An Encounter: Chapter 4
An Encounter: Chapter 418 mins 23.4K 18 mins 23.4K
"It's all my fault." I cursed myself again and let out a cry. A few hours back, I had no idea that I was going to have such a night and face my past like this. The old wounds were opened up again and I felt all the pain and all the anger I had felt that night. I stiffened, felt the presence of another person in the box. I could hear faint breathing.
"Kaun hai udhar?" [Who's there?] I asked
"Mera naam Tanuja hai." [My name is Tanuja]
"Idhar kya kar rahi ho?" [What are you doing here?]
"Goti khel rahi hu. Tum kheloge?" [playing marbles. Wanna join?] she chuckled
"Are saab, bandh karke rakha hai mereko. Maine bhagne ki kosis ki na. Wapas pakad ke laya aur chabuk marke bandh karke rakha idhar." [Saab, I'm locked in here too. I tried to escape but they traced me and got me back here. They whipped me and then locked me up.]
"Aise hamesha karte hai?" [Do they do this always?]
"Nai saab. Jab chotti ladkiyon ko laate hai pehli baar, unko bandh karke rakhte hai. Phir unpe jabardasti karte hai unko tayyar karne ke liye. Kisiko acchutaa chaiye toh jyada paise dene pe mil jata hai. Din me ek baar khana dete hai. Bathroom jana hota hai toh kitni der tak darwaza thokna padta hai phir bhi nahi kholte.[No saab, this happens when young girls are first brought in. They are raped to break them in. Virgins have a lot of demand too at high rates. They give food once a day. If we need to use the washroom, we need to knock the door for hours.]
My heart ached at their plight. She told me some more about how little girls are trafficked and brought into the business. How some poor needy families sell their own daughters for money. How pimps live a normal life among normal people and conduct the business. It could be anyone from your neighbors to your mother's best friend. Young girls are kidnapped, raped, and beaten. Interactions are kept at a minimum until she is completely in business. How every girl is watched upon and is traced and brought back if they try to escape. She also told me about the involvement of a few corrupt police officers and high profile people in society. Nothing is possible without their help in the form of funds and keeping law at bay.
I was shocked. This seemed like an alternate universe, running parallel with the one we live in. An alternate world that survives alongside ours. I felt bad for the victims. I didn't know if there would be a way to get out of there but if there was, I really wanted to help them. We heard hurried footsteps nearing us."Lagta hai Aapa aa rahi hai. Bohot zulm karti hai who aurat" [I guess Aapa is on her way. That woman is too cruel.] the girl said. We could hear someone banging the door and fiddling with the locks outside. The girl hid behind me and we waited for the door to open. I was surprised to see a team of police officers in front of me. Soon, we were led outside. I noticed many other women and girls being taken out too. As we passed, I saw a few more broken boxes'. I could see a lot of people and a lot of activity outside the brothel. The storm had passed and it was dawn already. A faint hue of orange spread in the sky, bringing in a new day and a new beginning. I could finally breathe the fresh air and it felt like heaven after those few hours I spent in the stuffy box.
At a distance, I noticed Aapa, the other man, Shakya, and a few more people being handcuffed and pushed into a Police van. I noticed Inspector Suresh at a distance. We had met a lot of times in the last couple of years for Aaliya's case. He worked with Meera and was a decent guy who did his job dutifully.
Thinking of Aaliya reminded me of Neil. I wanted to know if he was caught too or if he managed to escape again. When I had seen him, I wanted to skin him alive. I wanted to hurt him like he had hurt my Aaliya, more than he had hurt my Aaliya. When I launched myself at him was the last time I had seen her. She came like a gust of wind in my life and had disappeared just like that. I looked around to see if I could find her.
"Searching for someone?" I heard Suresh ask me from the back."Haan? No... Just... Let it be..." "I just wanted to tell you that Neil is in our custody. Meera has taken him away." If Meera had him, I was sure he wouldn't be able to get out of it easily. Meera loved Aaliya like her own sister. They were the best of friends. Aaliya had been so excited for Meera and Kabir's wedding more than any of us but when the wedding had actually happened, she wasn't able to attend it.
