This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
I’m usually not a light sleeper, so I don’t have a clue what woke me.
I lay still while my eyes adjusted to the gloom of my bedroom. Next to me lay the outstretched form of my husband, snoring away. Brian’s face was turned toward me and the noise emanating from his nose was loud and far from musical, so I groggily pushed his mouth away. He made some unsavoury slurping sounds and then turned, changing his position so that he was now sleeping on his back. Even better for me was the fact that his snoring had ceased. Well, at least for the moment…
With that taken care of, it should have been easy to drift off, but minutes later, sleep still eluded me. To make matters worse, the man by my side had begun his cacophony again, loud resonant vibrating sounds that had the capacity to still all forms of intelligent life within hearing range.
I flipped over to my right side, face pointing away from Brian and tried pressing a folded garment against my ear in the hope that that action would reduce the din. But of course, as you would know if you tried to go to sleep with something in your hand held against your ear, that didn’t help at all, and minutes later I was still awake.
I had no clear idea how easily I would be able to doze off with this racket going on because in the normal course of events, it was always me that retired to bed first. As a result, I was always asleep when Brian, who loved his television soaps, got under the sheets. The next thing I generally remembered was my alarm going off early the next morning. I could honestly state that this was a first for me. Of course, we had only been married three months and so I was having new experiences virtually on a weekly basis.
I reached out for the mobile on the side table. The morning alarm had been set for six and at that time i would have to be well-rested and fresh after a good night’s sleep. The man of the house expected his breakfast by half past. His job as a teacher in the capital meant he had to rush to make his bus connection. Looking at the screen i saw it was 4.13.
I groaned. No wonder sleep was so difficult to come by. I had hit the sack before nine, which meant i had already gotten over seven hours of sleep. Technically, I had already achieved a ‘good night’s sleep’. I glanced at my husband, annoyed that he was enjoying his moment of slumber after disrupting mine. Talk about unfeeling! I had a momentary thought of waking him to grumble about how inconsiderate he was for being such a loud snorer, but that would have been too much effort on my part. And i didn’t want to chance it, not while there was still some possibility I might fall asleep.
So i lay on my back, eyes closed, bed sheet tossed back because it was such a warm night, what with it being the middle of summer and all, and willed sleep to come. I tried counting sheep, conjuring up a green pasture filled with woolly animals jumping over a fence one by one. I reached five hundred and promptly gave up. Then I began saying prayers in my mind, mentally chanting the words in a repetitive sequence. I’m not very religious but I had my hopes up.
A miracle happened then: Brian stopped snoring. The sudden silence was so startling that I stopped praying and opened my eyes to look at him. He took a long shuddering breath as if he was being strangled and tickled at the same time and then he sat up, got out of bed and trudged heavily to the bathroom.
My head was still turned in that direction a few minutes later and i saw him head back into bed. He sat down, movements slow and sluggish and slumped into his original sleeping position without a word.
I raised myself on one elbow, propping myself up so i could stare into his face. This was about a good time as any to tell him the trouble his snoring had caused. To my utter disbelief i saw his eyes had closed and then as if to emphasize that stunning fact, a small snore escaped from his nose. I couldn’t believe it – the fink had fallen asleep!
I dropped my head back on my pillow and stared at the ceiling. I had never felt more fully awake in my life. I checked the time. It was almost five. I would have to get up in another hour. And to make matters worse after witnessing Brian rise and head to the bathroom, i realised that I too needed to attend to the same pressing need.
I swung my feet off the bed and stood up. My stiff limbs groaned their protest, but the pressure from my bladder over-ruled all other impulses. I made my way to the bathroom door.
The door had been left open by Brian, and the dim interior bulb switched on, as it always was. I wandered to the toilet bowl and was relieved to see that the seat was raised. I wouldn’t have put it past my husband, half-asleep and more brain-dead than usual at this unearthly hour, to have done his business without raising it.
I lowered the toilet seat quietly, though a part of me wondered why I was being so caring considering the circumstances.
It was somewhere around this point that I heard a noise.
It was a cough.
The sound and the realization of what it was that I had heard did two things to my system. One, all desire, urgent and immediate, to empty my bladder suddenly disappeared. And secondly, any thoughts I might have had about further attempts to pursue sleep vanished.
I was frozen to the commode seat, but while one set of senses had been dulled, the others were operating over-time, alert for more sounds. I wondered briefly whether the cough could have been made by a dog, but we had no dogs and neither did any of our neighbours.
And then I heard the sound again. Another cough, just a single sound, but it was enough for me to identify the sound as positively having been made by a human being.
I got to my feet wincing at the rustling sound my night-dress made as it dropped into place. A part of my mind was telling me that there was a perfectly logical explanation for the sound; after all it was past five in the morning, and people around would probably be stirring after a sound night’s sleep.
I could take a peek through the window of the bathroom. Our master bedroom was situated on the upper floor of the small house Brian’s parents had left him, and the window had slats which were open, which meant I could peer out without making any adjustments.
Noiselessly, I eased myself forward to the window and looked through the gaps, seeking a source of the cough I had heard not once but twice at this early hour. In the stillness, at a time where one expected no movement, I saw them immediately.
Beyond our house there is a thin strip of land and then a compound wall overlooking the property of our neighbour, Glen. On that side of the dividing wall, inside Glen’s garden, were two figures. They were moving sideways, making no sound. Squinting, I could make out that they were carrying something.
Twisting my head sideways so I could follow their movements, i watched them take whatever they were carrying to a vehicle that was parked in Glen’s driveway. They loaded it into the open back of the van. Again, I was struck by the absence of any sound. It was as if I were watching a movie with the sound on mute.
