Of ties and terror

by Dyuti Singh

eid04‘ALL passengers are requested to remain seated until the plane comes to a halt’, the airhostess addressed the passengers who were already on their feet filling the aisles and ready to snap open the overhead compartment as soon as the Emirates plane touched the ground at Dhaka airport. There was just a week left for Eid holidays and the flight was crammed with homebound passengers looking forward to re-uniting with their families and friends. Munira smiled at the scene and somehow seemed to identify with it. If she was not from CIA, she would probably do the same.
Coming home from New York after twelve years , she was itching to fill her nostrils with the whiff of country air but all she could smell was Musk probably of DKNY, emanating from the tall muscular guy sitting in front of her. It was hard to make out what he was enjoying more –whether ‘the Da Vinci code’ he was poring over or the music that was playing into his earplugs. She was distracted by his phoenix tattoo on the side of his neck. Only its head seemed to be visible from his polo shirt collar. She felt the irresistible urge to reveal the partially hidden tattoo – he would probably look much better with his tee off. The thought made her blush.
When he finally got up after most of the crowd had dispersed, she got to see his Greek God looks clearly. He was towering over her by almost half feet although she had come to believe that by Asian standards her height of 5’6” was good enough. Without missing the chance to strike a conversation, Munira asked him –
‘Excuse me Mr. …can you help me to get my black bag down’.
‘Oh sure,’ without blinking, he not only pulled her bag down but also gave her way to move ahead of her.
‘Where do you get such chivalrous men these days?’ she thought.
His attraction quotient kept on adding up as she followed him through the customs formalities and the baggage conveyor belts. ‘Why didn’t I notice him during our 20 hours of journey together? Wait I don’t even know his name!’ By the time she came out of her thoughts, he strode away past.
She caught a glimpse of Ammu and Mithu waving their hands at the exit area. Mithu had changed from his chubby cheeks to become a lanky handsome hunk since the last time she left him and couldn’t be called ‘little’ by any means except for the fact that he was her younger brother. Coming closer to the gate, she spotted Abbu standing behind. It was hard to recognise him with his new beard, white crochet skull cap and loose Punjabi attire he wore. He looked frail and dark.
‘What happened to you Abbu? Is everything alright? – She couldn’t conceal her bewilderment. ‘Yes, everything’s perfect. Why?’
‘Then why all this ? Where is my handsome Abbu? Where is your suit and cuff-links?
‘ Oh those? I decided to stop aping the West and embrace our own culture. Besides, these clothes are much better for our tropical climate’.
‘Don’t tell me you gave up wearing suits altogether! I got you your favorite Graham Withers silk ties and some fancy tie pins to go with those.’
‘I have overcome my fancy for all things western, Muni but don’t worry your gifts won’t go waste’, said Abbu and retracted into his famous grim silence.
‘Abbu is right Apu, it won’t get waste. I will use them’, interjected Mithu.
All through the way home, he kept badgering her with his barrage of questions. If he had his way she would be sitting whole day and giving him detailed account of all her 12 years spent in New York. How would he react when he comes to know about her truth? None of them had any inkling about her convert mission as a CIA agent!
The CIA chief had entrusted her with this clandestine mission of keeping an eye on a half-American and half Bangladeshi Aslam Khan, who was supposedly the chief operative of the dreaded terror outfit Jihad-e-Islam. Aroused by the revelations of the terrorist activities this outfit was purported to carry and uplifted by his appeal to her patriotism for her own country, she had felt enthusiastically capable of handling the operations. But closer to the execution of the assigned task, her heart started sinking within her and her mind became full of misgivings.
But there was no room for failures. She must succeed! Although the chief of Bangladesh National Security Intelligence had assured her of full support and had helped her with the information on whereabouts of Aslam Khan, she had to meticulously and surreptitiously design his exposé.
She collected the file picture of Aslam Khan – a handsome young man – tall, lean with square soldiers. His face looked a bit familiar but she couldn’t recollect where she had seen him.
‘All bearded and bespectacled men look similar’, she brushed aside her thoughts.
Eid arrived and the whole house wafted with the aroma of sweet delicacies her mom was so good at making. Dressed up with consummate elegance, she helped her mom to spread the elaborate fare on the table and pack all the gifts. Ammu introduced her with all the relatives, most of them business class, filthy rich, their opulence brimming over through their clothes and conversation.
Mithu was eating semiya with his group of college friends, talking and laughing raucously to the annoyance of other elderly groups. The background score was submerged in the cacophony of voices.
‘Hi guys ! Hope you are enjoying the evening’ – Munira greeted his friends, resting her palms on Mithu’s shoulder.
‘Yes, they are, Apu’, Mithu replied on their behalf while his friends gave sheepish smiles and kept quiet, probably in awe and admiration.
‘So, what’s happening on the Dhaka University Campus these days?’ Munira casually broached the university topic to get some insight into students’ perspective.
