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The Crooked Picture

The Crooked Picture
The sound of footsteps awakened Radhika. She sat up and looked around, but there was no one in the room. "Is that you, Rahul?" she whispered, looking over at her brother's bed. He had not stirred. She reached out and put on the light. Thirty minutes past four, the clock said. Already she could hear the sound of traffic in the distance. Usually that never disturbed her. Why was she rising so early recently? What was disturbing her? Was it only the thought of having to move out of the house she was used to? She stared right ahead of her at the framed family photographs on the wall. There! Again the photograph of Dada and his brother in their graduation robes was crooked!

The  Crooked  Picture

Cheryl   Rao


The  sound  of  footsteps  awakened  Radhika.   She  sat  up and   looked   around,   but  there  was   no   one  in   the   room. "Is  that  you,   Rahul?"  she  whispered,   looking  over  at  her brother's bed.  He had not stirred.  She reached  out and put on   the   light.   Thirty   minutes   past   four,   the   clock   said.

Already  she  could  hear the  sound  of traffic  in  the  distance. Usually  that  never  disturbed  her.  Why  was  she  rising  so early  recently?  What  was  disturbing  her?  Was  it  only  the thought of having to move  out of the house  she was used to?

She   stared   right   ahead   of   her   at   the   framed   family photographs  on  the  wall.  There!  Again  the  photograph  of Dada and his brother in their graduation robes was crooked!

All   their   lives,   Radhika   and   Rahul   and   their   parents had  lived  in  the  double-storeyed  house  at  the  crossroads of  the  main  shopping  area.  It  was  such  a  central  location that   their   grandfather   had   started   a   restaurant   on   the ground   floor   that   had   done   very  well   and   was   still   run

as a family business.  But now the roads were being widened and   the   building   was   to   be   demolished.   The   family had    been    offered    handsome    compensation    by    the government  for  this  prime  land  but  Radhika  had  known no   other  home.   What  would  it  be  like  in  some   spanking new  place?

Their  father  had  had  a  worried  air  for  a  long  time  and Radhika wondered why.  Then  one  evening,  she  overheard him  saying  to  her  mother,  "What  do  you  think?  From  out of the blue,  my  second  or third cousins,  that is,  my father's elder  brother's  grandchildren,   have  come  to  know  about

the  compensation  and  have  written  to  me  asking  for  their share  in  it.  They  seem  to  think  that  this  is  an  ancestral property,  which  belonged  to  the  two  brothers jointly."

"Did  it?"  asked  Mrs.  Shetty.

"My  grandfather  gave  the  elder  son  another  piece  of land in  the  heart  of  town.   His  children,  my  cousins,   sold  that and went  abroad.  My father was  given  this building and  he left  it  to  my  sister  and  me.   I  just  can't  understand  why these  cousins  are  making  a  claim  now."

"Show  them  your  father's  will,"  suggested  Mrs.   Shetty. "That  should  clear  any  doubts  about  whom  the  property belongs  to."

"I  wish  it  was  that  easy,"  said  her  husband.   "They  say that  the  building  itself  belonged  jointly  to  both  brothers, so what we need is not my father's will but my grandfather's and  the  title  deeds,  or  else  we  could  be  forced  to  split  the compensation  and  then  we  won't  have  enough  money  to take  over  that  place  we  want  to  shift  the  restaurant  to."

Radhika  moved  away  from  the  doorway,  wondering  how she  could  help  her parents.  She had  understood  one  thing from  the  conversation.  If  the  missing  papers  were  in  this house,  they would have  to  find  them  fast because  they had been  given  sixty  days' notice  and  then  the  building  was  to be  razed  to  the  ground.

As   Radhika  helped   her  mother  pack  and   clear  up   the accumulated  possessions  of generations,  she  found  many wonderful  things  in  the  cupboards,  but  there was  no  time to  admire  them.   "Do  you  think  the  will  could  be  hidden somewhere  here?"  asked  Radhika.

"What do you know about that?"  said  her mother  sharply.

"I  heard  Papa  telling you  that we  have  to  find  his  grand-father's  will..."  Radhika  paused,  afraid  that  she  would  be scolded  for  eavesdropping.

"Yes,  we  have  to,"  said  her  mother  thoughtfully.   "Well, we  have  looked  among  all  the  official  papers  and  neither the  will  nor the  title  deeds  are  there.  Even  the  bank locker had  nothing."

"Do  you  think  it  could  be  in  some  secret  place?"  asked Radhika  excitedly.  "Maybe  there  is  a hidden  space  behind one  of the  cupboards,  or  in  the  wall..."

Mrs.  Shetty smiled  and  said nothing and  Radhika decided that  she would  search  the house from  top  to  bottom  in the short  time  they  were  left  with.   When  nothing  was  found and three weeks had passed,  Radhika began to fret.  Where could   Papa's   Dada  have   kept   the   papers?   If  they   were

not in  any  of the  official  places,  they had  to  be  somewhere he   had   thought   safe   but   no   one   else   knew  about.'   She gave  it  a  great  deal  of thought  but  no  answers  came.

Somewhere   around   that   time,   Radhika   began   to   get disturbed  at  night  by  the  feeling  that  there  was  someone in  the  room-someone  moving  around  and  talking.

