Written in Blood
Prerna was rightly named thought Maasiji as she sat shelling the peas one winter afternoon. Shelling peas was a wonderful pastime she thought, as wonderful as cleaning the rice or rolling the wicks for the oil lamps for her daily pooja. She loved doing these mundane activities as it made her feel useful for the three months of the year she spent with her nephew Lalit Gupta and his family.
Maasiji was lucky – Her nephew lived in Bombay, way down South and way warmer than compared to Bhopal where she lived most of the time. But she didn’t like the winter in Bhopal and when Lalit invited her to his home in Bombay, she just jumped at the chance. She loved the busy city and the Bombay winter which was as milder than a pleasant day in Spring. Apart from the warmth being good for her bones, staying with her nephew was good for her spirit. After nine months of living alone in her own home, she enjoyed being part of a family even though she had to share the room with Prerna, Lalit’s daughter. Every evening she would go down to the garden and meet up with the other old people who had come down for the winter, staying with their sons/daughters or other relatives. It was fun meeting up with different people thought Maasiji as she caught the pea that escaped.
There was one problem though, well not exactly a problem, but you could call it a mild inconvenience. Prerna, was a lively child and was more than just inspired to mischief. Not that being mischievous was bad, thought Maasiji – after all a spirited child was any day better than a child with no spunk. But what she minded was that often Prerna used Maasiji as an alibi especially when she was caught. It troubled Maasiji’s soul to be her partner in crime.
“Maasiji, tell Papa that I was doing my Hindi homework with you, wasn’t I?” she’d plead when her Papa would scold her for some prank or the other. And poor Maasiji would nod her head in agreement consoling herself that it’s like replying to a hunter who asks ” did the deer go this way?” If you tell the truth the deer will be killed so it is better to tell a lie and save the deer and she would count 10 extra beads on her prayer beads that night hoping that God would pardon her and give Prerna some better sense next time.
She had just finished shelling the last peapod when Prerna came into the room, breathless with excitement. She quickly shut the door and told Maasiji to be quiet. Then she took out a pen and dipped it in a bottle of red ink and wrote
” This is written in BLOOD. We will come tonight at midnight to take your blood.”
She giggled as she thought of Saroj Aunty reading the note.
“What are you doing beta?” asked Maasiji suspecting that she was upto no good.
“Nothing, Maasiji, remember if Papa asks, say you know nothing, ” and she left the room with the note in her hand.
She went across the landing and slipped the note under the door.
That night at midnight, the doorbell rang. The door opened to reveal two men with a tray of test tubes ;
“We have come for your blood,” they said,” May we collect yours?”
“Sure ,” said Prerna’s mother and the entire family lined up for the medical assistants to collect the blood samples from them all. “I’m glad the Health Department is taking such strong measures against Malaria,” she told her husband as the men left the apartment and the family went back to bed
Within minutes there was a shriek from the neighbouring apartment. The Gupta’s ran to the door and saw their neighbour collapsed in a heap. Many other families too came to see what had happened. Someone put water on Saroj Jain’s face as she came to, pale and shaking.
“What happened?” they asked and she showed them a small crumpled piece of paper on which was written
This is written in BLOOD. We will come tonight at midnight to take your blood.
Lalit Gupta peered closely at the note. He had a faint suspicion it looked like Prerna’s writing. But she wouldn’t go so far, would she?
After the crowd dispersed, he came into Prerna’s room and woke her up. “You didn’t have anything to do with Saroj Aunty’s fainting episode, did you? he asked.
Prerna looked sufficiently shocked and rubbed her eyes sleepily and said “Of course not. Ask Maasiji. I was with her the whole morning shelling peas, Hain na?” she said turning to the old lady who had opened one eye to see what was happening.
And Maasiji who was secretly chuckling at the thought of that wishy washy Saroj quivering in fear nodded her head in agreement. Prerna was naughty all right, but this time she raised the bar.