“Hey, throw me the laptop cable from your bed. I’m sleepy, yet I will have to finish the assignment”, said Rehan.
“Why are you bothered to finish it so sincerely. Do you want me to help you”? Yusuf winked.
“As if you would, even if you could!” smirked Rehan.
Rehan Shaikh is a chemical engineering student at IMS Engineering, Mumbai. He is a famous name, in the hostel, due to his wittiness and intelligence. Yusuf Ali is his hostel roommate. Hostel lives are promiscuous and unravel the worst even when you are the best.
It was 12th July, 00:15 hours. Yusuf was watching England versus West Indies match and Rehan was busy finishing his research to complete his assignment as the next day was the last date of submission.
Rehan had earplugs and could not hear the annoying buzz of his phone. The phone vibrated for fifteen minutes continuously and then stopped. Yusuf was busy with his cricket scores. Rehan worked for another hour and it was time to stop everything as his eyes were almost in the retiring stage. At this point, he heard the vibration of his phone, and he saw that it was not a message but a call.
Rehan was startled to find a phone call at this hour of the night. He immediately picked up the phone and said,
“Hi Rehan, how are you?” asked a stony voice.
“Yes, I’m fine, but who is this?”, asked Rehan. Within a minute, he went out of his room to get some fresh air and proper network.
The call went on for almost two minutes. After a few minutes, Rehan cracked the door open and entered. Yusuf asked “What’s it? Is everything alright?”
Rehan’s reactions befogged Yusuf. For the first time, Yusuf saw a straight face and still could interpret that Rehan is in need or trouble but couldn’t guess the situation.
Rehan answered after a pause “It was my dad. I will call him tomorrow in the morning.”
Instantly, he went to bed merely to avoid more conversation. Yusuf did not bother to interfere as he assumed that he was skeptical unnecessarily.
The next morning when Yusuf woke up, he could not find Rehan around. It was 10 am and he found it obvious that he would be in the college to show his face to the professors at least sporadically so that he does not end up in the blacklist. That evening, Rehan was back at the hostel and was absent-minded. Yusuf, by then, predicted that something was wrong with his friend and he is not ready to share it. The usual chap was supposed to be voluble and frolicsome.
“Rehan, what’s wrong with you?” asked Yusuf.
“I’m a little tired.”, he replied with a tensed face. After a pause, he continued “My dad has liver cirrhosis. I came to know two weeks ago.”
“Hey, I am sorry. We all are there for you, Maria, Taufiq, Asha, me. Why did you keep this within you for two weeks? You are unimaginable”, Yusuf retorted.
Rehan simply gave a fake smile and went to do his work. He was less interacting and more on his laptop and phone. It was as if he was always expecting a call or a text message. Yusuf mapped all his disingenuous behavior to Rehan’s family problem and stopped questioning him needlessly. Everyone got busy in their hostel and college lives.
A week later one day
Rehan was in his physical chemistry lab. Yusuf was back at the hostel room early that afternoon, as he had a migraine attack. He was searching for aspirin which was exhausted in his drawer. He started looking around all the drawers and racks in the room.
While hunting for the tablet, he opened Rehan’s cupboard whose keys were hiding in the deepest corner of his drawer shelf.
Yusuf was doing an impetuous search in each rack of the cupboard when suddenly, something hit the floor with a thud.
Yusuf’s already aching head started spinning around by looking at it. He felt as if his migraine stopped reacting.
Two days later, when Rehan came back to the room, Yusuf was sitting in his cot and was looking at Rehan in suspicion. Rehan, as usual, gave a plastic smile to Yusuf and went to wash his face.
After coming from the washroom, he made a call.
“As-salamu alaykum, Ammi”, greeted Rehan.
“Wa alaykumu s-salam beta”, his mom replied.
“How is Abbu? How much money is collected?”, asked Rehan.
“I sold my jewelry, worth a hundred and twenty-five thousand. Abba’s brother could give two hundred thousand. It is still nowhere close to the amount we need for the operation”, said Rehan’s mom in a despairing tone.
“Don’t worry Ammi, the operation will be done very soon,” Rehan said assertively.
“I will call you back, Khuda Hafiz,” said Rehan and disconnected the call.
He was upset and disturbed from the last few months.
“Rehan, I have to do something urgently. I need to go out, and I need you”, said Yusuf in a non-questioning tone. He was not asking Rehan but ordering him to come along with him.
Rehan was taken aback by Yusuf’s tone but assumed that it would be something very important. He immediately agreed and they both walked towards the parking area. Yusuf self-started his bike engine. Rehan became a pillion rider instantly. Yusuf was driving the bike, rather recklessly.
