My formative years as an eight year-old kid are probably the only ones that I look back at rather fondly; itwas a magical time for young, adventurous minds such as myself. It was also somewhere around that time that the wonderful Enid Blyton and all her delightful crime-solving detectives made an entry into my rather monotonous life.
Up until then, my days were split up into various time slots that would be filled up by the PowerPuff Girls, Bugs Bunny, and the many other cartoonish entities that kids those days (and maybe even now) were fond of, apart from the quality time that I spent with my many dolls.
With the entry of Ms.Blyton into my life, I was taken to a whole new world filled with stolen jewels, secret rendezvous, suspicious neighbors and fishy dealings happening over midnight. I spent every waking minute of my day reading every single adventure that the Famous Five embarked on and all the mysteries that the Secret Seven so meticulously solved in each wonderful novel.
I was so immersed into the novels that somewhere along, I’d integrated my life with those of the characters’, pretending I was one among the Famous Five and that everything happening around me was just one of the many mysteries that were waiting to be solved.
It was somewhere around that time, when I was on the lookout for anything odd and shady around my neighborhood with a little notepad that I carried around in my pocket (which was later on filled with boring behavioral patterns of the many pigeons that sat on my balcony due to the lack of anything exciting happening), that a neat little mystery wrapped up in a bow landed on my lap one fine day.
It was also during that time that most of my neighbors had started vacating their tiny independent houses to shift into the fancy apartment complexes that were being built in the posh areas of the city at very reasonable rates. My neat little mystery surrounded around one such vacated house that was situated right opposite my tiny flat.
It had been at least almost a year since the single storey house was left abandoned at the hands of nature which could be observed in the peeling walls, the decaying wooden doors and windows and the creepers growing all around it, encasing it to make it look like one of those haunted houses you see in the movies. And while for a long time activity around the house was down to a zero, all of a sudden I’d begun noticing some oddly suspicious things happening there after school hours during the time I would be holed up in a corner peering out of the window making note of everything happening outside.
4.31 P.M: Weird noises heard from the abandoned house opposite mine. No idea what they are. Hoping to find out soon.
4.33 P.M: Noises still heard.
4.43 P.M.: It’s silent now. What’s going on?
5.10 P.M.: Activity spotted. Five boys exiting the house.
WHO ARE THEY?
While I’d been excited at the prospect of something happening at last, I’d also begun to notice that the events in my notepad were following a pattern. Weird noises would be heard, and at least thirty minutes later, five boys (none of whom I’ve ever seen around the area before) would walk out of the house, laughing and talking in high-pitched voices. Nothing new seemed to happen, and after more than a week’s worth of entries, I decided that it was time to step out into the field and conduct a little investigation at the house
With great determination, I’d mapped out a plan fully equipped with appropriate time slots to sneak in, investigate, and be out before my parents came home from work. The only thing I needed was a team.
Luckily, I had my own posse of three classmates who were only more than willing to play along: Sanjay, who used to come over after school every day to play, Pooja, who was a little on the crazy side with all the weird antics she did in class that you expect from any eight year-old kid and Tejaswini, who was probably the only sane one among the three. With the addition of my sister and the stray dog that followed me around everywhere I went, we satisfied all the prerequisites needed for the formation of our very own Famous Five. Indian edition.
After that it was only a matter of seizing the right opportunity to sneak into the house.
After more than two weeks of further observation, I noted the times the boys would come by, when they didn’t, and when they would leave. Poring over my neatly tabulated observations, the five of us came to a conclusion that the best time to carry out the operation was right after they left the premises, while any ‘evidence’ was still fresh and undisturbed.
A few days after that decision, the time to make our move had arrived.
Huddled together in my living room, we were going over the plan one last time when Sanjay pointed out an obvious flaw that I had so grossly overlooked –how were we going to get into the house?
