"Tring…Tring…", the phone bell rang.
Mrs. Iyer ran to her landline connection as it came to life. "Hullo! Hullo!", she sounded quite nervous. The phone call did not continue any further. Her six years old daughter Latha who had gone to school in the morning had not returned home after the school gave over. Mr. Iyer got the alarm while in the office. He ran up to the Police Station with Latha's recent photographs so that the Police department could get into fruitful action. Beads of perspiration lead to a stream that trickled down his forehead.
Having done the needful, he drove his car on the already empty roads around the school, in busy areas, in the close by parks where he could expect his daughter. He got down at places, cupped his mouth and yelled out for his little princess with all his might. When the sun strode behind the horizon, Mr. Iyer was reminded of his wife, Bharthi who had already collapsed once in agony. Back at home, Bharthi was frightened like a bird. She felt a blob at her throat that caused her pain in gulping down her spit. She wondered why did the person on the other end of the phone did not speak.
Broken as a failure, Mr. Iyer returned home only to confront his wife's pale yet expectant eyes. Slowly the man of the house slung on the heavily cushioned sofa. Comforting calls from friends and relatives only punctuated the looming silence in the house. Some well-wishers came pouring in filling the empty spaces when the bell rang once again. This time Mr. Iyer received the call.
"Hullo! Who is there? What do you want?"
"Ten Thousand Rupees"
Mr. Iyer mused, "Such a small ransom?"
He asked, "Where do you want the money?"
"By the Light House at Elliots Beach."
"And my daughter? Is she fine?"
"She is. Reach Elliots Beach by 10 p.m. Remember, come alone." The kidnapper sounded quite bold and confident. Mr. Iyer did not want to ruffle up the Police department for such a petty ransom. For him, his daughter's safety was above everything. He requested everyone in the house to leave. Bharthi was deeply perplexed. The bright face of her daughter haunted her like anything. Her heart was thumping so much that one could hear from a distance. Mr. Iyer looked at the wall clock. Time had seemingly come to a snail's pace. With shaking hands, the lady brought a glass of water for her husband. Since Latha's disappearance, the couple had not taken even a drop of water. The man moistened his parched throat. He was busy strategizing.
Should he take his buddy along with him? Was he making a mistake in not taking the Police assistance? Mr. Iyer jumped to his feet. He had made up his mind. He pulled out a bundle of Rs. 2000 rupee notes from the almirah, thrust his licensed revolver under his shirt for emergency purposes and dashed out of the room. Bharthi pleadingly looked at her husband's face urging him to take her along for she would not be able to take the void of the large house any longer. The couple moved out of their house clumsily fastening bolts, brought their car to life and zoom they went leaving their house under the canopy of gloom. Elliots beach was quite a distance from their house. Both the occupants of the car sat mute making violent prayers for their child's safety. It took more than half an hour's time to reach the appointed spot. Latha's parents tiptoed out of their car and shut the door with a cluck. Nothing could be seen around except the series of white waves approaching the shore consecutively. "Are we cheated?", whispered Bharthi. "Don't jump into conclusions till you are sure", bawled Mr. Iyer.Slowly they approached the lighthouse. The sandy beach had tired the couple just as their souls were tired. Every step was drawing them close to their search.
Suddenly from nowhere rang the words "Mumma" "Papa". Bharthi looked around frantically only to find Latha on the lap of a middle-aged man and the latter feeding the young one tenderly. Bharthi ran and grabbed Latha from the stranger's lap. She was surprised when their own life and blood showed resentment in leaving the portals of the man's lap. Mr. Iyer understood that the man whom they had thought to be the kidnapper was actually innocent. He gently rested his hand on the stranger's shoulder in a way to enquire what had happened. Latha in her broken language described how this man Venkatesh came to her help when she lost her way outside her school gate. She was so carried away running and waving at the departing school van that she didn't realise how far she had evaded from the school. When she discovered herself in a completely unknown area, Latha broke down into tears. It was then when Venkatesh came to her as an angel. He took her to all the possible places thinking she would be able to identify her colony. Her school had also closed by then.
Finding no clue, Venkatesh started pampering the small child to the best of his means. He found himself slowly being caught in the web. "And what about the blank calls that you had made on my landline number?" reminded Bharthi. "Yes, I found the phone number through her diary. But each time I tried to call up, Latha disconnected it." Latha gave a naughty giggle from the corner. The white flash of her teeth under the moonlight came as a balm to their sore hearts. "Then?" Mr. Iyer asked. "I never wanted to ask for any ransom. I wanted to call you at a place where I could return Latha in the right hands. It is she who looking at the bizarre state of my house forced me to ask for the ransom. She is indeed aware of all the wealth that her father possesses", Venkatesh spoke with a tinge of humour. He continued, "I didn't call you up at your mobile number in fear that you could very easily land me at the Police station. I know how it is like losing one's child. I've myself undergone the pain. I lost my son on this very beach in the midst of waves and my wife too who also gave up her life by running into this wild sea in his search."
One of the arteries to Sneha's heart twitched. She was speechless. Mr. Iyer could not humiliate the angel by offering him the ransom. In the graveyard like silence minus the wild waves one could hear Bharthi's sobs. In the mid of night, Mr. Iyer offered his card, a warm hug and with that, the Iyers and Venkatesh parted ways.
(Images used are for illustration purpose only)