“Arre, what happened to my dear little darling?” Waqar wiped his tears and Tariq took his beer to save it from spilling over the child.
“I don’t like Bhai pulling my hairs.” Henna increased her effort to gather tears and started to howl loudly.
“Oh, he is just a small child and does not know any thing.” Waqar made a funny face and tried to pacify the child.
“Why don’t you tie his hands?” She stopped her howling and demanded abruptly and resumed. Her voice was shrill and effortlessly produced streams of tears from her innocent large eyes. She could rain teardrops on drop of a hat to smoother her dotting father to outrageous demands. Henna now seemed proud of running little streams flooding her pink cheeks and delicate neck. Her mother Jahida was got fed up of her antics. Waqar continued to pamper the child and spoil her for forever. She gave up completely and let Waqar deal with the little girl. She told him to find a boy for Henna, who could put up with such noisy tantrums. She would better be excused of such daunting responsibility.
She would say- we don’t know what troubles she might face in her adult life? What kind of boy would she merry, how would he treat her. Please have mercy, don’t spoil her and think of future. Nobody likes a woman who throws tantrums and behaves unreasonably.
“No need for that. I will tell him to behave.” Waqar put Henna on his lap and promised softly. Tariq could see little tears still sticking to his friend’s eyes.
“He won’t. I hate him.” She resumed her howling and threw legs violently on his chest.
Waqar caught hold of her tiny legs and made a funny face. She stops shrieking.
A flock of birds descended nearby and she sat up, wide eyed.
“Abba, see these birds, I will catch one today.” She forgot her hair-pulling brother, funny-faced father and developed keen interest in the flock and ran after it.
Waqar slowly drew his contorted muscles back in place and returned to his menacing, brooding, lamenting posture. Tariq watched him being transformed from a loving father of little girl to a fanatic. Dreams of a grand terror strike. Which may deprive many young girls of their funny-faced fathers, loving harassed mother and hair pulling cute little brothers? They perhaps, will never dare to howl again and would seize their interest in flock of noisy birds.
They watched as Henna ran after birds and join other children.
Waqar had came to Europe as an illegal migrate like him and slowly settled him self in Paris. He was a tall fair man. Lately he has shown greater interest in religious affairs and social work. His once modern office at the back of shop has slowly acquired religious posters, big stick of incense spewing heady scented coils of smoke. The table and chairs have been removed and a big white covered cushion appeared for cross-legged sitting, the wall providing back support. Tariq avoided sitting crossed leg because of the acute backache.
Waqar has been active in making the new immigrants settle in France or make their further journeys little easy, providing help and guidance.
He drew closer and spoke in steady low voice.
“Brother, today I want to share some inner thoughts with you. I know you are a damn greedy fallow, but that’s all right with me. You are like my own younger brother. You have to promise me that if some thing happens to me you will take of my family. Repay whatever I have done for you. Money is not a problem; I have enough for their needs. What they might need is guidance and support in difficult times ahead.”
Tariq listened carefully. Waqar seems to have made a decision, and would carefully set to do the job in a systematic and organized manner. He decided not to know more about his plans. It has been always better to know less and stay out of possible trouble in future.
He silently nodded to abide by his friend’s wishes. Waqar again lapsed in to his brooding posture, looking at sky, listening to some divine voice, nodding his neck and making some decisions, analyzing thoughts.
They were silent for some time before he eventually turned his fierce eyes on him. His voice disclosed a strange finality and conviction, which made Tariq nervous.
“I will try to do the job alone but if the situations demand I might have to take Jahida and Henna with me.”
Tariq froze as he heard his friend disclose the possible alternative scenario.
“One more thing; if my plans are exposed and they are sure to find me. You tell them of my location and get whatever reward they offer and donate it to help the struggle.”
Tariq felt numb and disoriented.
