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The Innocent Thief

In the town of Vishalnagar, strange occurrences had started taking place. Each time, when one of the families living there celebrated an event, a theft took place. The burglar had no interest in cash or valuables. He only took away cooked food.

As housewives packed away left-over grub from their parties in their fridge and kitchen cabinets, it was sure to be gone in the morning.

Mr. & Mrs. Verma had celebrated their first wedding anniversary the night before and lo & behold all the left-over goodies had disappeared the next morning. The same happened with Mrs. Shukla who had given a party for her granddaughter’s ‘namkaran ceremony’.

Today, Atul and Neela Bakshi were throwing a party for their son Neelabh’s 12th birthday. Neelabh’s cousins Veer, Tina and Taru had come with their parents to attend the party. They lived close by in the next town. Neelabh had told his cousins about the unsolved mystery of the disappearing left-over food from each party taking place in Vishalnagar.

“Never fear Neelabh, the thief will be caught this time,” said Veer with confidence. “Well, up till now, no one has been able to nab the culprit,” replied Neelabh. “People must be leaving their doors unlocked at night,” added Tina. “Ya, that has to be the reason,” chirped vivacious Taru who was the youngest of them all. Soon it was evening and the party was in full swing. Neelabh’s school friends came with gifts. Chocolate cake, chicken sandwiches, bread roll and an assortment of sweetmeats were laid on the table. After the party, Neelabh’s mother instructed the servants to put away the left-over goodies for the kids to have for breakfast next morning.

Before going to bed, Neelabh and his three cousins checked all the doors and windows. They were all locked. “I think I’ll keep awake to check if anyone break’s in,” said Tina. “I’ll give you company,” said her brother. The children kept checking the kitchen and found everything in place. Since they were tired, the kids felt sleepy and one by one, slipped off into deep sleep. At about 3 am, Tina felt thirsty. She went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.

“Oh my God, all the food has disappeared,” she screamed. Hearing her, Veer and Neelabh rushed to the kitchen and to their horror, saw the mess the intruder had left behind. The children woke up their parents and the servants were summoned. “Do you know anything about this Ramu?” asked Atul. “Saabji, I don’t know. I was sleeping in my room.” “So was I memsaab,” Dhania, their maid added.

By now, the kids had become even more anxious to solve this mystery. Next day, Veer came up with an idea. “Let’s have a fake party tonight,” he suggested. “This will act as a trap for the intruder.”

Neelabh, Veer, Tina and Taru went to the market and got some readymade patties and pastries which they stacked in the fridge and the adjoining cabinet. They made a play of having a party by switching on all the lights of the house and putting on loud music. Their parents didn’t know about this as they had gone for a night show.

The children checked all the doors and windows to see if they were properly locked. Each of them found a hiding place in the kitchen. It was almost midnight now and there was no sign of the thief. Taru and Tina were just about to give up hope when all of them heard a small sound. It seemed to come from nowhere. Suddenly Veer noticed that the creaking sound was coming from the ventilator above. Before he could warn the others, a tiny figure jumped on the ground. It scurried towards the fridge and opened it.

At first, the children thought that the intruder was either a monkey or some other small animal. However, when Neelabh turned on the lights of the kitchen, the kids realised that this was no animal. The four of them pounced on the small creature and turned him around. To their surprise, they say that it was a dwarf. He was wearing torn and tattered clothes.

“Oh! My God! So you have been stealing food in our neighbourhood,” said Neelabh angrily. “Let’s hand him over to the police,” added Veer. “Please don’t,” begged the dwarf. “I won’t do it again. I have nowhere to live and nothing to eat. I have tried to find work in the nearby towns but people only laughed at me and no one was willing to give me a job. So I had no choice but to steal.”

By then, their parents who had returned home, heard the commotion and came to the kitchen. They found out that the dwarf named Chhote used to wriggle through small openings in ventilators of peoples’ kitchens to steal food every time there was a party. He knew that there would be lots of tasty leftovers which he could steal and eat for days to come. On hearing the dwarf’s sad tale, Atul asked him, “What can you do to earn your keep?”

“I can work in people’s gardens, walk their pets, and do any other odd job. Just give me a chance to prove myself and lead a decent life. I never wanted to steal but hunger and peoples’ ridicule drove me to this.”

In the morning, Atul and Neela called an emergency meeting and met all the residents to discuss Chhote’s future. At first, the members were angry with Chhote and wanted to hand him over to the police. However, when Mrs. Verma and Mrs. Shukla heard Chhote’s ordeal, they forgave him. The other residents soon followed suit and it was decided that Chhote would do odd jobs for anyone who needed help and they would pay him a small salary in return.

The neighbourhood thanked the four children for solving the mystery of the missing food. The innocent thief was no longer a threat to Vishalnagar and he became everyone’s friend.

Contributing Story Teller:  Amita enjoys writing stories and poems, especially for kids. She has strong editing and translation skills. [email protected]

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