She stopped outside the building, and gave it a final look, taking stock of it as a whole. The last few years had seen her make quite a lot of visits to it. There was a relationship there- a relationship that had grown on her like a bone stuck in her throat. Uncomfortable.
Well, she thought grimly, life had to go on. She entered the building and headed to the reception. The desk agent nodded in silent acknowledgement and shoved the sign in register towards her. She picked up the pen, looking at the agent covertly. How many times had she wondered over the last year what they thought of people who walked in through the building door?
A lady in a white saree was mopping the floor of the waiting area. The strong pungent smell of disinfectant filled the room. She didn’t mind. She was used to the smell by now. The lady smiled at her. She tried smiling back, she wasn’t sure if she did.
“It is very hot today!” The lady said, smiling at her.
“Yes.” She replied.
“Today last day na? “
She nodded, offering a small smile this time.
She shook her head and focused on the door in front of her. Small talk was not her thing.
The door finally opened. A lady walked out and held the door open for her.
“She is ready for you. We just need to sign her discharge papers, get her signed off legally and then you can be on your way.”
Ready for her.
She nodded, responding to the cue, and walking in.
It was another twenty minutes in the doctor’s room, signing off what was necessary, listening to instructions and nodding at the support.
“You have to be patient with her, with yourself but at the same time keep a close eye. Anything amiss, just call. “
“Yes.” She acknowledged.
The doctor smiled, “And know it is all going to be okay, yes?”
She nodded, attempting a half smile herself, finally getting up to face the inevitable.
Ready for her.
She noticed the air was different the minute she walked in the room. The lone bed in the room was freshly made, with new pristine white sheets. The blankets and pillows had been stacked in one corner, indicative of the impending departure of its current tenant. The side table was devoid of the clutter it usually had and the few pictures on the wall and table had been packed, leaving it bare and devoid of human touch. The fan was whirring noisily, the only source of noise in the room.
Her mother was standing at one end of the room, looking out of the lone window in it, a light blue crisp Tant saree wrapped around her fragile self. Her head was covered, hiding even the glimpse of her features from anyone who entered the room, her thoughts and privacy well ensconced.
She cleared her throat but there was no movement from her mother.
Her mother started and turned slightly, then completely while resting her hands on the windowsill. They both looked at each other. Her mother nodded at her.
“Can we leave?”
“We must wait. The doctor will come to speak to you and then the…police.”
Her mother looked down and nodded.
She looked away herself, before thinking it looked insensitive. She walked towards her mother and placed her hand on her mother’s arm. She felt awkward touching her mother but, in the moment, felt it was necessary. Her mother responded by touching her hand. She struggled not to move it when her mother’s cold clammy fingers wrapped themselves around hers.
Maybe another thirty seconds.
“It will be okay Maa… final hurdle.”
Her mother nodded wordlessly, visibly struggling.
As if on cue, people entered the room. There was one officer in uniform, a subordinate accompanying him and the doctor. Her mother’s lawyer was also with them.
“Madam, please sit down…” The officer addressed her mother directly.
Her mother paled visibly but did as asked, walking over to the bed and taking a seat.
The officer pulled up the solitary chair and sat in front of her, looking directly at her.
“So, Madam, today is the day you are set to be released from the state mental hospital. We are going to ask you a few questions following which the doctor will. Please answer the questions clearly and if you have any doubts, ask. Do you have any questions before we start?”
Her mother shook her head wordlessly.
“Do you know why you were here?”
Her mother nodded.
“You have to tell me why,” The officer prodded.
Her mother slowly raised her eyes to meet his,
“My… husband was…murdered…”
The officer nodded,
“Do you know by whom?”
Her mother’s reply was so quiet even she had to strain to hear,
“Me…Nine years ago…”
Nine years ago…
An incredible situation that had sunk them. Right from the time it all began…
Her father. The gentlest living soul on earth. Her father, who spent the better part of his life working, reading, painting, or running errands. Her father who was found butchered……by her mother.
As declared by the court in the face of the evidence put forward by the prosecution.
She listened stoically as the officer went through his questions, some sharp memories of the past rushing through with some of them.
She had known her mother to be a timid woman as well, always deferring to her husband. They never even raised their voices at each other, forget a fight….
It was her brother’s sudden death that brought about a tangible difference in the peace-loving household. Silence became a more common theme. Her father started disappearing more often into his study and her mother….
Her mother had been put on drugs to help with her depression…. Drugs that she missed, that were found stuffed under her mattress during the investigation. …. That proved beyond a doubt that during the murder she had been, what they called, legally insane.
The lawyer they had hired was one of the best in the city. He put forward a successful defense and ensured she was admitted to the state mental facility.
But that wasn’t a free ticket. It didn’t stop interrogations like this to repeatedly prove she was, infact, incapacitated during the incident or that she was no longer a threat to society.
