The hatchback sped past a small town , splashing muddy water from a puddle. A stray dog got out of the way in time.
Inside the car, Deeksha dozed, oblivious to the steady drizzle outside. Akash was silent as well, his mind going over the events of the past weeks, both at work, his book and now – this. They’d decided to take off on a weekend and make a single day trip to Sakleshpur.
A rough patch on the road woke up Deeksha.
“Where are we? I’m sorry, I think I must’ve dozed off,” She said, her voice a bit groggy.
“Hey, perfectly ok. Umm, I think we’re nearing Hassan.”
They started out at day break. Not that it made any difference outside. It still looked like daybreak, what with the wet weather outside, and the Sun deciding to take the day off himself.
“Do you have any plan in mind? What are we looking for there?”
“I have no idea. Thanks to my publisher, I could get a member reference, so we’re allowed to go and just look around.”
Deeksha nodded, looking out.
They stopped at Hassan for breakfast, and got to know a little about each other for the rest of the journey before reaching Planter’s Haven around eleven.
The lobby manager smiled as they walked up the stairs in the portico and stepped into the waiting lounge. Not many guests were around, spare the usual staff, walking around with the same look of urgency Akash had noticed several weeks ago.
“Ah, the author. How’re you, sir? A very good morning to you…and to you, ma’am.”
Akash smiled, wincing slightly at the reference. “How’re you?”
“Great, sir. I was told about your arrival. Mr. Rao personally called me. Make yourselves comfortable, sir. Ma’am.”
He then left to attend to his other responsibilities.
Deeksha immediately decided she wasn’t going to like the pesky fellow. She smiled artificially and looked around. Then her eyes caught something at reception desk, and she tugged at Akash’s hand.
Akash turned to her and she motioned at the large garlanded photo.
“Shashank,” She whispered.
They stepped closer to get a better look. The lady at the counter straightened up. “Yes, sir?”
Akash just smiled without replying. She went back to her work. It was obvious they weren’t interested in checking in.
Akash looked at the photo for a few moments.
Later they walked by the pool-side, each carrying a glass of juice they got from the restaurant. The rain had stopped for some time now, and the Sun was peeping from the clouds.
“He definitely looks familiar. Wonder why I didn’t notice his portrait before.”
They went to the patio where Akash ‘met’ Akanksha, and took a table facing the mountains, and the serpentine road leading to the resort. It was a beautiful sight.
“It’s funny how real she looked. I still can’t believe she’s…”
Deeksha smiled vacantly at him. “Dead.”
Akash nodded. “I do think she wanted me to meet you, though. I don’t know why. But she did.”
“Yes. Just think. She used your name, gave me clues about where you worked.”
“Yeah, but if she really wanted, she could’ve just told you where I worked, right?”
“Hmmm. True, now that you mention it, she could have. I just presumed it was the usual girl act – playing hard to get, and all that. Or, maybe she didn’t want to reveal a lot about herself. After all, I was a stranger.”
“Hey, while you were here, you ate and then sat here, right? How come nobody noticed it? I mean, you both must’ve ordered something. Somebody’s bound to have seen her, right?”
Akash turned serious now. “You know, I’ve been thinking about that right from day one. After the dinner, we didn’t order anything. We were pretty much to ourselves. It could’ve been just me they saw.”
“Yeah, but maybe the pesky manager can tell.”
Akash chuckled at the reference. “Pesky. I like that. And that he is…”
“He did deny anybody checking into her room 207, right..and ..” her voice trailed off.
“Yes, he just told me that to get me off his chest. The club policy is they don’t share information about their guests unless it warrants a police investigation. Then the red tape…you know the drill”
Deeksha frowned. “Damn.”
They left the resort at around four in the evening, disappointed. Deeksha didn’t want her mother calling her; as it was, she’d already called her a million times.
It was close to nine by the time Akash dropped Deeksha and headed home. He just hoped it was all a dream and that he didn’t hear or see Akanksha again. She hadn’t made contact the last few weeks, so it was fine with him. He suddenly wanted to get on with his life – though he felt guilty for thinking like that. But well, it wasn’t his fault, right? And maybe Deeksha and her folks also would forget about her. It could’ve been a one-off case. Maybe the place somehow brought out some sort of a psychic power in him, which would go.
He parked his car in the basement of his apartment building and walked to the elevator. His mind went back to the events of the day – the ‘pesky’ manager (he smiled at that).
As he stood waiting for the elevator car to come down, he realized, though he told Deeksha he’d met Akanksha at the resort, he’d never really told Deeksha about his ‘search’ for Akanksha that day – him walking up to Room no. 207 and the manager shooing him off.
“He did deny anybody checking into her room 207, right?” Her words rang in his ears.