Anshuman spent the next two days with Manpreet. Simrat had been busy at work and he only hoped she wouldn’t endanger herself. He was often filled with worry for his lady love… yes, he was in love with the woman. He knew she was hiding something but also knew nothing would change his opinion of her. She had been a strange intrusion in his life 4 years ago and had taken his heart away long before he realized he loved her. And then her little boy… as he watched Manpreet drawing yet another sketch of his, he chuckled watching the boy hold the tiny tip of his tongue between the front teeth as he concentrated. He didn’t know why…. But everything about this boy brought back Meera’s memories. Especially his superior artistic abilities, the way he relished food, his dislike for academics, and even the mature look in his beautiful eyes. The gleam in those orbs reflected the purity of the heart exactly like Meera’s. She was the kindest soul he had known and not because she was his sister. Anyone who knew her would say the same.
As Manpreet sketched away to glory, he continued to watch him realizing this boy meant more than a child reminding him of Meera. Manpreet had made a permanent place in his heart’s chambers. He loved the boy as if it were his son and yearned to protect him every single time. He wished to give the boy the world. Just then the pages of the sketchbook flipped when Manpreet raised his hand to change the pencil. Anshuman saw the glimpse of the rose… he immediately asked Manpreet. “…hey buddy how come you drew this one here…? It looks very familiar…”
“…Oh this one… I love roses… even mom does… but I saw this picture here…”
Anshuman’s heart thudded… this just couldn’t be… even Meera had loved roses and spent time every day irrespective of what she painted she sketched at least one rose in some unique manner. He rushed to his shelf and took out her sketchbook. As he flipped the pages he saw the identical sketch of roses and wines at the end. It was the last sketch of hers in the book. He had shown her book to Manpreet just once before and the boy had duplicated the intricacies just too well. He was a genius… suddenly Anshuman’s heart skipped a beat. Was Manpreet… Meera’s son…? Was there a possibility…? Just a bit…? Why would Simrat hide the fact from him…? No… probably not. He looked at the boy closely. His attributes were way too familiar, but except for the eyes, there wasn’t much physical resemblance with Meera. But facial features… they were familiar as well… where had he seen those features? Especially the deep cleft in the chin…?
He couldn’t meet or talk to Simrat about anything in the two days. Finally, the carnival day arrived and Manpreet walked with a spring in his leaps as they moved towards the venue. Because of the traffic regulations, they had to park the rental quite a distance. The crowd was swelling by the hour despite the police warning on speakers. He couldn’t find Kader. He wanted to know if the guy had found someone. Kader’s contacts tree had deep roots. Manpreet tugged at his hands and he walked ahead. He saw Simrat was looking around cautiously, probably attuned to her job, and was habituated to the manner. He wished she would relax as well… He wanted to introduce her to Kader… he couldn’t get the image of her pointing the gun towards Kader’s guests out of his mind. Kader had to be warned as well about the shady guests visiting him. Irrespective of Anshuman’s doubt about the guy he had been helpful about Meera so far. As they walked ahead they met a harried Inspector D’Lama who greeted Simrat and Manpreet in a friendly manner but raised his eyebrow at Anshuman. But unlike their last meeting, he didn’t seem hostile. He nodded and asked them to keep their distance as he did to everyone else.
The carnival music had heightened up the local spirits and people were thrilled to be out after months of enforced hibernations. Soon the carnival began to fade the music and people were directed to the beach fair. Watching the crowd Anshuman was in awe of Kader’s business acumen. The guy would have recovered his investments already. He had indeed hit the jackpot with the carnival, and beach fair.
Anshuman felt Simrat stiffen as they entered the beach area where the fair was held. Manpreet had a blast visiting different stalls dragging Anshuman along. They got identical tattoos done and Manpreet reveled in the festive atmosphere. He wished Simrat would let loose as well. But he knew she was alert because of her job. As they moved towards the merry go rounds, Simrat got a call and she excused herself to find a quiet place to answer it. Before leaving she told Anshuman not to leave Manpreet alone even for a minute. She then disappeared into the crowd.
Anshuman held Manpreet’s hand tightly as they navigated a little crowded zone. Fortunately, Manpreet didn’t make a fuss about masks and was very cooperative. Manpreet insisted on sitting on the biggest attraction of the day, the giant wheel. Anshuman shuddered at the very thought given his vertigo issues where the giant wheel was concerned. Besides the rose drawing had occupied his mind since morning… there was a sense of familiarity with the rose drawing and Manpreet’s facial features… something he couldn’t place. He wondered how he could passify Manpreet to wait for Simrat when he felt a pat on the shoulder. Kader walked around them. “…Hello Anshuman, I hope you are having a good time… my men have mixed with the crowds and are digging information as we…talk here…”
Anshuman looked at Kader. The guy looked haggard with a few days old stubble and unkempt hair. That was so unlike him. He had worn a pair of sunglasses hence his eyes weren’t visible but Anshuman knew they would probably be bloodshot. The man was invested in the event. He wished he knew about Kader’s vested interests in the same. Just then Manpreet tugged at his arm again wanting to go to the giant wheel.
Kader smiled looking at the boy. “…hey Anshuman… why don’t you do what he likes… he will enjoy the wheel…”
“…I…uh… I have vertigo… so I can’t..”
“…oh is it…? Then why don’t I do the honors for our little guest here…? What say, man…?” Kader sat on his knees and spoke to Manpreet. The latter looked confused and looked at Anshuman gripping his hand tightly.
“…Oh…that’s all right Kader… his mom will be around soon…she will take him…”
As Anshuman was about to turn they were joined by a pretty woman with a young girl in tow. “Anshuman… meet my wife Ruby and daughter Karishma… we are going on the Giant wheel too… let Manpreet join us… we will take good care of him… don’t worry…”
Meanwhile, Manpreet looked at Anshuman with hopeful eyes and he looked around at the swelling sea of people. “…Can I please go Anshuman…? Please…please…? Mom won’t allow me either… she is sacred as well…”
Anshuman tried weighing in the options when the little girl held Manpreet’s hand and they started to walk towards the giant wheel without a care in the world. Anshuman stood rooted to the spot and Kader assured him he would take care of Manpreet. But Anshuman’s gut feeling screamed about something being amiss. He turned behind to look for Simrat and when he looked back to refuse to Kader… the man was gone… so was his wife and Manpreet and Karishma disappeared as well… WHAt the hell was that…? Anshuman panicked and his heart paced as he looked around frantically.
He ran towards the giant wheel but as expected they weren’t there at all… he called Simrat but her phone was switched off. She would never do that when Manpreet was here… that meant something had happened.
Right then like a lightning, it struck him… the familiarity. The rose was the faded tattoo he had seen on Kader’s hand when he had moved up his sleeves and… Manpreet… his facial features were very much like Kader’s as if he was Kader’s biological son… His heart threatened to tear out of his chest…
Did Kader… abduct Manpreet…? And where on earth was Simrat…?
©priyagole. No part of the story can be copied or shared anywhere without the consent of the writer.