It is never easy letting go of your dreams. But that is what I had decided to do. Ambar was not for me. No romance ever soared to the heavens in a medical ward; unless you are a doctor that is. Ambar had problems, I had seen for myself, Sabira the maid had told me and Mrs. Babar had confirmed it. One thing nagged at my mind though, Sabira's incomplete sentence, "She says she is married to Babar…"
What was she to Mr. Babar? His wife? But Mrs. Babar had said Ambar was unmarried. Ambar had said the opposite. Was she then Mr. Babar's second wife and Mrs. Babar had evaded the subject out of spite for her competitor. Or was she something else to Mr. Babar.
I could have gone and asked Sabira, but she was unreliable, besides being a suspect. I never mix business and pleasure. Okay, I do; isn't that the whole mission of life? I tell you I hate workaholics and their loudspeakers who declare work as some holy grail, the secret of which is hidden, only and only, in their ten habits to success, or five techniques to nirvana, or whatever. The bullshit people spout to make the rest of us unhappy.
Either Ambar was lieing or Mrs. Babar was. And the key lay with the gentleman himself, Mr. Babar. I wasn’t interested, would have stopped right there and forgotten all about this, had it not been for technology. So, God invented the cell phone and gave one to each two legged monkey in the world including my janitor; who by the way had also gone on strike till I paid him and was not returning my calls. Yet the cell phone is meant for speaking not staying silent. I hate that.
I dismissed the first couple of calls. But when the third one happened I heard closely and sure enough there was a wheeze at the other end. On the fourth, there was a laugh. On the fifth I shouted, "Be a man and meet me this end of the line."
That's when I spoke to Nabila. She laughed, "I knew this would happen."
"What does that mean, smartie pants?" She was wearing a particularly tight outfit that day and was in a mood.
"It would go to your head; acting a detective and all."
I frowned, "you think I'm making this up." When she laughed again, I told her about the call from Qul Khan.
"So?" she said applying nail polish.
"So," I said, "I want you to find out everything about Mr. Babar."
"There are a million Babar's out there. How am I supposed to do that?"
"For Gods sake Nabila, you have an address to start with. A posh address, a posh wife, perhaps even two posh wives."
"Nabila," I said in a grave tone, "it's time you earned your keep. Do you know how close I am to firing you?" There, I had finally said it.
Nabila laughed, "Since you put it that way, I'll do it. But I expect a bonus."
I looked at her, and fell in love with her for five seconds, which was enough to kiss her on the cheek. Nabila was furious. Before she could say a word, I rushed out of the office, "see you later, darling." I screamed with delight.
Nabila was an excellent source to tap into the Babar's, also the only one I had at my disposal on quick time. And she is my secretary, lest you forget.
I met Nabila in a bank some three years ago. That was the time I was living off my inheritance and didn’t need employment or business or an agency. I just sold off what little I had and enjoyed life big time.
One fine morning, I walked into this swanky new private bank that had opened in Blue Area. News had reached me through the grapevine that the customer service was par excellence and pretty. The first desk was customer service and who sat behind it, my own Nabila.
Of course I told her about my non existent business, my search for a bank that knew how to accommodate my special needs, had flexible timings, dedicated staff, personalized service. Nabila talked about Running Finance (mine had already run its life), credit lines, access to VIP lounges, free credit cards, free life insurance, provided I opened an account they had titled Platinum Discovery. She spoke with such delight, that I wanted to rob a bank and place all the money at Nabila's disposal.
It was a beautiful conversation and I walked out convinced that if anything I needed in life it had to be a platinum status account. Of course, I promised Nabila, I would look into it, my bankers would not let go my account so easily (true, I owed the bank money) and my chartered accountants had to be taken into confidence.
Over the next week or so, I had coffee with Nabila from across the customer service desk. By the time the week was over, I knew it was time we shifted to more hospitable environs, where things other than money could be spoken about.
I wrote a letter to the President of the bank, praised him for having the vision to hire a great customer service team named Nabila and gave her a copy by hand.
That day she sparkled with delight, "It is such a nice gesture Dilbar." We had dinner the same night.
