Aslan got down and stepped towards the shop were Jules was already standing and talking to the shopkeeper.“Jules please pick up two bottles and pass me one,” he requested the driver. Jules walked up to him and gave him a bottle. Aslan sat down on a vacant chair and sipped on some water, looking around, while Jules was busy talking to someone it seemed he knew.
‘Bogrenyoa Service', the shop board read. Aslan had his green glasses on and was sipping on his water when he heard noises, thuds, screams, men shouting and screams again. Aslan looked around but could not see anyone screaming, then he noticed Jules, and the person he was talking to, and a few more men who were all looking in the same direction behind ‘Bogrenyoa Service’. There was a loud scream again. This time Aslan was sure it was a child screaming.
He got up to go to Jules. Jules was already rushing to the back of the shop. Aslan quickly followed him. When he reached the back of the shop he saw Jules talking to a man in French which seemed more like an argument. The man Jules was talking to was about six feet tall, but looked stout, and had a gold chain hanging on his neck reaching his big belly, and his big fat hand holding on to a girl tightly by her arm.
Aslan at first had not noticed the girl, but now he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She looked all of thirteen or fourteen years old, very thin, in tattered robe, and was weeping, with her other forearm on her eyes.
“What is the matter Jules,” Aslan asked the driver almost annoyed and in rage seeing the girl weep. “She’s his daughter and was trying to run away with a boy and the father caught them both here”, Jules said hurriedly. “Where is the boy?” asked Aslan. “I don’t know”, Jules replied looking worried. The fat man kept dragging the girl towards a wagon with another man continuously yelling at her.
The girl kept howling in pain of being pulled forcefully, and kept shouting something in French looking at Jules. Few more people gathered.
Jules ran to Aslan and spoke hurriedly with pale face, “She is cocoa slave".
"She's what!!" asked Aslan.
“She is being made to work on a cocoa farm against her wishes". Jules said looking frightened.
Aslan ran towards the two men “Who is this girl? Why are you forcing her?” Aslan was furious.
"Please mister do not come here, she is my daughter", the man said dragging the howling girl. Aslan's finger itched.
“Jules let’s go, get into the car, we shall report to the police,” Aslan shouted. Jules walked up to the car hurriedly, started the engine, Aslan followed and sat in the front seat with Jules. They could see the girl crying with her chafed back to them, in her tatters.
Aslan rushed out of the car, picked a big stone and ran towards the two men in rage and hit the man holding the girl by her arm on his head with the stone. He had hit him hard in the momentum; the man let the girl’s hand go and sat down holding his head with both hands.
Aslan grabbed the girl’s hand and ran towards the car, Jules was watching and sat tight.
There were two gun shots, Aslan pushed the girl in and slided into the car after her. “Jules, drive back to Abidjan, do not stop”, Aslan was panting.
They drove away.
Aslan looked at her, held her face with both his hands, and asked “What’s your name”, he asked. She kept looking at him; Jules asked the same question in French. “Awa,” said the girl, and started crying while talking in French.
“She is from Mali. They promised her parents that they will pay for her education and also pay her for working on the farm, but now they make her work for long hours everyday and beat her up too just like so many other boys and girls who do not want to work on the cocoa farm and want to go back home". Jules kept translating for Awa. Aslan was feeling cold and was not able to say much.
He could see he was bleeding and there was blood on the car floor.
“Jules, you take her to the police station, drop her there and my wallet has some money in it, give it to her, call anyone on my phone and tell them what happened,”, he said feebly.
He looked at the girl again, smiled and held her hand " Awa you can be anyone you want to be.....anyone. Every little effort counts" Aslan whispered to her without blinking and then rested his head in her lap.
When Aslan’s coffin reached India, it was raining heavily, Rishi, Nadira and Perka were all waiting.