"Rihaan, you okay?" Suresh's voice got me out of the trance"Yeah... what's happening here?" "We came across a lead for a trafficking chain and raided. Brutality at its worst." "So what happens to these women now?" "Oh, they're being sent to an NGO and rehab center on the outskirts of Mumbai. They'll be made self-sufficient so that they can lead normal lives." I was happy that someone was doing something for them. I was glad that they had a second chance at life. Most of these women had endured too much suffering since childhood and I was glad they were getting their share at freedom. "Rihaan, do you have a car or should I drop you home?" "I would actually need a lift. My car broke down." As I extended my hand to open the car door, my eyes fell on the bracelet she had given me. She had wanted me to hand it over to the police. I had no idea why she wanted me to do that but I decided to do as asked. I handed it over to Suresh, who looked happy for a minute when he saw it. He thanked me and I nodded.
It had been over a week since then but every moment was still so fresh in my mind. I could remember every minute detail about the... Night... Nah... Who am I kidding! I could only remember her. Everything else was a blur. I remembered her big expressive eyes, the way they shot up in surprise. I could remember her red lips and how they moved when she spoke. I could remember her pointed jaws and her blushing cheeks. I remembered her fragile figure and I imagined over a million times how her slender body would feel against mine.
I had been dreaming about her all the time. Initially, it pissed me off. I was never the kind to think of a woman. I would never even spare a second glance at them. There were hundreds of girls throwing themselves at me everywhere but I never bothered to check them out. I couldn't figure why this time, it was all different. Maybe because I had spent a lot of time with her. Much more than with anyone else. Maybe because I had interacted with her more than I had with anyone else other than family or maybe because she was really beautiful. After a point, I stopped worrying about that.
I had even located the NGO and had gone looking for her. I even went back to Flora fountain one night to see if I could find her but sadly, I wasn't able to trace her. One thing had surprised me though. No one had asked me why and how had I reached the brothel that night. Suresh had come and spoken to me casually like he knew I was already there. Meera or Kabir hadn't asked either and surprisingly, it hadn't made the news.
"Bhai, you're coming home for dinner tonight and I want no arguments." Meera had called on a Saturday afternoon and ordered. I needed to get her out of my mind and needed to talk to Meera about Neil so I decided to go along with the plan.
"Bhai, I hope you don't mind but a friend of mine is joining us for dinner," Meera announced when I reached there. Though I felt uncomfortable around strangers, I could do anything for Meera. She was just like Aaliya to me. I nodded in approval. After spending some time catching up and talking, I excused myself to answer a call. I heard the doorbell ring as I stepped out. Maybe Meera's friend had arrived.
"Aye saab, aaj raat ka kya plan hai?" [ Saab, what's the plan for tonight] I heard the familiar voice behind me. The very same voice that had been haunting me for the entire past week. The very same voice I wanted to hear just once more.
I stilled for a second. 'Rihaan relax. This is just your imagination.' I tried to tell myself. Closing my eyes and Taking deep breaths I calmed myself down. I then opened my eyes and turned around, hoping that she had vanished.
Standing before me was a woman who resembled her in every way yet was so different. She had the same slender figure, the same rosy cheeks, the same beautiful smile, and the same pointed jaws but she looked so unlike the woman I had met that night. Dressed in blue jean and white top, she looked every bit like a fairy. If she looked beautiful that night, she looked ethereal now. One of her hands, held her phone while the other was wrapped in a cast. She raised her eyebrows at me and I gasped.
I was too lost in the moment. Was this a dream? Was this really happening? Was this a truth or was this just a facade? I didn't know what to believe and what not to. Maybe I was staring really bad or I was looking too funny but I came back to my senses with people's laughter around me. I could see Kabir and Meera laughing hard, holding their stomach while she looked at me, amused.
"Bhai, meet my childhood friend Kiara Arora, She's a special agent with IPS and takes up cases that require us to work undercover. Kiu, you already know Bhai!" Meera introduced us."What!" I was shocked. Wait, that was too mild to describe my reaction. I just got an attack that would be a more precise statement. I couldn't understand a bit of what was happening. Like always, I needed answers.
"Bhai, Kiu, you guys enjoy yourselves. I'll go get dinner ready." Meera announced. "Meera, let me help you." Kiara offered and I was irritated. I needed to talk to her. Correction, I wanted to talk to her. Why was she trying to go away?"Nah girl, you stay. It's almost done. Kabir, can you get Aaryan? I think he needs a change of diaper." Meera turned to go, Kabir following the suit."So, Ms. Bond shuh? Interesting," I asked, initiating a talk after a few minutes of awkward silence. She had been blushing and playing with her hair all this while."Yeah... Sorry for that night. I know you must be shocked but I had to do it." "Shocked? You have no idea how much. I was still not over that night and you just dropped another bomb. Now I assume the case is solved. So, do I get to know what exactly was going on? I'm too confused." I chuckled.
