His father looked worried, when Muneer told him of what had transpired, even though his son had kept back the details. But he pointed out, "Abbaji, this may be the answer to our prayers. Your spotless reputation will not be smirched. And they do have an impressive office, it is obviously not some cheap criminal joint. They have assured me again and again that it is something totally safe."
"I'll do it," he went back and confirmed.
They told him to wait for their orders. They wouldn't make him wait long, they promised. He had to pack a bag, and be ready to travel at an hour's notice.
Hardly ten days later, they rang him up and told him to prepare to go the same day. He should report immediately for further instructions.
After he reached the office, they took him to a small flat where there were three other persons.
"Here is your 'Urgent' passport with a valid Umrah visa. This is your air ticket. You see I am putting both the things in this blue plastic bag. You will leave for the airport in half an hour. All you have to do now is to swallow these capsules that we are giving you. Empty out your stomach before you do this, as you cannot then visit the bathroom till after you land. But it is only a four-hour journey. Outside the airport a man will be waiting for you. He will take you to a place where the capsules will be retrieved. You can then perform Umrah, all at our expense, and next day you can return home. Your part in it is very simple. And absolutely above suspicion. In this envelope, which you can give to your father immediately, are fifty thousand rupees. On the completion of your mission you will be given another fifty thousand. That should be in just two days."
One lakh rupees, within two days, and without any repayment! All his father's worries would be at an end. And when the scheme matured, in which his father had invested, they would all be well off for life.
"But – " he was certain that there must be a catch somewhere. "Supposing I am caught?"
"Caught? How? The airhostesses do not go around patting passengers' stomachs. And if they did, what would they find out? That is the beauty of the scheme. No one can possibly dream that there is anything inside you."
Muneer went home to give the money to his father, who could not at first believe that the money was his for the taking. With even this sum he could cover up to a safe extent the incriminating deficiency.
"But what are they giving it to you for? Muneer, beta, I will not allow you to get involved in anything illegal or risky. I myself am facing the nightmare of possible disgrace for what I have so unwisely done."
It was just to extricate him from that disgrace and shame, Muneer thought, that I am doing this. I cannot let my God-fearing father be disgraced. If, as the moneylenders insisted, there was no danger to him, it was definitely worth a shot.
Life would be smooth after that.
And again he reflected that their offices were so large and stylishly furnished, and impressively staffed, all this could not be based on unreliable and uncertain dealings.
"I am going to the holy land, Abbaji, to pray for you and for our whole family. I hope to perform the Umrah, Insha Allah, on Friday, and shall be back, God willing, on Saturday. Then we will all live happily together again."
"Go, then, with God's blessings."
They dropped him at a distance from the airport. "You can catch the van from here. It stops only half a furlong from the airport. Your flight leaves in two hours. You will be boarding in ninety minutes. Show your bag boldly at the Customs, here and in Jeddah. You have nothing to hide. When you go out of the airport a man named Samiullah is going to contact you. You do not have to look for him, he will find you."
"How will he do that?"
"By means of this blue plastic bags. You can see it has a picture of a date palm on it. That is the identification. Go in peace now."
He discovered on his way to the check in counter, that the flight was two hours late. Afterwards, it was delayed another hour.
Although the contents of his stomach were so insignificant he would not normally have felt them, yet now he was constantly aware of their presence.
He boarded the plane and got a seat on the aisle side of the two-seat row. "I am hungry," said the man sitting next to him, "I had a very skimpy breakfast."
"So did I," said Muneer. "And I am hungry too."
But when the airhostess brought for them the appetising lunch which was being served, because of the belated departure, in place of the standard snacks, he shook his head and said, "No, I don't want any."
"You said you were hungry?" queried his fellow-traveller.
The airhostess stopped and looked enquiringly, "Are you sure? It is still another three hours to the landing."
"I don't – don't feel like eating."
"Are you airsick?" the hostess asked solicitously.
"No, but I think I shall visit the bathroom – no, no, I won't."
She looked at him curiously. "That's a strange one," she whispered to the steward. "Keep an eye on him."
By the time they landed, his nervousness was so evident, the steward tipped off the Customs staff. But search as they would, they could find nothing on him, not in his shoes or under his cap, or even stitched inside his underwear as they had once found.
He waited outside for the contact.
A reversing inter-city bus had collided into Samiullah's green Porsche. He got down and inspected the damage. It was insignificant, and he got into the car to start off again, but the policeman on duty at the crossroads, came running up and stated he and the bus driver had both to go to the nearby police station.
"But I am not pressing charges," he said looking in alarm at his watch. "It was just an accident, and my car is not really damaged."
He had overstayed at a friend's, and was already in danger of being perhaps a little late for his rendezvous in case he did not start immediately. But they had standing orders not to go much ahead of time, either, so as not to draw attention to themselves. It was to avoid this that, they sent a new man to meet the carrier every time.
"Neither of you will be able to get your vehicles repaired without the police report," stated the constable.
He didn't need to get the repairs done at any repair shop, he said. He had his own mechanic, who also did the driving for him. But the policeman was adamant.
At the police station, their escort ran into a friend who had just returned from a month-long vacation, and naturally there was a cordial and extensive exchange of greetings and pleasantries. The policeman then remembered his charges, and saying pleasantly "Siddik, wait here till get the relevant man," disappeared.
Samiullah, whose actual name was Ghiyas, was in a panic. The Pakistani must have landed by now, even allowing for the fact that the flight was three hours late. He will come out and start looking around here and there in a manner that was bound to rouse suspicion. To be late more than ten minutes, or almost twenty minutes was asking for trouble. And the courier, he had been informed, was carrying goods worth over a million.
Muneer was perspiring with tension. No one had turned up to contact him. He strolled down to the corner, then rushed back fearing he might have missed the man. But nobody appeared.
"You are waiting for someone?" asked the Intelligence officer, coming up so noiselessly that Muneer jumped.
"Yes, a friend," he answered turning away.
"What is his name?"
Muneer was not sure he was supposed to disclose anything, and said in confusion, "I've forgotten actually, he's a friend's friend actually."
to be continued...