The air-conditioning is a bit too strong for my comfort, thought X. Thank goodness I have the authority over these things back in my office.
Y did not stir. If similar thoughts occurred somewhere deep inside Y, they certainly did not show on his face. They never did. There was a reason he induced fear and respect in every person he came across.
The discontent was obvious on X’s face as the blast from the air-conditioner chilled him to the core. He looked at Y. Their eyes met. Then their lips twirled into smiles — very, very tired smiles.
X and Y came from either side of the Wagah. Though none of them were exactly state heads, the men behind the machinery knew how crucial X and Y were, for their respective countries.
Their countries have been at war, time and again. They had united over hockey, and of late, cricket. They had celebrated music and biryani. They had their own heroes, but at heart they held grudging respect for their neighbours as well.
Of late, unfortunately, the dark shadow of terrorism has loomed large over both nations. They forgot to trust. Somewhere, somehow, things had started to go downhill. Trust had given way to hatred, music to bloodlust.
It was nothing new for X and Y, who have seen all this — and more — over the past seven decades. Even in their late nineties, their brains were sharper than most of their countrymen. Trivial issues did not bother them, not anymore. They knew that minor tussles were a part of coexistence.
But when people of two countries decided to put religion ahead of cricket, both X and Y knew something was wrong.
Yes, something needed to be done.
They had to meet, once again, hopefully for the last time, in the other country, thousands of miles away from their homelands.
We all know those nights, the kind they show in movies in the climax scene. You know those nights. Fierce storms, relentless downpour, impregnable darkness; sometimes, to add to the effect, probably accompanied by desperate waves lashing on to helpless beaches or bridges.
X and Y expected this to be one of those nights, for both men had a thing for drama. Unfortunately, it was a perfectly ordinary night, which meant that the events of the night, however dramatic, would not be accompanied by anything more than somewhat chilly air-conditioning.
X broke the silence: “Is he coming?”
“Of course he is.”
“How did you get to know him?”
“Oh, he contacted me. He is a secretive person — why, I don’t even know how old he is! But he is from my country, or that is what internet suggests. But then, you cannot trust identities these days.”
“That is true. However, I can assure you that I have personally supervised the background check we have done on him. Our men have tracked down and dissected his entire past, and have triple-checked every bit of data. There is not a thing we do not know of him.”
“I trust you, X. Had you been born fifty years later you could have ruled the world with your technical genius.”
X smiled. Had the compliment come from someone else he would probably have not taken it too seriously, but he knew Y was speaking the truth.
“And you, Y, in your youth could have ruled the military intelligentsia of any country.”
“Do you regret doing this, X? Spending our lifetimes in two nations that did not progress as much as they should have?”
“I have thought of that, Y. The thought has crossed my mind. But then, had we not stayed back, we would never have been able to step in when things got out of hand.”
“Indeed, we have saved lives, millions of them. But we are digressing. Let us focus on him, as of now.”
“Of course. Let us focus on him. Here, we have all the data. But, are you sure this is the man we want?”
“Of course, X, of course.”
“But, don’t you think he looks a bit, well, gullible?”
“Rather. But then, that is the advantage. He is not gullible at all. He merely looks gullible. In fact, few are as focused as he is.”
“I am a bit sceptic, but I think I have to He had made a similar attempt to this one, almost three years back. It worked for a while, but once the effect faded out, things got worse in my country.”
“And mine. Never forget that.”
“Of course, of course. But one thing intrigues me: how did he pull himself together and prepare himself for another go in less than three years’ time? How does he manage to plan things and get them executed so smoothly, so seamlessly, so efficiently?”
“That is what has intrigued me as well. This man is extremely resourceful. People spend a lifetime in achieving this even once. And here he is, pulling this twice in less than three years.”
“Do you think he has it in him to do this?”
“Of course. Don’t you remember the impact he had three years back?”
“You are r…”
The phone rang. Both men instinctively grabbed their pockets, but it was not theirs. They noticed the stray phone lying somewhat inconspicuously between them. They wondered why they had not noticed it before.
Both men reached out for the handset.
They were sceptic, and had a reason to be sceptic.
Finally, with utmost reluctance, Y reached out for it, and pressed the green button. He pressed the handset to his ear, and five seconds later, he put it back on the table and turned the speaker on.
“Hello. Is that you?”
“Of course. I know this may be a bit uncomfortable for you, but I guess an eye-to-eye contact is redundant in this case.”
“Ah, cameras. But why?”
“Just a matter of personal security. You do not really need to see me face-to-face.”
“Why did you call us here, then?”
“Oh, for the presentation.”
Something whirred somewhere. X knew what was about to happen, and nodded at Y. As the lights in the room dimmed to the verge of non-existence, the huge white screen on the wall sprang into life.
Less than six minutes later, X and Y looked into each other’s eyes, nodding at each other. This will do.
“Well? Your feedback?”
It was X’s turn to talk: “I must tell you something. Our countries have been at war for years; however, between Y and me, we have been able to sort things out. Unfortunately, it has been different, far worse this time. We needed someone, a messiah, to step in, to put an end to what is going on.”
Y joined in: “All we wanted was our countries to coexist in harmony, something they do not seem too keen on, of late. We needed someone who could unite the two nations. I think you are the solution.”
“Do you really have faith in me?” Did the voice really tremble? Or was it the signal?
“Yes. We do. Now go. It is time. It is time for you to act, for the second time. I hope there will be no need for an encore.”
“I sincerely hope the same,” came the response.
“Go then, Sir. I wish you all the best.”
There was a pause.
“Please do not call me ‘Sir’. I am too young.”
A smile, this time a satisfied one, appeared on the ancient faces.
“Fine. Now leave, and spread your message. We know both countries will respond, in unison, transcending boundaries of geography and religion.”
“Good night, Taher.”
Photo acquired from Google Images.