The door at the bottom of the stairs has been left open. An opportunity is taken. Three men slip inside, into the dark corridor. Stealthily, they climb the tiled steps, diamonds and stars of light from the cut-out patterns in the outer walls of the stairwell criss-crossing their faces. One holds a gun.
Indira has been feeling unwell and has decided not to join Bapuji and Sudhir at the toy shop this morning. From the living room she looks up in alarm as the grille at the top of the stairs, usually padlocked, is pushed open. There is little time to react before the men are in the apartment. Indira lets out a scream and runs back, away from the stairs, onto the front balcony. One of the intruders follows her and forces a handkerchief into her mouth, pulling her lips open wide. At the same time, another man enters the dining area. Ba has been sorting through a sack of chick peas, picking out and discarding the small, shrivelled and hardened ones. She looks up as the movement of the thief catches her cataract-misted eyes, and, assuming that he is the mechanic that they have been waiting for, starts to berate him for his lateness. Realising that the man is unknown she flings out an arm towards him in self-defence. Hearing her cry of alarm, Julius, the trusted servant, runs out of the store-room, shouting ‘Mwisi!’ – thief! The intruder is startled; he is a novice, clearly, for the commotion results in a bolt for the stairs, with Julius in pursuit. Ba runs towards Indira, and the man that had been standing guard over her realises that his leader has flown, and that the game is up. He too, makes a swift escape. What of the third man? Neither Ba nor Indira remember what he had been doing but he decides that a rooftop exit offers the best chance of escape. In the street indignation is rising. The local shopkeepers have heard Ba and Indira’s shouts from the balcony, and witnessed the men barrelling out of the front door. They join the chase and before long the three would-be-thieves are caught, paraded jubilantly down the road amidst a crowd of usually peaceable men.
After the adrenaline comes the combined fear and relief, the nausea and trembling. It could have been so much worse. Sudhir rushes back from the toy shop, to take Indira to the police station and then to the dentist, who stitches the tear inside the mouth.
When I first heard of the events described above I understood only that the thieves had fled after Ba had flung her arm out at one of them. My diminutive grandmother had scared away armed robbers, it seemed. Made them run. Even now that I know that Julius chased the leader away I still believe that Ba managed to startle him; she dealt the first strike, Julius the final blow. SuperGran indeed: “Stand back Superman, Iceman, Spiderman, Batman and Robin too, Don’t wanna cause a fracas, but BA Baracus, have I got a match for you….”