The Lily-Daisy Apartments chat became active early on Sunday morning in a most unexpected way. Mrs Kurien, Mini’s mother, woke up at dawn and realised that the milk pouches had not been left outside her door. Mrs Kurien is one of those people who go nuts if they don’t get their coffee first thing in the morning. The missing milk was a crisis.
Mrs Kurien peered outside the window but could not see the new night security guard. She was about to call out to him when she realised that she didn’t know his name. In fact, the only thing she knew about him was that he was incompetent.
Mrs Kurien could feel the first bangs of a hammer behind her eyes. Within fifteen minutes, a whole carpenter’s workshop would be pounding in her head. The easiest solution was to dash downstairs. When Mrs Kurien reached the locked gate, she saw the new night security guard dozing on the other side. She was rousing him to ask if the milk had arrived when she heard the sound.
Crrrukk. Crokkk. Discordant in the ash-grey dawn.
Mrs Kurien stopped mid-conversation and stared. Through the murk she saw that the gate of Daisy Apartments was open. Not wide, but at a sneaky, 30-degree angle that offered just enough space for a mid-sized person to sidle through. Which was when a stocky male form started emerging from the gap in the gate.
The phantasm oozed out of the blood-black doorway. Mrs Kurien couldn’t see much. But she did see enough to know that the man was wearing a yellow mask, a plastic face shield, a dark long-sleeved shirt, black pants and a surreptitious air.
At first sight, it looked like Baman Marker.
“I hadn’t had my coffee,” Mrs Kurien told my mother on the phone later that morning. “It was 6.30 am and my eyes weren’t even focusing. But I knew there was something wrong. Daisy Apartments was sealed. Why was someone coming out? And that too at this hour of the morning? Why was the security guard allowing this person to come out? Nothing made sense.”
Mrs Kurien reacted instinctively. She yelled across the compound. “Who IS that? We are not supposed to leave the building. Is that you, Mr Marker?”
The figure ignored her and continued into the compound past the security guard. “Chowkidar,” Mrs Kurien shouted. “Why are you allowing that man to come out of the building? Stop him. Stop him.”
The security guard stationed outside Daisy Apartments needed coffee way more than Mrs Kurien did. He blinked, and by the time he understood what was expected of him, it was too late. The mystery man with the yellow mask and face shield had melted into the shadows so entirely, that Mrs Kurien wondered if he was a fabrication of her caffiene-deprived brain.
“Who was that man?” Mrs Kurien called out.
“I think it was Chemmen Saab,” the security guard said. “He said he had important work so I opened the gate.”
“Did he say he was the Chairman?” Mrs Kurien asked. But the security guard shrugged and fell back into his chair and his stupor.
Mrs Kurien shrugged as well, gathered her cold, slippery pouches of milk and headed home to make her coffee. It was only twenty minutes later, when the caffeine cleared the fog in her brain, that she realised that maybe she should say something to someone.
The problem was that she didn’t know what she should say and to whom she should say it. But over her third mug of coffee, she finally made up her mind. “Someone was spotted leaving Daisy Apartments very early in the morning,” she posted on the chat. “It gave me quite a fright. I hope no one is ill...”
Nobody replied, which made sense in a way. Those who had been at home and tucked in bed, had nothing to contribute. And the sneaky soul who had concealed himself behind a yellow mask, face-shield and the cover of darkness was hardly going to advertise his identity and motives on the building chat.
Mrs Kurien’s message was extraordinary enough to warrant a gossip-session and, while Ved and I were chewing on toast and shedding breadcrumbs, my mother made a quick call. ‘Were you scared?’ she asked Mrs Kurien. “Who could it have been?”
“The person was in a mask and shield and it was quite dark,” Mrs Kurien said. “It could have been Mr Lamba or Mr Burman or anyone...maybe not Darius Khambata or Mr Habibullah...”
“You don’t think it was Baman Marker?” my mother asked. “The way you described him I was wondering – ”
“It could have been,” Mrs Kurien mused. “Especially because he’s gone silent on us. It’s all so bizarre.”
“Really,” my mother agreed. “First Baman Marker insists that we order vegetables and groceries only through him. And then, when we send in our lists, he ghosts us.”
This was no exaggeration. The Hon Chairperson had turned as silent as the bar of Rin soap that my mother needed so urgently.
At 8 am, my mother had decided she could wait no longer and had sent a combative message on the Lily-Daisy Apartments chat. She reminded the Hon Chairperson that she had placed an order for onions, potatoes and detergent soap ages ago. “I need them immediately,” she had written.
At 8.07 am, Lina Almeida had asked when her cinnamon and Amul butter would be arriving.
At 8.23 am, Mrs Burman had written saying that they were out of extra virgin olive oil and asking if her supplier could leave two bottles at the gate with Day Mishraji.
At 8.40 am, Mrs Kurien had snapped. “Mr Marker, are you there? Awaiting poha and sugar.”
At 9.01 am, Amrita Aunty had asked if her Dove deodorant had been ordered. “Please keep in mind that I want the Cucumber and Green Tea one with the green cap. Not the one with the blue cap.”
At 9.16 am, Lina Almeida had asked, “Baman?”
At 9.47 am, my mother had announced, “Mr Marker, I am placing my order directly with the bhajiwala. I had informed you last night that I would need these items in the morning. I cannot wait any longer.”
At 9.48 am, Mrs Kurien had written. “Ditto.”
At 9.52 am, Lina Almeida had written, “Baman??? We are waiting.”
Then at 9.56 am, she had followed up with, “Baman????”
At 10.08 am, Darius Khambata had added his voice to the clamour. “Dear Baman. Peace to you. Last evening, I had requested you to order for us lavender essential oil and chia seeds. I woke up to your message stating that these were not essentials. But what is essential for one, may not be essential for the other. The soul is many while it is one.”
Through all this, Baman Marker remained as unresponsive as the pomfrets that arrive at Sassoon Dock on blocks of ice. I wonder now why we didn’t find his silence fishy.
Meanwhile, various theories were being floated. There were those who believed that Baman Marker was enjoying a lazy morning in bed. There were others who were convinced that he was the individual who had slunk out of the building at dawn. There were still others who imagined that his phone had died.
I don’t think any of us came close to guessing the real reason behind the pomfret-on-ice silence.
Excerpted with permission from Murder at Daisy Apartments, Shabnam Minwalla, Speaking Tiger.
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