By Savitri Narayanan
It was past midnight. ‘What happened to the consignment?’ wondered Pitambar. The van should have reached an hour ago. Functional Chemicals was a new client that had a few boxes – to be stored for a week. He waited in his small cabin overlooking the main gate expecting the truck to drive in. There was no reply on the driver’s phone and it was too late to call their office staff in Mumbai.
‘No big deal,’ thought Pitambar, ‘maybe they had a tire puncture, and maybe there was a traffic jam, who knows!”
Pitamber had joined Swift Packers and Movers two years ago. After the Class XII exam, he was figuring out what to do. His dream was to become a policeman but he had no clue how to. There was no policeman in the family or anyone to guide him. It was then that Tushar mamaji said that his neighbour was looking for a security guard for his godown in Kharbaug. All agreed that it was a good opening for Pitambar so he joined right away. The office was near Mega Mall but the godown was just a couple of kilometres away from home.
Pitamber was pleased to wear the uniform and cycle to work. There was a small office room where there was the in and out register to note down the details of every consignment. His duty was to receive the consignments that came in and dispatch the outward bound ones. When the truck or van came, he had to tally the consignment list with the packages and maintain the records correctly. Soon, Pitamber got used to being a security guard but his dream was to become a policeman. ‘I will find a way!’ he often told himself.
As the night grew old, he came out of his cabin to take a round. Night shift was very different from the day shift. There were less people around and less work, for that matter. He did some reading, some introspection and some sleeping. After midnight, he usually he took a round and as a habit checked the locks of both the godown and the store room.
Just as he settled down for a nap there was a horn at the gate. ‘Why is he waking up the neighbours?’ thought Pitamber. ‘Just a phone call and I would open the gate!’
“Sorry bhaiyya, my phone went off charge,” said the driver as he pulled in the tempo and came out, ‘and the charger isn’t working. What to do!’
A young man in Bermudas and a cap too got down from the tempo. After a cursory greeting, he started to unload. There were wooden crates as well as cartons. The driver joined him too to bring down and arrange them in front of the godown. A middle aged man with grey hair and a paunch too got down with a file under his arm. He lit a cigarette and looked around. Not even a greeting!
“Where’s the list, sir?” asked Pitamber.
“Here, take a look,” said the man in the Bermuda, “Don’t waste time counting; we’ve done it before loading; and it’s all ours anyway!”
Pitamber ignored him, took out a pen from his pocket and started checking the list. It was crucial to match the number of packages to the list because he also had to hand them over to the party that came to collect them. Any mismatch would lead to complications and probably cost him his job!
“What are these?” he said pointing at the last two cartons, “They are not in the list!”
“Maybe they made a typing error,” the man with the paunch said shiftily. “Just store them for a night, the party will collect in the morning.”
“What are the contents?” Pitambar asked turning them around. There was neither a label nor a description on them!
“No big deal, you add them here,” said Pitamber pointing at the list. “See the columns – serial number, description of item, number of cartons and here your name signature and phone number!”
“I have got a better idea!” said the man, pulling out something from his back-pack. “This is yours, take it home in the morning but keep these two cartons here for the night!”
The plastic bag contained bundles of notes with rubber bands around them. Pitambar had never seen so much money in his life!
Why was he giving him so much money? What was there in the cartons? Drugs? Gold?
There was no question of accepting the bribe, it was not right! Would he shoot him? What if he shouted? There was no one in sight except the man in the Bermudas and the driver, who were smoking near the godown. Why would they come to his rescue anyway?
“This bag is yours and these two cartons are mine,” the man with the paunch continued. “Do me a favour, hide these two boxes for a night and keep your mouth shut! Tomorrow, at this time, I will come with my car and take them away!’
“OK, leave your cartons here and keep your money,” said Pitamber opening the main gate. “I don’t need it, I’ll earn my living here! See you tomorrow!”
The driver and the other man got into the truck. The man with the paunch hung back to take his leave. His voice turned sinister as he said in parting, “Don’t try to fool with smugglers, OK? Keep quiet and all will be safe; you talk and you all will be gone – not only you, but also your mother and your sister!”
When the truck drew away, Pitamber called his employer.
The stage was decorated and the assembled audience waited for the minister to arrive. Pitambar sat there in his police uniform next to his mother and sister. Within a month of the ‘mysterious’ consignment, life had changed for Pitambar. He had stopped working as a security guard. In recognition of his honesty, the superiors had arranged for him to join the police training academy.
The minister arrived and the function started.
“Our country needs more young men like Pitamber,” said the Minister patting his shoulders. “Look at him! He did not take the bribe and had the courage to report the offender! Proud of you, young man!”
Pitamber felt proud to accept the honours. His mother dried her tears as the crowd kept on clapping.