“Where the hell are, we going? And what is it about?” asked Rehan.
After a momentary silence, he again asked, “Will you spill out?”
“To Taufiq’s house”, said Yusuf. “I will spill and rather I will do it too early than you” muttered Yusuf.
Rehan couldn’t hear anything clearly due to the traffic and the sound around and went silent until they reached the place.”
Rehan got down from the back seat. Yusuf stopped the engine, took out his keys, and got down.
They went to Taufiq’s apartment and he was the only one appearing in the room.
Rehan was trying to find out the real reason behind this visit as Yusuf sounded stressed. He kept on asking but after around ten minutes, he finally got some response.
Yusuf put his hands inside his jeans pocket and removed a mobile phone. He browsed through his gallery and opened a picture of a 9 mm carbine. It looked neither like a pistol, nor like a rifle but somewhere in-between. Yusuf showed this picture to Rehan and he knew what was happening.
Yusuf shrieked, “What the hell is this?”
Rehan was not finding words to cover up and yelled back at Yusuf, “How did you dare touch my storage unit!”
“Oh, it’s the big deal now, is it?” Yusuf asked in perplexity.
“I was bloody looking for a tablet and ended up in your cupboard trunk when something fell, and I could see a heavy casket. It was locked so I couldn’t open it. However, out of curiosity, I went to look for more hidden stuff, if any, and I found this mobile, that’s right in my hand, hidden behind the clothes in the bottom-most rack. It was all suspicious by then. I tried to unlock the phone, but I couldn’t and failed even after multiple trials.” Said Yusuf and was expecting some response from Rehan.
“How did you end up unlocking my phone, you scoundrel,” Rehan grabbed Yusuf’s collar without any hesitation in his words.
“I called up Taufiq to our room!” replied Yusuf without looking at Rehan’s eyes.
By then, Rehan understood the whole picture. Taufiq is an ethical hacker and unlocking was a cakewalk for him, though he couldn’t do much beyond that.
“The first thing I saw was 18 text messages in your inbox. All are from unknown private numbers. No outgoing calls. Only eight incoming calls so far in the last three weeks. In the messaging app, I could only see pictures of this 9 mm carbine. It is not in your favor at all Rehan” warned Yusuf.
Rehan had no words, but he knew that he was caught red-handed by his friend. He started speaking after about ten minutes.
Rehan’s Confession to Yusuf
“It was the first week of May. I received a call from a private number at night. I concocted the story that it was my Abbu’s call to you.
“Hello”, I said
“Hi Rehan, how are you?” asked a stony voice.
“Yes, I’m fine, but who is this?”
“That’s not important. What is important to know, is that you can get what you need if you join us”, said the man on the other side of the phone.
“Who are you? And what do you know about me?” I asked irritated.
“I run an agency at Kashmir and work underground most of the days. I know everything about you. I have people all around, and I know that you have the potential to do what we need.”, said the guy.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I need you to visit my man, tomorrow at 7:00 am. I will text you the place. He will explain the rest to you.”, a firm voice said.
“Go to hell, I am not going to fall prey to this scam. Get rid of the call”, I retorted.
He said, “Rehan, don’t be a fool. You will get a million for this job, only if you succeed. You will be trained for everything.”
I was stunned and couldn’t think of anything else than my dad at that time. I needed money desperately. All that was running in my mind then was to give my dad, a life.
“How should I believe you?” I asked.
“There is nothing superior to Allah. We do everything to save our community and to follow the Almighty’s orders. Allah has sent us to you to give your Abba a new life. You are the only hope for him. My person will wait for you tomorrow”, said this voice, and the call got disconnected abruptly.
It was creepy to hear for me that my entire crisis is known to this man.
I knew that I was getting into something wrong, but all I could think was a trade, life against another life! I couldn’t sleep the whole night and I was contemplating the options. I spoke to my parents the next day at 6:00. They were shocked to get my call so early in the morning, but all I wanted to figure out was if there was any other way out, and none in the family had a clue how to earn so much money in such a short span.
The next day, I made a call and I went to meet the person assigned to me. He introduced himself as Basheer. I don’t even know if it is his real name. He instructed me throughout. I was sent to a training room where I was made to sit along with ten others and Basheer started giving us ideas of work and the reason behind it. These sessions followed twice every week and I am now certain that they are doing this for saving our community. I am premature yet, but I will do whatever they ask me to do. There is nothing more important than to save us.”
Yusuf was going through the worst of his nightmares. The suspicion turned out to be true. He never thought that an intelligent and witty guy like Rehan would end up winding himself in a mess like this. He shook Rehan and asked him to wake up to real life.
