United in their fear and concern for their laadli Chotti, they held on to each other for support with Arnav’s shatir dimag working overtime, “Abhishek ka number hai?”
“Haan,” Khushi nodded gratefully, “Yes let me ask him, maybe he knows something, haan Abhishek? Haan hum Angelika ke Mamma bol rahe hai, is she with you,” she asked holding her breath.
“Oh, achcha, theek hai beta,” she said, “Haan we are worried because abhi tak nahi aayi woh, ok beta, if you have any information do let me know, thank you beta,” Khushi disconnected the phone, “Usse nahi pata, he went off with Nikita for a family function,” Khushi clung to Arnav as panic engulfed her, something was wrong, seriously wrong. Arnav put his arm around her comfortingly, “Let’s not panic,” he said curtly. He flipped through the address book on his phone, his mind racing as he tried to identify who would be best suited to help him at this juncture. Too early to call the police commissioner, probably stuck in traffic, but phone kyon nahi utha rahi dammit!
Tabhi Khushi’s phone rang, it was Abhishek, “Haan beta, kuch pata chala,” she asked eagerly, “achcha achcha, thanks a lot beta, thanks so much,” she gushed gratefully.
“Kya hua?” Arnav asked impatiently.
“He asked Nikita, she told him that Chotti had gone with Jatin and two other girls, one of the girls is already home and she will be texting him Jatin’s number which he will forward to me,” Khushi reported, feeling a bit hopeful. Hey Devi Maiyya please keep her safe, jaldi wapas bhej dijiye humare paas, she prayed earnestly.
“Aaya message? Jatin ko phone karo,” Arnav poked her.
“Haan,” Khushi hurriedly called the number, but nobody picked up. Khushi stared at Arnav in consternation.
“Wapas Abhishek ko phone karo,” ordered Arnav peremptorily, “and take that other girl’s number, maybe she might know Jatin’s address, main wahin jaata hoon, hurry up,” he barked.
Khushi’s phone rang, “Chotti!” she exclaimed, “Kahan ho? itni der ho gayi?” she could have cried in relief, “Achcha jaldi aao.”
Khushi leaned weakly against Arnav who held her close, “She’s coming in ten minutes,” she managed to say, shukriya Devi Maiyya shukriya.
Khushi straightened, “I hope sab theek hai,” she muttered as worry returned.
“Kyon?” Asked Arnav.
“Pata nahi,” Khushi shook her head, “She didn’t sound normal, kuch ajeeb sound kar rahi thi…”
Arnav paced the hospital lobby restlessly, looking every now and then at his watch while Khushi clasped her hands and prayed to Devi Maiyya. The ten minutes crawled by in agonizing slowness.
Jatin brought the car to a screeching halt at the hospital and no sooner had Chotti got out of the car, he raced off.
Chotti stood under hospital porch staring into the darkness as the taillights vanished within the blink of an eye. Reaction set in, she began shivering violently unable to move. A huge shadow loomed over her and a deep voice spoke over her head, “Angel?” she turned around with a muffled squeak and fainted in Arnav’s arms.
“Angel!” he shook her gently, “Kya hua Angel? Its me Daddy sweetheart.”
“Kya hua Chotti ko?” Khushi was by his side in a flash.
“Pata nahi,” Arnav shook his head helplessly as he carried her inside the hospital, “She just turned around and fainted,” Chotti clutched his shirt and moaned softly; suddenly she began struggling in earnest, pushing at him, “Leave me, leave me,” she screeched.
“Relax Angel,” Arnav muttered as he put her down on a seat in the reception, “It’s me Daddy sweetheart,” he said reassuringly.
Fearfully Chotti opened her eyes and saw her parents staring concernedly at her, her face crumpled and she threw her arms around Arnav and burst into tears, “Daddy! Daddy I am so glad you are here! Mamma, it was so awful,” she turned to Khushi for comfort.
Arnav and Khushi stared at each other in utter shock and surprise, “Kya hua isse?” Asked Arnav as he patted her awkwardly, “Pata nahi,” Khushi rocked her little baby fear still lurking within her pata nahi kya hua hoga? Aise kyon ro rahi hai?
