The next afternoon as they boarded the train for return, Avanti had been an epitome of silence and no matter how much Rahul tried he couldn’t get her to speak to him as she cuddled up against the train wall near the window and kept staring outside. She hadn’t eaten breakfast too… in fact even skipped dinner and cried herself to sleep which in itself was a disturbed one. “Avanti… please say something…what is it? We had such a successful concert… is it got to do with Keshav…? You were so happy yesterday…” Rahul asked her. The other members of the group were engrossed in their own games and conversations in the berths behind and Rahul was giving her company. But his words only got more tears to flow as fear and anxiety regarding Keshav’s health kept piercing her insides. What was wrong with him…? He seemed just fine to her except the two episodes which took place but that often happened to someone who didn’t eat for long, she had read about it. Was he diabetic…? But that wasn’t life threatening as such in today’s times, but if it was enough to scare Arpita away then it had to be something big. She had to speak with Kamya… she was the only one to throw light on the subject. She also had already read through his hospital files when he had been discharged last time but there was nothing mentioned there either. As she continued staring at the passing scenery, she tried to recall the spate of events ever since she had met Keshav for the first time in her father’s study till date. But nothing pointed towards anything amiss on his health front. She had also tried calling Arpita for a while now but her sister had switched off her phone.
She sniffled back tears and checked her phone, Keshav hadn’t bothered to text her or call or reply to her texts neither had he answered her calls. She had tried frantically last night as well as today morning. How could he do that to her after declaring his love to her and doing what he did… he was a paradox in itself. A strange fear engulfed her heart clutching it tightly the pain unbearable for her now. She tried to calm down and decided to share her agony with Rahul. He knew everything about her so far and he also had been sleuthing around Vedshastra and other related places for getting more information. “Rahul…?”
“…Oh, thank goodness Avanti you finally spoke… want an apple…?” he looked worried
She was touched by his concern. “…No… I just need answers and my life is chaotic as it is so, please… give me straight answers…however bad they may be…”
“…What is it Avanti…?” Rahul sighed.
“…Rahul…you were looking into baba’s death… and you had said about finding out information… so what did you find out so far…?”
“…Avanti…really… do you want to…now…?”
“…Rahul please… just give me what you have…”
“…Ok Ok fine… Avanti I have been probing deeply into that charter airline company with the help of a hacker friend. I even checked their financials but they are clean…all money is accounted for. It took me a while to do that though… So Keshav is in the clear…. after that I started my search in that maintenance company Shanbad Enterprises but…”
“…but what…?” She was now totally into it.
“…Avanti… the company isn’t what it’s on paper… they have a swanky office in Juhu near the Dason Hanger where most of the private aircrafts are parked and Shanbad is one of the many companies hired by the plane owners for the maintenance. But I checked the financials and found many loopholes…like there were some large transactions around the time of the crash… but they were from an account we haven’t been able to get a track of… Then we looked into that engineer Shamsunder Valmiki… he had been given a clean chit by the police. He had himself done the inspection before the flight took off…”
“…So, nothing there as well…?” Avanti asked her anxiety rising once again, frustration creeping into her skin as she yearned for answers.
“…that’s the problem… everything about the guy is shady… he left the job right after the police questioning was done and no one has seen him since then… I got his number and the address… but the house was a rented one and surrendered already and the number has been disconnected long ago…”
“…oh no…so the only lead is gone cold again…?” her heart fell again…how much more disappointments could she take?
“…Actually…I found something last week… but…”
“…but what is it Rahul…?”
“…Actually, my friend found chat conversation snippets between Shamsunder Valmiki and Prantik…”
“…Prantik…? Mukherjee uncle’s nephew…?” Avanti was alarmed. What on earth was happening? It was as if the entire world had conspired against her father…
Rahul nodded lost in thought. “…but it can just be a coincidence…because Prantik and Shamsunder Valmiki attended the same college from where Prantik had dropped out… my friend even checked indirectly from a couple of their batchmates but except for them being regular college kids who hung out together there was nothing suspicious…” He rubbed his face and Avanti was starting to feel the desolation creep in.
“So…Rahul… now…whats next…?” She asked dejection evident in her voice.
