‘You, know, I’m the one taking all the risks, sneaking into houses. You stand at a safe distance ready to run away at the first sign of trouble.’
‘And don’t forget you’ve no act unless I pick you up and drop you over the fence, keep watch and get you back same way.’
The two men, one short and the other tall, were arguing under the Mango Tree over their fair share of the loot taken from an unwilling wayfarer whose misfortune it was to cross their path early in the evening, .
As always their wrangle was inconclusive and it was agreed to maintain the status quo at 50-50. .
The short man now emptied the contents of the wayfarer’s bag into a pile on the ground – it was all silver coins. Didn’t amount to much belying the heft. Cursing their luck over the insubstantial returns for their efforts, he dutifully did the ‘one for you, one for me, watched over by a pair of wary eyes,’
The meager split finished, ‘Okay…means we’re not done for the night.’
‘You’re right. You have anything in mind?’
‘I have heard there’s an widow living all by herself in the village. Old money. I suggest we pay her a visit tonight. A real cinch – we should be done and gone before the clock moves.’
It wasn’t dark yet and a little shut-eye was in order before attending to their business usually conducted after mid-night. The coins were secured in waist belts covered by the dhoti folds, the turbans straightened and laid out on the ground and in a few turns they were lost to the waking world.
The entire proceedings were watched with dismay by Kaaga, the crow. The hapless wayfarer had rested under the Tree and even shared his food before running into these men. And now they plan to rob the poor lady.
He turned sad:
‘The kind lady…never missed setting aside every morning some cooked rice for us. But how do I alert her to their nefarious plans? We don’t speak their language.’
Awash with despair, ‘A shame that I know what’s going to happen and still helpless to do anything about it.’
‘May be we could do something,’ said the Mango Tree, a mute witness to the happenings till now.
‘How do you mean?’
‘It might just work…go and get Mooshika (the mouse) here – we need him.’
Soon enough an excited Mooshika scampered to the base of the Tree – for, it was quite unusual to be called at this hour.
‘You’ve told me some time ago you hoard things people leave behind or lose at the village tank and it’s getting so full up that you find it difficult to move around in your own home?’
‘That’s right. Badly needs cleaning up – since she’s isn’t around I don’t mind saying this.’
‘Anything in silver? Not coins.’
‘Oh, plentiful – chains, rings, tiny bells fallen off anklets, small diya’s (wick-lamps)…you know we have no use for these.’
Thereupon Mooshika heard from the Mango Tree what was to be done, which it accomplished silently in the next few minutes, helped by a few friends.
Just when the tall man got the spell right to open up the treasure chest inside the cave, he was rudely woken up by faint sounds near his ears of bells tingling.
A light sleeper he was as suited for his trade, he was immediately alert. Unable to discern any immediate threat he calmed down. Nevertheless it was safer for them to be ready for any danger lurking close by; so he woke up his accomplice.
As the short man got up, a rain of silver trinkets fell on the ground from his garment.
The tall man’s countenance hardened.
He fixed the other man with a malevolent glare: ’So you hid these from me…you cheat’.
‘Don’t know what you’re talking about.’
The tall man silently pointed to the silver on the ground.
‘Oh…no idea, really, how they got to me…believe me you’
Trading mutual allegations, the feud heated up.
It was too late…the rising decibels had brought a crowd of unwelcome villagers to the spot.
Without a thought, they took off to keep the hide on their back…as fast as their legs could carry, stumbling and pulling themselves up and helping each other in their flight.
Never mind it was late, Kaaga cawed gustily, Mooshika and his pals danced unabashedly and the Tree sighed in relief.