Authors note: This is the final chapter of the tale of the Bards of the Blogosphere. You can read the previous chapter here

“Would you like a balloon, little girl? Which colour would you like?” The vendor asked, pointing at all the colourful variations he held in his hand. She stared at them and smiled, before nodding and pointing at the green one.
“Hey!” A voice shouted out. “Hey! Step away from her.”
The vendor turned around, frowning. A middle aged man was racing up to him, his feet hindered by the resistance from the sand as he visibly struggled to make up the distance between them. As he neared them, the girl ran up to him. The man clutched her in his arm as he bend down, grimacing as he held his stomach. 
“Step… step away from my daughter.” He panted in labored breaths.
“Sir. I am just selling balloons. Are you okay, sir?”
Behind the man, the vendor spied a woman in a long flowery skirt and maroon t-shirt hurrying along, making up the distance between them. She seemed to have sized up what had happened better than the man who still stared suspiciously at the vendor.
“I’m sorry.” She told him, reaching into her purse and taking out two ten rupee notes. “Forgive my husband. Can we have two balloons please?”


Half an hour later, Shekhar and Tara sat by the dunes of the beach, watching Roohi as she gleefully ran from side to side, doing her best not to allow the waves to touch her when they come forth. The parental duo looked almost comical, a couple of fluorescent balloons held absent-mindedly in their hands as they watched their child play.
“You want to talk about it?”
“I really liked his balloons. I was just running to make sure I got the best ones before someone else got them.” Shekhar quipped. Tara noted that his eyes remained focused upon their daughter even as he spoke to her.


“Shekhar.”
He sighed and shook his head. He reclined slightly, his gaze towards the myriad shades of the evening sky. The cacophony of the other families in the beach seemed a million miles away, almost as far as the sun setting peacefully at the farther edge of the beach. When he did not respond, she continued.
“It is okay to be scared, you know.”
“We almost lost her, Tara. She did not do anything wrong. She was sitting at a table in a conference you and I took her to and a random man came and sat beside her for a few moments. We almost lost our child because of that.”

“I know but…” Tara started but Shekhar cut her off. His voice rose as he spoke.
“At Kochi, I was so scared in that moment when the crowd was running all over the place and I was searching for her. My heart was just pounding with the possibilities. We was really lucky to have her found unharmed through such a stampede of imbeciles. It should have been over there… but it wasn’t. A man came into our house and nearly killed her and I could do nothing to save her. If Jennifer had not…”


He found he could not continue. She leaned closer, placing her head upon his chest. He welcomed the familiar warmth, sitting up so that he could place an arm around her too. A little too tight, Tara noted.
“You are an idiot, you know that.” She said. She felt his cheeks broaden as he smiled.
“I know that is true by default but was there any special reason you mentioned it now?” he said.
“Shekhar. I nearly lost my daughter and my husband. I watched you bleed on our floor and had to consider a life without either of you. And you’re playing the victim here? What about me?”
“If it makes you feel any better, I am pretty sure Mr Ahuja would have killed you too. So you would not have to worry about rent.” Shekhar commented deadpan. A moment later, he felt the one thing he had been aiming for – a pinch on his tummy.

“Ow. Stop pinching.” He said, welcoming the familiarity of their old routines, a friend from their past hesitantly trying to walk back into their lives. She smiled too, the same thought crossing her mind. They watched Roohi for a few moments as she tirelessly chased away the retreating waves and then in turn ran back towards the shore as the next one came hurtling towards her.
“I am scared, Tara.” Any fa├žade of inner strength seemed to desert him as he spoke, his voice trembling in the breeze.
“I know, Shekhar. But it is over.”
“No. No, it is not. I don’t mean Ahuja. I mean for Roohi. It is like I have been living in a bubble and suddenly that bubble is broken. And I see what is outside and I realise how scary the world really is even for innocent people who do no harm to other and how ill-prepared I am to deal with this… to look after you two.”

He turned to face her. “How is it over? Every time she comes late from school. Every time she leaves home. Every time a stranger walks up to her or she leaves my sight. Every single time my heart will start worrying about whether this is the last time I have seen my daughter. I keep revisiting what transpired over and over again in my head, Tara. We did nothing wrong… she did nothing wrong.”
Tara placed an arm around her husband, holding him tight for a change.
“Shekhar. I get what you are saying but you can’t place her in bubble-wrap and hide her from the world forever. Yes, that fear will be there deep down and in the days to come, we will need to teach her a lot about reacting to strangers but we can’t keep living our lives anticipating a worst-case scenario. We need to have faith in humanity too. If there is a Ravan, there is a Ram. If there is an Ahuja, there is a Jennifer too in everyone, willing to protect a stranger.”
They watched their little girl as she came towards them. A few metres away from them, she sat down on the wet sand and started drawing shapes upon it with a sea shell she found.

“You are wrong, you know.” Shekhar said. Tara frowned and looked up at him.
“What do you mean?”
“Your analogy is all wrong. You liken Ahuja to Ravan and Jennifer to Ram. I’ve been reading the articles on Ahuja and the emails Jennifer sent us about what she found out. She did all this for that guy in prison, her love. That is commendable, I agree. But Ahuja was no demon. He was a single parent who went to pick up his daughter after school one routine evening and found her missing. Remember what Jenny said in her mail? He apparently even tried going as a buyer of children when all the proper bureaucratic channels failed. He claimed to have seen photographic proof of Kurien’s involvement in this scandal. Kurien, of all people! A beacon of society. Of course, his party workers have denounced Ahuja’s words as that of a madman but you and I saw him that night. He was focused and he was sane. He spared Roohi because Jennifer appealed to his sanity and his memory of his lost girl.”

“That doesn’t mean he was right, Shekhar.”
“That is just it.” Shekhar’s voice descended into a thread-bare whisper, yet Tara could hear every word clearly through the noises around them.
“I can’t sleep at night, Tara. I keep revisiting Jennifer’s mail and thinking of what Ahuja did. And I don’t find your Ravan in him. Ravan was the one who kidnapped the girl… not the one who went to such extremes to find and save her. Ahuja never got closure even after all this. He never found out where his daughter was – dead and buried or lost in an unknown alley, stripped of all innocence by wolves donning the guise of sheep?”

Tara stared at her husband, her heart breaking as she watched a single tear fall down his cheek. She needed to be strong for the whole family in the days to come, she knew. Their peaceful lives had been torn apart and a world they not fathomed revealed to them. They would get through this… not individually but as a family. She let go off the balloon in her hand and placed both arms around him, hugging him tight. The fluorescent green balloon flew up and for a moment seemed to hang in mid-air unsure. Slowly, guided by the evening winds that were strangers to it, the balloon floated away, gently but surely till it was lost from sight within minutes. None of this registered to Tara, of course; her mind was on this man beside her whom she loved and wanted to protect just as badly as he wanted to protect her and their daughter. His eyes remained fixed upon their daughter, never leaving her for a moment as she completed her drawing of a hummingbird upon the sand. Shekhar’s last words to her before they got up to leave would haunt Tara for many nights to come, a reality that she knew she could no longer hide from.

“Tara.” He had said as he wiped the tear away. “Every time I relive it, I keep ending up asking myself the same thing – would I… would we not have done the same thing, had it been Roohi instead of Anupriya?”

***** The End *****


You have been reading the tale of the Bards of the Blogosphere. The team Bards of the Blogosphere comprises of MariaPRBPeeVeeArpitaDatta Nupur,Sulekha, Divyakshi and Roshan.

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4 Comments

Fantastic chapter, Roshan. Very well done.
A real good read, Roshan !
Touchwood... we've done a great job together, Maria :D