I could see that it was a plain white van, the sort of goods vehicle you see cruising on the roads of town. In front of the van, I could clearly make out that the gates leading from the driveway onto the main road were opened wide.
I looked back to see where the duo had reached, and to my utter shock, saw that they were entering Glen’s house, one by one, through an open ground floor window. That window they had entered led to Glen’s living room, and the room was in darkness, with no light showing through the window.
In the back of mind, I had already suspected it, but to see my suspicions being proved so completely came as something of a shock. These guys were burglars!
I would have to quietly rouse Brian and let him know what was happening. Of course I would then have to tell him what to do, because Professor of Mathematics he might be, there are some things he is simply not able to wrap his mind around. The obvious thing for Brian to do was to of course call the police.
There was a police outpost about two blocks from our residence, and the policemen there, who didn’t know Brian as well as I did, held him in high regard. If Brian called them to report a burglary in progress, they would respond immediately, no questions asked. And while we waited for the boys in blue to get here, Brian could make himself even more useful, by noting down the details I was telling him, details about the getaway van like colour, plate numbers, and any other discerning characteristics. This was an extra measure that I thought prudent, in the event that the cops got here after the crooks had skipped. With a little bit of luck, I might even be able to take note of the burglars’ features (clothes, shoes, etc) with Brian’s binoculars.
Of course, this was all theoretical; there was no real way of telling how exactly Brian would respond once I woke him and made him aware of the situation. Faced with the chilling reality of dealing with dangerous men moving stolen goods in the dark of night, he might not want to get out of bed, or maybe even want to hide under it.
The thought made me frown and pause, and i looked out the window again, sensing movement. The dynamic duo was taking something big out through the window. It was a TV, and from what I knew, not just any TV set. It was a 65-inch Ultra High Definition OLED TV and it was worth as much as our car.
The reason I knew so much was Glen’s wife. The cow had a mouth on her that could put preachers to shame. Her husband worked as a captain on some super-tanker and whenever he got back, which was about thrice a year there would be parties and loud music. Not everyone in the neighbourhood got invited, but just about everybody could hear the music.
The TV had been a recent addition, on the last visit, and they now had TVs in all four bedrooms, claimed the wife. She had insisted I come over to watch a movie and of course, the effect had been mind-blowing. She had gotten the desired result which was to make me insanely jealous.
I watched the two men load the TV onto their van and quietly head back to the house. Glen was back on ship now, and judging from the lack of lights anywhere in his house, the rest of the household was fast asleep and blissfully unaware that they were being burgled. It appeared to me that at this moment, I was the only other person other than this enterprising team who knew what was happening.
The way these guys moved, quietly, efficiently, without hesitation, not stopping to engage in idle chatter, like a well-trained unit, I had a feeling they were pros. If I decided not to alert the cops and they made good their escape, it was likely that the goods would be lost for good.
The idea – of fiddling while Rome burnt – suddenly held tremendous appeal for me. While Glen’s snooty wife was snoring away upstairs, her house was being looted, bit by imported bit. I had to cover my mouth to stifle a chuckle. Hell, I couldn’t wait till the next morning, and of course, that was just an hour or so away now. That would be a glorious sight to behold, her expression when she woke up and went downstairs to find they had been robbed!
I stepped away from the window and tiptoed back to the bed. Brian snored on, oblivious. I wasn’t going to wake him obviously. The kind-hearted lug would want to summon the police instantly, and I couldn’t have that happening, could I…
I slipped into my bed and into my spot. The mattress was cool to the touch, and i had to hug myself to keep from chuckling in glee. What a wicked little thing I was! I lay back, eyes closed, straining to hear the sound of a vehicle starting.
It seemed like just minutes that I heard the sound of a metal door being shut. The noise was not loud, but I had been listening. Another sound followed, which I judged to be the release of the hand brake. If they were the professionals they appeared to be, they would roll it out onto the road, and start the engine when further away from the house.
Sure enough I heard the noise of an engine growling to life, and it was a muted sound, as though coming from a distance.
In the darkness, I smiled and shut my eyes.
Right on time, the alarm on my mobile began to ring.
I opened my eyes, turned towards it and pressed the snooze function. I then placed the phone next to Brian’s pillow where it would hopefully bring him to life seven minutes later. It took me a minute to remember why i was feeling so groggy and when I did, i cheered up instantly.
With a smile, I crossed to the bathroom and peeked out the window. I could see that Glen’s living room window was wide open. So, I hadn’t dreamt the whole thing up… Peering upwards, I saw the upstairs was still dark. No one was awake apparently.
I smacked Brian on his butt, doing it with considerably less force than I usually do because I was in such high spirits. I wished I could go across to bear witness to the scene that was about to unfold. It would a sight worth recording. And of course later playing back on the UHD TV with the OLED technology and 65 inch display which Glen no longer owned.
I descended the staircase with a spring in my step and felt a cool breeze blowing as I got to the floor below. The feel of a breeze caressing my cheeks in this part of the house was so unusual that I had to stop and blink.
I sensed movement where there should have been none and stared at the curtains of our living room window that were billowing.
It was while one distant part of my mind was blaring out that the curtains could only be billowing if the windows were opened that another part told me that there was something seriously wrong about the room I had just stepped into.
The very character of the living room had changed, and I could see with startling clarity the big, empty spaces where our LCD television, portable drive, Brian’s laptop, and paintings had once been.
And then I sat down on the bottom step, empty of all thought save one: that it hadn’t been Brian’s snoring that had woken me.