By: Padmini Krishnan
I can’t believe I just heard that. I pricked my ears and stopped near the lift.
Yes, someone knocked on the door from inside my neighbor’s house. I paused for a minute in the corridor, unsure of what to do. Should I hurry to college or help Mr. Roy who was probably stuck inside with a jammed door? I rang the bell to Mr. Roy’s house, but no one opened the door. I could feel mosquitoes sipping from my legs. Now, I knocked on his front door until my knuckles ached. No answer. After a couple of minutes, I walked towards the lift. Then I heard firm footsteps behind the door I was knocking. Mr. Roy opened the door.
He smiled at me. “Hello! Sorry, I was showering.”
Mr. Roy was probably in his early or mid-thirties. His hair was combed back and gelled like a sixties’ film actor. He was in his shirt sleeves.
He was always dressed in suits and seemed to prefer formal wear. I have frequently seen him jog in formals.
“Mr. Roy, I heard someone knocking on your front door from inside your house.”
“Knocking from inside?”
“Yep. The door that you are holding…Someone was rapping it three times from inside.”
He looked at me for a moment. I am not sure if I saw fear, scorn or impatience in his gaze.
“I am sure you must have heard it elsewhere. I live all alone in this house.”
He looked at me with his mouth open, tapping his legs again.
I realized that my mouth was open too.
“I am sorry, Mr. Roy.”
He smiled happily, realizing that I was going to leave.
“Please call me Kelvin.”
“Oh, sure. See you.”
I went to the lift, smiling at him. He was still holding the door, making sure that I was leaving. I guessed I looked a little sheepish. Also, creepy, perhaps.
I met my roommate Jasmine at the bus stop and told her what had happened.
Jasmine heard everything intently.
“You know, I have always felt that he was a little weird.”
“I would have described him as a little different.”
She did not speak until we were in our class.
Jasmine got her ‘keen’ look. “He might have imprisoned someone inside his house. Probably an ex-girlfriend… She might have knocked when he was not looking. Perhaps, she was attempting to escape.”
“Why not just open the door and escape?”
“Maybe you need a secret code to lock and unlock the door.” She continued, “Listen, I read something in ‘Meow’ last week.” This was a sleazy magazine that Jasmine read, but she called it an investigative journal. “A guy built a prison in his house for his estranged wife. He had her imprisoned there for almost a year. She was half-mad when they finally rescued her.”
“Oh. Come on. Kelvin seems like a decent guy.”
“All of them look decent. When they arrested that guy, he was supposedly praying for world peace.”
“Okay.” I said, “Are we going to do anything about this?”
“Let us give it some time.”
“Jas,” I said in a low voice. “Let us break into his house.”
“No way.” Jasmine’s hand shook under her. ‘Basic Economics’ book, “I am not in.”
“We will just look in to ascertain if he has any secret passages.”
“What if we find a hostage?”
I was relieved that she was going to accompany me.
“Then we will notify the police, of course. Are we a team?”
“I don’t know.”
“See, we will just take a good look around. I would feel terrible if someone was there and I did nothing about it. You can opt out if you want to.” I hoped she would not.
Jasmine looked unsure for a few moments. Then she sighed.
“I am in.”
“But, how will we get in?”
“We will google how to break locks.”
She looked at me with fear and disgust but still seemed fine with the idea of accompanying me. Thankfully, we did not have to break locks. Our opportunity came the very next morning.
I heard the bell ringing loudly next door. I opened my door and quickly beckoned to Jasmine. A delivery guy stood outside Kelvin’s door with a cart of groceries. Kelvin opened the door and the guy handed him a pen to sign the invoice. The pen did not seem to work.
“Let me get mine,” said Kelvin, opening the door wide before disappearing inside.
The delivery guy turned back to his mobile game, chasing a virtual car.
“Let us slip in,” I whispered to Jasmine. She looked shocked for a couple of seconds. Then she walked stealthily towards the house and noiselessly glided inside. I followed her, trying not to make noise. Kelvin came to the living room just as we closed the door to the store room. Thankfully, our houses were constructed on the same lines. We decided to hide in the storeroom until Kelvin went to the office.
