A short story on an unexpected change of plans during a long journey
|“We passed the exit,” I stated, my face deadpan.
“No, we didn’t,” the young driver responded, in an identical tone.
I scowled. Why are these youngster so cocky?
The two girls in the back seat giggled and it brought a smile to my face. At least someone was happy.
Arnav turned his face towards me.
“Dad, I got a call a few minutes ago, when you were snoring. We are to head towards Madurai now.”
I grunted. “I was not snoring and why the hell did you pick up my phone?”
“You were out and I saw the number. We never not pick up that call.”
“Hate these last minute changed,” I mumbled.
Jean spoke up from the cavernous back row. “What’s the new plan? I may need new clothes.”
Priya laughed. “That’s what you are worried about?”
“What else did they say?” I asked.
It was Arnav’s turn to shrug. “Just got the name and address. Near the temple so we’ll have to wait till late night.”
He handed me a small piece of paper with more information on it.
“ You took all this down while driving?” My voice was accusing.
“Hehehe…no, I read it out as they were talking and Priya took it down.”
I examined the note and frowned. “I don’t like these last minute changes. This has never happened before.”
I closed my eyes and started thinking about our journey.
Our ride from Bangalore had started early that morning and our destination was to be Chennai. Until this call. As was normal, we were all dressed in the regular attire but Jean was right. These clothes weren’t right. We would stand out like a sore thumb; or is it multiple sore thumbs? Anyway, we had passed Krishnagiri and Salem was the next big city where we could get the right clothes.
There was a few minutes of silence as we drove along the beautiful highway. The heavy rains had created multiple hues of greens on either side of the road. The sun shone warmly now and leaves on the trees still possessed the remnants of the recent showers.
Arnav had his foot to the pedal now with the intense look that so reminded me of his mother. The girls were different and I sometimes wondered where they go their natures from. Priya was quiet and had a great sense of humor. She never had too many questions and had the best attitude amongst all of us for our work. Jean was a happy go lucky girl but had the capacity for immense concentration and focus when needed.
“Another hour to Salem,” Arnav announced.
Jean again voiced what was on everyone’s mind and not in our stomachs. “I’m starving.”
“We’ll eat at Salem,” I told her. “All of us are.”
It was around nine when we reached the city. Shops were starting to open, but first things first. We got our fill of wholesome south Indian food in the spacious Anand Bhavan and then were prepared to face the rest of the day.
“Alright, dhotis for us. You girls go get saris. You know how conservative Madurai is and if we’re going to blend in, we better look the part.”
“Do I have to?” Arnav complained. “No one wears a pant and shirt there? This is not the sixties!”
I said nothing as the girls disappeared already plotting their purchases.
An hour later we were all set.
“Let’s do a quick check,” Priya was all business.
Arnav and I had got crisp collared half sleeved white shirts. Our white dhotis with the gold borders matched perfectly. Priya shielded her eyes in mock horror.
“You boys couldn’t get anything whiter?”
The girls had done very well. They had bought two lovely saris, elegant yet understated. I couldn’t believe they were old enough to wear saris.
We were back on the road, stomachs full and the strong filter coffee having done wonders to pep us all up.
There were no more incidents as we drove on passing large trucks and tractors all transporting important truck and tractor goods.
After another brief halt for lunch, we got into Madurai around two in the afternoon.
It was a huge temperature differential between the air conditioning in the car and the sweltering heat outside. We were glad to get into the hotel lobby.
All arrangements for our stay had been done as we were en route, so we checked into the hotel with our fake IDs and names.
The girls stepped out of their room for the reconnaissance.
Arnav pulled out his long shoulder bag, and started assembling the pieces in deft moves.
My job was to set up cameras and the communication devices.
I had a tinge of guilt, as I wondered if it was the right way to bring up children.
After all it’s not every day that an entire family is made up of hitmen; or is it hit persons?