Hriday looked at the waves crashing against the rocks, the tide was increasing. The sky seemed bleak and ominous like his mood. The weather department had predicted incessant rains and storm for the night. That was good, this was for good, Hriday shook his head and took calming breaths. He really had nothing to live for, he had no fight left in him.There was no option except to end it all.
He looked at the phone again, he was surprised that at this hour the only person he could think about speaking to was Rachel, his once upon a time best friend whom he had lost all contact with when she moved out of their small village in Goa. Hriday shook his head again to stop the unwanted flow of thoughts, enough of the dilly-dally just jump and end it already, he reprimanded himself. He removed his watch and kept it on the rock next to him, it was a good thing he couldn't swim so there would be no chance of survival instinct kicking in. Probably the failure he was, he would fail at this as well he smiled self derisively. His phone rang, the tone indicating a call from an unknown number, he accidentally picked it up trying to get it out of his pocket
'Took you long enough!'
'Its 1.00 am...'
'You are loitering around at Nariman point!'
'Says me. Look up duffus!'
Hriday almost dropped the phone, there standing in front of him in flesh and blood was Rachel. Too stunned to speak he waited for Rachel to come up the rocks and sit next to him
'What are you, I mean how...I mean?' Hriday was unable to form a sentence coherently.
'OK, so I am in Mumbai for work, landed couple of hours ago, wanted to meet you and thought will take a chance.'
'And you just knew where to find me?' It seemed unbelievable.
'Are you regretting that I am here?'
'No, but how did you find me?'
'Well I went to the usual suspects – your home and office – when I did not find you there, I thought of taking an off chance, this was always your favourite spot.' Rachel smiled and shrugged
'You...remembered?' A memory of school trip to the Gateway of India flashed through his head. 'You could have called and I could have come down or something.'
'And miss the show?' Rachel smirked indicating Hriday’s still red face, It is not everyday I get a lawyer to shutup.'
'Very funny, so?'
'So, get your ass up, we are going drinking.'
'Hate to break your bubble but pubs are almost all shut.'
Rachel giggled and rolled her eyes, 'For a lawyer you are surprisingly unresourceful,' she then grabbed hold of his hand and picked up his bag. They hailed a cab and made way to the cemetery next door, something they had done a lot growing up ever since Mrs Williams, their teacher made them read Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain in 3rd grade. And Goa, of course, had no dearth of cemeteries.
'This eerily seems pre-planned!' Hriday observed sitting down next to one of the graves.
'Well, I might have given it some thought.' Rachel took out her flask and handed him another.
'So HD, how have you been?' Rachel leaned in to take a better look at Hriday’s face.
'I have been better.' He looked away not meeting her eyes.
'Oh come on HD, stop moping and start hoping!' Rachel forced him to turn his face and look at her.
'Rachel, times have changed its been 15 years. LIFE happens you know?' Hriday untangled her hands from his face and looked away again.
'Oh I know, but don’t evade the topic.'
Hriday looked back at Rachel taking in her round face and clear skin, her hair was cut shorter than he remembered, but still falling on her brown eyes like it used to. Her face still had the mischievous smile and crooked nose even though she had gained some weight. Her eye brows were set unusually apart and Hriday had always joked that God had put her together with spare parts of different models. That always made Rachel wild, he laughed at the memory.
'What is so funny?'
'Nothing, God I've missed you!'
'Huh...I missed you too'
'Why did we ever stop hanging out?'
'You became a hot shot lawyer! And I stayed a nobody.'
'Oh come on...'
'What? Its the truth!'
'Look where its gotten me? I am a nobody today!' Hriday sighed.
'So become somebody again.' Rachel volleyed back
'Its not that easy!' Hriday was getting irritated
'All right, I am backing off.' Rachel raised her hands out defensively, and they continued to drink in the silence of hundreds of graves enveloping them.
'You remember that summer?' Rachel asked quietly, as if speaking loudly will disturb the sleeping dead.
'Which one?' Hriday tried to sift through the hazy memories which had flooded his brains ever since he had picked up Rachel’s call. 'Wait that one?' Hriday was surprised that Rachel was talking about it, they had sworn that they would never speak about that summer ever.
'Yes...' Rachel’s voice continued to be low, as if she was re-living the trauma. Her mother’s distant relative had come to stay with them because he had gotten admission in Institute of Management and though he was 5 years older to Rachel they had gotten pretty close quickly. In a matter of months they had fallen in love and Rachel had stopped hanging out with Hriday all together and evaded him. Concerned, he had confronted Rachel after church one morning and what came out was a tale so sordid that he got goosebumps just thinking about it.
'Do not think about him Rach, he can never hurt you again.'
