Monday 17 March 2014

Deju gets a beau – I

This was ominous, Deju thought as she heard yet another thud. A do-gooder at heart, she felt it was her bounden duty to investigate. She threw off the covers and stepped out of bed. It was pitch dark outside. The power breakdown seemed never-ending. It was not going to be easy, she told herself.
She had shifted into this flat just two days back and did not really know her way around the place. In the darkness, she could only guess the general direction of where the staircase was located. Groping along the wall, she ran slam-bang into its banister. She rubbed her temple gingerly, and peered down what seemed to be the stairwell. Slowly, she felt around with her toe to ascertain where to begin descending. Once she gained a firm foothold, the rest was a cakewalk.
Deju could see two dark shapes in the lane.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Deju had done this climbing up or down stairs in the dark often enough. Like the time the smart alec of a postman thought he could return at night to steal her roses from the lawn below. Or when the fishmonger tried to dump his smelly bag of stale fish next door in the hope no one would be around to stop him. There had been other occasions too. But she had sharp eyes and ears, she did. She had caught many a miscreant in the act, and been applauded for her daring too. Nowadays everyone was scared of looking around just in case they ran into trouble, she thought a little snootily.
She had reached the landing, and stood uncertainly against the wall. Exactly where had the sound come from – the left or right side of where she was standing? She wished the lights would come on soon. It was difficult to make out where the lane was leading to. Still, she bravely blundered on, brushing against a number of shrubs jutting out from fences that ground-floor residents had put up. Twice she tripped over some flower pots but managed not to tip them over. That would have surely tipped off whoever was responsible for those sounds.
Deju now had a good view of the lane. She could make out two shapes. One was bending over a piece of luggage. Another was propping a travel case against the wall. And lo! There was yet another shadowy character looming in the balcony above.
She did some quick calculation. Two suitcases on the road now, and God knows how many more probably still with the thief upstairs. If she raised an alarm right now, the two in the lane might escape but the one in the balcony would be trapped.
“Thud!” went yet another bag thrown from the balcony. It was followed by a smaller bag. A large basket was slung down a rope. The two people below unfastened it and the rope was pulled up.
So more was to follow, it seemed. Deju decided she had to act fast. She recalled the time when the police trundled in much after the thieves had scooted when she threw a trash can at them through her window. The can had landed on a car’s windshield, as a result of which the owner created such a shindy that there was no way anyone could have spared a thought for the thieves.
Should she try the hooter method? If she let out sharp, loud hoots at short intervals, would that alert the neighbourhood, or would these people make a break for it before anyone emerged? She was fairly sturdy, but even she could not grapple three of them single-handedly. 
In her college days, this had worked fine twice. The entire hostel was awake in an instant. It was a different matter that the first time she had mistaken their warden for a hulking robber. The second time her classmate had been hugely embarrassed because it was her boyfriend sneaking in.
While Deju was weighing her options, the third person had shinned down the rope and looped it back into the balcony. So the loot was all in the lane now, she thought grimly. She had always been cat-footed, so when she pounced on the surprised man nearest to her as she let out a loud hoot, he lost his footing and was eating dirt in a matter of seconds.
Deju yelled again and again while pounding the second person to the ground. The third one turned out to be a woman, who fell upon Deju using her nails to good effect. She scratched and shrieked as loudly as Deju, confusing the good Samaritan. Just then a car turned into the lane, and its headlights shone upon the strange spectacle of two women engaged in fisticuffs and screaming at each other while two roughed-up men stood dusting themselves down and watching as if in a daze.
Deju had succeeded in rousing her neighbours. About eight or ten people tumbled out of their flats, surrounding the foursome. The car had come to a standstill just a few feet away, and the baffled driver had left the headlamps on low beam. So it was possible to see faces clearly.
An old man spoke up. “Ma’am, may I ask what you are doing here?”
“Oh, and you won’t ask them what they are doing here, stealing stuff from that flat there?” Deju flared up. Calm down, she told herself silently. You are new to the place, and they don’t know you yet.
“Who, these three?” asked the old man. “They live in that flat. Why would they steal from it?”
“Really?” she retorted, a bit sheepishly now. “So is it normal to throw your stuff down and climb down a rope from your flat? And no one heard a thing but me?”
More people had joined them. One sleepy boy admitted to hearing some sounds, but said he had been too tired to wonder about it.
“You actually did that?” the old man turned to the trio.
“She just came yelling down at us,” said the young woman who had scuffled with Deju. “She had no business creating such a ruckus.”
“Yes, indeed, but did you really throw these bags down?” the old man looked at them quizzically.
“We did. We have a train to catch, and couldn’t find the key to lock our door from the outside. We burnt all the candles trying to look for it. Our phone batteries have nearly run out because we were using them to locate the key. Finally we decided to keep the door shut from inside and take the balcony instead. On our return we would have called a locksmith,” replied one of the flatmates.
“See, that is a taxi waiting for us, and we’ve already lost 15 precious minutes,” he added, complaining.
“It’s okay, don’t miss your train. Away you go!” the old man sent them off as Deju fumed in indignation

More next week

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