• 17 Aug - 23 Aug, 2019
  • Nadeem Alam
  • Fiction

It was a dark night. I was walking back home from work. I am a security guard at a big store and my duty ends at 6 p.m. That day, my relief did not turn up and the store manager called and said, “I want you to continue your duty till the closing hours i.e. 11:30 p.m.” No matter how tired I was but extra hours meant extra money. I sent a message to my wife that I would be late.

I was married to Sakina for almost seven years now and we did not have any children. As there was no medical complication we had accepted it as will of God. Although we went to many pirs and faqirs as well, and tried many desi totkas but to no avail.

Once, Sakina said to me in a very desolate tone, “I think you should marry another girl.” I got annoyed with her for thinking on these lines. I know many people who are blessed with children after so many years of marriage and I had not lost hope. Most of all, Sakina was the love of my life. I did not want to lose her for anything in this world.

I looked in the eyes of Sakina and said, “Do not suggest me such a thing ever again. I will not leave you under any circumstances.”

“I am not telling you to divorce me. I will live happily with both of you,” said Sakina showing the height of her love for me.

She would tolerate another woman as my wife only to make me happy. I put a hand on her lips and said, “My only desire in this world is to be with you. I do not want anything else.” I wiped off her tears and held her tight in my arms.

The store was located on main road that was about five kilometers away from my home. I lived in outskirts of the city and the public transport did not ply in this area after last light due to security reasons. There was, however, a short cut which passed through a seasonal nullah and a graveyard. I usually take the short cut in the morning and reach the store in 20 minutes. At night, however, people detour around and restrict to the main track which takes almost an hour to reach home.

On that night, I got free from work at 11:45 p.m. I had been mostly standing at the store gate since morning. I was too exhausted to walk for another hour. Initially, I thought of spending the night in the store as I had to be back to store at 8 a.m. but then I thought of Sakina and that she would be alone at home. She is too scared of darkness and our area is also not very safe. There had already been too many house invasions in the recent past. So I decided to go home and take the short cut.

It was exactly 12 midnight when I entered the graveyard and crossed the first grave. My mobile was on low battery. I switched on its torch and started walking hurriedly making my way through the graves. There were few dogs howling at the far distance. The scene was terrifying. My heart was beating fast. All my senses were heightened. I was half way when I heard a child cry. I did not pay much heed and started walking fast when I heard the cry again. This time it was too clear. I wanted to get out of this freaking place as quickly as possible and probe it in the morning but barking of dogs was very loud this time. I knew there would not be anything left till morning to investigate. In a split second, I decided to take a look. I turned my torch towards the direction where I heard the sobs but I could not see anything. I turned right and had taken only a few steps when my right foot hit a soft object. I pointed my fading light towards my feet and my heart jumped to my throat. I started hearing hissing sounds in my ears. The howling dogs were now only few yards away when I picked up the small body wrapped in a blanket and started running frantically towards my home.

Sakina opened the door on my first knock. She had just one look at my face and then started staring at the small baby which I was still holding in my arms. The child was not crying anymore. Sakina did not utter a word. I locked the door behind me. Sakina was standing mum when I got hold of her arm and almost dragged her to the only room of our house. There was sufficient light in the room and for the first time I looked at the baby. It was a beautiful baby girl. Her golden hair on white face made her look astounding. Then she opened her eyes. The deep blue colour made our hearts dance with happiness and joy. She was a gift from God. I handed her over to Sakina and told her the entire story. The baby was now looking at us with her lovely curious eyes. She started suckling her thumb when Sakina realised that we need to feed her. Sakina handed her back to me and went to kitchen and came back with warm milk. She had no prior experience yet she was handling the child like a pro. I guess it comes naturally to all women. We did not have any feeding bottle at that time so she started feeding her with a spoon. We did not sleep that night and many nights thereafter. We took very good care of her and named her Neelam.

