Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Rescue - Part II

Part I is here.

I climb the stairs two at a time, to reach one of the narrow balcony-corridors that lines the street on both sides. I run along it, towards her, dodging chattering women and playing children, clothe-lines and potted plants. I sneak a glance downstairs to judge my progress. I'm moving faster than them, but not fast enough, not fast enough. I reach the balcony directly across from her just as the the group reaches her.

The kids sense them much before she does, and they scatter in all directions. They vanish in seconds, squeezing into gaps and hidey-holes all around the street. She is suddenly all alone in the middle of a space that had contained wriggling black bodies moments before. She looks around in confusion, and it takes her a few seconds to see them, the young men in the black shades.

She is still not scared, I see. It's evening, yes. And she's in a neighbourhood she's probably not familiar with. But she is in the middle of a well-lit street, filled with people and lined with homes. She doesn't think they can do anything to her here.

Unfortunately, I know better.

I need to get to her, fast. There are no steps here, leading down to the street. Desperate, I leap over the balcony railing, land on a heap of rubbish below. I notice some of the urchins hiding behind an abandoned cart, peering out.

I join them.
"Traitors!" I hiss to them. "You made her stay back, and now you've betrayed her."
They look back at me with hurt eyes. "What could we do?" says one of them, in tattered t-shirt and check shorts, "They are much bigger."
"There are only five of them. And so many of you."

The group of youths is in front of her now, a solid leering semi-circle towering over her small frame. She is still trying to pretend everything is okay. She smiles at them, she backs away. She is afraid to turn her back to them.

The street is rapidly emptying, as people sense trouble. Above, the doors and windows are shutting quickly, the TV sounds become muted. Nobody wants to be a witness, nobody wants to be involved, nobody wants to annoy the gangs.

If she is to be saved, it has to be done now. I look around the street, hoping for - something, some inspiration, some idea.

I ask Tattered T-shirt beside me, "Do you know where everybody else from your group is? Are they all nearby?"
"Yes, they're all hiding around the street."
"Will you help me save her? Don't worry - they won't realize it was you."
The four of them look at each other. They seem to read each other's minds.
"Okay. Yes, we're in."

I look up, and I see that the goons are closing in on her. She has backed herself into a kink in the street, where a yellow wall runs across the street and makes it turn left. They are taking their time, teasing her, scaring her, playing with her. She's looking around the street like a trapped deer.

The place is now nearly empty, except for the gangsters and the girl and the hidden kids. And the street vendors who are trying desperately to pack up, pack up quickly before things get messy. They turn down their lanterns, they pack up their vegetables and spices, they cover up the hot oil because they don't have time to wait for it to cool.

The street is nearly dark now - the lanterns and the lights from the homes both gone, only an orange streetlight flickers above. Staring at the flickering streetlight, I get the beginnings of an idea.

I whisper to Tattered T-shirt, and he grins. He wants to do it, because the gangs always terrorize the urchins, steal their money, snatch their food.

I scurry across the street, with the four kids close behind me. The gangsters have their backs to us, and the girl is too focused on them to notice us and give us away. There are two-three carts on this side, all hurriedly abandoned. I touch the vats - they are still hot.

I whisper an order to the kids, and they run noiselessly up the staircase to the balconies on top. They find a large bed sheet on one of the clothe lines, and bring it down to me. Holding it by the corners, I submerge it into one of the oil vats.

I look back at the gangsters. I'm scared they will hear the glub-glub of the clothe sinking into the oil, but they are too engrossed in her. Her eyes are wide; her head moves quickly as she looks from one gangster to another. I feel a surge of anger, and my last misgivings about doing this disappear.

The sheet emerges from the vat dripping hot oil. It's heavy. I gesture to the taller kids to help me carry it. Carefully, we spread it to its full size, holding only the corners. We slowly carry it forward towards them, a silent funereal foursome. Oil drips from the sheet on the ground, forming a trail behind us.

This is the tricky part, I know. Many things could go wrong. One of the gangsters might look back and see us, or the girl might give us away. Or the hot oil might drip onto one of our legs.

We are almost behind the gangsters now. They have backed her into a corner, and are standing close together, luckily for us.

In one quick motion, we throw the sheet over them. The hot oil splashes on their skin, making them howl in pain. They flail about, trying to throw off the sheet. Quickly, I tie the corners of the sheet together with them inside, ignoring the pain on my palms.

The kids are cackling in delight. The girl is staring at us, bewildered. I grab her hand, and we run. We run out on to the next street, and then the next, and then onto the main road. The kids string out in a comet's tail behind us, shouting and clapping in glee.

"Where's your house?" I ask her, gasping, just before we enter the main road. I am still holding her hand.
She doesn't have enough air to respond; she points across the street.
"Is it close?"
She nods.
"Run, then. We can't come with you."

"..ank you," she pants.
She runs ahead, turns at the corner, looks back at us. We wave, knowing that we'll never see her again.
She waves, and disappears into the lights.
• • •