Pareidolia: Part 1

 On the night of the 23rd of December 1982, a police control room in southern India received a distress call from a woman who only said that she was calling from Redwood trail. Inspector Sarah Joseph was asked to find out what was happening at Redwood trail apartments. Sarah and assistant Issac “Ice”  Hamilton turned their patrol vehicle towards terrence road where the apartments was located. What happened from then on formed the script of a story. One that was written by fate and guided by destiny.

“Aaron” Purva said softly, “Stand up slowly baby”. Her voice was filled with fear but masked with confidence. She slowly put her hand out so that the 5 year old could grab on to it. “Aaron. Hold my hand” she said again and stretched her hand out a little more from around the ledge. He stood up, unsteadily. His tender fingers trying to get a hold of any support the brick wall behind him could provide. He took a step towards the voice of his caretaker, unaware that a thread from his dress had
gotten stuck on a nail in the wall behind him. “Aaron. Come here slowly, baby” she said, stretching her hand as far as she possibly could. She was sweating bullets and her legs were trembling. A gentle winter breeze sailed through the window . Her heart was now beating faster than ever. But she had to remain calm. Aaron shouldn’t see that she’s afraid. That’s what the man from the fire department had told her. They’d be arriving soon but she had to make sure the baby was in her sight.
Another breeze entered the house. Momentarily, she withdrew one of her hands to wipe off the sweat on her eyelashes. Instantly, she reached out again. “Aaron, Baby. Come to vapa.” she said, reassuringly.She looked out into the vast expanse of the city landscape, hoping to see a fire truck on its way. Aaron took another step forward. The thread loosened from his dress. He took another step, shakily. “Slowly baby. Slowly”. In his excitement of hearing his vapa’s voice get closer, Aaron giggled and clapped his hands, not knowing that he was standing on a 3foot wide landing, seventeen floors above the ground. Clapping happily, he tried taking another step and lost balance and sat down again. Purva’s heart jumped into her hands. “Stay there baby. Vapa can see you. Stay there”. He heard her voice and giggled and clapped his hands in joy again and tried standing up. The thread was now stretched to its limit. He stood up and turned, the thread put him off balance and tugged him back.He lost balance again and slipped.

“AARON!!!!!!”, she wailed. Her eyes were frozen in shock. Her face, white. Her hands and feet, paralysed. She coudln’t react.

A little while later..

“Are you absolutely sure?” Inspector Sarah asked her assistant Isaac, bewildered.
“Positive.” he replied.
“How’s Purva doing?”she enquired.
“She’s inside. Depressed and traumatised. We should get a psychiatrist here ASAP” he said.
“How many people did you talk to?”
“27. That’s everyone on this side of the building” he said, pointing to the side facing the balcony they were standing in.
“Who called the police?”
“Control room said it was an anonymous call from a woman but the residents say that it wasn’t one of them. Must’ve been Purva herself” Isaac answered.
“And nobody saw or heard anything other than her screaming?” she asked, amused.
“SJ. There is no body. There’s no blood. No crime scene, no witnesses. Just a depressed complaintant. What are we even investigating here?” Isaac asked, trying to convince Sarah that there was no case.
“Where did the baby go, Ice? We have to find him. There’s no way Purva will recover from whatever it is she is suffering from without finding Aaron.”
“There wasn’t a baby Sarah. Nobody around here has seen a baby in this house or with her. She was probably hallucinating. I’ve called the medical team, they’re bringing some help for Purva. Let’s get out of here”

“Alright. Wait in the car. I need to talk to her again. I won’t be long” Sarah said, not convinced by the overwhelming evidence.

She walked into the room where Purva was sitting, wrapped in a blanket with a mug of coffee in her hand, staring at the wall opposite her.
“Purva..Who was Aaron?”she asked.
Purva said nothing.
“Did you call the police, Purva?”
Sarah walked closer and put her hand on Purva’s drooping shoulder.”Purva..I need you to talk to..” she stopped her sentence midway as Purva fell to the ground.
“Jesus Christ.No way” she murmured and sat on her knees next to Purva and checked her pulse. There wasn’t one.
She reached into her jacket to get her phone but she’d left it in the car. She ran to the balcony and looked down. Isaac was in the car.
“ICE! ISAAC!! ISAAAC” she shouted at the top of her voice. He couldn’t hear her. She looked around for something she could throw at the car to get his attention.

