Luke drives his car, and Hanna my parents’ sedan. We pull over near my flat. It’s eight at night, the street is full of the easy dark and I can see Nona’s shadow cast itself across the wall visible from the window facing the roadside. Luke and Hanna bid me adieu. “We’ll be back tomorrow,” Hanna promises, “Don’t hesitate to call me up at any point.”
Nona has mashed potatoes and a roasted chicken laid on the dining table. It doesn’t taste any good, but all I need right now is raw energy to keep me up. After silence befalls the house I rack through it again for a proof, trace, anything. I fall asleep on the recliner in my room reading through all the messages my parents have sent me for the last one week, but there’s nothing unusual about them.
‘When will u be back?’
‘i am picking frozen pizzas for dinner’
‘u need anything?’
‘why Do you have a phone if you’re never gonna answer it???’
In retrospect, there’s been nothing unusual which makes it really tough for me to handle whatever it is that’s going on now. I wake up at ten in the morning and the first thing I see is the calendar. That’s when I realize, it’s the first day of my last summer break at school. There’s a lot I should be doing during these holidays, if I want to get into college gracefully. But, priorities.
I call Andrew again, but he sounds a little irritated and cuts me off, “I have work to do right now, Zee. I have a team to lead.” Well, your team is lagging behind, Andrew Adams. Two of your best players are missing, goddamnit. Then I do what I should have done at the beginning of this search. I pull out my phone and click on the contacts list. I scroll past the letters as fast as my fingers allow and stop at N. Natalia. Nate. Nick (School). Nick (Slam). Nid. Nona. Never.
Last year, I found Nikitha’s number from my mom’s cell phone. I scribbled it on my hand and later got it onto my mobile. I saved it as Never. Never, as in never going to try to call. But, I will. I do.
Nobody picks up the call. I’m partially glad. What if someone actually did answer the phone, what would I say? I leave a carefully written message-
Hello Nikitha, Zara here. I don’t know if you remember me. I am Brooke Battle’s daughter. Brooke, the photojournalist. I am certain, you can recall her. She’s been missing for two days now. I mean, both mom and dad. Andrew, the guy you used to work for, surely knows what they’re up to, but he wouldn’t spill. I guess I can do with a little bit of help. It’s alright, you’re free to refuse. Sorry to disturb you. Bye.
For first time in three days I switch on the television. The news is too much for me to handle so I end up binge watching Friends. My eyes are read and puffy, Nona is surely out for grocery shopping. My mobile buzzes a little towards the right. A part of me wants to grab the notification, but the major worse part of me just wants redder, puffier eyes and breathing till I sleep and wake up to normalcy. I keep a track of time with the help of the number of episodes. After one and a half hour I finally get up and go the washroom. The shower is just an excuse for mentally preparing myself for Nikki’s reply or whatever it is that my mobile vibrated for. I discard one and put on another fresh pair of pajamas, while Nona enters through the main door. I can tell it’s her by the sound of her feet- rapid and constant. Nona smiles as I pick up my mobile and collapse on the couch.
“Ugh shit,” I groan, it’s just one of those chain messages.
“No swear,” Nona angrily looks up.
I chuckle instinctively. Just as I’m about to put my phone back the screen blinks. It’s a message from Never-
Heylo, Zara. Of course I remember you. Of course I’m going to help you. Meet me at Forein today at 6 in the evening. It’ll be good if you came alone. Bye. Love you.
I read the words in her voice, the sound of it fresh in my memory. I admired her uncanny knack to begin and end sentences with ‘Of course’, I still do. She was always ready, always sure. I also picture her moving hands as she talked as if the movements made it easy for her to put up her views. And I guess they did, because people looked very convinced around her. She could get away with an utterly wrong forecast and that did come in handy. It’s just one in the afternoon, but I get ready to leave. I decide upon switching my mobile off and asking Nona to not open the door for anybody because if by any chance Hanna or Luke find out about this little rendezvous they would want to come. I’d love to take them with me for it only makes everything less embarrassing and more comfortable, but if I’m asking for somebody’s help the least I can do is abide by their rules. Nikitha is the last person I’d want to be mess up with, which sounds really wrong. It puts her in the incorrect light. She was actually a great woman. I hope she still is.