Lately, whatever she did, Arya could not shake off this strange feeling. She stared at the shadows and headlights on her ceiling while her husband snored beside her. She got out of bed, walked to the window, and peered into her backyard, looking for a sign – anyone, anything. Bhuva was adamant that it was not true, but Arya struggled to come up with another explanation. Someone was definitely stealing sugar from their house.
It all started when Arya awoke at 4 one morning, parched. She took her empty water bottle and began to go downstairs. She decided not to switch on the corridor light since it would disturb Bhuva. She reached the final few steps and startled, she looked up just in time to see a shadow dart from the kitchen counter towards the back door. Arya froze.
Her first instinct was to call out to Bhuva, but she resisted the urge: she certainly didn’t want to alert the intruder. Arya looked around for a weapon she could defend herself with. Her mind screamed for her to run back up to her room, lock the door, and hide under her blanket: she even staggered up a couple of steps. But she had to do something; she couldn’t let the thief get their way, she decided. Steeling herself for whatever was to come, she tiptoed towards the kitchen door and peered in.
There was no one. She approached the kitchen counter, her heart still beating out of her throat. The counter was just as she had left it before going to bed – except now there was a square Tupperware sugar-box on it. The lid was open. The box was full almost three-fourths of the way.
In the days that followed, Arya was more and more convinced that, that night, she had remembered to keep the sugar back on the shelf before bed. She tried to remember if the box had had any more sugar in it before that night. She didn’t have to worry about it for too long.
About a week later, Arya woke up to a fuming Bhuva. “There is no sugar in the house!” he had screamed his head off. Arya stood at the kitchen door, in her nightie and bed hair, deeply distracted even as she listened to her husband scream. After the incident with the mysterious figure in the kitchen, she made sure to keep track of the box of sugar every night. They only used sugar for tea. Both she and Bhuva had two cups of tea each, everyday, two spoons of sugar in each cup. That totalled – she made a quick calculation – fifty-six spoons of sugar, this week.
If the box was three-fourths of the way full last week, were 56 spoons enough to empty it? Arya looked at the back door in the kitchen, leading into their lush garden. She could not shake off the feeling that 56 spoons could not have emptied her sugar box.
After a good argument about who is responsible for refilling the box, Bhuva left for work. Arya worked as a content creator for a small women’s magazine, which meant she could get to work at any hour as long as the article was completed. She took a quick shower and dressed in pants she had recently bought – all while thinking about the sugar.
Did I really see someone that morning? she wondered, tying her hair into a bun. What if I was just imagining it? But then again, what if I wasn’t imagining it and we really had an intruder? She wore her watch. Why would an intruder steal sugar, anyway? This is definitely my imagination. On her way out of the door, she wrote ‘sugar’ in her grocery list on her notes app.
Sugar, atta, dal, hmm…Margaret aunty, she thought, as she took her seat in the bus. She remembered how three months ago, when they had just moved into this bungalow, Margaret aunty from next door had rung their door bell. She had had a small katori in her hand and had asked if she could borrow some haldi. She was a weird one, Arya thought. Margaret aunty had wide eyes, ‘a little too wide for her face,’ Bhuva would say. She had an odd smile too, plastered on her face at all times. This was set off by her entirely off-putting personality – she hardly ever spoke in more than monosyllables.
Arya’s mother had told her as a child that if a neighbour comes over to borrow anything, she should not refuse them. Arya had given Margaret aunty her leftover haldi and had asked her to come over whenever she wished or if she needed anything.
Arya’s mother loved having guests over; Arya hated guests in all shapes and forms. After marriage though, she was forced to entertain an ever-increasing number. All Arya wanted to do was curl up on her lounge sofa, with a good murder-mystery book, and a cup of tea. Instead, she was stuck making innumerable cups of tea for everyone else. Have we had any guests over recently? She thought, switching on her desk computer at work. Could they have stolen the sugar – oh stop it!
At 6:30, when Arya was done with work, she was still thinking about the sugar. She bought a ½ kg pouch of sugar and a packet of Moong dal from the store and ran home. She filled the box to the brim with haste. She then took a marker and marked the sugar level with a small line.
At dinner, Arya brought up the topic in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner. “Bhuva…so, you know, how, like, the sugar box was, um, empty in the morning?”
“Uh huh?” Bhuva was looking at his phone placed next to his plate.
“And like, you know what I think?”
“Haha, actually, I know you are going to think I am crazy, but like—
“Hmm? Get to the point, Arya.”
“I think someone is stealing our sugar.”
Bhuva looked up at her with an exaggerated show of concern; Arya knew he was mocking her. “I am serious!” she said.
Bhuva began to laugh. “What is wrong with you? Why would someone steal sugar? From us? We hardly ever have any sugar ourselves.”
“Exactly! Then where did all the sugar go?”
“I meant that we never have stock at home because we are both lazy to just go to the store and buy some.”
“No…no, listen. There is a reason why I think someone is stealing from us. So, a few nights ago, I saw someone in our kitchen. And when I reached the kitchen, I saw that the sugar box was open and…yeah.”
“You must have just forgotten to keep the box back in.”
“No! I had kept it on the shelf. I remember. You were taking a shower and it was my turn to clean up, so I remember!”
