Hitch | Somnath Thakur
Shovan is happy today. The deal for which he came to Birbhum, has been finalised. Shovan Basu, the director of ‘Softek Solutions’, a software company based in Kolkata, had come to Birbhum two days ago. He was staying in a hotel in Siuri. It was that very hotel where his innovative idea got approved by the officials of the company he came to meet. Once implemented, it will not only bring his company a lot of money, but also a good name. Shovan is very happy today.
At present, Shovan is in the middle of a jungle. Well, it used to be a jungle but these days it’s a famous tourist spot – the Shonajhuri. He had decided that once the deal is done, he would go on a long drive amidst the Shonajhuri trees. Actually, the road is a driver’s delight. It isn’t always the smoothest but the jungle on either side of the road, makes it a romantic drive. Red soil, the sky playing hide and seek through the leaves, small markets here and there make it a great tourist spot.
Shovan has come here alone. His only companion being his i20. He loves driving and now he is in one of the most popular villages around. What more can he ask for?
The clock says it’s 11 PM. After a long drive all the way from Siuri to Shonajhuri, Shovan’s body has given way. He has parked his car on one of the sides of the road and has reclined on the driver’s seat. It’s not a good idea to be parking a car in a place where people start moving homeward even before 7, but Shovan’s eyes refuse to stay open, and thus he had to stop and take rest. Anyway, Shovan loves adventure and thus he doesn’t have problems sleeping inside the car. No noise, no intervention, just an empty road and the trees of Shonajhuri.
Shovan looks to his right. He only sees darkness. It’s actually nothing but the trees. It’s as if they are hiding themselves from the malpractices of the humans. He looks to his left. He sees the empty road sometimes disturbed by the horns of the loaded trucks. On the other side of the road is another cloak of darkness worn by the trees. Sometimes these cloaks are being torn apart by the noise and the headlights.
He locks the doors of the car, puts on the music player and closes his eyes. He has to spend the whole night here. With the Kishore Kumar songs playing and the air freshener on, Shovan falls asleep as soon as he closes his eyes.
With no clue as to how much he slept, he wakes up to a sudden thud on the window. Someone’s desperately knocking at the car door.
He sees a little girl banging at the door and saying something. Shovan looks at the watch. It’s 1:20 AM.
He quickly slides down the window glass.
The girl is wearing a frock and it’s torn. She has bruises on her neck, shoulders and forehead. It doesn’t require extra knowledge to conclude that someone has beaten her badly.
Without thinking much, Shovan lets her in.
“Start the car, they are coming after me!” The girl yells.
“What happened?” Shovan asks.
“I’ll tell you, start the car, just take me to the town.”
Shovan starts the car. “The town is far away and it will take a lot of time.” He says.
The girl is constantly looking at the back, checking to see if someone’s following her.
“Doesn’t matter, keep moving.”
“What happened?” Shovan asks. He looks at the girl. She is around 12 and is pretty. The bruises on her forehead could not mar her beauty.
“They killed my father.” She starts crying. “My father used to sell handicrafts in the Shonajhuri market. I used to assist him in his work. But that was not enough to feed our family of 6 and he had a huge debt and he failed to pay back.”
“Who killed him?”
“The ones he borrowed money from. He was the owner of the land on which we have that shop.”
The car is moving at a constant speed. There is no other car and the headlights are on. Shovan doesn’t even know what’s happening, but he has to save this child. He can see that the little girl is shivering in fear.
“Take this towel and wrap yourself up.”
“They would regularly come to claim the money and my dad would refuse. They had altercations and would often threaten that they would bulldoze the store one day, but today it was horrific.”
Shovan looks at her.
“We were doing our normal business like every day when the three came. Jhontu Da would always lead them.”
“The son of the owner.”
“Jhontu Da and others were dead drunk. I was so scared. It was not a new sight but the fear I experienced was as if it was the first time….”
The girl could not finish. Now, it’s not only Shovan’s car but there’s another car that’s following them. The headlights are on.
Shovan’s heart has started pounding. The girl hides herself. The car has started speeding up and has almost caught them.
The car is now on the left side of Shovan’s i20. There’s a single person- the driver, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything and speeds past Shovan’s i20.
The girl heaves a sigh of relief.
“They killed my father. There was a chaos when they came to claim the money and the customers were chased away. After an altercation, Jhontu Da killed my father with a dagger.”