“Thank God, the storeroom is at least clean,” whispered Jasmine, as we huddled inside.
I turned to the door and saw a huge lizard looking at me.
After some 10 minutes, we heard the front door close.
Jasmine slipped outside. How was she so stealthy? Had she done snooping jobs before, despite protesting about joining me on this one? I edged towards the door, my eyes fixed on the lizard. I placed my hand on the knob and the lizard dived into my head. I shouted incoherent words and shook my head, trying to push it away.
“You will get us caught.” Jasmine’s eyes flashed.
We waited near the storeroom for some time. As Kelvin did not come back, we peeped into the master bedroom. We checked in the closet and even under the bed.
“We are such fools.” Jasmine laughed, “Nobody hides hostages under the bed.”
I was not so sure. “It is better to be thorough.”
“Hey, look at these,” I called out to Jasmine from the dressing room. There were different wigs on the drawer; all of them confirmed to the sixties’ style.
“He is a weird man.” Jasmine repeated. Just then, a lizard peeped into the room. By now, I was pretty sure the lizard was the guardian of the house.
“He is strange for sure,” I concurred.
As expected, we found many old-fashioned suits and accessories, but we did not find any clue to a secret passage or a hideaway.
However, there was a black & white photo of a stunning woman in the further corner of the room. She looked like a model or a movie star. I took the framed photo to show it to Jasmine.
“I think it is either Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida. I am not sure which of them.” Jasmine watched old classics once in a while.
She opened the fridge, looking curiously inside.
“There is a chocolate cake,” she said, licking her lips.
“And nothing else?”
She gently lifted the cake and stared at it, hungrily. Then she began eating the creamy top layer.
“Are you crazy? Can’t you wait until we get back?”
“This is better than the college canteen food and the salad you make.”
She continued, “We are already trespassing. Now, we are stealing. So, what is the big deal?”
“Stealing? Not me! You.”
“So, whose idea was this?”
We turned to the door as we heard a key turn the lock.
The front door opened and Kelvin stared at us, his eyes wide. He dropped his vintage brief-case. Jasmine dropped the half-eaten cake at the same moment.
“We left something in your house the last time we visited.” I began with a presence of mind.
He tried to say something. “Police,” he said in an almost inaudible voice. Then he shouted, “Police! I am going to call them.”
Just then, a cat jumped in via the open living room window. I noticed the lizard’s vanishing tail through the corner of my eyes. The cat briskly walked to the door and knocked thrice with his front paw. I looked at Jas in shock; she stared back at me in disgust.
“Let me tell you what happened.” She began. She told him everything, placing the entire blame on me. She painted herself as a faithful companion who would not leave her deluded friend alone.
He still looked scared. “You both are crazy.” He said.
“We are so sorry.”
“Why did you touch my girlfriend’s picture?” he asked, indignantly, picking up the black & white framed photo.
“Your what?” Jasmine burst into laughter.
Anger replaced the wounded expression on his face.
“Do you mind leaving?”
I thanked God for his politeness even in the face of anger. Jasmine and I did not talk to each other as we reached the shared apartment. I may have to find a room again. It had just been 2 months.
My mobile rang. It was my mom.
“Daisy, you have an appointment with your therapist this evening.”
“Okay, mom. I remember.” I tried to speak softly, huddling in the corner of my balcony.
My therapist has been reassuring me for the past 2 years that I was normal. I had an over-active imagination, but did not require anti-depressants, she said. Many people had nightmares of snakes and reptiles. Nothing strange about that, she told me.
My mind returned to Kelvin’s house. How could a cat knock thrice with such precision? Kelvin did not seem concerned about that. Jasmine was too angry with me to question anything. And there was something ominous about that lizard. I felt I could identify him among a crowd of lizards.
Just then, I saw Kelvin’s guardian lizard staring at me from his balcony. I heard a soft female voice sobbing. I swear I did.
Padmini Krishnan was born in India and now resides in Singapore. She writes free verse poetry, haiku, and short stories. Her works have appeared in Terror House Magazine, The Drabble, Cafe Lit. Journal, Plum Tree Tavern, and Stonecrop Review among others. Her e-chapbook was published in Proletaria.