CHAPTER ONE — THEY COME BACK
He kept staring at the chessboard on the table. It was a dark room where he sat on a chair. The corner window in the room was slightly open.
A distinct ray of light fell on the chessboard lighting up the pawns, rooks, the Kings and the Queens. The white Queen stood beside the King ready to save her King and Kingdom from the fury of the black pawns.
He smiled and pushed himself back against the wall. The chair balanced itself tentatively on two legs, taking care of the 70 kg weight, including the 1400 gm weight of the brilliant brain of the person sitting on it.
Suddenly the door burst open. “Ali bhai, he is coming here. He is really coming. They searched for him, but couldn’t find him. Now, Ali Abbas is coming out in the open.”
Slowly Ali Mohammad brought the rest of the two hanging legs of the chair on the ground. He looked at ‘smiling Saqib’ standing near the door in front of him. Saqib had a broad smile on his face. For some reason, there was always a smile on Saqib’s face. This time his smile looked genuine.
“He will come here? I thought he would never return.” Ali Mohammad’s voice was calm and steady. He didn’t let Saqib know the extent of surprise he felt inside. Ali Abbas had left in anger two years back. He had never responded to his messages and calls.
“In three days! He will be here in three days. Ali Akbar will meet him and bring him here.” Saying this, Saqib came to the window and opened it fully. He swiftly opened the other window in the room too. Two pigeons resting on the window sill flapped their wings strongly in protest and flew away.
‘This was news,’ thought Ali Mohammad. He had never seen Ali Abbas and Ali Akbar bonding together much. ‘Yes, they would chat sometimes. But they weren’t very close to each other. And yet here was Ali Akbar going ahead to personally meet Ali Abbas after not seeing him for two years.’
It was time to take out the ring. The ring had started it. The ring had to be at the centre of it again now. Ali Abbas had left the ring with him and it would be the first thing that he would want.
He remembered where he had put it. It was wrapped in a silk cloth and lay inside the hollow trunk of a tree outside the gate of their once-upon-a-time primary school.
It was Ali Hasan who had pointed out the hollow trunk when he was in Class 4. He loved climbing trees. But it was only much later that Ali Mohammad had decided to put the ring there. When Ali Hasan had asked him where he had put the ring, Ali Mohammad had looked at him with a smile and said, “A secret place. But you know it.” Ali Hasan had raised his eyebrows, but did not ask him anything. His curiosity did not get the better of him. He was just relieved that the ring was out of everyone’s reach.
He was brought back to the present when he heard footsteps of someone coming closer to the room. The unhurried and measured sound of the steps made him make a guess. He could be wrong. But if he was right, then this was going to be a double surprise for him.
As soon as the footsteps reached the open door, Saqib saw him and rushed towards him.
“He is also here, he is also here!” he exclaimed. There standing at the door was Ali Hasan. Tall and handsome, he was suppressing a smile, but finally he couldn’t hold it any longer. He stepped inside the room and began to laugh loudly. He kept on laughing for almost a minute. An astonished Saqib held his hand, while Hasan held his stomach as he laughed. His suit made him look dignified, even as he laughed like a maniac.
Then he stopped suddenly. Ali Hasan straightened himself, ran his fingers through his hair quickly and walked towards Ali Mohammad. Ali Mohammad got up from the chair and faced Ali Hasan.
“Excuse my laughter, but I came to know that he is coming,” said Hasan. Mohammad nodded. Hasan stretched out his hand to shake hands. Mohammad looked at the gesture for a few seconds and then shook hands with Hasan. He broke his promise to himself consciously. This had to be done. Hasan looked surprised, but nodded his head.
“Yes. Saqib told me about Abbas. He will be here in three days. Akbar will be with him.”
“Ok. What about Ali Hussain? Where is he?” asked Hasan.
At Hussain’s mention, Mohammad turned and went to the open window. Looking out, he could see the outline of the mountains ahead of him. Hussain was forced to go. He didn’t want to, but he had to go. Hussain had kept him informed about his whereabouts, but for the last six months, there was no news about him. His mobile number was working all right, but nobody was picking up the phone. He had called many times.
“Hussain has to be here when Abbas comes. Abbas would want to see him, as Abbas has a promise to keep. If Hussain is not here before Abbas arrives, then I am not sure what’s going to happen,” said Mohammad.
Ali Hasan looked at Mohammad’s back and said, “But I can’t be here without Hussain. Abbas will be angry. And when he is angry, then everything becomes difficult.”
Mohammad stepped back from the window and went to the chessboard. The White King seemed to be shimmering. It had a certain glow to it. Slowly, Mohammad touched the King with his index finger. It gave off a bright sparkle for a second and then went back to shimmering lightly. Mohammad looked at Hasan. Hasan understood.
“So, you are still using the King? I thought you were finished with it.”
“The King has his uses. Sometimes, I bring it out in the open.”
At this point, unable to contain himself, Saqib bowed before both of them and asked, “Is it happening? Is it really happening?”
Mohammad and Hasan looked at him and nodded.
“Oh my god! To think that I got up this morning with just one important person left in my life. And now, in three days, I might see all four of them back and have all five! God bless my lollipop!”
Saying so, he took out a lollipop from his pocket, popped it in his mouth and went out of the room to arrange for tea and snacks. Happy surprises always made him hungry.
Hasan went to the door, picked up a bag lying outside and brought it in. He closed the door quietly and put the bag on the table next to the chessboard. Mohammad saw the bag. He picked up the shimmering King and put it in a velvet cloth that he took out from his trousers. The rest of the chess pieces he put them back in a box lying on the ground beneath the table.
“I have brought all the things when I came to know that Abbas was coming,” said Hasan. He opened the bag and started taking out some bags made of blue velvet cloth.
Mohammad opened the first bag and took out a dagger. The handle was embossed with the tiger logo. Mohammad remembered how many times this dagger had helped them. More precisely, Ali Hussain had helped them so many times with his dagger.
Hasan smiled and took out a gold mobile from another bag. The back of the mobile was embossed with the tiger logo. He switched it on and handed it to Mohammad. Now it was Mohammad’s turn to smile. This belonged to Ali Akbar who had used it effectively so many times earlier.
And then Mohammad took out a beautiful scarf from another bag. With the tiger logo burning bright on it, he handed it back to its rightful owner Ali Hasan. Hasan took it in his hand with a smile. They had managed to turn tables with this scarf so often. It had almost become a good luck charm now.
“I have brought what I had, except for the ring. I think you know where it is,” said Hasan.
Mohammad nodded. “I think I should tell you where it is. It is near…”
Suddenly the door burst open again that morning. Saqib shouted loudly, “He is here. He is here. Ali Hussain is here. He is in the garden, sitting on a horse!”
Ali Mohammad and Ali Hasan immediately went to the window and saw him. There he was sitting majestically on a grand white horse, looking at the garden fountain throwing jets of water high up in the air.