After coming back from the hospital, Jayaprakash had a hectic time to complete the routine work of payments to officers and airmen going on leave and temporary duties. Also, that day being ration money collection day from the living out personnel, the job involved was tremendous. On completion of distribution and collection of money, he was busy with cash tallying, which he was sure to consume time, as sometimes even for differences of one rupee, the time consumed was beyond one’s imagination. By the time he was comfortable to relax with a deep breath, he got the information that the Commanding Officer wanted to see him. Quickly he wound up the day’s work with the assistance of Chacko and locked the safe putting back balance cash and hurried to that office, imagining of the possible causes for the summon. His imagination took wings with probable damaging thoughts projecting out making him be on guard. “Accept anything with a pinch of salt.” He soliloquized and consoled himself.
He entered the office, expecting to see the Commanding Officer in hot mood ready to shower his annoyance, but on the contrary, he was seen pleasant sporting a broad smile. The very look at him made Jayaprakash feel relaxed, making his pulse rate to revert to normalcy. Standing by the side of the table, he waited for the instructions for execution, which he was sure to be palatable.
“I knew, you went to visit your boss in hospital.” Shukla said.
The preamble made him generate suspicion if he had done any mistake by absenting from office without obtaining his permission. Cutting a sorry figure, he glanced at him with a smile and nodded. “Yes sir.”
“Could you see him?”
Taking the paperweight, he rotated that over the table. “He was feeling sorry for what he had done. He told me of his regret for blaming you. He is penitent for what he has done. Last night he spoke to me about his mental disturbances. I assume that was one of the causes of the recurrence of heart ailment and hospitalization.” He looked at his face. “I have spoken to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. He had agreed to dispose of the case with minor administrative action – say, with a warning or displeasure.” He chuckled. “Khanna is feeling sorry for the mental agony you had to undergo due to him.” He waited to hear from Jayaprakash. “Any quantity of repentance can not brush aside the mental agony you and family would have undergone.” He smiled.
Jayaprakash felt relieved by those pacifying words and chuckled. “It was my mistake also. I could not refuse to oblige.”
Shukla smiled. “That’s what we are taught in service. Implicit obedience without prognosticating the after-effects.”
Jayaprakash joined him when he smiled.
Jayaprakash looked cheerful when Saroja opened the door responding to his call bell. Hanging the helmet on the cap stand just near the door, he hugged her and carried to the bedroom by lifting.
“Don’t break your backbone. I am almost sixty kilos.” Saroja tried to get wriggled out of his hold with wild laughter. “What are you doing? I haven’t seen such happiness during our whole married life so far.” She was amazed to watch him smiling and kissing her.
Vinay who heard the laughter and shrieking sounds of protests and dissents of parents from the sitting room opened the door and peeped out intending not to hamper their pleasant mood.
Jayaprakash saw Vinay and made Saroja stand on her feet. He felt shy for behaving like a child, out of sheer exhilaration. With inquisitiveness, he enquired in an authoritative voice. “Why did you cut the class? Still, running temperature? Should we go to the doctor?”
Vinay closed the door leaving the mother to answer.
“One of her teachers expired and the school is on a holiday,” Saroja said.
After changing the uniform, Jayaprakash sat for food. When children had not come for joining him, he enquired. “Why they aren’t coming for lunch?”
“Vinay had his lunch.”
With smile, he said. “I know, Riya will not have food without giving me company. Call her.” Looking aside he shouted. “Riya. I am at home. Come and have food.”
“She is not here.”
With surprise, he enquired. “Where has she gone?”
“Vinay said, she has gone to Maya’s house.”
“Oh, I see. But for what?”
“Might be to give that pen drive.”
“She could have given that to her in the school itself.” He expressed his unhappiness. “That was what she had told me. And, specifically, I had told her not to make unnecessary visits to unknown houses.”
Saroja looked helpless. “I don’t know.”
Jayaprakash fished out mobile from the pocket and tried to contact her.
