Vanished Girl - Chapter 2
by Lakshmi Menon
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After a somewhat adventurous journey of a night and a day, the train approached Thiruvananthapuram. Raju, her neighbor, and her brother’s closest friend in Kerala, reached the railway station just before the train’s arrival and waited for Akila to emerge. He himself had offered to pick up Akila from the railway station since Nikhil was not in a position to leave his house. His mother and grandmother were the only other two people who were at home with his father. Unfortunately, neither Uncle Sasidhar nor his sons had shown up to lend moral support even though they were blood relatives. .
Damodar had become very weak and was breathing heavily and looked around for his daughter, perhaps to have a last glimpse of her before his permanent departure from this world. No one knew what was going through his head at that moment. Did he think he was abandoning his family? Leaving them like a ship without a captain?
“Akila will come now,” said Padmaja wiping her face with sari pallu, gazing helplessly at her husband, who was struggling for his last breath. She sincerely prayed for their daughter to reach home soon to have a last glimpse of her father. **
The train arrived at the platform on time, and Raju looked towards the compartments for any sign of Akila. A cacophony of confused voices filled the air in the railway station. Tea vendors passed through the crowd with heavy cans and plastic cups, calling out at the top of their voices, vada and samosa vendors too struggled to sell their goods, some inside the train and others through the windows, also shouting at the top of their voices. Porters carried bags on their head, and another one or two on their shoulders, squeezing in between the disembarking passengers who were hurrying to meet their relatives. Some of them, tired after such a long journey, hurriedly climbed out, stretching their limbs and yawning. After three minutes, the signal appeared for the train’s departure, and Raju watched as it snaked its way along the track, leaving a cloud of black smoke behind, but Akila was nowhere to be seen.
Raju was wondering how he had missed his friend’s sister. Another train from the opposite direction sped along the tracks like a giant centipede. He gazed around hoping to spot Akila, but it seemed as if she hadn’t been on the train.
“Was he standing on the right platform?” he wondered.
After waiting and looking, he approached one of the shop owners on the platform to inquire about the train from Bangalore.
“The Bangalore train came and left five minutes ago,” the shopkeeper replied, before turning to the next customer.
Confused, Raju waited for a moment and immediately decided to call his friend. He quickly changed his mind because his friend was preoccupied with his father’s imminent death, and he didn’t want to bring him additional worry, because he was sure that he had probably just missed Akila. She must be somewhere in the station. His last stop was the Autorikshaw, before heading home to inform Nikhil about his sister’s disappearance.
As he kick-started his scooter, his mobile rang loudly. It was Nikhil enquiring about his sister. For a moment, he was hesitant to answer the call, but he knew he couldn’t avoid the inevitable. He would have to tell Nikhil about his sister.
“I’m sorry Nikhil. Your sister hasn’t come on this train,” said Raju.
“How can it be? Keep searching for her. She may have missed you and taken an auto,” he said, disconnecting the phone.
Without wasting another second, Raju started his two-wheeler and once again looked around the station and in the Auto stand. There was still no sign of her, so he headed to Nikhil’s house, hoping that by now she would have reached there on her own.
As soon as he heard the scooter sound, Nikhil came out to see his sister whom he presumed would have come with Raju. Seeing Raju standing alone in front of his house, Nikhil was heartbroken. One look at Nikhil’s face and Raju realized that Akila had not yet reached home.
“What could’ve happened to my sister?” Nikhil shouted.
Both the friends looked at each other, confused.
“She must be arriving on the bus from Bangalore,” said Raju to console his friend.
“I don’t think so. After boarding the train she had spoken to me.” Nikhil said.
He still hoped Akila would arrive there in an auto rickshaw as they spoke.
“If she had boarded the train, where could she be now?” asked Raju. After a pause he continued “We can’t rule out the possibility of her getting off at the terminal. I will go there and see.”
Without waiting for his friend’s reply, Raju hurriedly left again on his scooter. .
“It is impossible. Why would she get off so far away?” Nikhil couldn’t think of this possibility and the logic behind it.
As he went back to the room his mother lifted her gaze to him. When their eyes met, he saw her question in her eyes.
“She hasn’t come in the train, Amma.” He said in a very soft voice, almost whispering.
Nikhil’s reply raised more questions in Padmaja’s worried and strained eyes, and the bags beneath them was evidence of long and sleepless nights.
“She must have missed the train. However, let’s wait for the bus from Bangalore,” said Nikhil, still wondering about his sister, and silently praying nothing untoward had happened to her.
“But you said she had called you last night after boarding the train? Is it not?” asked Padmaja, tension written across her face.
“Yes, Amma, but just before boarding the bus she would have called me. Perhaps after seeing the rush in the unreserved compartment, she wouldn’t have gotten into it and would have gone to the bus station,” he said, unable to face her tense gaze.
Nikhil knew there was no such possibility and was sure she had spoken to him from the train. He even remembered the whistle sound and the choo… choo… sound of the chugging train from the track, during their conversation. He didn’t want to tell his mother about it. She would be more worried, and he was not in a position to handle another casualty.
Seeing his father’s struggle for breath, he did not want to discuss his sister’s disappearance in his presence. .Although his father was not in a position to talk to them, he was fully aware of things going on around him and his eyes darted around the room searching for his daughter.
As darkness fell, Damodar took his last breath, without having a glimpse of his dear daughter. Nikhil and his mother gave him a few drops of water before falling on his chest and weeping bitterly. Damodar’s mother was still praying in the closed pooja room to save her son, unaware of the happenings at home.
Even at the moment of depth of his grief, Nikhil’s thoughts were still on his sister, who hadn’t been there to see his father take his last breath before they lost him forever.
Nikhil was now the man in the home, and even in his grief had to act responsibly, so he called Uncle Mahesh in Bangalore to inform him of his father’s passing.
“Did Akila reach there on time to see him before he passed?” Uncle Mahesh asked.
“Uncle, Akila hasn’t reached home yet. She was not on the train. Do you know if she is coming on the bus?” Nikhil asked, putting on a brave front.
“No. She had left in the train. I’m certain about it. But she didn’t have a reservation.”
“Are you sure uncle?”
“Yes. I’m very sure. I left the station after the train left.” He paused before he continued. “There is a possibility that she might have gotten off in Cantonment station and taken an auto to the bus stand to catch a bus. Another possibility is that she must have gone to Coimbatore and taken another train or bus from there. So wait till the morning.”
“Okay, uncle, I will wait until morning,” said Nikhil.
Those possibilities his uncle mentioned hadn’t crossed his mind. *** Vanished Girl - Chapter 1 Vanished Girl - Chapter 3
To be continued....