THE LONELY CHILDREN
THE LONELY CHILDREN
The man parked his taxi by the side of the road, rolled down the windows, turned off the engine and glanced around. Across the road was the entrance to the city’s train terminal.
This is always a good spot to get potential passengers, he thought. He glanced at the clock on his dashboard. It was 10:32 AM.
With the benefit of hindsight and years of experience as a cab driver, he knew when it was an opportune time for lucrative pickings. For instance, he knew that the next train was going to arrive by 11:00 AM. That meant that he had less than half an hour to wait.
But I’m not going to be idle in the meantime, he thought to himself.
Taking his eyes off the train terminal, he glanced at the brown bags on the seat by his side. They were all fast food snacks packed by a popular restaurant in the city. He checked the labels on the four bags.
Three of the bags had a black symbol on the side. The symbol was similar on each, and resembled the capital letter G. At first glance, no one would easily recognize the signs. They were small and made to look like part of the markings on each of the bags.
But he knew better.
He knew what the signs meant.
And they were on three of the bags.
He deliberately avoided touching those three bags and reached for the fourth bag. He then checked again to make sure that there was no symbol on the fourth bag. Once he was satisfied that it was unmarked, he opened it and brought out a sandwich and a bottled soft drink.
As he ate, he began to think about how the day was going to go. The sun was already high up in the sky that morning. That meant that it was going to be another hot day. He restarted the car, leaned over, turned on the air conditioner and tested the cool air by waving his hands.
Satisfied that his air conditioner was in perfect working order, he leaned over again to turn it off.
“Are you free to take us into town?” someone asked.
The abruptness of the sudden enquiry startled him, and he dropped both his drink and sandwich. Cursing, he reached down to pick up his meal. When he got back up, he was looking into the faces of two children.
They were both quite young. He figured that they could not have been more than seven or eight years old. The boy was dressed in a pair of trousers and a short-sleeve shirt, and the girl was wearing a short, flowing yellow dress. He guessed that they were brother and sister.
He frowned as he glanced around. “What’re you kids doing around here?”
“We were hoping you could take us into town,” the boy said.
e looked at the boy.ir by waving his hands.wed in
“Where are you from? Are you new in town?”
“Yes, we arrived not long ago at the train terminal.”
“The terminal? You mean a train dropped you off?”
“Yes, sir. A train dropped us off not too long ago.”
He glanced at the clock on the dashboard. The time was 10:39 AM. He looked back at the boy. “Are you sure about that, kid? Because the next train is supposed to arrive after twenty minutes.”
“Of course, I’m sure, sir. The train dropped us at exactly 10:30 AM. I know, because I saw the big clock in the arrival hall. And that was the time on the clock when we arrived.”
He frowned. “Did you say 10:30 AM? But there’s no train that arrives here at 10:30. They always arrive on the hour like10:00 and 11:00.”
The boy shrugged. “Well, I can’t say why the train dropped us off when it did. I don’t work with the station.”
The driver glanced at the terminal. There were no passengers rushing out. He looked at the boy again. “How many of you arrived on that train?”
“Just me and my sister, sir,”
“Just the two of you?”
He looked at both of them. They looked very young and naïve. There were three trolley bags with them and two other bigger boxes.
“So, where are your parents?”
“They didn’t come with us,” the girl replied, speaking for the first time.
“You mean you travelled all the way here alone?”
“No, we weren’t alone.”
“Then who travelled with you?”
“We’re not alone, sir,” the boy said.
“But that’s what it seems, boy. Or am I wrong about that?”
The girl nodded. “You’re wrong about it, mister. We’re not alone.”
“If you’re not alone, then who’s with you?”
“We have each other,” the boy replied.
The driver looked at the kids and shook his head.
“Is something the matter, mister? We’d really like you to take us into town,” the girl said.
“Of course something’s wrong. You’re two young, unaccompanied children. I don’t know where you’re from and I'm not even sure about this story of yours.”
The girl stepped forward. “But we’re not alone.”
We are not alone.”
ike someoneong ago."
