Till Death Do Us Apart

EMPTY-CRIB

I put the umbrella behind the door; it hadn’t really helped me with the rain. How could it? The rain, like so many other things I had been experiencing, was unreal. I locked the door and double checked it, hoping she’d stay out tonight.

“I’m real” she whispered in my ear.

I turned around, not a sign of her. But she was there, I knew it. Talking to an overpaid lady as she pretends to hear me out hasn’t helped. All the medicines I was being forced to chug down, haven’t either. If anything, they were making her stay. All this scribbling over a notepad, and that feeling of being strangled and chocked by an inter-mixing of chemicals. All it does, is remind me of her even more.

As soon as I sat on the couch, the armchair opposite it sank under her weight. I tried to look away, and my eyes were greeted by our picture on the side desk. She sure was a looker. And then I looked across the table, how decayed and rotten she had become. 
I loved her, anyway.

I turned on the television; it might help me stay sane. The man in the idiot box smiled. It was a smile of misfortune, even he pitied me. 
“She won’t go away till you do it. You know that right?”
I changed the channel.

“He killed me, butchered me. All while you observed in silence”. Her voice was getting colder by the day.

“Look at me. Look at me”, she demanded my attention. 
“Were you always lying…” her voice broke “…when you used to say that I’m the one?”

I was reminded of all the promises I had made, and she was quick to read my mind.

“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to be together. And it, it took me away. It separated us”

I hated it when she would call him an ‘it’. There was a cry from the master bedroom.

“Even now it wouldn’t let us have a moment of peace.” She snarled.

I looked at her. The skin below her eyes had dried and stretched to her lips. But her eyes, well they had remained as truthful as ever. She was right, as always. We were always meant to be. I had made her believe that I’d protect her, even in the most severe of times. And yet here I was, as helpless as I was then. I had failed myself. I had failed our marriage. But I could take all that, it was all the hate that she projected towards me that made me miserable.
A man can’t live a miserable life, can he? Not if he can do something about it.

I moved to the kitchen and opened the central drawer. I took out a knife; her smile visible at its sharp end.

She came closer to me, pulled me by the neck, and said.

“Do it. Avenge me. Avenge our love.”

I casually walked in to the master bedroom, where I had kept him, tied and bound to his bed. I leaned over and looked at him, the murderer of my wife. He looked back at me with his childlike innocence.

“Don’t let it get to you this time. Do it. And soon, we will be together again”. She whispered.

He cried. He cried for his innocence, for that is all he could do.

“Slice it. Slice it into pieces. Do it”. She shouted over my shoulder.

He looked at me with no remorse. He had no feeling of guilt, no sense of wrongdoing. How could he, that little devil.

I positioned the knife. He did not retaliate. In the background, I could hear her laughing.

I waited for it to say something, to convince me to stop. But how could he speak, he had been born barely days go. And so, I raised the knife and stabbed him thrice.

Her laughter faded away, and all that was left was a deafening silence. She had left me, finally. I wiped the grin of my face and proceeded to clean the blood that had dripped down the cradle.

The Last Book

O_death

The night was hot, and so was my seat. I had been sitting in the same position for quite some time now, reading a book under the faint light the lamp over my head had to offer. The seat opposite to mine was empty, and had been so since I got on the train. I looked at the seat, and wished I had bothered to look at the reservation list and catch the name of the person who was to occupy this seat. It could be a woman. Who knows, we might strike a conversation or two, and then exchange meaningless stares throughout the night. She might pretend to be a lonely woman, waiting for the right man. And I, I might speak with the arrogance of someone who doesn’t care about love, but is secretly hiding a case of heart-break. Who knows, right? Anything can happen, until it has actually happened.  The woman might just have missed the train, and I might have been destined to marry her, but we will never actually meet. Every passing minute, every passing second could change a lot for me, without me even realizing it. I could suffocate, or get robbed, or I might even find a treasure, all in the next few moments. Anything’s possible. Then how do I have any control over the course of my life. I can fight the suffocation, or kill the robber, or discard the treasure, but what if that too was supposed to happen. Is it all just a set of pre placed dominos? I got back to my book, but it did not interest me anymore, I was still stuck on figuring out how I would introduce myself to the woman who might occupy this seat. Just then, a suitcase rolled from my rear and entered the space between the two seats. Closely following this suitcase was a man, an old man who smelled of whiskey and stale food. He was dressed in a black overcoat that looked too good for someone of his demeanour. His hair was jet black, and was cleanly combed back. A sharp triangle rightly fitted itself over his neck. It carried on it a pair of thin, dark lips and a sharp, plunging nose. It also fit in a pair of eyes that seemed to change colour. If I were a man who did not play by logic, I could have sworn they were completely black for a moment. The man took the seat opposite mine and slid the suitcase underneath it. He looked straight at me, as if he could see through me. I don’t know why but I felt naked. A prepossessing guilt rose within me. I avoided his stare and got back to my book. I tried to focus my eyes on the text, but they would constantly try and record if any movement took place behind the book. I gave up on it, and finally questioned the man.

