One lazy Saturday late afternoon in Chennai, Priya’s phone vibrates on the centre table. She lazily reached out to it, without shifting from the bean bag. She swiped the screen and picked the call.
“Machi, the weather is too good. The sky is rumbling, calling us out. Let’s go to the beach for a walk.” Who else? Of course, it was Karthik. He is always in the mood for long walks when the weather is good. Priya mumbled lazily, “Seri polaam, I’ll meet you near the light house in half hour.” She quickly changed into her tracks, t shirt and slipped on her chappals. “Amma, Karthik oda I’m heading to the beach. I’ll be back by 7-7:30. Call me if anything”
She cycled down to the beach. Her house is hardly about 2 kms away. She has rode on this road a zillion times. Even with her eyes closed she would never get lost. But somehow the sea breeze seemed a little different today. She could sense it. Was it the scent? No it was the same salty air with the strong scents from the fish market. Priya always preferred to ride through the estate inner road to the light house inspite of the fish market and the slum children running around playing cricket, or speeding on their bikes. The scene was no different today. But something was in the air and Priya could sense it.
By now she was close enough to see the waves. They rolled in one after the other and came much farther in than usual. The stretch seemed unusually empty today. She locked her cycle next to Anna’s ice cream cart. She called out to him “Anna, cycle inga vechirken. Paathukonga. Ice cream vandu saapadren.” He replied back earnestly, “Seri ma, Romba thanniku ulla pogadhey, ala balama iruku inniku” She smiled and nodded. This is the ice cream seller she has been religiously buying her favourite raspberry popsickles from ever since she could remember.
She walked to the foot of the lighthouse and stood there keeping an ear out for the rickety sounds of Karthik’s second hand Pulsar. What pride he took in his bike – his first love, his high-maintenance girlfriend as she called it. He had bought it with his own savings working post college hours. And there he was. Riding in with both his hands stretched out back, and not on the handle bar. Priya smirked and turned away, not wanting to encourage his stunts!
Soon they both were walking in towards the sea. By now it was drizzling lightly. The kind of drizzle that you wish never stops. For a bit neither of them spoke much. They lazily walked enjoying the breeze and the many sights of Marina, undoubtedly the soul of Madras. Suddenly Priya froze and blurted a not so loud Ouch!. She looked down to see that she had stepped on to a broken glass piece. Right next to her feet was a cracked quarter bottle. She bent down to remove the glass piece from her toe. Just then she noticed a crushed piece of paper inside the bottle. “Karthik inga paaren.” Being hopeless, curiosity-filled minds, they both reached out to the bottle almost in sync. Karthik grabbed it first though giving Priya a troll face. He pulled out a small torn and soiled piece of newspaper. In scrawny writing the words – Please HELP! Panayur hut. Ponni. – was scribbled in full desperation looking for blank places to fill in, for it seemed Ponni could get hold of only a black ink pen and didn’t want her one last chance for escape to go unnoticed.
This was a real cry of help. Priya could almost hear a little girl’s loud screams inside her head and Karthik? an action-thriller movie was already running on his mind. Right there in the background the Chennai City Police Booth stood tall. Priya turned towards the booth, but Karthik grabbed her hand…“Wait!”
……to be continued!
Machi: colloquial for bro/friend
Seri polaam: ok, let’s go!
Anna, cycle inga vechirken. Paathukonga. Ice cream vandu saapadren.: Brother, I am leaving the cycle here. Please keep an eye. I’ll have an ice cream once I’m back.
Karthik inga paaren.: Karthik, look here!