“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I’ve heard that one already. You both have each other. But that’s not good enough for me.”
“Are you bothered about where we come from?” the boy asked.
“You got it.”
“We came from New York City by train,” the girl replied.
“New York City? You mean you both came all the way from New York? That’s quite some distance for little kids to be travelling on their own.”
“Are you always this inquisitive with your passengers, sir?” the boy asked.
“Not really. Except when they happen to be underage and new in town.”
“Is that why you are hesitant to take us with you?” the girl asked.
“Of course! And come to think of it, how is it that you both came up to me without me noticing?”
The boy and the girl looked at each other. “We don’t understand, sir. What do you mean?” The girl asked.
The driver pointed at the luggage with them. “I should’ve seen or heard you, considering the amount of luggage on you. But I didn’t. How were you able to move all that from the terminal to here without me noticing?”
“No offence, sir. But I think you were too engrossed with your sandwich to have noticed.” The boy said.
He glanced at the sandwich in his hand. “Engrossed? I was only eating, and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t see you approach.”
“Sir, we really need someone to take us to town,” the girl pleaded.
The driver shook his head. “Not me. And I doubt anyone would be willing to take you kids anywhere without an adult.”
The boy bent down and unzipped his trolley bag. He then brought out a small bag. He opened it and brought out a wad of notes, which he held up to the driver. “Would money make you change your mind?”
The driver was shocked. He glanced around and quickly waved at the boy. “Don’t do that. Put that cash away before you attract undue attention. Quickly!”
The boy obeyed and quickly put the money away. As he did, the driver saw that the bag was filled with several bills. Unconsciously, he found himself licking his lips.
The driver put down his sandwich and drink. He opened the door and came down from his cab. He was a tall, well-built man.
He then glanced around, just to be sure that no one was watching him.
God these are the easiest pickings anyone could ask for! What sort of parents would send their kids out into the world with this kind of money? he thought.
“So, you kids are new in town?”
The boy nodded. “Yes, we are, sir.”
“And you seem to have a lot of money on you.”
“Yes, sir. We came fully prepared.”
“Fully prepared for what?”
“This is our first time in this city. We don’t want to be stranded,” the girl said.
“That was a good decision, coming here with enough money. You sure got that part right. All right, let’s first get your stuff into the boot, then we can get you both out of here.”
“That is kind of you, sir.”
The cabbie opened up the car boot and began to pack the luggage into it. Then, he opened the back door and ushered the two children into the cab.
Afterwards, he went and sat behind his steering wheel. “So, where are we heading?”
“We’d like to go to the City Mall,” the boy replied.
“The City Mall? Are you telling me that you came all the way from New York just to visit our City Mall?”
“Not exactly, sir. We need to get some stuff. That’s why we have to visit the City Mall,” the girl replied.
“You know that taxi fees are charged based on distance travelled, right?”
The girl nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, you kids also need to be aware that I’m going to have to charge you extra for the time you keep me engaged. You know that I’d be idle while you do your shopping.”
The boy nodded. “We understand, sir. You shouldn’t be bothered at all. We’re going to pay you well.”
y you well for your services.”
“That sounds motivating enough. All right then, sit tight while we head to the City Mall.”
The driver drove the taxicab into the traffic and headed for the City Mall.
While he drove, he kept glancing into the rear-view mirror, watching the two children. They didn’t speak a word to each other but sat quietly, watching the scenery outside their windows. It was as if they were two complete strangers engrossed with the view.
The driver remembered his sandwich. As he picked it out of the bag on the seat, his eyes caught sight of the other three bags. He smiled as he brought out his own sandwich and took another bite. “So, why did you leave New York?”
The boy took his eyes off the window and caught the driver’s gaze in the mirror. “Our parents asked us to.”
“Your parents asked you to leave? But why didn’t they join you?”
“They’ll join us soon,” the boy replied.
“Soon enough, when they think the time’s right,” the girl answered.
“So, they leave you both with the luggage at the train station and go somewhere else, promising to join you later? Is that a wise thing to do?”
