It was night. The city of Calcutta was lit up with the diyas and little children were playing happily with firecrackers. The festival of Diwali was spreading joy in the city, but in the midst of the city, one house alone was not lit up with the decorations. No light could be seen outside, and inside, was lit a single candle. On the couch, were two women… one was lying down, sobbing uncontrollably and the other was by her side trying to pacify her. All Anita could remember though was that black Omni, her daughter taken away from her side by unknown men. She was scared, and held on to a photograph seeing it with tearful eyes.
Cat remembered that photograph. She had taken it herself. In it was a 11 year old girl, sitting on a swing in the park, and smiling sweetly at her aunt who was taking the photo. Nitika Tripathy’s innocence could be seen in her eyes, blue like the sky. Cat was silent, but her heart was beating fast. Her thoughts were playing with her again. “Is it worth continuing this pursuit? I nearly lost Neel, Vipin is still recovering in the hospital, and now Neetu is also in danger because of me. Shall I give up this chase for once?” she thought. Atul came out of the kitchen with a tray. On it were plates, a packet of bread and some cheese, and three mugs of hot chocolate. He set it down. Anita got up. She saw the food, and told that she won’t have any. She took a mug of hot chocolate and slowly started sipping it. They didn’t force her; they took the tray and went out to the verandah.
Cat went to the railing and looked out. Children of Neetu’s age playing happily with their parents and loved ones. Her eyes started to become moist again. Atul saw the sadness in her eyes. He could see her thoughts, always. He walked toward her, and kissed her softly. She turned and she could see her sadness in his eyes too. She kissed him back.
“Cat, I know you feel like giving up. But the only way to find Neetu is by going on. You are the best, you know that. We can do this dear. We’ll find her, don’t worry. Come and eat”, he said. “
“I don’t know. If I stop this now, they’ll return Neetu. Then even Anita will be happy. I don’t want to see her sad too. I’ll give up, just this once. If it gets her back, then I think it is worth it.”
“No”, said a new voice from the door. They turned to see Anita there. “Don’t give up. Pretend to give up. Go to them, rescue my child and then put them in prison again. That’s where they belong.”
Cat was lost for words. She just nodded. They began to eat slowly. The telephone rang. Anita went to pick it up. She came back out soon, looking very white, and the cordless phone in her hand. Cat took it from her.
“Miss Cat, we want you to abandon your work. You have been causing too much trouble with your job. Quit your journalism. Only when we see your resignation letter, will we give back your niece to you.”
“Ok. Where should I meet you? So that I can give it to you, and you can give Neetu back to me.”
“We will meet where we took your niece. In front of the hospital… be there in one hour.”
The line went dead. They didn’t waste any time. They left for the hospital. Cat wrote down a letter of resignation, and Vipin signed it. They had decided that once Neetu was returned to them, they would leave the hospital immediately. Atul sat waiting in his car. Each second that passed by seemed to be like an hour to Anita and Cat. Then it came. That same black Omni… a man in a mask came out of it and approached Cat. He stood halfway between. Cat went alone. His voice was husky. When he spoke he did not play around. He asked for her resignation letter. She handed it to him. He read through it and nodded. Another man came out holding Neetu. To Cat’s surprise, Neetu was in new clothes. A green top and jeans… green was her favorite color. She looked unhurt. A blindfold was across her eyes. She wasn’t surprised at that.
He removed Neetu’s blindfold. The little girl saw her aunt, ran to her and gave her a hug. Cat kissed her, and turned back. Neetu saw her mother, and ran ahead of Cat and into the car where Anita and Atul sat waiting. Cat started walking back too. The next moment, pain flooded her. Something hit her feet hard. She was so glad at getting Neetu back that she had not expected the last part of her dream to come true at that time. But it had. She saw Atul trying to come to her rescue but a gunshot hit the road next to his feet, and he decided against it. Another shot hit the side mirror of the car. Atul decided to make sure Anita and Neetu were safe, and he drove off. The pain was still flooding her, but she looked and saw the masked man about to grab her by the hair. He did, and pulled her up. She wanted to cry out loud, but she didn’t. The next moment, all went black, as she felt a prick on her arm.
When she woke, she was in a dark room, sitting on a chair. Her hands were cuffed behind her, and her feet cuffed to the legs of the chair. The only light she saw was coming from a small skylight in the roof.
She was wondering where she was, what these people were going to do to her, whether Atul, Anita and Neetu were safe. Click… the cuffs on her wrists was suddenly released, but a strong pair of hands held on to them. Another click and her feet were freed as well.
The door opened and light from the hall flooded the room. She was led through the hall. She did not know why, but the hallway seemed familiar to her. A door was open at the end of the hall. She was thrown into it, and fell at the feet of someone there. She could hear the door being shut. She looked up to see who her host was. He was tall, 6 feet 5 inches at least, moderately built. He was facing the other way, looking out of the window to the street below. But he spoke.
“Hello Cat, how are you? I don’t think you need to see my face, to tell who I am.”
She didn’t. She could recognize the voice. But she could not make herself believe it was him.
(To be continued…)