THE CLEAN-LIVING DEAD

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ONE MINUTE SILENCE

The woman came running and stopped for breath. She surely had an umbrella and was searching for the dog, when suddenly, she spotted Neha by the side. Their looks locked. A sense of de ja vu came to them. She then ran towards Neha.

"Neha?" she called out. Amoli was now a woman of 35 years. Her hands were adorned by bangles and she was wrapped in a red salwar kameez. She had red hair groomed well. The age was visible.
"Amoli" she said. Amoli at once hugged her, with tears. Neha could feel the love, after 14 years.
"Why are you here?" asked Amoli.
"I just got released today. My house was sold.....my parents moved out 13 years ago. Where are you now?" she said.
"Well, you won't believe this but I have two kids. My second daughter's birthday is tomorrow and we need to decorate. I came with my dog but he is real bad." she said as she took Neha under her umbrella and took her to a parking lot near a store. She drove with her to her house, now a bungalow in Pathankot.

"Eh Payal! You are still watching TV? Switch it off now!" screamed Amoli, now a mother of two wonderful children. Her daughter looked like her, beautiful. Neha noticed her and felt happy. Afterall, her friends were leading a happy and contented life!
"Ma, who is this?" she asked.
"It's my college friend. Where is papa?" she asked.
"He is upstairs." she replied.
"So..you have a good family" said Neha, feeling happy.
"Yes, I married Aneeldeep only. My younger one is Payal. Elder one is Madhu, he is 11 years and she is 8. Come upstairs to Aneeldeep's room. We need to talk" she said as she led her upstairs to his room.
"Amu, who's-----" Aneeldeep stopped in his tracks. Was it ......Neha? His long lost friend!
"Neha?" he recalled. Neha shed tears. She hugged him.
"Now he's my husband, don't overhug" joked Amoli. They all sat in three armchairs and bolted the door.

"So guys....how is life? I mean we're 35 now....." asked Neha, trying to make conversation.
"Yes....we missed you. Do you still remember Ompreet sir?" asked Amoli as she laughed, reminding them of his tension.
"So...what happened after I left?" asked Neha.
"Well, your parents moved out after crying a lot. Your brother left to the USA for job purpose. And we kept mourning. We still, till date, visit Aesha's parents and your house from outside. We love you always and we want you to know that. You missed everything in life maybe.." said Aneeldeep. Amoli gesticulated to him to not talk negative after 14 years. Neha smiled uncomfortably.
"What about Aesha's case? Who's in charge now?" she asked.
"Hmm....when you left for prison, we grieved for a day or two. We wanted to do something for you. We tracked the murderer of Aesha....." said Amoli.
"Who?" she asked.
"Umed" she answered slowly. Neha's smile vanished. She wasn't surprised.
"Aren't you... shocked?" asked Aneeldeep.
"No. He himself told me. I met him in jail. He told me this. I couldn't even talk to him. He told me that he was just a normal guy until when he met Saurabh. Saurabh had a crush on Aesha since a month and he had proposed to her. She disagreed. He then discovered that she already had a boyfriend; Saarthak. He wanted to kill him and her. So,....he asked Umed to do it. Manasvi was Saurabh's friend and Umed fell in love with her. So did she. So she too wanted to help, as she too had a grudge on her since college. She needed to contact with her, so she kidnapped Rita, the real orphanage receptionist. So..she inserted the camera in Aesha's bathroom that day she came to her house. The photos went to Saurabh and he threatened her by exchanging her parcel with that photo album and photos. The delivery guy too was his person. So that matter was unrevealed. When Saarthak's mom was away, Umed injured Saarthak and when Aesha came to his house, she took him to the hospital. Umed had cut Saarthak's tongue, so he could not talk. By then, the bullet had injured his tender heart and he died in hospital. Meanwhile, Aesha's parents set the marriage with Saurabh. Aesha tried to avoid it, but couldn't. When you all went camping, Umed raped her; his desire from college. He threw her body in the lake and.........he bit her. The bite matched with his teeth. All the cases matched with Umed: he had a woody scented women's perfume, his clothes were left in front of the CCTV.....they had some other evidences too. Next, he killed Rita too and in the same way. He is a womanizer and that was his weakness since his heartbreak with me. They were submitted in court and he and Saurabh was sent to jail" narrated Neha.

Amoli and Aneeldeep looked teary eyed. Many innocent lives were ruined due to Saurabh's rage. They three sobbed and hugged each other. They prayed for all those people who were such brave souls. Neha couldn't stop crying. Her heart pulled her towards Aesha, her dear friend.

"I'm sorry Aesha! I couldn't save you! Rita, I knew it and I couldn't save you. Saarthak would have been saved if I would have been quick. I ruined your lives! 14 years of jail isn't a rap experience! It isn't a pain! Yours,...yours is the real pain! Who am I? Nobody! A disguised detective who lived for myself!!" she said to herself. Amoli and Aneeldeep laid a hand on her shoulder. She still couldn't stop.

"Dad! Open up. Bhayya is beating me!"
Neha wiped her tears and went to the restroom. Amoli opened the door and the kids started fighting.
"Ma, you need to tell her to stop!" shouted Madhu.
"Can you guys play outside? We have a guest and you are in your worst possible behaviour!" shouted Aneeldeep as he turned away and sobbed. Nobody could stop.

"Neha, they left!" called Amoli. Neha came out and sank into the chair.
"And we closed the case then. We called it, 'THE CLEAN-LIVING DEAD'" said Aneeldeep.
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