“We don’t question our parents’ decisions, sir. We trust that they mean well for us,” the boy replied.
“But they shouldn’t have left you alone like that,” the driver said as he took another bite of his sandwich.
“We’re not alone, sir,” the girl replied.
The driver nodded. “Yeah, I know. You said that before.”
“You mean that my brother and I have each other?” the girl asked.
The driver nodded. “That’s what I meant. Or am I wrong?”
The girl shook her head. “No, you’re right about that. But beyond that, we’re really not alone.”
The driver nodded. He glanced briefly at the three bags close to him. “I apologise about my manners. Would you care to join me? I have some extra sandwiches and soft drinks here.”
Through his rear-view mirror, the driver saw the boy and girl glance at each other. It was as if they were both contemplating what to do.
The driver lifted the three bags.
“Why’d you buy extra sandwiches?” the girl asked.
“Well, I wanted to give them to someone, but since I’m already working, they’ll get cold and go to waste. So, I figured that it’d be better to offer them to you now. You must be hungry after travelling for so long. You can have them and regain some strength before we get to the City Mall.”
“But you said they belong to someone else,” the boy said.
“Yeah, but I can always get more after I drop you off at your final destination. Come on, I’m not going to charge you for it. You could say that it is a complimentary meal served on-board my taxicab,” the driver said with a smile.
The boy collected the bags. “Thanks, sir.”
“It’s nothing. And please, enough of the mister and sir. You can call me Edward, or Eddie.”
“Okay, Eddie. Thanks for the sandwiches,” the boy said, handing over a bag to his sister.
“You are most welcome. I hope they’re still warm enough,” Eddie said as he saw them opening the bags hurriedly.
The boy nodded and handed back one bag. “Yes, they are, Eddie. But you gave us three bags instead of two.”
Eddie waved his hand. “No problem. You can have it. I figure you must both be really hungry.”
“This is very kind of you, Eddie,” the boy said.
“Please, don’t mention it. By the way, what are your names?” Eddie asked as they began to bite into their sandwiches.
The sight of the hungry kids so obviously relishing their meals brought a smile on Eddie’s face.
“I’m Douglas, my sister is Clara.”
“Douglas and Clara. Your parents chose beautiful names for you.”
“Do you think so?” Douglas asked.
“Of course. Why do you ask? Don’t you like your names?”
“Maybe they should’ve given us different names.”
“Why would you want a different name?”
“I don’t like mine. It sounds outdated.”
“Outdated? But it’s a nice name.”
Douglas shook his head as he took another bite of his sandwich.
“Well, what kind of name would you have preferred?”
“Something like Edward, or just Eddie.”
“Really? You like my name?”
“Yes, sir—sorry, I mean, Eddie. Eddie sounds nice.”
“I see. And what about you, Clara? Do you wish you had a different name too?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Something like Maggie.”
“Well, that’s a nice name too. But you know what? When you’re all grown up, you could change your names if you really wanted to.”
Douglas’ eyes brightened. “You mean it? Can we really change our names?”
“Yes, but only when you’re grown up. However, I’m sure that by then you will have come to like your present names. Time has a way of making us all accept ourselves and our situations.”
“Time? What time?” Clara asked.
“I meant the passage of time. As you grow up, you gain more experiences and you’re going to come to accept yourselves—and your names, for that matter.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure of that.”
Soon, Eddie was driving the taxicab into the parking lot of the City Mall. “We’re here, kids,” he said.
“Thank you very much, Eddie. Perhaps you’d like to come along with us?” Douglas said.
“Come along with you? Why?”
“Because you pointed out that it’s not ideal for kids as young as us to be unaccompanied by an adult. So, we’d love for you to be with us as we do the shopping,” Douglas replied.
Eddie glanced at their sandwich bags. He saw the marks on them and looked at their faces. “Are you really sure you want us to go now? Or maybe you’d like to rest a bit?”
“Rest a bit? Why would we want to do that?”
“Well, you both just arrived after a long journey from New York.”
“No, we’re okay. Let’s get going. Please,” Clara said.
