To safety out of parking plot

Business had been dull that day. He had parked his taxi near a busy shopping centre in the hope of being hailed.

There wasn’t much petrol in the tank. Unless he earned some money, he wouldn’t be able to take out the taxi the next day. The dismal thought made him sigh. A knock on the glass made him open his eyes. There was a man at the window. Keshavan didn’t like the look of him at all. He had a strong instinct where people were concerned. It sounded a warning bell now.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Take us to Adarsh Nagar,” commanded the man.

“I’m sorry I can’t,”  said  Keshavan.

“Why?” demanded the man.

“Not enough petrol,” replied Keshavan.

“We can stop at the nearest petrol pump,” the man suggested helpfully.

“I don’t have the money,” said Keshavan.

“We will take care of that,” offered the man.

“It’s too far off,” argued Keshavan, in an effort to shake off the customer. “I want to get home early as it’s my mother’s birthday,” he added, hitting upon a brilliant idea.

“You can give her a great gift with the money we give you,” tempted the man.

“Who are the ‘we’ and ‘us’?” asked Keshavan.

“My friend over there and I,” the man answered. Keshavan looked and saw the friend holding a little girl’s hand and walking towards the taxi.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked, in a scared voice.

“To your house,” said the man holding her hand. The girl didn’t seem to believe him and she was right because the second man looked even more shifty than the first.

Seeing Keshavan, the girl asked, “Are you taking me home?” with childish trust.

“Yes, I am,” answered Keshavan. He didn’t know why the girl was with them or what the two men intended to do with her. He only knew they were up to no good and he had to help the girl. How he would do it, he had no idea. A vague, hazy plan began to form at the back of his mind. So he agreed to take the men to Adarsh Nagar.

On the way to the petrol pump, the two men outlined their plan of action. They spoke in a dialect that Keshavan could only follow with difficulty. The first man said. “I will not allow the child to be harmed.”

“O.K., but we will use her to make her father agree,” said the second man. Agree to what? As if in answer to Keshavan’s question, the second man continued. “One would imagine it was his personal property. What would he lose if he permitted us to take the strip of land adjoining our building? It would make an ideal car park.”
Keshavan supposed ‘he’ referred to the girl’s father.

“You are right. It’s not his property to sell. It’s government property,” replied the first man.

“Who’s going to question him? He has the  authority. And government officials make exceptions when it suits them,” grumbled the second.

“Well, this man is different. The high and mighty Mr.Sunderarajan can’t be bribed,” sneered the first man.

“What are you saying about my father?” asked the girl.

“Nothing,” answered the second man and patted her shoulder reassuringly. “That’s why I kidnapped his daughter,” he added. “When he signs the document, we’ll send back his daughter.” “Unharmed,” warned the first. The second just smirked. The vague, hazy plan at the back of Keshavan’s mind began to take definite shape. It was simple and could be carried out easily. He hoped the child would cooperate.

They stopped at a petrol pump and true to their promise, the two men filled the tank.

“I want to stretch my legs,” said the first man.

“So do I,’ said the second.

This was a God-sent opportunity. As soon as the men were out of earshot, Keshavan turned to the girl. “Give me your father’s mobile number.”

“Why?”

“To save you. Quickly, before the men return.” Then she did.

Keshavan stored the number in his mobile. “Now do as I tell you. After some time, tell the men you are hungry. We will stop at an eatery and the men will take you in. I’ll speak to your father then. After you come back, I’ll drive for half an hour and then stop the taxi, saying there is some engine problem. While I’m pretending to fix it, your father will arrive with the police. Do you understand?”

“Yes. What an adventure!” exclaimed the excited girl.

Keshavan hoped everything would work out well. And it did.

“I can’t thank you enough, Keshavan,” said Mr.Sunderarajan, his voice thick with emotion.

“No, Sir. Six years ago, you sent me to driving school and loaned me the money to buy a used taxi. This was my chance to do something for you.”

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