Bala slipped in through the window. It had been rattling in the wind, advertising the opportunity. His belly rumbled. He hadn’t eaten for days, ever since he had been on the run. The warmth of the kitchen heightened his hunger. Carelessly he opened the cupboards and found some bread. He stuffed it into his mouth, slobbering loudly. Then he heard a moan from the other room. He stopped and listened. Another groan. He trembled. It sounded exactly like her, when he left her on the floor, bleeding to her death. Was it her ghost, come to haunt him? He chewed silently, and eyed the contents of the fridge. He tiptoed towards the sink, where the kitchen knife lay, gleaming in the moonlight.
He would kill again, if he had to. He was not going to rot in some prison. She had asked for it, that treacherous woman. She hid his money, preventing him from buying alcohol. But when she ran away with her lover, his mind exploded. People sniggered when he stood at the public tap to collect water. Where was his wife? Warming someone else’s bed? He hated their intrusive eyes and their razor-sharp tongues. She would pay for the insults. He found her bending over her lover’s cooking pot and stabbed her from behind. But she turned and saw him before life oozed out of her. Serves you right, he spat and left her, blood collecting beneath her, moaning, groaning till finally she ran dry. He jumped on the night train and fled. For days he travelled, hungry and wary. They would come for him, unless he was smart enough to avoid them.
His hand trembled as he held the knife. There was the groan again. His scalp bristled with fright. What was happening here? He tip-toed to the other room. In the moonlight, he saw a man, the resident of this house, sitting on the bed. He was leaning forward, clutching his chest. Perhaps it was a trick to corner him. He held the knife tighter and approached him.
The man saw him and looked relieved. Help, he mouthed again. His face was streaming with sweat. His hands tore at his soaked kurta, his face contorted.
Bala stepped back. What was wrong with that man? He put the knife down and went closer. He touched the man’s forehead, which was damp and cold.
“Doctor,” the man whispered hoarsely.
Bala understood now.
He could just let him die and loot the place, he reasoned. Why should I care? But the man stared beseechingly at him. He found a telephone, but what would he say? He didn’t know the address, or the man’s name. The police would find him. He must run. He turned. The man had collapsed on the bed. Suddenly he felt that he had to save him. There was a reason why he had broken into this house: to save this stranger’s life. Frantically, he looked around for some clue. There were letters on the table. He was just about able to read the name and address. Thank goodness for his primary schooling. He dialled 102 and waited.
The ambulance arrived and carried the man on a stretcher. Bala watched from a distance. He hoped he had saved him. He was proud of himself. Maybe he had absolved himself of his wife’s murder by saving this man. The window rattled in the wind. His stomach rumbled. There was food in that fridge. But there was also the diamond ring and watch he had pocketed. That would keep him going for a long time.