"Now I remember you."
The speaker, Rateesh Singh, stood staring at the attacker, flanked by two cops. One of the cops glared at the attacker like he was keeping him down by the sheer weight of his stare. The other one lazily gazed at the Rateesh's face as if to expect him to say what to do next.
"You stole my phone."
Though he hadn't asked a question, Rateesh paused for effect and waited for a reaction from the assailant. The assailant's lips remain pursed but his eyes spoke much more.
"Chori kiya? Chor hai yeh? Sir main..." The glaring cop took a small step forward, trying to play up the intimidation. The assailant's eyes did not leave Rateesh's face.
"Nahi nahi," Rateesh cut in impatiently, "Matlab phone isne vaapas kar diya."
The cop's glare broke as he turned to Rateesh and it turned into a frown. "Kya bol rahe hain saab? Chori karke vaapas kiya?"
"Haan. Something like that. Main batata hoon."
The cop on his other side, the one with the empty expression, now turned his body completely towards Rateesh in anticipation of an amusing anecdote.
"Yeh mujhe kuch 6-7 maheene pehle <pub name> mein mila tha. Mujhe naam se bula ke kuch der baat kara. Mere office mein kisi ladke ka dost hai bola. Mere office mein job ke liye apply karna bola. Main apna number bhi diya. Ek paanch-dus minute mein chale gaya. Jaane ke baad soojha mere ko pocket check karne ko aur dekha toh wallet nahi liya par phone leke chale gaya."
The glarer turned to the assailant as if asking him if he really did that, and before he turned back to Rateesh, he looked convinced that he had; a rhetorical glance.
"Main police mein bhi report kara. Kyunki woh mera office number hai, usme bahut important call aate hain. Aur phir ek pura din dar dar bhatakke naya sim liya. Office bhi nahi jaa paaya us din."
"Kya baat hai! Chori se chutti!", the empty-faced constable offered his first sentence in the conversation with a sheepish grin.
Rateesh grew very serious suddenly. "Aap kya mazaak samajhte hain? Aap jaante hain main kya kaam karta hoon? Suicide counselling. Matlab samajhte hain aap? Matlab mere phone nahi uthaane se log mar jaate hain!"
The dramatic exaggeration was completely lost on the constable who had never heard of this phrase - suicide counselling. He continued to grin sheepishly offering no repartee. The other cop, as if on cue, nudged Rateesh on with, "Phir kya hua?"
Rateesh reluctantly gave up denouncing the constable's weak morals and general knowledge for the sake of continuing the story. "Aur 2 din baad, yeh aadmi mere ghar ko aake mera phone vaapas deke gaya." Again Rateesh paused for effect, waiting impatiently for the question that inevitably followed this point in the oft repeated anecdote - "Kyun?"
Rateesh did not answer. He looked up at the assailant's burning eyes. He usually enjoyed the answer to that question. It ranged from "Fuck only knows!" to "I think my phone is like the one Ring. It found its way to its master." and was different every time he told the story. And the truth was that too. He had not the slightest inkling why this man had reappeared two days later, looking quite different than he did now, of course; one could see his face then, for one. And it had a strange look on it. He tentatively offered a thin ostensible tale of how he had found the phone in the parking lot or something of that sort. But what was odd was that he wasn't trying too hard to embellish his obviously false story. And his eyes seemed far away even when he was looking at Rateesh. Unable to decipher it, Rateesh put it down to drugs or alcohol. But he knew that that could not be because apart from the eyes, nothing else seemed off. He really did not know who this man truly was and why he had stoled his phone and returned it. But he did not care less about it. Or so he thought. So it was an open ended story and he enjoyed telling it differently every time. But today, as he faced the assailant, he realised that he wanted to know. Suddenly, more than ever before, he wanted to know.
"Isi se poochiye," muttered Rateesh and looked at the glarer as if to give him permission to proceed. Before going ahead to this most enjoyable part of his job, he decided to check one last thing with Rateesh, just to be sure.
"Aap kya case likhvaa rahe hain? Chori ka? Attack ka? Ya donon ka? Abhi station mein aake ek sign kar dijiye, phir isko main deta hoon."
Rateesh considered for a second and decided to gamble.
"Koi case nahi dalna."
All three pairs of eyes shot up at him. But only one pair did not have incredulity in them.
"Kya baat karre saab?," started the glarer vehemently. So close, yet so far. But Rateesh just held his hand up while his gaze still held the assailant's. Neither man's expression was less stoic.
"Agar ye humein bataa de ki kyun ye sab kar raha hai, toh main usko is baar jaane dene ko tayyaar hoon." Rateesh spelt it out carefully as if dictating a will.
The two cops then sensed the shift of weight in things and turned, as if magnetically, towards the assailant.
His eyes left Rateesh's face to hold each cop's gaze in turn, as if he was trying to read deep into them and see hope. But he did not. His gaze fell very slowly to his toes. Now he seemed to be trying really hard to read words printed on his big toe. Just as Rateesh was about to lean forward and shake him by the shoulders, the bent head started to face forward. The assailant seemed to have come to a decision about spilling his guts.