Sangeetha pulled the curtain across the window. The early morning sun light came streaming into the bedroom. She could see a stretch of land covered with trees dotted with houses. The sky was clear blue and the birds were gliding in the skies. She moved the window panes to let in the breeze. A whiff of cool air came floating into the bedroom. The air was refreshing with the fragrance of the jasmine flowers from the garden. Sangeetha closed her eyes and raised her face to savor the delight.
Sangeetha and Sandeep always wanted to own an independent bungalow with a lush green garden. Sandeep was in the top management of a multinational company earning a plum salary with handsome perks. Yet, owning a house in the city was out of question, considering the prohibitive cost of the land. Further, for a garden one needed regular supply of water, a difficult situation, particularly, in the city which faced shortage of water when the monsoon failed. Hence, the alternative was to move to the suburb where at least the basic amenities for a comfortable living, were available. They knew that until the children completed their studies it was advisable to stay put in the city. Having crystallized their plans for the house, they had consciously put aside a sum of money out of their savings every month towards fruition of their cherished dream.
Years rolled by and their children were well settled. Sangeetha and Sandeep started to seriously work towards constructing their house.
It was now over two years since they had moved to the new house.
Initially Sandeep had expressed his apprehensions about the security aspects but the neighbors allayed any such fears.
“Sandeep, I have been discussing this with our neighbors. They have been here for well over five years and they assured me that they have not had even a single theft so far,” said Sangeetha.
Sandeep and Sangeetha settled down quickly in their new home. They spent the weekends tending to the garden, which added grandeur to the house. So much so, one of the neighbors remarked, “Sangeetha , your garden looks so good that I can say, you have built your house on the garden.”
That morning Sandeep was having his breakfast. “Oh Sangeetha, I am really going to miss your breakfast for a couple of weeks, darling. I have a long tour starting next week. Targets! Targets! Targets! That’s all we keep talking about in office and of course meeting deadlines. I just feel like throwing away this job and retiring. But you know what, this housing loan, holds me back from taking such a drastic step.” I console myself, saying, “you have built a wonderful house to suit your needs; just a few more years and you will be free.”
Sangeetha asked with a grin, “Only my breakfast?”
“It is obvious. I will miss you too darling,” said Sandeep hurriedly.
“It could be obvious, but women need reassurance, explicit too!' said Sangeetha and moved closer to Sandeep and put her arm around his waist, with a smile.
“Ok dear,” Sandeep smiled, gave her a hug and started for office. As usual, Sangeetha came till the gate with Sandeep.
“Bye Sandeep. Have a good day.”
Sangeetha turned round to go inside the house and then stopped.
“Why Sandeep, what’s the matter ?” she asked with concern.
Sandeep had stopped in his tracks and was staring at the compound wall near the gate. His face was ashen. Sangeetha rushed to his side and held his arm. She turned towards the wall and she also froze. “Oh, what the . . . . . . . was all she could mutter.” On the pillar of the compound wall was marked “H3B” in black pen.
“The writing is clearly on the wall,” muttered Sandeep. This has become ‘The Marked House’.H3B could mean House with Three Bedrooms for burglary!”
“Oh. Stop the pun and let us think straight,” quipped Sangeetha. “Ours is a new house and we have not been assessed to municipal taxes yet. Probably the local panchayath has marked it as identification for follow up. It could be that the local panchayath elections are round the corner and we may have to register our names for that purpose.”
“I am a bit concerned,” said Sandeep. “There is word going round the colony that the government is serious on demolishing unauthorized construction, after the recent floods. Ours is of course an approved construction, but . . . . . . .”
Sangeetha raised her hand and placed her palm on his forehead, as Sandeep started to sweat profusely. She led him into the house and Sandeep sat down on the divan in the hall.
“I would like to get to the bottom of this. Let me call up office and cancel all my appointments for the day. I will also cancel my tour for the coming week,” said Sandeep.
“Come on Sandy. Don’t take off in your usual way, breaking your head unnecessarily. This could just be something trivial also. You calm down a bit. Let me go round our colony and do some reconnoiter work.”
After about half an hour, Sangeetha came back and sat next to Sandeep. “ I find none of the other houses are marked. Our neighbors also told me that it is quite some time since anyone from the panchayath office had come to our area. Let’s sit calmly and figure it out.”
She picked up her mobile suddenly and started wading through the WhatsApp messages. She then stopped and started reading from her mobile. “Sandy. Our police department is circulating a message asking us to stay alert.” It says “if you see any of these symbols on your outside wall or pillar, quickly wipe it out. Your house is under observation for robbery.”
Sangeetha looked up at Sandeep who was pacing up and down the hall, restlessly. “None of these signs match ours. Looks like, we are unique. First things first. As mentioned in the message let us wipe the pillar clean, before it gets too late,” she said.
