Apologies for posting after a gap. I’ve posted about how disoriented I have been. Back to the groove now. Hope you are all doing fine.
Now, the traffic at my blog had increased manifold after my book release. I was too overwhelmed. One, I didn’t want new readers to begin reading BEB and make me keep it here for long. Two, I didn’t want to leave an entire story here. So, I closed a few initial chapters that you have already read before.
If any of you want to read them again, I will open them again, maybe in 1-2 days, and let you know. They will be here till the story finishes.
Thank you. Love you all.
He called Manasvi. This time, she answered too. It was very late at night. Around 1 am. She was tucked in bed, looking out of the window of the hotel, at the dark sky outside and the reflection of the full moon on the glass of the window. When the phone rang, she answered it.
Anshuman didn’t greet her with the usual salutations used when talking on phone. He was too upset, too annoyed, too angry for that. He almost barked on the phone.
“Why are you still in Kabul when you could have gone back with Krish? Why didn’t you go? Which important work needs your attention there? Are you crazy? Do you have any sense left or you have decided that you will purposefully trouble me until I lose all of my sanity?”
Manasvi was surprised at the way he was scolding her. She was never reprimanded in such a caring, loving, wholesome manner. In fact, she was never scolded at all. Ever. She had maintained an aura that people around her respected her and no one had the audacity to say anything rash to her. And this was not even rash. It spoke of how he was worried for her. Every word reflected how deeply he cared for her.
Softly, she replied.
“No one has ever scolded me so lovingly. Please don’t make me feel new emotions. I’m already struggling with old ones.”
Anshuman was taken aback.
Wasn’t he the one who was going through these supposedly ‘new’ unseen emotions for the first time in his life? Wasn’t he losing his temper on someone so easily just because he was worried about her safety? It was inexplicable and weird even for him.
He gulped some saliva and tried to compose himself but couldn’t. He was terribly nervous because she was alone in Kabul. His anger wasn’t calmed by her honey-laden voice telling him that she had never been scolded like this before.
He wished he could blast her for this carelessness. He huffed more and in a stern tone, he warned her, “Listen, don’t try to distract me…”
“Are you getting distracted?” She interrupted. Biting her thumb nail and resting her head on the cushion behind her.
He stopped speaking, rolled his eyes, and chewed the edge of his lower lip. With that, he leaned sideways at the pillar near the security gates, which had just opened for checking in the passengers. He crossed his lower leg, one in front of the other, and nodded hopelessly with a dejected sigh. And a low whisper, “Why did I even call you?”
She smiled, and replied, “Because you were worried about me. Am I right?”
“Whatever!” He dismissed it in a whisper, as low and as inaudible like leaves falling in autumn.
She stayed quiet at that. She knew that he was worried about her. He knew that she was aware of his feelings. There was nothing to clarify or reject in clear words. She had asked him to return to her when his love for her grew more than his hatred for himself.
But was it even love? He asked himself. Wasn’t he just feeling responsible, like always?
He would just arrange for her certificates and make it possible for her to get the passport made at Kabul itself. That’s all. Wasn’t it? He checked his heart for the answers.
Or maybe not!
Manasvi closed her eyes waiting for his reply and when he spoke nothing for the next few seconds, she said, “If you want me to hold the phone for the entire night, I can do that too. But I’m tired. It was a tough day for me. Given a choice, I would love to go to sleep.”
He was irked. He clicked his tongue at his jaw and spoke in an annoyed tone, “Of course! I don’t have an entire night too. I have a flight to catch!”
“Flight?” Manasvi opened her eyes. Almost surprised. By what Amanda had told her about their schedule, they should have been at their next destination by now. Where was he going?
Anshuman cursed himself for speaking more than necessary. But the arrow was already shot. She now wanted to know where he was going. He tried to avoid the question by not speaking but Manasvi didn’t deviate.
She asked again, “Anshuman, where are you, right now? Where are you going?”
She carefully probed, in a nervous voice, “Have you been posted, already? Are you joining a new PBB camp? Where? Is it dangerous?”
He simply wanted to relieve her. And he didn’t want to lie. So he replied in a casual tone, “No. I’m off to Karachi.”
She sat straight on the bed. Alarmed. Impatient. In quick sentences, she hurriedly spoke, “For what? My certificates? Are you crazy? No, you are not going!”
“And why would I listen to you?” He tersely smirked, walking towards the security gates and joined the queue, slowly moving ahead.
“You should listen to me because I don’t want you to go. Simple.”
“Yeah. Sure!! Like you consulted me before staying back in Afghanistan. Now, have a dose of your medicine. You have no right to stop me.”
She was insanely riled up. “What logic is that?! I’m safe here. In Metropolitan hotel. The staff and people around are courteous and caring.”