“How can you do this, Rehan? This is how it is done. In the name of Islam, they turn us against the real virtues of Islam. What kind of community-saving are you talking about? Your community should teach you love and not hatred, and each community has the roots as love. Read the Quran once again after removing this blindfold from your eyes. They are using you against you for their need. How did they end up spying you? It is so scary that we are observed.”, Yusuf was talking, when Rehan interrupted.
“Don’t say a word. I don’t want to listen to anything. You should not have known this, but now that you know, I do not know the future. You are just my friend. Stay in your limits. Forget all that you know.”
“I am your friend, and a friend has no limits and particularly not to bring a person in myth back to life! Have you lost your mind? How did you end up agreeing to this? What is the task planned for you?
Tell me the truth.” Asked Yusuf.
“Nothing”, said Rehan, which was not convincing to Yusuf.
“Rehan, if it is about money, we can arrange something.”, said Yusuf.
“Money!” smiled Rehan in a silly way and continued,
“It is money, yes! And what the hell can you do about it? Do you even know what is the cost of the operation? We tried our ways, it doesn’t help. I am doing something to save my Abbu, and to save people like you and me. Whatever we do in this world, we will be ill-treated in this nation. We will be treated like pigs and thrown out, and always seen in suspicion, whatever we do in this world”
“You are driving me crazy. I suspected this nightmare after looking at your closet. The secret mobile phone, the pictures, and text messages in it already spoke for itself. You need to quit this shit and throw this phone right away”, said Yusuf.
Rehan was startled by his words but he knew that it is unrealistic.
He said, “Yusuf, leave me alone. Pretend as if you do not know anything or come with me tomorrow to the place to see for yourself the intentions.”
“Turn around!”, said Yusuf. Rehan, with suspicion, turned around and saw his Ammi and his younger brother standing right in front of him. By then, Rehan anticipated that things are getting out of his hand. He couldn’t utter a word after looking at his mother.
“Ammi”!! stammered Rehan. A slap stung his cheek.
“I never thought that I would give you these virtues. Where did your integrity and dignity go, before getting into this? Yes, I told you about your father. Yes, he is sick. Is it that easy to take away my son from me? How did you even think about it?”, started Rehan’s mom.
Rehan was trying to reply “Abbu, I wanted him back. I can’t ”, when his mom interrupted,
“You can’t? You can’t see your father or me in trouble? Which one is it? Are you making us proud by doing this? What will your father do even if he survives with this money? He will be called a traitor’s father. All the reputation that he had earned all his life will be gone because of you, and you are saying that you are doing it for Abbu?”
“This is what we will always be treated Ammi. We are always called a traitor! A perpetrator! There is no reason that we are treated this way based on our religion”, said Rehan.
“Oh! Now they have given you enough wisdom. What are you doing? Would you not be called a traitor if you do anything illegal? Would you not end up becoming a perpetrator, if you join them? Will these people save our community? How? Will it be by making us do the exact thing that we are not proud of being infamous about. Your Abbu is a retired government servant. He was never a backhander at his job, never took a penny as a bribe. The money that he is needing now, is certainly not the money that you are going to give us.”, said Ammi and started sobbing and pitying her son.
Rehan couldn’t see eye to eye at anyone. He realized that he was cutting corners for someone who will never take this as a favor if he knew the source.
“Come with me to the cops and surrender yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong yet except for possessing this mobile and taking their training sessions”, said Rehan’s Ammi in an authoritative tone.
Rehan went silent and couldn’t come in terms with his emotions.
“Rehan, your Abbu and I have given our entire life on you. We lived a life of clean repute so far and do not want our own flesh and bone to ruin it. The reasons you think now, are not real. They are fabricated. You are being influenced. You would never see me or your Abbu alive after you end up in this life. Come with us.”, Rehan’s Ammi dragged him, and they took a taxi to reach the nearest police station.
After thirty minutes of trial with the police inspector, Rehan confessed everything that had happened to him in last month. He was imprisoned for a fortnight. The cops extracted all the information from him regarding the exact location, the phone numbers, and the sketches of people he had encountered in this duration. Within twenty days, the cops were able to catch eight members of the organization and were investigating further to reach out to the handler and the leader. Rehan was granted bail as he was the reason behind rounding up the activists and getting a lead towards the anti-national activities.
Rehan started living with his parents for a year and had counseling sessions for six months. Yusuf and Rehan collected the money required for his Abbu’s operation from various community trusts and some as a loan from friends and family.
Even today, he is thankful to Yusuf for bringing his identity back to life. Yusuf knew Rehan’s weak link and he brought his Ammi in front of him to make him realize his blunder. If he had not been a friend in need, Rehan would have lost himself.