CW: Domestic violence, Child abuse
I set the date. And get to work.
I pack two lunches. Put one in my bag and leave the other on the wobbly table next to the stove. I don’t bother to wake him up on a Monday morning. If he is too hungover to make it to work on time, it’s on him.
I lock the door and hop over the puddle bordered by soapsuds. My neighbour is crushing her laundry on a slab of stone a few feet away. I lower my head and scoot down the alley before she looks at me. She hurls, “What a racket last night. Is he dead yet!!” at my back.
The municipal workers in their yellow-striped grey jackets are sweeping the main street, sending up dust clouds. Stalls selling milk, newspaper, and flowers have people in their night clothes or tracksuits thronging them. I make it to the bus stop just in time.
The 7.30 a.m. bus to the central industrial area is packed. I wriggle through the entrance, hang on to a handle, and lean close to the cold steel pole before the conductor bustles in blowing the whistle and shouting “move in… move in….” Bodies push against one another and I’m shoved into the middle of the bus. I hold the monthly pass up to the smirking conductor’s face and elbow my faceless assailant back to his place.
After meandering through the snarls of traffic at a steady slow pace, the bus finally jolts to a halt at my stop hissing like an exhausted pregnant woman. I shouldn’t be bringing these images to my mind. Not after suffering 3rd miscarriage in as many years.
I trot through a maze of buildings; a few belch smoke, others puke acid, and all of them are ready to chew the life out of the uniformed humanity that enters their mouths. I put on my jacket and mask as I reach Lovely Perfumery Works. I could have waited till I got in. But I don’t want to be greeted with, “Not again! Let’s go report this.” I hope the bump on my head has subsided and no one notices it till I put on my cap. There is a sense of tranquility as I move in line along with others, through the chute, ready to be stunned.
An army of grenade-shaped crystal bottles with sparkling purple bottoms come jiving towards me; each one gives me 20 seconds to fix the spray nozzle on its head.
I wish I could squeeze myself into a bottle. Just dissolve, dissipate and disappear. Try as much as I want to, it is clear to me now, I am not meant to linger like the jasmine note but destined to evaporate like alcohol.
That’s why I set the date. And added an extra patch every month.
I drag myself to this one-room, tin sheet roofed tenement every evening. And cook a meal out of groceries bought on my way back. Of late, I don’t want to call it home. I have long stopped hoping he would join me for dinner. I just hope I am not pulled out of my bed and pummelled at, later in the night.
I should have left him the first time he raised his hand. I tried, but was hunted down and warned never to make that mistake again. I thought he would change if I gave him a son. But it looks like my body can’t house a new life. Maybe the pillaging it bore in childhood has ruined it.
At times, my fingers ache to throttle him lying on the floor in his drunken stupor. But then I pull myself together. I am not going to repeat my mother’s mistakes.
I sleep fitfully. The dogs in the neighbourhood bark in frenzied bursts. In the small hours of the morning, the rattle of the dishes crashing to the floor wake me up. I clutch the edges of my quilt and bring it up to cover my face. And brace myself as I hear the footsteps approaching.
My quilt is pulled down and a masked face whispers.
“Get up! And don’t utter a word.”
I stumble out of my bed. The edge of the dagger reflects the streetlight. The masked man waves with his other hand.
“Quick, show me a place to hide.”
I look at him in disbelief. Can there be a hiding place in this hovel?
There are boots stomping the gravel outside. A rap on the door follows. I peep from the open window through which the masked man must have broken in. Two policemen are standing.
“Did you see anyone running?” The short one rasps.
“What now? Can I not get a single night’s sleep!!,” the neighbour hollers through the wall.
I nod a ‘no’.
“Okay. Keep your door locked. Be safe!” The tall one drones.
The khakis leave. The masked man slides out of the quilt and lowers his mask. His hunger seems to have returned. The gleam in his eyes says it’s not just for the food.
“So, woman, you live here alone?” he drawls.
“No. My husband will be here, any moment.” I gulp air.
Unconvinced, he leers and points to the dishes left on the table.
“Get me some food. Make sure it’s warm,” he chuckles.
I light the kerosene stove and reheat the lentils. He keeps watching me.
I am just halfway through my preparation. The date was supposed to be three months later.
I nick the crystal bottle from the alcove close to the stove as I lower the flame. I can feel the masked man breathing down my neck as I tip the bottle into the pot.
“Ah! You smell like jasmine!” he drools. I slither away to get the plate, heap it with re-heated food, and thrust it towards him. He sits at the only rickety chair in the room, gobbles it up within minutes, and smiles.
A chill runs down my spine and I grab the quilt.
There is a jangle at the door. The drunk man whom I share this hellhole with bursts in. It doesn’t even take him 10 seconds to see there is another man in the room. His eyes throw hot coals at me.
“You bitch!!” He charges at the man who doesn’t hesitate to grab the dagger with his hand dripping dal.
Both men scuffle along the wall next to the stove. There are grunts and stabs. The purple bottle in the alcove falls on the stove and explodes. Unmindful of the growing flame, the two men roll on the floor in rage.
The tiny things that stood witness to my horror over the years begin to catch fire and burn. One by one.
It doesn’t seem to register on the men lying limp on the floor, bleeding and inebriated. I don’t know if the fragrance had any hand in it.
The Neighbour doesn’t bother to check in, yet.
I gather my quilt around me and step outside. It is still dark. But I think I can find my way.
At the bend near the main street, I cup the patches on my quilt and count; one, two, and three. Not as much cash as I was hoping to save. But it is all right.
If fate has moved up my date for deliverance, who am I to complain?