Varma, a 55 year old guy, was walking along with his daughter, Shyamala, on the footpath. It was her graduation day and he was very happy for his daughter. She finally graduated with flying colours and there was nothing that could make him happier.
The sun was setting, hiding behind clouds and providing a reddish orange tint to the sky around it. It was soothing. A slight breeze was blowing on his back, cooling him, was a reminder that summer was finally over.
To their side, several horns were blazed from time to time, many people of different ages going for their home from work. But only few people among them were happy. Varma was satisfied that he was one among them.
He was not happy for longer.
Before he could form his next thought, tires squealed to his side and a white Sedan skidded to halt. He turned, found that the windows were rolled down and saw two guys in black overalls, with mask to their faces. They were raised few inches above from the car seat, a result of them slamming the breaks so suddenly and the one who was riding the shotgun cursed at the other guy as they fall back on the seat.
The guy riding the shotgun was a scrawny guy. He shook his head at the driver, a muscled guy, and turned towards Varma. He opened the door and stepped out of the car, fiddling with something in his pocket.
The scrawny guy let out a sigh of relief and produced a gun from his pocket. He pointed it at Shyamala and squeezed the trigger. The bullet, shedding its shell, raced away from both Shyamala and Varma and hit the light pole by their side. It struck to the pole with a loud noise.
The scrawny guy was an amateur. It was evident from the way his hands were shaking. But even he couldn’t miss his target if he places the gun close.
The Scrawny guy took Shyamala with his free hand and pointed the gun at her temples.
“If you move an inch, I’ll squeeze the trigger,” the scrawny guy said. His voice was as cold as steel.
Varma raised his hands, not knowing what to do. All his years of training in fighting, especially in handling these situations flew out of his mind, looking at Shyamala trembling, with a gun at her temples.
The scrawny guy nodded and turned, closing the front door and opened the back door. He pushed her inside, poking her back with the gun and entered after her.
The muscled driver grunted and started the white Sedan. Before moving away, the scrawny guy fired another bullet, which shed its shell and flew so close to Varma that if he even trembled a little bit, he would’ve been hit.
Shyamala gave a sharp cry. The scrawny guy reached for his pocket and produced a cloth, stuffing her mouth with it, muffling her cries. But he couldn’t do anything to stop those tears.
Varma’s heart was pounding loudly as he watched the white Sedan sped its way through the traffic and disappear from his sight. He realized that he hadn’t even noticed the number plate.
He smacked his head, tears falling down on his cheeks and racked his brain on the next step.
His phone rang. It was from unknown number.
He didn’t waste any time to pick up the call. A voice as cold as Steel spoke from the other end. “Hello my friend, this is Steel. The one who just kidnapped your daughter. I hope you’ve got One Lakh Rupees. If you want to see her alive, meet me at the location I would send to you within 45 minutes.”
The call was disconnected.
Varma was afraid as well as shocked. Money was not a matter to him. But his daughter’s life was.
He could give scrawny Steel his money and get his daughter back. But he didn’t trust scrawny Steel’s words. The chances of Steel using the money, only to break his promise are more.
He could call the cops and investigate about the scrawny Steel. It would take time since Amith was Head of Investigation Department and he had to approve the investigation. Amith hated Shyamala.
That left him with only one option.
To take help from his other friends.
Varma called them, one by one and only one was available. He was Dheeraj.
Dheeraj came in his Toyota Corolla along with Amith.
“How dare you not inform me about your daughter’s kidnap?” Amith said as soon as he stepped out of the car.
“You hate my daughter. I thought you wouldn’t bother to help me,” Varma said.
“I don’t want to help you find your kidnapped daughter. Yes, that’s true. But I wanted to cheer you up and celebrate with you on your freedom,” Amith said.
I was so angry that I clenched my fists. I was about to hit Amith when Dheeraj stepped between us.
“Guys, let’s not get into it. Why don’t we go and look for Shyamala instead?” Amith said. His voice broke at the end.
Amith was so close to Shyamala that he was practically her favourite among Varma’s friends. It might probably because Amith was the youngest among them and was only 10 years older than her. He never ages or seemed to age slowly. Since he looks quite younger, Shyamala felt closer to him.
“I don’t have time to waste with him anyway. Let’s go look for her,” Varma said to Dheeraj.
“I’ll tell you it’s a boon in disguise. Why don’t you celebrate your freedom? You missed most of what you were supposed to do just because you had to take care of her. Now, god has provided you with a perfect opportunity. Use it wisely,” Amith said.
Anger soared every inch of Varma’s body and this time, even Dheeraj stepped aside. Varma grabbed Amith’s collars and lifted him off the ground. Amith was heavy, so heavy that he couldn’t keep him off the ground for longer. He finally set him on his feet and glared at him.
