It was Saturday and Advay decided to leave for the orphanage directly. He had nothing much to do that day at the college.
He looked at the boy who sat unbothered with a book. The elementary language book was three quarters finished by now.
“Way, I’ll get going. Lock the door properly.” Everyday was unsettling for Advay leaving the boy this way. What if something happens? The boy could not shout out for help nor could express things properly.
Advay prayed to God so regularly now-a-days. There was nothing more he could do. The other day, after he had spoken to the security guards, he met the college head and told him not to tell anyone about his displacement from the university dorms. Of course the discussion was not smooth. At a point Advay was no longer as respectful anymore. It was all because of this man. He had unnecessarily told the Force and caused him to be summoned back on an urgent note. He then had to write the solemn consent letter. All that while, he was preoccupied with worries for the boy. Had all of that not happened, the boy would not have walked to the university and be so close to the vile people who kept him captive.
For the first time Advay made an unauthorized life threat. He outright destroyed the internet connection box with the gun he always carried with him. He remembered how the boy fell sick that day and how desperately he tried to tell him about it before he gave up. Of course it was not the old man’s fault, he was just doing what was right. But one had to know when to stay out of certain issues. It was called being sensitive.
He warned the old man, “If you have any more problems, talk with the Force and the Force only. You’ve already involved them, and you know I’ll bear full responsibility if anything goes wrong. Act like you don’t know anything about me other than what you know on the first day I was here. I’m very capable of killing and getting away with it. So if anyone looks for me, tell them I live here. Then call me on the phone.”
When he was done, he realized that the old man’s condition did not look too well. The man nodded his head slowly and seriously.
“Think about a proper and believable excuse for the gun shot. The whole university should have heard the bang,” he added.
When the loud noise was heard, Miyazaki rushed in. She stood there fearful since then. Just before Advay asked her about the visit of the orphanage people. She said she was in that day and told them he was not in college and could have left for his home. She had not given those people a definitive answer. She told them it was the vacation so students left the university but she would not know more than that. When they threatened her with grim voices, she only speculated that he might have gone home. Before she could ask Advay who they were, he stood up and walked into the head’s office.
Now she was glad she did not tell them anything. Advay looked at her and added, “The bicycle I have. It will no longer be the university’s. I’ll pay for it.”
She hurriedly nodded and Advay walked out of the office room.
On the way, he crossed paths with prof. Logan. Advay held his eyes for a moment before he made a little bow in greeting.
“Bad behaviour. Mental instability. I was right indeed.” He commented as he proceeded on his way. Something was amiss about this professor, Advay felt at that moment. Many people had some fright written on their faces. A gunshot was not common but it was not too rare either. Many would definitely recognize it. War and attacks were still fresh in many minds. But Mr. Logan was seen sporting his kind smile as he spoke to Advay.
Advay did not have any time to respond to him and he was thankful for that. It would be awkward to have to respond. He will just see that the professor won’t have any reason to fail him. He had to do well that semester and this teacher should not be any threat, he concluded.
Outside the department, there were more security guards gathered and rushing in. In the grey crowd, Advay spotted the young guard who was on duty when Advay brought the boy to the university. So much less work for him thanks to the gunshot. Else, he’d have to search every guardpost in the university and there were a lot of them. In the afternoons, the guards would be reduced at every post and there was no regularity, unlike mornings and evenings. For that little part of the day, the guards choose where they would be among themselves, in a sense of autonomy and privilege.
Advay quickly went to him and told him he had some work with him. The security guard then walked a little away from the noisy crowd.
“Do you remember me?” Advay asked with a smile.
The guard gave him a once over and shook his head. “I do keep seeing you around.”
“Oh, then do you also know if I have a sister?”
“Do you? In this college?”
“No, she’s just this big,” Advay raised his hand to the boy’s height.
“Oh, right! I thought it was a boy. You took her to visit but turned back, didn’t you? I remember.” They had turned back because Advay did not know what to write in the name column of the visitor’s register nor had he planned anything. Then he had decided to look for a new place.
“Yes. She’s my friend’s distant cousin. She won a scholarship to study in the Polar,” Advay took out a small snack he had brought and gave it to the guard, “She’s like a sister to me so I wanted to celebrate for her. Only you saw her here.”
“Ahaha, you are so sweet.” There went his late lunch. He was trying his best to keep his time at the university minimal. So he forwent lunch that day to have a word with the head and planned to grab a bite as he walked to his cycle when classes ended. He’ll now have to waste another ten minutes buying some food.
Who was from the Southern Polar? His senior, Aris was. He did have a little cousin. They could get to him. But they won’t get to the boy. He played a little with the guard's mind, but it was necessary. Just anyone would not have any influence over the university, but if the government was what he was going against, then everyone in the university would become their clue. If they get to his college head and the head’s assistant Miyzaki, they should not get much information.
