Vanished Girl - Chapter 1
by Lakshmi Menon
On a cloudy Friday evening, Akila, a young journalist intern, logged off her computer and rose from her seat with a printed copy of the day’s report in her hand. It was five-thirty p.m, an hour earlier than her shift ended. Her brown hand bag in one hand and the printed report in the other, she walked towards her superior’s cabin.
“Sir, this is the print out of the report. I have already mailed a soft copy to you. Sorry, I have to leave now,” she said waiting for his permission to leave.
The twenty-one year old had nothing else on her mind, except her loving Dad who was battling cancer, and on the verge of losing the battle.
“Won’t I be able to have a last glimpse of my Dad’s face before his departure from this world?” She kept on asking herself.
Sudhir, the bespectacled superior, had already known of her urgent need to return to her native Kerala, did not belabour her with any last-minute questions about the report. Despite her emotional state, she still had managed to complete the report, and this Sudhir appreciated although he didn’t say it to her, in words.
“If there is anything I need to have clarified, I will call you. Please keep your mobile switched on,” he said gazing at her.
He sat back in his leather chair, and with a slight nod of his head, she was given permission to leave. Akila thanked him and left his cabin. As she walked towards the entrance, all eyes were on her. They too had heard her bad news. Sudhir watched her walk away, her long hair, tied back in a pony tail. His heart went out to her.
“Poor girl!” he said to himself, sincerely wishing she would reach home in time to spend some time with her father. Sudhir wasn’t usually a lenient boss, especially when it came to the junior members of staff, but he realized that Akila was a great worker and that her request was genuine.
It was at half past four, when she had received a call from home informing her of the critical condition of her father. Damodar had been suffering from stomach cancer for more than a year. When a diagnosis was made, he had already reached stage 2 and was not in a position to undergo surgery. During the past three months, his condition had deteriorated and had become critical in the last week, prompting the doctors to inform the family of his impending death. Akila’s brother, Nikhil immediately dialed the mobile number of his sister in Bangalore, informing her of the gravity of the situation.
Akila had joined the Newspaper company in Bangalore after completion of her degree in Journalism six months earlier. Even though a heart-breaking diagnosis had been made regarding her father’s illness, turning down the position was not a non-issue. She had worked hard for it, and it was very important to her. Her brother Nikhil, who was doing his second year pre degree in a nearby college, gave her a half-hearted approval, knowing full well that he would have to tackle everything at home, in her absence.
When he reached her with the news, she was mortified. “The doctors have given up all hope on our father and have asked me to inform everyone. Hope you will be here tomorrow evening to spend a few hours with him, before we lose him forever.” Nikhil was in
tears as he uttered those words and she could feel his torment as he spoke. Though she had told him to take care of himself, her eyes had also filled up with tears which trickled down her cheeks, temporarily clouding her vision.
She hoped that her father’s estranged elder brother Sasidhar, whom they called ‘Valliachan’, and who lived about two kilometres away from the family home, would forget the old family disagreement and be of some comfort to her brother.
After regaining her composure, she called her guardian, Uncle Mahesh, a distant relative of her mother and informed him of the latest developments regarding her father’s health. All efforts to find her a bus ticket to Kerala failed, so she was consigned to travel in an unreserved compartment on the eight p.m. train, not reaching its destination before four p.m. the following day.
A distraught Akila, in need of comfort, called her friend, Vinod. She had known him only for two months but considered him her future husband. She had no idea that he too was thinking along the same lines and was waiting for the appropriate moment to propose. He was what many women would refer to as ‘a good catch.’ Tall, handsome, intelligent and ambitious, he was running his own computer training centre for two years, which had a blemish-free reputation. .
He and Akila had met in the training centre where Vinod had worked as an instructor, but he had a vision of opening his own company, where he gained the knowledge and the experience to venture out on his own. Students from far and wide flocked to his training centre because of its superb reputation, so there was no need for him to advertise.
Akila had joined the centre to take up a two-month course in computer science. Soon Vinod started taking a special interest in her. Both of them had felt comfortable with each other. They never had the time to open up their hearts to talk about the magic word – love. Even without talking about it in the usual romantic way, they felt they knew where it was all leading to.
Akila had once casually mentioned Vinod to Uncle Mahesh, in one of their conversations, but it did not trigger any suspicion about their budding love. In any case, her uncle and aunt were not expecting her to fall in love at this particular time of her life when she had many responsibilities before her. Because of that, the topic was never discussed. .
When Akila’s call came, Vinod was in the middle of instructing a class, and only returned her call when the class was over.
“I’m sorry Akila. I was in the middle of a class. Is something wrong?”
“I just wanted to let you know that I am going home tonight. My father’s condition has deteriorated and the doctors have offered little hope,” she said while packing her bag.
“I’m very sorry to know such bad news. I’ll meet you at the station.” He paused for a moment, and then asked, “What time is your train?”
“Eight o’ clock”
“Have you got a reservation?”
“No!” she replied.
“So you’re travelling in an unreserved compartment?” He sounded wary.
“Yes, what else I can do? I must reach home at any cost. I want to see my Dad before we lose him,” she said in between sobs.
Panic filled his heart. ***
To be continued.... Vanished Girl - Chapter 2