“If you don’t want to help us, I am okay with it. But if you interfere in my search, then there’s no way I am going to stand here and do nothing,” Varma said.
“Fine, it’s your loss,” Amith said and turned away from him.
Just then, Amith’s phone rang. He saw the screen and picked up the call, putting it through speaker mode.
“Dad… I don’t … they,” it was all Shyamala get to say before she cried. The call was disconnected.
“I have to get to her before Steel does something,” Varma said as he ran his hands through his long hair. Shyamala was confident girl, not so easily broken. If she cried, then Varma could only imagine what the Steel had done to her.
“We will get her. Don’t worry,” Dheeraj said.
“I hope so,” Varma said.
Dheeraj turned to Amith. “You’ve heard how shaken she was just now. The guy must’ve hurt her,” he said to Amith.
Amith shrugged. “It doesn’t matter how hurt she was. Because of her, and especially because of her and her mother, he didn’t have fun in his live. I will go so far to say that he didn’t have a life these past years. God had given him a chance now. Let him enjoy,” Amith said.
Varma didn’t realize what he was doing till his hands were on Amith’s collars. “Don’t you dare talk about them like that. They are my life and even if god had given me another chance, I still would do what I’ve done,” he said.
Amith shook his head. “That’s the way a loser thinks. I want you to be a successful. You are my best friend and I didn’t stopped you all these years. I regretted it all the time. But now that God has given me a perfect opportunity, I would do anything I can to get you in right track,” Amith said.
I was so angry that I wanted to squeeze his neck. Till he took back what he said. “I am not a loser. God has given me perfect opportunity, yes. In the form of Shyamala. Even though I admit that life with my wife was a mistake but Shyamala was not. I’ve successfully raised her to not only to be good, but also intelligent.”
Amith looked at me with pity. “Shyamala’s intelligent. I’ll agree with that. But the problem was that she was too intelligent that she leeched all your happiness out of your life,” he said.
“She didn’t. If you continue to talk nonsense like that…” Varma paused. His voice cracked at the end. His hands on Amith’s collars trembled. “Please don’t make me say something that we would both regret.”
Amith let out a sigh. “Fine. But… I don’t interfere in this business. For the sake of our friendship.” He was about to turn away when he paused. “Be careful.”
Amith walked away.
Dheeraj let out a nervous laugh. “I didn’t thought it would go like this,” he said.
Varma sighed. He didn’t know what was happening. His mind was still reeling from the fact that Shyamala was kidnapped. On the top of that, he had to deal with Amith.
Even though it went smoothly, Varma was sure that things were worse. It damaged their friendship for sure. He didn’t know the extent of the damage. Or he knew deep in his heart and was not willing to acknowledge it.
Amar would not give up until he was sure that he won. For him to agree to Varma so easily meant that he had made up his mind. Regarding their friendship.
From this day onwards, they are going to be different. May be strangers.
But Amith valued their friendship more than anything. Amith was by Varma’s side during the dark phases of his life. That meant they are still friends, but to what extent, Varma didn’t know.
Varma’s temple felt like someone were pushing them from both the sides. No. Hammering them from both sides.
Varma wanted to go to Amith, slap him and hug him. Ask him for forgiveness and his assistance in finding Varma’s daughter.
Amith hates Bhavana so much that even if Bhavana would be on her knees and apologize, he wouldn’t budge. It was a waste of their time.
Varma could plead instead. There might be a chance that Amith would help him. But Varma was sure that would be the end of their friendship. He didn’t want that either.
Varma shook his head. He also valued their friendship.
Amith respected it by not talking him out of searching for his daughter. He decided to settle it by not interfering.
Varma had to respect that. He would find his daughter on his own.
He turned to Dheeraj and found with his hands in his pockets. His face was filled with worry and he seemed to be deep in thought. Suddenly, his phone rang.
A message tone.
Varma was so startled that he jumped up in the air.
Dheeraj was no better. He let out a gasp, taking his hands out of his pockets in a hurry. Different things flew out from his pocket.
A phone, handkerchief and photos of Shyamala. Too many photos. Handkerchief that Shyamala had hunted for a week before giving it to Dheeraj on his birthday. A phone similar to hers.
Under normal circumstances, Varma wouldn’t have doubted a thing. But his daughter had been kidnapped just now, his friendship with Amith entered a rocky stage. To top it off seeing things that reminded his daughter was too much.
He hated himself to ask what he was about to do, but he had to.
Swallowing hard, he turned to Dheeraj. “Why do you have her photos in your pocket?” Varma said.
Dheeraj froze. Like his deep secret had been revealed to the whole world. When Varma repeated the question one more time, Dheeraj snapped out of it. “Graduation day present. I intended to put them in an album. Was on my way to get one. But I got a call from you about her …” Dheeraj couldn’t continue.
