Read part 1 here
He met the caretaker the next day.
“Jaggu Bhai,” said Arun, “I wanted to know if Bittu has been in a fire accident ever? The boy seems pretty scared of fire.”
“Never. Though he would often wake up perspiring and shout for his mother.”
“He knows who his mother is?”
“How could he? He was 6 months old when someone left him at our door.”
This wasn’t leading him anywhere. He decided to meet Bittu’s close buddies.
“Chintu, Motu, do you know why Bittu is so scared of fire?” he asked the two boys.
They looked at each other and then at him.
“He would often say his mother died in a fire” said little Chintu.
Arun froze temporarily as if he had been hit by a light pole.
The heat was unbearable. The curtains and upholstery had caught fire. The whole building was on fire. He was screaming for help but there was no one to save him. He was slowly losing consciousness and slipping into a deep sleep.
Bittu got up with a start. It was that nightmare again. It had been recurring with an alarming frequency. Bittu looked around. It was terribly dark. All he could hear was the thumping of his own heart. He had thought that coming to a new place would rid him of his nightmare, but he was so wrong. His nightmare had recurred thrice in 3 days. That was bad. In fact, he hated this family. All that love seemed so hollow. He wanted to run away.
“I don’t think adopting this little boy was the right idea” confessed Arun to his friend.
“Maybe you are right. But you know why you adopted him, isn’t it?”
He had been having recurring nightmares too. That woman had tried strangulating him so many times before. You killed my son, now I’ll kill you, she threatened. He had woken up gasping for breath, each time pleading to be forgiven. As atonement for his sins, he decided to adopt a little orphan boy and bring him up.
It had not taken much to convince his wife. Their own son was terminally ill. She would need another child to direct her affection to after he was gone.
But now he wondered if Bittu was indeed that child he had mistakenly burnt when he put Sarla on fire. Had he come back?
He had always suspected Sarla, his first wife, of having an affair with his best friend. He had left her soon after Raghu was born as he had been convinced Raghu was not his son. A few years later, someone had told him that she was about to marry that friend. In a fit of rage, he had set her on fire with the help of his friends. But he had not realized that Raghu had perished in that fire too. He had later married Smita but by a cruel twist of fate, his own son was now terminally ill.
His hands trembled as he thought of it now, and to calm his nerves, he lit a cigarette and propped it into his mouth.
Bittu picked up his little bag, slung it across his shoulders and crept outside in the darkness. He saw a figure standing in the veranda, smoking a cigarette. He had to cross that way in order to get out. As he crouched and walked he kept his gaze steady on that figure. As he streamed closer, he realized it was Sahay. He didn’t want to be seen. And then his eyes fell on the hands. He stood frozen in fear! They were the same hairy hands that he had seen strangulating his mother. He trembled with trepidation, perspiring, in spite of the coolness of the breeze. He looked closer. Unmistakably, the same bracelet hung loosely from his wrist. An ‘A’ overlapping an ‘S’.
Then he saw the cigarette butt fall from the hairy hands. It fell at his feet. He picked it up and walked around the house putting every curtain on fire. He stood near Sahay’s bedroom and threw the butt on his bed. Then he swiftly walked away without looking back.
Aided by the breeze, the fire had caught on and had ravaged like a wild beast. He could hear screams but he dared not look back. The morning broke with the terrible news of how the Sahay villa had suddenly caught fire and how poor Mr.Sahay and an unknown person had perished in the fire. Mrs. Sahay and her son had miraculously escaped, but there was no news of the little orphan boy they had adopted. Maybe he died too.