“Why don’t we rush ahead and make some enquiries,” Sid wanted to ask the police what crime Dara had committed, but Aron never allowed him. “Hush,” Aron said and took him aside. Aron always knew that the kid needed to be guided with a firm hand. “Do you know the nature of charges against Dara? if these are as serious as I suspect, you don’t want to be seen sympathizing with him.”
They walked about for some time. It was still not too late and people continued to shop or go about finishing their work before returning home. Sid was still sulking. Aron hadn’t decided where they were going to put up for the night.
“Hey..Sid.” A woman called out from behind. It was Maya. She stood on the sidewalk near where a cycle rickshaw was parked on the edge of the road. There were a couple of bags on the rickshaw which had earlier contained flower stalks and another one on the pavement. Maya didn’t look at all devastated by the recent events.
“Hey..” Sid came out of the sulk and walked back to her, “You..okay?”
“I’m fine,” Maya said quickly. “My work at the city is done, so.. I’m ready to leave when you two are.”
Sid was quiet, meanwhile Aron caught up to them.
“Remember, you promised you’ll let us ride back in your boat!” insisted Maya.
Aron spoke up,”Yes we said you could join us when we return the day after tomorrow. If your work is done already you might as well take the bus back.”
Maya held on to the rickshaw for support. She looked at Aron and tears trickled out. She couldn’t look angry anymore and turned away but her shoulders shook enough for them to notice that she was crying.
They left the same night. Normally a visit to the big city would have meant substantial shopping for essentials as well as novelties, but they made it very short. Before leaving, they got a great offer for lots of gear for their boat. Aron felt they couldn’t leave without fitting the boat and it was essential if they were to keep up their venture. Before starting, They remembered to make sure that the engine was clamped and the fuel was good and enough. Aron started the engine and let it warm up.
It was past midnight when they were underway.
Sid immediately went to sleep on the floor of the boat. Maya sat with her back against the front of the boat. Aron was at the tiller steer outboard motor and the boat went at a reasonable speed. They reached the wharf north of town as dawn broke. When they got off, Sid and Aron just had a single bag each to carry while Maya had three.
“Let us help you with your bags Maya,” Sid offered, “I can take an additional bag to where-ever you want to go. Right Aron?” Aron didn’t look enthusiastic.
“You guys carry on, I have someone coming to pick me up soon.”
They started on their way through the narrow isolated path to the town. While the area to the north of the river was covered by thick jungle, there was a wooded belt all along the southern bank of the river too. Aron hurried ahead thinking of family, while Sid was brooding and he walked slowly. They had walked about five minutes and Aron was calling back to Sid to hurry up when he heard sounds of voices and running feet. Several men had chased down Sid, the straggler.
On hearing the shouting, Aron reacted on instinct. He dropped his bag and ran on ahead at great speed. He didn’t slow down till he broke out of the woods and could see the houses at the edge of town.
To be continued…