It was an extraordinary situation for an extremely ordinary family to be in but it was all drawing to a close.
“Okay, can you sign here?”
Her mother took the pen and signed, a slight tremor the only sign of her internal turmoil. She walked over as well and signed where they needed her to.
The officer handed the file to his subordinate and stood up, standing by the side of the bed. The doctor walked over, a smile playing on her face. She immediately placed a hand over her mother’s.
Her mother seemed to relax a bit. The doctor was a familiar face, a comforting face and as it turned out over the next ten minutes- her mother’s passport to freedom.
One step closer to freedom.
Their ride home was a quiet one. She saw her mother looking pensively out of the window and placed a comforting hand over her shoulder. Her mother tensed and turned around. Slowly, she offered her a smile and for the first time, spoke at full length
“Can I ask you something?”
“I … I know it has been a long time but…. what I mean to say is…”
She didn’t interrupt, waiting for her mother to complete the train of thought. Her mother swallowed.
“I would like to just…assume normal routine as soon as possible. Is it okay if I cook and just go about doing housework as before? I mean, it will give me something to do and … take my mind off things.”
She looked straight ahead and nodded.
“Yes, of course. But please, I need to keep your medicine within plain sight. I need to know you are taking it regularly.”
Her mother nodded and turned away once again, her mind a tunnel that no longer had a gate pass for anyone.
They reached home just before sunset. She unloaded the trunk while her mother stood outside the car. She quickly took the bags in and returned to park the car. Her mother hadn’t moved, looking sightlessly at the family duplex in front of her, her eyes filled with tears that wouldn’t fall.
“Maa… it is okay, come in now… “
She went to hold her mother’s arm, but her mother walked past her, seemingly distracted. She couldn’t hold it against her.
The periphery of vision had altered from a home that was always a home to a home that would now never be one.
Few weeks in, both mother and daughter had entered a compatible routine. She was working from home to keep an eye on her mother. She had enough groceries to last them for a couple of months. Her mother, already an introvert was now used to isolation over the past many years. She never asked to venture out, didn’t meet the neighbors and never asked for the phone. Between the both of them, they had very little conversation but with the passage of time, the awkwardness transitioned to somewhere between civil and friendly. Sometimes she would even catch her mother smiling. She kept a close eye on her mother’s medication. However, her mother continued to be regular with it. Her mother also seemed to be acutely aware of her attention but didn’t comment on it. It seemed likely that life would settle slowly after the initial hiccups.
One day, her mother came down with a fever high enough for her to take a break from her routine and sleep in. As she prepared to make food, she realized her grocery supplies were bordering on dangerously low. With her mother’s health and the state of the pantry, Khichuri was the mood of the day. As she set the pressure cooker on high, she picked her mother’s medication and placed it next to her bed. Her mother was still asleep. She stopped and took a long look at her.
Wrinkles and bags, hair greyer than she remembered and a sadness that never left her face, asleep or awake. She had changed so much that it was difficult to believe it was the same woman she knew as her mother. Sometimes she wondered if her mother thought the same thing about her. Overcome by some form of compassion, she turned away. She wasn’t usually overwhelmed like that. It annoyed her. Enough. She shook her mother awake.
“Food is ready Maa.”
Her mother woke up, looking dazed, then nodded her head.
She piled some steaming khichuri on the plate, topped it with ghee and carried it to the table. Her mother was already there, starting to sit down.
“Have food Maa, I will make a quick run to the grocery.”
A necessary errand.
Her mother nodded.
When she came back, she checked on her mother who was back in her room and was sleeping again. She spotted her freshly washed plate and noticed another covered plate on the table. Next to it was a glass of buttermilk. Her mother. She felt ravenous.
The Khichuri really hit the spot. She sat to watch some TV before her eyes started getting heavy. She didn’t want to sleep. There was work to be done. She washed her hands and picked one of the many shopping bags to take it back to her mother’s room. Surprisingly, her eyes were getting heavier. She could almost feel her head spinning. She remembered entering the room and then nothing.
When she came to, she was still feeling very lethargic. Her eyes refused to open completely. When she tried to move, she felt a discomfort like she was bound. She struggled to get her eyes open. She could make out that she was on her bed, but her vision was hazy. Once again, as she moved, she felt strangely constrained. By now, she was awake and aware that her drowsiness was not just from the food.
She was drugged.
“Maa…” She spoke out hoarsely.
“Yes, I am here.”
She heard her mother’s clear voice. From next to her.
She shifted her focus to spot her. Sure enough, her mother was sitting in a chair in front of her, her crisp pink Tant- a blob of color in her otherwise monochromatic vision. She shook her head to clear her vision.
“What… What is going on?”
Her mother was silent. Her vision was beginning to clear. Horrified, she realized she was bound. With Zip ties.
“Maa!” She called out; the drug induced haze almost gone, “What is this?”