The girl takes a pause.
“After that, I became the target. They pounced at me and….” The girl started crying profusely.
“What is your name?”
“Minu,” she replies.
“Sweet name. How did you escape?”
“I started throwing random things we had in the store and I came across a pen. I pierced the pen on Jhontu Da’s wrist and escaped his grip. The other men were standing outside and as soon as they saw me running, they started running after me and I found my way in the dark and saw your car.”
“How do you know that they are after you?”
“They have a car and they will definitely come after me.” The girl is shivering.
Shovan has been driving at the same speed. The Shonajhuri, that was beautiful even half an hour before, is now a maddening maze that doesn’t seem to end.
Someone’s honking from behind. It’s another car. It’s bigger than Shovan’s i20.
“It’s them.” Minu leans down and hides herself.
Shovan can’t think of anything else but to move fast. He can see nothing in front except emptiness. If they want to, they can easily catch them. It’s still more than 15KM.
This car seems to be in no hurry. It’s neither over-taking nor accelerating. It’s moving as if it’s following Shovan and that’s why it makes more sense.
Minu is still shivering.
Now, a truck is coming from the opposite side. This is the moment, if he can side-track the loaded truck and accelerate, he might have an edge.
Shovan tries to pull off the stunt but in vain, the road isn’t smooth enough. The stunt may boomerang if not done properly. Shovan’s heart is pounding.
“How do you know that it’s them?”
“I know how the car looks like. They often go out to rob people. The three always move together.”
“What do the local police say?”
“They are powerless.”
Minu doesn’t feel like talking now. She just wants to hide from them. Shovan can feel that these people are after them.
At one moment, Shovan thought of diverting the car into the jungle but that won’t do any good. It might worsen the matter.
“Why do you want to go to the town?”
“Because, my house is in the town and Jhontu Da doesn’t seem to have any influence there. They hardly go to the town. Once they see us moving to there, they might retract. These people are dacoits under the faces of land owners.”
Shovan doesn’t feel tired now, all he knows that once they are in the town, things might get better.
“What was your father’s name?”
“Kanai,” Minu takes a pause. “My father was an honest man. He could have undertaken malpractices to collect the money and pay the debt but he didn’t. He promised them that even if it had taken time, he would pay the money, but…” Minu started crying once again.
Shovan checks the speedometer. He is driving at 60, sometimes at 65. But, the ones behind them don’t seem to be in any hurry.
With a lot of anxiety and panic, they finally enter the Siuri town. Shovan is sweating profusely. But, the car hasn’t stopped following them.
Minu seems to have gathered a little bit of strength.
“Where do you stay?” Shovan asks. He plans to drop her at her place. He doesn’t know what happens once he returns.
“Move to the left.”
Shovan is relieved. The car isn’t following them anymore. Minu was right. Shovan feels like a hero. Once they entered the town, Shovan had a look at the car. It was a white Tata Sumo. It’s no more there.
Shovan follows Minu’s instructions.
“There we are.” Minu’s eyes are gleaming.
It’s small mud house, a common sight in this part of the town. Shovan stops near her house. Minu gets out hurriedly and knocks the door. Minu pulls him by his shirt.
Shovan feels a little awkward. He doesn’t know what to do, but he could not refuse Minu. He is reminded of his little girl back home.
The door was already open. Minu takes Shovan to a room.
“Where are the others?” Shovan asks.
“I am calling them.”
Minu goes outside.
A sudden chill goes down his spine when he hears the name Minu calls. He looks to his right. Through the window, Shovan sees the Tata Sumo standing in the courtyard.
“Jhontu Da! He is here. Dad, please come.” Minu’s voice doesn’t seem to have any hint of fear.
Not three, but two men enter the room, behind them is Minu. She is smiling. The smile is not that of an innocent child but of the one who has successfully fooled an adult with her faked innocence.
Shovan is feeling dizzy. One of the men is Jhontu and the other one is Kanai. Minu is the decoy. Jhontu is Minu’s brother and Kanai was never killed. It was a plan brilliantly pulled off to trap Shovan. Minu was talking about the three who used to come and claim the money, rob people. Minu is the third one! The Tata sumo disappeared only to take the short cut to their courtyard.
“Minu, wasn’t attacked, I was, all the way from Shonajhuri! they rob people, today they robbed me,” Shovan collapses.