Updated: Mar 6
The lady at the front desk said, “Mr Sharma, I am afraid you are right. Your daughter didn’t board the bus.” She took a pause and added, “The security confirmed that she left with a man, whom she addressed as her uncle.”
Suresh stamped his fist on the wall, “How could you let go a twelve-year-old, walk out of the school, with no written communication with a stranger.”
“I am extremely sorry, sir. I have registered your complain and the school would take strict action against the security. Apologises! He made a terrible mistake”.
His voice trembled, yet hoarse, “A Mistake! Do you have any sense, my daughter is missing. I would sue the school,” and dashed out.
Nina’s uncle dropped her to the school. After spending a long weekend with her uncle and his family, she wanted to spend more time with them. However, her parents refused, and she attended the school with a heavy heart.
When the school dispersed; Some students hurried to catch the best seat in the bus, some went to the bicycle stand chit-chatting with their friends, and some went to grab snacks sold by a shop near the school. Nina, immersed in her thoughts, walked mechanically towards the school gate.
“Nina, Aren’t you taking the bus” called Sonal?
“Oh, yes!”, and together they walked towards the bus. Nina stood in front of the bus and thought, “Whether she should board the bus or walk to her uncle’s home, it wouldn’t be far”.
“Nina, Aren’t you getting in the bus,” asked Ashutosh.
She stammered, “Actually, I”
Within moments a plan formed, and she said, “I forgot, my uncle is here to pick me up. Catch you later” and hurried towards the school gate.
Her heart pounded. A hundred thoughts crossed her mind; “What if Mom comes to know about this, Wouldn’t she be angry”?
“Of course! She will,” said the small voice. “But would you care…”
The security at the school gate stopped her, “Where are you going? Aren’t you a bus child?”
“My uncle is here to pick me up,” she said confidently.
“Where is he?” Asked the security personnel suspiciously.
“There,” she pointed to an unknown man parking a bike.
“Very well, off you go”.
She ran fast and started her expedition. Her heart led out a thud, and she heard her heart beats loud and clear. She followed other kids. Slowly, the people bid goodbyes, and soon she was alone. Her confidence faded away and fear crept in when she looked at the deserted roads. “You fool, you have lost the way, how on earth would you go back” the small voice screamed.
She stood alone, unable to decide what to do next. Her mother had once warned her, “You should never trust strangers. They kidnap kids and sell them.”
“Yet! You wanted an expedition. Enjoy getting kidnapped” said the small voice.
She shook the bad feelings and murmured, “Kidnapper that too on a deserted road. Ha!”
She turned back and saw a man walking towards her. Her stomach churn, and her heart skipped a beat. Why does mom have to be always right?
She shook her head and walked fast. She turned to check and saw the stranger quickened his pace. Horrified, she ran. The man yelled at her, “Stop!”
Scared to hell, she ignored him and kept walking. The stranger blocked her way and said, “Scared, are you.” He gave her a wry smile.
The stranger had big moustaches, a big scar on his left cheek and grey eyes. He had an aura that scared her.
She stood numb and in a low voice said, “I stay nearby”.
He asked, his voice deep and hoarse, “Where?”
She said again, “Nearby”.
Unable to speak or look at him, she looked at the ground, thinking hard on her next course of action.
He asked again, “Scared, are you?” She kept quiet. The stranger looked at her for a long time and then said, “Follow me”.
She asked, her voice barely a whisper, “Why?”
Ms Sharma, Nina’s Mother, waited for the bus. The bus driver stopped and said, “Ma’am, Nina didn’t board the bus”.
“What do you mean, she didn’t?”
Ashutosh said, “Ms Sharma, her uncle picked her up.”
“Her uncle” mumbled Ms Sharma. “Very well, thank you”. She hurried back home and called her brother-in-law.
After many failed attempts, she called her husband.
“Suresh!”, she cried aloud.
“What happened, Mina?”
“Nina didn’t board the bus, and the driver said, her uncle picked her up.”
“I have tried many times, but could not reach him. Please, please could you check with him,” her voice quavered.
“Calm down! Mina. Probably, Mahesh would have, don’t worry, I will call him”.
Tensed where his daughter is, Suresh called Mahesh.
“Hey! Mahesh, did you pick Nina?”
Mahesh replied, “I didn’t, isn’t she in the bus”.
Without a word, Suresh left in haste for the school.
The man asked her, “What is your father’s mobile number?”
The small voice said, “Don’t share it”.
“I don’t know” she replied hesitantly.
“Do as I say and follow me.”
“No, I will…” she tried to sound courageous.
“Walk with me” he shouted and dragged her behind.
There was no escape, and she was in a mess. Her unknown fears, her terrible dreams, all came true. She could not walk, and her body trembled with fear. The man kept dragging her. Her silent tears swelled up in her eyes, but she refused to cry. She racked her head to find a way out. They kept walking for miles and then reached an unconstructed road with messy surroundings. There was no one around to help her. Her inner voice said, “You are strong, Nina” and she shouted, “Stop!”.
Irritated with the school’s response, yet Suresh had Nina on his mind. He searched the nearby area and enquired in the neighbourhood. Helpless and tensed, he thought to call the police. A lady walked near to him and said, “What are you looking for?”
“My daughter left the school but had not reached home. I am searching for her. Have you seen a twelve-year-old girl?” He showed her Nina’s picture.
The lady said, “A man took her. I saw him dragging her away”.
He swallowed, his voice barely a whisper, “Where”?
“Towards the south,” she said.
Suresh followed the road. The more he searched, the tensed he felt. There was no sign of the man or Nina. “No time to waste, I should call the police” he murmured when he heard a faint voice, “Stop”.
“Nina!” He shouted and followed the voice, yet she was nowhere.
“I give orders here,” said the stranger.
“Where are you taking me?”
Before the man could answer, Nina bit him and ran away.
“Stop!” Shouted the man and followed her.
She thought, If he caught her again, there was no way she could make it back to her home. She ran with all her strength. A wall blocked her, and she saw the man behind her. She climbed the wall and without a second thought, jumped to the other side. The fall had sprained her leg. Her leg ached, and she could not stand up, her eyes filled with tears. “How on earth would you make it?” Said the small voice.
“Shut up!” She said and tried again to get up.
The man followed her and jumped behind her. He saw her lying on the ground. He went close to her and said, “Out of your senses, are you?”
He kneeled to pick her up. She hit him with her fist and crawled away.
“Are you nut?” he shouted. “Don’t you try it again?”. He kneeled again when they heard a man call out, “Hey! Don’t you dare?”
Nina saw her father running towards her and shouted, “Dad!”.
Suresh shouted from far, “How dare you?”
The man didn’t move and held Nina.
With all his strength, he pushed the man back and pulled Nina away from him.
Nina buried her face and cried hysterically in her father’s embrace. He held her tight, “Don’t worry, doll”.
When he stood, he saw the man neither ran nor walked away. He waited for the father and daughter to calm down. “Strange” thought Suresh. Nina saw Palal kindergarten in the vicinity.
She said a loud, “Dad! We are home”.
Suresh exclaimed, “What?”
“Yes, Dad, we are at Palal”.
The man said, “I am a father myself….”. Without a word further, he waved and walked away.