“Whom are you phoning up?”
“Riya.” He expressed anger. “Whom else?”
“Her mobile is here.”
“Why didn’t she take her mobile with her.” He shouted.
Saroja felt offended. “You only gave the order not to carry mobile to school.”
“Yes, but on such occasions, she should have.”
“How could she predict the death of her teacher?”
Jayaprakash could realize his folly and turned face with guilt.
He ate food and got up. Picking up the newspaper, he went to the bedroom. “She shouldn’t have gone. Last time itself I had warned from visiting anyone’s house without any accompaniment.” He mumbled.
After reading for a while, he slipped to slumber. It was four when Saroja woke him up with tea.
“Has she come back?” That was the first he asked her on opening the eyes.
“But, why?’ He was furious.
“They would have compelled her to lunch with them. Now, why are you so much worried about it?” Saroja tried to pacify.
He tried to cool down. “You are right. But, you know we are moving through a bad time. My peace of mind is being perturbed. You know, Delhi is not safe for girls to move around alone. Especially, girls of her age. People are not particular about the color of the skin or age. Any girl on the road alone would attract hundreds of eyes with wicked thoughts.” He got up and went to the sitting room and took tea.
When Vinay joined for tea, Jayaprakash asked, “do you know her friend Maya’s phone number?”
“I don’t know. But I can find out.” He got up and hurried to the bedroom and brought her mobile. He could easily find out Maya’s number. “Yes, I got it.”
“Why don’t you ring her up? Ask her to give the mobile to Riya. I will talk to her.”
Saroja looked at her husband. “Don’t shout at her. I know, you will get worked up hearing her excuses.” She turned to Vinay. “You get me her connected. I will speak to her.”
Vinay contained his feelings in a smile and made a call to Maya.
On the first ring, Maya picked up. “Hello, Riya. Why didn’t you ring me up so far?” She shouted with mock anger. “I was expecting your call sooner after you reached home. When did you reach home?”
There was silence, as Maya waited for a reply.
Vinay could smell something wrong and did not know how to reveal. He looked at Jayaprakash with fear of the unknown.
Jayaprakash did not like the clumsiness of Vinay and he shouted with anxiety. “Is she out of range or not responding?”
“Hello, hello.” Maya started shouting, which Jayaprakash and Saroja could hear.
“Respond to her,” Jayaprakash shouted at Vinay and snatched the mobile. “Is it Maya?”
From the tone, Maya could judge the sound was of Riya’s father. “Yes, uncle. Isn’t she back home yet uncle?”
“But uncle, she left this place before eleven.”
“But…” Jayaprakash could not utter any words further. His lips quivered. He felt the whole world was whirling at a speed higher than he could withstand. “No, she hasn’t got back yet.” He mumbled.
“She was sent by daddy in one of his junior’s car asking to drop in front of the Air Force Station.” Thinking she said. “I don’t know if Rohit uncle took her to his house for a cup of coffee or his car got into repair.”
Jayaprakash covered the mouthpiece with hand and spoke to Saroja. “It seems she had left that house before eleven in a car.”
“Whose car? Oh, my God!” Saroja started showing uneasiness. “What the hell are you talking about? Why hasn’t she arrived yet?” She yelled.
Jayaprakash could not stand her mounting tension and tried to pacify. “She will come. Advocate Rohit has taken her to drop here in front of the guard room.” Though his heart was on fire, he tried to console Saroja. “There is nothing to worry about. Maya’s father is a senior advocate practicing in Supreme Court and he would not have sent her with any Tom, Dick, or Harry. He would have sent her in a trustworthy person’s car. I am sure.”
But Saroja started breaking down. “I am not interested to get his credentials. But what would have he done to my daughter? I am sure, she is made a pawn by those wretched people. Advocate or anyone, I don’t care. I want my daughter to be here with me right now.” She started behaving like mad, passing the blame on him for giving too much freedom to her. “I used to always tell you not to pamper Riya too much.” She sneezed. “Had she been scared of going anywhere without our permission, would have she done this?” Unable to bear the mental pain, she ran to the bedroom and dug her face into the pillow and kept weeping.
