This is an extract from my Work in Progress. I’ve pared it down for WEP‘s June Writing Challenge. Jotsna is on a train with her mother Sharmila, when they notice something. Read on…
OF TWEETS AND MESSAGES
Sharmila returned from the washroom, lips pursed, frowning. Speaking in a whisper, she said,
‘The compartment next door has ten young women in it…’
Jotsna interrupted, ‘That isn’t possible. So many aren’t allowed to be stuffed in one compartment..’
‘That’s not all – they look very unhappy and there’s a man with them. A most unsavoury character. The vibe is not good in that compartment.’
‘Let me go see.’
Jotsna returned with the same worried expression her mother had.
‘The girls are very young, their hands are decorated with Mehendi and at that age, they should have been chattering with excitement, but they are silent and morose and don’t seem to know each other. Something is wrong.’
‘What do you think it is Ma?’
‘The amount one hears about trafficking of girls – one really needs to be vigilant,’ said Sharmila.
‘Should we confront the guy?’ Jotsna asked.
‘Certainly not Jotsna. He could be armed. Or if he feels that we’re onto him he could just get off at the next station with the girls.’
Sharmila opened her phone to the Twitter app.
Her thumbs danced a jig as she typed furiously. She consulted the ticket. She seemed to be researching, going back and forth between a browser and Twitter. Finally lifting her head when her thumbs stilled she said,
‘There. I’ve tweeted to the Railway Minister, the police, the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Ministry for Child Welfare.’
‘What did you tweet?’
‘I tweeted that there are ten young girls with one man on this train, with the train and coach number.’
‘Wow. That’s a great idea,’ said Jotsna.
‘But I’m worried, what if it doesn’t work? I’ll go past the compartment again and take a peek.’
‘You won’t. If he gets wind of anything he could flee,’ Sharmila cautioned.
‘How long till the next station?’Jotsna asked, chewing her lips.
‘Half an hour, I think,’ Sharmila’s brows knitted together in an attempt to remember what came next.
‘I’ll repeat the tweet.’ Sharmila stood up, steadying herself against the rocking of the train.
Mother and daughter sat on the edges of their seats, looking at their phones and at each other.
‘We need to have a plan B in case this tweet makes no impact.’
‘Yes. We’ll keep a close watch on them. If they don’t get off at Varanasi we’ll go wherever they’re going.’
A man passed by as they whispered, keeping an eye on the corridor outside. He looked like an accountant, wearing trousers of an indeterminate shade of green-brown and a formal shirt of a shade of white that had been washed too often. His face was eminently forgettable except for the pendant. Dangling around his neck, tied with a red string, was a tiny gold Om.
He stared pointedly into the compartment.
Jotsna stared back in fear.
She noticed Sharmila looking out of the window, her expression far away, grey curls stirring slightly, ignoring the man. He now stationed himself opposite their door, looking in at them.
Jotsna picked up her book. This man was far too interested in this compartment with two women in it.
Picking up her phone, she texted her mother,
‘You could invite him in and then I can go and talk to the girls.’
‘Since when do two women invite a random man into their compartment? No, I’m not acting suspiciously in any way. Leave it to the police.’ Sharmila replied.
They texted but didn’t look at each other.
The clickety-clack rhythm of the train altered imperceptibly. The man felt it too.
Slowly, he began to move back to his compartment without haste but with a studied protraction of all his movements as one does when one is bird watching and wants to move closer to the bird without bringing it to its notice. The stealthiness in itself is suspect. Not to a bird of course, but to another human being, who immediately wonders at the creeping movements.
Now that they were no longer in his line of sight and it was clear that he was more preoccupied with his own movements than theirs, they imperceptibly gathered their things.
‘It’s a good thing we don’t have wheelies but rucksacks and things we can carry ourselves.’
The smooth chugging of the engine was becoming increasingly noisy as they slowed down, drawing into the station.
Passengers waiting on the platform flashed past, quickly at first and then more slowly, so that the details of their luggage, clothing and finally their faces swum into view.
‘No sign of any authorities,’ whispered Sharmila.
‘We’ll have to do it ourselves.’ Jotsna’s voice was determined.
The train stopped.
Jotsna and Sharmila were on high alert in case the accountant tried to leave. They stood near the door, just out of sight, watching for any movement from his compartment.
There seemed to be a bit of a scuffle. A banging sound was heard, then a loud slap, followed by a wail.
‘I’m going in there,’ said Jotsna. ‘We outnumber him.’
Before she could move a flash of khaki caught her eye. A steady stream of khaki, more than a flash.
‘Open this door,’ said a deep voice next door.
‘Who are all these girls?’
‘I’m taking them on an outing. They’re from boarding school. We’re taking them to Varanasi.’
Jotsna looked questioningly at her mother, mouthing
‘Were we wrong?’
The police officer however was far from naive.
‘A man is taking ten young girls? Where is the matron? How did their parents agree?’
Indistinguishable blabber issued forth, some of it explanatory.
Ignoring this, the policeman seemed to address the girls in a commanding voice that demanded an answer,
‘Hey girl – where are you going?’
‘Speak up girl, what are you afraid of.’
She seemed to realise that despite the distrust of police drummed into her by her mother, this was her chance, her voice came out louder than necessary,
‘I don’t know where he is taking us.’
999 words FCA
Blurb: Who read the tweet?