This story contain no graphic scenes of sex
This story contain no graphic scenes of sex
ALL STANDARD DISCLAIMERS APPLY
The first thing Neeladri did on waking up was visit the police station, and was greeted with an incredulous 'you-again' look.
The station in-charge was out, a Sub-Inspector officiating in his place -- The File was with the Inspector, and no, he had nothing new on Aahan, no information at all.
"You were supposed to leave for Hyderabad yesterday?" the officer finally asked.
"Yes, but I couldn't get a connecting flight, and so I'm leaving today..."
"Good," the officer smiled, "as far as we can guess, your friend must have gone home, and so should you!"
Neeladri walked out of the station, shoulders drooping and head bowed low... wanting to cling on to that tiny flicker of hope, and yet realising that the officer was possibly right... Aahan had recovered, had got in touch with his family, and was probably, right at that very moment, with his own people, his family!
"Dr. Neeladri!" he suddenly heard a voice close to his ear, a hand on his shoulder... and as he looked around he saw the beaming face of the officer of the first night - the night of Diwali, when he had rushed to the police station to report Aahan missing. "Hey, doctor, can't you hear me calling you, huh?"
"Uh, I... I'm sorry," Neeladri apologised.
"That's okay," the officer smiled, "I heard that you had already left for Hyderabad, so, was surprised to see you here..."
"Yes," Neeladri mumbled, "um, I mean no, didn't get a connecting fligh..."
"That's okay," the officer cut in, "why don't you join me for a cup of tea, huh?"
Neeladri was in no mood for a social causerie over tea, but at the same time was reluctant to offend an officer of the law - they may not help, but they surely can harm!
"Oh, c'mon doctor," the man grinned, "I'm not all that bad, besides, I may have some news for you!"
Neeladri's heart slammed... his throat suddenly going parched, "Aahan?" he asked, the voice raspy.
The man nodded, leading Neeladri to a nearby cafe.
Neeladri waited patiently... not sure where all this was leading, but somehow sensing that there was a shock somewhere in it for him.
"No, we couldn't find Aahan," he paused, taking another sip before looking at Neeladri, "and Headquarters have been after us since yesterday afternoon, wanting to know the details, and what we've done so far..." the tone slightly reproachful, the look suddenly accusatory.
"However, today, early morning, one of our constables on his regular beat came to know of a certain private clinic, very close to the hotel, where a person had been admitted on the night of Diwali and went to enquire. The doctor there, Dr. Kaprekar, claimed that he indeed had an unusual experience with a strange young man that night..."
Neeladri could sense his pulse gradually pick up... his heart suddenly beating at express velocity... his hands already cold and numb.
"This man, Salil, as he called himself, was brought to the doctor's clinic in an unconscious state and he regained his consciousness the next morning, that's yesterday. The man claimed that he should be in Hyderabad and couldn't imagine how he got to Pune. The doctor wanted to contact the police but the man refused, insisting that he wanted to return home... and so, he left yesterday evening, for New Delhi," the officer concluded.
The uncertainty, the tension of the last two days, and the exhaustion, finally made itself apparent as with a tired groan Neeladri slumped back in his chair, drained of all strength and emotion.
"You okay, doctor?" the Inspector asked, leaning forward.
Neeladri took a deep breath and then nodded, "Yes, I'm fine, thank you. Can I, um, visit this doctor?" he asked, "I want to..."
"Well, I was actually on my way to meet the man when I saw you walking out of the station," the officer smiled standing up, "yes, I want you to meet the doctor..."
"Thank you, Inspector," Neeladri gave him a wan smile.
"Not at all," the officer stated as they walked out.
"Doctor, are you sure he went to Delhi?" Neeladri asked.
Dr. Kaprekar nodded, "Yes, I took him to the station and got a ticket for New Delhi. I wanted to wait till he boarded the train, but then I got this call about an emergency at the clinic and had to rush back. Salil insisted that he'd be okay and so I gave him some money for the journey and returned. I have no doubt that he managed well and should be home by this evening. Don't worry, he'll be fine!"
"Do you have his address... or contact?" Neeladri asked again, not really sure why he wanted the information... or what he'd do with it.
The old man shook his head, "I never really thought about it, no, I didn't ask him!"
"Thank you doctor," Neeladri said as he stood up, "thank you very much!"
