the phone number….?
By the time Avanti arrived at Keshav’s Deonar pad it was already 5PM… She tried her best to call Keshav but he probably was in his conference room which didn’t have a proper network and none of her texts were read as well. His PA too didn’t answer the office number and now it was past office timing as well. She decided to keep trying and wait for him while she cooked up something special for dinner… She smiled to herself feeling better as she took the elevator to the fifth floor. As expected Keshav wasn’t back and the lock combination was changed. But why…? Disappointed she wondered what to do when she remembered the D’Souza couple. Her visit to their home was long due and she was sure they were home at this time. The elderly couple greeted her with warm hugs as they invited her in. Avanti immediately called security and instructed them to inform her via intercom as soon as Keshav arrived. As she relished Mrs. D’Souza’s classic pumpkin pie laden with cream the combination just melting in her mouth the moment she took a bite, Avanti groaned in pleasure…immediately realising where she was and turned red. But the D’Souzas only chuckled and regaled her with stories on how Mrs. D’Souza had made her famed pumpkin pie for dessert when Mr. D’Souza had visited her home with his family decades ago. A young Mr. D’Souza had fallen for her via her pie, hook line and stinker and within four months they were tied in holy matrimony. They showed Avanti an old framed picture from their wedding day as well as their son Daniel’s picture collection from the time he was a baby to his school days where he was an NCC cadet and even a few in his army uniform. Mrs. D’Souza couldn’t hold back her tears as she showed Avanti pictures from Daniel’s funeral wake. Avanti found it very difficult to control her emotions as well… to see a young man barely into his mid-twenties…life snuffed out due to malicious acts of terrorism. She mentally thanked Daniel and all others like him at the border who made it possible for the civilians to be rest assured of their freedom and relax. Mr. D’Souza took her to their huge balcony converted into a beautiful kitchen garden… he left her to explore while he returned to his wife to console her.
Avanti sighed thinking of the unfathomable loss of the D’Souzas. She turned towards the different plants mainly herbs arranged neatly by the D’Souzas. There were innumerable combinations of basils, thymes, parsley, coriander and peppers… the cherry tomatoes were in abundance adorning one side of the balcony. Plants always refreshed Avanti and today as well she was already feeling better after the huge emotional tribulation placed on her… As she walked towards the further end of the balcony, she looked up to see the corner of the green house of Keshav’s terrace garden. She smiled thinking of the moments she spent with Keshav just a few days earlier and longed to go back. As she turned around something caught her eyes and she looked up again. The four floors below didn’t have any terraces so the fifth floor was pent house stood out but what intrigued her was the ladder like structure she saw spiralling around the drainage pipes right to the terrace. It wouldn’t have been visible as it was camouflaged by the electrical pole right outside along with the extra-large light pole meant to lighten up the entire radius at night. But her sharp eyes not only could find it but it’s very presence irked her. Mr. D’Souza walked upto her with a cup of chamomile tea and explained that it was an emergency staircase to help in evacuation…though he laughed at the strange placement wondering how anyone could use them in case of one! Something didn’t feel right to Avanti and she made a mental note to discuss it eventually with Keshav. Also, she saw how the stairs connected to each flat on each floor…it was easily accessible to anyone trying to trespass and break into a house. Of course, there were CCTVs in place but still…
She chatted some more with the D’Souzas who asked her to join them for dinner as she waited for Keshav, to arrive trying his phone every half an hour. But she declined and made her notes on developing a kitchen garden of her own. … Once they finished their dinner the D’Souzas served her custard which Avanti couldn’t refuse. Mr. D’Souza gave her a gift-wrapped object. “uh… this is a little something from us… its customary to welcome a new bride with a gift but we haven’t done so far…” Mrs. D’Souza explained.
Avanti was surprised. “…oh thank you so much… may I open it…?”
“…Oh yes of course….” Mrs. D’Souza smiled gleefully with twinkling eyes and it looked she was more excited than Avanti to know about the gift.
Avanti unwrapped the meticulously covered object to reveal something that looked like a little mobile phone. She looked questioningly at the senior couple while Mrs. D’Souza giggled like a small girl about to open up her cards. “…Well Avanti…” Mr. D’Souza explained. “…I loved dabbling in electronics and this was my last creation…before my son… It’s a customized walkie talkie. There is only one button of you see… its connected with mine here. My Daniel loved to play this kind of games even when he grew older and we had our conversations without my wife hearing it…. I wanted to give it to someone special…Whenever you wish to talk to someone without anyone around you knowing about it…just press this button…”
Avanti’s eyes filled as their gesture touched her. She nodded and kept the phone into her hand bag. It was 9PM when the D’Souzas retired early to bed and she waited switching channels on their TV. She couldn’t focus on anything playing on the tube while she waited with bated breath to hear about Keshav. Was he alright? She had already conspired with an old school friend with whom she was supposedly staying tonight and she had agreed to corroborate her stand just in case Avanti’s mother asked her anytime in future. Rahul was covering the home front for her…just in case her mother decided not to stay up for the jagratra… Avanti chuckled at the complicated maze her life had become in such a short span of time.
