And most importantly, she was scared. She could sense that her children were scared too. She
wanted to leave before either of them came to harm.
|Illustration by 13-year-old Rithika Murugan|
But she could not. Not without Udit.
The bat blocking that entrance seemed significant. Even injured, it looked scary, and add to that the monsters staring at her. She looked back at the monsters and counted five. But one of them had become smaller, another was shrinking. She frowned thoughtfully and turned to face them fully.
“Go! What are you waiting for?” the tallest one shouted and the shrinking monsters again swelled up with a bushsh sound. Sulekha recoiled in fear and nodded, wondering if the gesture would even be visible in the dark.
But she was not leaving without Udit. What was the worst that could happen? She advanced towards the bat determinedly. The bat started attacking her, the monster started shouting louder and suddenly a blaring noise jarred the atmosphere. As she neared the entrance, she dashed in, her kids in tow.
The bat chased her in. She ran up the stairs and reached the first floor. She could see three doors and rushed at one of them, asking her children to try the other two. One of them gave way and they rushed in. So did the bat. On an impulse, Sulekha pushed her children out and rushed out, closing the door behind her. She heard the bat dash against the door and hoped it had injured itself. If that was a live bat, then she was a robot.
She heard footsteps above her. Desperate, she rushed down the stairs again, frantically pulling her children along. When she reached the entrance, she noticed the niche under the stairway and quickly the three curled up. She heard the men push the door open in the first floor and make a lot of noise. “It is only to scare us,” she whispered.
Then she heard them come out. “She has killed it, kill her!” one man shouted. She trembled and hugged children more tightly.
She heard them troop down the stairs and head towards the entrance, all the time shouting orders to find the woman and the children and kill them. Sulekha shut her eyes. The niche was not very deep, so she pressed against the wall, hoping the enveloping darkness will hide them. The group did not think of examining this neglected spot and rushed out.
She stole a glance at them and quickly dashed up, hoping the sound made by the monsters outside would drown what little sound their feet made on the steps.
When she reached the landing between the first and the second floors, she saw a dim light at the far end of second floor. She climbed up quietly and slowly, her children imitating her action. Suddenly she heard someone shout, “Did you check under the stairs?”
“I will!” someone replied.
She hurried up the steps, to where the light came from. She heard the man shout, “Nobody here!”
“Where could the woman have gone!” the first man responded frustrated. She heard the monsters scream too. “Search, search. Floodlights on!”
Sulekha blinked as the lights came on in the common area. The light flooded the room from an open window at the other end.
The three of them were exposed. If someone were to glance their way, the trio would be caught. But there was no time to think. She was caught between the people outside searching for them and the unknown beyond the open door.
She entered the room cautiously and looked around. She could see no one, but she detected a camera at the top corner on the wall across the door. She dropped on her fours and slid behind a large sofa right next to the door, away from the wall. It was a tight fit, so she gently pushed it forward, hoping no one was watching the camera just now. He children followed her softly. She assessed the place carefully from under the sofa and saw that it was a small flat with a drawing cum dining room. There was a washbasin to the right in a small foyer, with three closed doors around it. The one behind was the bathroom, she guessed, and the two on either side were bedrooms.
She leaned against the wall, glad of the respite but knowing that it wouldn’t last. The men would return any moment. She could hear the monsters clearly. They were now shouting instructions. “Where could she go? Have you checked in the building? She has to be out there somewhere. Check behind every door, break open the doors if needed!”
She looked back at the children and saw their eyes widening in fear. She felt lonely and miserable, blaming herself for putting her family in danger. She wished she could reach out to someone…
(To be continued)