Nobody knew what caused Lucky to behave the way she did. Had she come out of the womb too early? Had she fallen off the cot while her aunt was busy washing clothes? Had she bumped into walls a lot? Had she been possessed by a djinn? A long spell of typhoid? Jaundice? Pneumonia? The residents of Niribili scratched their heads but never found answers. They had given up long ago when they tried extracting details from Hamida – Lucky’s elder sister by three years – and even she turned out to be clueless. With whatever meagre details they could piece together, they settled on the conclusion that Lucky’s behaviour was the river flowing out of the absence of a mother and a poverty-ridden childhood.

She lived in a small tin shed under the banyan tree just outside the tall yellow walls of Niribili, a leafy diplomatic neighbourhood, one of its kind in the city. The kids of Niribili went to the city’s only international school. Everywhere you looked, you would find fair-skinned people from foreign countries: a woman in a skirt pushing a pram down the spotless, maroon footpath; a man, AirPods plugged in, jogging by rows of wet tulips and roses in the park; a group of boys and girls dripping with sweat, their sneakers chafing on the concrete as they try to score baskets. You would find that luxury cars – Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Jaguar – were as common here as the Toyota was in other parts of the city. The buildings, arranged in different lanes, ranged from colonial, grime-stricken bungalows to modernist apartment blocks.

Hamida lived and worked as a maid at one of the houses on Lane Seven – a penthouse that provided a view of the entire park. Her employers, both doctors at the same private hospital, had initially given Lucky the opportunity to work at the penthouse and live with them despite her tendency to scar the people around her by hurling at them random and hideous scenarios and accusations.

“Tell your father I saw him in a dream. His mistress sliced him in half when she discovered he is married!” she would very often say to an unfortunate individual who happened to be around her, before exploding into a high-pitched laughter. To another, she would say, “If I see you doing naughty-naughty with your madam again, I swear I will feed you my slipper!” and take off her slipper, wiggling it threateningly. To another, she would say, “Did you eat the black dog you caught yesterday? Was it cooked okay?” as her forehead flaunted wavy lines.

Once, she said to the aged caretaker of the building, “I am sorry that your daughter drowned. I hope she is in heaven.” Fearing for the safety of his daughter, he sprinted inside his room in the garage, called home while rubbing his eyes, and told her to stay away from all the water bodies in his village. He had left that evening for his village and never returned. Another time, she said to a ten-year-old girl who was parking her blue four-wheeled cycle by the grey electric pole, “How is your baby? Are you feeding her well? And your husband? Feeding him well too? Is your mother-in-law beating you too much?” Tears bloomed in her eyes. Her lips wrinkled and trembled. Lucky embraced her seeing her on wail, and said, “Don’t you worry, darling. I will teach your in-laws a lesson.” She wailed louder upon hearing this.

Because she avoided the foreigners as though even looking at them would cause her death, only the locals fidgeted at Lucky’s presence. Nobody knew when they would be accused of engaging in black magic, adultery, incest, Satan-worshipping, extramarital affairs, murder and robbery (the list was endless).

The employers fired her when she slapped one of their two fifteen-year-old boys in front of their American, Indian and Japanese friends in the living room without the slightest provocation. He looked at her in horror and disbelief, his hand clutching at his hot cheek. She sighed in relief, clasping her hands together, and said, “Okay, now you can continue talking with your friends. The djinn inside you is gone! That sly thing. How dare he smirk at me!”

They were kind enough to buy a ticket en route to Sylhet for her. But she refused. Instead, she asked them to build a tin shed for her under the Banyan tree outside Niribili so that she could meet Hamida regularly and live with the birds, dogs, cats, owls, bats and monkeys.

Excerpted with permission from “Lucky” in The Hippo Girl and Other Stories, Shah Tazrian Ashrafi, Hachette India.