At 10:05 a.m., after getting dressed in my civilian clothes and counting the money I had had on me when I was arrested (634 Ruppees), I was escorted to the gate of the prison. Daya and Abhijeet, true to their word, were already waiting for me.
Neither of them bothered for the pleasantries.
“First things first,” Daya said, as i got into a black Jaguar.”We’ll stop by your mother’s appartment.”
“She doesn’t want to see me.”
“I don’t want her to get a rush of maternal guilt and start making waves. Tell her that you’re going to be working away for a month.”
Daya turned the car onto the roadn and sped up. It was strange after six months in a tiny cell to be free to move around once again even if it was in a CBI car.
i didn’t look over my shoulder to see the prison receding into the distance, but i felt its gravity decrease, I had already said my convict’s prayer last night.”I’m never going to be back inside again.” But i added another line: “That’s where you’re going Laksh. That’s where I’ll put you.”
We passed through various districts, until we came to sector 10 where I had lived with my mom before getting arrested. Daya eased the car to a stop on the side of the street, which was strewn with gravel, shards of broken glass, and a graffiti gallery. He and I got out, leaving Abhijeet in the car, perhaps to make sure that nobody stole the wheels, which sometimes happened in that neighborhood. Daya pushed the doorbell, but no one answered.
“It’s too early,” I said. “My mom works late.”
“I phoned yesterday and told her we were coming,” Daya said.
He stood for a moment, looking expectantly at the window. His trust seemed like a sliver of decency showing through the tough surface. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket, and dialed. No answer.
“The way the CBI told it, I was public enemy number one, right?”, I asked Daya
“Yeah sort of. Let’s move we already have clothes and all the equipment you’ll need.” Daya replied.
We set off again, with Daya and Abhijeet saying nothing. In a short time, the car was on the freeway, and we were passing a sign telling us that we were heading out of town, and thanking us for having driven so safely
“Where exactly are we going?” I asked.
“You’ll find out everything you need to know shortly.”
The rest of the journey was silent, with the early morning talk radio making up for the total lack of any conversation, with a learned discussion on the war against terrorism. I tuned it out, and spent my time thinking through the coming weeks, like a chess player figuring out moves that he might never make.
We had been on the road for two hours when the car wheels hit the sandstone gravel in front of a roadside diner. I came out of my reverie, and looked around. The aging, anonymous place seemed perfect for an undercover rendezvous. It was decorated with all the taste that aluminum and neon allow. Inside, it was quiet, with just a few early morning travelers clogging their arteries with cigarettes and fries.
Abhijeet escorted me to the restroom, and back, while Daya sat down and browsed the menu.
An unsmiling waitress came over and took our order. Three coffees. Daya said, without asking me what i wanted
“Decaf, please”, i added.
My caffeine habit had been a help during those midnight hacking runs that lasted until dawn (Just like right now while i.m writing this 😛 ). But in jail, i had been weaned off it, and there wasn’t any point in reengaging it. I had gottem used to sleeping at night, instead of in chemistry and history classes.
Curiously, my body and brain now woke up several minutes before the jail lights came on, at 6:00 a.m.—something that never ceased to amaze me.
I noticed a newspaper on the counter, and walked over to get it. There were no headlines in it about any RAW hacker getting released from prison, either on the front page, the back page, or anywhere in between. Daya had been right: nobody was interested in my existence at all—not the press, not any of my old teachers and counselors, and not even my family. Only the police were interested in me now.
The glum waitress brought three cups, and still no one said anything. Some time ago, I had begun to think the main asset in the CBI officer’s fight against crime is their unwavering persistence in the face of grinding boredom. More than anything else, they simply quietly out-wait criminals.
A few minutes later, the waitress came back, and smiling weakly she asked if we had enjoyed our coffee. “Yes, thank you,” replied the polite undercover agents.
“Would we like to order any food?”
I saw the waitress give a quick sideways glance at me, curious perhaps as to why the quiet young man was currently sitting with the two well-dressed adults. Then she went back to the counter.
“They’re Here,” Abhijeet said looking outside.