My sister Durba shook me awake.
"Something suspicious is happening," she said in a failing voice. "I think it is murder!"
I jumped out of the bed, falling as my leg caught in the mosquito net.
"Shhhh," Durba said. "Listen!"
I heard a loud thump outside. Through the window, in the dim streetlight, I could see a white Ambassador car with windows rolled up.
There was another thud. Then a back door opened. Two feet with chappals emerged, and remained hanging in the air.
The sound of a slap. Durba's cold hand gripped my arm.
"God, they are holding the poor soul down," she said. "The feet just kicked in the air... Did you hear that muffled groan? I think they are strangling him!"
"Get the phone directory," I said. "We will call the police."
Durba tiptoed out, groping her way, as we didn't want to put the lights on and alert the murderers outside.
As I watched, a stout fellow emerged from the driver's side. He opened the boot of the car and returned to his seat with a jar in his hand.
When Durba returned I told her about it. She said, "That explains it. That must be petrol. He will set fire to the car and escape. Destruction of evidence!"
Armed with a cordless telephone handset, we hurried to the kitchen at the far end of the house. Now no sound would reach the rogues outside. We dialled the police station number.
"Are you sure it is murder?" the person at the other end asked.
"How can you question such things sir, when somebody's life is at stake?" I was outraged. "Isn't it your duty to answer every call? Do you think it is prudent to waste time in such telephonic investigation?"
"How do you know it is a murder?" he asked.
"Well, there are strange sounds from the car, a person's legs are hanging out, a big nasty-looking fellow is moving around with a huge jar of petrol. Don't you think that is evidence enough? If you do not come immediately, that car with the dead body will go up in flames."
"Do not be paranoid, madam, we will reach in time."
He hung up after we gave him directions and the description of the car.
Soon we heard an apporaching vehicle. We sneaked to our balcony and hid behind the curtains to watch the drama from the dress circle.
A van stopped at the end of our lane and four policemen jumped out with batons in hand. They marched to the car and tapped on a window.
"Get out of the car, NOW," a tall officer with a pistol at his waist shouted.
There was no answer. The feet had vanished now and the doors were all closed. The policemen banged on the car again. This time the stout man came out.
"What are you doing here?"
"Waiting in the car, sar."
"What is there in the car?"
"Shut up," the officer shouted.
"I have not done anything. Please don't put me in jail, sar."
The man began sobbing. A policeman opened the back door.
"Who is this?" the officer demanded.
We exchanged looks in the dark. They had found the body!
"My cousin, sar," the man explained, "Helps me with the cleaning. Complete nitwit, sar. Never even harmed a fly."
Slowly a chappal-clad foot emerged, followed by another, and then the thin torso of a frightened man. He had clearly been sleeping. He stood there, dazed, with hands folded.
We stared in disbelief.
"What business do you have here?" the officer asked.
"Sar, I swear by Ma Kali, one gentleman, who lives here," he pointed to a neighbour's house, "has to go to the airport at 4 am. This is a rented car. I am the driver. Left my last passenger at 1 in the night. No time to go home. I have a family, sar. We are respected and..."
The officer interrupted, "Okay, okay. But why were you making so much of noise then?"
"Oh, noise?" he said with relief. "Mosquitoes, sar. I slapped myself red and hit everything around trying to kill the mosquitoes. Told my cousin to keep the doors closed, but he couldn't sleep in the heat. He was twisting and turning and then left the back door open. Idiot he is! I brought the petrol jar here... Have heard eard mosquitoes do not like the smell. But no! Mosquitoes sucked all my blood. And now you have come, sar..."
The officer rang the neighbour's bell and narrated the driver's story. Our neighbour confirmed it. The officer apologised and walked back to the van.
He looked around, and then looked straight at our balcony, as if he knew the perpetrators of the drama were standing there behind the wings. Then he climbed into the van and roared off.
No more police in our life, please!
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh