Gita shut the door and secured the locks in place. With her head held low to shield herself from the morning sun, she started walking towards her car parked about a couple of feet away. Clothed in a black suit with a cream shirt, she looked like every bit the corporate lawyer she was. Chocolate brown hair tied into a high pony tail, porcelain face with sharp angled nose, thin lips colored light pink, big brown eyes, she was a true beauty. A tiny red dot adorned the space between two perfectly shaped eyebrows. Her attire did very little to hide her curvaceous figure, but from her demeanor, she seemed completely at ease with herself. She got into the car, buckled the seat belt and eased the car from the parking on the road. Her phone rang and the ringtone blared out from her car speakers as her phone was paired with audio system of the car. “Ramesh” read the caller ID. After a minute of hesitation, she pressed the green button on the touch panel to answer the call.
“Good morning Gita, hope you are well”, said the deep voice on the other end.
“Good morning Ramesh. I’ll live another day. Can we get straight to business, what happened to the tapes I asked?” she replied. For a woman of just 26 years of age, her voice and tone sounded tired and old.
Ramesh sighed loudly before replying, “I’ve retrieved the tapes, but are you sure you want to go through this? This could harm your career and tarnish your reputation you know. I really don’t want to insult you or womanhood in general by telling you that these things happen and one must turn a blind eye. It’s just that I am worried if you are prepared enough to handle the backlash. Moreover contents of the tapes are downright disgusting. I don’t doubt your capability to handle this, but I don’t want you to go through this.”
“It’s heartening to know that you aren’t asking me to do the impossible, but fear not. I’ve witnessed two sets of parents dying on me. This is going to be difficult, but I really have to do this for him. What is the maximum that would happen? I’d get fired first thing. Next, my name will be all over the papers. Internet will go berserk with people shaming me for being me. There is only one person whom I am concerned about if I go public with the tapes – Ritesh Uncle. He is a strong man who can handle a tornado with the calm of Buddha, yet he would be disappointed with me for letting it happen” replied Gita. Tears stung her eyes almost blocking her vision.
“Gita, yes, he would be disappointed and probably even be angry with him-self for not raising you to be a stronger woman, but trust me, he would be really proud of you that you had the courage to stand up against such a heinous crime. Agreed that you should have done this way before, but after all, we are humans and we have our fears and flaws. I know it’s hard to be strong and carry that guilt of inaction. Please be strong. I need you to be strong” said Ramesh.
“Thank you Ramesh. I’m on my way and will reach in another 15 minutes. Meet me at the engineering office in the third floor. We anyway have a meeting with those people later today about that case, the receptionist is a friend of mine and won’t ask questions. Darn it! I wonder if I would only have that case by the time I’m done with this!” replied a visibly agitated Gita.
Ramesh chuckled and went on to reply before hanging up, “Oh my! It’s okay, really. That’s one case we all could live without! Shoot! The Big B will be walking in any moment. See you soon. Drive safe.”
Gita soon reached her destination – Her workplace – Harry & associates – the famous international law firm known for representing high profile celebrities and taking up truly challenging cases. With enormous resources to boot, she wondered if her she could stand up against a mammoth of a company. She corrected herself. No, she wasn’t standing up against her company as such. One Person, she was standing up against one person who had taunted and harassed her co-workers. She had escaped those iron claws but many of her colleagues weren’t so lucky. She parked her car on her regular spot and got out of the car. She stared at the empty space next to her care for a while. Wiping stray tears, she shook her head and walked to the elevator. She gave Ramesh a missed call to indicate that she had arrived.
When she arrived on the third floor, Ramesh was already waiting for her in the lobby. A man with greying hair cropped close, broad shoulders and a sinewy physique, clothed in a perfectly tailored black pinstripe suit, Ramesh looked way younger than his age. He was her mentor and her best friend right from the day she had joined Harry & Associates straight out of law school. She had secretly harbored a crush for him, but that soon morphed into respect and warm friendship after countless hours they had spent together huddled in discussion about one case or the other. Today, she needed his support more than ever. Ramesh was a senior partner but, there 4 more such partners to convince excluding the person she wanted to see behind bars. Thanks to her stellar reputation, she simply hoped that they would see sense in what she was about to disclose. He hugged her before handing over the CD. He had never ever come that close to her physically in all these years. He held her hand for a minute without minding their environment. She broke the contact suddenly feeling too shy and moved away from him. He simply smiled and gestured her to walk. They parted ways at the elevator.
Her office was situated on the 8th floor of the building. The office space didn’t look one bit like a law firm. It looked more like that of a cool tech company’s with soft pastel blue sofas and workstations spaced out in an odd way. She reached her cabin at the farthest end of the office. Corner office space was so over-rated. She took her seat and began working mechanically sorting out the big pile of paper and files on her table. When she reached the last file, she couldn’t hold back her tears. She started weeping silently. Taking over her dead friend, Althaf’s pending cases was going to be tougher than she imagined. His neat handwritten notes on the case files reminded of her their days in college when he used to borrow her notes but return it with markups of his own.