I had found Neelam in between two graves. I met grave digger few days later and inquired from him about those graves. He told me that these belonged to a husband and wife. They both had died about a month ago in a road accident. I had served for few years in police before joining the security company. I left the police service due to my personal reasons. I did not take bribe and was hence frequently tossed from one police station to another till I resigned. So my police background led me to further probe into the matter. After spending many of my Sundays, I found out that Neelam belonged to a wealthy family. She was the only child of her parents. Both her parents died in a road accident and her custody was granted to her uncle Bashir Khan. He was the younger brother of Neelam’s father. Bashir and his wife took care of her for few months but then they realised that she will eventually inherent her father’s property. It was then that they handed her over to a maid to place her outside a hospital or some charity home. The maid, however, sold Neelam to a beggar group which in fact lived in the same graveyard. The maid had also told them about the graves of Neelam’s parents. One freakish night, Neelam was crying too much and the beggar woman responsible to look after her, placed her in between her parent’s graves and told them to take care of their own daughter. The beggar woman was probably high on narcotics. In the morning the beggar party searched every inch of the graveyard but could not find her. They thought that dogs must have eaten her. It was the night when I had picked her up while passing through the graveyard. It was the night that had transformed our lives.

This whole story was told to me in bits and pieces by the graveyard attendant and the beggar party. I had introduced myself as a police investigator. The beggar group in order to avoid kidnapping charge told me about the maid. They also had her mobile number. I used my police contacts and called the maid in a police station where she narrated the whole story. One of my police friends told me to lodge a case against Bashir Khan and the maid but then I thought over it and decided against it. I was worried that who will take care of Neelam if she is taken away from us. Bashir Khan can also hire good lawyers and win the case levelling allegation against the maid for kidnapping the child. He must have lodged the missing report of Neelam in his local police station. He may again win back the custody and then take care of her well and proper, not leaving any loose ends. I went to see Neelam’s house also and discovered that Bashir Khan was living there with his family. He had sold the market which was under Neelam’s name. He had power of attorney which was granted to him along with the custody of Neelam. The maid did not work for him anymore. I had addresses of everyone involved in the case.

I was worried about the Neelam’s life and hence did not contact anybody about her. I was a little selfish as well because I did not want to lose my only child. I had not only rescued her from blood thirst hounds but had also saved her from her uncle and from the future life of a beggar girl. We deserved her. She was gifted to us by God. She was meant to be our baby.

Neelam turned out to be a very charming young girl. We loved her more than anything in this world. We provided her the best education we could afford. She had a brilliant mind too. She had topped all the board exams. We told her to choose her career and she got admission in a renowned law college on scholarship.

I had kept track of all the characters in the story. One Sunday, I found out that the maid who had sold Neelam to beggars was very sick. It was time to make a decision. Neelam had brought joys in our lives for so long. We were blessed to have her company for twenty-two years. I must tell her the truth. She was able to take care of herself now. Bashir Khan was an old man and he could not hurt her anymore. So, I took Neelam with me to the maid’s house. The maid looked at her and started crying. She told her the entire story. Neelam did not know what to say. We came back home. That night, I told her that how much she meant to us. She remained quiet. Next day, she packed her bag and left our house without uttering a single word.

One year later on a Sunday afternoon, a car stopped outside our house. There was a familiar knock. Sakina opened the door and Neelam walked in the house. This time she had come with her own consent. She hugged us both and forced us to come with her. Reluctantly, we sat in the car and she drove us to her house. She told us that she has won the case against her uncle Bashir Khan who is now behind bars. She told us that she was quite disturbed when she got to know that she was not our daughter. She shifted to a girl’s hostel after she left our house where her senior colleagues helped her fight and win the case. Her DNA and statement of the dying maid were enough to convict her uncle. She never mentioned to anyone that she was brought up by us. She did not want to involve us unnecessarily in the court proceedings. She had got her property back and lot more from Bashir Khan in compensation for the lost twenty-two years.

We stayed at Neelam’s house for few days only. She treated us well. The servants took good care of us. We were though not used to this lifestyle. I was getting lazy and Sakina was gaining weight and it was very hard to kill the time there. Neelam had a busy schedule. So one day, we came back to our home. Ever since our return, Sakina sits in the small courtyard of our home waiting for a familiar knock on the door. I return from my work passing through the graveyard every night hoping for another miracle. •