“Sex trafficking is growing at an alarming rate in the city. A suspect is a group of …”
Sitting on the front porch, she could hear every word coming from the radio. The voice of the newsreader sent a shiver down her spine.
No matter how hard she tries to bury her past as a bad dream, it relapses one way or the other. With today’s news, again, the horrendous event of her past was brought to life-the kind of memory that leaves you in bits and pieces. Love, that meant an everlasting feeling of joy to her, once, is now nothing but a sham! She felt a gruelling pain in her gut as the memory of her being tricked into love resurfaced in her mind again.
She met this guy next door, named Santosh or who pretended as one. Till today, she never knew who this Santosh was and where he came from. He came like a gust of wind and with him, he shook her very being of existence.
Initially, it was the mere attraction between the two. But as they started spending more and more time together, it only became easier for Palak to say “yes” to his proposal. And who wouldn’t after all? He was hot, sexy, and rich. And of course, for a sixteen-year-old, who had found such a handsome new love, what could you expect more? She loved to get the attention of the prying eyes of her friends, who kept wondering why in the whole world he chose her. This made Palak felt great about herself, and she enjoyed her friends’ envious look. They went on dates, pubs, night-clubs and many more places, right under her mother’s nose.
Santosh was 21 and filthy rich. He owned a Mercedes, and Palak and Santosh shared quite some intimate moments in that car.
However as much as she hated to admit then, there was something fishy about Santosh; he panicked whenever he received a call from someone named “Mr Hunter”. Many times, she saw his face turned red just when the name flashed on his phone. Palak tried to confront Santosh about it, but everytime he got irritated so she brushed the topic aside. She couldn’t afford to irritate him, she loved him way too much.
It was a bright summer day; it was the first beautiful day of summer after days of incessant rain. Palak was thrilled today, as she told her mother that she was going out with her friends on a picnic by the beach. But the truth was something else.
The reality was, she was going on a long drive with Santosh to a secret place. Secret because he wanted to surprise her. She was too excited. She put on her best dress; low cut sleeves crop top from where her navel was clearly visible.
As told by Santosh, she was waiting for him by the end of the road of Havel lock because they wouldn’t want to draw the attention of her friends. Palak couldn’t understand why he was so reluctant on letting anyone know about their date, but she didn’t care. She refused to see the red flags that were so evident!
After 15 minutes of waiting, Santosh arrived in his Mercedes. Palak was elated and expected the same from Santosh, but it wasn’t so. He looked tense, he asked her to hop into the car which she gladly did. He spoke nothing but put the music loud and drove at such a terrific speed that it almost made Palak scream in fright. Sweat dripped from his face and he was panicky. He was so into himself that he showed no concern for the yelling of Palak.
She constantly shouted at Santosh to slow down the car. He ignored this for some time but, when he could bear it no longer, stopped the car on the lonely highway, pulled her out of the car by force, and slapped her hard. It was so sudden and vigorous that she almost fell on the car’s bonnet.
Shocked, distraught and before she could process, he tied her hands and eyes and put a tape on her mouth. She tried to resist but he hit her again and put her back into the car. She cried and yelled for help. Alas, there was none. She fell unconscious in a matter of time.
After about an hour of driving, Santosh reached a spot inside a bush. It was dark by now and he took her inside a shabby cottage.
He placed her on the ground and untied her eyes. By now she regained her senses. On opening her eyes, she saw Santosh standing by the door, smoking, and talking to someone over the phone. After a good minute of call, he started laughing hard and uttered “The deal is done, boss. She is 16, a plump virgin as you wanted. The customers would be delighted.”
And within a fraction of a second Palak understood everything. It was not a hard nut to crack. Though she was 16 she had read news about sex trafficking going on around the city. She was scared now and felt like crying but was so aghast in pain that she couldn’t even cry.
And, in that painful state, she didn’t remember when she fell asleep. Next, she remembered someone throwing a bucket of water on her face to wake her up. She was offered a bunch of carrots on a plate as food while Santosh and the other guy were drinking a lot and laughing. Totally inebriated by now, they fell asleep.
It was when she finally regained full consciousness, she noticed the place she was in. It was a small dark room with only a small hole for light to peep inside. She went to sleep again.
Next, she woke up to a sound coming from outside. It was the sound of wild cockerels crowing outside her room. It was the wee hour of the morning. She had a look around that small shabby room-there were two chairs, one lamp hanging from the ceiling, a rugged sofa, piles of beer bottles scattered everywhere and there was a gas appliance with a matchbox nearby.
There on, in one sofa laid the man who betrayed her; her own Santosh. Was it all an illusion then? How can that man sleep peacefully when she was in so much pain?
She cried and cried again, but to no avail. She was too thirsty but there was no water nearby and her hands were tied. Her legs were handcuffed too.
She decided, no matter what, she had to find a way from this rotten hole, and that she had to do it right then. She looked around and suddenly, her eyes fell on the keys of the handcuff that was lying on the ground next to Santosh. The key slipped from his pocket, and he was dead asleep. By dragging her right leg, she finally managed to grab hold of the key after half an hour of struggle. She unlocked her legs first and then freed her hands. She removed the rope by which she was tied to the pole. She stood up and stealthily thought of running away. But something made her stop.
She turned back and went towards Santosh. She took a glance at him and turned away. She took hold of the kerosene gallon and splashed it on the ground. After having done this, she put on the gas appliances and grabbed the matchbox in her hand and fled to the outside of the cottage. When outside, she turned towards her back. Eyes filled with rage, heart burnt with pain and hatred, and having one last look at the person who she loved so passionately, lit up the matchstick and threw it on the ground. Taking the trail of kerosene oil on the floor, the fire kept burning until it caught the gas appliances, and within seconds burst with a big sound and erupted into a huge flame.
By now, Palak was at a safe distance from the cottage, but she didn’t run away yet. She wanted to have a good view of the cottage burning and with it her Santosh, who was on the verge of ruining her life. A sense of abhorrence shook her. A mixed emotion of happiness and sorrow shook her very being. She was totally drained out, but she didn’t know how she got the courage to keep moving and moving.
The news ended and the advertisement resumed. The sound of the Henna ad brought her to reality. Seven years have passed ever since. She was rescued by local villagers that day and was brought home safely. She hugged her mother tight and cried like a baby. She narrated the entire incident to the cops. She got to know that Santosh and the other guys worked in the sex trafficking trade and were spread across the city to lure young girls like her into this business. I told them about “Mr Hunter” and cops took a note of it. After days and months of arduous work, the cops were able to nab Mr Hunter and his gang. With it, the entire sex racket was exposed, and the city girls were saved.
But now, after 7 years, it has resurfaced again, but this time with a new gang and a new strategy to nab young girls into sex trafficking. Palak knows now, whom to trust and whom not to. Meantime, she has also educated young girls like her by sharing her terrible experience. She is determined to be a cop one day and eradicate any such Santosh’s that do exist in this society. Her only goal is to protect young girls like her before they fall prey to such false love and promise. Palak is a strong person now and she knows, by sheer hard work and dedication, she can strive towards her goal with full conviction.