A N I M A L
Neera is prepared…. At least she believes so and that is really very important you know!
Her otherwise radiant face has gone pale and nervous. Her whole body is drenched in sweat from top to toe. She is shaking like a trembling vine, but her hold on the Sickle is strong and determinant.
Tightly gripping the wooden handle of sharp Sickle, she courageously waited.
The compact settlement of Savage was blessed with a year-long flow of ‘Nimai’ river, lush green fertile meadows and hardworking, amicable people. Anyone entering the town would immediately feel the peace and positivity in the atmosphere. Villagers owed this unexplainable calm to village deity ‘Nimai’ who guarded their souls. They spoke about Nimai’s unseen rangers spread in nearby forests disguised as animals; protecting villagers through thick and thin.
In fact, now they strongly believed that with the blessings of ‘Nimai’ they would easily sustain through this new life-threatening pandemic of Covid. Strict lockdown effect had zeroed the number of visitors to town and also reduced traffic on passing by highway. This not only prohibited Covid from entering the town but actually added to the purity of environment. Wee hours were once again filled with chirping of native birds and old folks enjoyed talking about the return of good old days.
Neera lived on a farm on the outskirts of the town where her father Dayaji was a caretaker. Farm owner Desai was a respectable wealthy businessman with political connections. But villagers talked low about his only son who had over-liberal nasty tendencies. Desai never really cared for this ancestral small piece of property and would hardly visit the farm. From early sowing of seeds till delivery of harvested food-grain to market
vendors; loyal Dayaji looked after each chore with sincerity and honesty, year after year….
After the untimely death of his dear wife, Dayaji had singly raised Neera who was seven-year-old at the time. Despite a lot of persuasion by closed ones; Dayaji chose not to remarry. He lived solely for his daughter. Eleven rainy seasons silently witnessed the patient upbringing by a devoted father. Neera has turned into an adorable, pretty young woman now. Dayaji is extremely proud of his beautiful daughter who is angelic not only in looks but also in character.
Today was the first Town-market day since ‘The Unlock -1’ procedure was announced by the government. Dayaji too planned for a market visit. Farm essentials, groceries, medicines for hens, repairs of water pump…. the list was lengthy.
Field chores consumed a large part of his day and it was almost 4.30 after noon when Dayaji finally left for market on his old rusty motorbike.
After saying bye to her father, Neera re-entered her house engrossed in thoughts. It was certainly late for the market with that big shopping list, she felt. Also, she didn’t really approve of Dayaji’s market visit during this ‘Covid’ time. Being a very sensitive girl, she was genuinely worried for her Baba’s health.
Just then, a dusty ‘Jeep Compass’ recklessly entered the gates of the farm. With the same careless manner, it halted in front of the small farmhouse. A Young lad in his twenties got out of the vehicle, slamming the door behind. He was a man of average height and beefy built. His tanned face was clearly reflecting his arrogant wild nature. He reached the locked door of the farmhouse and called for Dayaji loudly.
“Who is it?” asked Neera, who reached from behind the farmhouse on hearing sound of the vehicle. The man looked back in annoyance at being questioned; but as he saw Neera his expressions changed immediately. Neera could almost see the sparkle in his startled, lustful stare. When he scanned Neera from top to toe, with his small evil eyes; she skipped a heartbeat in fear. “Me? Sameer!” he answered, managing a crafty short smile. ‘Sameer! Farm-owner’s notorious son!’, a cold shiver ran down Neera’ spine. “Where is Dayaji? He is not answering my phone. Call him! And open the bungalow. Where are keys?” he spoke continuously without moving his eyes from Neera’s pink luscious lips.
“I do not have a phone, Saheb. Baba just left for the market. I will get the keys.” Neera hurriedly uttered and started walking towards her home situated exactly behind farmhouse. When she entered her little old shed, numerous thoughts flooded her naïve mind. ‘When would father return? What the hell is this Sameer doing here? When would he leave?’ Neera somehow grabbed the bungalow keys, hanging on the nail in wooden frame of kitchen entrance. But as she turned around, she got extremely terrified seeing Sameer entering the shed. Oh God! She could see her worst nightmare in Sameer’s hideous eyes. Within a moment she was choking under her predator’s heavy savage body fighting helplessly. How long would she sustain? Her head hitting some sharp object was her last memory before she became unconscious.
Even in his wildest imaginations Sameer never thought of finding such an immensely attractive lass here of all places.
The very moment Sameer saw Neera become unconscious, his cell phone rang. That was the call he was actually expecting for the last 20minutes, but the moment he saw Neera he had almost forgotten about it. With greatest displeasure he took the call while covering Neera’s mouth as precaution. “I have reached Saheb. Standing near your Jeep. Where are you Saheb?” the voice asked. Constable sent by Local PSI had reached. “Wait there.” told Sameer and disconnected the phone. Now, his brain was sharper than ever. It would hardly take anytime to submit the ‘gun license renewal application’ sent by his father to Chowki and return to the
farm. Who will hear Neera’s calls for help even if she regains consciousness? It’s a lonely farm on the outskirts and people don’t really move around in these Covid days. Locking the shed from outside, he made a call. This time it got picked up…. by Dayaji. Very cunningly he told Dayaji to wait for him in the market itself once his chores were over. His plan was perfect!
At Every shop there were long queues. It took quite some time for Dayaji to finish buying the necessities, while following the social distancing norms. When he returned to collect the pump given for repair, the mechanic was still struggling with it. “It’s almost done!” he said. Dayaji had no other option; anyways he had to wait for Sameer Saheb there.
Though Sameer left with the constable for chowki, his mind was completely occupied with his unfinished business on the farm. He decided to return back quickly, but destiny had other plans.
He handed over the papers to PSI and the task which actually brought him to Savgao was done. After he left the chowki, exactly at second turn he collided into a couple on a motorbike. Though the man escaped with only a few bruises; his wife had what looked like a fractured limb. Sameer was surprisingly safe without a scratch; but his vehicle which hit a roadside tree was in complete mess. It was exactly 9pm when Sameer managed to free himself from police formalities, compensate the couple and of course, tow his jeep to the garage.
With a deep sense of pain and weakness Neera somehow regained her consciousness. There was no sign of her attacker around but the door was locked from outside. He would return anytime! Neera frantically tried locking the door from inside but to her utmost horror the bolt broke and came in her hand. Father had obviously not returned yet and her call for
help would definitely not reach anyone. Now she has to fight her own battle. She prepared for it.
Tightly gripping the wooden handle of sharp Sickle, she courageously waited.
Sameer had to take lift from a passer-by to reach the farmhouse. He slipped a crisp currency note in rider’s hand. Once the bike disappeared on the dark road, Sameer hurriedly entered through the open gates. Just then; he sensed some odd movement beside the single mango tree on the left. Even in the dim starlight he could see two dreadful amber eyes intensely gazing at him.
Neera absolutely didn’t realise when her exhausted drained body slid into slumber. Late at night, with half open eyes she saw her father entering the house. Dreadfully weak due to head injury, she started passing out again. But before sinking into deep sleep she could hear the sound of a hand pump and her father bathing at those odd hours.
On a small television screen in a lonely barber’s shop, Savgao’s local news anchor was reporting about ‘spotting a tiger’ in a most thrilled voice. A rotating strip on screen read ‘Animals entering villages – Common phenomenon since lockdown.’
-Mrs Yogini V. Naik