It was like any other evening for Akash. He was reading April 2017 India Today edition. “Power List 2017….the cover story looks interesting!” thought Akash and he got lost in the magazine.

“Where?” Asked Akash without looking at Kriti.
“I am going out with friends.” replied Kriti.
“Let me repeat once again…WHERE?” this time he asked in a stern voice. He continued to read his cover story.

“I don’t know yet Baba…” Kriti said in an irritated tone. “We are meeting at one common point and then we will decide where to go.” explained Kriti.

Finally Akash kept the magazine aside and looked at Kriti. “Okay. But remember to text me your location without fail.”

“Yaa Baba…I know the rule.” Kriti said with a smiling face. “Okay bye Baba… I will be back in 4 hours.”

“11 pm?? Won’t it be too late?” Akash seemed concerned about the timing.
“I am not alone Baba. We are 5-6 college friends. Vinit is also coming and he will drop me home.”

Vinit was Kriti’s childhood friend and Akash knew him personally since day one.

“Okay fine. And remember about the Panic Button App” reminded Akash.
“Hahahaha!!!” Kriti burst into laughter. “Come on Baba!! This stupid app is occupying my phone space since two years and I have never used it till date.”

Akash rolled his eyes and said, “Just remember about it and I feel lucky we have never used it.”

“I am not a kid Baba. I am 19 and logically I am wise enough… wise to marry” Kriti winked.
“Logically, the credit card in your purse still belongs to me.”
“Logically, every penny in your pocket also belongs to me.”
“And logically, you are still not married and I am still your father.” This time it was Akash’s turn to wink.

“Fine, fine… I remember everything you said. Now don’t worry and eat your dinner on time. Also don’t forget to keep that milk in the refrigerator.” Kriti knew how concerned her father was and left without another word.

Akash resumed his reading.

Kriti was a beautiful and attractive 19 year old teen. Akash had been single handedly raising Kriti since she was 14, when his wife died battling with breast cancer. Kriti was old enough to understand this and Akash didn’t thought of marrying again to avoid any adverse effect on Kriti’s life. Instead, he took up the responsibility of both a mother and father quite well. He shared a very frank relation with his daughter. She used to share every little thing with Akash like any teen would share with her mother. All in all, both were happy taking care of each other and with the way life was moving.

The sudden sound of a received message distracted Akash from his reading. He checked the phone which was kept aside on the sofa. It was Kriti’s message on WhatsApp.

“We are at City Mall, Paud Road”

“Came to watch a movie at the new Imax theatre”

Akash replied with “Okay” and kept down the phone back on the side table.

The very next second, he received another message. It was Kriti again!

“Here is the proof that I am with Vinit! 😉 ”

She sent a selfie with Vinit.

Akash laughed and murmured to himself “duffer!” and continued reading the magazine.

After an hour or so, Akash received another message from Kriti.

“I will be late by an hour. No options for dinner in this mall so probably will stop somewhere. Only me and Vinit will have it and rest are going their way.”

“Okay….Do message me when you leave from theatre”

“Sure 🙂 ”

It was 00:15 and Akash was already in his bed tucked cozily in a sound sleep beneath the warm blanket when he heard a beep sound coming from his phone. He was clueless about the strange sound and picked up his phone to check. It was the Panic Button app!! Akash was scared to death as he had never expected Kriti will ever need to use this app. He thought she might be making fun of him, but still called Kriti just to be sure. Kriti’s phone rang twice and it got disconnected without any answer. This was odd for Akash as Kriti always answered his phone no matter what. He called her again but this time he heard, “The number you are trying to call is currently out of coverage area. Please try again in sometime!” He tried few more times but in vain. Akash was wide awake from his sleep now and beads of sweat and tension had started appearing on his temple. Suddenly he realized he could also call Vinit to check if all was fine. He called on Vinit’s number but he didn’t get any response. He tried calling on his phone for a few more times but the result was same.

Now Akash was scared and shaking badly. He was not actually prepared for handling such a situation even though he had always warned Kriti against something like this. Unable to think what to be done in such a situation, he decided to call couple of friends of Kriti but no one knew about this plan. He also called Vinit’s parents and told the whole story. They were unaware of the plan and also about the other friends accompanying Vinit and Kriti.

Akash was starting to get negative vibes about the complete situation now. Once again he checked the Panic Button app and saw the last location map of Kriti. It was somewhere on Paud road itself. He decided to go himself on the last location and check coz he couldn’t just sit down and wait in patience. Something needed to be done for sure and immediately.

He started his Google map on phone and followed the route. All the way to the location, he kept calling Kriti and Vinit simultaneously. Still no response from both of them. The location he followed took him to the same City Mall that Kriti had mentioned about. It was a 5 story huge mall in a lonely locality. The area was still under development and it looked secluded at that hour. Only the top floor of the mall was in operation and rest of the floors were still not opened for public. They had just started the theatre first to pull the crowd for the sake of movies.

Akash approached the few people he could see near the mall to inquire about Kriti by showing her pic. He went to the top floor of Imax and tried to know the whereabouts of his kids. No one had any idea and were not of much help to Akash. Someone then suggested to check the basement parking. The man said he had often seen young groups spending hours chit chatting in the basement. Akash again tried to call Kriti but her phone was still not reachable. The guard of the theatre told Akash that most of the time, there is no network in the basement and he should just check it once. Akash agreed and went down to the basement. Some guy working at the mall also joined him in the search. Together they started searching both the basement parking lots but in vain. Akash was panting like anything and his worries had crossed all boundaries. He was sure now that something was terribly wrong with Kriti and Vinit and he had to find them as soon as he could. Random bad thoughts were coming to his head and he was feeling exhausted both mentally as well as physically.

Akash kept calling on Kriti’s phone continuously in the hope that it will connect somehow. He had almost lost hopes when Akash’s phone rang. It was Vinit!!” He picked the phone within 2 rings.

“Hello Vinit, where the hell are you guys?” Akash enquired in a shaken voice.
“Baba it’s me…. in the same mall on 2nd floor…” It was Kriti and her voice was sounding feeble.

“Kriti!! Don’t worry beta… I am coming… I am coming!” A relieved yet shaken Akash replied and he literally rushed towards the lift. While they were searching the basement, two more men had joined them in the search. The four of them rushed to the 2nd floor of the building. Though the construction of the second floor was completed, the shops were yet to be opened. Lights were on only in concourse and rest of the area was in dark. All four men started calling out to Kriti in panic in the hope to find her quickly.

“HERE!!!” shouted one of them after a few minutes and the other three followed his voice. Akash was the last to enter the under construction shop and he couldn’t believe what his eyes saw. Though it was dimly lit in there, he could still see two figures weirdly crouched on the floor. With shaking hands he took out his phone and lit the torch in fear of the worst. He instantly closed his eyes and took a step back ‘coz he couldn’t gather the courage to believe what he saw. He had gone numb and his senses had suddenly stopped working. He wanted to shout out loud but his voice had chocked and he was finding it hard to even breathe.

One of the guards took out his service torch to check the other figure lying on the floor. It was Vinit lying in a dark red pool of blood. He wasn’t moving and so it was hard to guess if he was unconscious or dead.

To be continued…..

Wisdom – Part I

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