Vinay went along with her and tried to pacify whichever way he could.
Unable to decide about the next course of action, Jayaprakash acted boldly. He contacted the Station Commander on phone and informed of the trauma he was pushed into.
“Don’t worry. The children of the present days are much smarter than what you and I can’t imagine.” Thinking he said. “If you can wait for some more time, that will be good. Otherwise, you and the Security Officer Squadron Leader Rajesh visit and find out the real picture.”
The words were very consoling and he thanked Shukla for being kind to offer the services of the Security Officer.
“Rakesh knows most of the high-ranking police officers in Delhi. If need be, his services will be most valuable to make it effective. I will ask him to be ready. As and when you want his services, he will be there.”
Jayaprakash found out the area and address of Advocate Gupta from Vinay which he gathered from Maya on mobile.
Even after five in the evening, as Riya was not back home or got any information of her whereabouts, both Jayaprakash and Rakesh went to Gupta’s residence.
Jayaprakash was annoyed with Gupta and shouted at him. “What have you done to my daughter?”
Gupta was flabbergasted by the unexpected behavior and said looking at his daughter Maya. “What have I done? She came to meet me to hand over the pen drive and after that where she has gone is not within my knowledge.” He expressed his innocence.
“You are also having a daughter of the same age. Would have you given your daughter into the hands of a criminal?” Rajesh asked.
Gupta looked amazed by the usage of words quite uncalled for. He looked at everyone showing his innocence. “What are you people blaming me for? What have I done to her? As I said, she came to give me to give that pen drive. Nothing else is within my knowledge.”
“I see.” Jayaprakash said, “after handing over my daughter to your junior, you are playing innocent!” He moved close to him. “Where is my daughter Riya?”
Maya came forward. “Uncle, you are unnecessarily getting worked up. At this moment, instead of mudslinging, we should try to find out what has happened to her. My daddy tried to contact Rohit uncle, but he is not responding. There could be something that is not known to anyone. Without wasting time, it is better to find out what had happened to both.”
Rajesh looked at Jayaprakash and said. “She talks sense. Let us play cool and our efforts should be to find them out.”
Jayaprakash nodded with a grunt. “Ok.”
Rajesh moved close to Gupta and asked him to accompany them to the house of Rohit to find out what had happened to him. From there, we will start our work.” He paused. “most of the police officers here are my friends. I can get any assistance from anyone of them. I am sure, there will not be any such necessities.”
The visit of advocate Gupta to that house generated vehement surprise in the minds of the parents of Rohit. He is the senior of their son, under whom their son was being molded to become an able professional. With great respect, they ushered him along with others to their sitting room.
“Where is advocate Rohit?” Jayaprakash asked very softly.
“What has happened?” Father was inquisitive.
“Just to discuss a case with him.”
Father could not understand the genesis of that query and answer. “In front of Gupta sir, my son is a minor.” He chuckled. “I don’t think there will be any case which Gupta sir can’t solve. You better discuss with him.” He was totally confused.
“After discussing with him only we came. He can’t solve that riddle.”
The rough words generated many doubts in him of the veracity of the purpose of their visit. With fumble, he passed his gaze all-around. His glowing eyes suddenly turned like that of dead fish.
Gupta looked at others and explained the reasons for their visit.
“I have been trying to contact Rohit since the time I came to know about this unpleasant occurrence. His mobile is either switched off or out of range.” Gupta scratched his head. “I don’t know what the hell would have happened to him and where they have got lost.”
Rohit’s parents were seen on the verge of crying. Father said. “I am sure, he wouldn’t have caused any harm to anyone.” He asked Gupta. “Why not report this to the police?”
Gupta looked at Jayaprakash.
“If no other way is found to reach them, that is the only method left.” He nodded hesitatingly.