Trina, who is struggling to complete her note on photosynthesis, beckons me from inside our college classroom; the biology lecture has concluded, and the room is empty.
“What’s the problem?” I walk into the room from the corridor and sit next to her.
“Just received an SMS that my mom has to go out of town in a couple of hours for an urgent meeting of her NGO and not expected till tomorrow afternoon.”
“So, what’s new? ”
“That means I will be alone in my Bungalow tonight.” She involuntarily shivers. “ I feel so scared.”
I then remember that her father has gone to Chennai last week and will be back next month.
“Shouldn’t your mom have thought about this?” I demand, a bit irritated.
Her mother does not seem to understand the security concerns of that Bungalow which is on the outskirt of the city. The nearest neighbour is about one and a half kilometers away towards the northeast direction, and the rest of the expanse is a green area stretching about five kilometers.
What worries me is the recent spate of housebreakings near that neighbourhood which makes the Bungalow very vulnerable, especially for Trina if she is to stay alone there. The only saving aspect is that a security guard is stationed round the clock near the entry gate of the Bungalow, but is his presence enough? I don’t think so, and I cannot be callous about the wellbeing of my loved one.
Without any reply Trina sits there in deep contemplation; obviously, she wants to find a way out when I put my hand on hers and say gently, “Tonight I can be with you if you don’t mind. We can jointly complete this note.”
The sense of relief on her face makes my day. She smiles and says, “That will be great Soham, many thanks. I will wait for you around 7.30 p.m. at my Bungalow; we will have dinner together and complete our notes; we will have a wonderful time.”
As I park my new bike in the portico of Trina’s Bungalow, at around 7.15 p.m. that evening, I feel that rain is in the atmosphere. Darkness has set in; clouds have rolled out throughout the horizon virtually obliterating stars and the moon; lightning, accompanied by deep rumbles of thunder, and increasing moisture-laden wind, all point out to imminent shower. Looking up, I guess that a long spell of heavy rain is possible, which can wet my bike here, and I don’t want that.
After some thought, I push my bike towards the cluster of garages, some distance away at the side of the Bungalow, taking a narrow path through the lawns; on reaching there and finding them all locked, I locate an adjoining small tin shed on a patch of bare land. It is a garden tool shed, and its door is open. On parking my bike inside, while going out, I notice that a drainpipe has come down from the roof; although partly broken, it will not let water accumulate inside, and spoil my bike.
Getting back to the portico and the main door, I ring the bell.
The torrential rain begins.
Trina opens the door herself, and on seeing me, her face breaks into a smile, and her beautiful eyes lit up. After that, she extends her hand to welcome me and leads me through the large drawing-room with chandeliers, exquisite furniture and tapestry, to a short corridor, at the end which a door opens into her bedroom.
Every time I come into the Bungalow, I marvel about the wealth and opulence of her household.
Her large bedroom, renovated recently, has a single bed, assorted furniture, and illuminated by concealed lights. As I look around, I also see a study table in the extreme right corner near French windows, green velvet curtains, a decorative lamp on the table strewn with books and notebooks, a comfortable study chair, and a bean bag seat next to it.
“So happy you have come.” Saying this, for the nth time, she occupies the chair with a request for me to sit on the bean bag seat. Picking up a book with numerous flag marks, obviously on the subject which we will jointly study now, she begins.
Meanwhile, she has filled in and switched ON the coffee maker placed on a small table; we will have dinner later, it is ready.
I lose count of time as we drink numerous cups of coffee and get fully immersed in our studies… when suddenly I hear a knock on the door. At first, Trina may not have heard the sound, but when another persistent knock comes, she glances up, murmuring, “Who can be there? Servants have all gone.”
Before she can get up, there is a noise as the door opens and a short man wearing a body fitting black suit with his face hidden behind a black mask strides in, following whom another man similarly attired and tall, comes in more cautiously, he has a pistol in his hand with a silencer which he is pointing towards us!
This is just so sudden. I blink dumbfounded; this is incredible!
Within moments as this horrible scene sinks in, my mouth turns dry, and a painful palpitation starts in my chest; soon, my voice chokes, and I cannot react. Wordlessly as I look at those two men, I notice that Trina seems to be less scared and says sharply, “Who are you? What do you want? How did you enter my Bungalow?” Saying these she gets up so determinedly that it becomes abundantly evident that she is not going to take this intrusion meekly and will defend herself.