“Don’t be crazy, Arya—
“I am not crazy, Bhuva. I am telling you that there were more than 56 spoons in that box.”
“56? Spoons? What rubbish?”
“No, like, see, we take 2 teas a day. So—
“So, 2 spoons of sugar in each cup—
“Don’t start this again, please—
“That’s 4x2 is 8 spoons of sugar a day—
“ARYA, STOP IT!” Bhuva shouted. “You always do this. We changed homes for your sake. There, you didn’t trust the security guard. You made us shift. Even after we installed those really expensive grills on the window. In my mother’s house, you didn’t trust the helper. On our honeymoon – you thought the pool was not safe because the chlorine level was too high! Really? How would you know? Are you a scientist? Here, you are saying someone is stealing from us. And what are they stealing from us? Sugar. Sugar! Are you kidding me, Arya?—
“Don’t start this again. This is…this is all the fault of your detective novels. Okay, you wanted to be a detective when you were a child, but this is ridiculous. You need to stop being this paranoid.”
“No, Arya, I am done talking about this.” Bhuva stood up abruptly and barged out of the dining room.
That night was the first of many sleepless ones for Arya. Paranoid? I’m not paranoid. Am I paranoid? She remembered Jhanvi didi, the helper. At the time, Arya had felt a strong inkling that Jhanvi was eyeing the locker in her mother-in-law’s bedroom. Now, Arya couldn’t pinpoint even one reason for why she had felt that way. Jhanvi was a middle-aged woman with four kids and three jobs. What if she was innocent and I was just being…paranoid?
Every day, for the next week, Arya would make tea and mark the level of sugar in the box. She even began to keep the sugar in the lower cabinet instead of the overhead one, hiding it behind the Moong dal.
She was surprised to see that the sugar levels lowered at a much quicker pace than she had expected. Within the end of the week nearly a fourth of the box was empty. Maybe, two spoons each cup is really a lot of spoons, she thought. Yet, she began to count out loud every time she used a spoon of sugar. She even took extra effort to note down how many spoons she had used each day. I think I’m going insane.
Some nights she would look back at all the times she had had such inklings. Okay, maybe, the chlorine thing was, like, a bit much. But then, that one time in college, Prakriti had definitely ratted us out to our professor when we had bunked class to watch Wake Up Sid. Had she ratted us out? She had denied it. But she was the only one who wasn’t invited. She had all the motive…motive. Arya remembered what Bhuva had said about her detective novels. If Bhuva hears me say ‘motive,’ he will say that I am talking like the detectives in those novels. Tsk. Did Prakriti not do it?
Oh, that school trip to Alibaug where I kept feeling I had forgotten to switch off the fan in the guest house before leaving...the teacher was so fed-up of my cribbing, she made me sit in the front of the bus near the driver, Arya chuckled, shaking her head.
The next morning, Arya bent to take out the sugar from behind the dal packet and jumped back in shock. Her Moong dal packet was cut open and almost half of it was empty. The packet leaned backwards onto the sugar box for support.
“That’s it! I am not crazy. Look at—
“What are you shouting for, Arya?”
“The Moong dal packet. Has. Been. Opened.” Arya’s voice rose with every word.
“Okay, so what—
“I DID NOT OPEN IT.”
“Calm down, will you?”
“DO. NOT. TELL. ME. TO. CALM. DOWN.”
“Shh, Arya, what’s wrong with you, honey? So, the dal packet is open. Maybe you opened it and forgot—
“Do you think I will forget something like this? Think about it: have we had dal in the last 3 – no, even 4 – weeks? And now, half of it is gone. Someone is stealing from us Bhuva!”
“Don’t be crazy—
“Why are you so hell-bent on proving that I am crazy? —
“I am not – okay, let’s breathe. Breathe in and breathe out, love.”
“Oh, my god. I am not having a panic attack!”
Arya backed away from Bhuva and collided with the kitchen counter. She put her hands through her open hair and covered her face with her hair. She grunted and stomped her right leg; a sharp pain shot through it.
“Even if…even if someone is stealing from us,” Bhuva whispered, “how are they…entering our house?”
“SHUT UP!” Arya screamed. Her ears began to hurt with the effort.
“Just think about it.”
Arya removed her hands from her hair and tucked it behind her ears. “If only I had the answers to your stupid questions,” Arya clenched her teeth, “How am I supposed to know how they are getting in? Maybe they…have a key? Maybe the people who lived here before us…they gave them a key?”
Bhuva sighed, letting his shoulders drop. “I think…let’s get you back in bed, yeah?” Bhuva’s voice was pleading, “Maybe, you just need rest. I’ll call Doctor Sethi.” Arya could feel hot, white anger burn through her chest.
The doorbell screamed, drowning whatever it was that Arya said next. Arya and Bhuva turned to the door. Bhuva looked at his watch – 7:45 am.
“It’s so early,” he said. He walked to the door and then turned in time to see Arya smoothen her hair, straighten her T-shirt, and walk up beside him.
It was Margaret Aunty. She had a big katori that she held with both palms in front of her. She had her usual wide smile on her face.
“I made Moong dal halwa,” she said and pushed the katori into Bhuva’s hands. She then turned on her heels and rushed back across the garden towards her own house.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Sneha Narayan is a writer, a copyediting student, and a chronic overthinker.