"Not at all, young man," Dr. Kaprekar smiled, shaking his hand.
"Please, drop me at the hotel; I'm taking the 11:30 flight to Hyderabad."
"Well, doctor, I could actually drop you off at the airport," the Inspector offered, "of course, after you've collected your stuff at the hotel!"
"Thank you, Inspector," Neeladri smiled, "but that won't..."
"I insist," the officer interjected, starting the engine. "And now that we have a real name," the Inspector said as they drove away, "we can find out his details, and I'll send over his address and contact to you when I send my report to Headquarters, and the Hyderabad police."
"No, that won't be necessary," Neeladri shook his head. What would he do with it, Aahan didn't even remember him!
"I owe you that much," the officer replied, "though you never really gave me the whole truth..." and as Neeladri looked at him, uncomprehending, he smiled widely, patting the doctor's shoulder, "That's okay, everyone has a right to their privacy!"
He was exhausted as he walked out of the Begumpet airport... emotionally drained and physically worn, listless as the cab took him home.
He'd told his parents that nothing could hurt him, nothing would... But it hurt, it hurt like crazy...
He had claimed that this was what he wanted - wanted Aahan, um Salil to be happy, recover and return to his family... And yet, it hurt, hurt like hell!
Just two months of knowing the man, and just a week of... and yet, he simply couldn't imagine life without Aahan, um, Salil. The futility of his maddening desire hurting even more, the ache tearing at his heart...
Oh, the stinging pain... If only he had been there, when Aaha, um, Salil had regained his memory...
Maybe he could have marginally lessened the shock and the trauma of recovery.
Perhaps Aaha, um Salil would remember... remember Hyderabad... Recognise Neeladri... Recall their time together...
Maybe... Perhaps... Maybe... perhaps - ah, all the possibilities of life... the assumptions and presumptions, the hypotheticals and the theories... The wishes and the velleities!
Neeladri closed his eyes and sank back with a sigh... at least the man was safe now... back home. It was over!
But it still hurt, God, it hurt!
"Hello, Neel," the young man greeted him, smiling widely.
Neeladri went on staring, his mouth still open, his heart racing... his knees weak as he reached for the doorframe for support.
"Oh, c'mon in," the man laughed, grabbing his arm, "if you could just see your face now, gosh, you seem to be having a heart attack!"
"Aahan," Neeladri suddenly cried, wrapping his arms around the man, and then almost immediately released him, pulling back, mumbling, "Um, I'm sorry..."
"Why, why are you sorry, because you hugged me, or because I came back, huh?" he asked, looking at Neeladri, into his eyes. "It's me who should apologise, you must have been worried sick, must have gone crazy when I vanished, huh? I'm terribly sorry, Neeladri!"
Neeladri shook his head, still speechless... quickly sitting down, "When did you get back?"
"I got back this morning, and have been waiting for you," he answered, kneeling down on the carpet, looking up at Neeladri.
Neeladri nodded, "Why didn't any of you call me?"
"Both Ahmed and I, we tried, but the calls kept dropping..."
"Yes, sorry," Neeladri replied, "I... um, after all the calls I made, quite forgetting that I was on roaming..." he shrugged, "and then didn't recharge my..."
"Your parents have been calling too, very worried since they can't reach you, worried about where you are and why you haven't returned home. I spoke to them, told them... they'll be here later this evening."
"Guess, I should call them, and let them know I'm back, home..." Neeladri murmured, reaching for the telephone. He spoke to them briefly, telling them that he was fine, "I'll pick you up at the airport..." he said, disconnecting.
And as he replaced the instrument, the man took his hands, "Neeladri, I've got back my memory..."
Neeladri kept looking, suddenly numb... his mind totally blank.
"Don't you want to hear my story, know who I am?"
Neeladri nodded, looking briefly away, suddenly embarrassed as he wondered if Aahan also remembered those incredible days after that thundery night. Remembered their... he refused to think any further. Gosh, what would he feel about it now, now that he remembered his past, his real life!
"Well, I'm Salil, from New Delhi," the man said, "I'm twenty-four and a software developer... and," he paused, "I'm gay..." speaking it out loudly for the first time!
Salil recounted his story - his arrogant youth, spent in the pursuit of mindless sexual gratification. His engagement to Ruchi, Ketan's party, and that final night, when he was thrown out of his home. His coming to Hyderabad in search of Mukesh, and the blast...