Finally, at around 10.30PM she was almost dozing on the D’Souza’s living room couch when something told her Keshav was back. As if on autopilot she rushed to the balcony and saw the driver park the car… Keshav always got off earlier. She moved out of the D’Souza residence silently shutting the main door behind her and hurried towards the elevators. She saw one of the two elevators halt on the fifth floor, right before she got into the other waiting one. As soon as it halted on the fifth floor, she ran outside towards Keshav’s main door and ran the doorbell. There was no response and her anxiety mounted notches higher… Keshav had not had his lunch…was he alright…? She was about to bang on the door when the lock clicked the unlock tune and the door opened to a fatigued wearily looking Keshav. His eyes widened as he saw her… the beautiful browns were bloodshot as if he hadn’t slept for a long time. It was not even a week that she had last seen him and it appeared as if he had lost weight…as he stared at her he looked like a lost puppy. Her eyes filled as the emotions she had been suppressing all this while rose up to the brim and his hands fell limply on his sides and he rubbed his face. “…Avanti…” he whispered.
She didn’t know who made the move but the next instant she was pulled inside the house, her bag falling at her feet, the door banging shut behind her as she was pushed against it and his lips came crashing down on hers. They devoured each other… their separation notwithstanding…. they couldn’t get enough of each other. Avanti was already floating in another world where the fire within her was ignited…Keshav’s kiss breathed life into her soul and fanned the long-forgotten embers. He rubbed his body to hers as she wove her fingers into his hair. He finally pulled apart and rested his forehead on hers panting heavily. “…Fuck me…Avanti…it is…really you… Oh God…tell me this isn’t a dream…” His lips descended again on hers as he pulled her towards him this time. She felt the wetness on her cheeks and realised it was from his tears.
She moved apart and held his face wiping away the moisture with her thumbs as he bit his upper lip to control himself. “Keshav… I missed you…so much…”
He sighed hugging her. “…Me too…Avanti…Life is such a bitch without you in it… Don’t leave me Avanti…I know …I am being selfish…. But…I need you like my next breath…. I can’t keep going like this without you… anymore…” She felt him shudder and his arm holding her tremble.
She moved away and held his hand. “…Keshav…have you eaten anything…you skipped lunch today…and why was your phone not reachable….?”
“…I dropped my phone and the battery dislodged… I have another instrument at home which I will be using till Akshat gets mine repaired…. And…I had snacks and fruits earlier and was about to have dinner…. wait… how do you know I didn’t have lunch today…?” he looked at her and chuckled as realisation dawned. “…Oh…Rahul…I should have known…”
She nodded smiling. “…Keshav there is lots I have to tell you but…first, go and freshen up…I will heat up the dinner…. I had planned something but then Mrs. Sinha also has prepared Palak paneer today just the way you like it…” He kept looking at her, his fingers drawing patterns on her face with the back of his palm, amusement written all over his face. She moved closer and held his lapels. “…why did you think you could order me around… when you asked me to go with my mom…? I am not going anywhere Keshav…even if you push me away…” He bent to kiss her but she laughed pushing him away. “…Food first…”. He laughed shaking his head and turning around, went to his room.
Avanti went into the kitchen and as she watched the simmering gravy, a strange calm descended on her soul. There were lots to discuss and plan but the maze was no longer a threat to her… she had Keshav with her to work out a path through the labyrinths of life. She felt optimistic after ages…
Later as they had their dinner Keshav who insisted on sitting next to her held her hand. “…So you were in touch with Mrs. Sinha…” he grinned as avanti nodded. He had emptied his plate and was waiting for her to finish. “…I wanted to…reply to your texts… or call… just to hear your voice… but…” His grip tightened as he continued. “…I also respected your mother for her… concern…” Suddenly he turned towards her. “…Avanti…what about your mother…? Does she know you are here…?”
“…Keshav don’t worry about her… I have the situation under control… we have a lot more to talk about…” Avanti explained as she had the last morsel on her plate…”
They walked to the study and sat next to each other on the little couch placed there. Keshav held her close to him as she rested her head on his chest feeling his heartbeat…how she had missed him…. “Avanti…?” He softly called her name. “…don’t you ever do it again…”
“…what…?” though she knew what he was hinting at, she wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth.
“…Avanti… what were you thinking…? If something untoward would have happened…to you… then…I don’t know about my hereditary disease… but that news would have killed me in an instant…” He hugged her tightly. “…Do you …relish taking risks…? Surprisingly I had always pegged Arpita to be impulsive and you were always projected to be the mature one by your father…” He chuckled as he continued even as she struggled for words. “…Avanti…please don’t do this again…”
“…Keshav…It was not meant to be like that… I was just going to do a resee… and in spite of everything…” She sat up straight and turned towards him. holding his hands in her palms she continued. “…Keshav…I got quite a bit of information…just…hear me out OK…?”
Keshav nodded and she told him about the dilapidated house and the diary she found, mentioning the contents. “…but Keshav…there was this landline number which was way too familiar but I just couldn’t place it…”
“…Do you remember it…?”