“Don’t worry I won’t be caught alive and sure to take maximum enemies with me. You have been only my contact and no body else knows about your secret activities. So when I am gone you will be free from any further troubles. I know you too secretly want me dead. It will solve so many little problems. You too can choose to do some thing and get involved in the war yourself.”
“Is it necessary to involve Bhabhi and Henna in this?”
“I will try, not to. But if there no other way left, we three will be become martyrs and they too will always be remembered. And I am sure you would do some thing about it and our sacrifices don’t go waste. It must be used to motivate more people.”
“Does Bhabhi know about it?”
“No. Not yet......... I will tell her ............if its needed and I am sure she will agree.... but even if she does not.... she has no other option but to obey me...I would hate to put my little darling Heena in danger...but.... One must be ready to sacrifice the dearest...I hope you know that?” Waqar avoided him and looked away.
They parted after having an unhurried delicious meal of Chicken and Tandoori rotis kept warm in casserole. Tariq ate little, neither Waqar showed in interest in his favorite delicacies. Jahida was disappointed and asked whether the she cooked well or not. She was not satisfied by answers she got from the men and she could sense the tension in air and curiously kept asking him of their serious expressions and silent sparse eating.
“Bhai, I wonder every thing is all right? You both men are so serious today, didn’t even bother to play with kids and show them some thing interesting in the jungle?”
“Yes every thing ok. We were just discussing some old friend who has died.” Tariq looked at Waqar and lied.
‘Oh. Allah, who is it now? Some one I know?”
“No. He was an old friend from India who comes with us to Europe.” Waqar curtly silenced her innocent curiosity.
Tariq felt bad but was relieved to be spared of further lies and answer questions from a simple Jahida.
They ate silently. Waqar seemed lost in his thoughts and avoided his gaze. Jahida tried to initiate conversation with her husband and Tariq. But she had to go back to the noisy children and helped them eat.
Waqar hugged him closely and kissed his forehead. He avoided to look at him and suddenly broke off; he stopped for a moment as if trying to remember some thing and then thoughtfully got in to his car.
Tariq waited for their car to move ahead and clear his way. He saw it disappear from their sight. The tiny hand of Henna waved them good by. A nudge from wife made him break his frozen composure and turned the key.
“Any thing serious happened?” Praveen enquired.
“No.” Tariq didn’t look at her.
He knew she didn’t believe him. His own voice seemed peculiar, as if it belonged to a complete stranger.
He began to wonder if Waqar’s fanaticism has influenced him in some way. His thoughts went back to howling Henna, throwing her tiny legs and a demure, simple Jahida serving him food.
“Abba ...Henna is going to London.” His son Ali spoke with a tinge of jealousy and expectation.
So Waqar has already decided to take them on his dangerous mission.
“When will we go to London?” Ali was impatient to hear a promise from him.
“Abba will tell you later. Now will you please let him drive?” Praveen come to his rescue.
A crimson sun was setting in the wide horizon and the road seemed to head for the mighty fireball. The car ahead appeared to head for it too, gradually becoming smaller till it turned in to a tiny dot and then it was gone. Tariq felt dizzy and stopped the car on side and asked for bottle of water. He stepped out of car and splashed cold water on his face again and again until he felt better. He looked away from the sun.
Praveen looked at him with troubled curiosity. Her face hidden in a scarf she always wore so elegantly. Tariq knew she was worried and would need a proper explanation from him- always a difficult job.
Ali laughed and asked Praveen to let him imitate his Abba, he didn’t wait for her approval. He come to him and extended his hand and took bottle of from him and immediately splashed water on his face, drenching his cloths wet.
Ali was not happy with the result and sheepishly looked at Tariq for help in his venture. Tariq felt secure that his tears were hidden in cold water invisible to his son, who always thought him to be a brave man: beyond such cowardice. He went to embarrassed Ali and knelt down.
“It’s alright beta. Let’s go.” He picked him up and went to the car.
“I will drive, you must take rest now.” A pale and troubled Praveen has shifted to the driving seat.
Tariq avoided looking at her.
.........To be continued
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