'The rape and abuse had been going on for months. The worst was mom refused to believe me, she said I was making it up to get attention.' Rachel was visibly shaking now, Hriday put down his flask and hugged her.
'Shhh...let it go Rach...' Hriday gently stroked her back.
'You know something, that day I had decided to kill myself. If you had not spoken to me outside church I would have gone home and eaten the rat poison. I had bought tonnes of it.' Hriday shuddered at the strange coincidence.
'What made you confront me?' She sighed and then sat up looking into Hriday’s eyes.
'You looked as if you needed a friend,' he ruffled her hair, like he always did.
'Well, thank you for believing in me.' Rachel pushed his hand away like she did. Hriday was glad that some of the spunk was coming back. It had been an upheaval task but he and his father had managed to convince Rachel and her parents to file a complaint. Thankfully the police were supportive and that piece of shit never bothered Rachel again. A few months later Rachel and her family packed up and left Goa and that was the last he saw of her, till today.
'Anytime, in fact that was the incident that made me study criminal law.'
'I know...you are the best lawyer in town.'
'Not any more, I defended a senior employer of the biggest FMCG company against false rape charges and now everyone thinks I have keeled over to the other side. They think I sold my conscience for a few million. The accuser is a powerful social worker and the women’s NGOs have blown the entire case out of proportion. I am doomed Rachel, there is no way I can get out of this mess, the NGO is threatening to get my license revoked. My wife of 10 years decided it was the best time to say good bye and run off with my accountant. So, yeah, definitely not the best and not sure even a lawyer.'
'Looks like you have reached rock bottom.'
'Pretty much, yes'.
'So the only way is up?'
'I am not kidding HD, think hard there must be something you can do.'
'Well...I can make the evidence public with client’s permission, ask my friends and erstwhile clients to reach out via social media. Research on this social worker’s background she would definitely have some shady dealings going on...' Hriday rattled off half to Rachel and half to himself, his mind gears whirring in motion. He shot a quick text to one of his fellow lawyers and got up. He dusted himself with purpose he needed to do something!
'Sounds like a plan!' Rachel got up too.
'Rachel! I got to go. Thank you so much! I am not going down without a fight!' Hriday hugged Rachel and ran out of the cemetery before turning back.
'How long are you here? Let us catch up for lunch tomorrow?' Hriday’s phone rang. 'Oh shoot, I have to take this, I have your number let me call you.'
Two weeks later
Hriday checked his phone’s GPS and looked at the dilapidated building in front of him, this seemed to be the address. He had tried to call the number Rachel had called from multiple times, but it was always out of coverage area. It took him some time to sort stuff out but thankfully things worked in his favour, his erstwhile clients rallied for him and the FMCG company came through for support as well. Things were looking up for the first time in ages and he wanted to share it with his friend only if she picked up the stupid phone! So, he did the next thing found her address through the mobile number. He hurried up the steps and rang the bell, the door opened to reveal a middle-aged, pot-bellied man with pock marks on his face and receding hairline. He was wearing a stained vest and washed up shorts.
'Does Rachel Gomes stay here?'
'Are you Hriday?'
Hriday was taken aback, the man moved in indicating him to enter. Hriday could hear an older woman muttering, told you not to rent the apartment to that girl, she has been nothing but trouble when she was alive. Wont leave us alone in death too...
Hriday stopped in his stride...dead? The man turned and glared at the older woman shutting her down and then turned to Hriday, his voice surprisingly gentle and eyes moist, 'Rachel met with an accident on the night of 21st, her car catapulted off the Pune Mumbai express way. She was wedged in the car and bled to death before rescue officers could pull her out.'
'21st March? But that is impossible she was in Mumbai on 21st night. I mean 22nd early morning, she was with me!' There has got to be a misunderstanding. Hriday gaped at the man like a fish. 'I am telling you she was with me.'
The man looked at Hriday thoughtfully before going in, Hriday stood rooted to the spot thousand scenarios running in his head. May be this is the wrong house, Rachel Gomes is a common name, he would find her.
The man returned after a short while with a newspaper cutting, detailing the same fact that he shared earlier. Hriday saw Rachel’s photo and read through till his eyes fell on the time of death – 1.00 am, 22nd March. He felt dizzy, bile rising in his throat how was it possible? That was exactly when he received Rachel’s call.
The man cleared his throat and shoved his phone in Hriday’s hand, on the screen was a text message from a number called, Rachel Tenant:
Mr Mascarenhas, there has been an accident, the rescue operators are here but I don’t think I will be able to make it. Would you please do one small thing for me? If some one called Hriday ever comes looking for me just tell him I was returning the favour.