I was sitting in the bus waiting for the bus to start. The conductor was waiting for more passengers to board the bus. I felt a tiny hand touch mine. When I turned to look, I saw a girl of seven years with eyes that were timid as they were pleading. There was none by her side. She was well dressed and in her school uniform with clean shoes and stocking
“Where is your mom? The bus is to start anytime” I asked
“I have no mom. She died” the girl replied
“With whom are you then travelling?” I asked
“I don’t know the woman” she replied innocently
“Where is she?”
“She said she will fetch some biscuits for me” the girl replied
Intrigued I looked at her.”What is it in your clenched fist?” I asked
“Chocolates” she smiled
“Who gave you?”
“The woman who brought me. She said she will give me daily and be nice to me”
“Does your father know her? Is she related to you?
“I don’t know. He always beats me along with chithi (step mom)”
“Have you seen this woman earlier?”
“Then why do you accompany her? You should not accept chocolates from strangers. Can you show her to me through the window?”I said
The girl pointed to a woman in her early thirties who had a packet of biscuits in her hand. I could see in the girl’s eyes some anxiety. It looked odd to see the girl in a school uniform for the long distance journey. It was evident the girl did not belong to the woman.
“Do you want to travel with her or would you like me to help you?” I asked
“I don’t wish to go with her. Please save me from her. I feel giddy” said the girl
I decided to wait for the woman’s arrival and accost her to save the child. But she was not seen. The bus had meanwhile started. I was wondering where the woman was. Meanwhile the conductor came and I took two tickets to Cuddalore not knowing what to do with the girl. I did not want to leave her alone in the bus stand.The girl looked at me gratefully.
Hardly the bus had travelled a few miles, it stopped abruptly. A man and a woman got in and looked around. It was the same woman the girl had pointed out. I thought she missed the bus and in her hurry not to lose the girl, she took a cab to catch the bus.
She came straight towards us and shouted at me saying “Why and where are you taking my daughter with you?”
“What crap you are saying? You kidnapped the girl, tempting her with chocolates. But for me she would have been taken away by you” I said in anger. Meanwhile the conductor and driver were also by our side.
“What are you blabbering? Why would I kidnap my own daughter? Let me ask the girl” she screamed and asked the girl “Who am I to you? Tell that to all the people around loudly”
The girl said “You are my mom. I don’t know this aunty”. I was shell shocked.
“How preposterous? Look here, did you not tell me that your mom is dead and that your dad and chitthi beat you? Did you not also tell me that you did not know this woman and that she gave chocolates and promised you daily? Answer truthfully” I said
She turned to her mother, clasped her waist and said”Amma I did not speak to aunty. She was asking many questions. I said I do not know to some. I was waiting for you in the bus”
The conductor intervened to ask me “if the girl is not related to you, why did you buy a ticket for her?”
I could see all eyes fixed on me. I felt most embarrassed and outraged.”The girl is lying. When she said that she did not know the woman and explained her family background, I was certain she was being kidnapped. I could have ignored her but being a woman myself I felt the girl child should not be left unsecured. When you asked for tickets, I bought on impulse for her too. I had not thought then what I would do whether to inform police or send her to some home” I said to conductor. I also added “I suspect something fishy about the whole episode”
“What is fishy about this? Is not this woman’s buying ticket for my girl to take her away fishy? I spent 500 rupees on the taxi to overtake the bus to get my daughter. Is that fishy? All of you who are here, please say something” she shouted
Someone asked the conductor to take the bus to the police station. Some others objected. One old man said “This lady appears decent. I was watching the girl talking to her though I could not hear her.”
The conductor said”Amma, pay that woman the taxi charges and we can proceed on our way. It is getting delayed”
When the woman walked away with 1000 rupees and the girl , I knew I was conned as the little girl turned to wink at me with a smile.