forgotten. Then in a satisfied tone, he added “not that you look smart.”
“Madam looks classy though,” said the schoolboy turned gangster. I looked at Megha who was looking at him wide-eyed as if in wonder, or maybe it was fear.
“Don’t harm us, we will get you the money,” Nikhil managed to keep anxiety out of his tone. The leader brandished a gun with a smug look, one of those locally manufactured ones that had the reputation of misfiring in the hands of the shooter after the first few shots. This one looked new and had a shine, most probably still virgin. Nikhil’s thoughts were interrupted by Megha’s hands as they surreptitiously slid into his.
Megha was scared out of wits, till now she had been reading and fretting over the news of such crimes, which had in the recent times become more frequent and more violent. She felt the need to be brave and to stay composed but as soon as Nikhil had addressed the abductors and she saw the gun, she succumbed to the wave of panic, sinking and in the need of holding on to something she clasped Nikhil’s hands. Nothing happened though, the leader was at the wheel with the boy next to him. No one spoke, especially the third who sat next to Nikhil on the other side. He seemed to have something concealed under the loose end of his white turban that fell below his chest. They were driven to the ATMs followed by the inconspicuous companion, the only thing that betrayed his presence was the feel of something poking at their back, something of metallic hardness.
The leader seemed satisfied with the proceedings but the young man fidgeted and kept whispering into the leader’s ears. A firm and audible No after a few minutes put an end to the whispering and schoolboy now sat sulking, intermittently looking back at them, with malice. The silent guy had an ominous air around him, silence in such situations being more scary than the scariest of the words. He looked disinterested, and looked out of the window on his side into the dark of the night and the deeper dark of the bushes growing wild next to the road that were whizzing past. Megha too kept checking on him with furtive glances, he seemed composed enough to be cold-blooded.
They drove around the outskirts of the city, driven with a precision on the locations of the ATMs, even the guards on duty appeared to give subtle nods when they saw the leader. These locations were however far apart, it took long and made them stop to refuel. They were asked if they needed tea or something to eat. Schoolboy not keen on hearing negatives brought a bottle of water and gave it to Megha with an awkward smile that made him look shy. He quickly went away and didn’t look back.
As the night progressed, Nikhil and Megha started to relax and wished for the ordeal to be over soon. The only doubt that lingered was if they will be left unharmed once all the cards were done. Holding each others hands and sitting close so as to keep as much distance from the silent one, they thought about the kiss. Nikhil felt the urge to kiss her again, it would definitely scandalize these guys. Did he really want to kiss her again, he felt the awkward dissatisfaction creeping in. Now that he was with her and going through this drama, which would only make their bond stronger, he felt disinterested. It was much better when he had no hope, was being scorned. Reciprocated love leaves you with the same taste of success that you get when you achieve something only to realize you could have aimed for more. Megha remembered and regretted being reckless but then maybe it was their last kiss, she didn’t want to think of the kiss, of Nikhil or love, all she wanted was to get out of the situation alive. She remembered the news story of the victim getting hacked to pieces, would people be able to find which piece was her and which Nikhil. It will be a shame to die like this, like poultry. She needs to do something about her life, she thought. If Nikhil brought anything good it was the sense of new beginnings, of possibilities, she had been giving up on things a little too soon.
Once the last card was used they stopped on the service road next to the highway and everyone got out of the car. They were all looking at the leader to say something, but he took his time, probably enjoying the attention. He just stared at Megha and Nikhil.
“I know where you live,” the leader spoke finally ending the suspense, “so don’t attempt to tell anything to the cops, not that it matters because we also know where the cops live.” He winked at his mates, the schoolboy returned the gesture slyly but not a muscle on the silent killer moved. Maybe he was plotting to take over the reigns. He would make a better leader, one who is unreadable, unpredictable.
“We won’t and you have got your money, please let us go,” Nikhil pleaded.
“Can we have the car back,” he added as an afterthought and ended in pain as Megha nudged him hard with her elbow.
The leader laughed and the silent one turned to look at Nikhil. Schoolboy took a step or two but was held back by the leader who said, “Now that you have been treated like one you have started to feel like a hero, is it?”
“No, no, I mean sorry,” Nikhil blabbered, “please don’t kill me, us.”
“Ok, but you need to be taught some manners,” came the harsh, booming voice of the silent one surprising everyone. The leader started laughing heartily and the schoolboy joined in after some hesitation. Nikhil relaxed and started wondering where they were, looking around. Megha’s eyes were however glued to the three and she knew something was going to happen, something bad. She wanted to warn Nikhil but he seemed to be lost in his world gazing at the nothingness around. Just then in a flash, the silent one snatched the gun from the leaders hands and shot at Nikhil. As if in reflex, Megha dived taking Nikhil down with her. She heard the gunshot, a little too loud than how she thought gunshots should sound, and a pain shot up in her knees as she passed out.
There was a hint of sun in the sky beyond the weedy bushes as Megha woke up and saw Nikhil lying next to her holding his head in a hand soaked in blood. He wasn’t moving, she shuddered and passed out yet again.
Nikhil woke up on a bed that reeked of hospital disinfectants and found GD and Sameer looking at him with knowing smiles. Shruti stood a little behind in disheveled hair that made her look a bit scary. He spotted a drop of tear running down her face as he smiled back at all. Megha walked in looking more pretty than she, with a smile that radiated love and leaned down to kiss him. Nikhil tried to rise up but was held back by the pain on the left side of the head, he touched instinctively. The left ear was bandaged, gone. He started panicking when the still smiling, angelic Megha leaning over him said in the softest voice he had ever heard that she loves him. He was now sure this was heaven as he got woozy and Megha turned into Shruti, with a pensive yet eager face. He fought the creeping delirium and realized that the faces were not transforming in his mind but he was looking at Shruti and then something snapped, he relapsed into a blissful sleep.
Megha woke up with a start at the sound of the alarm. The alarm didn’t last beyond the third beep as it was deftly snoozed. Yet again. Why does he set the alarm on weekends when all he wants to do over the weekend is to go to the mall and watch movies. She wasn’t going anywhere today and she wont relent, with a resolute happiness she went back to sleep.
The mall was crowded for no apparent reason. It seemed the whole city had poured in having found nothing better to do. The little boy was restless being held back by his mom. He wanted to run between the people, it was like a maze and just too tempting. He soon found his moment when mom leaned towards dad to say something. Running into the crowd he looked back with glee, he loved getting chased by his parents. When he finally managed to get hold of the imp, Nikhil was out of his breath, at least none of it to spare in scolding the incorrigible brat.
“You should do something about your ears, I can’t always shout or talk into them,” came an annoyed yet sweet and mellifluous voice.
“You never say much and I give up after a few words whenever we sit down to have a conversation,” she now sounded bitter, and yet the voice felt soothing as ever.
“But Shruti, if I do that I won’t be able to love you every time you say those few words you manage to say.”
They smiled at each other, a private smile that didn’t impress their son. He kept tugging and pulling his hands away from the grip.
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Previously: Love, silence and a few words…(7)