After driving through a beaten path for about ten minutes, Inora parked the car within view of a two-storied cottage with a slanted roof, right next to a huge banyan tree that easily provided shade for half of the cottage. The house and tree were surrounded by wild undergrowth and other shrubbery that the car could not have gone through. It did not look like anyone had lived there for weeks. Emil had not seen any other establishments during the final leg of the journey. Inora told him on the way that her grandfather moved in there before she was born because he liked the seclusion and had not considered moving since, even after her grandmother passed away and he was left alone.
They walked up to the door and Inora rang the doorbell, but no one opened the door. She did it two more times to the same outcome. Emil tried a different tack and rang the doorbell three times in quick succession. Still no one opened the door. “Does he have a phone?” he asked.
“He does but he is not picking up.” Inora said.
“How is his hearing? Should we call out to him? He may be nearby.”
“By all means.” Inora invited. Emil pondered upon this for a while. He did not mind calling about, but who should he call out to? Nana? Mr. Mehedi? Kind sir? Should he just shout, Is there anybody out there? He finished his pondering and said, “Perhaps we should look around; loud noises might startle him.” Which, he thought, was a valid point.
“Come around the back; the backdoor may be open.”
So they circled around back. The portico was well-kept, but the back door too was locked. Emil thought they might throw a few rocks against a window to awaken the narcoleptic elderly, Inora thought not, but Emil threw one anyway, then another, shattered the glass of a window, and in responding to Inora’s death-stare recommended that they try to climb up to the second floor and crawl in through the window, “Just give me a lift; I will do the rest.” “There are windows at the ground level too,” Inora reminded, but Emil countered quickly, “No point in breaking another window, is there?” Inora did not respond, and Emil jumped up a few times, tried to slither up a pillar, climbed atop a chair and then jumped up a few times, and declared they needed a new plan.
Inora agreed and took out a key from her bag. Emil thought it was his time to be angry now and demanded an explanation to which Inora replied, “Etiquettes, Emil. I do not live here. This is nana’s house. Just because I have a key does not mean that I just barge in.” And once again, Emil had to admit, that was a valid point.
Inora let them in through the backdoor and headed upstairs to check the bedrooms. The cottage was much more organized and cleaner than Emil was expecting. But it did not smell much different from what was expected. Emil wanted to say that the cottage smelled of old people, but he did not want to generalize all old people into one homogenous group. Some of them, after all, smelled far more atrocious than others. Sort of dank and mildewy. And of anti-septic. And age. As if death had gotten started on a job and then was called away on an urgent business of personal nature that could not be shared with anyone else and hence no one knew when he would be coming back to finish the job. It was just a matter waiting.
Emil decided to give himself a tour of the ground floor. The backdoor had let them into what looked like the living room. From the living room, where he was standing, Emil headed into the dining room, found a bottle of water and drank from it, followed a door into the kitchen, doubles back to the dining room, picked up an apple from a bowl, took a bite out of it, took another bite and went back into the living room. On the other side of the bungalow, he checked the study, saw a sandwich on top of a table, sniffed it suspiciously, realized it had gone bad, took the bread apart to see what was in the middle only to realize whatever it might have been was now growing its own life form, checked the toilet, used the toilet, went back to the living room, went back in the toilet to flush, went back again to the living room, tossed the apple core into the bin.
“There is no one down here. Is your grandfather upstairs?” Emil asked loudly for Inora. “Not up here either.” She said, coming down the stairs.
“This is not alarming, right? I mean he must go out from time to time?”
“Mhmm, not alarming. And I found his phone upstairs in his bedroom. So that is why we could not reach him.” Inora informed.
Emil wondered if they should get comfortable in the house and wait it out or go out and get active. “What does your grandfather do here all alone?” he asked.
“He is old, Emil. Very old. He does not do a whole lot. But he keeps as busy as he needs to.”
“Does he, by any chance,” Emil asked, not entirely sure how to phrase the question, “ride a horse and carry a sword?”
“Perhaps a donkey? Or a mule?”
Inora turned around and looked outside through the window as Emil was doing. She squinted a little, and then slapped her hand to her mouth. “Oh no! Oh my!” she said, “This is not very good at all.”