Nabila was open, frank, daring, everything that you want to have in a potential lover. She wasn’t religious then, wore no burqa like a nun. She had one problem; she was looking for marriage, stability and children. So I caved in to her and promised her more than that including stars and heavens. Being a man of my word, it was from my bedroom sheets that she felt what it was like to see the heavens, be in them, fly in them. By that time she knew I had no wealth, no company (the agency was yet to be born) and we fell in love. Correction she fell in love. Now falling in love is a signal to me that the game is over.
In any case I was spared the break up; her nosy brother found out about us; the family threatened me that either I marry her or else…
Since both options were not acceptable, I told Nabila that my calling was with God. I had to go on tableegh, spread the word of Islam, grew a beard as proof, my jeans were replaced with shalwars, my baseball cap with a prayer cap. They all bought it, everyone did, but Nabila. She asked me "why didn’t you say, you didn’t want to marry."
"Answer me dammit."
I know, I give a bad name to the rest of you excellent men out there. Trust me I'm a romantic of a different kind, that’s my only excuse.
Anyway, I looked at her and said, "Nabila do you believe in love. Not the bookish love. Love because you like someone, you want them with you, but you can't be theirs, because you are not made for one. You just aren't. "
She looked at me, "go on."
"I am like that. I love you, will always love you but I can't be yours, alone. I cannot belong to one. That day I die. "
She said the funniest thing to me, "Dilbar, you are a rogue, a menace to society, a liar and a fraud. My problem is I do love you. I do want to be your slave. I do want to be your wife, but I can't. Will you still love me, when I get married, wherever my parents marry me? Will you love me and cherish me, till death do us part." Or something to that effect.
Nabila got married and remained in love with me. I swear this is all true. There is such a thing as real love, one sided love, love after marriage, and love like mine, that knows no ending, nor any boundaries.
That’s why Nabila works for me for free. She is in love. Lucky for her that whats-his-name has a great job in some multinational company and doesn’t even care what happens to Nabila's salary. He thinks she buys pampers for the baby from it. I love him too, for the idiot he is.
When I arrived at the office, Nabila looked at me with excitement in her eyes and followed me into my cubicle.
"What?" I said.
"I've found something about Babar and co."
I took the seat and she sat on the table, her legs crossed against each other.
"I called up a few of my friends at the banks and called in some IOU's. A friend in the credit cards section, she ran the address and know what?" She stopped and waited for me to ask her, but I was focused on her legs instead.
Nabila frowned "Mr. Babar doesn’t own the house."
"Could be on rent."
"He has two sons and a daughter."
"I don’t have the names."
"This is all boring stuff. Sabira would have told me this much."
"Mr. Babar was a credit risk a few years ago."
"What, pray, is that?"
"Well he has all these businesses; Real estate, import export, jewelary and gems."
"Ok we all know he is rich."
"He was arrested years ago. He defaulted on some bank payments, and was declared a credit risk by the bank. He couldn’t get money from anywhere, even left Islamabad."
I sat up, "And."
"His businesses went down; the guy was finished, dead. Lost everything. Then in the past two years without any financing, he recovered everything and more. In two years on his own."
"Nabila what's the point. Perhaps his dog's maternal aunt died and left him a bundle."
"You didn’t ask who arrested him."
I had sure forgotten that, " so who arrested him."
Nabila swung her legs off the table like a pendulum without inertia, and walked to the door," I don’t know," She said. "You're the detective; you find out."
She was out before I could swear at her. Then I laughed. How can anyone help not falling in love with her?
I always sit religiously in my office, till at least five o' clock. Good work ethics never hurt anyone, particularly if it's over forty degrees C in the shade. Now my office isn't that big, it's located in a three storey building amongst a jumble of offices, on the second floor. There is a small reception area where Nabila plays solitaire or puts make up on. There is a small bathroom off to one side. Then the nerve center of my enterprise, my cubicle sized office.
Nabila always left on the dot of five. Fifteen minutes short of the dot, she entered the office, "Don’t be shocked. There's a client outside to meet you."
