Friday, 26 September 2014

The Scribbler's Orchard: Part 18

Team Name: Scribblers' Orchard

Read the previous part of the story here

Tara was gathering her thoughts after the black hood was removed. Something about this place was bothering her. Had she been here earlier? Last month probably?  
This day was quite a handful. 
………
They were about to ring the doorbell when Shekhar’s phone started vibrating. Tara was on the other end.
She was at work, trying to resume her work, when they had called. ‘Talk to Dutta. Tell him you are going to lose your only child because of him. He should give us all the photographs and we will return her alive.’
‘I want to meet my daughter. I will do whatever you say after I see her all right. Please, I beg of you!’ Tara almost cried, her sobs drowning her words. The call got disconnected.
Tara left office. She had made up her mind this morning that she would be strong. But the call had upset her, giving her a rude shock that had fractured her facade of composure. They called up again after half an hour, while she was on her way to home. ‘Come to the car parking of Shopper’s Destination, alone, at 12:30. Don’t you dare to inform anyone, or you will be responsible for your loss. ’
Tara suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline. She dialed Shekhar’s cellphone. He was with Jennifer and Arjun, on Ahuja’s doorstep.
They retreated and waited for Tara to reach home. Their plan was ready by the time Tara reached. At 12:30 pm sharp, Tara was in the car parking of Shopper’s Destination, a newly built shopping mall, with many unoccupied shops and mostly vacant, deserted parking lot. She was wondering what she should do when suddenly someone grabbed her and put a black hood on her head, covering her entire face and neck. Then she was swiftly carried and pushed inside a car which sped away immediately.
……
The construction of the room looked surprisingly familiar to Tara. What was it? She glanced across the room. It was a medium sized room painted stark white, left almost bare but for a huge painting on a wall. A painting of fire, depicting sky high flames, engulfing all life forms, birds, animals, humans…no wait, they were actually being generated from the flames, rather than being engulfed. The painting was signed 'Raghav' in a stylish curvy brushstroke on right hand bottom corner.Tara remembered their fortnightly magazine had covered an exhibition a couple of months ago, by the famous painter Raghav, the theme being fire. His paintings had been a sensation and the exhibition was completely sold out on day one.
She looked at the only other feature of the room. The adjacent wall had a Rajasthani jharokha style mantelpiece. Her eyes widened with the shock of this discovery. Shekhar’s study had the same mantelpiece. She now compared the orientations of the two rooms and found that they were mirror images of each other.
The pen in her breast pocket kept recording everything.
Then, the door opened and Roohi almost stumbled inside. Tears rolled down Tara's cheeks as she hugged her. 

Back home, Tara recapitulated the happenings of this midday, as everyone listened wide-eyed. They were ready.
……………

Acharya rang the bell placed in front of him. A middle-aged woman appeared, her hands firmly clasped into a prayer-pose.
‘Is she here?’
‘Yes, acharya ji’
‘I should see her now.’
The woman bowed and left. A few minutes later, she appeared again with a little girl with two pigtails, her face scrubbed clean and wearing new clothes.
‘Sit, my child.’
The woman made Roohi sit on a chair. Acharya motioned her to leave. She bowed and left, her hands still folded.
Acharya smiled and nodded at Roohi. ‘Do not be afraid, my child.’ He said in a soothing tone. ‘You are in your own home. Are you hungry? Do you like sweets?’
Roohi was looking at him with sad eyes. A few days ago, she would have been dancing at this proposition, the promise of sweet little surprises, chocolates, candies and cupcakes.  She gulped secretly.
Acharya slid a fancy little paper bag with little smiley faces in front of her on the table. ‘Take it. It is all for you.’
Roohi glanced at the bag with slanted eyes and kept still.
Acharya rose from his seat, came close to Roohi and softly placed his hand on her head. How he had missed his own daughter and her family. They lived so close to him, yet so distant. He remembered how he had struggled to find the whereabouts of his only daughter after coming back from his self-imposed exile. His only wealth, after he had lost everything else. After looking for her for years, he had found her, successful in her career, married and a mother. He had known her to be a strong person, who could win challenges, in her growing up years. All these years, he was sure that his daughter must have done something good with her life. Though he had achieved the ultimate knowledge, he was not proud of the fact that he had abandoned her in a desolate state. This stopped him from meeting her or her family directly. Though, he could see them coming and going from the neighborhood. That nobody was bothered about neighbors nowadays had helped him immensely in staying close to them and yet go unnoticed.  
Acharya came back in the present. The phone was ringing. He went back to his chair and picked up the receiver.  ‘What? ’, his smile faded away, giving way to multiple creases on his forehead. ‘But surely they cannot find this place. They have no idea of my reach.’ After listening for a few more seconds, he replaced the receiver and glanced at Roohi.
Roohi was looking on quietly. The little paper bag stayed untouched, the smileys on it appeared as if they were making fun of Acharya.
Acharya, a little unhappy, tried to restart conversation with her, smiling again. ‘Cheer up, child. Do you want a toy? I can get you the best toys.’
She remained silent. Fazed, he dialed a number on the vintage telephone. ‘The girl should not stay here. Make arrangements and send her away immediately. To Delhi.’

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 Read the next part of the story here

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