“…No I don’t… I didn’t have the time…there was this strange chemical odour and then… and then someone…shot at me…”
“…FUCK…I will kill him with my bare hands…” Keshav was furious.
“…Keshav please calm down and listen to me… that number belongs to some Sir-ji…” Keshav tried hard to think while she went ahead. “…Also…that chemical…Keshav it’s a highly inflammable one… but I recognise it…”
“…from where…?” He looked at her his eyes blazing with curiosity.
“…there is this factory close to Vedshastra which was shut last year as they went bankrupt…Ganga dye-chem pvt ltd. It had belonged to baba’s friend Rasiklal bhai and I had visited their Diwali pujan with baba every year … This chemical odour though very limited was present all the time in the air… I remember my throat going hoarse at the end of an hour so would baba’s and he had once told me, that chemical though highly inflammable, it was an integral part of the dye industry and Ganga had special permits to purchase and store it…. Keshav…” she suddenly got a brainwave. “…now that I think of it…it has to be the same chemical…”
“…Which caused my accident in Vedshastra… and Avanti…?” he completed her statement and as she looked at him, the new piece of revelation yet to sink in, he continued. “…I had been to the plane crash site almost 2 hours after the unfortunate event and…I had got a whiff of the same chemical…at the site…”
“…Oh goodness…that means…” Avanti exclaimed tears rolling uninhibited as her emotions threatened to drown her.
“…It means…it definitely wasn’t an accident and…this was all plotted and executed by the same mastermind…” Keshav finished as he held her close to him.
“…Keshav…but why…? Who disliked baba so much to…ki…kill…him…?” She wailed into his chest.
“…Because they wanted the crucial formula one way or the other… and your baba… would never have given it… you know Avanti…?” He rubbed her back. “… Your father could have made a lot of money and not just cover his debts but live a lifetime of luxury…”
“…but why did anyone …want this formula…Keshav…?” she asked, her voice laced with desperation.
“…It was a special formula developed by your father… specially for…me… and it is something …if it falls in wrong hands it will… it can be used in for extensive damage to mankind…” Keshav rubbed his face and held her shoulders. “…Avanti…its way to dangerous than what I had thought…especially after what you went through… Akshat also had found about the same address and he was to visit the next day…but he would have only got ashes and other remnants…nonetheless he will be visiting us tomorrow to discuss the future course of action… am expecting his call anytime now to confirm the timing…”
Avanti nodded wiping her eyes, as it was getting increasingly difficult to accept the situation. Suddenly the home landline blared jarring her from her stupor…and even more quickly the final piece of the puzzle fell in place in her head… the query troubling her ever since she had visited Shamsunder Valmiki’s house… “Ke…Keshav…” she stuttered, barely whispering.
“…oh that must be Akshat… I have yet to put my SIM in my other instrument…” Keshav moved to answer the call and was back in a few seconds. “…Akshat will be here with the PI tomorrow by 9AM…hey…” he looked at Avanti’s shocked look. “…what is it Avanti…?”
“…Keshav… that phone number which I saw…belonging to Sir-ji…its…its…”
“…Yea what about it …Avanti?”
“…Keshav…it is our home landline number…”
Meanwhile a little away from Deonar…
The man rested on his rocking chair and stared out of his balcony sipping his daily dose of rum. The slum view wasn’t what he had expected while buying this pad but it kept him away from curious onlookers… he was a loner and no one suspected him. Even the maid who visited weekly had taken in the grieving widower impression he had imposed upon her. So did the others in the building… no one interfered in his ‘sad’ life as they went about celebrating festivals or parties… he quietly gave the contributions and was happy so far. Very soon he would gain entry into his family bungalow…into his old bedroom which he had painstakingly decorated before he was declared the black sheep of the family. He lowed being in power… his father never understood. He was the youngest of four sons so the share of power too was graded down when it came to him… he wasn’t born to do menial work handed down by his brothers. He was smart, better looking and fitter than all of them put together. He deserved the respect in the company amongst the employees and also…power. He had insisted those stupid pawns of his to call him ‘sir-ji’. It felt like bliss when they did… money made people bow to you…money gave you power, respect and any damn thing he wanted!
He chuckled thinking of the dumbass Keshav… Looked like his hereditary gift from that son of a bitch father of his was really eating up the grey matter. Didn’t he know changing lock combinations or fixing CCTV cameras at strategic positions inside the house wasn’t a solution…? For a seasoned man like him it was a child’s play to mess up signals… He was an expert in organic chemistry just like Dnyaneshwar Rane had been… and he had used that very same knowledge to obtain that chemical…he had used the right amount of Ethylene oxide in the lethal combination…he had to confirm Dnyaneshwar Rane died…what if he had escaped the crash…? He never trusted those greedy dimwits Prantik and Shamsunder. He couldn’t take a chance…could he? He had also used it to scare Keshav…
He picked up the folder he had stolen recently… He sighed as he spoke aloud. ‘Oh Keshav… you are lucky to be alive after everything…. just so I could lay my hands on this…this better work…else you can join your father-in-law…’