Althaf and Gita had done their law schooling and internship together. People often assumed that they were romantically linked, but that was far from true. In fact, at college her friends had wondered how a handsome and cool guy like Althaf even spoke with the over-weight and nerdy Gita. Gita was adopted by a college professor and his wife who worked as an ATC. She didn’t really know that she was adopted till the age of 16. To her parents, it didn’t matter and they didn’t bother to tell her the truth. A cousin, who had always envied Gita for her lifestyle, told her about her parentage and how undeserving she was. It broke her heart to learn the truth from a stranger. Her parents did everything within their capability to console her, but nothing helped. One fine day she woke up to find her parents dead. They were returning from marriage and their flight had crashed. The tragic death of her adopted parents and the trauma of knowing that she had no soul left to love her like they did, pushed her into severe depression. Though her adopted parents had left her a fortune and put in a guardian in place should something happen to them, it was no match for their love. Trauma coupled with depression lead to deterioration in Gita’s health. She gained weight for no reason. Determined to fulfill her adopted father’s wish of her becoming a lawyer, she worked hard not without caring for her health. His wish came true and she joined one of country’s most prestigious law schools. Thanks to a couple of caring in friends in school, her life in school wasn’t difficult. However, college was a different story. People called her names and taunted her for her appearance and weight. She found it difficult to talk to people, thus her time in college was harrowing, until Althaf barged into her life.
It was semester vacation. Gita had returned to her home town, Chennai. The city was recovering from a sudden bout of flood. She was driving around in her father’s car to go check on her friends from school when she spotted Althaf standing smack in the middle of the road and begging for a lift. He even tried to force his entry onto to bikes only to be pushed back down. Gita stopped her car while he jumped in without even bother to ask if he could get a lift. The normally clean shaven and well-dressed boy looked ragged. With a fast growing stubble and soot black clothes, he smelled of sewer and human excreta. His silky smooth hair was all over his face, which looked haggard and tanned. However, even in such a state of disgust, he still managed to look handsome with his square face, aquiline nose and a strong jawline encasing full lips.
“You are Gita, right?” he asked in a surprised tone.
Unable to bear the stench she covered her nose with her hands before replying, “Uh, yes I am. What’s that unbearable stench? What happened to you?”
“I got stranded in the bus terminus and couldn’t find a transport to my friend’s place. My friend is in the US and his parents are in Chennai vacationing. I came in search of them right after I heard reports of the floods. Had to camp there in the terminus for three days straight inside a bus along with a bunch of other people” he replied smelling his shirt and looking completely grossed out.
“Umm…Okay! That was foolish of you to travel from Bengaluru to Chennai in this state, you know” she said glancing at him cautiously. She had parked the car in a corner.
“I know. That was foolish, but I was worried. He is my best friend and I consider them like my own parents. I simply hope they are alive and unharmed. I’ve been hearing distressing news about the scale of devastation this flood has caused” he said.
“Yes, a man-made tragedy that was! Okay, do you have their address? Where should I drop you off?” she asked. She had never really spoken to him at this length before so she found him unnerving. Those dark brown eyes of his looked like were scanning her from top to bottom, making her uncomfortable.
He hesitated before sighing and going on to reply, “The address is stored in my phone. I lost in the gutter when I walked in the drain water to climb the bus. I’d be really grateful if you can let me stay at your place till connectivity resumes. I could stay in a hotel, but I don’t want to risk infection or health hazard.”
Gita didn’t know how to respond. She was staying in her guardian – Ritesh Uncle – whose flat was just below her parent’s old flat. She didn’t know if she could trust him. After all, in spite of being in the same class and college, he was still a stranger. He also belonged to that group of people who sneered and sniggered at her looks and general demeanor. She had no reason to be nice to him, except that he was a fellow human who was almost a victim of the recent catastrophe. She made up her mind not be cold like him and his gang of friends.
“Okay! That shouldn’t be a problem. Just one request though, please DO NOT ever utter a word about our college when you are home. I don’t my uncle worried about me” she replied with a sardonic smile.
Althaf smiled hesitantly and nodded. The whole encounter seemed too awkward for both of them.
Ritesh uncle was her dad’s best friend. He also knew her biological parents. He took it upon himself to ensure that she was happy and healthy after her parents passed away. He was a retired pilot and a bachelor. Given his exposure to various cultures, he surely wouldn’t raise an objection if she were to bring home a guy in the given state of affairs.
Soon they reached the apartment. Predictably, Ritesh uncle had no qualms with Althaf staying over. They began interacting given that they were under the same roof. This incident however, had changed her life forever. Friendship bloomed and they had soon become inseparable as Siamese twins. Her college mates wondered as to how such a drastic change of attitude could happen in a month. Althaf motivated her to lose weight and she in turn helped him with their course work. While people normally assumed they were a couple, their relationship was truly a good friendship.
The shrill sound of her phone ringing pulled Gita out of her reverie. It was the senior partner’s assistant who had called to inform her that the board had accepted her request for a meeting. Althaf’s suicide had garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the press and they wanted to ensure that the company wasn’t caught in the storm. Thankfully, Ramesh had the sense to cover up major details in the press report that the company issued. He had also greased the right palms to ensure Althaf’s suicide note wasn’t made public. In fact, apart from the cops, only Ramesh and Gita were privy to that note. Ramesh had found Althaf in a seemingly unconscious state in one of the many conference rooms. He had panicked and tried to wake him up by pouring water over his head and performing CPR, but Althaf didn’t respond. He then immediately had rung for an ambulance only to be told by the paramedics that Althaf was no more. When the paramedics lifted him from the chair, Ramesh had caught a sheet of paper falling off his pocket. The paper turned out to be his suicide note – neatly written by Althaf himself in his beautiful cursive handwriting. Given the nature of death, the cops were pulled into to investigate and they ruled out any fowl play as the note clearly pointed to suicide. The post mortem report indicated high dosage of sleeping pills had led to his death. It was a mystery as to what pushed him to kill himself. His note wasn’t really of help on the outset, but Gita knew better.
Note : This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I started writing this story on a whim. I didn’t have a plot outline or a character sketch in mind when I did, but as I wrote a couple of paragraphs, I realized I did have a story. A story revolving around a rather uncomfortable theme. Stay tuned. The next episode of this story will be up on or before 19th October, Wednesday hopefully.