‘Stay. I’ll bring you a plate of those pakoras I prepared’, said Mrs. R.
I was ready to leave. My maths tuition, held at my friend A’s place was over. And I did not like hanging around. I never bothered much about people. As I was about to reassert my need to leave, the house was plunged into darkness. It was six o’clock and power cuts were unusual in Ashtown.
Candles were lit and my attempts at leave-taking were thwarted by the sudden turn of events. I was sitting in the drawing room sofa, with A jabbering at my left ear and Mrs. R pushing the obnoxious smelling pakoras under my nose. Just then the bell rang.
It was S from the flat above Mrs. R’s. S was in the same class as A and me and even in the minimal light we could make out his ashen face and hear his loud breathing.
‘Aunty, lock all… doors…windows. There are four or five Outlaws on the…, roaming the streets of Ashtown. This couple from the first lane…. taking their evening walk when one Outlaw asked for the lady’s golden chain… Refused, her throat… slit and her husband… tend his dying wife. Then again another lady…. her dupatta tugged by another Outlaw. The police could not be reached, so everyone is being asked to fend for themselves.’
Stuttering out so much, S rushed off home, making loud sounds on the stairs. As Mrs. R stood dumbfounded with her hand on the open door, only crickets could be heard from the pitch black outside. A shiver ran down my spine. Suddenly coming to life she banged the door shut and got busy locking the windows.
I was worried. Knowing mother’s nature, I was sure she had already left home with a torch-light to fetch me. The thought of her out there with the Outlaws on the prowl gave me cold feet.
The Outlaws were known for a casualness of attitude. They did the most horrible things and all with a sense of fun. There was something very youthful about the way the Outlaws seemed to enjoy their deed to the fullest and then soon after forget about it and move ahead as if it was already old. They could carve a bloody smile simply because they thought you lacked a sense of humour.
Mother finally arrived. Half an hour later. She had heard nothing about it. She listened to the animated retelling of the events and her face registered a shock that made me scared. But we had to leave. My grandparents were at home waiting. My voice croaked at the goodbye.
We reached our apartment. Ours was the first floor flat on the right. It was full moon. Both my grandparents were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the entrance to the apartment. They laughed aloud in greeting. Mother and I entered, shivering silently.
Inside the doors, we told the elderly couple about the recent happenings. They took it rather lightly. Father joined in. He did not speak much, only smiled a sad smile. The five of us moved to the balcony where moonlight played on the wrinkled face of grandpa as he boisterously talked on.
Suddenly a wild boar ran out from the bush beside our apartment gate and went across into the street. It screamed and suddenly there were other voices also screaming. The boar gave a final screech of pain and then stopped. Mother rushed to the edge and peered out of the balcony. She jumped back and pushed us all inside, whispering urgently, ‘They’re here, they’re here.’
Things suddenly happened in utmost haste. From the corner of my eye I saw a group of five enter the main gate. We had forgotten to latch the door of our flat. Mother and father threw themselves on the door to shut it and latch it. But it was too late. Hurried steps were heard coming up the stairs. The door was being pushed from outside, I was plastered against the opposite wall between my old folks. I was trembling in fear. And then I caught the first glimpse of an Outlaw’s face.
He was young. Blunt nose. Glittering eyes. A colourful skull cap. The door burst open. Mother and father both fell motionless on either side. The first Outlaw, followed by the rest slowly made their way towards me. All of them wore such colorful dresses. Multicolored drapes and scarves. The leader approached me and looked me in the eye. Then he smiled…
[P.S. This is the first of a two-part nightmare that I had on a winter night. I remember it in vivid detail to this day and the piece above is an exact representation. The only detail that I opted to omit is that in the dream I had recognized the face of the leader. It belonged to Anu Malik.]