Atanu Ranjan Tripathy



Atanu Ranjan Tripathy




8 mins

The narrow opening of the cave seemed obscured from normal human sights every time whenever someone passed close to it and that was due to the dense undergrowth that surrounded the mouth of the cave. The cave, an artificial man-made one perhaps was the dwelling place of a hermit who chose a lonely place and at a high altitude in that hill that stretched up to a few kilometres in the opposite directions of the cave. The hill high enough to be called a small mountain was densely covered with tall trees and plants of various types and origins. Even during the day time the sunlight hardly touches every part of the soil which remains marshy in most part of the year. The cave as it looks from outside had seen the rare human presence around it for hundreds of years. Thorny bushes, cactus plants, creepers and vegetation of different sizes covered it from all sides and every odd thing seemed undisturbed for ages. The encompassing area gave the impression that it was bereft of trespassing by any human soul and further emphasized the fact that it has been completely overlooked by the civilisation for some unknown reasons. Either it was the threat of some wild beasts or the superstitious beliefs of ghosts and apparitions have kept the natives of the nearby areas to maintain a safe distance from the cave.

But it has another opening a few hundred metres away from the first one. This opening was having completely different enclosures. With careful observation, one can find out a niche just hidden below a pair of big rocks whose tips are projecting skywards and covering the hole from all sides. There are some more rocks protruding in different directions and a cliff hangs in the air hiding the entire set up from below or from the two opposite sides of the cliff. A thorny cactus and a fleshy leaved plant also create a desert-like surrounding. The passage leading past the hole and the hole itself are wide enough to accommodate two grown-up men at a time. The big cactus plant hides the activities that go on inside the long passage that leads to the cave and a lone cell at the centre of the cave.

Inside that dimly lighted cell, a young girl sat crying. Sometimes she was sobbing and sometimes her moaning sounds were creating a pathetic scene of the shabby enclosures that sheltered her. Sweat and tears soaked her dress and the face looked pale and gloomy. Both her hands and legs were tightly tied by a black rope and she was helplessly immobile in her sitting position. The daylight that filtered through the rocks gave a faint illumination inside that cosy confinement. Her thick raven hair uncombed for some days spread at her back. A small plate with some cooked food in it lay at her front untouched overnight. It was well evident that she had not touched food for quite some time. Her swollen eyes gave an obvious idea that she had not slept for at least two nights. Hunger, anxiety and depression were written all over her face. Her beautiful face had lost the charm and was very much soaked with horror. A clay tumbler and a steel glass were kept at one corner of the small room. A half-burnt candle was at the centre of the room. Nothing else was visible in the close proximity, accessible to the shackled girl.

It was the third day of her abduction since she was kidnapped by two unknown masked gangsters when she was on her way home from her office. She was 23 years old and belonged to a well - to- do middle class family. Her father worked as a senior clerk in the water resource department of the state government and her mother was a teacher. Neha was the only child of Nutan & Nilesh Ahuja and she was brought up with all the comforts that a middle class household could afford. She obtained a technical degree in Mechanical engineering and then joined as a technical assistant in a consultancy farm. So far she enjoyed a hassle free life and she grew in an atmosphere which gave her the social and financial support that was her ambition in life. However, she was a timid girl and could never muster enough courage to drive a vehicle. So she always used public transport to go to her office or anywhere else.

In the last few months something new approached her smooth moving lifestyle. A young man came from nowhere and became her friend. From the very first moment and since that day a sweet feeling evolved and persisted to stick to her heart and mind. The acquaintance hitherto unwarrented but accidental created nostalgia and she was mesmerised by the magical attraction. The intimacy and the relevant friendly meetings that arose from that first meet had no prior connection with her job, her family, her friends but yet lingered further and intensified to deeper depths.

Anil, a dashing young man of average height, fair coloured met her often at the bus stop or in the taxi stand where she waited for the available transport to get back home. He was sober, well behaved and calm in his demeanour. On no occasions, he interfered with Neha's life or her day-to-day lifestyle. He preferred to remain in the fringes until she made a move to come closer. This impressed her and she allowed him to meet more regularly, in the park, in the coffee shops or in a theatre. Often they talked about life, the political scenario in the state, the crimes, the law & order situation, the economy and every odd thing that is a common topic of discussion among the young educated mass. But they never discussed about their personal academic qualifications, family backgrounds or the present occupation of each other. On any occasion, if Neha wanted to raise the issue Anil either changed the topic or feigned an excuse to get away from her company. Against her will, she compromised and sometimes forgot to bring up the topic. That left a dark hole between the reality and the projected false image of the situation. Neha remained inconspicuous of the evil intentions of Anil and the undetected truth led to her abduction.

Shyamlee, an elderly maid worked in Neha's household for quite a few years since she was a toddler. She looked after everything and took care of Neha in her younger days when her parents remained occupied with their professional duties. She was extremely loyal and faithful to Neha's family and each one of them relied heavily on her. A big folly on the part of Neha's parents was to completely overlook the personal life and family history of Shyamlee. She never mentioned that she had a son and she was the widow of a hardcore criminal who died in police firing when her son was only six months old.

Just a few days before the abduction of Neha, Anil asked her to go to a movie. That was the first time he invited her for a late-night movie and reluctantly she agreed. On their way to the theatre, Anil all of a sudden proposed to Neha. There was a sudden rush of blood in her and she slapped him hard on the face. She was extremely angry because she didn't expect that at that point in time. Later she adjusted her mood and tried to explain Anil that unless and until they knew each other very well they should never think of moving ahead. Throughout the movie, Anil didn't say a word and both sat silently looking at the silver screen without any real interest.

The very nextday a lady who was a neighbour of Shyamlee came to Neha's house to inform them that Shyamlee was no longer interested to continue the work and if they wanted then she would replace her. Neha's mother was shocked but controlled herself. Then for the first time she made the inquiry about Shyamlee's family background.

Neha had lost her consciousness when somebody came to the cell and tried to bring her back into sense. For a brief moment, she opened her eyes and with a faint vision saw a familiar face sprinkling water on her face. She was stunned but didn't want to do anything that would create a situation that would put her life in jeopardy. She again closed her eyes.

On the other side, police searched every part of Neha's native town after receiving a complaint from her parents. Nilesh was convinced that Shyamlee's son was involved. Police started looking for the absconding mother and the son. But there was no trace of the girl, neither there was any information about the two suspected culprits after two days of intensive searching.

The unknown figure who mysteriously appeared inside the cave and tried to bring her back into consciousness, was deeply puzzled to see her in that condition. The figure with a dark cloth covering its body from head to toe except for the eyes thought that she was dying and thought to run away. Suddenly a heavy kick threw the masked figure into the stone floor. Heavy bleeding rinsed the black cloak and the unknown figure lost its consciousness. Neha with all her tied legs crept towards the motionless body and removed the blood-soaked veil. Neha couldn't believe her eyes. The body was slowly coming back to sense. Neha with all her remaining force held the body by the scruff of its neck and commanded to untie her hands. The person under the cloak had to oblige. It had no other way. Neha, now free from the shackles kicked the person as hard as she could. She went on until the figure in the cloak stopped moving.

Neha ran, ran and ran until she reached a village road where some children were playing. She fainted. But she was unshackled.

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