"Did   you   come   into   my   room   last   night?"   she   asked her  mother.

"I   wanted   to..."   said   Mrs.   Shetty.   "I   was   busy  in   the study..."  Then  she  stopped.  "That  is  strange.  I  heard  the sound  of  somebody  talking  from  your  room  and  I  wanted to  check,   but  when  it  was  not  repeated,   I  didn't  bother. I  thought  it  may  have  come  from  outside."

The  next  night,  Radhika  heard  a  crash  and  she jumped up.   When   she  put  on  the  light,   she  saw  that  one  of  the pictures  that  hung  on  the  wall  opposite  her  bed  had  fallen and  the  glass  had  smashed.  She  collected  the  glass  pieces in  the  morning  and  hung the  picture  again.  But  somehow, whenever  she  looked  up,  the  picture  was  crooked.

Maybe  without   the   weight   of  the   glass   it   had   become unstable,   she  told  herself  now.  The  light  was  still  on  and Radhika  was   debating   whether   she   should   go   back   to sleep  or  revise  for  her  Mathematics  test  when  suddenly, she  felt  something  cool  on  her  arm.   Nothing  moved   but

the  cloth  of her nightdress,  like  someone had  touched  it in passing.   Then,   straight   ahead,   Dada's   picture   began   to swing  to  and  fro  on  the  wall,  almost  like  a  pendulum.  The other  pictures  remained  still  and  there  was  no  breeze  to explain  the  movement.

Radhika's  hair  stood  on  end.  "Who  is  it?"  she whispered hoarsely.  "What  do  you  want?"

The  movement  stopped  but  the  picture  stayed  crooked.

Radhika jumped up.  She grabbed the picture  and turned it  over.   'Maybe  the  will  is  in  here,'  she  thought  excitedly.

She  began  to  dismantle  the  frame.

By  5.30,   it  lay  in  segments  on  her  bed,   but  there  was nothing behind  the photograph,  nothing but  old  hardboard and   some   paper   as  padding.   As   best  as   she   could,   she reassembled  it  and  hung  it  back  on  the  wall.

"You  are  misleading  me,"  she  said  accusingly.  "Wills  are always   hidden   in   the   backs   of   pictures   or   in   secret drawers-where  is  the  one  I  am  searching  for?"

She  turned  and  was  getting  back  into  bed  when  there was  a  sound  behind  her.   She  spun  around.  The  picture was  at  an  angle,  swinging  as  though  someone  was  playing a  game  with  it.

Radhika   looked   hard   at   the   photograph   wondering what was  it trying to  tell her.  Then  it  struck her.  "Ma,"  she

cried,  running  out  of the  room  and  forgetting  how  early  it was,   "Ma,  wasn't  Dada's  brother  much  older  than  him?"

Mrs.   Shetty   sat  up   in   bed   groggily   and   looked   at   her daughter  in  amazement.  "Why  are  you  up  so  early?  What are  you  talking  about,  Radhu?"

"Ma,  I have figured it out,"  said  Radhika excitedly,  waving the photo  frame  in the  air.  "All this time,  I  thought that the photograph   was   of   the    two   brothers.    But   just   now I  realized  that  both  of  them  are  in  graduation  robes.   So one  is  Dada,  but who  is  the  other?"  Again,  she  opened  up the   frame   and   both   of  them   looked   at   the   rear   of  the photograph.  On  it was written in  faded  black ink,  "Nagesh and  I,  Graduation,   1945."

Mr.   Shetty   entered  just   then   from   his   morning   walk. "I remember Uncle  Nagesh.  He was  my father's best friend. He went on  to  do  Law after graduation,  and  used  to  advise Dada  about  the  business  and  all  the  legal  stuff."

"That  is   it!"   cried   Radhika.   "That  was  what   Dada  had been  trying  to  tell  me!  He  wanted  us  to  contact  his  friend Nagesh.  Yes,  I  am  sure!"

"But  Uncle  Nagesh  died  two  months  before  Dada!"  said Mr.  Shetty.  "He  met  with  an  accident."

"It can't be!" muttered Radhika.  "Someone has been trying to  tell  me  something  about  this  picture,   that  is  why  it  is always  crooked."

Mr.  Shetty  listened  as  she  told  him  about  her  search  for the  will  but   did  not   say   anything.   Radhika  watched   his serious   face  with   a   sinking   heart.   'He   does   not   believe a  word  I  have  said,'  she  thought.

But   that   afternoon,   when   Radhika   came   back   from school,  there  was  a  surprise  in  store  for  her.   A  stranger was  at  the  dining  table  talking  seriously  to  her  parents  as

they  ate  their  lunch.   Papa  looked  up  cheerfully.   "This  is Uncle   Nagesh's   son   Advocate   Prakash   Rao,"   he   said   to Radhika.  "He followed  his  father's  footsteps  and  today,  he has  all  the  documents  I  need.  They  were  in  his  office  all the  time."

Radhika could not stop herself.  She jumped out of her chair and ran to hug her parents.  "I  knew it!  I knew it!"  she cried.

"But how did you know?"  asked Prakash Rao.  "What made you  come  to  me?"

"Dada  told  me,"  Radhika  whispered,  and  neither  parent contradicted  her.



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