Tanvi stood at the door and slapped her forehead.
“Oh God, this boy- when will he learn.”
“Anshu,” She continued to shout. Then sensing he probably wasn’t in the house, she walked out and leaned over the railing of their floor. It overlooked the children’s park in the housing colony.
“Anshu,” She repeated. Anshuman, 10, was busy arguing with a girl. Adjusting his wee bit oversized glasses over his nose, he turned. “What?”
“Come here,” Tanvi said.
“Mama, we’ve only just begun. Can I come later?”
“No, right now.” She glared at him. Uh oh, that was a signal. He muttered something hurriedly to his friends, pointed a warning finger at the girl and ran back inside the building.
Tanvi was standing, hands on hips, waiting.
He ran up the stairs, panting, and stood in front of her.
“How many times have I told you not to leave your shoes outside?” She pointed near the door. He made a sorry face and proceeded to pick the pair up.
“You’ve already lost a pair. Papa has lost one pair….you want to lose this one too? Money doesn’t grow on trees, Anshu,” She slipped into sermon mode. Anshu winced, and then turned to face her again, after keeping his shoes inside.
“I’m sorry,” he said, shrugging. “May I go now?”
She let out a deep breath.
Walking back, feeling more defeated than vindictive, she reminded herself about keeping a watch for the so-called Chappal Chor of the building. Apparently they were not the only ones losing out on shoes and sandals. They’d even reprimanded the watchman for letting these things happen.
“Arre, I’m sure he’s in it too,” one of the residents felt.
“What’ll he do collecting used slippers?” argued another.
And so it went on.
As Tanvi recollected, Anshu’s shoes were the first to disappear. At first it was dismissed as just a one-off case. Some kleptomaniac, perhaps. But when more than two to three pairs in the building started vanishing, the inmates of the building raised an alarm.
They even had a meeting to devise ways and means of keeping watch on the thief and nabbing him. Of course, the unanimous opinion was that nobody should leave footwear outside their houses, but that wasn’t always possible. But despite the frenetic brainstorming, the thievery continued.
And nobody could do anything about it. Not even the watchman.
So Tanvi had reminded herself to keep a watch, at least on their floor. She had concluded that Anshu’s shoes were taken at night because he’d forgotten it overnight, and she’d not checked with him. Maybe the thief was some one who frequented the colony. Maybe the watchman’s friend. Maybe an inmate of the building, who knows (though that was unlikely, why would anyone steal used ones?)
Anyway that night, after cleaning up, Tanvi decided to walk upto the terrace, slowly walk back, something like a patrol. And then she’d deliberately leave her slippers outside. And watch from the keyhole.
It was past 9.15 when Tanvi sent Anshu to his room and walked to the front door.
Manohar was watching TV, and he saw her from the corner of his eye.
“Best of luck, Agatha,” he said, chuckling. Tanvi grumbled something, and then brushed him off.
“Yeah, yeah – watch TV while I do what you’re supposed to be doing. Lazy bum.”
Manohar shrugged and reclined some more on the couch, yawning loudly and putting his arms over his head. She shook her head and stepped out.
She returned about 15 minutes later, and closed the door gently behind her. Switching off the porch light, she peeped from the peeping glass. Manohar had retired to their room and the living room was dark as well.
“Good,” she said to herself. The thief would think nobody was in the living room. She stood for ten minutes. And then got bored. There was no activity happening in the lobby. She suddenly felt stupid.
It was close to 10.30 when she finally decided to call it a day. It seemed dumb, playing peeping tom when nothing was happening. Anyway, she felt she tried. She turned to leave when she heard something from outside. She immediately peeped out. There was nobody, but she could distinctly hear the sound. Like somebody were scratching the door.
Was it the Pintos’ dog? She gently opened the door, a little at first, and then fully.
Her slippers were gone.
She was aghast. How could it be? She stepped out and looked around. She had not moved from that damn peeping hole the last hour or so…how could this happen? Did someone come crouching? That wasn’t possible because their flat was on the far side and they could see even a snake slithering to the elevator.
In her hurry, she’d forgotten to switch on the front lights. She turned to step back in and switch it on when she gasped. The slippers were back in their place now.
Her heart in her mouth, she swung around, and then placed a hand on her chin.
“Not my size, but umm…I’ll take it anyway” said a voice softly, almost a whisper. Tanvi jumped.
And then a stifled laugh filled the air.
“Huh? Huh? Who…?” Was all she could manage. Her feet were like glued to the floor. She wanted to rush back in and slam the door, but she just couldn’t budge.
As she stood there transfixed, she saw her slippers disappear again. Slowly...
Then the voice whispered in her ear.