CHAPTER 7: THE REUNION

It was around 4am when they reached ashore.
5 of them in a dark blue coloured jetty. The marine officer on spotting them moved ahead and broke into a warm embrace.

“Atlast you guys are here.. ”, he whispered.

“Ya..”,Ashraf said,still vary that he is on a foreign land. A land which he and his team has to destroy.

“Naqvi Saab and Shoaib had informed me about you guys..and I guess I have managed everything well.. that too without any loopholes! Naqvi Saab must be proud of me!”,the marine cop smiled enthusiastically.

“Whatever..quickly let us in now..”,Ashraf replied in a hushed tone.

“Your concentrated behaviour gives me a good vibe. Your team will be successful under an able leader like you Ashraf.”,the marine cop patted his shoulder.

“If you’re done with your appraisal stuff,can you PLEASE,lead us in?”,Ashraf pointed his pistol towards the cop, threatening to shoot.

“Calm down boy! Calm down! Follow me..”,the cop was taken aback by his sudden angry approach.

Soon they were led to a desolate road,where a car awaited the five brave Mujahideens.

“Our driver will help you ahead! All the best Ashraf!”,the cop wished him and left.

“Who is the driver? ”,one among the Mujahideens asked.

Ashraf raised one of his hands, signalling him to be silent.

The loyal warrior followed his leader’s order.

Slowly, Ashraf leaned over the window pane to have a look at the driver.

It’s a lady!?

She was busy reading a book, fully immersed in it.
Ashraf had to knock on the window pane to bring her back to the real world.

Her kohl lined eyes,her gold earrings and her perfect lips distracted Ashraf.

“Hey hey Mujahideen! ”,she smiled.

He was surprised by the casual approach of the girl.

“What are you waiting for? Get in..”,she opened the door for him.

As he was about to enter, she closed the door.

“Nah..not like that Mr. Mujahideen..I know you are one among ‘us’, but still, I would like to hear the ‘password’ from you.”,she smiled mischievously.

Ashraf was expressionless. He just barged open the door and took the front seat. The other 4 swiftly sat behind.

“Terrorise. Mobilise. Polarise. We’ll fight the injustice meted out to us
and one day the entire world will be under our caliphate. Justice shall prevail everywhere…..and now,it would be great if you start your car ma’am. We can’t waste time.”,Ashraf said in a single breath.

She acted as if she was impressed to the core and started the engine without further words.

“What’s your name?”

“My real name is….. you can call me Sultana.”

“So..Sultana..you know our destination right? ”

“Junaid.”

                     ✒✒✒

January 16,2020

The day of surprises.
The day of Abhi’s birthday!
The day of our reunion.

One week ago,I had to take all the efforts to reach out to his friends as well as mine to give Abhi a collective surprise. Adi didn’t even help me in this process. For him birthdays meant nothing but childishness and unwanted expenses. For him,the ideal birthday meant spending time alone, watching old cricket matches,smoking some weed and sleeping the entire day. After his unpredictable career dip and breakup, Adi has changed. He rarely laughed and socialising became a taboo for him. The only moment when he laughs or talks openly to someone is when he is drunk out of proportions.

I had bought the latest Durjoy Datta romcom novel as a gift. Adi bought a pair of Reebok shoes from his hard earned savings. But since we were fresher’s,I and Abhi couldn’t afford to take a day off, that too within two weeks of joining. It was decided that we three would meet at evening,8,Marine Drive – my favourite hangout place.

7:30pm:
Since my working place was at Vikhroli,it took just 40 minutes for me to reach the spot. The birthday boy, being from Airoli,would take more time.

Adi should have left home by now..
Aathira and Rohit would be here anytime..
I hope Mitali and Kunika make it on time..
Pratik will be late. Andheri is too far.
And Shreya….

There she was.

“Perfect timing! ”,I smiled.

“Ya..as always..”,she winked.

“It’s been a long time since we met..missed me? ”

“Umm..to be frank….Nah! ”,she laughed.

“Oh..”,I acted hurt.

“You were always by my side. Why and how on earth can I miss you?”

“That’s the reply I wanted..”,I clapped my hands.

She didn’t say anything but just came forward and hugged me.
It sent a tingling sensation down my spine. I was back to that nervous Sooraj again. I hugged her back.

“I’m there..always..whatever the circumstances..”,I stammered.

She didn’t say anything,but I could sense her sobbing.

“Come on now! Don’t cry! Please.”,I wiped her moist cheeks.

“You better smile or..”

“..or?”

I kissed her forehead.

“Your tears make me weak..your smile makes me strong.. ”

“umm….such a cliché dialogue huh! ”, she guffawed.

“Yeah! ”,I joined in her laughter. Her smile was back and that was all I wanted.

But the conversation didn’t move ahead. We just kept staring in to each others eyes. Maybe words couldn’t express what we wanted to say at that moment.

“I hope we aren’t disturbing you. ”,a similar voice echoed. I knew who that was.

It was Aathira, and with her was my best friend and brother for life Rohit with their gifts. Without another thought I went ahead and greeted them with a warm heartful hug.

Soon Mitali and Kunika,Abhishek’s friends came by.

But there were no signs of Adi anywhere. I called him only to find switched off tone.

Idiot!

As I was about to call Pratik, he came by.

So,the entire paltan (minus Adi) was ready for the birthday boy to come.

8:30 pm

Our birthday boy hasn’t turned up yet. We were confused whom to blame – the corporate late latif or the Mumbai locals. As it was his birthday, the blame unfortunately and unrighteously went to the latter.

