The Cargo – Part 1.

The wispy shrub grew without too much fuss. Shy plant, Shame Plant, the Touch-Me-Not. Many names, for the same little fern who withdrew from the slightest touch. A soft breeze, a sudden movement – all of these made the plant fold inward. All it wanted – a handful of soil and a quiet corner of the land.
In the early hours of a March dawn, Kalambhai stretched his burly arms and sniffed the air. Might rain today. The Tv predicted Thunderstorms for the entire state. He hoped that wouldn’t mess with the travel time. His clients were rich Europeans, and a bad review from them would not help his fledgling business. News traveled fast in their circles, and he always had goods to move.
Almost time. Lajwanti should be ready with the lorry. Kalambhai was an atheist, but having a woman in his line of work? An absolute Godsend. Of course, she was ugly as sin, but he didn’t employ her for her looks now, did he?
As he marched toward the large barn, he could see the gray blue fumes of the lorry sputtering noisily into the morning air. Good old Lajwanti. On time and ready to leave. He found her checking the rear tires, the old shawl slipping from her head to reveal scarred skin. “Yeah, she’s no looker”, he thought, taking in her plain face and blunt features. Only her eyes shone as they went over the schedule one more time. She nodded every time he made a point, wincing as he pushed an extra wad of cash into her palms. Efficient and effective, Lajwanti hated this large slob of a man in front of her. But she needed the money and the job. So that was that.
“All set now? Any questions?”
Lajwanti shook her head. She preferred silence to words, and she was itching to go before the Storms hit.
“Let me talk to them one more time, ok? These are some prize goods and I want one last look.”
Shrugging Lajwanti opened the back door of the lorry, revealing the precious cargo. She peered in impassively as Kalambhai hitched up his pants and began counting wordlessly.
48 red-rimmed eyes stared back at them. Hands shackled to metal hooks, two dozen children sat in the back, amidst bales of hay and buzzing flies. Bodies had been moved in this truck before. And not always alive.
Panic, confusion and an occasional sob punctuated the silence, as Kalambhai smiled and counted again.
“All accounted for. 15 girls and 9 boys, this time. Those firangis have weird tastes. But hey, they pay well, so ours is not to question why.”
Lajwanti grunted, eager to get on the road.
“I’ll tell you one more time, children. If you try to make a noise or escape or do anything to draw attention. You know what happens.”
24 pairs of fearful eyes swung over to Lajwanti. She didn’t say a word. Didn’t need to. They’d heard of her Propane Torch. They could smell the cold rage coming off her dark skin.
And they’d seen her dead eyes.
No, not one of them was planning to make a single peep. They were doomed, and they knew it.
Kalambhai giggled, like an overeager teenager. He was going to be obscenely rich. The Europeans had “rented” the children for 3 days. Then Lajwanti was to bring them back (alive or as corpses) along with the money. The world had moved on to credit cards and online banking. But in Kalambhai‘s circle, cold hard cash was king.
Lajwanti made a sound. He cleared his throat and looked at her. A sudden doubt crept into him. What if she ran away with the loot? Nothing stopping her. But he knew she wouldn’t. She’d come highly recommended, and she needed the job.Plus, he had a GPS tracker on the truck and another sewn into the “Patel & Sons Biochemical Waste Transport” Uniform coat she was wearing.
Even the nosiest policeman would think hard before asking her to open the back of the lorry. No, women in this line of work were invaluable. Even if they looked like she did.
“Remember, Lajwanti. You’re collecting all the money upfront. I don’t expect trouble, but you never know. There’s a gun hidden in the shack by the Main Gate of the House. Arm yourself before you hand over the children. But no cell phones. Use public phones and only when you absolutely need to.None of this can be traced back to me.”
“Yes. I’ll see you in 5 days, Kalambhai. 4 if I drive fast.”
With a final nod, Lajwanti turned and got into the driver’s seat. She had her fake Identity Card, and the Vehicle was registered to “Patel & Sons”, a legitimate company, albeit in a different part of the Country. Every detail accounted for. She took a big breath, trying not to inhale the noxious odors of musty hay and sweat. A whole day of dusty country roads lay ahead. And behind her, lay 24 young children, all less than 12 years old. They didn’t worry her one bit. Any sign of trouble, and her propane Torch would do all the talking. Years of abuse had hardened her, and she wasn’t past handing out some cruelty of her own.
So with a foot on the pedal, and a curse on her lips, Lajwanti moved the gear and turned her wheel.
The sun shimmered up, a golden pool behind the distant mountains. As the lorry rumbled out of the gate, birthing dust clouds behind it, KalamBhai smiled to himself. Maybe a new car? One of those Skodas? Hell, he could buy 10 Skodas with that kind of money. His wife would be very pleased. Hitching his pants up again, he walked to his Jeep and drove half a kilometer to the nearest PCO. Dialed a number from memory. A male voice answered, with a slight German accent.
“Good morning, Sir. 24 barrels of biohazard waste just left the Factory with our driver. You can expect the shipment to reach you by tonight,”.
“Thank You,” said the voice simply and hung up.
KalamBhai got back into his Jeep and drove to the nearest Bar. A celebratory drink was in order.
And less than 2 kilometers away, a large lorry roared down the highway, its walls painted with the “Patel & Sons Biochemical Waste Management” Logo.
And inside it, Sharon Fernandes pushed some hay away and started counting the hours.
**********************End of PART 1***********************
Author’s note: This is a story set around a very delicate topic. Child abuse and Trafficking are very real horrors and I am sensitive to the pain and fear that these victims and their families live through. But as a fiction writer, I am often compelled to write about the darker side of our society. I don’t intend to sensationalize Child Abuse. Please grant me the courtesy of respecting this as purely a work of fiction. This might sound like a silly request, but I am reiterating this point because of the delicacy of the topic in the story.
Thank you for reading and I hope you are looking forward to the Second and Final Part coming up tomorrow! The road is dusty and the hours are long. But Sharon Fernandes isn’t done yet.

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