29 comments

Mystery Crime Desi

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?

January 25, 2023 08:48

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29 comments

Philip Ebuluofor
14:43 Feb 05, 2023

Fine hooking work Suma. Congrats.

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Suma Jayachandar
01:34 Feb 06, 2023

Thank you, Philip!

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Philip Ebuluofor
08:07 Feb 06, 2023

Welcome.

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Tommy Goround
10:11 Feb 05, 2023

You had me at "is he dead yet?" -wobbly stove -elbow the assailant -exhausted pregnant woman -puke acid -"not again" -through the chute -fix the head -dissolve -evaporate ::::Set the date """ -the first time .....he raised his hand -my body can't handle a new life -throttle him -fitfully? -show me a place to hide -can't get a single night's sleep -it's not just for the food -the keeps watching me (The date? The date.) -slither/thrust/rickety/chill/grab/jangle/10 seconds...scuffle/grunt stab.. Roll Enrage Fire & burn 1:1 Bleed and bother, che...

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Suma Jayachandar
01:35 Feb 06, 2023

Thanks Tommy! For taking time to read and leave such a thorough feedback. Appreciate it!

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Helen A Smith
17:52 Feb 01, 2023

A powerful story with great descriptions. Also, a just ending.

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Suma Jayachandar
00:11 Feb 02, 2023

Thank you for your kind words!

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Jennifer Jackson
03:23 Jan 31, 2023

While your story was amazing.

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Suma Jayachandar
05:52 Jan 31, 2023

Thank you so much!

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Tara Leigh Parks
02:33 Jan 31, 2023

Love the rhythm and the descriptions. The work is streamlined which works well for this kind of piece, and it is also evocative. That's a hard balance to achieve. I'm glad fate intervened. You should be proud of this piece.

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Suma Jayachandar
05:49 Jan 31, 2023

Thank you so much reading and leaving a wonderful comment. Appreciate it!

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Aeris Walker
19:09 Jan 30, 2023

When it comes to descriptions, brevity, setting, and voice, I think this is some of your best writing—at least from what I’ve read thus far. The whole mood of the story feels gray, and damp, and sad from the very beginning. Even the MC’s deliverance from her gray, sad circumstances comes through danger, violence, destruction, and potentially someone’s death. It’s all so fittingly dark. There were many, but these lines especially stood out to me: “I wish I could squeeze myself into a bottle. Just dissolve, dissipate and disappear. Try as mu...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:46 Jan 31, 2023

Such a high praise coming from you is truly humbling, Aeris. Brevity-yeah, looks like my thing. Even during PTA meets at school, there is a very short waitlist of parents at my class-quick deliverance 😂. Jokes apart, I’m glad this piece came across as gritty and hard hitting. Thanks a lot for your feedback on this. You know I value it!

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Laurel Hanson
12:14 Jan 30, 2023

This is such a tight story. We get an entire character, her situation and her motive, all smoothly revealed as she goes to work and enters the absolutely great passage: "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." That just delivers so much information and highlights her situation, facing a monster at home, a monster at work. Setting up her desire to disappear through the visual of the perfume is great but also est...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:34 Jan 31, 2023

Laurel, Thank you so much for reading and leaving a very encouraging feedback. I appreciate it a lot!

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Susan Catucci
16:33 Jan 29, 2023

Powerful stuff, Suma. The way you write is so compelling - you could probably hear me cheering at the end. Your last line was so complete and satisfying. This is a beautifully crafted gift for the senses. Beautifully done!

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Suma Jayachandar
06:08 Jan 30, 2023

Thank you so much for reading and leaving a wonderful comment, Susan😊

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Zack Powell
09:19 Jan 28, 2023

Suma, your writing has always been great, but here lately you've really gone leaps and bounds above your old self. Every piece recently has been a knockout, full of craftsmanship and technical proficiency. The story is great here, dark and gritty and realistic at once, but the language is really what sold it to me. As always, Michał has covered the analytical side of things in a way I never could, so I'll speak on the technical stuff. Namely, the way the prose mirrors the violence and darkness of the piece. I kept having to stop and write d...

