Zohaib stared into the distance, his eyes narrowed; looking for a sign. Any sign of trouble that is. An owl hooted. The sound echoed eerily. It almost gave him the creeps.
“Bloody,slimy bastards.” Kabir, his friend and brother-in-arms spat on the ground.
“Come on, they’ve been pretty quiet these days.” Zohaib shot an amused look at him in the darkness.
“Yeah right. Its quiet. Too quiet. Ever heard of the calm before the storm?” Kabir whispered.
Zohaib grinned,” Getting superstitious, are we?”
“Why the fuck did i sign up for this UN Peace Keeping thing anyway? The money’s not worth it. And they have extended our watch here by a fucking month! A month! These people are animals man! Did you see what happened to Lieutenant Dev Singh?”
Zohaib stopped smiling. It had not been a pretty sight. The Lieutenant’s eyes had been gouged out and he had been tortured, from what he had heard; for days at an end. They found his mutilated body just a few miles ahead of their camp. But that’s what happened during war. You killed in order to survive. It was that simple. But now the fighting was getting to him. Along with the food and the heat. Oh the heat. Welcome to Africa. Mosquitoes. Jungles so thick and filled with slush you couldn’t walk without sinking knee-deep in mud. And then the guerrilla warfare.
“He was newly married you know? Just three months into it and they sent him here” Kabir shook his head and sat down beside him.
Zohaib frowned. Not that he had anyone. Well, technically he did. But he wasn’t sure if she even cared.
Shehnaz scowled and checked her watch. Her friend had excused herself and gone to the ladies room almost fifteen minutes ago. She took another sip of wine and nodded absently at the two guys standing next to her at the bar. They’d been trying to talk to her and her friend for almost an hour.
She was bored with the mindless chitchat. She shot another longing look at her phone, almost willing it to ring. But she knew he wouldn’t call. He evidently wasn’t into her.
“So, what’s your sunsign?”
Shehnaz raised an eyebrow, laughed. “Are you kidding me?”
She grabbed her purse and walked towards the ladies room, shaking her head. She spotted her friend at the other corner of the bar, talking animatedly to a guy.
“Priya, i’m not feeling to well; so i’m pushing off.”
“Aww…poor babie! You carry on, i’ll stay on for a while.”
Shehnaz nodded and walked out, avoiding eye contact with the two guys at the bar.
Zohaib was pacing up and down, his cell phone in his hand. He squinted at the screen in the darkness. No network.
Kabir snickered. “Give it up man, its not happening. And if Captain Yusuf finds your phone you are a dead man bro, a dead man.”
Zohaib sighed and settled into his make-shift trench. It had been almost a month since he’s spoken to her and it was getting to him. What if she met someone else?
Kabir noticing his gloomy demeanor kicked him on the leg,”Hey, snap outta it. We’ll be out of this shit hole soon and then you can call her. I can tell by the way she looked at you that she likes you man, she really does.”
“You really think so?” Zohaib looked hopeful.
Kabir rolled his eyes.”Yes. Now get some sleep. First watch is on me.”
Shehnaz was standing in her balcony. She looked up at the moon. It was a beautiful night. He still hadn’t called. Most probably he was stuck in a jungle, but he had told her that was only for a week. She didn’t even have a number she could call him on. Funny how everything depended on technology now.
“Well whatever happens i’m not a quitter.” She spoke out aloud.
6 weeks later.
“Hey, stop here for a minute will you?” Zohaib tapped the driver of the jeep.
“Captain Yusuf said..” the driver started protesting.
” Shut it, i don’t care what Captain Yusuf said.” Zohaib got off and crossed the road, across some trees. On the other side, was a small African town, which had been bombed again and again. Most of the inhabitants had left in fear. But a few still persisted. On one of his patrols Zohaib had bumped into an old Indian man, who had shifted there many years ago. That Indian owned a shop. With a satellite phone.
“Namaste, Sahib.” The old man bowed respectfully.
“Here”. Zohaib took out 4 bottles of rum from his rucksack.
The old man smiled,”Here!” – He pointed towards his phone.
“Hello?” She sounded sleepy. It must be past midnight there.
“Hi.” He licked his lips, nervous.
“Zohaib?” She sat up in bed, excited and resentful at the same time.
“Yeah its me.”
“Hey…where are you?”
He could sense the reproach in her voice.
“Listen, i’m in the middle of nowhere…can’t tell you…but…i just wanted to..well..” His voice trailed off.
“I just wanted to talk…i’ll talk to you soon…i gotta go…”
He felt like kicking himself when he said it.
“Um..ok…be safe Zohaib. Don’t play the hero.”
He smiled as well.
“I won’t. I’ll see you soon.”