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Twenty seven year old Megha Naik settled on her seat in the State Transport bus for Mahabaleshwar at the bus depot near Pune Railway station. She checked the time – 8.30 pm. She was going for her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It had been a hectic day for this qualified architect. She was fast asleep in a couple of minutes.
A while later she woke up, startled with sound of a man pleading for mercy. Megha turned and looked behind. Five-six women had surrounded a young man at the rear of the bus. He was well dressed, like a corporate professional. He was gagged and his face was badly bruised. Megha was scared but stood up and decided to make her way towards the rear of the bus, when she felt a cold dagger on her neck.
“Sit down”, Megha was ordered. That coercion made the blade cut through her skin. Megha took a deep breath and let her logical thinking take over. She observed the woman who was calling the shots. Megha noticed her attire – a mix of some tribal style mingled with weird north Indian Ghagra. Also, she could not understand the exact words from her high pitched conversation with others but she understood the gist.
She turned to look at them, when one of the women slashed that man hard on his face with a blade.
“No”, Megha cried in horror.
“Give me the money”, that woman demanded of him. That man spat on her and refused to give in.
“Why are you doing this?” Megha asked of that leader.
Thwack! She got slapped on her face. According to that leader, Megha had the profanity to speak up against the gang leader.
“Shut up and stay out of this. I have accounts to settle with this bloody bugger.”
“Well, nobody almost hijacks a bus and tortures innocent people just like that.” Megha said mustering courage, standing up.
“Innocent? Hah.. you are such a fool, you bitch”, the woman leading the pack barked at her and pushed her violently on the seat. Neha hit her head on the window rim. She grimaced with pain. Soon, she was tied to the seat.
One of them, who was pretty and smart seemed to have something sinister up her sleeve. She had not spoken all this while. She twirled her long braided hair and came up to Megha. The others called her Sunehri. The leader who looked in her late 40’s was called “Akka”.
Sunehri took a pistol from underneath her top, tucked into her ghagra and pointed it at Megha. . She closed her eyes. When she opened them, the women had got that man to sit beside her and pistol was pointed at him. Megha looked at him, horrified. He was half dead and was blabbering incoherently.
“Stop this, what wrong have we done to you?” Megha shouted.
“Shut up and do what we say. Kill that man”, Sunheri said with a steely coldness in her voice.
Megha clenched her teeth and fist and tried to break free. She was even able to free one hand from the rope but stayed put.
Sunehri gave Megha a peck on the cheek. Megha winced with disgust. On an impulse, she raised her hand which was free and punched Sunehri. Sunehri was startled for a moment but regained her composure. Akka was enraged now. She had had enough. She snatched the gun from Sunehri and inserted the gun into Megha’s mouth. She was going to pull the trigger when Sunehri stopped her.
“Akka, don’t do this. You would be caught unnecessarily. Rather, make this whore kill this asshole.” It was pitch dark outside. Akka became thoughtful. She beckoned one of her gang members to get her a paan.
“Good idea, Sunehri”, she said, chewing on to her pan. Sunehri freed Megha and handed her the pistol. Megha furiously retaliated, as she pushed and clawed away at Sunehri.
“Enough”! Akka’s voice boomed. With an eerie silence all around, her high pitched, slightly hoarse voice sounded ghastly.
“Listen girl, you better kill him or I will kill you!” Akka bellowed.
Megha shuddered. She pointed the gun at that man. Something, however, snapped.
She shot Akka instead and then before the others could recover, she shot Sunheri. She made that man get up by nudging him with the nozzle of the gun.
“Nobody moves”, Megha pointed the gun at the others.
She pushed the man and stepped out of the bus and started running, on a narrow pathway. She could see some village lights nearby. Suddenly this man started laughing.
“You are stupid to have saved me. I deserved to die.” He smiled. Colour had drained out of Megha’s face. She looked at him, dumbfounded, pistol almost dropping off her hand.