When Rekha started her driving lessons, she did them around the Defence Colony grounds.
Every morning, before she left for College, the driving instructor would arrive and take her for a lesson on the open grounds that extended from the Main road that lead to the Defence Colony, to the National Highway and the War Cemetery .
This was also the open space that many of the villagers used to let their livestock loose to graze. It was not uncommon to see Red L plates weaving nervously between cattle and goats.
One morning, Rekha came back from the driving class, a little shaken. Mummy , she said, throwing the car keys on the table. I think I had a close shave . Alarmed I looked up . I almost knocked down a baby goat, she said. Thank God, I slammed the brakes in time. I agreed thankfully. Thank God Rekha , I said with enormous relief.
Neither of us thought anything more about it . We left in a little while, she for College and I for the Clinic. I picked her up after work and brought her home. Our gate is always kept locked, as the dogs would run out, given half a chance. When they hear the car horn, all 4 dogs would rush out and jump at the locked gate barking wildly. They made such a ruckus, I was sure that our neighbours, The Chadas of 209, would have complained bitterly , or moved , if they were not passionate dog lovers themselves, with half a dozen dogs , waifs and strays in their compound, at any point of time.
Clayton our Cook , would come to the gate and shoo all the dogs behind the dog’s wicker gate, in front of the garage and close it carefully, before he opened the iron gate to let the car in. This could take from 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how frisky and excited the dogs were to see us back.
This was all the time it would take Anish, who would have come back from school and would be hanging out of his window on the first floor, to give me a blow by blow account of all of that had happened in my absence. Mummy you will never guess what happened today, he would start in his best conspiratorial voice, as he proceeded to tell me exactly what had happened. I was always so well informed before I entered the home. I knew exactly who had done what, to whom , when and where.
As we turned in, I noticed that he was more excited than usual and was brimming over with news to tell. Rekha, you know what you did… you killed a goat. You killed a goat. Rekha paled in fright. Mummy, she whispered, I never touched the goat.. She looked as if she was going to burst into tears. Calm down Rekha. Let’s find out what happened,I said, as we parked and ran in. By then Anish was doing an elaborate re-run with audiovisuals.
Luckily, Sam was at home when the Mob arrived to extort some money from us, as compensation for the goat they claimed Rekha had run over . They arrived half an hour after we had left. They were belligerent and demanded that we pay for the goat, they claimed Rekha had knocked down, during her driving lesson in the morning. We are not leaving till we get the money, they threatened menacingly hanging over the gate. Sam listened very carefully and commiserated with their loss. Of course we will pay for the goat , he said. Of course we will pay for the goat. Just bring the goat and we will pay for it.
In his mind’s eye, we were sitting down to Mutton Biriani for dinner.
The Mob was flummoxed, as they had no dead goat to produce as evidence. They conferred among themselves and said that they would come back with the Goat and left. Keep the money ready, , they hissed, as as they dispersed. We will be back, they promised.
Nobody came back and no dead goat was brought as exhibit A. Sam thought that we had seen the last of them, when a thinner, more subdued crowd arrived at the gate, with the head of a goat, at 4 pm. It was a dry specimen with no blood dripping down and it looked suspiciously like the dismembered head of a goat that is usually hung as display, at the Butcher’s shops, after the goat was sacrificed for meat.
Sam never lost his cool. A deal is a deal, he said. I told you that we would pay for the goat. Give me the goat, take the money and leave. The hemmed and hawed and shuffled sheepishly. Eventually, they left with the forlorn head of the goat, without any money passing hands. Good try thought Sam as the Mini Mob left the gate.
Rekha was visibly relieved . Mummy and Daddy she said in a quivery voice, I never killed the goat. I never even touched it. Shut up Anish. Tell him to shut up, Mummy.
She was extremely reluctant to go for the driving class when the driving instructor arrived. Get into the car , Rekha , I told her as I pushed her into the driver’s seat the next day. You did not do anything wrong . Go and finish your lessons. You did not do anything wrong.
She finished her driving course and she did get her driving license. But we could never pass a goat, a Capra Aegagrus Hircus, without Anish teasing her as only a brother can.
Look Rekha …Goat….Mutton Biriani…look Rekha…Goatie …Goatie…Goatie…look Rekha , Look…