Chapter 3 — No Questions Asked
The sound of the helicopter came closer and closer till the whole building seemed to vibrate to the sound of its powerful rotors. It hovered in the garden creating a sharp wind below. Leaves, loose sand and even some dried flowers rose up from the ground as if to touch the feet and welcome the hovering craft.
Slowly, it brought itself down on a wider, cemented patch in the garden. Ali Mohammad and Ali Hussain were there standing on the graveled courtyard in front of the garden. They had some idea about the person who was there in the helicopter. He was the reason behind the disappearance of Ali Abbas.
But with the kind of resources this person had, if anybody knew where Ali Abbas was right now, he was the one. Even Ali Mohammad wasn’t sure why Ali Abbas had trusted him so much. But now this person was there, had to be there in the helicopter that had just landed in their garden.
He stepped out, as the helicopter motor and rotors stopped. He was in uniform. Not much of a surprise there. He started coming towards them and a minute later someone else stepped out from the helicopter. It was a woman, again in uniform. She was at a distance, so her face was not very clear. But Ali Mohammad’s heart had started beating louder now.
“Welcome Jazlaan to our humble garden,” said Ali Hussain. He shook hands with the General. And sure enough, there appeared Aazeen just behind Jazlaan. Mohammad failed to understand what was happening. He looked at Hussain and stepped back a step or two. His face was a mix of shock and relief. Aazeen was there in front of him and she was smiling.
“I thought I should bring Aazeen also to meet you people. She knows most of you and one she knows more than everyone else,” said Jazlaan looking pointedly in Mohammad’s direction. Mohammad just kept staring at her.
“Good to have you General. It’s been a long time. I would have expected a convoy or something, if you were coming. But a helicopter? Well, you have reasons that we never seem to know about,” said Ali Hussain.
Hussain looked at Aazeen and did a small bow. “Welcome to the lady, who knows so much about us. We have seen her. But only in photographs. If I may, you are prettier in person.” Aazeen didn’t blush, just smiled. She took a step forward and offered her hand in handshake to Hussain. Hussain smiled and shook her hand lightly, looking sideways at Mohammad.
“Oh, look, who do we have here! The guy who pushed Ali Abbas to disappear.” A shout came from the other end of the garden. It was Saqib and he was bringing Sikander with him. Ali Hasan followed behind the horse. Saqib came to the courtyard and stopped in front of the General.
“How are you Saqib? Still the same old guy with the elephant memory,” said Jazlaan. A barely visible smile was playing on his lips.
“Now that you here, I can say confidently that I am not fine, thank you,” said Saqib, with a huff. He stepped towards a row of roses on the ground close by and plucked one. “This beautiful rose is for someone who knows all of us. But about whom, only one knows about,” said Saqib looking at Mohammad. Mohammad shifted on his feet uncomfortably.
Saqib offered the rose to Aazeen. She took it without hesitating and put it in a bag that she was carrying. “Oh, the rose is already bagged, packed and become a memory for someone,” said Saqib, who then took out a red silk handkerchief. He raised it high in the air and left it. As the silk handkerchief started floating down to the ground, a thunderous roar of voices started coming from near the building.
Loud shouts were saying together in a chorus: “Traitor… Go Back…Traitor… Go Back”. It kept going on like a chant. And then faces appeared on the roofs of the huge building. They kept shouting the chant in one voice. The General and Aazeen looked up in alarm. They hadn’t expected this kind of welcome. They had expected that they would be asked to leave the moment their helicopter touched the ground. But this seemed too much. Jazlaan looked at Aazeen and shook his head slowly.
“It was your idea. I told you Ali Brothers hate us. They were with us once, but now they are no more with us,” said Jazlaan leaning close to her ear. Aazeen put her hand on his shoulder and gave him a confident look. Her confidence had been shaken up a bit after hearing the chant. But she had to be strong. She looked at Mohammad who had still not spoken anything yet.
Aazeen knew that she had to be so strong that Ali Mohammad would come to accept her once again. Mohammad was her rock and guide. But events beyond her control had taken Mohammad away from her. She would bring him back to him. The disturbing chant continued without a break
Ali Mohammad then took out the King from inside his coat and raised it high in the air. It started glowing brightly. There seemed to be some humming sound coming from the King. The chanting stopped abruptly and the faces disappeared from the roof of the building.
Saqib looked surprised. He turned towards Mohammad who was now putting the King back in his coat. “You sure? I mean, look at them,” said Saqib pointing to Jazlaan and Aazeen. “They were not there for you when they had promised. They never showed their faces. And today, here they are, in a helicopter, in our garden. And you let them walk towards you and stand in front of you. You are still quiet, when you should be shouting at them.”
“I am quiet, because I want to be quiet. I have the words to say things both to Aazeen and Jazlaan. But that would be too easy for me. Too simple. I am not going to ask them anything. They have lost that right. I know they want something from me. I know they are here not for me, but for themselves. Let them be. Let them be, Saqib,” said Ali Mohammad finally with a sad voice.
Saqib’s mouth was open and he looked at Ali Hasan, who had so far not introduced his presence to the newcomers yet. “Excuse me, my name is Ali Hasan. I didn’t really need to tell you. But I thought I needed to add my voice to the chant that we just heard and the emotions that Mohammad has just expressed.” Saying so, Hasan went and shook hands with a silent Jazlaan and a visibly disturbed Aazeen, who offered a limp hand quietly.
Ali Hussain stepped up towards Mohammad and placed a hand on his shoulder. Mohammad looked at him and then looked at Jazlaan and Aazeen.
“What do you want? You don’t have to explain anything. Just tell me honestly, why you are here?” Mohammad was staring intently at Jazlaan’s face.
“He is coming in three days. We want to be here when he comes. He has to tell us something. We need to know. You have to allow us to be here till then. We can’t even go back. We don’t have that option.” Jazlaan’s eyes were pleading. His back was straight. But his voice had a slight quiver that both Aazeen and Mohammad detected.
Even Aazeen was surprised by this change in General Jazlaan’s tone. He had always been hard and strict. His officers and his army were proof that he was a strong leader, a decorated leader. But here he was, standing in front of three of the Ali Brothers and requesting something not with command but softness in his voice. She looked at Mohammad and Mohammad looked back at her. Their eyes met for a few seconds and then Aazeen looked down at the ground. She was unable to bear his intense questioning look.
“No Mohammad. Definitely not. Not after all that has happened. You cannot allow it,” said Saqib vehemently. Mohammad looked at Ali Hussain and Ali Hasan and then went to Saqib.
“As I said, I am not standing here for explanations. I am here only because he has come, when he should not have come. If something important has forced him to leave his men and come to us, then we have to know ‘why’ too. And if he says it relates to Ali Abbas then we have to give him a chance,” said Mohammad.
General Jazlaan’s tense face seemed to lighten up a little hearing this. Aazeen also began to breathe more normally now. Perhaps, there was a chance, she thought.
“You are all our guests now. You may stay till Ali Abbas is here,” said Ali Mohammad and started walking back to the front door of the building. Ali Hasan and Ali Hussain followed behind. Aazeen looked at Jazlaan and they both started following the group.
Saqib went to Sikander and whispered in his ear: “You are a horse. I am a human. But I still think you can understand me well. I don’t think that Mohammad did the right thing allowing them inside our home. I don’t trust them. You also stay away from them. Ok?”
Sikander neighed loudly. Saqib smiled, took his reins and began walking him back to the stable behind the building.