“…Avanti, I got an address very recently… it’s a place near Khandala… where Shamsunder Valmiki hails… he apparently has a house there…”
“…So, can’t he be checked out now…?” her hopes soared again.
“…Um… Avanti… anything we do from now on will call for attention…not just the authorities but also… if as we suspected there was foul play then the person behind all this will…be alerted. He may escape totally or it may even be dangerous for us…”
“…that means… nothing can be done….?” Avanti barely whispered.
“…Look Avanti…let me think this through…OK…? I got this information just before we left for Hyderabad and my friend double checked the address only yesterday. I think we should involve Keshav from now on… he has the power and the resources to find out…”
“…NO…NO… please don’t involve him… he is occupied with so much already and…even if he finds something… he won’t share anything with us… give me the address…I will look into it…”
“…Absolutely not Avanti… it’s too dangerous. OK look… let’s do it together… alright…? Let me make a plan…for the upcoming few days I am caught up with the audit in Vedshastra, once that’s done, I will take a few days off from work and we will do this… alright…?”
“…Ok fine… but just send the address across to me… I will search online… maybe find something you have missed…” Avanti wasn’t sure she could wait that long… there were a lot of things she needed to unearth.
“I will Avanti… but promise me that you won’t do anything rash…”
Rahul texted her the address and Avanti for the first time in hours felt the flicker of hope in her heart steadying itself. They had some lead after all.
After a while she suddenly exclaimed. “…Rahul…do you have any idea about the last project baba was working on…?” She asked him as he jerked straight up from the position in which he had been dozing, making her feel bad for not letting him rest.
Rahul cleared his throat. “…No Avanti… it was a closely guarded secret where no one knew anything…even now, the bio tech guys are working on what Keshav has given them…but no one knows exactly anything…Keshav hasn’t revealed anything completely to anyone of them… the closest to the material in the lab have sealed their lips and have hinted that its highly confidential. They have signed an iron clad NDA…”
It was getting increasingly frustrating for her now. But with the information Rahul gave her she had her work cut out once she reached Mumbai tomorrow. She would first call Kamya…
Keshav got home at 2AM dead on his feet and without even changing his clothes fell on his bed falling asleep within seconds. However barely a couple of hours in to the slumber he woke up… Something troubled him for a while now. He heard some sounds…was there an intruder…? Had he forgotten to set the alarm? How could somebody cross the tight security and come up here…? But he had been getting this feel for a few months now. He had even got Akshat to revamp the passwords and in spite of a thorough sweeping by Akshat’s team, nothing was found amiss. Nothing that he knew was missing. Then what was that feeling… Before Avanti had arrived, he would get a feeling that he wasn’t alone at home at times or that someone had been through his study and bedroom too. But nothing was out of place and he couldn’t keep calling Akshat based on his disillusionary assumptions every time. But now he heard the creak again… unmistakably there was someone. He took out a hockey stick from his closet and silently made his way out into the dark living room. He stood for a moment but other than the soft chiming of the wall clock and his rushed heartbeats pounding into his ears he couldn’t hear anything else. He shook his head and walked back into the bedroom…did he really hallucinate?
He changed into his night clothes after relieving himself and let himself fall on his bed, but sleep was nowhere in sight and he went back to his perennially troubling thoughts. He had tried his best to place the previous location of the gas odour, which had put him into hospital last month. But he had drawn a blank and he had refused to accept Akshat’s version of an accident just like the police’s version of the plane crash that had killed Dnyaneshwar Rane. The PI had done a good job so far and had unearthed something which he was to share with Keshav after confirming it in a day or two. He would then hopefully get his answer… Wait… Crash…? Bingo… that smell… He had gotten the same odour when he had visited the crash site immediately after receiving the call. Though it was faint by the time he had been there it was unmistakably the same. He made a mental note to report this to the PI… his postulation was on track…everything that had been happening, was linked. He could never go wrong with smells…he was blessed with strong olfactory senses. He could tell by the fragrance which flower or flowers were in bloom… Goodness how had he forgotten…? Maybe since Dnyaneshwar Rane’s death had hit him hard. Not just that they had lost the formula which had given him hope but he had also lost his father figure and mentor in a single blow.
