A humorous short story about two thieves who hit a jackpot.
The windowpane creaked a little on the hinges, as it was slowly pushed open. A thin beam of light furtively ran over the furniture, pausing for a brief second on a piece of metal that sparkled in the velvet darkness.
Badri signaled to Birju who was trying to peer over his shoulder, his long, pinched nose almost poking Badri’s ear.
Both men quietly stepped over the windowsill into the marble-floored room, their rubber-soled slippers making no noise. Badri stood still for some time, listening out for any sounds. Satisfied, he flicked on the pencil flashlight again and trailed it around the room. The beam caught the shine on the satin cushions, the dark glass on the coffee table and came to rest on a beautiful statuette on the marble-top mantelpiece.
“All clear. Put on the bigger torch,” he whispered.
The flashlight lit up the richly decorated room. Birju’s jaw dropped open as his eyes tried to take in the wealth that lay around – the carved teakwood sofa-set and a huge brass lamp that shone even in the dim light.
Badri greedily smacked his lips. “Birju, we’ve hit the jackpot!”
The tall, lanky Birju was bouncing up and down on the sofa like a child in glee. “Oh its just like they show in the movies,” he grinned.
Badri nudged Birju hard on the ribs. “Look to your right, sonny,” he said, starting towards the massive ceiling-to-floor cabinet of burnished wood holding slickly-designed electronic gadgets, television and audio system, flower vases and beautiful antique statuettes, on the right wall. “We didn’t wait in vain.”
They had spent the whole of the previous week watching the goings-on in this spacious three-storied beach side bungalow. A line of imported cars fleeted in and out, expensively dressed people bustled around, huge metal boxes and poles were brought in vans and carried into the house by workers. In all the hustle-bustle, Badri and Birju, much to their delight, noticed a couple of film stars too.
Everything had quieted down the day before. The inmates of the house had presumably left on a holiday and the two had chosen this moonless night to move in for the kill. Though they were new to Mumbai, having run away from Delhi just three weeks ago with the police hot on their heels, they knew that the rich in this city lived in bungalows by the sea.
“Boss, we never had it so good in Delhi. With the acres of garden around this palace, nobody can hear us for miles,” smirked Birju, fingering the television fondly.
“Nah, TV’s too heavy,” Badri shook his head. “Pick up the rest,” he ordered, rubbing his pudgy nose on his pock-marked face.
“Why should we leave the TV behind,” asked Birju, disappointed. “We can easily carry it between us.”
“And pray, who will carry us?” sneered Birju. “We don’t have a vehicle. Now put the rest of the stuff in your gunny bag. Be quick, man!”
But Birju wasn’t listening. He was running his hands over a large colourfully painted wooden panel set among the shelves of the cabinet. “I have seen things like these sliding open in the movies,” he muttered to himself. And before his amazed eyes, the panel slid open with a click, revealing a safe inside.
Badri shoved Birju aside, his beady eyes shining in anticipation and quickly got to work on the lock with a couple of thin wires. It was easy. He pulled open the safe door slowly and let out a low whistle. Gold coins came tumbling down, the most wondrous sight he had ever seen in his life.
Badri’s heart was racing wildly. It was a windfall, they hadn’t expected. They would be rich overnight. They would buy a turquoise blue Esteem, a nice cozy flat facing the beach and start a business, Birju’s head was chalking out the plans rapidly.
Badri bit his lower lip hard to get a grip over his excitement. “Now pick up the VCR and the antiques.”
“Antiques are Sanskrit to us. We’ll get caught in a second if we try to sell them.”
Birju lifted the beautiful black video cassette recorder. “Hey Boss, this VCR is terribly light,” he remarked, turning it over.
Badri threw a cursory glance at the video recorder in Birju’s hands. “It’s imported,” he professed knowledgeably, busily putting the gold coins into the grimy gunny bag. He tied the bag and then took the VCR in his hands and muttered in admiration.
“These imported stuff are made for us. Easy to carry away.” He said chuckling at his own joke. Birju grinned.
Skipping across the hall, his long nose glistening with sweat of the humid autumn night, Birju grabbed the golden clock with a shining pendulum placed on the mantelpiece of the huge fireplace.
“Why do they have a fireplace?” he asked aloud, poking his head in and trying to peer into the chimney.
“Rich people like to imagine themselves sitting in Shimla all the time, stupid!” Badri replied, smiling at his young friend’s innocence.
Frankly, he found the idea of having a fireplace in the sweltering heat of Mumbai rather ridiculous. But the rich like to spend on all kinds of idiosyncrasies, so what’s stopping them, he shrugged. In his own seaside flat, he would put a beautiful carved swing on the verandah, Badri decided.
“I want the crockery. I have never eaten in nice china,” Birju’s plea shook Badri out of his reverie.
“Leave the crockery alone. They will clang all the way. What you will get is pieces in the end,” Badri said sharply. “Pick up the table lamp.”
“Table lamp will be heavy,” wailed Birju. “Remember we have to drag this whole stuff to Dombivili from Juhu.”
“We can sell it for good cash,” explained Badri. “Anyway, we have enough loot in money to…”
The shrill whistle of the night guard pierced through the dark silence around. Badri and Birju almost jumped out of their skins.
“It sounds very close,” hissed Birju. “Maybe he saw our lights,” he muttered, cursing himself for carelessly forgetting to pull down the blinds.
Without wasting another moment they hauled the huge, heavy sack over the window and dived after it.
Two days after “hitting the jackpot”, Badri and Birju were back to roaming the streets. The sack of fake gold coins, the “antiques” of papier-mâché and the gold-painted aluminum clock were lying in the junkyard behind their hovel in Dombivili, along with the hollow plastic cabinets resembling the VCR and the stereo. Sale of this “loot” had fetched them a total of 28 rupees from the junk collector.
The two strangers in the tinsel town had not known that the mansion they had chosen for burglary was “Rang Mahal” which is lent out to movie producers for film shootings.
Badri and Birju have however learnt a lesson for life. They will never again leave behind the crockery even if it clangs. At least, its real.
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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