"What?" I am not used to oddities like clients walking into my office. "Give me two minutes, no make it three." I said.
I quickly put the table in order, opened up the notebook to a page where I had made a list of the laundry I had given the washerwoman, wasted fifteen seconds remembering she had burnt my best white shirt, brushed my hair and waited. There was still another twenty seconds to go. I quickly lit a cigarette. I don’t inhale, you see; but a detective always looks cool with some smoke coming from his hand, mouth or nostrils. So says Hollywood, my oracle.
Then I swiveled around and faced the wall. Unfortunately the window is in the far right corner, so I wondered if I looked stupid staring at a blank wall.
I heard Nabila usher in the client, "Mr. Dilbar shall see you now."
Footsteps approached my desk. I sat tense, staring at the wall as if on the verge of solving a case.
The client coughed, I swiveled around and smiled.
"Malik Qul Khan," the client said.
I inhaled some of the smoke, which went down or up the wrong way. I spluttered, coughed and repeated the process twice. When I looked up, Malik Qul Khan stood smiling at me.
Damn cigarettes. You really shouldn't smoke indoors and if you do; better learn how to inhale.
There is a shock element to hearing a name you don’t want to hear. Once I was over that, I allowed myself to look closely at the man in front of me. Then I laughed. Seriously I laughed. The Khan's brow became a corkscrew at my reaction, but he stood quiet, allowing me to get over my fit.
See, Malik Qul Khan, was opposite to what I had expected. He was a short man, very short, with a head that was too big for him. Worse, he had these big bulky moustaches like a bush growing wild and it appeared as if the face had been pasted onto the moustache. He was wearing a Kabuli hat that had been lifted back to show his full forehead. Worse he was fat and round, more like a Rubik's cube. This was the man I had been dreading in my nightmares.
Once I was calm, I stood up and went across the desk and stood a foot away from the Khan. I am tall enough to lie that I am six feet. Mr. M.Q. Khan's hat was well below my armpits. After having done my share of intimidation, I stuck out my hand and said in a heavy voice, "So we finally meet."
The Khan took my hand and pressed hard. Then we both took seats across the desk. Finally he said, "what are you smiling about?'
My good humor had revived and said, "I sort of like you." He stayed quiet.
Anyway I picked up the intercom and asked Nabila to bring in some tea, "Sorry, it's five o' clock. Have to go."
"My secretary, she is very shy."
"Doesn’t look so, from the way she was dressed." Khan's eyes were still appreciative of Nabila s memory. I didn’t like that one bit. The brute, not really, he was just a nice little man.
"So Malik Sahib, what can I do for you?" I said.
He put his elbows on the table, looked at me seriously and said, "For one stop smiling like an idiot. Second, I told you to stop your visits."
I kept on smiling, "Ah, yes you did. Well, one has to do what one…"
He cut me off, "what do I get from you, no cooperation. That’s bad."
"The world is a bad place, Khan Sahib." I had decided to use his three names at will, seemed like a fun game.
He nodded his head, "then you go to the house."
I beamed now, cheerfully.
"Look Dilbar, I don’t want to hurt you. This is the last time I am going to say stop visiting that place."
I smiled again and looked at the short threat in the eye, "What will you do, if I don’t."
He stayed quiet for a long time, "Let's not go into details. It's enough that Qul khan has spoken."
I laughed, "Well I am not going to stop going there, Qul Sahib." I paused and said "So shoot me."
Malik Qul Khan looked at me for a long time, a very long time. He put his hand in his pocket and said, "Now why didn’t I think of that before."
I stopped smiling, and looked at the pistol he had placed on the table between his tiny little hands that lay flat on either side of the metal. He was calm and grinned at me. Nabila had just closed the outside door and left.
I sat alone, and nodded my head at Qul Khan. I hate guns, especially with the hole pointed at my belly. I closed my eyes, asked forgiveness for cheating my girlfriends, telling lies to my mother, being rude to my brother, stealing a five rupee note from my cousin's wallet, and finally looked Malik Qul Khan in the eye like a man ready to die and said, "I'm sorry."