Seeing her reaction, the short man moves forward swiftly with a handkerchief, and catching hold of her hair forces her face upward and covers her nose firmly with it. She fights a bit initially and gradually becomes still.
Looking at those violent movements, I grasp that he must have applied some knock-out liquid, like chloroform to her, when something hits my head with a brute force. Instantly my thoughts turn disoriented, and lights start flashing in my eyes, followed by an unbearable pain shooting through my head. Soon all-pervasive darkness envelops me; I must have rolled down to the ground from the bean bag seat.
I don’t know how long I have been unconscious, however when I regain my sanity, albeit slowly at first, and later somewhat, I feel a throbbing headache; I also realise that I am stretched out on the ground, my throat is parched, my tongue feels like sandpaper, and my lips are dry. Thankfully, I am not trussed, though in a confined space. A ray of light is percolating through a slit in the door, and the space looks familiar.
Indeed, I am in the same small tin shed where I have parked my bike.
Glancing at the radium dial of my watch I gather that the time is 11.57 p.m.; that means I have been unconscious for more than two hours.
Very soon the horrifying occurrence of the evening comes back! I shudder involuntarily at the thought. What can be the intention of those two men – those criminals? Perhaps it is a robbery; or is it something else? They have a pistol!
I am fortunately alive, but I am not sure about Trina.
The door of the tin shed has been open when I have parked my bike ; now, hoping that it is still open, I get up swaying and holding my head. The door is locked from outside; that must have been done by those criminals. I cannot open it, even with vigorous rattling, then, panicking, I shout, finding no response, shout again, louder, but to no avail. Maybe the guard has not heard me, or he too has been ambushed by those criminals.
Sweating and shaking, I feel around the wall of the tin shed, hoping that I can find some way out; there seems to be no way out of this captivity!
Along with my head, my legs, too, are hurting. I walk towards my parked bike at the right corner and try to sit on it, but I slip and collapse on the ground.
In no time, I again feel that I am drifting off to a state of half-asleep, partial unconsciousness; ultimately, I lower my head on the floor, with my body in a comatose position I drift into oblivion.
When I wake up, about half an hour later, everything seems to be the same. My thirst has intensified manifold, and my body seems to want food; all these make me feel faint.
I do not know what will happen to me; will those criminals keep me alive?
Time passes slowly.
The rain is relentless. I hear it thrumming on the metal roof and running down the broken pipe into the mud, and I moisten my cracked lips with my tongue. I wonder if they’ll bring me food and water. I wonder if they’re coming at all…
A feeling of despondency is now settling upon me; is there no help possible? But then, thinking about help, I remember my parents; they have always helped me … will do so now…I know that!
The question is: how will they know where I am?
If only I can contact them!
And so, another thought flashed in my mind, albeit a bit late.
Where is my mobile?
I immediately pat my shirt and trouser pockets and slowly hunt around on the ground where I have woken up initially, but it is not there. I try to recall desperately when I have last used it, but my mind remains blank. Usually, I keep my mobile on my person; is it possible that those criminals have taken it away after they knocked me out? Sitting huddled on the ground, I am thinking when my mind suddenly clears; now I recall that my mobile hasn’t been with me when I have gone in the Bungalow.
In fact, for some providential reason, I have kept it in the glove box of my bike.
And my bike is before me in this shed!
I scramble to my feet in such a hurry that I lose balance and fall down, get up again and as I reach it, I inadvertently topple it over. With shaking hands, I pull it up to standing position and open the glove box; mercifully, I find my mobile!
Exertion and relief make me feel exhausted.
Wasting no time, I dial my father. The phone goes on ringing; soon the call automatically terminates. He must be asleep at this time of night. I frantically try repeatedly with the same result. My mother’s mobile has been switched off.
What shall I do next?
Panting, my thirst makes me feel like puking, I take hold of myself and think for many moments. Shall I call the police? My friends? But again, I am unable to get through; I clench my hands in deep frustration!
Before long, I hear somebody is opening the door. With lightning speed, I keep away the mobile behind a pile of garden tools at the rear and slump on the ground; whoever is coming need not know that I have regained my senses.
With half-open eyelids I see that the short criminal enters the shed; he has an electric torch in one hand and a bottle of water in the other; directing the beam of light on me, he swears profusely and splashes some water on my face. I remain inert, at which point he throws more water; groaning for a few seconds, I gradually open my eyes.
Without further ado, he pulls me up by my shirt collar and thrusts the bottle in my mouth.
He snarls, “ Where is your mobile? We know it is not on you.”
