A 17-year-old budding spy with parents as RAW agents runs into a mysterious figure in a Dubai washroom
Are your Spidey senses tingling? At 17, Samira Joshi has only one dream in life. She wants to be a spy. And why not? Spying runs in the Joshi genes. Her great-grandmother was famous for sticking her nose in everyone’s business. Her grandmother had a flourishing side-business of tracking down errant husbands and missing servants. Her parents are elite intelligence agents for RAW. Yet, they want their only daughter to become a doctor. When she sees a college friend being trapped by a pimp, Samira does some spying of her own, and discovers the existence of a secret sisterhood of teen spies — The Spyders. And, she wants in! The question is, do they want her? To find out, read this fast-paced, gripping YA novel by brand new author, Apeksha Rao.
I was being followed. I just didn’t know it. You couldn’t blame me, really. I was only sixteen at the time. For the past year, my parents had rarely been in the same place at the same time, for more than a month. So, when they whisked me off to Dubai for a family holiday, I was so excited that I forgot the basic counter-surveillance measures drilled into me by said parents. Like I said, I was only sixteen.
Yet, I was being followed, and I hadn’t realised it yet. Though I did realise that I needed to pee. I came out of the stall, washed my hands, and decided to fix my unruly hair. As I was pulling all of it up into a high ponytail, a woman came and stood next to me.
“I have something important to tell your parents.”
At first, I thought she was talking on the phone, because she was speaking in Arabic, so, I didn’t respond.
“Samira Joshi, I have to talk to your parents, now.”
I turned to the woman, shocked.
“How do you know my name?” I mindlessly responded in Arabic.
“Shh! Keep your voice down, and turn back to the mirror.”
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” I asked softly, facing the mirror.
“That’s not the point. Will you do as I asked?”
“I won’t do a thing until you tell me your name!” I said, belligerently.
“My name doesn’t mean anything to you. Just do as I ask,” she insisted.
“Take off your veil, then. I want to see your face.”
The woman was heavily veiled, in a niqab that concealed her face.
“No! Just tell your parents that I want to speak to them,” snapped the woman.
“Why should I do that? My parents are not fools, to meet a total stranger. You could be leading them into some sort of trap,” I argued.
The woman leaned towards me, and hissed, “You will do as I say, otherwise your country will be reduced to a pile of rubble! Is that what you want?”
I slowly backed away from her and rushed out of the loo.
As I walked to the cafe where I was supposed to meet my parents, I kept looking back, half expecting that woman to follow. I spotted them waiting at a table. Ma was reading a book, or pretending to. You could never tell with her.
Baba was people-watching, his watchful eyes taking everything in, down to the last detail. This was his favourite hobby. When I was a kid, dining out was just another lesson in spycraft. I had to observe and memorise everything about the room, from the number of waitstaff, to the exits and cameras, as well as the details of all the other diners — how many people at each table, what they were wearing, and their expressions. When I got older, Baba would pick a table and I had to place a listening device at that table without being caught. That’s not as difficult as it sounds. You’d be surprised at what all you can do with a timely twist of the ankle.
I knew that the moment I opened my mouth, that blank, expectant expression would turn into disapproval and disappointment, and my holiday would be ruined. I was not wrong.
That’s all I needed to say.
Ma’s eyes narrowed.
“Samira, you’re breathing hard and your pupils are dilated,” she announced, leaning forward to peer into my eyes, in full spy radar mode.
“What have you been up to?”
There it was, the implication that I was responsible for whatever had happened, like they were used to me messing up all the time. Normally, this was where I would get defensive and I’d lose the argument even before I spoke. Not this time. I took a deep breath and spoke as dispassionately as I could.
“A woman approached me in the loo. She had a message for you guys.”
Ma raised her perfectly arched brows. Baba was still silent, listening and watching.
“For us? Who was she?”
“She didn’t say,” I replied, knowing that was not the right answer. A good spy never needed to be told.
“Irrelevant,” said Baba. “It’s not like she would have told you the truth.”
He shook his head. Once, he would have added that I should have figured out that woman’s identity within a few minutes. Now, he didn’t bother, not after the ‘incident’, as I liked to call it.
“What did she want?”
“She wanted to speak to you guys. She insisted on speaking to you guys.”
“About what? And why did she approach you?”
“She wouldn’t tell me her name, and she was heavily veiled, so, I couldn’t see her face. When I tried to find out who she was, she warned me that if she didn’t speak to you guys, our country would be reduced to rubble. That’s when I came looking for you. Oh, and she spoke to me in Arabic.”
My parents looked at each other.
“It could be a bomb threat. Come on, Samira. Show me where she was,” said Ma.
What did it say about my family that this was the happiest I had seen Ma, since the start of our holiday?
A family holiday in Dubai?
Swimming with sharks in the underwater zoo?
Foil a possible bomb attack?
And there it was... the famous smile that had captivated heads of state and dictators all over the world.
My mother could smile her way out of any situation. She was once caught taking pictures of the contents of a Pakistani diplomatic bag, something that’s supposed to be sacrosanct and inviolate. Far from being contrite, she had smiled cheekily at the guard who caught her.
I’d read a copy of the incident report aka complaint, filed by the Pakistani High Commission.
According to Major Irshad Khan,
“Sir, I heard a blast in the corridor outside the room, and I went out to investigate. All the lights in the corridor were blown out. I rushed back to the room, and there she was, sitting on the floor, with the contents of the crate spread out in front of her, merrily clicking photos. I yelled at her to stop and put up her hands. She looked up at me and smiled, and, to be honest, it was such a naughty and inviting smile, that I was flustered for a moment. That’s all it took... one tiny moment... for someone to knock me out from behind. When I woke up, the crate was packed again, and that woman was nowhere to be seen.”
That was my mother for you.
I led the way to the washroom. It was empty.
“She was standing right there, Ma.”
We checked the stalls. But the woman in the niqab was nowhere to be seen.
“She’ll be back,” predicted Ma.
She was right, as usual.
“I was waiting for you,” said the woman, from behind us.
Ma pushed me behind her, as she confronted the stranger.
“What do you want?”
“I have information that will be of great interest to you and
your bosses at RAW.”
“Okay. But first, you’ll have to provide some credentials.
Who are you and why should we believe you? Also what’s
your shoe size?”
“I work for a jihadi organisation that is planning to target India. If you want to save your country, you have to act fast. Is there a safe place where we can talk? This place has too many eyes and ears. That’s why I didn’t approach you directly. I don’t want anyone to see me talking to you guys.”
“I’ll find a place. Meet me here at ten am, tomorrow, and I’ll tell you where to go. But let me make this perfectly clear. You will not approach or involve my daughter in any of this. You speak to her again, and my response will be brutal,” threatened Ma.
Any mother will get aggressive if her baby is threatened.
But when that mother has the ability to kill you with her bare hands and make it look like an accident, the smartest thing you can do is, step away from her baby.
So, the woman in the niqab held up her hands in a gesture of peace.
“As you wish. I apologise if I scared the child. And, I wear a size six in sneakers.”
Behind Ma, I opened my mouth to argue that I was hardly a child, but Ma squeezed my hand, warning me to be quiet.
The woman in the niqab smiled at us, and swept out of the washroom. Ma and I hurried to the cafe where Baba was waiting for us.
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