It was a dark night. In fact it was so dark, Jacko and I held bets on who could spot daddy coming home first. Jacko said it was because there was no moon in the sky today. Coincidentally, the street light outside our house was broken too. I didn’t like that very much.
And then daddy came. Neither Jacko nor I had seen him, even though he must have been right under the window we were peeking through, in my room. As a part of the challenge, we had switched off the light outside the door, mockingly too, because we were both certain we would see him long before that. We were wrong. And that brought disaster.
Something crashed loudly outside the door. Daddy cursed loudly. “They DARE cut our light?!!!! Even when I paid half the bill today!”
Jacko and I ran out to our place at the top of the stairs. We shouldn’t have shut that light. Daddy was inside.
“WHO do they THINK they are?! So what I’ve been late with the bill, THEY don’t have to go house to house selling some ruddy insurance! And those- those- bastards at the company!!!”
I wished daddy would look at the kitchen. A light was on, mommy was working. They hadn’t cut the light. He did see. And in he went.
“What is this?! You! Why is this light on?! That’s just it. You. You make the bills so high. Why don’t you just pay them too if you make them so high! HUH? You hag! You’re the reason of all my problems! What do you do all day anyway, huh? You just sit around all day and switch on the ruddy lights!”
I couldn’t hear what mummy was saying. I went down the stairs. Jacko pulled me back but I wriggled out of his grasp.
“Oh God! Must I deal with you everyday! You’ll kill me with that smell some day!” She was shouting too but her pitch didn’t come close to daddy’s. It was IT. Another one of mommy and daddy’s fight. Those things Jacko didn’t tell me the reason behind. Did mommy and daddy not love each other anymore?
“What?! You have a problem with my drinking? So a man must work his arse off all day and he doesn’t deserve a drink! And that too when he has an old ugly witch for a wife who does NOTHING but makes his life worse, and raises his bills! Tell you what! YOU work from now on right! YOU get the money and YOU run the house! Hell, they won’t NEED to kick me off then, I RESIGN!”
Pans were cluttering. I hoped daddy was not going to hit mommy.
“So that’s what you did now, huh! LOST YOUR RUDDY JOB, DIDN’T YOU! There go all your reward breaks and early releases. You’re just a bum who got fired! You never did anything good anywhere! Not at home, not at the job! You’re just a FILTHY-”
An echoing thud came from the kitchen. Mommy screamed. I had to look in now. Jacko was coming down the stairs himself.
Mommy was on the floor. She covered one cheek with her hand. She was crying. I was scared. I pulled in my breath quickly.
Daddy turned towards me. “YOU NOW! What do you think you are doing! Can’t I talk to my wife without you or that shit brother of yours sticking your stupid head in!!! I’ll tell you what! YOU AREN”T MY KIDS. You are just rats! RATS!”
I cried now. Jacko had come behind me. He ran in towards mommy.
“And YOU! What do you think you are doing? LEAVE HER THERE! I want my wife on the floor, that’s where I’ll have her!”
Daddy took a step towards Jacko. He swayed violently when he moved. I cried out, “Jacko!”
Daddy picked up a knife and turned towards Jacko. “I said- LEAVE HER THERE!”
I was shocked. Daddy wouldn’t hit Jacko! What was he doing?
Jacko was looking at the knife. He was looking at the knife and pulling mommy up behind him. Mommy was really hurt. She kept grimacing and clutching her body- her legs, her arms… She moved her hand from the cheek, and I saw blood trickling down the side of her lip. Why had daddy hit her so bad?!
“You won’t listen!” And daddy made a plunge at Jacko. He waved the knife in front of him. Jacko bent back.
“Dadddddyyyy! You’ll hurt him!” I screamed. Had daddy forgotten he was holding a knife?!
Jacko picked up a pan.
“Jacko, what are you doing!” I was crying hard now. “Are you fighting daddy, Jacko?!” I sobbed, helpless, scared.
“Jenny just take mom to your room, now!” Jacko said, looking at daddy.
I didn’t want to think. I ran and helped mommy get up. I looked at daddy from behind Jacko. He was staring at Jacko. He didn’t look like daddy. I rushed with mommy. I hadn’t known she was so heavy. I rushed and rushed, I had to get back fast. I helped mommy into my bed and ran out down.
When I reached, Daddy had moved closer towards Jacko and Jacko had moved back. The knife and the pan were poised.
And as I stood and saw, daddy growled loudly, and jumped forward right on Jacko and threw him to the floor. Daddy stood over Jacko and kicked him in the stomach. I screamed and ran to Jacko but daddy threw the knife at me. I stood frozen to the place. The knife missed me by an arm, a very bad shot for daddy. But daddy had attacked me. I was stunned. Jacko was getting up, daddy was wresting him.
I was stunned.
Daddy hit Jacko in the face. Just like he had hit mommy.
I was stunned.
Jacko whimpered when daddy drove his fingers into Jacko’s sides and hit him again.
I looked at the jar on the slab. The glass jar filled with water. Stunned still, I walked towards it and picked it up. It was heavy, but not as heavy as mommy. I walked over to where daddy crouched over Jacko. I stretched the jar out over daddy’s head.
Daddy looked up.
I dropped the jar.
Daddy fell like a lifeless mass to the floor.
Jacko breathed painfully. He coughed and gasped.
He got up and pulled me away. He took me outside.
Glass pieces from a half broken bottle lay everywhere.
Jacko cleared an area and pulled me down beside him.