Eddie watched the two kids climb out of the taxicab. As they did, they left the sandwich bags on their seats and closed their doors.
“Well, aren’t you coming, Eddie?” Douglas asked.
“Yes, I’m coming. Just a minute while I lock up.”
As Eddie finished locking the cab, his phone began to ring. He glanced at the screen but didn’t recognize the number. He ignored the call, and waved at the two kids. “All right, let’s get going.”
“Aren’t you going to answer the phone?” Douglas asked as they stepped into the mall.
Eddie shook his head. “No, it’s not important. So, what do you want to get here?”
“We want to get a cake.” Clara answered.
“A cake? What do you need a cake for?”
“It’s our parents’ anniversary. We thought we might surprise them by buying them an anniversary cake,” Douglas replied.
Eddie’s face broke out into a broad smile. “An anniversary cake? How sweet! Okay, let’s go find a cake shop or bakery. I’m sure there will be a lot to choose from.”
Once they had found the cake shop, Eddie’s phone began to ring again. He glanced at the screen and bit his lips. He then looked at the two kids. “Douglas? Clara? I really need to answer this call. It’ll only take a couple of minutes, okay? Meanwhile, you can look at the cakes on display and decide which one to buy. I won’t be gone too long. Okay?”
“Do you really need to leave us to take the call?” Clara asked.
“I’m not leaving you. I’ll be watching you two from right over there,” Eddie replied, pointing at a vending machine close by.
Both Douglas and Clara nodded, then turned to look at the glass showcases which contained several types of cake.
While they were busy admiring the cakes, Eddie picked up the call as he hurried towards the vending machine. “Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s me, you fool.”
“Jeffrey? Is that you?”
“Of course it’s me! Who else do you think would be calling you? Your mother?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were the one on the line. This isn’t your regular number.”
“Is that why you refused to pick up my call?”
“Well, one has to be careful, you know?”
“Careful about what? Are you in any trouble?”
Eddie glanced casually in the direction of Douglas and Clara. He could see them talking to each other, probably deciding on which cake to choose.
“No, far from it, Jeffrey. I’m already with my would-be targets.”
“You’ve already made contact?”
“Yes, I’ve made contact.”
“That’s wonderful! But did you say targets, as in plural?”
“Yes, there are two targets.”
“Two? I’m not comfortable with this plan, Eddie. Why didn’t you focus on one?”
Eddie glanced at the kids. They were looking in his direction. He smiled and waved at them.
“They were together, their parents weren’t with them, they’re young and naive.”
“Young? Wait a minute. Are you talking about kids?”
“Yes, two kids.”
“Are you out of your mind? Since when did we start taking kids? And two, for that matter?”
“Well, they had money with them. And when I say money, I mean lots and lots of it.”
“You say they have money? How can you be so sure?”
“I saw it with my own eyes. All crisp and clean notes. And they don’t seem shy about spending it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure. Right now, we’re in the City Mall buying stuff.”
“You guys are shopping at the City Mall?”
“I told you they have money to spend!”
“Okay, I believe you. Have you given them the sandwich bags?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You know the sedatives are strong, they’ll start working after about thirty minutes. You need to get them out of there before then!”
“I know, I’ve been keeping an eye on the time. We’ll be out of here before then.”
“That’s good. To be on the safe side, I’d suggest that you head back here as soon as you leave the mall.”
“I understand. Let me go and join them. They seem ready to leave already,” Eddie said as he began to walk towards the kids.
“You be careful.”
“Sure. I will. Thanks,” Eddie said, and walked up to the kids with a broad smile.
“Who were you talking to?” Clara asked.
“A very good friend of mine.”
“Would you like to introduce us to him?” Douglas asked suddenly.
Eddie was caught off guard. “Him? How’d you know that my friend is a man?”
“I don’t know. I just guessed,” Douglas said with a smile.
Eddie smiled as he relaxed. “That was a good guess.”
“So, would you like us to meet with this man, your friend?” Clara repeated.
“No, I don’t think you need to meet him.”
“Are you sure about that? We could pay him a visit, or maybe you could ask him to come and meet with us here at the mall,” Clara said.
