There was blood in Joe’s hands, clothes and on the floor. It was Janet who saw him first. She was alerted by her kid’s cry. Benny was covering his face and peeping through fingers. He might have seen what Joe did. Janet cried out:
“Mom, see this…. Look at Joe…”
It alerted everyone in the house. Her younger sister Jenny, Cousin Liza, Brother James, and Peter uncle came running to the veranda. Only Aunt Martha was busy, as usual in the kitchen. Mrs. Sarah leaned over the balcony.She found them gazing at Joe in disgust. She hurried down the steps, wondering what Joe has done.
The hefty thirty-year-old man stood lowering face and looking up with the corner of his eyes.Sarah knew, guilty complex. Like a three-year-old who dropped the costly tea-cup down! Peter uncle guessed that the youngsters including his daughter were in a frenzy; not wanting to miss a chance to see Joe cornered. He cut in:
“Better control your pressure now; let us find out where come, the blood from.”
“I have no doubt, he could crush our pets.”
Jannet was aloud:
“James, go, see, where is Tommy. Last day Joe was angry; he asked Tommy, stop barking, it didn’t. He lifted the dog and tossed him down!”
The pup, brought six-seven years ago by a friend of Colonel Franc. Now a fully grown bulldog, three feet tall, and…..heavy!
James came back confirming that thedog is alright, sleeping inside the Kennel.
Still he couldn’t hold a warning:
“If at all you hurt Tommy I would have broken your ribs! ”
It was Jenny’s turn, searching:
“Mittoo…Mittoo….” her puffy kitten, it was not found anywhere. She turned at Joe.
“you, dull head, did you hurt my pet?”
Joe looked up frowning. he complained:
“Mommy,…see… Jenny… James… Scolding…. Little Joe….”
He was moving over to Sarah as if to catch hold of her arm, for her support. She said:
“Go, wash that blood off. I have kept your food on the table.”
She knew his nature. If interrogated, he will keep mum. If asked softly he will tell. He doesn’t read or write. He cannot speak fluently especially when agitated. One thing, he never tells a lie. When provoked, he may react without thinking about consequences. And, he can’t bear pain; if inflicted, he would react involuntarily with all his strength.
Sarah wanted to know, the cause of the blood. She prayed, the victim must not be Jenny’s pet. She could not expect the youngsters to be tolerant to Joe at all. Rather they disapproved herself and Peter uncle being over-considerate to Joe.
In fact Jenny and Liza often made fun of him.
‘The big, burly fellow with heavy hands and, unusually broad shoulders, a potbelly, thinking and doing things like a five-year-old boy! calls himself Little Joe!’
Sarah and Peter always remembered that Joe’s mind does not match with his age at all. Earlier, Jenny and Liza were struggIing, not to laugh at his actions. He may run to close the gate or to fetch something, making sound of the horn and acting like the driver. Peter had to snub James when he mocks at Joe’s style of eating. It was fun for others, using spoons. When hungry, he must find his large plate with heap of rice, chicken Curry and fish fry. Kneading in to a lump, rolling in to huge balls, he enjoyed eating full mouth. Also, he could be found snoring for hours, on even bare floor!
The other day Peter uncle just said, he has to go for a wood cutter to get the huge tree trunk chopped and piled up in storeroom, before it starts raining. Martha was puzzled to see Joe searching in the work shed. After sometime her surprised call brought Sarah out. Joe was busy, he was not ready to stop his work when he was called for tea. She saw, half the huge trunk was cut in to pieces more than what two workers would have done.
But then he made a mischief, when he came finishing the work, he found the back door closed. It was one o clock, his lunch time and was hungry.
Sarah had gone to the doctor and Martha was taking bath. Joe called again and again:
“ Aunt, open…Little Joe, finish cutting, …hungry…want food….”
No one answered, he was getting impatient. He picked the axe and hit.