The worry about the formula aside, his family was falling apart. Kamya was getting unreasonable and she had stopped answering his calls, not to mention Rohini Jaiswal who frequented his office to have a meeting and he had always sent her back. He knew the woman was up to something. He never trusted her and their symbiotic relationship had been good…till five years ago. But now she was seeing somebody and he had asked Akshat to look into the man. God… he was up to neck with his troubles and amidst the chaos, he had just left everything and rushed to meet Avanti. He had missed her like hell and providence notwithstanding he had just acted upon his impulses.
He smiled into the pillow as he remembered the play of expressions on her face when he had declared his love for her. He hadn’t planned it though but it just happened and she loved him too. He didn’t have a doubt about it but hearing her say it thrilled him to his core. But then the next morning he had been suddenly disoriented and wondering what he had been doing in a strange hotel room. He had almost got a panic attack for being in a fudge state for a few moments and then Avanti who was sleeping besides him had sighed and turned towards him. The evening before had flashed before his eyes and he had been relieved but the silent embers of his secret were stroked. They threatened to flare up totally to destroy what he had and treasured the most… Avanti’s trust in him. He had panicked and rushed to the washroom and splashed water on his face to calm himself and get his heartbeat on track. Avanti had trusted him to submission and as she had come, he had fallen even completely for her… but then his condition would always remain a bone of contention between them especially since he hadn’t revealed it as yet to her. He hadn’t planned on getting close to her before letting her know about his hereditary curse but then she had touched him and he had combusted into her arms and the throes of passion had consumed them both.
He pulled out the last award which he had won… two years ago he had been the Forbes-Gillete entrepreneur of the year… Dnyaneshwar Rane had been the first to wish him and also the first at the venue and at the time Keshav had felt as if he had conquered the world. That was what he had always wanted…to be appreciated by his father at least once…. It was also the first time he had actually seen Avanti when Dnyaneshwar Rane had placed his mobile on the table in order to pick up two files… Her picture was his wallpaper and there was something that pulled him to her right then. Dnyaneshwar Rane had excused himself to take a leak and he had shamelessly transferred the picture to his phone…even till date he didn’t know what had gotten over him. Dnyaneshwar Rane never locked his phone to his utmost annoyance but that day he was greatful…
As he lay turning and twisting in his bed staring occasionally at the award, he missed Avanti like his next breath. He had almost called her umpteen times and kept the phone away as guilt ate him up…Her messages were full of innocence and he hated having her riled up and anxious… he had ruined everything good he had going for him. Avanti was also his best friend and he couldn’t lose her… what did he do? He had let his emotions and libido exceed common sense. He rubbed his face and suddenly overcome with emotion… nothing had shattered his spirit all those years ago when he had been all alone fighting the world and almost in the dumps. But today…he felt broken. Until now, his disease had just been a name and a few suspected symptoms, but today it suddenly seemed real. Fate wasn’t just cruel…it was merciless. He felt like it was extracting cruel rewards for the happiness he had been bestowed upon by chance in form of Avanti. Their souls had met but would their destinies meet too…? As he looked at Avanti’s radiantly smiling picture hidden away in his phone, a lone tear found its way down his eye on the pillow. As he beheld, he couldn’t imagine a life without Avanti in it… how would she react when he told her about his condition…? And that her baba had given up everything to find the drug to help him out of his miseries and lead a qualitative life… would she forgive him for that…? As he lay awake in the vee hours of the morning, he had made a decision.
He would tell it all…he would come clean with Avanti. Though it tore him within, he would also let her go with immediate effect; the contract be damned. Even if they found the drug it would only help postpone the ultimate result of his disease by a few years and Avanti deserved someone who would stand tall besides her supporting her in the perils of life and not desert her midway. Not to mention she would be exhausted in every way given what was in store for him later as his disease progressed. She would then resent him for putting her through the harrowing experience, though she loved him now. She had lost her father already; her sister and mother weren’t of much help to her. She needed someone strong and healthy to walk with her through her life’s journey.
He was destined to be alone and Avanti didn’t need a broken soul like him who suffered from the incurable hereditary Huntington’s Disease…