Unable to find anything, she took off her shoe and used that.
Isaac jumped out of the car, startled and looked up. Sarah was waving frantically at him to come up.

Sarah was waiting at near the elevator for him. She told him what had happened as they walked back into the house.
“She just fell. Dropped dead. Something is wrong here ice. I just kn..” she stopped midway through her sentence again and put her hands over her mouth in disbelief.
There was a knife through Purva’s stomach.
Isaac instinctively took his service revolver out of its holster and searched the house for the culprit. Sarah coudln’t believe what she’d just seen. She looked around the room to check if someone was hiding there. She found the windows locked. So were the cupboards. “This room’s clear” she shouted,to let Isaac know and then looked around for some clues.
Isaac came back in the room looking stupefied.
“There’s nobody here”

To be continued..

Read the next part here:
Pareidolia: Part 2 

Anonym: Part 1

 Disclaimer: The following story is purely fictional. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is coincidental and unintentional.
“Ravi, either chop down the coconut tree or have those coconuts plucked before they fall. If another coconut falls on Javed’s house, I will book you under section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. Do you know what that is?” I asked, sternly.
“No sir. It won’t happen again. I’ll make sure of it.” Ravi replied, scared by my quoting the Indian Penal Code. Having served on the police force for 34 years, I’d learnt that the easiest way to resolve trivial matters was to quote some random section of a penal code that I’d never read. As usual, the simpleton was fooled by quasi-intellect and pseudo-power. In reality, the police really had no jurisdiction over such matters as non-existent boundary disputes. But in a town where nothing of great significance ever happened, coconuts falling from one man’s compound into another’s gives the police something to do other than swatting flies and eating ground nuts all day. I had devoted a full 45 minutes to this particular hearing. Without getting into the details, a coconut tree on Ravi’s land had decided to lean over his fence and overlook Javed’s house. When the coconuts fell, they fell on Javed’s roof, causing him the extreme agony of having to collect, sell and make money from coconuts that weren’t his.
After letting them argue purely for my own entertainment for about half an hour, I pretended to scour some large hard bound book on law for an answer to the present predicament. After announcing my verdict, I sent both parties away. They offered to pay me Rs.101 as an expression of their gratitude. I declined their generous offer because I wasn’t one to accept money to solve such silly cases. “The department pays me every month. I don’t need any extra money from you” I said.
“But the department refuses to give my son that brand new mobile phone they’re selling in Chandru’s shop so..” I left the rest to their own comprehension. The folks of Aracherry were very understanding when it came to these “traditions”.
As the senior-most of the 4 constables in the Aracherry police station, I had a lot of responsibilities. It has been about 6 years since the police station last saw an Inspector and so my responsibilities have only gone on increasing. But, even with that added responsibility, I normally don’t need to do a lot of work for 2 reasons- One, since there’s no inspector, I don’t have to report to anyone. Two, Nothing ever happens in Aracherry.
For those two reasons, all of us had jobs on the side to keep us occupied. For instance, Krishnan ran an astrology class in a run down mill just outside the station. It was far enough from the station so that no person/s ( read : a rapid inspection squad from the headquarters) could see him from the station and close enough so that he could hear a loud noise from the station to alert him of the arrival of any such person/s. His class normally had 12 students. That’s the maximum number of people that could be stuffed into that old mill without it being labelled a human suffocation room. On any two given days, no 12 faces would ever be the same. It was always a floating population of students who paid the modest sum of Rs50 per class for his services. He was never rated badly as an astrologer because his predictions could never be proved wrong. The reason for that was that his predictions were always long term. “You must sell 30Kgs of rice at half cost to any grocery shop of your choice or else your grandson’s son will not live past the age of 45.” he once said to a rice trader who faithfully did what he was told . There was only one grocery shop in the vicinity. It belonged to Sabu, another constable. Sabu, for his part, would refer forlorn traders and other customers of his to Krishnan the astrologer to solve their problems. In this way, they kept each other’s businesses running. The blind belief in Krishnan stemmed from one prediction he made a few years ago when he said that it would rain in Aracherry within 4 days of his prediction- information he had received from the weather report of a punjabi news channel (For people in this small town, any language other than malayalam was an alien tongue). For the farming community that constituted the majority of Aracherry’s community, it was the only thing they cared for especially since rain was scarce in these parts. Luckily for Krishnan, the weather report, unusually, was right and he became a legend.
The third constable, Shetty, whose first name almost nobody knows, was the local property consultant. A property consultant’s job involves a lot of running around and so he was almost never to be seen in the station and he wasn’t missed either. Shetty believed in a (flawed) theory that says that taking bath once in 3 days rejuvenated one’s skin. You didn’t need a blood hound’s nose to sense that Shetty was nearby.
And then there’s me. And this, is the story of the sleepy town of Aracherry.