The front gate was locked and while the boys were tall enough to jump over the wall, there was no way we could do the same with our midget-like eight year-old bodies. Luckily, all the houses adjacent to the abandoned house were built so close to each other that we could hop from one building to another through the roof
It was only a matter of getting to the right roof to do the house-hopping from, which was actually a piece of cake. Since the owners of the house right next to the abandoned one had split their house into two portions, an upper and a lower one, and had given off both the portions for rent, there was a flight of stairs outside the house that led to the upstairs portion and also the roof directly which was easily accessible by everyone. All we had to do was get to the roof and cross the knee-high wall that separated both the houses and make our way down the stairs that led to the front.
I won’t lie, walking across the dirty roof of the abandoned house with its moss-covered floors and the numerous ants that kept climbing over my feet, I almost decided to call the whole operation off and head back. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that the Famous Five and Secret Seven had traversed areas much worse than this. Climbing down the stairs that was lined with dried leaves, I was only hoping that the crunch of the leaves underneath my feet didn’t alert any of the other neighbors.
Reaching the foot of the stairs, none of us wanted to step down because the ground was at least ten times dirtier than the roof, and nobody knew what other type of creepy-crawlies were hiding among the fallen branches and leaves, waiting to be discovered by us.
Fighting against my natural instinct to scream and wail, I held my breath and made my way across the front, tiptoeing carefully to avoid any ghastly insect-encounters. It was apparent from the locked front doors that the boys never made it into the house to do whatever it was that they were doing, so we decided to investigate the back.
The back of the house was a live garbage dump, and it was clear from one look that this was where they set up camp every single day. The entire stretch of concrete floor was lined with plastic wrappers, half-eaten candy, and more wrappers. Apart from that, there were at least dozens of small bottles strewn all over the place that looked like one of those bottles you get cough medicines in. Picking up the bottle with a handkerchief, I was sure that it wasn’t cough medicine and that maybe the purpose of the bottles could tell us what the boys were actually up to.
We looked around for more clues, but apart from the bottles, there was nothing else of value. It was then decided that the bottle was the most valuable clue and that it possibly held the key to cracking the case.
We were back huddled in my living room, mulling over how to move forward when Pooja gave the perfect solution:
“We could take this to the pharmacy and have the guy there identify it for us.”
And to the pharmacy we went, five kids still dressed in their school uniforms pretending to be real life detectives. As we reached there, I guess it was only then the reality that they were doing actual investigations for an actual mystery dawned on them because none of the others were willing to accompany me inside.
I had to go alone.
Mustering an air of confidence, I made my way inside the air conditioned room and placed the bottle on the counter.
“What do you want kid?”
“I want to know what this bottle is for.”
“How did you get this?”
“Is it drugs?” (even though I had no idea what ‘drugs’ even meant, my time spent reading and watching way too much TV than I should have made me familiar with the usage of the term).
“How did you get this, kid?”
Something told me that I wasn’t going to get an answer, and boy was I right.
Without another word, the bottle was taken away by the man behind the counter and I was shooed away from the pharmacy while he kept muttering something about ‘kids these days’.
While that confirmed our suspicions about the bottle, we were no close to cracking the case then than we were when we first started out. Feeling dejected, we’d made our way back to my house, and since it was already past six in the evening, everybody decided to call it a day and head back home with the promise that they’d be back tomorrow with a new plan.
I remembered that I’d left my flashlight back at the ‘scene of the crime’ and if I didn’t have it back, I was sure to get an earful from my dad. So, my sister and I went back to get it. While we were climbing down my neighbor’s stairs after retrieving it, I had the strangest feeling as if I was being watched. Surely enough when I looked across the street towards my flat, I saw my aunt squinting at us from her window, phone in hand.
Walking towards our front gate, I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it coming, considering how everything was going by so smoothly (which, in the novels always means that something big was waiting for the characters later on). In our case, the fact that my entire family was standing outside waiting for us to come back spelled out one obvious thing:
We were so in trouble.