"When did it all come back?" Neeladri asked once Salil had finished his tale. "How did it happen?"
"After you went in for your shower, I went out," Salil replied with a rueful smile, "I was curious, could hear all those noise... and just couldn't see why you refused to take me out for a walk... or, allow me to check things out...
"Well, I came out of the hotel... the lane was quiet, but I could see the lights in the distant, and hear the celebrations, the night sky bright with the coruscation, the air thick with smoke... and the sounds, sudden and explosive. I was nervous, my heart slamming away, my whole body trembling... I felt terror, but like I had told you, I wanted to know, know why sounds scared me and so, I began walking... and as I crossed one of those narrow lanes, dark under the huge trees, something exploded right under my feet...
"I must have freaked," he paused, giving a shrug, "I woke up the next morning at a clinic... with everything intact, but suddenly missing two solid months of my life!
"I just couldn't imagine what I was doing in Pune, how I got there... I knew that I left Delhi for Hyderabad, remember landing here... remember walking in to eat something, and BANG, I wake up in Pune... It was horrifying!
"The doctor must have thought I was raving mad, wanted me to stay for a couple of days, said he needed to contact the police. But I was adamant, refusing all his suggestions, said I had to get back... get back those two months of my life. Somehow he got it into his head that I was talking about going home, going back to Delhi, and I didn't see any reason to confuse him further. So, when that call came from his clinic and he left, though reluctantly, I immediately cancelled my reservation to Delhi and asked for one to Hyderabad. But no seats were available and so I went out and asked around, going to the bus station and taking the night bus to Hyderabad...
"It dropped me here at six-thirty in the morning and I didn't have a clue about where to go, or what to do, and finally asked an auto-rickshaw to take me to the airport... hoping that once I reached the place I could retrace my way back to the eatery, the name of which I never knew, and maybe remember what happened next...
"But nothing came back to me - the airport, the streets, all seemed strange... and then, on a hunch I asked him if there had been any bomb blast, at an eatery. He gave me a weird look and after I mentioned August, he nodded, 'Yes, there was one, in August'. I asked him to take me there.
"I don't know what the driver thought, or where he was taking me, but suddenly I saw the lake, and almost instantly, in a blazing flash, I recognised the place. I asked him to stop, and got down... remembering that I had been there... with someone... but that 'someone' was frustratingly hazy... I sat there for a while, looking around, walking up and down, the driver right behind me, wanting to know what I wanted... asking me to pay him and let him go.
"I got back into the rickshaw and asked him to drive, blindly guiding him, on sheer instinct... till I was standing right in front of this house. God, I couldn't believe my eyes, I just stood there, gaping... and then Ahmed came out, saw me and rushed over... asking about you...
"He brought me in... and the moment I entered the house I suddenly remembered everything... I finally had my missing two months!"
Neeladri sat amazed, his head reeling at the incredible tale... at the astonishing turn of events.
"I remember my time with you... when you took me in, took care of me, a worthless invalid," he paused, lowering his eyes briefly before looking up again, "Our visit to Lansdowne... the last evening, in Lover's Lane..." he broke off, his eyes searching the doctor's face, "the night of the storm... I remember everything!"
"Neeladri, I was vain and arrogant, I was evil... and I screwed up everything. There's nothing to go back to, no one to go back to," Salil whispered, his hands squeezing Neeladri's, "will you still take me as your friend after all that I've told you, about what I was... who I was?"
Neeladri sat, his heart slamming... his brain refusing to work...
"I can ask my company to transfer me to Hyderabad," he continued, "they have an office here, and I'm good at my job... or I could quit and get another job in a different company. Will you?"
"Aaha... um, Salil," the young doctor finally exclaimed, but never finished the sentence, his voice choked.
"No, not Salil... Salil died on the night of the 25th, in a bomb blast, I'm Aahan, your Aahan..." Aahan whispered reaching up and taking Neeladri's face in his hands... pulling him down, kissing him.
"Aahan, um," Neeladri gasped, quickly drawing back, "the men... "
Aahan grinned, "Today's Sunday, it's the gardener's day off, and, Ahmed and Srini, they've gone to the market to prepare for your parents' visit. No one's home!" gluing his mouth back to Neeladri's...
... a story by outlaw
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