The Mysterious Trail

The Mysterious Trail

6 mins 422 6 mins 422

Shama could not believe her eyes. The entire dormitory was in utter chaos. Bits of crushed paper were strewn on the floor, and the beds were hap-hazard. Nothing seemed to be in order. In all her ten years of being matron at the hostel, she had never encountered a sight like this.

Just then her eyes fell on a red coloured cloth under one of the beds. She went to pick it up but restrained herself at the last minute. It was a duppatta.

‘None of my girls would leave their duppatta behind,’ she contemplated.

This looks odd, almost like there might have been a struggle. Her eyes started roving around for further clues. She did not have look too far. At the door, there was a torn piece of cloth on the handle. Definitely, something had gone wrong in the past few hours before she came in for duty. She quickly ran down the stairs and into her office to dial the police for help. Within a few minutes, the police squad arrived.

After surveying the situation the officer remarked, “Ma’am, it does look suspicious. Can you tell me how many girls were housed here in this room?”

“Four,” replied Shama. By now she was a nervous wreck. What had happened to her girls?

“ The girls seem to have been forcibly taken off from here,” stated the officer.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “I hope they are safe.”

“Please Sir,” she begged. “Please do something to find them fast.”

“We will do what we can,” assured the officer. “But before that, I would like to question your night duty staff.”

“They must have already left,” exclaimed Shama in consternation.

“Where is the security guard?” asked the officer.

She sent her attendant to bring the security guard. The man had just reported for duty but fortunately, the night duty fellow had not yet left the premises. So he was brought before the police officer.

“Were you there on duty throughout the night?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Did you see the girls? Did you notice anything strange last night?”

His answer was prompt. “No.”

“Did you leave your post for a few minutes or were you sleeping?” asked the officer harshly.

“No, Sir. I did not sleep a wink. Nor did I leave my chair here at the entrance. And I saw and heard nothing strange.”

“That’s unbelievable,” said the officer. “The girls are missing. Even if they had left on their own, they would have gone through the door in front of your eyes.”

“ I don’t know Sir,” the man was scared stiff.

“I want to see examine the room again,” said the officer.

Shama accompanied the policemen to the room. They minutely searched for clues. The torn cloth on the door was removed with gloves and carefully inserted in a plastic cover. The fingerprint expert too was doing his job. That was when suddenly Shama’s eyes went to the window. There was a shadow there which seemed to be moving slightly. She signaled the officer silently and he went across to the window. Imagine their amazement when they saw the five girls tied and grouped on the parapet shivering in fear. Their mouths had been gagged too. The policemen immediately jumped on the parapet and freed the girls and lifted them one by one into the room. Shama thanked her stars that they were alive.

Giving them time to recover their nerves and calm down, the police along with Shama waited for them to speak. A small tear on the sleeve of one of the girl’s dress solved that riddle. They slowly started recounting what had happened. The girls had been fast asleep. The door was closed and locked from inside. The windows too were closed. They had not noticed that the lock of one of the windows was broken. Sometime during the night two men had climbed onto the parapet and got into the room through the window. How they had managed to bend the bars outside the window without attracting attention remained a mystery. Anila was awakened by a small sound. She opened her eyes and was stunned to see the faint form of the men rolling Shanti into a bed-sheet. She screamed.

“Hasan, catch her,” shouted one of the men.

The other man ran to her and closed her mouth with a paper dipped in some funny smelling substance. Anila fell to the ground with a thud. Both Harini and Ganga woke up with a start, and they too were rendered unconscious in the same way. By this time, seeing the men busy tying up the other girls, Shanti had managed to get herself free and ran to the door. One of the men dragged her back and while she was struggling against him, her sleeve got caught on the door. From what they spoke, it seemed to Shanti, who was the only one awake, that the men were part of a gang which operated a prostitution racket. They were planning to kidnap at least one of the girls and send her to their boss. But fortunately for the girls, because of Anila getting up and the ensuing commotion, their calculation on the time front had gone wrong. Shama had entered the building and having done their homework about Shama’s routine, they knew that she would come to check every room. So they had tied up the girls, gagged them and bundled them on the parapet and got down the pipeline and escaped. The three unconscious girls recovered but were scared to find themselves tied up.

Shama and the policemen were stunned.

“How come they escaped when the security guard says he did not see anything amiss?” asked the Officer.

“Sir,” exclaimed Shanti. “Our room is on the back side and faces the open ground, whereas the guard sits at the entrance near the front gate.”

“You heard the name, Hasan. Did you happen to hear the other person’s name?”

Anila who had been shivering with fear and had not spoken a word till now said: “I heard that Hasan mentioning a name Shafi when he was bundling Shanti, but I don’t know whether it was the other man’s name or the name of their boss.”

Shama was sitting stunned by the whole incident. She suddenly realized that they had just fitted CCTV cameras during the last two days and the cameras would have been functioning as they had kept it on to test its working. She mentioned this to the officer.

   “That’s great,” said the officer. He took possession of the recorded tapes, which, when replayed, tallied exactly with what the girls had recounted. The faces of the man called Hasan and his companion were clearly visible.

“Ma’am, This video footage should help us nail the men. Now, these girls have gone through a harrowing time. You take care of them and we will take care of those men, don’t you worry. But I have a suggestion to make. Don’t compromise on the security of a woman’s hostel. One security guard is not at all sufficient. Increase the security on all four sides. Fortunately, you have added CCTV surveillance already. All this is a must in our present day scenario.”

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