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Suma Jayachandar
18:53 Jan 28, 2023

Zack, What words can I use to acknowledge such effusive praise? Thank you from the bottom of my heart is all I have. If you find my work to be much better than it was before it's all because of the wonderfully talented writers I get to read here😊

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Rebecca Miles
18:11 Jan 27, 2023

The best thing for me about this story, which every woman is only going to be cheering the ending of, is the personification. My you really use verbs very well in this to bring the sinister urban space to life, from the little things which watched burning at the end to this: "I trot through a maze of buildings; a few belch smoke, others puke acid, " It is not just her no-longer home that is poisoned by the abuse but her whole city. This was a great setting; it matched perfectly the sickening life she had been forced to endure. Well done, sup...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:45 Jan 28, 2023

Hi Rebecca, Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts on this. I’m glad you found the figurative bits add meat to the piece. That was exactly what I was hoping to achieve.

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Wendy Kaminski
11:56 Jan 26, 2023

Suma, WOW! What a powerful and ultimately hopeful tale. I loved the line "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." SMART! I wondered what she meant by patches, but what a great way to hide funds where a brute wouldn't likely bother to look. This was so interesting, and I loved reading the other critiques (all glowing!) and your responses, to learn more about the finer points. So exceptional; thank you for your encouragement...

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Suma Jayachandar
14:58 Jan 26, 2023

Wendy! thank you so much for dropping in to read and leave a fabulous comment😊 I'm glad you found it interesting, powerful and hopeful. Those were the *marks* I was hoping to hit.

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08:57 Jan 26, 2023

Hi Suma, long time. So glad you're still contributing! This was a good one, if very dark (which is a positive in my book). You did an incredible job portraying the hopelessness of the narrator's situation; it's clear there's no easy way out, but she continues to hope and make plans. Such a resilient person. Others have mentioned some of the most powerful lines, and another I want to highlight is " I am not going to repeat my mother’s mistakes" - that was gut-wrenching. Well-written as always, thank you for sharing. :)

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Suma Jayachandar
10:16 Jan 26, 2023

Hey Shuvayon, Great to hear from you! How have you been? Yes, still contributing. Can't seem to keep away from Reedsy, largely because of the community . Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts on the piece. This is the kind of generous support that keeps me pulling back to the site ☺️

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Jan 25, 2023

I was wondering what the patches were about, and of course by the end it's all clear :) She calls her home a hellhole, and that's right on. What a nightmare! Also very fitting with the flames. We wonder why she doesn't leave and then we learn she's tried. It's not at all easy, between the man who would hunt her down and the lack of resources. But she's not completely without hope. She has a plan, and she has a will. And she has the courage to take an opportunity when it arises. Considering how dark the story is - indeed, things got *very...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:30 Jan 26, 2023

Thank you for your astute observations and generous appreciation, Michal. I value them dearly, as always. Breaking away from an abusive relationship is hard ,even for the privileged ( The official statistics in my city alone says 70% of them reconcile across the board) , I guess it's harder for the POV with her meagre resources. Is she longing to be a mother? That's an interesting question. Given her traumatic childhood, maybe she is...maybe she is not. Only time will tell. Let's hope she walks into a brighter future.

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Lily Finch
13:55 Jan 25, 2023

Wow, Suma, such an interesting story. Your descriptions and attention to detail make this story go from just another story to an excellent story. These lines capture the outlook of the MC and her word choice is odd but it is all she knows "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." She has a feeling of helplessness. "The tiny things that stood witness to my horror ...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:39 Jan 26, 2023

Hi Lily, Thank you so much for taking time to read and leave such a detailed and generous comment. I'm glad you found it interesting and picked up on the upward trajectory of the MC towards the end. It would have been too depressing for me to leave her in an endless dark tunnel. So, she had to find light. Thanks again for your kind words 😊

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