And what this guard would say could be verified from the phone calls he had with Aris. This was what Aris had told him about his little cousin. They could show the boy's photo and ask, but a face seen just once, one wouldn't remember for very long. Swapping the boy's gender in the guard's mind was enough.
There were two more people remaining. The guards stationed at the main gate when the orphanage people had come. They seemed to be at the same post all the time. He bought a snack and went to the gate. He pulled his cycle and kicked its stand up.
There was no one around. “What was the sound just now?” He asked the two.
“It seems to be a gunshot… We’ll know soon.”
“About the mute boy you told me about, don’t tell anyone.” The topic changed and the guards looked at Advay.
“Oh, rude guy. Why shouldn’t we?”
“That was a gunshot, that’s why, don’t tell anyone about this gun or the boy.” He showed the gun he had to the men inconspicuously. They became defensive and took a few steps back.
“I’m trying to protect that boy but the college was not being cooperative. Nothing really happened inside, it was just a warning. I mean no harm. I hope you can keep it a secret for me. If anyone asks you about that day, only tell them about the jeep.”
“Sure,” the guard who looked older said quickly. The junior wanted to say something but the older one held him back. Who would have thought that this youngster for whom the retired guard asked them to keep the blue cycle would turn out to be so formidable?
“Thank you very much,” Advay went off after he gave the two a smile.
Ever since that day, he was rather relieved. He had done enough preparations. From then on, all he had to do was be careful of being followed when he was on his way home. The Eastern country was one of a kind. The amount of expenditure it put into defence and security, it did not put into the welfare of the public. Here social security and order was least of concerns. The development one saw in the defence and military of the nation was nowhere visible in the everyday lives of the people. No community here had any form of surveillance. It was favourable to him now. He did not want them, the villains, to know about the apartment.
Like the previous visits, Advay reached the orphanage by 11 A.M. He parked his blue cycle near the watchman and locked it. Now it did not have the sticker with a number or the sticker with the university logo.
“It’s been weeks since I last saw you,” the receptionist greeted him.
“Yeah, we had a vacation.”
He quickly filled the register and waited until the in-charge greeted him. The girl called the in-charge who came out soon.
“Hi Advay, come on in,” the lady said as she walked out of the hall. Her countenance was very different from the past. It was no longer like she owned the place. She has turned humble.
Advay gave her a small smile, nodded and went in.
The moment he stepped into the hall, the group of little boys surrounded him. He played checkers for two whole hours with them.
Today, he was not going to do anything for the progress of his course. In his report for this visit, he’d fill it with the first day of vacation where he had delivered the clothes.
He glanced at the door of the room in the far corner. It was opened. One man dressed in all black was moving around the small space, looking like he was brooding something.
He had never seen that person around. Just then the in-charge came and asked him to follow her.
She took him to the upper floor. There were few children there. Most of them were downstairs. She led him into one room. A big table, and some more people like the one he saw downstairs, all dressed in black, were present.
Advay chuckled and asked the in-charge, “Wow, who are all these gloomy people?”
The in-charge was already terrified ever since the black clothed people came to the orphanage after knowing that the mute kid went missing. It was all because of her negligence. Now with Advay’s words she felt even more uncomfortable.
“These are the higher-ups of the orphanage,” she said meekly.
“Take a seat,” one man showed him to the single chair before the table.
“It’s alright. There’s only one, you’re older so you sit,” Advay faked some naivety. They appeared to want to interrogate him.
“Get a few more chairs,” said the man who spoke as he looked on at Advay in a flat stare.
In a while half of them and Advay sat around the table. Rest stood.
A few minutes passed. Advay understood they were assessing him for any signs of guilt.
“Do we just sit like this doing nothing?”
One of them was the leader. He was dressed in more clothes. He looked heavier than others. Advay was not going to call the man stoic, he was just heavy.
The leader pulled out a photo of the boy and spoke, “Do you know this boy?” In the photo the bay was a foot shorter and much leaner than he was now. It was an old photograph.
“Ah! Isn’t he the deaf boy? What was his name again? I don’t think I got the chance to know it,” Advay looked at the in-charge who quickly looked away.
“Do you know where he is?”
Advay once again looked at the in-charge confused. His meaning was obvious to everyone in the room, ‘Why are they asking me when you are the in-charge?’
“Well, I do. I’ve seen him go into the room by that corner downstairs.”
“He has been missing.”
Advay was initially shocked and later he was surprised. Then some realization came to him.
Aggrieved, he asked, “You people think I kidnapped him?”
The leader and the rest at the table looked at eachother. Somehow what they had been sure of until this point seemed wrong. Few of them looked at the in-charge with a question for brief moments, it was because of her they had arrived at the conjecture that Advay was the one who took the boy away. They had already tried getting information from where Advay studied but failed. They could not keep trying. They could not risk any attention from the government. So based on what the in-charge told them, they waited for Advay to come back.
