Haldar babu knew his ilish machh like nobody’s business, thank you very much. His walk had developed a slow gait, and he couldn’t see very well in the dark any more, but when it came to selecting the perfect machh on Sundays, nobody could beat him.
Last Sunday was the first time in 47 years that Haldar babu didn’t show up at his fish seller’s stall. Montu had even kept his fish cut, washed and ready, and even waited an extra hour. Eventually, he left for home, happy with the heavy earnings of a usual Sunday, but a bit puzzled about Haldar babu not showing up.
As Montu walked out, the market’s sweeper stumbled on something on the muddy, stinky market floor. He looked down, and spotted something shiny. Hoping someone dropped coins in haste, he stooped and picked it up. It wasn’t coins, but he still clutched it and left quietly. It was a wristwatch, and he had a feeling that it would give him enough to buy tonight’s alcohol.
Little did he know, that it was Haldar babu’s prized, antique Tissot. Neither did he see the faint blood specks on its back.
It was 7am on Sunday when Haldar babu’s phone rang. Thinking that it’s most likely his son calling from New York for the usual chat, he grabbed his phone without looking at it, and received the call. His long-time house help, Parimal, had seen this happen in front of him when he went to serve him the morning tea. 20 minutes later, he saw Haldar babu rush out of home. That was the last anyone saw of him.
It was dark already, when Tapan, the market janitor, stumbled out of the alcohol store, holding beers. Today, Tapan splurged. He couldn’t believe his luck when the sold the watch in chor bazaar for 500 rupees. Just as he was about to enter his home’s lane, he was stopped by a man. The man was asking him where the watch was.
Two minutes later, Tapan collapsed to the ground. The paper bag with the beers smashed on the ground, interrupting the dark, silent night. The man disappeared, fast – by the time anyone came out, both he and his silencer-equipped revolver were gone.
Montu kneeled in front of his boss, crying for forgiveness. He had failed in doing the one thing he was asked to – get Haldar babu to take the fish that he’d give. That, maalik had said, would have done the trick. Now, Haldar babu was nowhere. Montu didn’t know who interfered in their plan – how did anyone even know?
Parimal sat alone in the massive, ancient four-floor Haldar House. Haldar babu had warned him that such a moment may come, and had instructed him on exactly what he should do. He waited until the clock struck 11 at night.
Quietly, in one sweep, he brought out the biggest butcher knife that any human hands could hold, and proceeded for the basement.
Haldar babu’s son had been a victim of bullying all through. It became a bit too much once, when he was 12, when the school bully pushed him into a pool of urine in the washroom. In a flash moment, he had grabbed a broken glass bottle and smashed it on the bully’s head, who bled to death on the spot.
The bully, it turned out, was the son of Sadanand, who ran the city’s organ trafficking racket. Sadanand had Haldar babu and his son picked up and was about to have them shot, when Haldar babu struck a deal to keep his son alive. Sadanand would turn his son into a pawn to kidnap unsuspecting kids. In return, he’d let both father and son live. Haldar babu had told everyone that he’d sent his son off to his brother in USA, for further studies.
15 years ago, after almost two decades of living in this arrangement, Haldar babu struck a second deal with Sadanand — he’d bring his son home, and instead, would work in the organ trafficking chain, himself. Thus, came home a mid-aged man whose name, Haldar babu said, was Parimal. He introduced Parimal as his house help. Nobody recognised Parimal as Haldar babu’s son.
That morning, Sadanand had called Haldar babu to warn that Montu and Maalik had found out about their little arrangement, and this might put their entire circuit at risk. Montu and Maalik had suspected something, through the two years since their very healthy sons had disappeared together, and wanted to track Haldar babu down to see where he lived, and what he was up to.
Sadanand asked Haldar babu to quietly take both the fish vendors down, before they entered the market. Haldar babu had rushed out, but before he could reach them, he was abducted by Sadanand’s men.
Something about Haldar babu’s voice had given away that he had other plans. In the scuffle between him and the henchmen in the hidden alleyway, Haldar babu somehow managed to remove his wristwatch and drop it on the floor. It got stained with blood in the scuffle, but they didn’t know what it had.
When Sadanand met him, Haldar babu confessed that he was indeed about to give them all away. He was exhausted by a lifetime of crimes, of abducting Montu’s and Maalik’s sons, and many others too. He wanted to go to Montu, confess to them and turn himself in to the police.
However, two things threw alarm in Sadanand’s heart — one, Haldar babu’s wristwatch, which he said contained a memory card inside that had all the proof to destroy Sadanand’s lifetime of crimes. The second was scarier — Haldar babu had told Parimal that if he didn’t return home by night, he should set all the captives free, and go turn himself in to the police.
Back at Haldar House, as Parimal slowly made his way down to the basement, he was struck with the thought of whether he should really set the captive kids free. He always hated that his father had refused to kill them, even after selling their kidneys to Sadanand. They’d die, anyway — shouldn’t he just relieve them, once and for all?
Somewhere close by, someone cut open into Haldar babu’s lost wristwatch, and found the memory card.
15 minutes later, someone rang the Haldar House doorbell.
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