The sky was unusually cloudy though it has been a hot day and it was getting dark. Renuka hurried her steps towards the bus stand not to miss the bus. There were not many on the road with only cars and trucks whizzing past. When she turned back to look for bus, she saw a tall young man about hundred yards behind her walking fast. She increased her pace to reach the stand that was slightly away. She could in a while hear his footsteps closing in on her. Her heart pounded in fear as the place was desolate.
Very soon he was by her side and she heard him telling, “Madam, do not be afraid as I am following you only to hand over the key chain you dropped when you took your mobile out outside your office. Please wait for a moment.”
She opened her bag, even as she was walking, to notice the key chain was in fact missing. She stopped abruptly and looked at the lanky handsome guy with a key chain on hand.
“Were you afraid that I was stalking you?l” he laughed gustily as he handed over the chain.
“To be honest, yes, especially as the road is deserted being Saturday. I had to finish some urgent work and was held up. Thank you very much as you had to literally run to catch me. But for you I would have been in a mess as this my room key,” she replied with a grateful smile.
“Do you work here? I am seeing you for the first time. I am Shilesh,” and offered his hand.
“Renuka, I work in ABC bank meant for IT companies here. Do you also work in this area?” she asked without taking his proffered hand.
“A sweet name. I do not work here but have some contracts with some companies here. I come here very frequently,” he said without elaborating on the nature of contracts. As he saw a bus approaching, he said, “Your bus I think. Let us hope we get to meet once a while.”
“Yes, my bus. Thank you very much for the help. Surely we shall meet again,” she replied as she hurried to get into the bus.
Two days later as she was coming out of the bank, Shilesh sitting on a motor bike hailed her,” Renuka, I never expected to meet you so soon. As I saw the name of bank, I remembered you and lingered for a while wondering whether you would come out. To my great luck you came out.”
“Good we could meet again. I cannot easily forget your helpful gesture that day.’
“Where do you live? We can have some tiffin and then I can drop you at your place,” he suggested.
When she mentioned the place where she lived, “It suits me fine as I live close to your place. We can talk at a restaurant closer to our area,” Shilesh said.
As they sat in a cozy corner, he told her with a smile “Order what you like for both of us and tell me all about you both official and personal.”
With sharp features, mesmerizing smile and curly hair that by habit he pushed back frequently, he cast a spell on her and poor Renuka could not but lower her eyes when he looked at her intently. Dressed in blue jeans and striped T shirt that indicated his muscular athletic body, Shilesh made a favourable impression on Renuka.
The server meanwhile brought two plates of crisp onion rava dosas with four different chutneys and another plate of four Mangalore bondas with their own accompaniments straight from the frying pan.
Looking at the spread with satisfaction, he asked her “Now tell me about you, Renuka, where are your parents living since you are in a hostel? Any siblings? How long are you in the bank?”
“They live in Tirupatthur.I have no sibling. They pay no heed to my request to come here as they have some lands nearby to take care of. I am with the bank for the last one year after my training. How about you?” she asked.
“Since you are in hostel, am I wrong in presuming you are single?”
She lowered her head without answering him but asked, “What do you do? Which place are you from? You told me you have contracts with some firms here. What sort of contracts? Are you an engineer?”
“I belong to Krishnagiri but live in Saligramam with my parents. My only sister is married and in Singapore. As I told you I have contracts with IT companies to keep their systems in good condition,” and added with a mischievous twinkle,” I am also a single like you.”
On hearing this, Renuka broke into laughter with Shilesh joining her.
“Is the pressure in bank heavy on all days? Are there enough people to share the burden? With so many IT offices close by, there must be rush of customers always in the bank. Isn’t it?” he queried
“Actually it is a small bank catering only to IT employees. Apart from me, there is a manager and one chowkidar. We hope to get one more assistant within a fortnight. It is mostly myself in the office whenever my manager goes out to local head office. On Mondays and Tuesdays a few customers visit to draw money. There is no ATM in the bank premises. The other days very few come with practically none on Saturdays. Most do transactions online. Actually it is boring some days,” she said with a smile.
“Lucky you are. I will try to meet you some day at your office when I am free.”
He paid the bill and dropped her at her place. Except asking her to hold his hip firmly with both hands, he did not seem inquisitive and talked generally about the condition of roads, water scarcity and total absence of rains. He seemed a very decent fellow and Renuka was impressed. They met again outside office on alternate days and the same routine was happily followed with a romantic turn.
It was Saturday past 12 noon. There was no customer since morning. The manager had gone out. The chowkidar was not to be seen and may have gone to take tea in the nearby shop. It was then Shilesh entered the bank and came straight to her counter. The usual smile was missing and he had a grim face.
“What happened, Shilesh? Was there any problem in the offices you visited? Why this stern look?” asked Renuka.
He did not reply but put his hand in the counter with a note.
She grabbed the note and read, “This is a hold up. Cooperate to avoid personal harm”
She looked at him unbelievingly and asked him, “Don’t be silly. Are you indulging in a prank or what?”
“I am dead serious. To prove my earnest, see this,” he said as he produced a glistening pistol. “Do not waste time trying to escape,” he warned
Her knees became weak in fear and shock and she held her head with both her hands looking at him in utter disbelief.
” No drama or screaming. Hand over the keys to the box on your table and to the safety room. If you cooperate, I promise everything will be taken care of smoothly and we can both leave the city to some distant place and live happily married. If there is slightest attempt to stop me, I will not hesitate to do what I must, I am ruthless by nature,” he warned without any ambiguity.
Sizing up the situation, she said,” OK, I am with you on this for the only reason I am madly in love with you. But be quick as chowkidar may come anytime. Just close the front door without locking and come inside.”
She gave the keys to the cash box on the counter and led him to the safety room and opened the door.
“Within five minutes you must come out. Don’t be greedy. I will keep a watch on the front door and signal you if chowkidar enters. There is a big bag in the corner. Be very quick,” she said.
“Thank you, Renu.I am also attracted to you and I promise to keep you happily. I never expected you would support me readily. I will be out in three minutes. Please keep a watch, my dear,” he said as he patted her cheek and entered the safety room.
As he opened the locker and found to his joy, stacks of notes of varied denominations, he heard a click of the door and turned to see to his horror the door of the safety room was shut. He heard the alarm shrieking loud alternately in high and low notes. “Dirty bitch, you will pay for this with your life” he swore in anger
Renuka was seen at the front door shouting for chowkidar and hailing others for help.A police van was seen fast approaching the bank at a short distance.