The door opened with a piece of it torn off. Carpenter had to come to repair it. After that incident, uncle decided to keep sharp tools away under lock and key, in the work room.
Just as they were searching for Mittoo, it came jumping down the roof of the balcony perhaps, after a practice session with some bird or lizard or mouse. Jenny sighed in relief. Still they were in curiosity. Seeing him comeback washed Sarah asked patting his neck. He said:
“Little Joe go helping…told don’t bite…it bite…Joe pressed…come, see.”
He lead them to the well. 0ne look was enough to guess. Beside the plastic net, there was a huge rat snake lying dead, twisted this way and that way. Joe Looked at Sarah as if for an approval. She knew. He tried to save the snake but got bitten. Sarah pointed away:
“Go, pick it and bury there.”
After this incident, there was a serious discussion. James and his sisters repeated a tenth time that their Mom had made a grave mistake in bringing him home. Sarah reminded them,
‘ he had been there, almost three years. There were unpleasant situations; not all his fault, sometimes we fail to understand his innocence. He is friendly; trying to help others.The proof is the kid. Look at Benny, he is happy in Joe’s company!’
Joe came in to their life unexpectedly. Two years gone; still Sarah cannot forget the incident. After the sermon, she was coming out by the wicket gate which saved, circling round the church compound. As she walked a few yards, some body was shouting to caution her. She didn’t notice! A bewildered buffalo was coming in her direction and the narrow road across the field had not even a tree to stand as cover. She saw two boys save themselves by jumping in to the muddy water. Sarah realized the danger too late. The buffalo was a few feet away. Next moment she saw a big burly fellow covering her and crouching to catch the angry animal by its horns.. Though he couldn’t stop it, the buffalo was shoved sideways to skid in to the sludge. Of course, the lady tripped and fell down. She knew she can’t get up on her sprained foot. Hearing her plea to help, the fellow lifted her in his hands and carried back to the church. He gently placed her on the step. As the lady looked at him, he clapped his hands! She thanked him and asked his name. He touched his chest and said:
” him, ..Little Joe… helping Mom.”
The old man who came looking for him, talked to Sarah. His son was mentally retarded. What to say, Joe was unfortunate, losing his mother last year. And, he is too old to control him. He said, Joe appears to be liking her very much, probably because she has some resemblance to Joe’s mother.
Sarah asked Joe whether he liked to go with her to her house. She cannot forget that Joe was actually carrying her like a baby, all the way home. How could she think of discarding him?
Jenny, Jannet and Liza unanimously asked him to be sent away. They have many an instance to prove Joe’s presence as a nuisance. James just made fun of him, imitating his posture with potbelly and his stammering. A push from Joe found James with a head injury.Sarah remembered, Joe running away, crying aloud and hiding inside the drum in the storeroom.
After discussions on subsequent days they came up to a conclusion. Joe has to be shifted from there, even under monetary commitments. Of course he must be in a place where proper care and support is assured. James collected particulars of homes where the mentally retarded are looked after. Many expressed their inability to admit more inmates. An old-time organization agreed but when the guardian saw Joe, they refused over the reason that other inmates were all under fifteen and Joe will be an odd-man-out with his age and size. Somebody anticipated adjustment problems and Peter uncle preferred to tell them about his shortcomings first which made them back out.
A few Homes were ready to accept on lumpsome donation or on condition of annual contribution. But Peter couldn’t think of dumping Joe in such places. They had dinghy rooms or congested common halls or untidy premises. A coimbatore-based institution run by missionary appeared to be tolerable. Sarah was very particular about disclosing Joe’s weakness that, he will react violently, if hurt, and he is exceptionally strong. The father, in charge of it, nodded but he assured earnest attention on condition, of one lakh deposit.
Everyone felt, there can’t be a better arrangement and by the end of the week Joe has to be persuaded. They were whispering each other, to avoid Joe from getting an untimely alarm. They wanted Sarah to find an appropriate time to tell him.
