The evening was setting in on the city and the street lights were already on in the backdrop of the fast fading sunlight. There was a lot of activity on the roads as people were on their way home after a long summer day. The traffic on the street was also heavy and crawling at a snails's pace now.
With the hawkers claiming the pavement , pedestrian movements spilled over and covered half of the street .To an outside observer it would look chaotic at the first glance, yet nobody seemed to complain. There was a non chalance in the expressions of thr people as they were all geared up to reach home at the earliest.
Rohit asked the driver to stop near the pan shop after crossing the Elite cinema. Alighting from the taxi , he checked the meter and mentally calculating the fare, reached out for his wallet . Paying the fare, he waited for the taxi to roll ahead , then looking to his right, he stepped onto the street to cross it.As he negotiated the vehicles on the street hurriedly, he loooked at his mobile to check the time. Like many others, he had stopped wearing a wristwatch.He still had some time . Crossing over the street, he turned left and at the opening of the first lane after crossing the old radio shop, he stopped and again checked the time.
He decided to wait for a few minutes before walking in and brought out the pack of Wills from his trouser pocket. He lit it from the glowing tip of the coconut rope hanging unobtrusively from the the side of the lamppost, placed for customers by the hawker selling cigarettes on the pavement . Taking a deep drag , he exhaled the smoke into the air and watched the crowd passively. The world moves on in its own pace and the random movement all around increased the restlessness that he was feeling within.
A bald headed man shouting into his cellphone passed him by. The man seemed to be oblivious of the fact that he was on a busy road. Rohit could hear snatches of his comments.Apparently the man was having an argument with his wife over some domestic issues. A wry smile crossed Rohit's face as he stubbed his cigarette with the sole his shoes . He patted his hip on the right side in an involuntary motion of assurance to check his wallet in the crowd,before running his fingers through the mop of hairs to set them back. This was also an automatic gesture. Tentatively he entered the lane. It was narrow but lit well with the steet lamps .Surprisingly it was empty except a stray dog curling itself into a cosy huddled figure and two urchins with gunny bags resting on the steps of a closed shop.
He could locate the address without any difficulty. A small board by the wall announced in bold letters –
Standard Detective Agency,
2nd Floor, Building 12E/7
Ghulam Rasool lane,
(We have no branches)
There was an aroow indicating for the visitor to take the stairs , suddenly jutting out , almost on the lane itself. The stairs were narrow and dimly lit , partly by the street light opposite and partly by an old fashioned round bulb radiating yellowish light on the soot covered walls .
As he reached the second floor landing, a little out of breath due to the steepness of the stairs, he pressed the calling bell.He could hear the buzz of the bell in a old style behind the closed doors. The door was opened by a young woman wearing glasses and looking bored. This must have been the person with whom he had spoken half an hour back ,while confirming his appointment, he thought.
I have an appointment with Mr Roy. He mumbled , a little dry in his throat.
Please be seated, Mr Roy will arrive shortly. I believe you must be Mr Rohit Dutt. The girl said guiding him to a dull and old sofaset placed in a cramped looking corner of a narrrow rectangular waiting room.
Rohit entered the room after her and sat on the sofa. It creaked and felt himself going down. Shifting himself slightly, he asked for a glass of water.
Sure said the girl as she left the room .
Rohit looked around. The placed looked depressed with the drab walls with just a calendar giving company to an old clock ticking audibly . The furniture was sparse with a centre table with glass top and a cane rack hogging the space with the sofa.
The girl returned with a glass of water on a tray . Rohit gulped the water and realised he was thirsty. As he returned the glass, he noticed the faint outline of moustache on the girl's face. She was looking at him quizzically. Without a word , she went insideas Rohit picked up a magazine from the centre table and began leafing through it.