Things were not going right for Roma, for quite a while. Academics was not getting as much attention as it used to, even as studies were getting more demanding than ever. She was losing interest in almost everything that she loved to do and she was aware of this sad, confusing change in her. Her appetite had also gone down significantly and she was having many a sleepless night. Unfortunately she didn’t have any close friends with whom she could share her thoughts, and she kept falling in the scary depths of depression.

Roma had just entered college at the tender age of seventeen. She was brilliant in studies and that had secured her an admission in the best college in town. She had taken the Arts stream, for she loved English Literature. She was a bit shy as a girl and usually kept to herself. She just had a handful of friends and in fact she never got close to any of them. She was the only child of Aruna and Piyush who, in their own ways, had given everything that they could, to Roma. Both were doing well in their careers and while Roma was growing up, they needed to give more and more time to their respective jobs. Roma was, increasingly, left to herself. She generally avoided moving in social gatherings with her parents, for lack of company of her own age. Her parents too stopped insisting that she accompany them, and more often than not Roma would stay back home, alone, for long hours.

Aruna being a little less communicative, Roma was more open to her father, Piyush. In a way he was her friend, and she would share her thoughts, apprehensions, etc. quite freely with him. Early morning hours was her time with her father; they would go for a long walk and would have chats over tea on their return. Suddenly, when Piyush had to go away to Africa for an assignment for five years, Roma was devastated. She did not show this though, and put up a brave face. She tried to throw herself completely into studies and Aruna too plunged into her work.

However, Roma was clueless about how she could fill the void in her life caused by her father’s departure. Digital communication with him was not enough for her and, during this turbulent stage, she kept falling in and out of relationships. Her life was falling apart and Aruna had no clue about what to do. Many a time, Roma would intensely miss the absence of a sibling and she would envy her friends who had either a brother or a sister. She too wanted someone to live with, share things with, and even fight with. At present, her fourth boyfriend had broken up with her and she was perplexed as to why her relationships did not last. Her exam results were out and she had fared horribly in them. She knew her mother would be shocked, and angry, and she had just no explanation to give her. She decided that she had had enough of life, and that she would end it now.

Roma found her way to the college terrace. No one was there, as expected. She went near the boundary wall and looked down at the ground, six floors below. The next moment, as she lifted her legs over the wall to jump, someone lunged at her from behind, and forcibly pulled her back. She fell on the terrace and looked up to see Izaan, a student of her class, standing there.

“What the hell do you think you were going to do, Roma?” growled Izaan.

Roma burst into tears and Izaan just let her be. After she had calmed down a bit, Izaan tried talking it out with her. Izaan was very understanding and patient, and he just let her talk. Roma blurted out her worries, failures, anger, everything. Izaan gently held her and managed to get her down the terrace. From that time Roma became friends with Izaan. She found a very patient listener in him, who would happily spend hours with her, just letting her speak. His kindness and softness won over Roma’s heart. The other thing that Roma found remarkable in Izaan was that he was always giving, and never ever demanding any thing. This was something very new to her, and she started confiding in him with all her deepest sorrows and anguish. Izaan stood by her like a rock, during that difficult time.

Roma could not believe her luck that she had found Izaan’s love and could not understand as to why, generally, Izaan was not popular in the college. Students sort of kept away from him. He was not good at academics, either. But all this did not matter to Roma and she fell head over heels in love with him.

Izaan came from a good family, where both his parents were Professors in the university. They were widely respected for their knowledge and their original research. Izaan had an older brother as well, who was studying medicine. Izaan was not much interested in studies and was pulled up a lot by his parents, becuse of this. They always gave him the example of his brother and he hated that. He was always reprimanded for his unfocused attitude. He had even run away from home quite a few times, only to return after a few days. He wanted to show his family that he was not as useless as they made him out to be, but he had no idea as to how he could do so.

Once, when he had run away from home after a good shouting from his parents, he headed to the railway station and boarded the train that he found standing on the platform. The train left and, after a few hours, he realized that he did not have much money with him. He was feeling very hungry but did not want to spend any money on food. He turned his face to the window and kept looking out. The person sitting next to him patted his hand and, when he turned, offered him food. He insisted that Izaan share the food with him. Hungry Izaan could not resist much and ate to his fill. After profusely expressing his thanks, in exchange of some sympathy, he opened up to the man who called himself Mirza bhai and poured out his heart to him; his anger against his family, and how he wanted to show his family how successful he could be, his hatred towards studies, etc. etc. Mirza bhai kept on listening and then suggested that he return home and that he would guide him to the pinnacle of success. Izaan could not believe his luck and, as per his suggestion, returned home. Thus began Izaan’s assosiation with Mirza bhai.

Mirza bhai, over a period of time, with the dangling carrot of huge success, tutored Izaan’s mind and turned him into a complete fanatic. Now Izaan believed from his heart that their God, The Prophet, had chosen him for a higher purpose and that every person who does not follow his religion, needs to be wiped off from the face of the earth. And also, he had to induct as many people as possible into his religion, so that the strength of such God’s men, increased. He now had one of the most coveted titles, that of a Jihaadi. His unfocussed mind had now found a purpose, which would make him a very successful man while living and also one of the favourites of his God, after giving up his life in fulfilment of this purpose. Mirza bhai had subtly and very effectively managed to pull Izaan’s mind away from his family and from whatever he had learnt in his life till then, and had written his own dictates in Izaan’s mind, with a permanent marker.

So now Izaan would be on the lookout for vulnerable boys and girls and with his gentleness and guidance, would completely recalibrate their minds, filling these with hatred and making them Jihaadis. This is what he did with Roma as well. She was in any case blindly in love with him, and she did not need too much of convincing to agree to convert her religion and become a jihaadi. Whatever Izaan said, seemed the best to her. The day she turned eighteen, she married Izaan and announced this to her mother Aruna. Not only this, she changed her religion too. She just wanted to do anything and everything that would make Izaan happy. She had no problems, it seems, to leave her shocked mother and go away with Izaan.

That was three years ago. They both were recruited by the organisation that Mirza bhai was a part of, and they were sent to different countries as jihaadis. It took no time for both to realize the truth behind the purpose of jihaad. They saw all the atrocities and violence all around, but by then it was too late. They saw how they were being used by people who had nothing but their own interests in mind. They wanted to get out of this, and go back to their loving families, but that was easier said than done. Finally, in an attack by the US army, they were captured. Their photographs were sent to India for identification and Aruna and Piyush were only too happy to accept them to be Roma and Izaan. But, will they ever be able to see Roma? Who can tell?

Author of the book “The Heart Speaks”, Medium writer since 2018, top writer in fiction, short stories. Loves writing, dance, music, children. Learner for life..