chaalbaz

The Swindler (Chaalbaaz)

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The Swindler (Chaalbaaz)


Author: Muhammad Usman Ali

Synopsis: How can that innocent looking woman do such a thing? A tale full of suspense

Translated From Urdu


Hamid looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked … “How many days has it been?”

“Since what?” I quizzically asked him.

“Since we published the ad …?”

“It’s only been 20-25 days” I answered thoughtfully.

“Hmm. Considering how urgently we need a female clerk, it’s been getting delayed even more” Hamid answered.

“All the women who’ve applied so far have either been under-educated or under-experienced”. “And we don’t know of any other shortcomings that might surface later on …” I said, agreeing with him. “Don’t worry we’ll find a qualified female clerk very soon”

“Hmm” Hamid nodded his head in agreement and after a brief pause replied: “By the way, who do you think will get the tender this time? Whose fortunes will shine?”

“We should thank God that we got the tender last time and if God wills we’ll get it this time too. We should pray for it” I replied.

Before Hamid could respond, there was a knock on the door and I replied “Come in”. The door slowly opened and our secretary walked into the room with a sky blue ring binder in her left hand. Her name was Abida. “Sir! There’s a woman outside in the hallway. She’s a candidate for the file clerk position.”

“Who’s with her?” Hamid asked the secretary. “No one sir, she’s alone. She saw the ad in a newspaper and came to apply for the job” she replied and placed the file on Hamid’s desk.

“I think she probably won’t be like the Matric-pass girls” I told Hamid. He didn’t reply. I picked up the form and paused as well. The age column had the number “48” in it.

“What is it?” I asked angrily.

“Have we opened an old people’s home ….?”

“So what? Is it another low-education candidate?”

“Why don’t you take a look yourself” I said and handed the form back to Hamid. He took it and started reading the rest of it and replied: “Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s possible that the woman might be experienced, so what if she’s a bit older? No harm in bringing her in for an interview. The final decision will after that anyway”.

I liked Hamid’s approach. I picked up the job application and started reading through it again. The woman was named Razia Sultan.  “Hmm… I hope she’s not the famous Razia Sultana from those old tales”. Hamid looked at me and burst into laughter then said “If it’s the same woman that would be even better!”.

“How so”, I asked.

“Then we can ask her for all kinds of historical information from that era and write a nice big history book. We could even publish it. We could become famous and rich”.

“Hmmf… leave it, Mr. bigshot history author. However she does seem qualified. Will you schedule an interview?” I asked.

“Definitely, but we’ll both sit in on the interview”.

Even though it was our company policy that all partners would separately interview candidates and compare reports later but Abida was standing there impatiently. “What should I do then, Sir?”

“Ask her to come in”.

She went outside the room and in a few moments there was another knock on the door.

“Come in!” I answered.

The door opened and the woman named Razia Sultan entered the room. She nodded her head as if we had been anticipating her arrival. She was of average height and wore an old black dress. She was 48 years old but seemed 30. I asked her to sit down.

“Thank you” she said softly but her voice had a tone of authority.

“Mrs. Sultan …..“, I started addressing her.

“Please call me Razia!”

“OK, Razia. This is my partner Mr. Hamid and my name’s Shuaib Raza. Your application is interesting; it says here that you were born in the Indian city of Chaka Shameer”.

“Yes” she smiled. There a big house in Chaka Shameer. It’s been renovated now and turned into a great bungalow”.

“Oh so you were born in that bungalow?”

“NO, not in the bungalow but in a small house nearby it” she said with pride.

“And you worked in India for 10 years. But why did you leave your job there?” asked Hamid.

“You’ve never been to the northern side of Chaka Shameer. It’s was extremely cold and I told Iqbal I couldn’t live there anymore”.

“Iqbal? … who’s Iqbal?” Hamid asked.

“Iqbal is the name of my husband”

“But your husband’s name is Sultan”

“Yes it is … his full name is Sultan Iqbal. He passed away a few years ago. Mr. Hamid, I love sunlight! I assume you’ve never lived in Chaka Shameer?”

She was right, I’d never heard of that place despite traveling to India and Bengal on a number of business trips.