‘University is not the same like your time Apu,’ said Mithu. ‘ It’s burning! There is no freedom of speech. You must have seen it on CNN. Journalists are being slaughtered. Whoever dares to stand out against Jihad-e-Islami, stands alone!’
‘Who is Jihad-e-Islami?’ Munira asked with complete ignorance.
‘It’s a bunch of fanatic people who want to bring Taliban rule to Bangladesh and so are ready to quell all progressive thoughts – they hunt them down from everywhere even from social websites like Facebook’, this time one of Mithu’s friends spoke coming out of his reticence.
‘I heard there is some guy – Almas behind all this operations’, she purposely mis-pronounced Aslam’s name.
‘Not Almas – Aslam Khan Apu! Mithu corrected her to the laughter of his friends. ‘He is the chief operative of Jihad-e-Islam. Before joining this outfit he was a student leader of Islamic wing. He rose to popularity because of his radical speeches. He was into a lot of things like fake currency and crude bombs.’
‘Muni, you didn’t serve these boys zarda pulao?’ Ammu intercepted the conversation with her signature dish in hand. In no time, the conversation shifted from crude bombs to culinary expertise.
Next day, at break of dawn, she was about to start for Farmgate area, the hideout of Aslam Khan, when she realised she had forgotten her glasses at the study previous night. She quickly darted to the study, and saw Abbu sitting in the room with some gentleman whose face she couldn’t see, as his back was turned against the wall! Abbu’s eyes met with hers. Startled, he asked ‘Muni , you up so early? Looking for something?’
‘No, I came to pick up my glasses’
Hearing her voice, the guy turned back.
‘You, here? How come?’ – was all she could say?
It was the guy with phoenix tattoo who she had met in the plane. As usual his tattoo was half concealed. He was wearing a low cut V- neck t-shirt which was sensuously revealing his clean shaven chest and emphasising his muscular body.
Abbu’s eyebrows wrinkled further.
‘You guys know each other?’
‘Yes Abbu, we met in the plane’ and ‘he is my heart-throb’, she wanted to add.
‘Imtiaz bhai, you didn’t tell me your daughter was here?’
‘Oh she arrived for Eid vacation. She’ll be going back in a few days.’
‘Muni, would you tell Amma to get some tea for Aslam?’
Aslam? Is he Aslam Khan? It could not be? Her mind was so full of this terrorist guy in the last few days that she had not been able to think beyond.
Her face coloured as she recalled the mental picture she last had had of him, trailing him at the airport like pied piper. It seemed preposterous to associate the thought of murder with a man like him. Her intuition said that Aslam was a gentleman. He sure was a victim of mistaken identity. While she still was arguing with herself, she retreated to her room and pulled out the university picture of Aslam Khan. It was indeed what she had not wanted to believe. The style and the physique had changed but nobody could miss those captivating eyes and aquiline nose!
‘Abbu, how do you know Aslam? She asked him the moment he had left, not wanting him to fall into any kind of trouble whatsoever in getting associated with a man like him.
‘Oh, he is the son of a friend of mine, whom I have known for almost ten years.’
‘But Abbu do you know he is embroiled in all these terror activities. It’s better to keep your distance with him.’
‘It’s all Western World’s media propaganda Muni, you won’t be able to understand the politics of our region. Anyway, he visits us here only because he has no relatives to talk to. His dad expired last year and his American mother re-married and moved back to States. Once in a while he visits her but he likes to stay in his own country. I don’t think there is any harm in having a cup of tea with a friend’s son.’
She didn’t know how to explain to her Abbu. He was too innocent and she was seriously concerned. She must find out a way to pull him out of his association immediately. An idea flashed into her mind. She must break into Aslam’s house and gather enough evidence to expose him and then inform her chief so that he can plan for his arrest.
At midnight, equipped with her quintessential mission equipments – key opener, torch, magnifying glass, gun etc, she landed at Aslam’s apartment. To her surprise the door was not locked. She pulled out her gun and stealthily advanced towards one of the rooms which seemed to be illuminated. She positioned herself against the wall with the gun in hand and tried to peek through the scarcely ajar window. Her stomach churned seeing the horrific sight.
A young boy was tied to a wooden chair, his fully-bruised body – a blob of blood, sweat and tears. Standing next to him was Aslam Khan with a sword pointed at the victim’s neck as if ready to behead him. There was another man behind a camera with tripod whose only hands were visible holding the camera. From the conversation, she could make out that the victim was some journalist whose secular writings had upset few terrorist groups and therefore they wanted his head. Before his death, they wanted to capture the slaying to boast to the world about their terrifying achievements.
Munira had no time to lose. She aimed from the window and shot three bullets – two at Aslam and another one at the man behind the camera. Her aim was perfect. With Ya allah , the bodies fell onto the ground.
Once ensured, there was no movement from either of the bodies, she entered the room and freed the victim. Aslam was lying on the floor, his mouth open. Beside him the other body was lying with face towards the floor. She turned him to have a glimpse of his face- her Abbu lay dead on the floor! •

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