Pareidolia: Part 3

It was late in the evening. Cold air found its way into the debriefing room through the little gap under the door. Isaac and Sarah stood at one end of the room. Sarah was already shivering from knowing that her dead brother was the main suspect in the case she was investigating. Chief Inspector Murugan was going through the case files. He had to decide if he could let Sarah carry on with the case or if it should be handed over to another officer. After going through the files very carefully 
for about ten minutes, he lifted his head and said,”Please step out of the room for a while. I’ll call you back in a little later”. The duo turned to walk out. “Not you Isaac. Just Sarah”.

Sarah knew what was going to happen. She was going to be asked to stay away from the case because she was too close to the main suspect. She sat herself on the couch in the waiting room. From there, she could only see the door to the debriefing room. She closed her eyes and thought about what would happen at home when everyone found out that Tony was still alive. She didn’t want to tell anyone because there was a possibility that the suspect was someone who looked like Tony. In her mind, she knew that the odds of that were low. She put her head in her hands and shut her eyes, deep in thought.

Inside the debriefing room, Inspector Murugan asked Isaac about Tony’s story.
“There isn’t one sir. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. Natural death, no foul play.”Isaac replied.
“Then why was he at that crime scene?”Murugan asked.
“I..I don’t know sir”Isaac stuttered.
“Look. Sarah is too shaken to continue with this case. First of all, I want you to find this guy. If it is actually Tony Joseph, Sarah is off this case. If it isn’t Tony, Sarah can decide if she wants to take the case back or not. Until then, you’re in-charge. Either way, it’s your job to find this guy.Whoever it is”
“Yes sir.” Isaac replied.
“And what happened to that baby? The one that Purva said fell off the balcony” Murugan asked.
“Sir, If that baby really did exist and fell off that ledge, there is no chance that he survived. But we didn’t find a body or traces of blood. Purva was probably hallucinating.” Isaac replied.
“I’ve been a cop for 34 years. Everything in my experience tells me that you’re right. But go back to the apartments and make sure of it. If word leaks about a disappearing baby, the newspapers will be all over it. Add to that, the news about  the investigating officer’s dead brother being our main suspect and we’ll have reporters camping outside our office.I don’t want that” Murugan told Isaac. “Now go call Sarah back”.
“Yes sir.”Isaac replied and stepped out of the debriefing room.

Sarah got up from the comfort of the couch and walked to the large window across the room. She couldn’t stop thinking about Tony, her lovable brother, 4 years younger than her.
As she gazed into the night sky outside, her view only obstructed by the swaying branches of a nearby silver oak, she heard a soft gurgling voice say “Vapa”. She craned her neck to look outside. No one was there. She thought her mind was playing tricks on her when suddenly, she heard it again. This time, clearer than before. She went closer to the window and looked to the left and then to the right. Still nobody there. “Vapaa!!” she heard again, accompanied this time by the soft sound of clapping. She looked to the left again, from where the sound was coming. There, on the ledge sat a little baby, a haunting smile on his face.
Sarah screamed. She wanted to shout out for someone to help the baby but she could barely bring out any voice at all. Fighting her non-responsive vocal chord, she laboured and shouted as loudly as her body let her, “Isssaaaacc! ICE!! ICE!” and then dropped to the floor as her knees weakened and gave in from shock.