In the mix of their surprise, shock and sense of failure, the deliberate use and stress of the word ‘kidnap’ was lost. Advay used that word after good calculation, from their perspective, it was a kidnap and he had to appeal to them quickly. The more he stayed with these people the more would be the risk of giving himself away to their interrogation. He had to quickly get to the topic which could yield him some useful information. He would try his best to get everything he could today. It was uncertain when he would meet these people again? To them, Advay’s response proved him to be innocent of the issue. All of them had a consensus. If he did kidnap the kid, he would perhaps say, ‘what!’ or ‘really?’ or ‘how?’.
One of them standing at the back noticed it however. He knew the image they would leave on people. With their black uniforms, one would have to say ‘rescue’ or ‘take away’ rather than ‘kidnap’ but he kept quiet. He felt saying ‘kidnap’ was a very odd choice of words in that situation.
“I like your uniforms. They’re heroic,” Advay observed their uniforms. No single symbol could be seen. If these were officials from the government, they’d carry the emblem.
“Are you from the government? Maybe the military?”
Advay only got more flat stares. These people seem trained, he noted.
“Why are you looking at me like that? You think I’m lying? I am really not someone who kidnapped children. I am a child myself! I’m just a teenager! I’m only nineteen!”
Advay’s voice was not agitated.
“Are you going to put me in jail?” He shouted.
“Don’t shout, there are children around,” the in-charge said in a low voice from the side.
“My life is at stake here!” Advay retorted. He did lower his voice quite a bit but he was still agitated.
“Do you even know what this means to me? I am a student at the Provincial University!”
“You can go now.” The leader said.
Advay fell silent for a bit. He looked at all of their eyes. “Does that mean I am still a suspect? What kind of police are you? Will I remain a suspect until, what’s the name, that, that deaf one is found?”
“You shout like a shrew! Just shut up already, we are not the police.” said an impatient female voice from among those at the table.
“You’re a woman?” Advay asked, he really did not know there was a woman in the black crowd.
“Shut the hell up!” she spoke.
“If you are not the police then who the hell are you?”
“Advay Srnuta, you can leave now.” The leader said. This was going wrong.
“Why would I leave? Give me a proper conclusion. Will you tell the police that I hid that, just what is his name?”
“Suffering! Stop shouting and just call him the mute!”
“Mute?” Deaf was something the in-charge said on the spur of the moment when Advay suggested, he remembered clearly. These people also seemed to go along with calling the boy deaf, or the in-charge told them. Advay knew he made the woman commit a mistake and that means he probably did not have much time before he was sent away. But that was not his intention. He wanted to get the boy’s name or the identity of these people.
“Mute, deaf, dumb and useless, he’s everything because he’s deaf,” the lady gracefully ended it there.
“Well, what is his name? Don’t you think it is rude and sinful to call people like that? What if one day you also become mute, deaf, dumb and useless?”
“That’s enough!” The leader stood up and so did everyone else.
Advay was still seated. He had no intention of getting up.
“Where are you going?” He shouted again. The people only stood up. They were not going anywhere, they wanted Advay to go.
“Surrefing!” the lady cursed again but the leader held her back from saying anymore.
“We are not the government.” The leader said.
“Huh! It’s my suffering! Did you lodge a complaint for the missing, you don’t even know the name… But you should still file a complaint. Take the police’s help. The sooner the better. Ah… I feel so anxious. What am I to do if they also come to me like yous?”
“That is not required.”
“How so? What if it is too late when you complain and the authority asks you what you did all this while, what will you say? That time, you would be the prime suspect. I don’t want to be an accomplice.”
The room fell silent. The leader thought hard on how to send the inexorable young man away.
“It’s already late to complain now.”
“When did it happen exactly?”
“That also we do not know exactly, It should be in the week of 23th.”
“Last month? Wow, you people are unbelievable. But seriously, who would kidnap orphans? He must have ran off on his own, it’s pointless to search for him.” The situation did not seem positive anymore. He was not going to get anything from these people.
Advay’s words were like a breather to everyone present in the room.
“So that was all we wanted to talk about, you may go now.”
“Alright, bye.” Advay stood up and went back downstairs.
It was only after lunch that the black crowd came down. He quickly pulled out his mobile and opened the front camera as he leaned towards Rosy, who was near him. Looking at the two, Nana came running and pushed herself between them. Advay grimaced at the little girl’s action.
He quickly switched to video mode and turned a little so as to capture the black crowd. As they walked by, they saw Advay turning their heads to them. Advay soon moved the camera further away to fit in as many faces as he could.
Once he had what he wanted, he turned around and made faces along with the two little girls towards his phone or, towards those people as they walked out.