“Maheswar, we are letting you go as of today.” The supervisor declared after 5 minutes of chit-chat. They were in his room in the Township Office Centre, a single-floor building with multiple rooms.
“Why, sir?” Maheswar requested.
“Um, we, er, we thank you for your service for the last 15 years.”
“But why are you firing me, sir?” He didn’t get what had gone wrong.
“Um, company policy. Mandatory retirement after 15 years’ commission.”
“Am I going to receive pension?”
“You can go now.”
Maheswar walked out. His house was in a nearby slum. The slum adjoined the enormous residential complex where he worked as a watchman. He glanced towards one of the entrances. His colleagues, ex-colleagues now, Murari and Ibrahim, were joking with each other. There were two youngsters with them.
“What the heck! Those are the supervisor’s relatives. Hot damn! He fired me for these ponies?” Maheswar felt a surge of anger inside him.
“After all these years, this is what I get? Backstabbing?” His hands were shaking with anger. He was walking on the other side of the road to where those four men were standing. Good thing, he thought. He didn’t know what he’d have done otherwise. He walked out of the township.
From feeding his family to getting back at the security supervisor, his thoughts ran round and round. Falinder Singh, the supervisor, lived on the ground floor in one of the buildings with his family. Perks.
“He’s not eating my job like that. I’m going to show the sahibs that you don’t throw out a 15-year experience. And when you do, it has consequences.”
He went to procure stuff for his plan. These included a two-litre bottle filled with petrol, his carbon fibre stick and a matchbox.
The stage was set.
At 1:50 am, he got up from his bed. His wife and kids had long since slept. The slum was lit with street lamps. The alleys were silent except for the sound of insects chittering. He crept out of his house and started walking towards the township. He knew the main gate would be locked at this time. Today being the night of Tuesday-Wednesday, Bishambhar and Nattu would be on duty there. No, he wasn’t going to go through the gate. He was going to go through the wall.
“Let’s see whether their nepotistic greenhorns know what I do.” The boundary wall of the township was weak at some places. One of these places was on the rear side of the new, under-construction building. This stretch was covered with trees on both sides. One could remove four stone bricks from the wall’s middle at a certain place, and even a portly man could pass through the gap thus created. Maheswar and other guards had raised the issue with the supervisor over the last two years. But, nothing had happened.
“Well, it is going to happen tonight!” Mahesh declared to himself. He’d light up the warehouse near the new building and get out.
“No one will be there at this time. No danger to life. Full danger to nepotism. Explain the arson to the owners, Falinder. Slimeball!”
He’d reached the wall when he saw that three of the bricks were missing. “The heck! How did this happen?”
In all his years, there’d been no burglaries. They’d discovered this hole themselves. And now it was gaping!
Something was off.
He removed the fourth brick and pushed the bottle and stick in, before sliding in himself.
Inside, he stood under the trees and searched for sounds. There was a faint noise of a song being played somewhere on the loudspeakers. Oh! It was that singer’s concert in the Gymkhana grounds. Was there another sound too? He strained to hear but couldn’t discern.
“Need to move.”
His feet, wrapped in rubber sole shoes, scrunched dried leaves underfoot. He tried to keep the sound at a minimum. Once he walked out to his right towards the warehouse, he paused again.
The buildings were erected in a great rectangular arrangement, with separate parking lots at two different places in between. Maheswar was walking on the outer walkway, outside the buildings.
He heard a set of sounds coming from the building to his left.
“Wait a second. That isn’t music.”
What had been a suspicion till now was confirmed. There was an attempted robbery going on. He ran towards the sound, his feet dhupp-dhupping on the cobbled pathway.
As he got close, he stopped by a big car parked under one of the buildings. He took deep breaths and calmed himself down.
Street lights were placed at various points around the outer walkway. Their light under the buildings’ ground floors wasn’t particularly bright, but one could see if one focussed. Maheswar peered around the side of the car. Four men were standing at the other side of the building. They were whispering to each other. One of the men, with a gun in his hand, gestured towards the lift and then towards the floors above.
“Why did no one see them coming in?” Maheswar wondered. He needed to alert the other guards about this. He took out his cellphone to either call or text when his hands froze.
“What will I tell them? Why am I here?”
“Don’t try to be a hero.” The counter-voice in his head blurted.
“Calling them will be dangerous.”
“Not calling them will get me killed.”
There was a gate roughly 30 metres to the other side of the building. Maybe he should wait for these guys to go in and then make a run for it? Explaining could be done later.
“But what do you care about the robbery? What about your own plan?”
“No no. I can’t go through with that. Maybe another day. The renters haven’t harmed me. Why should they suffer?”
He hunkered down under the car and waited. He bent down to see their feet. They were rushing to the lift. As it came down, all but one of them entered it and took off. The other man stood guard outside.
Maheswar counted to three and peered towards the lift. The man was facing the other side. He left the bottle by the car and ran to the outside of the building with the stick in his hand. He waited for a few seconds outside and then slinked inside, coming up behind the man. Without batting an eyelid, he swung the stick on the man’s head. A faint cry and the intruder was down with a thud. Maheswar kept the stick aside and carried the person to the side where he was hiding. Before leaving, he checked whether the man was dead or alive.
“Breathing! Good,” he exhaled.
He returned to the lift, picked up the stick and galloped to the gate. He took out his phone and dialled Murari, who picked up on the third ring. Maheswar knew he was on duty at the other gate.
“Murari…E3…robbery.” He blurted between gasps.
“Call…the police, there’s…a…a robbery.”
By now, he was approaching the gate he was aiming for. Ramaashrey and Manish, both in their 20s, were on duty.
The two guards were shocked at seeing Maheswar there. Their shock was compounded by his sprinting.
“What happened, brother? How…”
“Four robbers are in the E3 building. I saw them enter the lift, three of them. The fourth one, I hit him. He’s unconscious. Call emergency.”
The men were shellshocked for a moment.
“Don’t keep standing. Call Falinder Singh and tell him,” he ordered Ramaashrey.
To Manish, “You! Call the police. One of those men has got a gun.”
Both men picked up their phones and dialled the numbers they’d been asked to.
Murari came running around with three other guards. All the men had their sticks. Maheswar beckoned them as he ran back to the building.
At the lift, they formed in groups on both sides, three on one and four on the other. Sticks raised. No one made a sound.
The lift was coming down.
There was a ting sound as the door opened. A gun came into view. Maheswar swung his stick down on it with all his might. The gun fell down and slid across the tiles to a corner of the lobby.
The guards managed to overpower the robbers and confiscate the bounty.
Next morning, Maheswar was standing in the owner sahib’s office. The robbers had been arrested and the goods returned to their original owners last night itself. Sahib’s contacts meant the case never came to light.
“Why were you there?” Sahib asked.
Falinder Singh was sitting in a chair by the door.
“Old habits die hard, sir. I have walked these tracks every night for the last fifteen years. Even after I was fired yesterday, I couldn’t sleep at night. I knew I had to take a walk outside the township to get myself to bed. It was during this that I noticed the hole in the wall.”
Sahib was nodding.
“Sir, I might not be on your payroll, but I couldn’t betray you at such a time.”
Sahib gazed in Maheswar’s eyes. Then he leaned back in his plush, imported leather chair. His hands were knotted above his head.
“I’m putting you in charge of training our guards. Falinder will be your deputy.”
Falinder’s head jolted up at the news. A smirk made its way across Maheswar’s lips before vanishing.
“I have my job back, sir?”
“Yes, better than that.” Sahib had a warm smile on his lips. “You’ll be living in the accommodations in the new building, with your family.”
“Thank you, sahib. Thank you.”
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