Issac had just stepped out of the debriefing room when he heard Sarah’s screams. He ran towards the waiting lounge and found her lying on the floor, with her back rested against the back of a chair. She was pointing to the window and trying to say something. Issac took out his revolver not knowing what to expect and looked outside. Nothing there. He turned his gaze upwards and saw something move. Something was hanging along the side of he building and moving up. He fired a couple of shots at it. It stopped moving. “Lock down this facility NOW! We have an intruder! Nobody leaves. Shut the gates and get a team to search every floor. I want this guy caught. NOW!”, he shouted over the wireless. He went to the window and looked upwards again. The object was still hanging. “Who’s scanning the roof? I want a team up on the roof and someone lower that thing. Whatever it is.”
A constable ran up to the roof and found some strings hanging over the railings. They were connected to the thing hanging from the side of the building. He slowly lowered it towards Issac. As it got closer to him, Issac realised what it was. A doll. A puppet that looked like a baby.
He turned to Sarah and showed it to her. “Calm down. It’s just a puppet” he told her and turned his attention back to the missing intruder. “Did you find anyone on the roof?” he asked over the wireless. There was no response. “Hello? Didn’t anyone in the team that went to the roof carry their wireless sets? Someone respond! Did you find anyone?” Issac asked again, getting angrier by the minute. He looked up from near the window and shouted, “HEY! Who’s up there? Viren? Sunny? “.
Finally, someone responded on the wireless, “Sir, Constable Ramesh went up the roof”.
“What?! He went up there alone? I Asked you to send a team up there.” Issac said as he began running for the stairs to the roof.
He pushed the door to the roof open and looked around for Ramesh. In a corner, behind an old unused desk, he found him. Unconscious.
“Oh god. No” he muttered and looked around for any sign of the intruder.
“I need a medical team here as quickly as you can. I have an officer down.” he said over his wireless. Just as he sent out that message, he saw someone running on the roof of the neighbouring building. Issac jumped over to the other roof and ran behind him. “You! Stop right there”. The man ran into a room on one of the roofs. Issac ran to the door and called for back up. “Suspect is locked inside a room on a roof three building next to ours. He is armed. I need cover”.
Issac tried to look through the window to see what was happening inside, when suddenly, there was a loud gunshot from inside the room. “Gunshot!  There was a shot fired!! Where’s my backup?!!” Issac shouted over the wireless, running for cover but keeping an eye on the door to the room. A couple of minutes later, 5 officers arrived.
“There was only one shot. No one has come out since. The guy who fired the shot is still inside. I want him alive, but if he tries anything smart, shoot him.” he instructed.
The team members took their positions. One of them broke the lock to the door with a controlled explosion. The 6 officers barged into the room, “Police! Put down your weapons and keep your hands where I can see them.”Issac shouted but his voice trailed off when he looked around the room.
In the middle of the room, the man who was running from him, lay dead with a bullet wound in his throat. A gun was on the floor, a few feet away from the body.
 “Suicide. He shot himself in the throat.” Issac declared.
 “No sir. The entry wound suggests that he was shot from some distance away. Doesn’t look like a point-blank wound that we normally find when someone shoots themselves.”
“That’s impossible. Nobody went out of this room. The window is intact so it couldn’t have been someone from outside. Besides, I heard the shot from inside this room.And the guy was carrying a gun when he was running and it’s right here.”Issac reasoned.,but he knew that he was wrong when he looked at the entry wound closely.
This man was killed. And the killer, had vanished into thin air.

Read the first two parts here:

Pareidolia: Part 1
Pareidolia: Part 2

Pareidolia: Part 2

The Debriefing room was a small conference hall. There was a long rectangular table at the center of the room with 6 neatly arranged chairs on either side. Only 3 of those were occupied today. At its one end,Sarah and Isaac sat facing each other. Chief Inspector Murugan dragged a chair to sit at that end, in between the two. “I want you both to tell me exactly what happened there last night without leaving out a single detail. I want you to tell me if you did so much as scratch your heads. Sarah, you go first” the Chief said.

