The madcap house at the end of the street was as quirky and messy as its dozen inhabitants. The couple who had bought this place decades ago was not too great at planning, to begin with. They never planned to settle down at one place … or have a big family … or a big house. But after thirty years, nine kids, and a pet hen, they might as well have.
The house had grown around them, kid by kid, room by room, whim by whim, and now looked more like a house of horrors at an amusement park than a regular home on the prim-and-proper Willow Street. Some windows were oblong, some oval, others round. Framed by wood panels wide and thin, horizontal here and vertical there, and sometimes just nailed together haphazardly, like patchwork. The rooms were all differently sized and shaped as well, much like the various inhabitants. Some tall, some squat, some long, some shapeless, and some as small as a phone booth or closet. It was, to most, a big, fat, ramshackle house tilting sideways, sprawling at odd angles to the overgrown lawn — like a fat, old, penniless aunt with shingles leaning on a cane, eavesdropping on the neighbors next door.
Hoarders of the first order, Mrs. and Mr. Khatri had stuffed their home with “repurposed items”. They could easily be the founding fathers of backyard recycling, the way they went about it. If something had broken or was defunct, why fix it or toss it away? they said. Why not find a better use for it instead. And so they had trunks for chairs, stacked bricks for coffee tables, sofas fashioned out of blankets, and patchwork curtains from clothes that no one cared to use. The walls were covered with newspaper clippings from food, travel, and culture sections of the daily newspaper, interspersed with glossy magazine covers chronicling the political and fashion history of this great nation (“borrowed” from their neighbors of course), while stacks of unread books and worn-out music cassettes and CDs grew into floor-to-ceiling length shelves. Old dressers filled in for kitchen cabinets and clothes made for fancy décor, scattered as they were across the floor, on the back of sofas and chairs, when not tossed carelessly on table fans, banisters, and door knobs. Even their hen, when it stopped laying eggs, functioned as an alarm clock that rang at odd hours of the day.
The same hoarder’s logic extended to the kids as well. And since minding kids was not their idea of growing old, after the first three, they saw merit in raising kids in pairs. They’d take care of each other, they reckoned, and raise themselves without much oversight. For Mrs. Khatri kept busy creating universes and skeletons in her oblong studio, and Mr. Khatri had a carpentry shop to run from the shed at the back, and they seldom had the time or the inclination to discipline anyone.
And so the kids ruled the roost in this amusement house, wreaking havoc on the neighbors and at school in waves of two. That is, till they came to the odd one out. The youngest of the lot, the naughtiest of them all: a scrappy young girl named Mollie.