Kartik was very proud of his beautiful house. It was, after all, the biggest house on the street. It was built of lovely red bricks and had large rooms with huge windows. A well laid-out garden could be seen through those windows. The garden itself was brimming with lovely flowers. Kartik had two gardeners to take care of them.
The living room was beautiful, too. There were delicate china bowls, placed on low tables. Brass and silver ornaments gleamed from the showcase. The radio and TV each stood on majestic stands, enclosed in lacy covers. By the large armchair was a little stool. Upon it lay Kartik’s most prized possession – a stunning green telephone. Kartik was absolutely fond of this telephone. He would cradle the receiver in his hands while speaking to his friends.
There was a wide verandah outside the living room. One evening, Kartik sat in the verandah after dinner. He was reading an exciting novel. Even though it was eleven, he couldn’t put it down. Suddenly, through the darkness, he saw the lights turn on in the last house on the street. He wondered if something was amiss.
As Kartik mulled over whether he should go down and inquire if anything was the matter, a man emerged from the house, slamming the door shut behind him. He ran out the gate and rushed down the street. As he came up to Kartik’s house, he halted by the gate. A moment later, he walked in hesitantly.
‘Mr. Kartik…!’ he called.
By this point, Kartik had already risen in alarm. He asked indignantly, ‘Who’s there? What do you want?’
‘I am Akash, from the house down the street. I need your help. My son, Dileep, has been sick and his condition seems to have worsened. Please…’
Kartik interrupted the poor man, ‘Why have you come here, then? What can I do? I’m not a doctor! Do you need a hand out…?’
‘No, sir,’ cried Akash. ‘Please listen to me. My child needs help. Our doctor lives far away. If I could just use your telephone,’ Akash pleaded.
‘Use my phone, huh? What do you think this is? A phone booth? If I let you use it today, I’ll have another couple of neighbors at my door pestering me tomorrow. Why don’t you go use a payphone instead? Get going!’ bellowed Kartik. He walked back in and shut the door curtly.
Poor Akash had to scurry around for a payphone. The nearest one was three streets away. It took him a good few minutes to get through. Luckily, the doctor was home. He made it just in time to save Akash’s child.
Meanwhile, Kartik had turned out all lights and went to bed. He soon drifted into sleep. He forgot all about the earlier incident as he went about his routine the following day.
The next day, at around midnight, when the whole neighborhood was ensconced in tranquility and serenity, a shrill cry pierced the nightly silence. The family living in the house behind Kartik’s was awakened by the acrid smell of smoke. They got up in great alarm to find their house on fire. Pandemonium reigned as children and adults tried to salvage their belongings from the fire.
Some people tried to put out the raging flames, but their efforts seemed to be in vain. Seeing this, Mr. Malhotra, the owner of the house, called out his son, Vijay. He urged Vijay to run down to Kartik’s and phone the fire brigade at once. Vijay shot off like a bullet.
The shrill screams of the neighbors running pell-mell only added to the noise. By this point, several rooms were ablaze. The bright orange flames lit up the other houses as flickering shadows danced along the walls. A large crowd had gathered outside. Everyone seemed to have their own theory on how the fire started.
One man surmised that it might have been down to the faulty wiring.
‘Did you turn off the gas?’ asked a lady, but Mrs. Malhotra seemed too disturbed to answer.
‘Was there a lamp burning?’ inquired another man.
‘I hope the fire doesn’t spread. That’ll be catastrophic,’ said another woman.
‘Well, the wind’s blowing pretty hard, so you never know,’ her friend chimed in.
‘Come on now, don’t stand there talking!’ said Mr. Malhotra. ‘Let’s find a hosepipe and some buckets!’
He organized a human chain from the well to the house. Buckets were rapidly passed back and forth. A hose sprayed water. However, all these efforts didn’t make much of a difference. The flames were still raging. There simply wasn’t enough water to douse them. By this time, the flames had started to devour the adjoining house and the house behind Mr. Malhotra’s. The fire engine was still nowhere to be seen.
A loud knock on the door woke Kartik from his deep sleep. He sat up in bed and glanced at his clock. It was about three in the morning. He wondered who could have bothered him at that godforsaken hour as he went to open the door.
‘Mr. Kartik! I need to use your phone!’ panted Vijay. ‘Our house is on fire.’
The little boy was trembling with fear and shock. He was almost in tears. ‘Please, sir! I need to call the fire brigade!’
‘Do you have no consideration for your neighbors, young man?! How can you harass someone at this hour? This whole neighborhood is a mess. How dare you come here? Go away at once!’ The vain man went back in and slammed the door shut.
Poor Vijay recalled the payphone and ran all the way to where it was, only to find it out of order. Determined to make the most of every single second, the boy rushed to the fire station.
Just as Kartik was about to go back to sleep, he heard some commotion. His old servant scampered into the room. ‘Sir! The house behind ours is on fire! Our woodshed is ablaze, too! The breeze is blowing this way. Call the fire brigade, sir!’
As Kartik rushed toward the phone, he heard screams from his children’s room. They ran out crying.
‘Daddy, our house’s on fire!’
‘Our clothes, toys, books and even beds are burning! Do something, dad!’
Kartik recalled his safe. He scrambled to see if it could be salvaged. However, as soon as he reached the room, it dawned on him that it was too late. The walls of the house were already beginning to crumble. He ran out the room, grabbing whatever he could get his hands on, urging his wife and children to do the same. As he herded them downstairs and through the drawing room, he take one last look at all the beautiful things he had amassed in there. His cherished green telephone sat on the table. It almost seemed to glower mockingly at him.
Finally, Vijay returned with the fire engine. By this point, the fire had already taken its toll on his house. However, his neighbors had still succeeded in securing several of his belongings while he was away. On the other hand, Kartik’s house had been completely razed by fire. The flames had devoured his TV, radio, ornaments, and all other gorgeous furnishings. It had all gone up in smoke. The green telephone, which could have easily saved not just his house but several other houses in the neighborhood as well, was also burned. Of the most beautiful house on the street, all that remained was a charred waste!
…now that you’re here
Ameya runs on a purely non-profit basis. With no tangible products on offer, advertisements and donations are our only two sources of keeping this blog up and running. You could convey your support to us with something as little as $5 - that's less than what a Starbucks would cost!
As fond of writing a good story as he is of reading one, Pravin is one of the most promising writers at Ameya. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.