They were sitting at a table.
“Ahem, what is your name?” she asked.
“Varun,” he said.
“What do you do Varun?” she asked. He did not reply.
The place was a coffee couture shop, which sold designer clothes and also served coffee and snacks. Colorful clothes were hung on stands and laid out neatly on shelves.
She had watched him come into the shop. Dressed in t-shirt and jeans, looking bedraggled he walked wayward before he sat down at a table.
She brought two cups of coffee, placed one before him and sat. He looked at her disgusted. She started stirring the coffee in her cup. The guy did not even touch his cup.
She pressed on, “What do you do Varun?”
“I am the son of a rich business man,” he said.
“Do you help your dad in his business?” she asked.
“I was a loner without friends. But having totally different ideas, and moving from one place to another, all the time putting parents on the edge,” he said slowly in a measured pace.
“Did you finish college?” she asked exasperated.
“I was essentially a free thinker. My life went in many directions, and I did not have any control on where it was heading,” he said.
“Do you have any hobbies?” she asked still stirring the coffee.
“I was a contrarian and a fickle person. Leading an unsettled life, just did not focus on anything,” he said.
“Looks like you won’t tell anything about yourself,” she said.
“I questioned everything and did everything differently. Kinda maverick,” he said.
“Do you do drugs,” she asked.
“Of course, why do you think I wouldn’t?” he retorted with a big sound blowing his nose.
“So, I have a natural question,” she said and paused for a moment. “What are you doing here? This is a designer clothes boutique with a coffee shop. It is getting late, they would be closing soon. It’s better if you leave, otherwise they will ask you to leave.”
“Don’t worry”, he said. “I will dodge them.”
“In that case, you will be locked in here,” she said with a tone of caution.
“No probs,” he said. “I don’t mind continuing chatting with such a beautiful lady.”
“This is the first time you talked like a normal person,” she said with a smile. “You haven’t answered my previous question. Why are you here?” she asked.
“For redemption, to do something good,” he said.
“That’s interesting. What exactly do you want to do here?” she asked.
“I don’t know what it is. I just came in here. My upliftment begins here,” he said.
“Upliftment?” she was quizzical.
“You have been asking me all the questions, let me ask now,” he was irritated. “Why are you here?”
“Just to have some coffee, got tired of just displaying dresses. Maybe I can help you do something good,” she said.
He became alert, smiled a little and leaned forward. It was the first time he smiled during the conversation.
“Do something good. Indeed,” he nodded. “What good can we do now?”
She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “There is a Red Sanders smuggler. We got to stop his criminal activities.”
“Hmmm, sounds exciting. Who is he and how can we get to him?” he asked.
“I don’t know where he lives. He comes past midnight here and makes calls for his illegal activities. He tells his name on the phone as Seshu,” she said.
Shaking his head he said, “Then, call the police when he is here and they will come and arrest him,” he sounded disappointed.
“No, I can’t. If I go from here, I won’t be able to do anything. Nor can I do anything when he is here,” she said.
“Why so?” he asked.
“It’s just the way things are. Can’t tell you more than that.”
“So, what do you want me to do?” Varun asked.
“This guy Seshu is a very scheming man, who can go to any extent. To the extent of killing, using men from a neighbouring state. Sell the sanders wood to the Chinese etc.,” she said.
“Hmm, what I can do is get information for you. I won’t be able to bring any physical objects,” he said.
“Oh c’mon. You gotta do some work if we are on a mission,” she said.
“I can punch in some keys on a touch phone, to know its own number, but nothing more,” he said.
“Is it the drugs?” she asked.
“Yes, drugs.” He gave a wry smile. “Physical debilitation has deprived me of the strength to move stuff from one place to another.”
“I won’t demand too much from you in the interest of achieving some positive result. Getting info is good enough. I want the direct phone numbers of the IG of police of both states, their personal numbers and the phone numbers of their wives or daughters,” she said.
“Sure, can get that real quick for you,” he said.
“Good. Bring them to this place only. I will be here,” she said.
“I just don’t know why a criminal would select this place of all places to hatch his criminal activity,” he said.
“Beats me. Maybe he has his own superstitions, and this is his lucky place,” she said.
“Yeah it won’t be lucky any more for him,” he said and got up.