"Let me begin from the start. I and Meera were friends since school and grew up together. We lost touch when I went away to Delhi to my aunt's place after Maa, papa was killed. We met again a couple of years back when I came to Mumbai. That's when Meera told me about Aaliya. She told me that they had managed to trace Neil Thakur and that they had found some leads to a Child Trafficking ring managed by him. I took up the case when I got to know for two reasons, one for Meera and Aaliya and second because of Shakya. He was the reason I lost my family."
"So the story you told me about your parents being murdered was actually true?" Rihaan gasped, his face horror-stricken. She only nodded and continued.
"He had my parents killed. I slowly entered the circle and tried to collect evidence and snoop around. I had been staying at Kamathipura for about a year now. Anyway, so that night I was near the NCPA when Shakya's men tried to kidnap me. You came there just in time and they ran away thinking you were one of Aapa's bodyguards. I guess Shakya had his doubts on me and wanted me abducted but you distracted the men and I ran away."
"That was you? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't because I was undercover and on duty. I had a lot on my mind and it slipped. So I was at the flora, waiting for my informer when you arrived there instead. He saw you and backed off. I also knew that Shakya's men were watching me and I didn't want my cover blown. So I continued pretending what they thought I was."
"So you smoked and flirted with a random man? What if I had agreed to your offer and..." "As for the smoke, I'm sure you didn't notice that I had just held the cigarette to make my pretense look real. Not once did it reach my mouth. Smoking is not a crime Rihaan. It's a person's own choice. And when I offered I knew you wouldn't accept. I know you're a nice man. The kind that respects women." "If you knew Shakya's men were watching you, why would you meet the informer? And what about that guy in the car you were flirting with?" "My informer was to pose as a customer and pass on the message. He would fight with me after that and leave. And the guy in the car, why do you think he fled? I showed him my ID without you noticing. Poor guy was so scared." She laughed remembering his reaction. I kept looking at her, trying to capture these moments in my head.
"Okay now, you ask too many questions. Let me finish my story first and then you can ask whatever you want to." she pouted. I chuckled nodding in approval and she continued."So, Shakya's men came back when they realized that you were no threat to them. You know what happened then. I didn't want you to be in a legal mess. So, I erased your fingerprints from the gun and put mine. Since you are popular and if these men managed to escape or inform someone of you being with me or that you shot him, they would chase after you and kill you. Keeping you with me was the only way I could make sure you were safe. After we left there, the informer took them away. The guy you shot was given medical assistance and later arrested when he was out of danger. The other one was arrested immediately and interrogated. The bar we went to a Grant Road happens to be Neil's. We had a few plain-clothed officers there. The bartender was one of them. I called my informer and asked him to report an encounter if anything happened to the wounded guy.
I handed over the gun and a packet of drugs that I managed to get at the brothel to one of my officers for investigation. He told me of the interrogation being conducted on the guy we arrested and that I was to wait at the Marines for news.
Chotte happens to be the son of one of our best constable Ashok Kale who we lost in the 26/11 attack. He lives with his mother and has to earn for a living along with studies to support his mother's meager income. We help them in whatever way we can, be it in his academics or his fees but just like his father, he values his self-respect the most and helps us in passing information when we can't do it directly. That night, he had brought the information about this meeting that was supposed to be held. Shakya's man had revealed that Shakya had purchased a few girls from Aapa through Neil and they were to finalize the deal tonight at Aapa's Kothi in Kamathipura.
The bracelet I gave you had a voice recorder chip in it and it was one way of collecting proof against them. Since Shakya had doubts about me, I would be thoroughly checked if anything would go wrong. It was safer with you. We needed this proof badly and you were my best bet. I had temporarily forgotten about you and Neil but when you charged at him, I knew I had to do something really quick.
While you were locked in, we managed to raid the place and arrest the culprits. I got injured in a fight and had to be taken to the hospital. Neil was bruised too and Meera and a few more officers got him treated and arrested him. So that's basically what happened that night. Now you're free to ask anything you want to."
"That was too much information to process. I replayed the night in my head and everything she said now made sense. Her version of the story filled in the missing links in mine and I could connect the dots very precisely. Now I knew why no one was surprised with my presence at Kamathipura. Of course, they knew that already."