“Excuse me, why are you staring at me?”

“I am not staring. I’m merely looking.”

“Can you please look somewhere else?”

“I can, but I’d rather continue to look at you.” He replied even before I could complete my sentence.

I sighed in irritation and pushed my face back into the book. Here I was, expecting a woman, and all I got was a creepy old guy instead. The book was tough to read, mostly because I had lost touch over my mother tongue. The translation did help, but I seldom used it. How can a writer convert text from one language to another, without affecting the meaning of the former? I had my doubts, and so I struggled to find my own interpretations of the text. I was trying my best to concentrate, but the idea of an old man staring at me would not let me. There was movement in the background, and I raised my head to see that the old man had now come closer to me. He was bending his body, in an attempt to look closely at me. I threw my book on the seat and faced him, this time with intent to fight.

“What do you want?” I inquired.

“Just a look at the book you read, sir.”

“I’m reading it right now. And because I’m not carrying any other reading material with me now, I can not lend this book to you.”

“Oh no, sir. I do not need to loan it. I already know the story in it, rather too well I’d say. I only need a look. Just one.” He replied with a straight face.

I now noticed how coarse his voice was, as if something had been forced down his throat. It made me pity him, maybe he suffered of some illness. I contemplated his request, and decided to let him have a look.

“Okay, you can have a look. But you promise not to bother me anymore.”

“I do not see how I bother you, young sir. But if you allow me a look at your book, and agree to answer a question, I promise to leave this seat and find myself another one.”

“But all you said was a look at the book.” I replied annoyingly.

“I like to take actions in phases, sir. Do you accept my terms?”

I saw no harm, and hence I nodded in agreement. I passed him the book. He opened it to the last page, smiled at what he read, and returned the book.

“Now for the question.” He said. He paused, as if taking his time to think upon the question. After a moment of silence, he leaned towards me, and asked

“Do you regret killing your father?”

“What! How dare you. What gives you the right, you lonely old fuck.” I shouted at him.

“It is merely a question, my friend. I only need a simple yes or no.”

I ignored him. I did not need to answer a stranger, and especially not someone who accused me of killing my father.

The old man got up from his seat and pushed his face into mine. “Do you blame yourself, for not being at home the one night he wanted you to be?”

I pushed him aside, and threw him back at his seat. He got up, almost mechanically, and then ran his hand through his hair, trying to get them back to how they were. The colour in his eyes flickered. They were completely black for a moment there. I was sure of it this time.

He smiled at me and said. “Do you think he would have survived had you come home early that night?”

I did not pay any attention to his question and picked up my bag. I decided to change my seat with someone. If this man does not intend to leave me alone even then, I will call the authorities on him. As I turned to leave, he caught me by my hand.

“The time has come. The time to pay retribution. It shall happen tomorrow, as you complete your journey, both physically and spiritually.”

And now, I lay here on the floor, constantly replaying this incident in my mind. It is cooler than it was last night. This morning, as I got off the train, I slipped and cracked my skull open. I’m surrounded by people, but more than that I’m surrounded by blood. Somewhere in the crowd, I see a familiar place. It is an old man, with slick black hair, and dressed in an expensive black coat. He raised his hand to show me the book in his hand. It was the same book I was reading last night, but somehow I could not remember its name. As I once again remember the events of last night, I wonder, was I just following a pre-written story all along?

Sinking

It was 2 am in the night when his phone rang.
‘Sudha..please..attend it’ he commanded, half asleep. The phone kept ringing.

‘Sudha?’

Sudha lay silent. And the truth dawned upon him.
He opened one eye and threw his hand on the bedside table to grab his spectacles.

‘He..hello?’

No one replied.

‘Helloo?’

‘Hellooo??’

He banged the phone and returned to his deep sleep.

It rained heavily the next day. It was Sunday and Sunday rain reminded him of her. She would prepare a hot cup of coffee for him while he read his favorite book. There was a comfort in her presence. Something magnificent about the silence. Only this time, the silence pinched him. He wished someone would prepare him a steamy cup of coffee just like Sudha did. With less milk and extra sugar. He wished he had thanked her for that cup.

‘Thankyou Sudha..’ he whispered. She would have smiled. The same smile when she had served him tea for the first time in her maternal house. Oldage did many things to her but never dared to touch her smile.

The ringing phone disrupted his memories.

‘Hello. Col. Vimal Rai speaking.’

‘Helloo Vimal!’ said the jolly voice on the other end and he instantly knew who it was.

‘Col. Singh! How are you..’

‘I am good Vimal! My wife and I are throwing a party on our 25th anniversary day after! It would be a pleasure to have you there!’

‘Ofcourse! The 23rd you mean?’

‘Yes yes! Do bring Sudha along! My wife wishes to meet her!’

This part was the most arduous of all. Gathering the right words, repeating the incidence and hours of condolence.

