The Cold Player

Kabir was on his knees. His hands were shaking. Sweat broke out under his armpits and dampened his shirt. He looked at the man who held knife at his son’s throat. That face held a peculiar look. It was the look of a dog waiting for its master’s order.

Only minutes ago Kabir was smiling. He couldn’t remember the last time he smiled at that time of day. Reshma insisted that they go on a vacation. He couldn’t say no. She made too many sacrifices throughout his career, and without complaining much. He wanted to see her happy now. So they sat there, halted somewhere, off the road. That was an open stretch of land and beyond many yards, there were woods. They were on a long drive since that morning. Carpets were spread on the ground and carriages were out of the car. Kabir could see, she was overwhelmed. He smiled at her. She never expected him to take leave to spend time with family. After lunch the kids were running about the place. Nani was 10 and Seema, 14. There was laughter. No one seemed to notice the men in masks approaching them. Within moments they were surrounded. The men held his wife and kids by their arms, twisted back. No one held Kabir. He was free to see terror in the eyes of his family.

“I love this place” the man said. He didn’t hide his face. Nor held any weapon. But Kabir knew that a slight signal from this man would trigger all the weapons in his men’s arms. “I love kids” he spoke as he looked at Reshma “and women.” He turned to Kabir and continued, “Having a good time? I’m sure you are. I love having good time.” He paused and continued. “You know why I’m here, don’t you?” Kabir knew there was no escape. Reshma couldn’t yet believe it was really happening.

“If you are here to kill me, make it quick. But please let my family go.” Kabir’s voice was earnest. But the man before him could almost sense his pleading. He looked at Kabir for a moment before he started speaking again. “Kill you? Sure I would. You are going to die today.”

“No…” screamed Reshma. “Hush, love. I’ll give you time to scream, nice and loud. But not yet.” He turned to Kabir and continued. “Where was I? Ah…You are going to die today, yes. But make it quick? I wouldn’t be having a good time then. Would I? So it goes like this. We play a game.” The man extended his arm and one of his men handed him a revolver. “Your girl is going to run and you are going to shoot her in the head.” He pointed his finger at Seema. “You have one shot. If you miss, she’ll run away into the woods and live, but your son will die. And my men will have a good time with your wife. She’ll scream and I’ll make you watch. If you hit, your son will live. But then your daughter will die and my men will have a good time with your wife. She’ll scream. And I’ll make you watch. But if you try and shoot yourself to spoil my good time…” he took a step towards Kabir. “I’ll kill your son and I will have good time with your wife and then with your daughter and my men will watch them screaming. And when they stop screaming, I’ll kill them as well.”

Then he turned to Reshma and smiled. “You see love? You are going to scream anyway. Why rush it?” Kabir collapsed to his knees. “Please…” he begged. “Kill me and let my family go. Please…They’ve nothing to do with my job.”

“My brother begged you to let him go. Didn’t he? You killed him anyway. And he had nothing to do with the games I play.” That was the first sign of pain he betrayed in his voice. His lips tightened. There was a moment of silence. “Now, now…let’s not get emotions into the game” he started smiling again. “If in case, you refuse to play, which I hope you would, I’ll have good time with them straight away before I kill your son, and you’ll have to watch. So officer, decide.” He said as he threw the revolver at Kabir. “Oh, I almost forgot. You may shoot me now, if you wish, that’s okay, only my men will continue the game then. I’m a sportive player officer, you see?” He rubbed his hands together as he smiled and widened his eyes. Kabir felt a wave of heat take over his whole body.

The man who held Seema released her wrists. “Run now, girl. Or he’ll kill you all” he whispered in her ear. She started running. Kabir felt the objects around him shaking. He didn’t realise he was the one, shivering. His eyes were looking at the revolver on the ground. He saw Seema running to the woods as he raised his head. He picked up the revolver. The man who held knife at Nani’s throat kept his eyes fixed, and waited for orders. Kabir looked at Reshma. Her face was empty.

-Avinash Kumar


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