In threes

This post is the result of a 30 minute writing exercise. 30 minutes, any plot. Write something that is complete by itself or part of a whole.  Spare the piece from rigours of editing and polishing. Much charm lies in the au naturale state of raw drafts, yeah? If anyone wants to try the exercise, please do so and link back here 🙂


My mother always said disasters happened in threes. Sometimes if they were really powerful, they happened in fours too but so far, in the sleepy little town where we lived, disaster clearly didn’t deem us important enough. We had the occasional thief, the rare elopement, the neighbour’s cat was found belly up in the river last monsoons and old Baa, the pesky great-grandmother down the road once claimed the ghosts from an ancient time spoke to her each night. Old Baa had a weakness for a calming drink on balmy nights and therefore the spirits were not given much reverence, much like Old Baa herself.

So when Pandoo the paper boy did not turn up at 7:00 AM as was his norm, my mother grew agitated by the minute. She had had no tea either, the milkman had gone missing too.

“Go ask the neighbours if they saw Pandoo”, she said.  My mother’s eyes had a bright glint that came from a lack of tea and her morning newspaper. One knew better than to argue.

I didn’t have to go door knocking as it turned out. Mr Kaori who had retired from the police force a few moons ago was already walking up our garden path. “Lest one forgets” was his general motto in life. No one on the street was allowed to forget that Mr K had seen crime and therefore punishment at very close quarters.

“Mr Kaori, did you see Pandoo?” I asked.

“If I did, I wouldn’t be here, child”, he huffed indignantly.  Then in a fairly kinder note he added, “A life in the police force teaches you to look for clues and read the signs. But you can be forgiven. You are 12 and have probably never been taught to solve such whodunits”.

“Is Pandoo in trouble with the law?” my mother piped up from inside.

“I wouldn’t know if he was”, Mr K said, his voice a tad sadder this time. “I am no longer the one in the know anymore. Retirement will do that to you. Suddenly you are an old file languishing in a drawer. No one will come your way”.

My mother and I maintained a venerable silence. After what seemed like an appropriate interval, I piped up again.

“So,  you didn’t get the paper either? Did you see the milkman?”

Mr K shook his head at both.  He was about to extol the virtues of the military schedule he followed when the friendly face of Daaji presented itself behind Mr K. Daaji was our neighbour for as long as we remembered. He had once taught Philosophy at the local university. This short stint had lasted for 6 months. Daaji gave up his job to write a book. Then the book gave up on him after 6 months. Since then Daaji taught the neighbourhood kids some math and some English for a modest fee. The heavy doses of philosophising were offered free of charge to anyone who cared to listen.

“What do you want?” Mr K asked Daaji in barely concealed annoyment.

“Pandoo is a cog in a larger wheel”, Daaji said mildly.

Mr K ignored him and smiled at us.  “Since Pandoo has not been classified yet, there is hope. We will wait for 28 days, I will have you know.”

“For the paper?” I asked hopefully.

“No! For a person to be reported as a missing person”, Mr K corrected me with much tiredness lacing his voice.

Then for good measure he added, “In the case of murders and kidnappings, we wait 14 days.”

“Who is we?” Daaji asked. “You are not part of the “we” Kaori. You retired before I resigned and that was eons ago. There is only the “I” in your case, the supreme ego”.

“I can hear the original supreme ego speaking, thanks.”, Mr K added.  “You have no idea how the world functions Daaji. Go back to your world of egos and wandering souls and leave the mystery solving to me!”

“Speaking of souls, Pandoo’s soul will forever be immortal. Death cannot put out the flame that burns brightly, so brightly”. Daaji finished with a flourish. Then noticing my scared look and my mother’s alarmed one, he hastily added.

“Pandoo will live in our hearts. Thus the soul gains eternity through memories”. He ruffled my hair slightly.

“What about the milkman?”, my mother asked. “What is his excuse?”

“In 1981, I solved the case of a triple murder. It was most gruesome. ” Mr K said. After a long pause where he stared into the distance, he added, “That case still gives me nightmares”

Daaji sniggered, “This was probably because all this happened in your dreams”.

“The gardener did it”, Mr K closed the case with a final verdict. “In the triple murder case, I mean”

“We don’t have a gardener”, I hastened to add.

“So the case as it stands, doesn’t apply”, Daaji finished the sentence for me. “Life has no equations. What worked once, won’t work again. Life redefines itself”

Mr K was about to elaborate about how the convicted gardener had a police record as they discovered later but the story of the gardener and his grisly dirt was put to an abrupt stop by a cheerful trilling of a bicycle bell. A moment later Pandoo and his bicycle came into view.

“Where were you? What time is this Pandoo?” my mother could always cut to the chase.

“Were you in danger, my boy?” Mr K took over. “You can speak to me. Everything you said to us will be treated with strict confidence”

“Treat it like a bad dream”, Daaji said. “Everything is an illusion!”

Pandoo looked around at the motley crew and stifled a giant yawn. He looked half asleep, no doubt.

“I slept in. And my alarm didn’t go off.”

“That is your excuse?” my mother asked.

She took the paper from Pandoo’s hands and disappeared up the steps.  The air around Pandoo went flat like several deflated balloons.

Mr K tried again. “You were not murdered, I take it?” He tried his line of truths and confidences again.

“Do you want the newspaper or not?”, Pandoo was beginning to get annoyed.  As if  running late was not bad enough, he now had the senile Mr K suggesting that he could have been murdered.

“Where is the milkman?”, my mother stopped reading her newspaper and asked Pandoo.

“He is the reason I am late”, Pandoo sulked.

Daaji made a remark about the whole world being a giant linked list or something similar.

“The milkman ran away last night”, Pandoo said. My mother put her newspaper aside, Mr K dropped the conspiracy theories and Daaji stopped talking of links in the chain of the universe.

Pandoo suddenly felt important. Not only had they forgotten his errant ways this morning but now he was in a position of power.

“The milkman took the train to Bombay, they say. He wants to make it big in Bollywood. He will be a film star soon”. Somewhere in Pandoo’s sleepy eyes,  technicolour dreams whirred and hissed.

“Oh” said my mother. “He wasn’t joking when he said he wanted to be a film star”

“Oh”, said Mr K. “Bombay has a high crime rate, but I suppose he will be fine”

“Oh”,  said Daaji, “Those that chase dreams ride on the coat-tails of despair. Good luck to him anyway”

Pandoo wheeled his bicycle up the main road and disappeared. My mother sent me to the corner grocery store to buy a litre of milk. Mr K and Daaji walked up to the local cafe for their morning cuppa. On a train a few hundred kilometeres away, the milkman fell asleep amid the rattling berths and fell into a deep sleep even as he dreamed of the stars.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Captain Nemo
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 16:40:15

    Wow!!! Nice build up and good character sketches… Good work out I must say.


  2. Unmana
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 17:02:40

    Oh, but this is nice! Very nice indeed, for 30 minutes!


  3. Rajavel
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 21:48:08

    Neat ! Fast and furious and clean wrap up !


  4. scarlettletters
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 08:32:47

    Thanks folks. And welcome, Unmana.


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