• 11 Apr - 17 Apr, 2020
  • Nadeem Alam
  • Fiction

Jail staff did not bother me much as I was on the death row. Ten days had passed, since Bhatti lightened the candle at the Taxila cemetery but Shamsher had not yet shown up. I had already confessed to a heinous crime which I did not commit, only to get Bhatti released. He had done his job amicably which he narrated to me on the next day. It was not a visitor’s day, but he had come with my lawyer and was hence, granted permission to meet me. My new lawyer was preparing for an appeal to be lodged in the High Court. My hope for any help from my old friends was dying fast. But then, it happened.

It was 9 am, on Sunday and I was still lying in my bed. My breakfast comprising of two burnt parathas with cold sugary tea in a rusty steel mug was placed outside my cell. I was woken up unexpectedly by the sentry on duty, who was continuously jolting my shoulder and shouting my name, ‘Kamal Khan, Kamal Khan get up. You have a visitor.’ I opened my eyes and looked at him with suspicion, ‘Are you sure?’ He nodded and went away. My brother and my wife always visited me in the afternoon, every Sunday. I thought my lawyer might have come to get my signatures on the appeal papers. But, it was still too early for him to come to the prison, that too on his off day. Halfheartedly, I got up from my bed and reached the visitor’s room without even washing my face. I had not shaved for many days and had not even combed my hair.

I looked like a pre-historic caveman. The only person

I saw in the visitor’s room was Shamsher and he was desperately trying to conceal his smile. I was so relieved to see him, but I thought it was my right to show my annoyance, ‘My life is hanging in between and you are getting amused.’ He was still smiling, ‘You look rather funny.’ I was now really angry, ‘Where the hell were you and your people for the last one year. I have done so many tasks for you.

I risked my life at so many occasions, just for you people and when I needed you the most, you were nowhere to be found.’ He took a deep breath and said in a serious tone, ‘It was not our fault. You were surrounded by a soul’s aura and we could not breach it.’

I suddenly realised that the reason for their absence was Maria Khan. She did not contact me again after our second ride but her baggage was left with me. I got a little curious, ‘Is she gone now?’ Shamsher looked at me in disbelief, ‘You are still worried about her more than yourself. And yes, she is gone for good. She spent most of her time hanging around you and did not let my people come near you. She was protecting you in her own way. She probably thought we were trying to harm you. My people therefore, stopped visiting you. It was only after your friend summoned me, that I found out about your precarious situation. I somehow, managed to communicate with her that you need my help.’

I was now relaxed. I looked at him with a smile and asked, ‘So, what is your plan, how will you get me out of here?’ For the first time, he looked a little worried, ‘Well, I can make you disappear from here right now and take you out of the prison undetected, but police will never leave your tail. They will keep hunting you. They will keep bothering your family and friends. As per my knowledge, there is another government also involved in this case who is trying your extradition. So, this is a very tricky matter. It won’t get resolved by simply your disappearance.’ He then, got closer to me and said in a confiding voice, ‘As a worst case scenario, I will make you disappear but, for now I am thinking to pressurise the real culprits to confess to their crime.’ I looked around. We were still the only ones present in the visitor’s room. I stared in his deep black eyes and said, ‘I think this is a good strategy. What do you want me to do?’ He stood up and put his hand on my shoulder. Ignoring my question, he asked, ‘Why did you even think that we will abandon you?’ I had no answer to that. I felt embarrassed and started scratching my head. He took a step back and before turning around, he said in a reassuring voice, ‘Everything will get back to normal. Just ask your lawyer to trust me and work with me. I will get you acquitted through the same legal procedure which got you in trouble.’ I nodded my head and he left. I knew that he will get me out of here, but was not sure about getting back to a normal life. In our legal system, High Court is not a trial court. It is an appellate court, that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunals. High Court ensures that all legal formalities have been adhered to and that all the rights including that of the accused have been granted. Shamsher did not know much about the legal lacunas. I briefed my lawyer, that I want to recant my confession on the grounds that police had threatened to harm my family. Moreover, there was no evidence that I knew Iftikhar Khan and that we were childhood friends. I had spent my childhood in a different city and had never met Iftikhar Khan ever in my life. Moreover, there was no witness or evidence of me kidnapping and then, killing them and also burying the victims. Police had only found Maria’s bag from my possession. The main thing which went against me was that I had no plausible excuse of its presence in my cupboard. If I recant from my confession then, we can have a fighting chance for a successful appeal in High Court.

