The Story So Far
Ron Cooper, an American engineer, is in Lahore, Pakistan on a consulting assignment, but his real mission is to help find his client’s son. Usman appears to have been kidnapped. The ransom demand is Amna’s hand in marriage to Mohammed, a man she despises. Amna is Usman’s sister.
Amna suspects that her brother is involved in smuggling cigarettes from Afghanistan. Thus she arranges a secret trip to Afghanistan to investigate. Thus they head to Afghanistan to investigate. Ron is disguised as a Bengali chauffeur and is driving for Amna.
In a previous installment, we have learned that Cedric, the quality-control manager is in love with Amna but lacks the social status to ask her father for permission to marry her. We also previously learned that Amna loves Cedric, but they only dare meet at the annual company partAmna, suspects that Usman is involved with smuggling from Afghanistan.
Suddenly Amna notices that her intended’s car is following them. Fearing that Mohammed will disrupt the mission by insisting Amna ride in his car, Amna orders Ron to lose the blue car.
Ron finds himself on a collision course with a truck. There appears to be no way to avoid the collision.
Life on the Left Side of the Fast Lane
(A truck is bearing down on Ron and there appears to be nowhere to go.)
The truck’s horn sounded with a deafening roar. There was no escape to the left, so Ron cut sharply to the right. With a squeal of rubber, the car skidded into a turn and careened across the road narrowly missing the donkey. As Ron stomped on the brakes, the car bumped across the sidewalk to come to a stop in a vacant lot.
Amna gasped, “Wow, you Americans sure do know how to drive.”
Ron took several deep breaths before he carefully turned the car around and got back on the road. Once back in the flow of traffic, Ron said, “I was commenting on the fact that you had no qualms about asking me to kiss you.”
“Of course not. I’m in love with you. I’m not in love with Mohammed Ali. Besides, I told Papa we would be kissing in the garden as a cover for our discussion.”
“So, while kissing and hugging are discouraged, I take it that young people sometimes meet in private to hug and kiss. In fact, it must happen often enough that the servants don’t think it is unusual.”
“Ron, Don’t be obtuse. Of course those who love each other do find places to kiss.”
“So, have you ever kissed anyone in the garden other then me?”
“Oh, there’s the university ahead. Now I know where I am,” Amna said, and after consulting the map said, “Go three-quarters of the way around the next rotary and drive west. It’s a main street. That will take us toward the Afghan border.”
“Amna, you didn’t answer my question.”
“Watch your driving Mr. Cooper. I’ve never been in love with any boy who dared meet me in a private place.”
“I thought Cedric might have more courage than that.”
Amna sighed, “It’s not that, but when could we have arranged for a rendezvous? We only meet at parties where people might hear. Besides we must be discrete. I wouldn’t want him to lose his job if Papa found him out.”
Ron drove on in silence. After two minutes of silence, Amna said, “I can see you in the rear view mirror. Don’t smile that way. We would only get frustrated. A marriage could never be arranged between people of such different social classes.”
Ron remained silent. This time Amna’s silence was only for 30 seconds before she said, “It might work for a while to meet in secret, but we couldn’t do that forever. Sooner or later we would be caught. I can’t expose Cedric to that kind of risk.”
To change the subject, Ron asked, “How will you know where to go in Afghanistan?”
“Zuftikhar made a few suggestions, but mostly I’ll be guessing.” Amna quickly reviewed the eight places Zuftikhar had suggested. “Zuftikhar claims he hasn’t been to the border area in years, but that his friends have told him where all the action is. Orgun is where that brand of cigarettes are supposed to come from.”
By now they had left the populated area and were speeding across the countryside on a stretch of paved road that had not deteriorated yet. He noticed that he had drifted to the right side of the road again, but since no other cars were in sight, he made only a small correction to head back toward the left. “Is one of those places called Luknur?”
“Yes, Luknur is a small village Zuftikhar suggested.”
“I’ll bet they deal in computers there.”
“When I reviewed the notes I found in Unman’s desk, there were a lot of things about computers.”
“Yes, Papa says that Usman is going to put the business into the twenty-first century with his computers.”
“Well, the name of that Afghan village is written several places in his notes about computers.”
“Very well then, we will stop in Luknur on the way to Orgun.” Amna busied herself with the maps. Eventually she asked, “Mr. Cooper, are you hungry?”
“Yes, do we have any food?”
“Very little. Zuftikhar couldn’t very well pack lunch and tea for a trip to the museum.”
“No, I guess not.”
“He did manage to put several bottles of boiled water in the trunk. We probably should conserve them. I wouldn’t want either of us to get sick from drinking bad water or from dehydration either.” Amna thought for a moment. “Papa took us out this way on an outing last month. I think there’s a tourist house ahead where we can get food.”
“Just tell me where to turn.”
“Oh, don’t forget, you’re a driver. You shouldn’t come in with me. You’ll have to hang around with the houseboys. They’ll give you something to eat, but don’t drink anything except tea or very hot soup.”
“Jim Crow laws,” muttered Ron.
“What was that?”
“It would take too long to explain.”
“I’ll have to show you where to stay and make arrangements for you. I guess since you’re supposed to be deaf and dumb, that won’t look too out of place.”
A cluster of buildings loomed up ahead. There was a large sign that Ron could not read. Ron would have mistaken the brick buildings for any country village except that the sides fronting the road were covered with brightly painted stucco.
Ron was about to drive past when Amna said, “Oh my god. Turn here, quickly. This is it.”
With a loud squeal of tires, Ron braked and turned off the road in front of the building with the sign.
Amna pointed Ron toward a small building and whispered, “The sanitary facilities for men are there. I’ll meet you back here.” She hurried off toward a similar building that Ron presumed was for the women.
Ron returned to the car first and found a young woman examining the car. She said something to Ron in a strange language. Ron smiled and bowed deeply. She spoke again, and when Ron could not answer she cuffed him smartly on the ear.
Ron cowered and heard Amna’s voice, “Don’t strike my driver.”
The woman answered in her own language.
Amna replied, “I don’t understand your dialect very well. Let us talk in English.”
The woman replied, “I asked him where Usman is, and he won’t reply.”
“He’s deaf. I have to communicate to him with hand signals. Why are you asking about Usman?”
“I am expecting him. Didn’t he come with you?”
(to be Continued)
Who is this strange woman who seems to know Usman and seems to be expecting him?
I am sorry this is late in being posted. The next installment is scheduled to be posted the third week of June.