“Where’s Adi, your friend who always takes selfies in weird expressions? Where is he?!”, Aathira asked the very question to which I had no answer.

Few minutes later,Abhi arrived..along with a pretty girl.
On spotting us,he stood still.
His expression said it all.
He wasn’t ready to believe that it was all happening in real.

“Nah..nah..don’t pinch yourself to test whether you’re in a dream or reality, birthday boy. And yes. You’re late. But since,it is your special day, I have postponed the function of smashing your face. Happy birthday bro.”,I went ahead and slapped him playfully.

The others went ahead and wished him too.

The birthday cake was smeared all over his face. A ritual that we all follow blindly. And then it was time for the gifts. The best part of birthdays.

I gifted him the Durjoy Datta book, Pratik gifted him the latest Fitbit , Aathira a marvellous Titan watch, Rohit gifted him JBL headphones, Shreya bought him the cool RayBan glares while Mitali and Kunika bought tears to his eyes with a book full of their childhood and college photos.

After thanking each one of us,the expected question came out.

“Where’s Adi?”

“I don’t know man!”,I was angry.

“He might have slumped to sleep after the day’s match.. ”,Abhi guessed.

“Ya.. Might be..”

“And I’m sorry,I forgot to introduce her.. ”,Abhi pointed to the pretty girl besides her. “This is Avantika.. my..my best friend.”

“Just best friend huh?”,she blushed and nudged him playfully with her elbow.

“..and much more than that. ”,Abhi winked at her.

“Bro..I guess you have got the perfect birthday gift ”,Rohit teased him.

“JBL is a great brand”,Abhi tried changing the topic.

“Not the JBL gift yaar..he’s talking about.. ”, Pratik flashed his mischievous smile.

Just as the banter was going on,Adi turned up. And he was perfectly greeted by the choicest of selected expletives that we knew no longer had any effect on him.

“Sorrryyy..I was..was sleeeepingggg mahn! Toddaay we wonn! Becozz of meee! I was tired and so I..I sleptt! Happy budday Abhi! Here’s a small gift.”,he went and hugged Abhi, gifting him the shoes.

Then he did an impromptu jig, balancing on one leg.

Clearly,he was drunk.

“You need rest Adi..let’s go..”,Pratik tried pouring water over our plan of going to the club. But that was the only way to keep Adi away from drinks.

“Naah! It’s time to ddance! Where’s the club? Where’s the clubbb?!”

“We better leave Adi.. Enough of your antics for the day!”,I went ahead and tried slapping him back to sense, but in vain.

“Pleeez! Let’s go to the club! Pleez! I promise, I’ll not touch.. No! I’ll not even look towards the bottles!”

I looked towards Abhi who was confused as well. Finally we decided to go to the club and party!

Club Zero was situated about 20 minutes away from Gateway and we took a cab to reach there. Atleast that way, Adi won’t break to
Bhangra or The Naagin Dance in between.

We reached Club Zero in five and to be frank,the place was great! It stinked of rich brats who were good for nothing but screw up their lives and burn a hole in their parents pockets.

As we entered the club,the DJ played everyone’s favourite
‘Get Low’ which exists in every DJ’s playlist when the audience is bored.
I was least interested in dancing.
I went and slumped on the couch and ordered a glass of lemonade.

Mitali and Kunika were trying hard to match steps, Pratik and Adi were dancing their hearts out, Abhi and Avantika were having the time of their lives, whereas
Rohit and Aathira sat besides me,engrossed in conversation. I overheard Rohit talking something related to Developments In The Large Hadron Collider 2 after which I decided to leave the club and go on a walk.

Better.

I was about to leave the club when
Adi dragged me inside.

“I suck at dancing!”

“Nah! Come onnn! Take Shreya for company”

By the way,where is she?

I looked across the dance floor to see her sitting on a couch, her eyes transfixed on me.

I went towards her and asked,“Would you like to dance with me,you beautiful princess?”

“Umm..let me think.. ”,she acted.

“That means a no.”,I frown.

“Negation of no”,she answered in my style.

“Great”,I beamed.

And unexpectedly, the DJ played out Enrique’s ‘One Day At A Time’ which provided the perfect background music.

Placing her arms over my shoulders she gently swayed to the music. I was bad at eye contact, but this time I held my nerves. But I was neither romantic nor did I know how to dance.

She read my mind via my confused expressions and took my hands and placed it near her waist.

“Now! Don’t get nervous. I’m not going to eat you. Feel the music and dance accordingly.”

“Ohk..”,I managed to blurt out.
My heartbeat soared. Perhaps I was going to die.

And what followed was a dream which I can’t describe in mere words.
I managed to hold my bundle of nerves intact and didn’t do anything stupid. I matched her steps with elan and even she was impressed.

(Ohk fine! That was a bit exaggerated, but she did say “Better” once.)

“This one is to all the beautiful couples out there!”,the DJ announced in his heavy American accent.

The lights dimmed.
And one of those old day tracks was played.

Uff Teri Ada
I like the way you move
Uff tera badan
I like to see you groove
Uff Teri nazar
It says I wanna dance with you..

I could feel her breath now.
I sensed even she was nervous now.
I took her face in my palm and looked straight in to her eyes.
Her light brown eyes looked even more pretty in the dim light.

Baarishon me bedhadak tere naachne se..
Baat baat pe bewajah tere rootne se..
Chotti chotti teri bachkani badmaashiyon se..
Mohabbat karunga main..
Jab Tak Hai Jaan
Jab Tak Hai Jaan..

I said those lines which I had once thought I would say to someone else.

She closed her eyes.
Our lips met.

And the next moment, we were shocked by the sudden blast outside the club.

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