Eddie was becoming uncomfortable with the discussion. He glanced briefly at the watch on his wrist. “Why are you kids suddenly interested in meeting my friend? I thought you wanted to buy your parents an anniversary cake before we head back to meet with them.”
“Is that why you keep checking your watch?” Douglas asked.
Eddie stared at him, dumbfounded. “Checking my watch? I only checked to see what the time was.”
Douglas nodded. “Yes. And you’ve done so several times since talking to your friend.”
“Several times? I only checked my watch just now.”
Douglas shook his head. “I’ve been watching you. That must have been the eleventh time you’ve looked at your watch in the past ten minutes. Why, Eddie? Are you bothered about the time we’re spending here in the mall?”
“Bothered? No, not really. After all, you said you’re going to pay me for it.”
“So, you should just relax and stop looking at your watch,” Douglas said.
“Yes. I agree.”
But Eddie was still apprehensive. He could not be comfortable with the children’s resolve to be relaxed in the mall. He knew that the effects of the sedatives would soon kick in. He had to think of something really fast.
“Which cake did you choose for your parents?”
The kids pointed at a dark chocolate cake through the glass.
“That’s a wonderful choice. All right, let them pack it up for you then.”
But Douglas grabbed Eddie’s hand. “No, Eddie. That’s not the cake for our parents.”
Eddie was confused. He looked at the dark chocolate cake again. “Then why did you point at that cake?”
“We thought you might want something for yourself. That’s why we pointed at this dark chocolate cake. For you, Eddie,” Clara said.
Eddie pretended to smile in delight. “For me? That’s very sweet of you guys. Now, what about the one for your parents?”
“It’s already been packaged. They’re bringing it over to us already,” Clara said, and pointed over the counter. Eddie looked up to see a waitress coming over with a big box.
The waitress smiled at Eddie. “Your kids are very warm and nice.”
Eddie collected the package and nodded hastily. “Yes, you’re right about that. Very nice kids, both of them.”
“Is there anything else you want?” the waitress asked.
Eddie glanced at his wristwatch again and shook his head. “No, thanks.”
Douglas pulled his arm. “Your cake, Eddie. What about the dark chocolate cake?”
The waitress looked at the showcase glass. “You mean that dark chocolate cake? Is that what you want?”
Douglas nodded. “Yes, miss. Please package that cake for us as well.”
Eddie gritted his teeth as the waitress collected the cake and went to wrap it up. He felt sick in his stomach as he felt the seconds ticking by.
God, far from these kids getting knocked out, I’m the one who might get knocked off for good by a heart attack from all this stress! he thought.
Clara touched his arm. “Eddie, are you all right?”
die nodded. e looked at your w
“Are you sure you’re okay, Eddie? You’re not looking too good.” Douglas said.
Eddie was feeling very dizzy and disoriented. Only one thought came to his mind. I need to get to my cab right away.
Just then, the waitress returned with the wrapped cake. She saw Eddie leaning on the counter. “Are you okay?”
Eddie shook his head, and this time he was being sincere. “I’m not. I really don’t feel too well.”
“Maybe you need to get to a doctor,” the waitress suggested.
“You’re right about that. Come on, kids. Pay the nice lady and let’s leave.”
Eddie saw Douglas open his bag and bring out another wad of notes. As he counted the mint-fresh currency, Eddie could feel his heart begin to pound aloud. I can’t wait to get my hands on that money and get these pesky kids off my back. I hope I feel better once I’m out of here, he thought to himself.
They walked back to the parking lot. Eddie was moving very slowly. He couldn’t understand what was wrong with him. He just knew that he wasn’t feeling well, and the sensation was more than just apprehension about the sedatives knocking out the kids before they left the mall.
He quickly glanced at his wristwatch again. It was well past forty minutes already. His face was covered with sweat as he glanced from Douglas to Clara, who were by his side. They both looked up at him, smiling.
Eventually, they got to his cab. Eddie literally collapsed into the driver’s seat and held onto the steering wheel. He was feeling very dizzy and could not concentrate on anything.
