Abdul chacha had just finished his magrib prayers and was folding his prayer mat, looking hungrily at the kebabs his wife was grilling. He was expecting close friends over for dinner and had thus bought the best mutton possible. Beef wasn't available these days but nothing was going to dampen his spirits today. It was drizzling and thus was a perfect weather to relish kebabs. He was enjoying the mouth watering delicious smells, when there were loud quick knocks at the door.
"Begum, the smell of your kebabs has pulled our guests towards our house before time it seems!"
Laughing at his own joke, as Chachi went in to drape a dupatta over her head, he opened the door, and his laughter came to a sudden halt.
"Do you know where Akram Malik stays?"
Three young men, tall and strong, dressed in kurtas and pants, with a long red tika on their foreheads, and white thread showing from under their kurtas, were asking Abdul Chacha.
"Do you know where Akram Malik stays?"
"Sorry no. No. Ummm... never heard of this name in our area atleast." said Chacha, unconvincingly.
The boy standing in the front turned his face a bit towards the other boys and gave a half smile,
"Chacha doesn't know, let's go and find him ourselves"
Saying this they left.
Chachi came from behind as chacha was hurriedly shutting the door.
"What happened, who was it? Why are you looking so pale?"
"Huh? Nothing. No one. Begum, please get me some water."
The three boys; Balraam, Yogi and Narain continued asking around in the village for Akram Malik.
They asked shopkeeper Omar , who refused knowing any person of that name, ever in his entire life.
They asked vegetable vendor Najma, who refused to even look at them and instead picked up her basket and walked away as fast as she could.
They were about to approach the kids playing cricket, but their parents immediately rushed to the spot and took the kids home on pretext of dinner and homework, as if some sort of warning had already reached them.
They asked Badrinath, the barber, who confidently replied "One Akram Basit used to be there, not Malik. Check the name. There is no Malik in our locality"
The boys were getting frustrated now. That's when they saw an Imaam at the mosque, they stood outside and Balraam asked him, "maulavi ji namaste, do you know where Akram Malik stays?
"Yes beta, take a left from Omar's shop from there, then take second right, 4 houses from the corner. Akram stays there only."
The boys said with a triumphant smile.
"Allah Hafiz" replied the maulavi
Allah Hafiz, murmured the maulavi sending blessings for Akram.
"Namastey, Akram Malik stays here only, right? Please call him out."
A 25 year old beautiful lady, clad in royal blue shalwar kameez with fine silver embroidery on its delicate fabric, had opened the door. She was heavily pregnant.
"Ji, he has gone out of town, I am his wife. Please tell me. Is everything alright? If he has done something wrong I say sorry on his behalf."
Yogi is peeping into the house. He whispers something into Balraam's ears, Balraam too looks into the house and sees a man sitting in one corner. They are sure they have seen him somewhere. Maybe in the market when they were asking for address.
"We are very tired can we come in and have some water?", pursues Balraam.
"Just some water, don't be scared", Narainder says laughing, others join him. Saima starts feeling scared of them and goes to close the door, when Balraam holds the door with hand still laughing, saying "wait, wait". Hearing this commotion, suddenly a person comes rushing from the inside room,
"I am Akram Malik, tell me what you want. Let's step outside. Saima go in."
They step out. Akram stands upright with his shoulders tight to show courage, when Balraam says,
"Namastey, you remember Kartik Sharma?"
Colour drains out of Akram's face.
"Remember Kartik Sharma?" Balraam repeats louder against the sounds of the rains.
"Yes" replied Akram almost inaudible
"We have come from his village, Gorakhpur. You did your schooling from there right?"
"We are sure you have not forgotten that trip to the waterfalls you both had taken, and what happened there."
Akram feels his heart sinking and his knees giving away.
"Do you still feel guilty of killing him?"
"Yes" with tears filled in eyes, Akram chokes on the word.
"We have come from his village. When we told Gayatri Chachi, Kartik's mother, that we are coming here, she gave us your details and asked us to meet you and tell you that, it wasn't your mistake."
"What?" Akram stared up at them with a sudden shock and confusing realisation.
"Yes, I am Kartik's cousin brother. Gayatri Bua wants you to let go of that guilt, it was fate and an accident. It was his destiny to have drowned, to not knowing to swim. There was nothing you could have done.
You left immediately after the incidence and Bua never got a chance to talk to you."
"But I knew to swim, but..... " Akram was reliving that dreadful moment and I suddenly came back to present, "Please! Please come in. I am so sorry, I... "
"No, nothing to be sorry. Because of all the incidences happening these days, the fear you all are feeling is, umm, jaayiz , that's the word for natural right? Well, but I was finding you to just give this message and this barfi Chachi send for you."
Then the customary three hugs, that was followed by a lavish Eid dinner and the sharing of prashad from their visit to a temple before coming here; brought back hope and happiness the village was fearing they may never feel again.