Shamsher had to do the rest. He discovered that it was not Bashir Khan, who had killed his own brother and niece. He did not even know about their killing till, his son Tanvir Khan told him that Maria was creating too much trouble and had refused to allow him to marry again. He had even handed her over half of the property yet one night, she packed her bag and threatened him to go back to England and also to sue him, if he married again. He tried to stop her which resulted into a physical altercation. She fell down with her head banging on the bed side table. She did not breathe for long. Her father was also killed during the struggle, when he appeared on the crime scene after hearing the noises. Maria’s killing seemed to be an accident, but her father was killed deliberately by Tanvir Khan. At the time of the incident, Bashir Khan Jadoon had gone out to see his crops. He came back in the evening, only to find out that his brother and niece have been killed by his own son. He had to choose one side. They buried the bodies at night at a secluded place near the cutting, where I had first seen Maria standing with her bag.

This complete story was narrated to me by Shamsher, who apparently got the details with the help of his local friends. Well, it seems like they are present in every deserted place. Disappearance of Maria’s bag from Bashir Khan’s house was a big mystery for them. They had not yet met Shamsher, who started playing havoc with them. Tanvir Khan’s life was turned upside down. There would be incidents of unexplainable nature, happening daily at his home. His new bride and unborn child were threatened to their lives. Tanvir Khan sought help of every pir and faqeer in the area, but Shamsher was too powerful to be swayed from his mission. Tanvir Khan was ultimately forced to confess his crimes. I was released from the jail on 10th February 2020 and acquitted of all charges from High Court. Incompetence and corruption of the police was criticised by all. Inspector Faheem was suspended and his boss was severely admonished for implicating an innocent person in a double homicide case.

My life was devastated,

but I did not take long to recover. My only obsession after my release from the jail was to find out more about Maria Khan. I had never interacted with souls before. Were they capable of staying back in this world or where do they go after the death of their physical body? These were the questions which kept bothering me. Mystery of Maria’s bag which was found from my car is still unresolved. Answers to all my questions lied with Maria Khan. Was she a reality or had I been hallucinating? There was a pretty good chance, that I might have just found her bag from the cutting near Qalandarabad, while I went out looking for her. But, what about my conversations with her. There was a possibility that I had inferred all the information from her documents. She had travelled with me twice and I had seen her at the court’s gate as well. Shamsher was a real thing. ‘Why would he lie to me about Maria Khan’s soul if it never existed?’ I thought for a while and then, an answer came to my mind, ‘Shamsher had found an excuse for not having helped me during my one year long ordeal in the jail. He only came when he was summoned and he was left with no other option.’

After just one week of rest at home, I resumed my work in the office which was in shambles. It was in the last week of February, that I was once again taken a back. It was a hectic Monday morning. I had re-established my old contracts with the companies for whom I had been doing business before. My office in Mansehra needed serious attention too, as all supplies to the north were directed from that place. A week after my release from the jail, I went to my old office. I planned to finish my work there before mid day and then, go to Mansehra. It was shortly after 12 noon that a strange visitor entered in my office. He was wrapped in an old shawl. I could only see his eyes. At first, I thought he must be someone from Shamsher’s clan, but they never dressed like that. They always visited me in the normal human form and did not hide their faces. I would only find out about them when the first sentence they would say and it would always be, ‘I have come from Thar.’ I was also waiting for that stranger to utter the same sentence. He came and stood in one corner of my office. My peon was standing beside the door waiting for my instructions. I told him to stay outside. I hurriedly finished whatever I was doing. The stranger waited till everyone left and then, he looked in my eyes and said, ‘I have been sent by Maria Khan.’

I looked at the stranger in surprise. He did not show me his face, but continued in the same frozen voice, ‘She came to me last night and told me to thank you for all your troubles.’ I was in disbelief, ‘If she is a real thing and not my illusion then, why she did not contact me directly.’ He stood up from his seat and turned to go back. I kept watching him go in disbelief. My mind was spinning. The stranger stood in the door, turned his head back and said the last words before leaving, ‘I am a sort of soul helper. They contact me for giving messages to their loved ones. Maria Khan has been banished by your other powerful friends. She cannot contact you anymore.’

It took me a few more moments to realise what Shamsher had done. He was a powerful creature and he had mighty friends too. I would perhaps have to summon him again and make a choice between him and Maria Khan. The decision was certainly very difficult. I was pretty sure, my wife will not approve it.