Sangeetha took a knife from the kitchen and a bowl of water. She first used the knife to scrape the marking and then cleaned it up with water, till not a trace was left of the marking. She looked up at her handiwork and heaved a sigh of relief.
Sangeetha suddenly sprang to life. “My God ! Why did I not think of this before?” she muttered?
“Have you identified who could have done this, darling?” asked Sandeep with a touch of concern.
“Very soon,” replied Sangeetha, as she deftly moved towards the screen connected to the CC TV. She seriously viewed the recording but found nothing of interest to warrant any attention. Feeling slightly dejected, she was about to exit the screen, when she saw a person, on the screen near the gate, writing on the wall. The time was around 5 am. But the creepers had grown so densely that it covered the face. For once she cursed the greenery in the house. She waved to Sandeep to come over and took him through the recording. On seeing the recording he grew tense.
“I have been repeatedly telling you not to grow creepers. Now you see what has happened. We had a nice opportunity to nail the culprit. But he has got away. We now have to be really vigilant. Shall we go to the police station and file an FIR?”
“Sandy, FIR can be filed only if such things like burglary or murder happens. But right now it is sheer conjecture. At the most what we can do is give a letter explaining our apprehension and request for the night patrol to be intensified. We then hope for the best.”
“Come. Let’s do it straight away,” said Sandeep.
Sangeetha immediately wrote out the complaint and Sandeep signed it. They both went to the local police station.
Sangeetha spoke to the Sub-Inspector in the local police station and explained their apprehension.
The Sub Inspector was reading the newspapers and showed little interest in what Sangeetha was saying. Once done, he directed her to file a written complaint with the writer.
The writer read the complaint slowly, then prepared the Community Service Report Receipt and handed it over to Sangeetha as an acknowledgement.
“Thank you very much sir,” said Sangeetha, as she folded the receipt and put it safely in her hand bag.
She then spoke to the Sub- Inspector. “Sir, we are really scared. So, my humble request to you to intensify the night patrol in our area. Thanks, once again.”
Sangeetha and Sandeep came home and both slumped into the sofa. She put her arms around his shoulder for reassurance. “Don’t worry Sandy. Nothing will go wrong. God is with us,” she said. As an afterthought she walked over to the pooja room and lit the lamp. She then took one hundred rupees from her purse, tied it in a white cloth, smeared turmeric paste over it and kept it safe in the pooja room.
When she turned round, she saw Sandeep poring over some documents. She drew near and found Sandeep reading the housing insurance policy they had taken recently.
“I want to be sure we have covered all contingencies, in the event of a burglary,” he said.
Sangeetha gave a smile and nodded her head.
Sangeetha switched on the music for some diversion but after a few minutes she had to switch it off.
“This is not the time to enjoy music, dear. Will you switch it off? I am in no mood for all these things.”
The clock seemed to be ticking slowly. As night fell, they sat down for dinner and both ate silently. Sangeetha, then went round the house, ensured that all doors and windows were securely fastened and retired for the night.
Sangeetha soon fell asleep while Sandeep tossed restlessly in the bed for some time. He too then fell asleep.
The alarm rang promptly at 5 O’clock in the morning. Sangeetha woke up, switched off the alarm and rubbed the sleep off her eyes. She then looked at her palms, said a small prayer and was soon up and about. Sandeep was still fast asleep.
Sangeetha opened the hall door to pick up the milk. But the milkman had not delivered the milk.
“What a way to start the morning,” she muttered, as she came into the bedroom to pick up her mobile.
She called up the listed number on the mobile and spoke to the milkman. She silently listened to the milkman talking and suddenly burst out laughing.
Sandeep sat up in his bed startled. “Have you gone mad, Sangeetha? What’s wrong with you? Here we are scared stiff with the possibility of a burglary. I find you laughing away to glory. What’s gotten wrong with you?”
Sangeetha controlled her laughter and said with a straight face, “I have solved the mystery of ‘The Marked House’.”
“Are you dreaming or what,” asked Sandeep. “Please be serious. Who were you talking to over the phone.”
“It’s the milkman,” said Sangeetha.
“You mean to say, the milkman is planning the burglary?” asked Sandeep.
“Relax, Sandy. I will give you the full story,” said Sangeetha.
“The milkman has employed a new delivery boy and for him to recognize our place he had marked our house. The boy had brought the milk but since we had erased the marking, he left without delivering the milk this morning.”
Then what does “H3B” mean? , asked Sandeep.
“It is the milk we buy. Heritage Milk - three bags.”
Sangeetha and Sandeep broke into peals of laughter and hugged each other.
“My God. What a relief. All's well that ends well,” gushed Sandeep.