Varma shook his head. He would’ve accepted it under normal circumstances. To top it off, Dheeraj’s voice filled with so much emotion and regret that seemed off. “You are hiding something from me. If you value our friendship, tell me on my face. But if I find the truth later, that would be the end of our friendship,” he said.
Dheeraj trembled. He was deep in thought. As if contemplating whether he wanted to tell the truth or not.
Varma turned away in disgust. Dheeraj’s silence said more enough. He probably had crush on Shyamala and …
No, he thought Dheeraj was his friend. He was older than her. Still single. He had rejected everyone his parents had shown to him.
But there was this girl that Dheeraj liked. It was probably when he just graduated. They even dated for a time. Something happened and they broke up.
Varma was able to see Dheeraj’s phone. It was lying few feet in front of him and it was blinking. A message has arrived.
He could guess from whom it might be.
He had called to Amith’s phone first. Amith was by his side and the chances of them being observed were more.
A message to Dheeraj would only meant that Steel had sent the location.
Varma made a move to get the phone when Dheeraj snapped out of his stupor. He crouched and took his phone so quickly like his life depended on it. Or their friendship.
Dheeraj looked at the message and groaned. Then cursed.
Without saying another word, he turned, hopped inside his Toyota Corolla and went away in the same direction that White Sedan with his daughter went.
Varma didn’t waste any more time. He turned to the road and cursed. The road was packed with cars and scooters and the signal turned red ahead.
He looked from left to right.
Not even a cab in sight.
He reached for his phone, then remembered Shyamala’s photos and handkerchief.
He turned back, picked up the photos of Shyamala one by one. Each one reminded him more of her, but more than that they covered her entire life. From her birth since yesterday. Only the graduation photos were missing.
Even Varma didn’t kept a collection like that it made him angry.
Next was the handkerchief. It smelled like her favourite perfume and his gut clenched. All this pointed to same thing.
That Dheeraj had crush on her.
Varma should’ve realized this sooner. But it was already too late. No, not too late. There was still chance for him to rectify this. He had to reach Shyamala first, then let her tell Dheeraj on his face to stop thinking her on that way. Then Varma probably had to break their friendship.
His heart felt heavy. It was difficult, but he had to do it.
Once he picked up everything, he got back to the phone and called Amith.
“I need your help,” Varma said.
The horns were blaring to his side. Varma turned and found the signal was still red. What was with people today being so impatient that they can’t even wait for the clearance of the signal? They must be thinking like if they press their horn long enough, the signal would be changed from red to green. Didn’t they know that the traffic signal was programmed in such a way as to change signals every few minutes?
He heard a frustrated sigh from other end. “If this help is regarding your daughter count me out,” Amith said.
“It’s regarding Dheeraj.”
Varma explained to what he found and Amith asked the location.
It took Amith 5 minutes to reach in his BMW X5 with a siren on the top, but it felt like an hour.
Amith opened the door and let him in.
“You remember how I installed trackers into all our friend’s phone?” Amith said.
Varma nodded. He wanted to strangle him but knew it would amuse him more. So, he stayed silent.
“Also that I had installed cameras inside most of the cabs as well as all of our families so that if any crime happens, the criminal would be caught easily?”
“Well it appears I have affixed a camera in Dheeraj’s Toyota Corolla and I have access to it.”
“And what did you find.”
“The location of Shyamala.”
Varma was relieved. “Let’s go,” he said.
“But there’s more to it.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Let’s just get to her before Steel does something.”
Amith was about to open his mouth but closed when Varma glared at him. He sighed and started the car, the police siren blaring.
Within few moments, the traffic paved a way for them and we were on our way to Shyamala’s location.
Along the way, they had to stop at many locations to pave way to ambulance. Life of people was the first priority. It was even greater than Amith’s status as Head of Investigation Department. It slowed their progress to some extent, but not much.
At the ring road, the ambulance took left turn where they had to take right turn. Since then Varma was sure that their progress would be smooth.
He was wrong.
Their BMW X5 ran out of fuel just few kilometres after their partition from ambulance. They had to wait for another car to come – a black Sedan and Varma laughed at I the irony – and took it forcibly from the guy riding, being the Head of Investigation Department has its perks and continue their pursuit.
Varma hoped they are not that much far away from Dheeraj. But it was foolish to hope since he had a head start of 20 minutes. But Varma hoped he would’ve to stop now and then just like they had.
“Where are we going anyway?” Varma asked.
“To the airport,” Amith said.
There was no talking for few minutes.
Finally, they arrived at the airport and Varma got the shock of his life.
Shyamala was waiting outside the car, with Dheeraj in front of her. They were holding hands together.