“Shhhh, sweetie shhh, chalo let’s go to Mami’s room, we can be more comfortable over there,” Khushi tried to pull her up but Chotti was unable to stand.
“Arnav!” whispered Khushi now very worried; silently Arnav gathered her into his arms and strode off with her, “Which way?” he asked without a break in his stride. Khushi hurried ahead to lead the way to Di’s room away from prying eyes.
Chotti clung to Arnav sobbing hysterically into his shoulder, “Chotti! Meri Gudiya,” exclaimed Di in tones of relief and held out her arms, “Kya hua? All well?” she looked from Khushi to Arnav as Chotti burrowed into Arnav’s arms and shook and trembled like a leaf in a storm.
Arnav and Khushi shook their heads in bewilderment, “Chotti kya hua gudiya?” Khushi put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around, “Sab theek hai na?” she pulled her up and looked her up and down trying see if there was any evidence physical harm.
Chotti hugged Khushi trying to steady herself, “Haan,” she gulped and managed to utter, “Main theek hoon.”
“But what happened dammit,” shock wearing off ASR returned in full force as he agitatedly paced the floor, “kuch toh hua hai pucca,” he turned to Khushi, “Who dropped you off?” he asked grimly “Jatin?”
Upon hearing Jatin’s name, Chotti shuddered. She hid her face in her hands and began sobbing again.
“Kya kiya uss Jatin ne?” thundered ASR his eyes shooting sparks.
“Shh,” Khushi shook her head warningly, “Yeh hospital hai Arnav, aaram se baat karte hain, haan phir kya hua? There were other students as well along with you weren’t there?”
Chotti nodded, “Sneha and Rekha,” she wiped her face and blew her nose, “It was fine till they were there in the car, but after dropping them Jatin insisted on going to his home first, pehle bola he was starving even though we had each had an ice cream, then he said ki powerbank lena hai, even though the car charger was working fine,” she paused unwilling to re-visit the subsequent events.
“Phir?” Khushi shook her gently.
Chotti sniffed, “Phir he insisted I get out of the car, saying that it wasn’t safe to sit in the car alone, I should meet his parents and then he took me upstairs saying that his parents were probably upstairs and he wanted save his mother the bother of coming down as she had arthrits,” she said bitterly remembering how touched she had been with his concern for his mother.
Khushi met Arnav’s eyes over Chotti’s head, his eyes hardened, “Phir?” he said curtly.
Chotti shivered and shook, “Phir he took me to his room, and insisted on drinking and handed me a drink too, he didn’t show any hurry to leave and suddenly I got the feeling nobody was home,” Anjali and Khushi stared at each other in shock.
“When I confronted him, he dropped all pretence and snatched my phone and locked the door with a remote when I tried to run out,” Chotti began to cry again, “He threatened to use force on me and that he would use the CCTV footage to ensure my silence.”
“What the hell!” burst out Arnav, this time Khushi didn’t shush him; she was too horrified to say anything.
“But he also offered a deal,” Chotti said.
“Deal?” repeated Arnav dully.
“Haan,” Chotti nodded, “He said that actually he was desperately in love with me and if I cooperated with him and agreed to be his ‘special’ friend for always he wouldn’t hurt me or air the footage for he had made this diabolical plan only because he thought this was the only way he could ‘get’ me, “Chotti shuddered as she re-lived those horrifying moments of utter helplessness and panic.
There was pindrop silence as the true extent of Chotti’s nightmare sank in.
Arnav dropped down on to the nearest seat as his legs gave way – was this retribution time? He recalled a time when he too had callously and thoughtlessly played with a girl’s helplessness. High on power and ego, egged on with a sense of righteousness, he had ruthlessly set out to destroy her reputation and bring her down to her knees.
He shot an anguished glance at Khushi and shuddered as guilt racked him as never before.
But Khushi wasn’t looking at him, she sank down on the couch beside Chotti, “Phir,” she whispered through stiff lips, “Usne…usne kuch, kuch kiya toh nahi na?” asked Khushi barely able to speak out aloud the thought that was uppermost in their minds.
Anyone care to read a flash?
Click here for Chapter 476