Vanished Girl - Chapter 4
by Lakshmi Menon
Back to Chapter 3
The family home was filled with neighbours conveying their condolences for the departed, but also speculating on what could’ve happened to Akila. It wasn’t that Damodar’s death wasn’t important, but the disappearance of his daughter had shoved any thoughts about his passing into the background.
Everyone had their own opinion about what had befallen the young woman. Had she been murdered? Had someone kidnapped her? They all believed it was the latter, because if she had been murdered, they would’ve already found her body. Newspapers were checked, ears and eyes watched for any bit of news on the radio and television, but there was nothing new. There were even comments about jealous neighbours who had wished evil things on the family.
“If and when she returns, what will happen to her? No man will want to marry her. It is better that she doesn’t come back,” some of the women discussed in hushed tones.
The family had to make a decision. The corpse had to be removed from the home. They could no longer wait for Akila. After learning that his brother had passed away, Uncle Sasidhar, Damodar’s brother arrived at the family home.
“By four o’clock, we must remove the body,” he said. “We cannot wait any longer.”
Everyone was in unison. The corpse should be removed from the house, and the burial should be over before sunset. Only then the people who were present should go and take a bath, before getting back to their normal life. As per Hindu rites, the corpse should be cremated, but since Damodar’s elder brother and mother were still alive, burial was the chosen option.
“Call her once again, son. Where has she reached? We should know that,” Padmaja wailed, peering at Nikhil.
She had not been told of her daughter’s disappearance and did not understand the reason for the undue delay. She missed Akila terribly and wanted her close by in her moment of grief.
“Her phone is switched off, Amma. Maybe it needs recharging,” Nikhil said to avoid any further questioning, without looking at her direction.
“At least she should have called from an STD booth.”
Padmaja just couldn’t understand her daughter’s selfish attitude at a time like this. She had been prepared to face her husband’s loss, which was inevitable, but she was not prepared to face her daughter’s absence at this very crucial time. So many thoughts crossed her mind. She knew her daughter was not that kind of person, so why wasn’t she there? **
With the burial over, most of the visitors returned to their homes leaving only two close relatives, along with Nikhil and Raju. . Nikhil turned to his best friend to share his feeling.
“Raju, I still don’t understand why Akila was not in the train. She had called me
after the train left the station. I remember clearly hearing the whistle and the choo…choo… sound of the train when she spoke to me.”
“I’m also thinking the same thing. If the train was suddenly cancelled for some unknown reason, or if there was an accident or something on the way, as we know it can happen, she would’ve contacted us by now. But nothing that sort of thing has happened. The train which she was supposed to be on, reached here on time. There was no accident or any other problem on the way. Then where could she be?” asked Raju.
“What I don’t understand is that if she is stranded somewhere, and knows we are expecting her, why had she switched off her mobile?”
“How she can possibly get stranded somewhere?”
“The only possibility is that when she got off the train to collect some water, the train left without her, and in the meantime, her mobile needed recharging.”
“May be, you’re right. We can’t rule out that possibility.”
“In that case she could have called home from the railway station.”
“She probably didn’t want to worry us, seeing that our father was critically ill.”
“Any way, no use of discussing this now. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning.”
The two friends shared the sofa and tried to sleep, even though they knew that that was highly unlikely.
Around midnight, when they had just fallen asleep, the phone rang, and Nikhil thought it must be his sister’s call.
“Has Akila reached home yet?” asked Mahesh, from the other end.
“Did she call you?”
“Try not to worry. I’m sure she’ll have a plausible explanation when she arrives. Take care of your mother and grandmother, son.”
Now it was crystal clear that his sister was really missing, and there was nothing more that could be done, except wait and pray for her safety. **
The following morning just before dawn, found Raju standing at the bus station on the lookout for the young woman, but still she did not appear even after the five more buses came and departed. He found out there were other buses arriving from Coimbatore and thought he should wait. Again there was nothing, so he was back to the railway station to check the trains. **
As the day wore on without any news of Akila, her mother and grandmother grew suspicious.
“Why hasn’t Akila come? What has happened to her?” asked his grandmother. “I’m sure something has happened to my child.”
Others too had the same thoughts, but no-one dared to say it out loud. The other people discussed in small groups about Akila’s disappearance.
Padmaja had no more tears to shed, for she had become a shattered woman. **
To be continued...../- Chapter 5 Back to Chapter 1