“At about 9.25PM, I got a call on the wireless about a woman in distress at Redwood trail apartments. Inspector Isaac and I reached the location at 9.45PM. The victim,Purva Rathore, was alive when we got there. The neighbours told us that they heard her shouting the name ‘aaron’ and that she was saying that he’d fallen from the balcony of her 17th floor apartment. She was in shock and refused to talk to us. There was no trace of the baby, in the house or anywhere around. No blood or anything.I asked Inspector Isaac to check on Purva. He found that she was depressed and traumatised and in no position to talk. He gave her a blanket and some coffee and went to interview the the neighbou…”
“What coffee?” Isaac interrupted. “I didn’t give her a blanket or coffee. She was feeling uncomfortable, so I got her to lie down on her bed and let her rest.” he clarified.
“Wha..? Then when did she make coffee and sit on the chair in the middle of the room?” Sarah asked, confused.
“Ok. What’s happening here? Who else was with you both?” Chief Inspector Murugan asked, looking at Isaac.
“Nobody sir. Just us. The neighbours were waiting out..”
“Coffee” Sarah said.
“What?” Isaac and Murugan asked in unison.
“She was holding a mug of coffee when she fell off the chair. It broke when she fell.” she said.
“But we didn’t see any pieces of the mug near her body when we came back and found that she was stabbed. Someone cleared the crime scene” Isaac said, completing Sarah’s sentence.
“We need to go back and question the neighbours. Somebody entered the crime scene when I came out to call you, Stabbed her, cleared the broken mug from the floor and left. All in a few minutes.” Sarah said, getting up hurriedly to leave.
“Pssh..Yeah sure. Few minutes”, Isaac murmured.
“What?Shut up” Sarah retorted and left, slamming the door behind her.
Isaac and Murugan shared a few giggles about women’s sense of time and parted ways.

Sarah sat in the car, deep in thought, scratching an insect bite on her neck.
“Stop doing that. It’ll get worse” Isaac advised.
“It’s irritating.I cant think.”she replied.
“Ok.So Why coffee? Why make her coffee if you want to stab her and get away?” Isaac asked.
“Why come back and collect the broken mug? This case is weird. From the missing baby that apparently doesn’t exist, to this. Nothing makes sense.” Sarah said, trying to connect the events, when suddenly, her phone rang. It was forensics.
“Hello. Yes. What? Are you sure?.Ok. Finger Prints? ok.Thank you”
“That was forensics.Purva’s death was caused by excessive bleeding from the knife wound” Sarah told Isaac.
“So she was alive when you checked her pulse?Did they find any prints on the knife?” Isaac asked in surprise.
“Apparently she was. But I checked. I was sure. She couldn’t have been..”
“Hey. Calm down. It’s alright. What about the fingerprints?” Isaac asked, trying to distract his visibly disturbed partner.
“They ran it through our databases but didn’t find a match.” she replied.
“Of course they didn’t.Bunch of morons.”Isaac said.

At the apartments, they began questioning the residents about anyone entering or leaving the crime scene the previous night.
After a few disappointing interviews,
“Nobody.Except you guys. That other cop almost ran over my poor Petunias” 76 year old Martha complained to Sarah, unhappy about the treatment meted out to her plants.
“But I didn’t step on your plants miss!” Isaac said, in an attempt to clear his name.
“Oh!Not you love! You’re wonderful. The other young man. The one in the coat that said ‘Police’ ” Martha clarified to the duo’s utter shock.
“When did you see him? Was carrying anything with him?” Isaac asked.
“He came out of the house sometime after you left. He had a little plastic bag in his hand but I couldn’t see what was in it. I’m Sorry” She said.
“Ma’am. We need you to describe this man in as much detail as you can to a sketch artist.” Sarah said, while Isaac called the sketch artist.

Back in her office, they went over all the evidence again. Frustrated, Sarah got up to get something to eat from her shelf.
“Hey Sarah. Didn’t you say that the coffee mug broke when Purva fell?” Isaac asked.
“Nothing. Hang on. The time of death is between 10PM and 11:30PM.” Isaac said.
“We got there at 9:45 and she was alive. We must have left the house at about 10:20, so that makes sense. Whoever stabbed her, did it within that window.Makes sense”

Sarah said, unwrapping a sandwich as she spoke.
“No. I left the house at 10:10. You threw that shoe at me at 10:45.” Isaac said.
“I wasn’t alone in that house for half an hour! I checked her pulse, found she’d died, got up and ran to the balcony to call you. 3 minutes at best” Sarah said in her defense.
Isaac took his phone out of his jacket and checked his call records.
“I called Control room to tell them we didn’t find anything at 10:40PM. That was while I was in the car. Look” Isaac said, holding his phone out.
Sarah was shocked.
“Sarah. What happened in the house in those 25 minutes?” Isaac asked.
“It wasn’t 25 minutes Isaac! I’m sure” she said, almost in tears.
“Show me that insect bite. The one you were scratching in the car” Isaac said, as if he was on to something.
Sarah tilted her head, revealing a small wound.
“That’s not an insect bite. That’s from a needle. You were drugged. We’ve got to get you to the doctor NOW.” he said after looking at the wound and ran out, dragging her with him.

