I hear a loud shout. Bang! It’s late into the night. I rush out into the hall. This is not my current home. This is D58 Ajay Enclave, Delhi where I lived when I was 14. But I am 27 in my dream. The room is brightly lit by the huge chandelier which has more than hundred glass reflectors with five 40 W bulbs embedded in it. My dad used to make me clean the dust and grime off that thing every alternate Sunday. But he isn’t in the house now, its only me and mom, like now. A strong wind is blowing right across the room, right to left. From the door on the right which is there at the middle of the long hall to the left door right at the end of the hall, the curtains at the far end, straight ahead are half lifted, their windows are wide open too. But wait a minute, this can’t be D58 Ajay Enclave, it never had a door on the right! More like my Besant Nagar home in Chennai, where we stayed a year ago.
I hear a shout from the balcony. I am now in the middle of the hall. I run towards the door leading to the balcony. I stupidly pick up a cushion and hold it high over my head in a striking pose as I look in to the long dark balcony. There’s a guy at the end of the balcony. I can make out a dark, stocky form about 5 feet 5 maybe. He has a gun in hand! He fires it below on the road. I drop my cushion and peer down from the window in the hall down in to the road. The view now is from my friend Ganesh’s third floor house in Janakpuri, New Delhi. We stayed in the same locality when I was 10-13 years old. I see a dimly lighted narrow street like it used to be. There is a young guy on a bike at the crossroads of four small lanes right in front of the house. He is revving his bike and swirling it around warding off some three people that seem to surround him. The guy on my balcony is suddenly in the street now and he shoots the guy on the bike from behind into his back. The biker and his bike fall to the road, the biker on his stomach, right in the glare of the streetlight.
I look into the balcony, now back in my D58 house. The guy with the gun is still there, shouting something to his mates down below. How can he be in two places at the same time? I think quickly now. I need to close the doors leading into the house so that he can’t come back in, there’s another door which leads into a bedroom where my Mom is sleeping. I run into that room, she’s still sleeping (How’s that possible?!). I am now in my Janakpuri home. I quickly latch the door leading to the balcony in the dark and run back into the hall of my Ajay Enclave house with a door on the right. I stop in my tracks. There he is, in the middle of the room, staring at me.
"Come here", he gesticulates towards himself with the hand that holds the gun. I go towards him. He sits down on the sofa. I sit on the sofa next to him. He is dark, very dark, with curly black thick hair and a big moustache. He has a round face, its full of sweat. His eyes are a bit yellow. I smell liquor in his breath.
"So", he says softly, I can hardly hear him, "you thought you could kill me with a cushion". He smirks. He had seen me. (All this is in Hindi, obviously, I am translating it now).
"No, no", I stammer. "I-I thought it was a cat or something".
"A cat!" He starts laughing. I relax a bit. "Did you see what happened?" he asks softly.
I nod. "Why did you kill him?"
"He was a ‘scout’. Poking his nose where he shouldn’t be. Not minding his own business." He stares intently at me now. "You are not a ‘scout’ are you?"
Is this the moment of truth? I suddenly realise I will need to take a decision about this sooner or later. But first, I have to answer his question.
"Of course not sir, I am no scout."
"Good", he relaxes suddenly. "You are a good boy." He now strangely takes out a visiting card and starts writing a mobile number on it. It already has a name. "You can get in touch with me on this number if you want."
I take it from him. Now, less afraid, I ask him.
"Why were you shooting at the guy from MY balcony?" He seems a bit puzzled. I add hastily, "I mean…I don’t understand, why?"
He thinks for a second or two. "Had to shoot him." He stutters a bit. He’s really drunk. "Spilled his guts out", he adds with some satisfaction.
"Have to leave now." He gets up. I walk him to the door, watch him go down the dark stairs. I close the door behind him and double latch it. I come back and sit down on the sofa and heave a huge sigh of relief.
And then I see the gun lying on the center table.
I grab it and run behind him down two flights of dark stairs, but he’s gone. I slowly climb back up the stairs and come back into the hall and I suddenly find it full of people, neighbors and relatives. My mom is standing on the other side of the room, looking a little sad but very tired, like the day when we heard that my dad had died.
There’s a venerable old man sitting down at the door, among a sea of footwear. I think he’s the apartment building secretary or something. He looks up at me, smiles, holds up a chappal in his hand and asks me a very strange question.
"Is this your chappal?" I stare at him. "You see", he patiently adds, "we think the killer left his chappals in the building and we are trying to find out which ones are his". He asks me again now, very kindly, "Are these yours?"
I hide the gun behind my back and answer him.
"No, I-I don’t know."
That’s when I get up with a start. It takes me a few seconds to realize that it’s a dream. This house doesn’t have a balcony like that, I reason.
I look at the time. Its 2.30 AM.