He pat my head and whispered, “It’s okay. Jenny, It’s okay.”
It’s okay? What’s okay?
I looked at the dark. I touched the dark.
I loved the dark.
“Get down.” came a hurried command.
“Sorry?” asked Karan.
“Get off the ledge, and sit against the wall. Now.” the shooter replied, still not stopping with the work he was doing, which Karan could now see. He wished it wasn’t true.
What the shooter was furiously hustling with was the most diverse amount of ammunition and arsenal Karan had ever seen together. He saw weaponry in the Army all right, but never in such an eccentric pile- a barrel going through a trigger, bullets lying under a rifle, a poor quality walkie-talkie, which could only be described as a frail box with an antenna, incongruous and chilling. Karan knew who all of that was planned for. A neon-blue bag lay incapacitated, a little distance away. It seemed a marvel that all this had actually been contained in that shabby thing, but it must have been.
Karan looked properly. A rifle, three pistols, bullets for each, the “walkie-talkie”, a small cell-phone, a pair of good binoculars, and a tripod. That was all there was to it, yet it seemed all so dangerous, lying there that callously.
As he was looking, the shooter flung a few sheets of paper on top of it. There was no other word for it, he just flung the papers. Then having collected everything he probably had on him in the pile, he started readying the guns… putting in the mags… the bullets…. in ALL of them.
What a douche! Who the hell handles weaponry like this! And what the hell did he need the whole cavalry for?!
Calm as the shooter was, it WAS very strange, such a panic. And then the shooter stopped. Crouched on his toes, the shooter was going through the cell phone, one of the pistols dangling in one hand. Karan wrestled with the belt…
Jeremy had decided. Screw the shooter! Just as he was in the house, he would use his advantage of cover and carry out HIS plan. The shooter wasn’t helping, and he wasn’t going to get himself dead.
His trained mind set off on the routine tracks. Scan the Officer for guns. Just the usual police gun in the police gun-holder. It was to his side, the move would be easy. Two policemen standing behind him. Each with a gun. He should shut the door behind him. Controlling everyone at once would be a problem. As it is, Mrs. Virmani was a big black blot on any plan he made, however noble. Damn that lady! Jeremy got ready.
The door was opened, by another constable. Why one was INSIDE the house, Jeremy would have wondered in usual circumstances, but right now he was just dancing that it wasn’t Mrs. Virmani.
The two men went in, Jeremy shut the door. He thrust Officer Yadav just enough to pull out his pistol and still not knock him down. The constable had pulled out his own, and was aiming it at Jeremy but that was not his concern. They must not speak!
Having carried out this part of the plan properly, he handed the pistol back to Officer Yadav. The aim was to draw their complete attention. Quickly, Jeremy put a finger on his mouth, the traditional symbol of ‘quiet’ that was only too well ingrained in Indian children.
Both policemen were baffled. But now that they had their guns and Jeremy was begging them to keep quiet, they were at least not defensive. Suddenly, Jeremy started speaking. He was still miming that they don’t speak.
“Yes, Officer… yes, I tried to find Ankur… I had some phone numbers… common friends… no sir, I came up with nothing….” Jeremy knew he had to keep talking, just like a real conversation was going on. The shooter could still hear.
At the same time, he waved frantically for a pen. Another traditional gesture, joining the thumb and the forefinger and shaking the hand like one was scribbling. Only, this one was international! The constable was hooked. He saw his senior lower his gun, ready but not aiming. He took that as permission to give the boy the pen he had in his pocket. Jeremy found a flier on the center-table. Furiously he scribbled and scrawled a little note and rushed to give it to the Officer.
Marksman nearby. Kidnapped friend. Armed. Don’t call Mrs. Virmani.
With that he started gesturing to his shirt. The mic!
Officer Yadav understood. This mission kept surprising Jeremy. He felt so patriotic then, he wanted to give Officer Yadav a big bear hug. He didn’t because the mic would be muffled.
Jeremy had been murmuring fake dialogues throughout. He snatched the paper and wrote- Fake a conversation. Stall.
“I know…. Ankur has been a real mystery… He didn’t even reply to Mrs. Virmani’s calls, she told us.” Officer Yadav couldn’t tell Jeremy the real news anymore.
“Constable Mishra, I want you to go out, at your post. Rather, why don’t you three go back to the station, I don’t think there is any more need for supervision…”
The constable had been under Officer Yadav for seven years. He read the finescript. Inform the station. Prepare them for the shooter.
“… and anyway, I’m going to be here for the time being…”
I am waiting for you, here.
“… with Jay.”
I’ll get to the root of it.
Constable Mishra went out, fast but not rushed. The shooter saw the three constables walk out of the colony. So far, things were good. The shooter waited for information. He waited for his shot, his guns ready.
“Wait here, Jay. I’ll go see if Mrs. Virmani can talk to us… my last talk with her didn’t go very well…. She won’t like us being in her house so often… but it’s necessary…” Jeremy nodded. He knew Officer Yadav was cutting them some slack. He welcomed the break from the double-timing thinking, the make-believe conversation.
As Officer Yadav went into a corridor, Jeremy spoke into the mic, for good measure- “What do you want me to do?” He waited for a phone call.
Karan was sitting a few steps away. The shooter had had to put the phone and the mic-transmitter on the floor, on loudspeaker, he was busy aiming two guns.
From the conversation he had picked up in the past few minutes, Karan knew that Jeremy was up to something. He could feel it in Jem’s words.
About time too. The belt was breaking slowly.