Sunday, all others have either gone out or engaged in the expands of the building, Sarah was walking to and fro, worrying over congenial time and convincing words. She felt bad;
Everyone else knew but the person affected alone, doesn’t know! She came downstairs and looked out. Only Peter and Joe in the veranda enjoying the post-lunch break, one trying to tell whatever he feels like in broken sentences and the other one, pretending to listen, but napping:
“Goldie,….tellname…dwarf, run.. away.. king and queen, live happily.”
Joe was repeating the last sentence of the story she had told him. A fairy tale and a few pats on his shoulder were the best medicine to calm him when agitated.
‘This could be the right time’, she pulled a chair and sat beside Joe. Trying to smile, she asked: “shall I tell you a story?”
She expected a vehement yes and the happy sign of a head-shake, instead, he looked into her eyes and asked:
“Will you come…see Joe…every month..?”
It startled her.
‘So he knew. Then, he knows many things what we thought, we were hiding from him.’
As she patted his back, Peter frowned and spoke slowly:
“surely, we want to come and see our Little Joe, frequently. There is a father who will love you. When you want a change, we will bring you back here for many days. During Christmas and Easter, you will be with us. We will all celebrate together.”
At this stage, Sarah wanted to join:
“During the celebration next year, you must take out your costume of Santa Claus!” She expected him, as usual, to clap hands like a boy. Instead, he was looking away gloomily and nodding ‘yes’. His change made Sarah thoughtful. However, she felt relieved of a big botheration. She recollected the old saying,
‘what hovered upon you as a mountain, vanished away as fog.’
Joe appeared more serious as if he knew, he had to leave someday. He was found to have stopped grumbling. He stopped his morning-race across the compound and was staying close to Sarah. When James started the car and Peter uncle asked him to get in he was walking to the corner to wave a hand at Tommy!
When they reached the Blessed Home, and asked for Father, they were told, Director is in the Hall of Activity with the caretakers. Just a glance around surprised them. No more evidence was necessary to the father’s claim! The large auditorium was bubbling with creativity! About a hundred, so-called retarded souls were joyfully engaged there. A dozen instructors were helping them singing, dancing, painting or cheering up their friends. Seeing Joe and party enter, Father greeted them shouting above the sound of Keyboards and drums:
“All listen please, our new member most blessed, Little Joe is here.”
When he finished there was a loud clapping. At Father’s gesture, two smiling youngsters came to Joe: “We Ebby and Johny are to help you. We’ll take you to the rooms to see you relaxed. You can tell us anything; we are Joe’s friends.”
As they were coming out after a couple of hours Sarah was happy to see Joe, busy with the drums and just cared to wave at them. As they got into the car, Father’s words echoed in her mind:
“Why, they are children, close to God; we are only chosen to make them happy.”
On the way, she decided to contribute a considerable amount, two-three times a year. Next month, as promised, Sarah went to see him, of course with basketfull of fruits and sweets. Father asked Joe to distribute to everyone. From his body-language, Sarah could guess, Joe was happy. Even the watchmen joined singing together, a few popular Carol Songs. Sarah thanked the father for the charm of belongingness prevailing in the ‘Home of the blessed ‘and handed over a cheque. She left promising Joe that after a month she will come to take him home for Christmas.
Sarah could send Peter only three days before x-mas. She was waiting for James to be free. There were mixed feelings. Jenny and Liza even expressed their disapproval. Jenny said:
“Mom, mind you; you may have problem sending him back!”
“so much so good, we’ll have to bear him, minimum days.”
“He must have been worrying why we are delaying !”
‘He has now reason to be angry. He may feel, I don’t love him any more . I may have to struggle, convincing him!’
As soon as he found Joe, Peter noticed the change:
‘He came running but not with the same enthusiasm. He was neither angry nor sad. Of course, he had kept the bag ready.’