“Agreed. Good luck to you and me,” she said lifting the cup and bowing her head.
She was waiting and was continuously looking at the door. She smiled when she saw Varun walking towards her.
He had nothing in his hands.
She looked at his hands, looked up at him surprised. “I am waiting to take the phone numbers, hope you have brought them,” she said.
He put his hands on the table, looked at her and started rattling the numbers one after another in a machine-gun like precision. Telangana IG’s number : xxxx, his personal number : xxxx, IG’s wife’s number, IG’s daughter, Andhra Pradesh,…..
“Slow, slow,” she said and started entering those numbers in her phone.
When they were done, she said, “I’ll have to make the calls now before the bad guy arrives.”
“I will leave now,” he said emphatically.
“Will you meet me again?” she asked.
“No, my time is up,” he said.
“What time?” she asked.
“For the upliftment,” he said and started walking towards the door.
She did not notice that he went out, but had not opened the door. She was dialing the first phone number.
A man who wore a full sleeved brown shirt was seated on a chair. He took a mobile phone and inserted a sim card in it.
“Hello, Saar, this is Seshu. I was wondering if it is possible to take some logs from the auction lots,” he said.
He listened for a few seconds.
“No. saar, I am not mad. It was just a thought. I agree we cannot do that since there is too much media attention and Chandrababu has declared he will make state revenues from the auction.”
“Ok, sar, Can you help me with some more wood from the forest.”
He listened intently for a moment. Then his face became grim and he started pleading.
“All I need is just one help. When this week’s forest officials batch goes back to the base camp, can you delay the replacements going to the forest. What I need is six hours.”
He listened for a moment and then his face brightened.
“Oh saar, you are wonderful. That is quite a favour. Payments will be arranged as usual.”
He cut the call and changed the sim card on his phone.
“Vannakkam, Swamy. This is Seshu.” He gave a pause and continued, “No praablem, this time we will do much better. You will be getting night vision goggles and also bullet proof coats.”
He smiled and then gave a small laugh. “Don’t worry about my costs. The market is growing, all those are affordable now.”
He took a deep breath and continued, “You have to send your best guys and the attack has to be meticulous. The perfect timing would be when officials are returning to their base camps and fresh replacements have not yet joined.”
Seshu continued, “Ok, my man will meet you day after tomorrow. With payment. He will go over the plan details with you personally.”
He put the phone down and chuckled. “I will get a lot of profits from the forest directly.” He loosened his arms and relaxed.
Suddenly, a very bright beam of light shone on him. Before he could move, there was a gun on his temple. A loud and gruff voice said, “Hey mister, you are under arrest.”
“We are the police,” the voice continued. “We have the recording and phone records.”
There were sounds of police boots and metals clanking. “You are surrounded. Don’t try anything funny. Get up, put your hands behind your back and walk.”
Seshu got up and put his hands behind his back.
As he was led away, he could hear them say, “The government has this big problem of red sanders smuggling. We can relax now, we have the kingpin behind the bars.”
A few blocks away, Varun walked into a dilapidated room. A picture of Jesus hung on a wall.
“Thank you God, for allowing me two days to do something useful before I reach your abode,” he said softly looking at his dead body and zoomed into the skies.
Back in the boutique, she came from behind the hung clothes and stood there. She looked as if she was staring at space. Affectionately watching in that tranquil moment, lonely and unperturbed, and beaming a smile was the laughing Buddha from across the room.
“Is this all the time you can give me?” she asked with intensity.
“You got a few hours on two days. In the end, it’s not the days in your life that count, it’s the life in your days,” he said in an old man’s voice.
“So! Even in this limited time, I could make a difference,” she said taking a deep breath.
“You got a criminal arrested, saved lives and helped the society.”
“Yeah, thank you very much,” she said.
“Good call on talking to the women in the top cops’ families.”
“It was fun and worth it. Now I have to go back to myself,” she said with a smile and a tinge of sadness.
“Could you do it once more?” she asked with a gripping face.
“I don’t know. I am not God, I am only the medium. When this can happen again, I don’t know. He will intervene when He wants to.”
“Watching buyers come and helping them buy clothes is what I am meant to be and will continue doing. So long,” she said and waved her hand.
She whirled into a light that turned into the mannequin in the corner.