“So?” He shrugged, rolling his tongue on his gums. Clearly disinterested.
“Err… so…” For a moment, she was speechless and didn’t know what to say. Then she resumed, “I can’t allow you to step into any trouble.”
“I’m not waiting for your permission. Like you don’t. Anyway, I’m in the queue. My number is next. I’ll switch off the phone once I enter the aircraft. Okay, bye!”
She was irritated but also knew that now, he won’t stop. She had so much to say to him and he had spoken about his plan at the last moment. She couldn’t convince him to stop. When he said that he was about to disconnect the call, she panicked.
“Listen…” She quickly said.
Anshuman handed his boarding pass to the officer on duty at the security gates. In a low voice, he asked her, “What?”
He didn’t know whether to smile at that or give her a long list of do’s and don’ts. Finally, he murmured, “You too!”
Anshuman disconnected the call and boarded the flight. After setting his bag in the overhead compartment for baggages, he settled in his window seat. Invariably, his thoughts would wander to Manasvi. The way she got worried for him send flutters through his chest. It certainly felt pleasant and new to him. However, he wondered why would she become so concerned for him. He was just going to a metro city for one day and would be back after the work was done. It wasn’t a big deal.
At least, not for him.
Manasvi couldn’t go to sleep after Anshuman’s call. This time, he had made her anxious and a nervous-wreck. She kept praying and hoping that his trip went well.
She picked up her diary from the side table and started jotting down some points that she had noted mentally, to be kept in mind for her field day tomorrow. It was already evening today, by the time she freshened up and inquired about nearby areas. Being alone, she needed to be safe at all times. So it felt better to venture out in the morning the next day instead of going in the afternoon today, and returning late in the evening. She had decided to take rest in the hotel and plan well before she went on with her strategy, for which she had stayed back in Kabul.
Early in the morning, Manasvi got ready to foray into the unknown territory to gather insight into the existential crisis Anshuman was going through.
At the reception, she met the female attendant, responsible for taking care of female tourists, and asked, “Am I looking fine? I mean, can I go to the city alone?”
The lady gave a long glance to Manasvi and her attire. A long kurta with full sleeves and salwar, with a head scarf covering her hair and head. Then she nodded, “Perfect! But why are you alone?”
“Err…” Manasvi was thinking of a an excuse but the lady remembered.
“Your husband works for PBB, right?”
“Yeah!” Manasvi nodded, “I hope it is not a problem to go alone.”
“See, usually women don’t roam around alone here. But having said that, people won’t even bother you if you do, if only you stay on main roads and stick to your destination. Do your work and come back. Don’t venture in interiors, secluded areas, or shady places.” The lady lifted a brow.
“I’ll take care.” Manasvi nodded, picked up her bag and moved out of the hotel.
She had called for a hired taxi service and asked him to take her to an address in Kabul. She gave a paper to the driver. The driver read the address and said, “Ma’am, this address is a little far from here. Are you alone?”
“Is it a problem?” Manasvi asked.
The cab driver immediately corrected himself, “No. It is not a problem for me. But it could be a problem for you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It is at the far end of the city and a pretty undeveloped area. Towards the interiors. I wondered if you will be able to manage alone.”
Manasvi smiled, “I’m not alone. You are with me. Right?”
The cab driver smiled at the reply and opened his mouth to say something. But before he could utter another word, Manasvi said, “Consider me your little sister. And help me. Please!”
He asked, “If you don’t mind, may I ask what leads you to a place like this?”
“That was my home… a decade ago.”
Anshuman hired a prepaid taxi at Karachi airport and peered into the address written at the piece of paper where he had written about Manasvi’s school after copying it from her passport documents a week ago.
He gave the address to the taxi driver who took him to the concerned school and dropped him there. Anshuman paid him, checked the address again and kept his wallet in the backpack that he had been carrying.
The woman at the reception told him that the school that he had been looking for was the sister concern of this school, it was actually the older campus and they had shifted to a nearby area. She directed him to that address and wrote it on another paper.
Anshuman walked out of the school and hired an autorickshaw to go to the older campus. The auto driver took him through some narrow dusty lanes and dilapidated buildings for around 2-3 miles and dropped him before a broken building.
Anshuman carefully looked at the building and said, “This doesn’t look like a school. There is no board, no kids, no parked vehicles. What a strange, weird place is this?!”
“Why don’t you get down and inquire from some locals. I’ll park the auto in shade.”
Anshuman nodded and got down. When he turned around to get his bag from the auto, the driver sped off taking his belongings with him. Anshuman ran behind him for a distance and shouted for help but to no avail. It was a secluded area with no passersby. He could only see an auto speeding away far from him. Anshuman stopped running. There was no point. Panting and huffing, he rested his hands on his hips, wondering how quickly the driver fooled him.
‘People are people. Same, everywhere!’