Father told Peter that Joe was in two minds; he regrets missing the grand celebration of his Home! He is an accepted drummer there! Even Ebby spoke, he has been a helping hand and will be missing him these days. When they reached home, Joe went to Sarah, held her hands and peeped in to her eyes. Of course, he was smiling when he received the pat from his Mom. Then, he looked around with a blank face and, to the surprise of everyone, was found walking towards the chair at the back and sitting silently without any sign of excitement. Jenny and Liza were exchanging glances quizzically. Probably they expected him rushing in and running through room-after room and across the compound, making funny sounds. Peter remembered last year’s crisis. Joe was stubborn, he wanted one. He had seen the boy in the Children’s film perform as a Santa claus Then he had to call James and sit on bike, fully drenched in rain, in search of the costume! He is not interested now in wearing that!
Evening, everyone came out in new dress to go to the church. Joe was in bed in his room at the end of the veranda. He said, he had a heavy headache and not going with them. Sarah hurried in for the pain balm. She said:
“Let him take rest without disturbance, there. We will be back by eleven o’clock and then we shall have our dinner.”
“Where is Jenny?”
Someone asked. With her file and pen in one hand, Jenny leaned out from her room, upstairs and waved. As they were getting in to the car, Sarah explained:
“She doesn’t want to loose so much time. Her Bio, final exam is next Monday. She is struggling to complete her practical record I allowed, since she is not alone.”
“That is true”, Martha agreed:
“As Joe is down there, she could do her work without botheration. She could come down and close the front door, after sometime.”
As they were happily returning from the church, the youngsters noticed that Mom was serious, more than usual.
As they entered it was pitch dark inside the compound. There was no light in the porch and no sign of light inside the building also. There was no electricity failure; streetlight and the light from neighbourhood are seen through the foliage. Everyone was groped with uneasiness.
‘Even if Joe slept away. Jenny would have come down and switched on the lights!’
Stopping the car with the lights on, at the edge of the yard, James groped for the switch. As he put on the front light, Liza who was behind him, screamed, horrified. The front door was ajar and Joe was sitting on the doorstep, in darkness and slowly getting up as the light came. Liza stood paralized. Even James stood shocked at what he saw, there was blood in Joe’s hands, blood all over his shirt, and, he was in a dazed condition! Next moment, Sarah hurried in, calling for Jennie…. James followed her. Asking others to sit in the car, Peter also joined them. They couldn’t find Jenny in her room. There were patches of blood outside and on the steps. Calling Jenny, they were running room to room, and searched balcony, kitchen and every corner of the building. No sign of Jenny anywhere! Suddenly James saw Sarah exhausted and falling unconscious. He managed to hold her and drag to a nearby sofa. As James and uncle came out worrying what to do next, Joe got up from where he was crouching. He went to Peter trying to tell something:
“Little Joe,.. hit..guyfall..down..there..”
Peter wanted to gather what he was telling. Suddenly James stretched out and slapped Joe. He barked:
“Did you kill her, you, filthy dog?”
Joe was covering his face and trying to say something when James raised his hand to slap again. Peter pulled James away and said:
“0h, no, calm down; we mustn’t jump at conclusions .”
At this, James was angrily pointing at the blood marks on the floor. By the time, there were a few people from around. Somebody said:
“Better call the police; the girl is missing, there is blood, everywhere, this fellow must be knowing.”
The next-house man remembered Tommy, barking continuously, around eight o’ clock. Peter uncle was firm:
“Let’s find out what Joe has to tell, and after searching the premises once, we will inform the police.”
Patting on his shoulder, he asked softly but Joe was repeating what he already told. Before uncle could block, Liza came from behind and hit Joe with the pipe she grabbed from the ground. For a minute, Uncle found Joe’s face harden, eyes redden and he thought, Joe will turn wild. To his surprise, Joe stood covering his head and repeating what he had been telling.