‘Sudha..Sudha passed away four months back Singh’

‘Oh! We are..we are shocked Vimal..we are sorry..we couldn’t be there for you..’

‘That’s ok Singh..Will see you day after’

‘Sure! See you Vimal..’

Short and crisp. Just the way he wanted this conversation to be. He immediately noted down the date and the event in his diary. Without Sudha, it was hard for him to remember things.

He returned to the balcony to drown in his thoughts. He took his chair along by lifting it. No screeching noises. As soon as he held the chair to sit, he found his fingers buried in dust.

Oh, how he hated dust. The mere sight of it would bring out his worst temper. Dust in His house was absolutely unacceptable!!

‘Sudhaaa!!!!’ he yelled.

Later, he cleaned the chair with his old pair of undergarment. He hated this task. Even the dust missed Sudha. She would keep the entire house as clean as a rich man’s boots. In that moment, he sighed and whispered..’Thankyou Sudha..’

The doorbell rang. Foola ushered herself inside the house. He wanted to complain about the untidy mess all around but he didn’t know how to. Talking to maids was too shallow to him and these were Sudha’s matters to handle. Her department. But, he had to survive.

‘Ahem..Foola ji..its been two days and I have observed that..that the house is very dirty..especially the corners..and the floor below the table..and the bathrooms’
Foola stood aghast. He had never said a word to her in five years. She was so scared that she swallowed her pan as it is.

‘Sahab..I I don’t clean bathrooms. Sudha Madam knew it…And I can’t bend too much..you see.. I am a patient of arthritis.. Sudha Madam..knew..I will clean the corners carefully..’
‘Hmm.’

Even the servants missed her.

He wore his favorite black suit for the party that night. Just the way Sudha would have liked it. She would have worn that red saree with golden borders. Once she was ready, nobody could believe it was Sudha. Not even him. She would look marvelous in those gold earrings he had once gifted her. She would compliment him while wearing the black bindi in front of the mirror.

‘Looking nice Vimal’

And he would smile proudly.

‘You look beautiful Sudha..’ he murmured as he stood there staring at the bindi stuck on the mirror.

The party was monotonous. Everybody thought of him as a poor pig and offered their sympathies because everybody loved Sudha. He wished she was around so that he could tell her how Mr Dubey’s son was hogging on food. That Fat Goblet. She would have giggled.

‘Vimal! You musn’t say that!’

He locked the main door and changed his clothes. The bed desperately needed a new bedsheet. The yellow pillow begged for a new cover.

‘Vimal! Wait wait wait!’

‘What happened??’

‘Don’t you see how yellow it is? Let me change it.’

‘Not now Sudha..do it tomo..’

Even before he could complete, she would have snatched the pillow and changed the covers to shining white.
‘Now you may sleep’ she would smile with pride.

‘Goodnight Sudha..’ he chanted as he slept off.

The phone rang. He woke up in frustration. This time he knew there was no escape. He threw his hand on the bedside table and wore his spectacles.

‘He..lloo?’

‘Helloo?’

‘Hello Vimal’

Vimal was taken aback. He lost hold of all the words. Of language. Of senses.

‘Sudha.?’ he questioned.

‘Yes..how are you?’

‘Sudha?? Who is this???’

‘It is Sudha..calm down Vimal..’

It was her. He knew it. It was Sudha. Only her words had the power to silent his storm.

‘Am I dreaming??’

‘Maybe’ she smiled innocently.

‘How are you Sudha..?’

The leap of formality had never escaped. Even love couldn’t kill it.

‘I am fine Vimal’

‘I am happy to hear that..I missed you tonight..’

‘Did you?’

‘Yes..Mr Dubey’s son you remember?’

‘Oh yes! That sweet boy!’

‘He isn’t so sweet anymore. He has grown enormously fat and eats like a bear!’

‘Vimal! You mustn’t say that!’ she chuckled.

He was afraid the dream might come to an end. He didn’t want to lose this opportunity.

‘Sudha..I miss you..I miss your face..I miss your presence..’

‘I miss you too Vimal..I am always around you..’

‘No one cooks baingan ka bharta like you used to..’

‘I will cook it for you tomorrow’ she assured him.

‘How is Niketan?’ she asked.

‘Niketan is fine and so is Aditi..they returned to America last month itself’

‘Are they happy?’

‘Very much’

She breathed a sigh of relief.

‘I have to leave Vimal..will see you tomorrow’

‘Sudha! Sudha!!! Sudha???’

‘Yes I am here!’

‘Oh.. I wanted to say.. That.. I wanted to say.. Thankyou Sudha..’

He heard her smile. The very same lovely smile when they had gone out for their first dinner.

‘I have been ringing the bell for the past half an hour Madam Ji!! I am worried ! He usually opens the door in the first bell itself!! The milk! the newspaper..everything is kept outside!!’  said Foola frantically.

The neighbours ran to break his door.