“Razia, we need an excellent file clerk and there’s a lot of work to be done. You’ll also have to type”.

“I know how to type. Will you take a test?”

“OK” I said and the three of us stepped outside. I whispered into Hamid’s ear “She probably won’t manage more than 10 words a minute”.

We sat her down infront of a computer and gave her a few pages to type out. She placed her hands on the keyboard and started typing like a machine. It was as if the keyboard was a machine gun. We watched in amazement as she typed at 90 words per minute. She typed out 3 pages and we could only find a single mistake.

Razia was sent into the office and Hamid said “She’s an amazing typist”. But I told him “we should check her references just to be safe”.

“I’ve seen the references, they’re OK”.

* * * * * *

The days passed and within a month Razia had become the most popular employee of the company. She’d bring a cake if it was someone’s birthday. She’d help out anyone who had any issues. People went to her to solve their problems.

One day she was on her computer chair busy with her work but seemed weighed down.

“What’s the matter Razia? Are you feeling unwell?” I asked her.

“It’s nothing, just feeling a bit of pain since yesterday night” she answered.

“If that’s the case then you shouldn’t have come to the office today, you can take a leave!”

“That won’t be necessary, I took some medicine before coming in. I’ll take another dose in a few hours”

It had been 5 months since we hired Razia. One day Hamid came to my office and crashed into the chair. He seemed tired. “What is it? You seem upset?” I asked.

“Yes” he sighed.

“Why? What happened that’s caused you to be so upset?”

“The matter is such that if you hear it too, you’ll jump on your chair in amazement”

“Has your wife finally expressed a hint of affection for you after such a long time?”

Hamid smiled and said “Even if that had happened I wouldn’t be so surprised. But …”

“But what?”

“Razia ….”

“What about Razia?”

“We receive a lot of cash form our clients which we deposit in the bank every Friday. That was yesterday”

“I already know that but what are you trying to say?”

Hamid looked at me and said “Razia took all the deposit money and ran away”

“What?” and jumped off my chair. “What are you saying? How did this even happen?”

“Shaukat went to the bank with the money. He called me about 10 minutes ago. He’s been robbed and all the money’s gone”.

And all this was done by Razia?” I asked him, confused.

“Yes, the same aged Razia who works with us”.

“What nonsense is this?” I raged.

You might not believe it but I’m telling you the truth. Shaukat told me that when he was leaving the office for the bank Razia asked him if he could give her a ride as she also needed to goto the bank. So he gave her a ride. On the way, she pulled out a pistol and made him stop the car on the side of the road. She hit him on the head and he lost consciousness. When he woke up both the car and the money were gone.

“That woman was a swindler and she just swindled us!” screamed Hamid.

I stood up, thought for a moment and said “Come on ….”

“Where?” he asked me.

“Let’s look at her file and job application, we might find some more clues about Razia”. We reached the filing cabinet and looked for her file but it was nowhere to be found. It had vanished into thin air. However, we did find a large white envelope with the name Razia type on it in large letters. We opened it and removed the white sheet of paper in it which said: “I’m resigning – Razia”.

We then realized that there was no record of her handwriting anywhere. Even the resignation letter was typed. “Do you remember anything from her job application? Any references etc.?” I asked Hamid.

“No” he said. “It’s been five months”.

“I do remember one thing though. She travelled to Pakistan from the Indian town called Chaka Shameer. Don’t know if that’s a real place or not”.

We searched around on the computer to see if we could find such a place but there was no record of any such city.

The next day I was in my two room bachelor house. The police were sympathetic when they heard our case. But when we told them of how we were swindled by a 48 years old woman they chucked too.

“Do you have any photo or handwriting from her?”. We didn’t. We had no evidence and there was no way for the police to investigate the case.

* * * * * *

I was in my house at the time. I opened a cold drink bottle and downed half of it in a few seconds. Then I got up and headed towards my bedroom. On the bed was Razia counting the 90 thousand rupees and preparing bundles from the cash. She was startled as I entered the room.

“Hello mum!” I said to her smiling, the woman was my mother Farkhanda.

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