To everyone’s embarrassment someone came running and reported that Tommy is inside the kennel, but it was struggling to stand up as if drugged. Uncle frowned.
In the meantime, Sarah woke up and came out with a wry expression. She appeared desperate but seeing Joe, turned at him:
“you, dull head, tell, what you did to my daughter?”.
Shouting so, she raised her hand and slapped him repeatedly. Never before she was found flaring up like that. Peter was shocked; he didn’t expect his sister to react emotionally. He was sorry about Joe.
‘How could he be blamed if he turn violent?’
Looking at Joe, Peter was relieved to find him just trying to save his face. When she stopped, he stared into her eyes in disbelief and started wailing: “ “Mom,… don’t beat Joe…paining …Little Joe…hit..one down…there”.
Uncle noticed, he was showing towards the stair up. He pushed Sarah aside, patted Joe and encouraged him to continue. He listened:
“Joe hit one there, down…Jo throw one down….”
This time he was pointing towards backyard. Uncle’s eyes widened. He recollected the patches of blood, upstair, steps, front door, and the front side pavement! He said:
“show me dear, where the body is.”
Pushing Joe ahead and asking James and Sarah to follow he proceeded to the back yard. “Enough, bad things, I can’t see any more”.
Sarah waited, leaning on the porch wall, in prayer, that they should not be returning with any worst information. They walked across the backyard, towards the store shed.In dim light, amidst dry leaves, there was a body. Both James and Uncle stood paralysed for a minute. They looked at each other. James moved closer and stooped with the pen torch. The body was messed up in blood and mud and lying face down. He held the torch towards the face. His agony changed in to surprise.It was a man, a stout fellow! Blood seeped from his cracked forehead and had clogged, in his beard and moustache! There was a knife in his closed fist. James sighed in relief. The relief was short lived; They were looking at each other with the same anxiety, where is Jenny? Uncle turned to Joe:
“Did you hit him, Joe?”
“Yes, Little Joe hit him, bad fellow, Joe, bring down.. here.”
From his action, uncle could make out something. Mystery was glaring at them unsolved. Where is Jenny?
When Peter told the C.I. that he is calling on behalf of Mrs. Andrews, the Colonel’s wife, what C.I. told surprised him.
‘Youth from neighbouring colony caught a wounded gangster, jumping over the wall.He was handed over to the Police. They planned burglary when the family was in the church. They didn’t bother about the girl but the man who came at them like a bulldozer, hit his friend and threw him down.’
When Peter told him, Jenny is missing, he said,
‘the burglars do not seem to have hurt her.’
Peter turned to Joe:
“Do you know where is Jenny?”
He shook his head:
“Little Joe, not see Jenny…fellow, cut Joe”
Suddenly Peter noticed the blood in Joe’s shirt was from a stab wound under his shoulder, bleeding profusely!
The gaze of every one turned upward. Clothes, fully drenched in water there stood at the top of the stair, Jenny!
In a moment all the apprehensions and concerns gave way to curiosity. With the wet clothes Jenny rushed into her mom’s extended arms.
“where were you my darling, I thought I lost you!”
Jenny spoke, still shivering over the incident:
“There was light only in my room. As I stepped out, a burly fellow caught me. I could just scream once. I saw Joe rushing up and hitting him hard with the heavy flower vase. Then I saw the other fellow with knife stabbing him. Joe asked me to go. 0nly running on to the terrace I realized there is no other hiding room. When I heard you call, I cried; nobody heard! I had to struggle long, climbing out of the tank……”
Jenny looked around:
“Poor Joe, where is he?”
Suddenly Peter remembered
‘Joe has to be taken to hospital, urgently.’
Next minute, they were searching for him. Sarah was in remorse:
“Oh God, for him I am Mom; and me? Distrusting; and, harassing him.”
James searched for him in all the rooms; in vain He went round twice, feeling bad about himself.
Then he found him, leaning on the gate, unconscious; Joe had, by then lost a lot of blood!