When our car arrived, they looked at us. As Varma stepped outside, Shyamala said something to Dheeraj. He shook his head. She glared at him. When he hesitated, she sighed and took her hands away from his and looped them around his heck. She raised one hand to the back of his head and pulled it towards hers.
She kissed Dheeraj.
Not the other way round.
His heart was beating so hard that it was the only thing he was able to hear. Finally, he had the decency to turn away from them and looked at Amith.
Amith was clearly enjoying Varma’s discomfort. He was laughing. “I told you she was way too intelligent, that she would leech all your happiness. Apparently, she was doing the same for Dheeraj. Just look at them, clearly she was in control. Poor Dheeraj. But who cares, you are finally free for real this time. Let’s just go back and celebrate.” He said.
“You are still on that. This is not my freedom, but time for me to step up and do something about them…” Varma pointed towards the couple. He didn’t know whether they were kissing or not. “I thought she would at least inform me whom she loves. She hadn’t mentioned she loved anyone like other kids and I thought she was focused on her career or something. But … she … Dheeraj … I didn’t know how this happened,” he said.
Shyamala cleared her throat. “It was your fault that you invited Dheeraj and your friends around for every party at home,” she said.
Amith was amused. “Yeah. But out of five of us, you’ve chosen only him,” he said pointing towards Dheeraj.
She glared. “Of course I would chose him. He was the youngest and most handsome among you guys. He’s just few years elder than me and if I remember correctly, the age difference between mom and dad was more compared to us,” she said.
Varma looked at them, at their interlaced hands and again at her angry face. But that turned into smile when she noticed he was looking at her. “Look what such age gap had happened to us,” he said.
She shook her head. “Mom thought she loved you. But it was just infatuation. That’s why she left you for another guy she loves. I don’t know what happened to them or don’t even care. All I want is your approval dad,” she said.
It was Varma’s fault that he raised her to be confident. She knew that he would agree to anything she asks. No matter how bizarre. But this was something that even he finds difficult to even think about. “But … what about the masked guy Steel and one lakh rupees?” Varma said.
She laughed. “Well, a kidnapper has to ask something. Otherwise you or even the devil friend of yours by your side would figure this was a sham. We had to do that,” she said.
Dheeraj stiffened. “I thought of telling you sooner. But I never got brave enough. Even today, after her graduation day, I thought of leaving her and you guys and go away. I even booked tickets for that. I didn’t thought she would plan something like this,” he said.
She shook her head. “You think you could escape from me so easily?” she said.
Amith snorted. “See what I told about her being too intelligent. She is threatening him already. I can only imagine how his life was going to be… let me guess. Much worse than yours,” he said.
She ignored that comment and focused on Dheera. He sighed. “I’ve seen what happened between Varma and your mom. I don’t want that to happen to us, which was going to happen once you mature enough. If only I had gone yesterday, not waited till your graduation, this wouldn’t have happened.” He said.
“You loved me too much to do it. I think you would’ve stayed even if I hadn’t planned this kidnap,” she said.
Varma couldn’t tolerate it anymore. “Stop!” he shouted.
Amith collapsed into laughter. “It’s more interesting than any soap operas,” he said. He was laughing so hard that his eyes watered.
Shyamala stiffened. He hadn’t used that tone on her for a long time. Dheeraj was horriffied.
“I am not so cruel as to let your love life die down without giving it a chance. As I had done with your mother. But I also know that yours was doomed to fail. So, I would approve of your love on few conditions,” I said.
“And what would they be?” Amith asked.
“You would not have sexual intercourse. No kissing. No holding hands and less dates outside. Till you graduate at some professional course. If your love still persists even after that, I would walk you down the aisle and even cry when you both marry,” Varma said.
“I want to marry Dheeraj at our home,” she said.
“Fine,” Varma said. “Do you agree?”
“If they are in love, then of course they would do all the things you’ve mentioned not to do. This proves that you really should get a life,” Amith said.
Varma ignored him. He focused on Shyamala and Dheeraj.
“I agree,” Dheeraj, then released his hand from Shyamala. Or tried. He was not successful. She yanked them back and squeezed it so much that Dheeraj swore.
When had he raised his daughter to be so violent?
“Of course,” she said, then muttered something under her breath.
“Good, now stop holding hands and get in the car, there are some more rules that I wanted to discuss with you guys,” Varma said.
Amith was laughing so loudly that it was irritating. Dheeraj was relieved, though still in pain. Shyamala groaned. “No more rules,” she said.
“Get in the car young lady. We need to reassess your love. Like entrance test before I permit your love to go any farther,” Varma said.
“It’s cheating,” Shyamala said but Varma ignored it elbowed Amith, who was still laughing.
Once they got into the black Sedan, Amith rolled into new fit of laughter. Once he calmed down, or rather when Varma glared, Amith started the car, still laughing and rode towards Varma’s house.
Varma hoped he would come out of this mess.