"So you wanna ask something?" she looked with expectations."umm.. yeah.. just one thing. What were you doing around the NCPA that night?" She flushed and turned the darkest shade of red I had seen."Has she told you how crazy she is about you?" Meera said entering the balcony. She blushed a little more. "She was there to catch a glimpse of you" "Meera!!!" she sighed hiding behind her."Okay my red tomato, here, have this. The food will be done in a bit." Meera handed each of us a glass of juice and went back in."How's Aaliya doing?" Kiara asked me after a while.
"She's awake and out of danger but she's still mentally affected. She's still at the rehab center. She doesn't talk and keeps staring at one place. But I'd say she is a lot better now. I was so broken when she was in a coma. I'm glad I reached home on time that night to save her. Had I been a little late, I would've lost my sister. That man is a monster. I wish I could just strangle him for what he put Aaliya through," I said almost breaking down. She came closer to me and held my hand in hers.
"Rihaan, relax. The good part is Aaliya is fine. She's alive and with you. As far as Neil is concerned, trust me, he'll rot in jail all his life. Aaliya wasn't his only victim. He is a psychopath who goes around killing women for fun. We found photographs of all the women he has harmed so far. He's obsessed with beautiful women and has sexually assaulted quite a few of them before killing them. At least we know Aaliya is not one of them. I'm sure she'll be okay soon. We'll make sure she is. All she needs now is loads of love and care from her Bhai and see that'll work like magic."
Her words worked wonders. I saw a new ray of hope ad I knew Aaliya would be okay now.
"Rihaan, the baby's gonna be okay right?" I heard my heavily pregnant wife whisper. We had been in the labour room for a few hours now. I rushed her in when she had her first contraction earlier that evening. The doctor had now informed us that Kiara would be ready for delivery with the next contraction. Kiara had been really scared since we came in. She, like any other mother, was concerned for her child but the stress wasn't doing her any good and hence, I decided to cheer her up.
"Haha... Kiara, in the six months we were seeing each other and 3 years of marriage, I've never seen you so scared. Where's my Mrs. Bond? Get her back, please. I miss her already." "Rihaan, I'm worried here. Stop joking around."
"Alright wifey, I'm sorry. The baby is gonna be perfectly alright. She's my mini rockstar. She's gonna be awesome. Stop worrying and relax. I'm right here with you. Always have and always will, coz I love you," I said kissing her forehead to reassure her.
"I love you too, Rihaan. Promise me you won't let me go." She said caressing my face."I promise, Kiara. You're gonna be beside me and we'll grow old together, watch our babies grow, and play with our grandchildren. I'm looking forward to having an awesome future with you, baby." I said, bending down to kiss her lips.
"Hey love birds, we're at the hospital. Have some shame. And bhai, control! The baby hasn't come out yet and you're planning another one already." Aaliya walked in. She was now completely normal. Kiara's charm had worked on her too and she had slowly started showing signs of recovery. We would spend hours at the rehab with Aaliya every day and talk to her. Kiara would tell her about my concerts, how I had done everything for her, and how I wanted her to be proud of me. Within a year, she was the old, bubbly, charming Aaliya I knew.
Kiara's presence had brought a lot of positive changes in me too. I had started enjoying life more than before. I learned to smile and talk. I was a loner no longer and came out of my shell. That influenced my music too and I was able to perform better. My songs were livelier and I climbed higher on the ladder of success. This one-woman had transformed my life and made it beautiful. She had given me my family and I would always be grateful to her for that."Aaahhh... Rihaan, call the doctor! Now!" I heard her scream and rushed out to inform the doctor.
"Papa... papa wake up na please!" I could hear my little princess, Ahana call out to me. I squinted my eyes and slowly opened them.
"Happy Birthday to you... Happy birthday dear Rihaan..." I heard everyone sing in the chorus. I sat up and saw everyone around my bed. Kabir, Meera, their son Aryan, Aaliya, my five-year-old Ahana, and Kiara clapped and cheered as I cut my cake at midnight. After wishes and gifts, everyone retired for the night. I sat on the bed, waiting for Kiara to come back after putting Ahana to sleep. I remembered the incidents that led me here. The incidents that got me this wonderful family."Hey, what're you thinking about?" Kiara asked climbing into the bed. I pulled her closer and kissed her on her nape.
"Just thinking about the night I met you and how lucky I am to have you. I love you, Kiara. Always and forever." "Forever!" she sighed, kissing me on my lips.