Present day: Two hours ago
Meera sighed as she looked at the Louis Vuitton shoes her sister, Sameera, had got for her birthday. There was no way her parents would splurge so much on her.
They were nothing alike, she and her sister. Sameera was the outgoing Queen Bee who dressed in Hollister skirts and Abercrombie tops. Meera was the one who lurked around by herself in thrift-store clothing and ragged sneakers. Sameera carried around a practically limitless credit card. Sameera was their parents' favourite, and everyone knew it. It was an open secret.
She blinked back a tear and punched in the number of the only person she could call at times like these.
“Hello, Rahim uncle?” Her voice quivered.
“Meera?” an elderly man’s voice sounded at the other end. “ You alright?”
“No.”A salty tear traced a thin line across her cheek.
“What happened?” Rahim’s voice dripped with concern.
“They don’t love me,” anger and resentment flooded through every syllable of hers. “They never did. They just love her.”
“They love you, child,” Rahim said in a kind and compassionate tone. “They took good care of you, didn’t they?”
“They took care, but never learnt to care.” Meera couldn’t stop sobbing now. “Guess blood is thicker than water after all.”
Sixteen years ago, Meera was adopted from an orphanage by Sriram and his wife. Meera was barely five then. For a brief moment, she had become the cynosure of the couple’s eyes. She was all the husband and wife could think and talk of. Meera couldn’t help feeling happy then. But a few months later, Mrs. Sriram conceived a child. And things never remained the same. Soon, Meera started feeling like a broken toy who no one wanted to play with.
Rahim had been a friend of Meera’s real father. After Meera’s father had passed away, Rahim got her admitted in a foster home. He had a special fondness for her, but never felt he could take the responsibility of a child on his bachelor shoulders. It didn’t take long for Meera to get adopted, but Rahim made sure to keep in touch with her. As far as Meera was concerned, Rahim uncle was her lifeline. His burly chest was something in which she could bury her teary face and forget that the world outside existed. Rahim would let her be like that for hours, stroking her hair gently, until her well of tears dried up.
“Everything will be all right,” Rahim spoke softly into the phone. “Trust me.”
“I only wish...”, she left the sentence hanging.
“If only I could do something to make daddy and mommy love me again,” Meera answered despondently. “I can’t take this much longer.”
“I want you to remember that I’ll be here for you,” Rahim reminded her gently. “Always.”
They spoke for a few minutes more. It was two in the night when she hung up. The food left on her study-desk was cold and untouched. She was in no mood to eat tonight. Everyone in the house was sound asleep. She walked over to the window to feel the night breeze, hoping it would soothe her. Instead, she was greeted by a strange sight.
Outside, six storeys down, their domestic help Suraj was engaged in a conversation with another man. The man was leaning on his Swift Dzire, and seemed to be giving Suraj some instructions.
Meera’s curiosity and alarm shot up a couple of notches when she saw Suraj leading the mysterious man into their building. The watchman was snoring away.
Meera went over to where her sister was sleeping and nudged her.
She nudged her again, a little bit harder this time.
No. Still nothing.
Sameera had never been a light sleeper. Meera sighed and went to her parents’ bedroom. She nudged both her mom and dad.
Not a stir. Not even an irritated grunt.
Agitated and frightened, she started shaking them really hard. Much to her woe, they continued sleeping soundly.
Drugged! The realization hit her like someone had kicked her in the stomach. The food! Suraj must have put something in the food! She was awake just because she didn’t eat it.Just then, she heard the door to their flat unlock. They were here!Meera quickly hid beneath her parents’ bed. Footsteps fell soon after on the smooth marble floor of that room.
“That safe, sir,” she heard Suraj say to the man.
She watched as two pair of feet moved across the room to the safe in the corner. She poked her head out just a bit to get a glimpse of what was going on.
As her eyes fell on Jaiswal, his appearance sent a frigid wave down Meera’s back. Upturned nose. A haughty and cold face. Sinister eyebrows, complete with thin triangle like eyes below. A properly trimmed goatee completed the look. Fear and revulsion continued tightening their grip on her the more she looked at that face.
Jaiswal didn’t waste any time. Time was always a safecracker’s greatest enemy. With Suraj’s assistance, he turned the heavy safe around. He then brought out a drilling machine from his back-pack and quickly drilled two holes in the rear of the safe. He put the driller back into his bag and brought out a long, thin, flexible tube. It had an eyepiece on one end, and another lens on the other. It was a fiber-optic viewer called a borescope . Deftly, he inserted the borescope through one of the drilled holes and a special extra-long screwdriver through the other. Jaiswal could now use the borescope to see the screws and wheel pack keeping the safe lock in place. His jaw tightened in determination, as he slowly used the screwdriver to move the wheels into position to allow the bolt to pass.
The safe door swung open. Jaiswal paid no heed to the bundles of cash and the legal papers. From the back of the safe, he brought out a thin, small box. His clenched and unclenched his other fist in anticipation as he opened the clasp. Sure enough, the ring was there.
“Suraj, do you know how much this ring is worth?” Jaiswal smiled a crooked smile and beamed at the domestic help.
Suraj just stared at him stupidly.
“Fifty lacs,” Jaiswal grinned, basking in a sense of accomplishment.
“Fifty?” Suraj’s eyes widened.
“And this wouldn’t have been possible without you,” Jaiswal thanked him , before swiftly grabbing Suraj’s head by the mouth and the back of his skull. Surprise and terror got scrawled in bold all over the boy’s face.
“Sorry, but I always sucked at saying thanks,” Jaiswal muttered under his breath and then twisted the head with a sudden, violent jerk, rupturing Suraj’s vertebrae.
The assignment went bloodless after all, he thought smugly as Suraj’s lifeless body slumped to the floor.
Jaiswal turned his back to the bed and started collecting his stuff back into his bag. To his dismay, he found that his borescope had got stuck in the hole somehow. He grunted, as he kept poking at the hole to extricate his piece of expensive equipment.
While the pulling and tugging kept him occupied, he didn’t notice a girl crawling out from under the bed and fleeing the room.
A couple of minutes later, Jaiswal had managed to pull out his tool and place everything in his bag. He started whistling as he walked out the door of the flat. Soon after, he was seated in his car. He opened his bag again to check if everything was in place. Assured that things were in order, he shoved his key into the ignition and revved away. Unaware that Meera had quietly slipped into the back of his car.
For daddy! Meera thought to herself as the car started.
To Be Continued..