One misty evening, two masked men, one tall and the other hunched forward were walking along quickly along a dimly lit street. Maintaining the requisite social distance, they mumbled to each other while exchanging anxious looks. All the houses lining the street interspersed with cedar streets had shutters down, blocking the light and laughter that rang inside.
In front of the last house, the hunched man hung back while the tall lean man with a salt-and-pepper goatee rang the bell. They were warmly welcomed inside by a smiling woman with hair the colour of fire streaked with soot. A pair of policemen glanced suspiciously at the house as the door shut behind the visitors.
The couple was hosting the hunchback, taking advantage of the eased restrictions. A few months back, a mysterious illness had swept over the nation. It ran through homes and destroyed families, ravaging the human body till the sweet mercy of death took over. In an attempt to control the spreading and curb the agitation growing within the population, strict measures were implemented and enforced by a special division of the police force. Suspected infected homes and people were cleared out with all their belongings. Very few of those who were infirmed made it out of the temporary shelters set up. Surviving in this tense environment had cost the couple much of their mental peace. Hence, the Shewans and Tam, the hunchback, took advantage of the evening to catch up. They made each other laugh, dispelling the anxiety that seemed to hover in the air.
As the three friends enjoyed their dinner of a beautifully roasted chicken, a sudden coughing fit took over Tam. The couple backed away in fear, stumbling over furniture while trying to secure their masks. Tam collapsed on the table, and it was minutes later that Mr. Shewan dared to venture closer. His gloved hands took the pulse and he shook his head at his wife with a solemn look. Transformed by mania, fearful of being ostracized and thrown out of their home, the couple began to conspire. After a few rounds by the hands of the clock, they wrapped Tam up in an old thick grey shawl carefully avoiding any physical contact, Mr. Shewan set off with the cloaked body while Mrs. Shewan disinfected the house. Struggling with the weight of the body, the journey tiring the tailor, he stopped under a shaded porch to catch his breath when he noticed a shiny plaque, ”DR. SIMMONS, MD”. Struck with guilt over his involvement in his friend’s death, he left the body on the porch, rang the bell for a long minute, and ran back home.
An old grouchy doctor was woken from his pleasant dreams by the incessant ringing of his doorbell. Grumbling about the ineptitude of his housekeeper, he slowly and painfully navigated the twisted stairs of his house. Many puffs and a few huffs later, he made it to his door, yanked the door open only for it to hit something with a loud thunk! and rolled down the porch. Kneeling closer and flashing his torchlight, he gasped and then covered his mouth with his gaping night robe.
Looking around the empty street, he turned back to the man wrapped up and the blue hue that marred his face. Marqa, the housekeeper finally made it to the door and opened her mouth to shriek in fear when Dr. Simmons swung around and muffled her mouth. Soon, the enraged Marqa and the elderly doctor were dragging the man through their yard and into the backstreet.
They were in search of a purple shop. At the marketplace, Marqa had heard about a string of robberies and they planned to use the heightened fear of the shop owners to their advantage.
Finally making it to the stoop of the shop, they left the body leaning against the front window, counting on the afraid shopkeeper turning up and getting rid of this sin for them. They hurried back to their safe house.
Just as hoped, seeing a menacing dark shadow, the owner rushed outside to confront the thief.
Armed with an iron rod, he swung it into the darkness until a satisfying wack! resounded, again, and again he swung the rod. Only to tire, and sit down on the stoop, the wrapped body rolled and the comatose body was illuminated by the rays of the rising sun. A group of stationed police officers rushing to the scene hearing the cries of “Thief, thief, thief!” stopped in their paths.
Seeing the inert body of a weak hunchback, they arrested the shop owner, while a hazmat-clad crew collected the body. While transporting the body onto the stretcher, the man’s head lolled back, and a gurgle rose out. The hazmat paramedic noted his blue face and attempted a tricky manoeuvre and out fell a chicken bone!
The gathered crowd, hungry for drama, looked at each other maintaining safe social distances and began to wonder. A lot of excited chattering drew the attention of a couple, the Shewans, who had crept out early morning to check the news bulletin for infected house numbers. Breathing a relieved sigh, they turned to return home when a hobbling doctor rushed past them. Mistaking the crowd, and the police force outside the shop, he began screaming, “It was me! Me! Not that man!”
A kind officer turned to his colleague, “Poor man, they turn senile at that age. My great grandfather once rushed out of the house unclothed saying he was late for school. I got him.” He took off to restrain and calm the doctor.
Muttering calming platitudes to the doctor, who by then had begun to understand the situation, he steered him back home.
After being provided with some first aid, Tam sat quietly near the ambulance and reflected on how costly the chicken dinner had proven to be.
Written by Kriti Gopal for MTTN
Edited by Radhika Taneja for MTTN
Featured Image by Chirag Bansal for MTTN