{Collaborative Fiction} MISSING

Our StoryThis is part five of a story that I am writing in collaboration with some very talented writers on Blogadda. Our team name is 'Tete-a-ten'.

Please read Part 4 here 


Mumbai – 19:25

Jennifer banged the table in frustration. Why couldn’t she get through to the Duttas?
She looked around helplessly, running her fingers through her long wavy hair, absentmindedly fingering her tattoo. She scanned Tara Dutta’s Facebook page once again hoping to see some activity from her, but there was none. She was exhausted, having spent the better part of the two hours on this seemingly futile attempt!


Her eyes strayed on a little pink card peeking out of her folder. “Ammachi’s prayer to St. Philomena!” she exclaimed to herself. She got down on her knees and fervently prayed from the leaflet to the saint known for her purity and childlike nature, often believed to intercede in impossible situations. After a moment of silence to draw in strength and courage, she vowed that she wouldn’t still idle hoping the Duttas’ would finally call back. That picture didn’t look good…”What if…” She didn’t dare think about it.


With new-found determination, she Googled Tara Dutta and realized that she worked at Ulka Communications. She quickly dialled the office, and when she told them that it was about Tara’s daughter, she was immediately put in touch with Ritwik, the executive who worked most closely with Tara.
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The Dutta residence Mumbai – 19:00
Shekar and Tara’s home  was abuzz with activity. On hearing about Roohi’s disappearance, their friends had come over hoping to help in some way – food, scouring the news, and forming search teams.Shekhar’s techie friends quickly set up a station to monitor the search operation. They would be the point of contact, and anyone with information on the street was to report to to their group immediately. About 20 of them formed small search teams and headed out to scan the various streets, with instructions to relay their locations and updates to the monitoring station at home.


Tara was on the phone, calling up Myra’s home for what seemed like the nth time that day. “Any updates? You are sure she didn’t turn up at the party? Did Myra remember anything in particular? Okay, thanks!”


Roohi’s friends hadn’t noticed anything suspicious, and none of them had seen her after school! Tara tried to stay calm. She looked around for Shekhar and saw that he was busy brainstorming with the guys who were manning the communication station.


Tara’s head ached. It was one thing getting lost in broad daylight, but with darkness approaching, Tara’s heart echoed loud drum beats of fear and desolation. She feared that Roohi would be harmed...thoughts of the big bad men approaching her little daughter made her shake with fear. She went to the window and scanned the streets as if doing so would suddenly reveal the pudgy little form of her daughter. She realized now that her work was meaningless without Roohi to come home to.“If only…,”she thought, guilt wracking her for changing plans and putting work ahead of her daughter. She peeked a glance at Shekhar. His face was grim and worry lines creased his forehead. She went over and squeezed his hand, and he looked at her urgently, thinking she had news of Roohi. 


But one look at her guilt-ridden expression, and he enclosed her in his arms, pulling her tight against him. He tugged her chin gently, forcing her to look up at him. He spoke to her gently, “Tara, snap out of the guilt! I am not blaming you. I should not have asked you to pick Roohi up today knowing how busy you get at that time.I should have rescheduled my online class – I should have checked my messages! But please, let’s not think about what could have been done, let’s find our Roohi. Remember when Roohi first came into our lives? We are going to find her sweetheart, don’t lose hope!”
Tara smiled at him gratefully, and leaned on his shoulder, trying to find the strength that was leaving her and making her sink into despair! Shekhar was always good-natured and smiling, but she never imagined that he could stay so focused, alert and level headed in a catastrophe. “He is the strong one,” she thought, “not I. He was strong to volunteer to stay at home and look after Roohi...sacrifice his dreams...and he lived up to his responsibilities of a dad so well!”


She remembered her own selfish demands, excuses to spend time, even weekends spent in the office... ...the curtness she often showed Shekhar. She realized with a shock that she had even thought less of him for all that he did - how wrong she was! “I will make it up to you both Shekhar, I promise,” she decided fiercely.


Tara’s phone buzzed again. She saw the office number, and almost didn’t pick up. Staring at the phone, she reluctantly answered the call. “Ritwik, oh it’s you! Please tell Senthil that I just can’t manage any work now. What? A photograph? Where? Wait a minute!” Her voice rose audibly, and the others, sensing something was up quickly surrounded her.


“Could you pick the girl up and come over to our home? No, wait! Give me her number first!”  Tara frantically gestured for a pen and pad, and scribbled down a number. She told the others the gist of the conversation and with trembling hands dialed the number Ritwik had given her.

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When Tara's phone beeped with Jennifer's whatsapped picture of Roohi, the room suddenly went quiet. They crowded around Tara. While their friends  tried to place the exact location where the picture was taken, Shekhar and Tara’s eyes lay transfixed on the man in the photograph with their Roohi! “Hurry Tara, Shekhar!” their friends yelled, pushing them out of the house. They ran to the car and got in. But Shekhar was in a daze. Their worst fears…who was that boy?


With the car moving at  top speed, Tara could sense the clutch of fear that overcame her husband. She suddenly remembered the times Shekhar had sat down with Roohi and told her about good touch and bad touch. How she, Tara had laughed it off telling him, “Just teach her karate instead...or we will give her a can of pepper spray...”Roohi’s little voice rang in her head...“Is it like your hair spray mummy” “Does it freeze the pepper into behaving? She remembered that Shekhar and she had laughed then at the innuendo their daughter had unwittingly thrown on them...and she remembered how their laughter had delighted little Roohi.


Remembering that day too, Shekhar looked at Tara helplessly. His eyes were wet and he looked afraid. It was Tara’s turn to comfort him – “Don’t worry Shekar, I have faith. You taught Roohi about strangers, and you taught her to handle horrible situations....please don’t lose hope, Shekhar!”


[Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with us]
Please read Part 6 here.

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