#MIDNIGHT3 -A Short Story
Devaki, along with her husband and three sons, lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Mettupalayam Street, Palakkad. Theirs was a fairly large house, with 4 bedrooms, a hall, a kitchen and a work area. She took personal pride in the way she ran the household with no helping hands. The garden and the lawn, laden with Australian grass was nothing short of a Kohinoor that shimmered on her crown as the queen of that house. It was winter and the trees that lined either side of the compound was busy shedding their leaves. The dry leaves weightlessly danced across the lawn to the mad tunes of the winter winds.
It was an exceptionally cold, December night. The wind was howling through the street like a hungry wolf. A wolf that no one dared to challenge.
Devaki was sleeping with her eyes tightly shut. Like always, she had her green woolen blanket over her head, covering her ears. It was when the analog clock, kept in the main entrance hall of the house, struck three that she stumbled out of her sleep with a jolt. She pulled down the blanket and instinctively searched for her husband sleeping near her in the darkness. But, there was no one in the bed except her. That’s when she remembered that her husband, Laxmanan, a senior auditor in LIC, was out on his annual tour of North Malabar.
Her ears twitched as she heard the rustling of feets moving over dry leaves scattered across the lawn. Initially, she speculated that it was a kind of dreamy hallucination. But then she heard a thud. She swiftly sat upright with a heavy, pounding heart. This time, she was sure she heard it right. The noise clearly meant that someone had climbed over the compound wall and was walking across the lawn. There were more than just one.
“Thieves…”, she thought as her mind and body panicked.
Then she saw the shadows of three ghostly figures right in front of the wall facing the bed. The thieves were silently crouching towards the rear. The bright halogen lamp across the street was too powerful for the thieves since they could not escape its glare. The light from the street lamp momentarily cast the shadows of the intruders into Devaki’s bedroom wall as they silently moved within the compound.
Her heart started hammering against her chest and even the chilly December night could not stop her from perspiring. She heard a feeble din of metal meeting metal. She sat still for a moment. A moment that seemed to stretch into eternity. She could hear the ticking of the wall clock, the yelling wind outside and then, the hushed noise of an iron-saw meeting the lock of the rear door. The thieves were meddling with the lock that secured the rear door of the house.
That very day she had read a newspaper on an infamous bunch of thieves from “Thirutu Gramam” who were on the prowl. She had read the entire report on how they murdered the entire household before they looted. She had a frozen spine when the news ended with the statement that the police had failed yet again in nabbing the thugs.
Her gut feeling confirmed that the trespassers, trying to break into her house, were none other than the ruthless burglars from “Thirutu Gramam”. They were going to kill her. Devaki wanted to cry out for help or maybe run out for aid. But, not even a single muscle in her body would move. It was as if her nerves refused her command. She clutched the bedspread and closed her eyes in dread at the thought of the impending tragedy.
As she listened, Devaki became numb with shock when she realized that thieves had already broken into her house. The lock had given away since there was this mild screech of an unwilling rear door opening up for the robbers. Anytime the burglars will be in the main hall and quickly, they will walk into her bedroom. And to make the situation even worse, her husband was away. She had no clue as to what was to be done in a situation like this. She just has a few seconds to decide what was to be done.
And that’s when a stray dog howled with all its strength somewhere in the streets. Miraculously, it impulsively triggered a kind of determination into Devaki. She gathered her senses. In a fraction of a second, she decided to call out for her sons, who were enjoying an engrossed slumber. Devaki sprang out of her bed like blitz, banged her fist against the wooden almirah near to her bed and screamed at the top of her voice:
“Siva, Ashoka, Shankara….wakeup… Siva, take the knife and sword, Ashoka bring the club… Shankara, take the iron rods…. there are thieves inside… DO NOT LEAVE THEM…BREAK THEIR SKULLS ….KILL THEM…. KILL THEM ALL….”
She yelled at the top of her voice and it was nothing short of blood curdling. And as she screamed, she pulled down the heavy, dressing table made of teak wood, creating a terrible noise and it felt like complete mayhem.
She heard the thieves rocketing out exactly the way they came in, but at triple the speed. Devaki could hear them scrambling out of the compound. She opened and closed the doors of the wooden almirah with all the strength she could muster. The neighbours woke up to the noise and then lights came on across the street, one after the other.
Devaki heard people pouring out of their houses to quench their curiosity and if need be, offer help to their neighbour in distress. With a nervous relief, she stared at her three sons sleeping in the far end of the room.
Only the eldest, the 6-year-old Sivan had woken up. He was rubbing his eyelids as if his mother had woken him a bit too early for school.
3-year-old Ashokan was still lost in his sleep alongside Sivan, oblivious to whatever was happening around him. He slept as if nothing had happened. And Shankar; he was in his cradle, enjoying a dream, sucking his left thumb.
Devaki gave a sigh of relief as she sent a silent prayer to every god she had ever prayed. She realized that presence of mind was the most powerful weapon a woman can possess in situations like these.
Devaki knew that it was going to be a long night with neighbours and police pouring in. Moreover, when her husband returned home the next day, she was going to tell him an exciting story over a coffee.
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