“Eddie, what do we do now?” Douglas asked from behind.
Eddie turned to look at him. Both he and Clara were already in the back seat, still looking very bright and alert. They were holding their sandwich bags, which they had left in the cab before going into the mall. “Are you both feeling okay?”
Clara nodded. “Yes, we’re okay. But we were worried that you’re not.”
“You’re acting as if you’ve been drugged, Eddie,” Douglas added.
The statement hit Eddie like a sledgehammer and he felt his heart skip several beats. “Drugged?”
Clara nodded. “Yes. Were you drugged with a sedative?”
Eddie was now panting as he glanced at the snack bags he gave to Douglas and Clara. He stretched out his hands towards them. “Give me those bags.”
“What do you need our snack bags for?” Clara asked.
“Just hand them over to me right now!”
Without a word, the kids handed over their bags to Eddie. He frantically began to search them, as if he was looking for something.
“What are you looking for, Eddie?” Douglas asked.
Eddie was now feeling very apprehensive as he checked both bags over and over again.
“Are you searching for a special marking?” Clara asked.
Eddie looked up and stared at the two kids. They were smiling at him in an uncanny way.
That was when the realization hit him. He leaned over to the side and picked up his own sandwich bag. He was already scared of what he was going to see. With shaky hands, he turned over the bag. There on the side was a bold letter G.
He had been eating a sandwich full of sedatives all this time.
Eddie dropped the bag and looked into the rear-view mirror.
Douglas was smiling at him. “Why’d you want to sedate us, Eddie? What did you want to gain by doing such a wicked thing?”
“Obviously, it was because he saw us with so much money. Isn’t that right, Eddie?” Clara asked.
Alarmed and suddenly feeling overcome with renewed fear. “What’s happening to me?”
“Nothing. You’re about to suffer the fate that you had planned for us,” Clara said.
Eddie felt the dizziness beginning to take hold of him. “Who, who are you?”
“What do you mean?” Douglas asked.
Eddie looked at the young boy. He saw that Douglas was opening the door.
“Who are you?”
“We’re just two children who decided to visit this city, Eddie. And what a visit it has been. Finally, we’ve been able to find and get rid of an evil person like you,” Clara said. Then she opened the door and stepped out. She picked up the wrapped cake. “I shouldn’t forget this gift for our parents. You know, it’s really a wonderful thing that on a day like this we get to celebrate their anniversary, as well as apprehend a wicked man like you.”
Douglas nodded. “Yes, our parents. You remember that it’s their anniversary today, don’t you, Eddie?”
Douglas nodded. “Yes. Today marks the seventh anniversary of their death.”
Eddie saw another taxicab drive up to where they were parked.
A man stepped out of the vehicle and began to remove the children’s luggage from Eddie’s taxi, paying scant attention to Eddie.
Eddie raised his hand and tried to catch the man’s attention. “Who are you?”
The man stopped what he was doing and stared back at Eddie with blank eyes. “The kids called me to come and pick them up from here.”
“Help me, help me please.”
“They told me that you would not need any help.”
“What?” Eddie asked.
“They told me that you don’t need any help,” the man said again.
Eddie watched the man enter his own cab. He saw that Douglas and Clara were already seated in the back of the other cab. They were waving at him as the cab drove off.
Eddie picked up his phone and dialled a number. After it rang for a while, Jeffrey answered.
Eddie struggled to position the phone close to his ear. “Hello, Jeffrey? It’s me. Where are you?”
“I’m here waiting for you.”
“Where? At the rendez-vous, of course. Waiting for you and the kids.”
Eddie looked at his backseat. “The kids?”
“Yes, Eddie. The kids you spoke about?”
Eddie could not reply. A wave of darkness had suddenly taken over his vision. The phone dropped from his hands as his head slid down the seat.
Jeffrey continued to talk. “Eddie? Eddie, can you hear me?”
But Eddie could no longer respond.
As he felt his consciousness slipping away, all he could think about was those two lonely children he had picked up from the train terminal.