“Yup. She was drugged alright. There are minute traces of it under the skin. Nothing life threatening. You didn’t have to rush her in here” Dr Neha announced.
“That’s not why I rushed her in here. I needed to be sure. They’ve got to conduct another post-mortem of Purva’s body quickly.” Isaac said while he called forensics on his phone.
Sarah followed Isaac to the forensics department, unsure of what he was onto.
“Remember you said the coffee mug had broken? There was a mention of the coffee in the forensics report but they hadn’t tested it.The killer might have cleared the broken mug but not the floor. I’ve just asked them to run tests for any abnormalities in the coffee.They’re making the report now. Come on!”Isaac told Sarah, excitedly.

“You were right Isaac. We found trace amounts of Armosyl, a rare poison. It’s a compound of arsenic and almost undetectable once it enters the body. We only found it because it wasn’t fully dissolved in the coffee.” Dr Mani said.
“So you couldn’t find it in Purva’s system?”Sarah asked.
“No. Once it enters the stomach, it kills almost instantly. If we run a test now looking for residual quantities, we might find it. But judging by the concentration of the poison and how much coffee was in her stomach, the cause of death was certainly poisoning. It caused paralysis and cardiac arrest in seconds.”
“But then she should have died before I entered the room” Sarah said.
“You said she was holding the cup and staring at the wall?” Dr Mani asked and Sarah nodded in agreement.
“Then yes.She had died by then. The poison caused her muscles to tighten and hence her grip on the cup tightened. Her neck muscles tightened as well and therefore it appeared as though she was sitting like a stone.” Dr Mani inferred.
“What about the first report?” Isaac asked,”Why didn’t you mention cardiac arrest as cause of death?”
“We couldn’t find anything that could cause a cardiac arrest so based on the evidence we had, we concluded that she suffered from a minor cardiac event, due to the shock but death must’ve been caused by the bleeding.”he said.
“You weren’t wrong Sarah. She was dead when you checked her pulse. The killer managed to drug you at that point and retrieve the coffee mug so that there wasn’t any evidence of the poison, leading us to believe that she died from the stab wounds. Except, he wasn’t able to clean the coffee from the floor”Isaac concluded.
“She must have thought he’s one of us too.That’s why she accepted the coffee from him.” Sarah completed.
“Or, she knew him”Isaac suggested, when Rajesh, the attender, walked into the room with a file.
The sketch artist had completed his work.

Sarah opened the file and took out the sketch. She felt her hands go numb and her legs give way as she handed the picture to Isaac.
“Who is that?” Dr Mani asked, peeping into the file.
Isaac looked up at Sarah in disbelief.”That’s Tony Joseph. Sarah’s brother”. He turned to Dr Mani and in a feeble,cracking voice added, “He died three years ago”.

To be continued…

Read the next part here:
Pareidolia: Part 3 

She: Summer days

Part 3/5

Instantly, he remembered her. How could he ever forget that face. She was the prettiest girl he’d seen in college. But in the few hours that they were together, working on the college magazine, he couldn’t gather that courage to tell her that. He remembered getting lost in her beautiful earthy brown eyes. In his mind, he was quite romantic. That he was too shy to actually say what was in his mind was the biggest tragedy of his life.
” Hi ” she said again, waving her hand this time, wondering if he hadn’t recognized her.
“Hi!” He said timidly, blushing but trying to hide it.
” I came to return this, thank you ” she said, pushing a neatly wrapped umbrella through the grill.
She saw the perplexed look on his face and told him about how she was trying to get his attention the previous evening in front of shazia manzil.
“Luckily for me, this umbrella fell out of your bag! I would’ve never reached home in that rain if it wasn’t for you ” relief, gratitude and happiness written large on her face.
He was embarrassed that he hadn’t noticed her. He wasn’t sure how to react. He just smiled, still a little ashamed.
” Do you walk that way everyday?” She asked.
” No”, he said spontaneously and then corrected himself hoping that he’d have a chance to walk with her, ” I mean , yes I do”, looking around to make sure his friends wouldn’t reveal the truth.
” Haha. Ok. I’ll see you around ” she smiled and walked away with her friends.
“Bye!” He said waving his hand slowly, his heart lost in her charm.
He felt a shiver down his spine. Maybe this was love, he thought to himself, still staring out of the window. Then he felt a dampness on his collar. He turned around to find his friends grinning, one of them with a, now half full, water bottle in hand.
” so you won’t be coming with me in the auto anymore I suppose?” one of them said with a teasing smile.
Just as he was going to react, he noticed that the teacher had entered the class and was now staring down at him. Quietly, he took his seat.
As the teacher went on and on about  signal processing, he remembered his dream again. Only this time, he could see her in it. Maybe it was fate that they should be together he thought. Why else would he carry two umbrellas instead of one that day? How else did that umbrella fall out of his bag exactly in front of shazia manzil? Why else would he have decided to walk home instead of going out with his friends? Why else would he have that dream on that same day?
Definitely fate. Had to be, he convinced himself.