Gulping down the water, I ponder; my reply will decide whether we survive or not.
“It’s in the Bungalow.”
“I will show you…”
Can I pull this off?
It is still raining.
A little later, I am dragged inside the Bungalow to the same bedroom from where the entire incident has started. My faltering footsteps dirty the white marble floor with wet mud. That man’s shoes also leave marks.
Most of the lights have been switched off.
“This boy is still dazed, can’t walk properly.” The short criminal tells his companion, who comes near and gives me two stinging slaps. “Buck up, don’t be such a sissy. Where have you kept your mobile?”
I look around, blinking.
Trina is sitting on the bed, her hands, as well as the legs, are tied together, and there is a tape on her mouth. Although she looks a helpless girl, her eyes show a different picture, they are ablaze, and she quickly rolls her eyes towards the pillow on the bed.
She has heard that man asking for my mobile.
On my indication, the tall criminal pulls up the pillow and finds it. “Why here? Oho, you must have kept it while two of you have enjoyed making love on the bed.”
He ogles at us for some moments after which, thrusting that mobile in my hand says, “Here, prove that it is yours.”
I dial her number from it and Trina’s mobile rings which is with him. He verifies; it shows a call from Soham. He also looks into mine; a call has been made to Trina.
“ I am Soham,” I say and show my college ID- Card.
He checks and throws all on the table and diverts his talk.
“So, you too have a rich father, eh! That’s what your girlfriend tells me, and she has convinced us. We are lucky; both fathers are rich!”
Now I know, we have been kidnapped!
Next, I turn and stare at Trina. Why has she misled them against my parents and me? Why has she told a lie? She knows we are not wealthy.
As I am trying to absorb this new turn of events, subsequent words of the tall criminal shake me.
“Boy, now we can squeeze good money out of your rich father also; that will be our bonus!”
He, at that point, raises his pistol towards my head, then shaking his head lowers it.
“Else there is no reason why we should keep you alive, we don’t want any eyewitness.”
Both of them nod at each other.
Thence I realize why she has misled them.
To keep me alive!
Moreover, not seeing my mobile on my person, Trina must have guessed that it has to be in my bike, and since I have been held outside, she has thought that there is some hope.
Obviously, she has not seen me getting knocked on my head because, by that time, she has become unconscious. Nonetheless, astutely, she has also presumed that those criminals will be looking for my mobile.
She has therefore deflected those criminals’ attention to my second mobile, which has been in her possession since some time and kept under her pillow.
In fact, I have lent it when she has broken hers, and after getting a new one, she is yet to return it to me. The mobile I have kept hidden in the tin shed is my first mobile. The short criminal not knowing any of these gives me a malicious smile.
“Now boy, tell me your father’s mobile number, we will call him. We will also call that girl’s father. Both of them will make us truly rich.”
I know that there is no reason to show any resistance in this situation.
After, making me sit on the bed with Trina, with my hands and feet tied together and my mouth gagged, the short criminal drives out to call our parents.
The rain has stopped at this time.
Later, an eternity it seems, that criminal returns with a broad smile on his face; his mission has been accomplished; they will now shift us to another location and intend to collect the ransom money from a new spot.
What will happen to us?
The time is 3.35 a.m.; as Trina, and I are being ushered out, thoroughly gagged and with hands tied behind our back and struggling to walk when suddenly the unexpected happens!
The whole Bungalow gets lit up by powerful spotlights, and a loud announcement starts on a megaphone saying that we have been surrounded.
Within minutes, a dozen armed policemen break open the doors and enter the premise!
On an impulse, the tall criminal is about to hold the pistol against Trina’s head, but I move with lightning speed and hit him on his chest squarely with my lowered head like a battering ram; the pistol flies out of his hand, and he collapses. The short criminal jumps to his assistance, though Trina hits him with her shoulders, making him tumble.
In the melee, the police reach us. Our muddy footsteps have guided them.
Finally, those two criminals surrender in front of such powerful law enforcing contingent. That seems to end this shocking crime tale with a positive note, but not without some footnotes. Of course, I give a large piece of the credit to my father for a quick response.
To be fair to them, the police action has been very commendable.
And, lady luck has also smiled on us!
For me, however, Trina is the real heroine; if she hasn’t acted so courageously and with such presence of mind, I don’t know what will have happened.
In actuality what has happened is that my reverence for her has soared manifolds, and my love will surely blossom in equal measures; I know she reciprocates.
There is a small upshot; I will gift my second mobile to her, which has saved us.