That evening, he decided to walk home, hoping to find her on the way. He went past the railway crossing and the grocery store, this time paying attention to every detail around him and looking around to see if she was there.
As he approached the turning leading to shazia manzil, he looked around once more, realizing that he was almost home but she wasn’t anywhere there.
He walked past shazia manzil and turned into the narrow lane to his house.
As he climbed the stony slope from his gate to his house, he heard an auto go past the gate. It went past in a flash but he managed to catch a glimpse of the pretty passenger inside. He ran down the slope to see where she was going but the auto had turned a corner by then.
Disappointed, he went back into his house.

Later that day, he walked across the road to the temple pond on the other side. He often sat by the pond when he was too tired of studying or too bored of watching TV. He carried some bread crumbs to feed the little fish there. It was peaceful and he loved the serenity.
He sat there, wondering about all that had happened in the last two days, his head tilted to a side, shoulders dropped, legs crossed and his mind lost as usual. The late January evening breeze giving him company.
She walked upto where he was sitting and sat next to him.
“You shouldn’t be this unaware of your surroundings you know” she said, giggling.
Startled, he dropped the handful of breadcrumbs he was holding.
The giggles turned into laughter.
“You stay there, don’t you?” She said, pointing to his house.
“Yes” he said, still not completely out of the shock of seeing her.
“I live on the next lane. I’ve seen you sitting here often. So I decided to see what you do for myself. This is nice! Very nice” she said, admiring the pond and all the beautiful things around it.
He shook his head to get back to his senses. “It is, isn’t it? I like feeding the fish” he said, taking another handful of crumbs from his pocket.
She took some of it and joined him in feeding the fish.
“Do you walk home everyday too?” He asked.
“No. I generally take an auto” she replied. “Hey! You know what? We could share an auto” she said.
“We could! I normally end up paying that idiot more than I’m supposed to anyway” he blurted out, not realizing what he had done.
“But you told me that you walk home everyday” she said, a questioning smile on her lips.
“Oh!Umm. On a few days I share an auto with one of my friends” he said, trying to cover his tracks.
She looked at him knowingly and smiled a little more.
” OK fine! I share an auto with my friend everyday” he confessed, realizing that she already knew.
She burst into laughter at his innocence.
“Ok. It’s decided then! Wait for me near Gladys aunty’s shop after college” she said, referring to the 8X10 coffee stall owned by Gladys aunty, a quiet, polite, knowledgable 60 year old who always had advice for anyone seeking it.

The next evening, after college, he waited next to Gladys aunty’s shop as planned. A few minutes later, she joined him. They sat at one of the benches and he asked aunty for 2 coffees. They chatted animatedly over coffee for a while and then flagged down an auto and went home. A routine they’d follow for many months to come.

Half a year later…

It was mid October. Always a hectic period in an academic year. Most colleges hosted intercollegiate cultural fests during early November and his college was no different. St.Thomas fest was one of the biggest intercollegiate events in the district. The college ground was nicely decked up in a flowing, colorful tent. All the classrooms had been invaded by enthusiastic volunteers, setting up the events they were responsible for. In the basements and terraces the college music and dance teams were rehearsing their acts.
For three years in a row he was in charge of the quiz. A popular event that happened on the main stage on the third and final day. This year, he decided to take a break. She’d asked him to help organize the group dance. Again a main stage event that needed experienced organizers. She wanted his help with the sound systems, an area he knew like the back of his hand. He didn’t enjoy dances. But he agreed to do it anyway. He just wanted to spend more time with her. Besides, with all that was happening inside his head, he’d barely be able to concentrate on doing anything else. 
To be continued…