Her mother cleared her throat, “There is a talk I needed to have with you… long pending… “
She stopped struggling and looked at her mother.
“When you were a child…. I never understood.”
“Maa, did you tie me up?”
“I never understood why you constantly kicked Fluffy. We punished you for it so many times but you neither felt bad nor did you stop it”
She was furiously trying to break free again, her rage beginning to surface now.
“Then Fluffy got lost. After days we found him dead. Drowned. How?”
She stopped and glared at her mother.
Her mother nodded sadly,
“We knew. We didn’t understand it, but we knew. But… a pet is always less significant than a living person, right?”
“Let.Me.Go” She repeated, through clenched teeth.
“Your father… didn’t know what to ask you and we kept silent, hoping it was a one-time thing. Growing up pains. But we knew. We always knew.”
She didn’t interrupt, only her eyes indicating her rage.
“You were 10 then. The first time. “
Her mother looked at her. A thousand emotions were sifting through her eyes.
“Then school. Complaints about violence. Repeated unnecessary violence. Initiated by you. You had a reason every time but… we knew. And then one day, one of your classmates fell off the swing and broke her arm. They said you were pushing the swing. You denied it but when we questioned you at home…. You just…smiled.”
Her mother swallowed.
“We punished you but… it didn’t seem to affect you. No punishment did…Your eyes, your father said… there was no emotion in your eyes. We were, I think …always a little scared of you. “
When she heard that, for the first time… she smiled. More like a smirk.
“Your brother… baby brother… “Her mother’s voice broke down
She didn’t blink.
“We thought a sibling….” Her mother stopped, and took in a breath.
” But, no, you would pinch him as a baby… so hard he would turn blue. While he cried his lungs out and we tried to pacify him, you would stand in a corner and smile… always that smile. I still remember when you gave him boiling hot milk. He was just 8 months old. That smile…”
Her mother let out a shudder, as if the memory scalded her.
“Things just got worse…repeated ‘accidents’, injuries, doctors, hospital visits …. So much so that we seriously started considering not having you home. “
Her mother stopped then, trying to control her increasingly quavering voice.
“You were in the last year of school. But that didn’t stop us from considering a hostel. You begged us to not send you to one. By then, your father was adamant. “
Her mother stopped and looked at her, anger visible in her own eyes,
“Was that when you decided to kill your brother?”
She didn’t reply, just continued looking at her mother, a bored expression on her face.
Both were silent and then she spoke,
“Why do you want to know?”
Her mother no longer looked as timid.
“I need to know. He was my son”
“I am your daughter”
Her mother hesitated then spoke,
“You are more spineless than I thought- you hurt people and don’t even have the guts to admit it”
Her eyes blazed. She spat,
Her mother kept looking at her.
“Yes, I killed him. And you know what? I enjoyed it!”
There was another tense silence. Her mother’s voice broke when she spoke again.
“You pushed him?”
“You like being tortured, don’t you?” She sneered, “Yes, I picked him up and put him on the ledge of the terrace. He was enjoying the breeze on his face, didn’t even realize when I pushed him and when he hit the hard ground. I can still hear the faint thud. So very satisfying.”
Her mother grabbed the arm of the chair and sat down, overcome by emotions.
She laughed again and mocked,
“Are you not going to say, ‘we knew’”
“He was just 4”
It took her mother a few minutes before she spoke again
“Why? I thought he would want to keep his only child close. He had no such intention. By the way even without that reason, I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy killing him. My first time with the knife too.”
Her mother closed her eyes, unable to speak anymore.
“Was I next?”
“Perhaps- however not yet! Frankly it would have called for too much attention. Then and now as well. By the way, when are you going to untie me? Or is your grand plan to keep me tied forever?”
Her mother didn’t speak for several minutes, then got up and left the room. She pulled at her hands in frustration. She probably should have killed the old twat. She heard footsteps and stopped.
The same officer who had signed off her mother entered the room. He had more subordinates with him.
“Time to go. “He signaled his subordinates to take charge.
It didn’t take her long to figure out what must have conspired. She glared at her mother, who wasn’t looking at her anymore.
“Oh, I ‘ll definitely be back now MAA!”
Her mother sat with a cup of tea- her last before she left. Her bag was packed. A retirement home somewhere in the Northern hills waiting for her.
She thought about the lives lost- known and unknown, the guilt, and her persistence at protecting her daughter till the very end. But it was her doctor, who made the discovery of her innocence during counseling last year and convinced her that her daughter could not be left loose in society. It took her several months to come to terms with that. It was when the doctor pointed out that she may have hurt many more in the past nine years that she agreed to cooperate with the police. They set up a fake release only to capture the real criminal. The doctor also feared for her safety at being alone with her daughter, but the police ensured that there was vigil round the clock both outside with plain clothed policemen and an unmarked van as well as tiny USB charger cameras inside. She kept a close eye on her mother but didn’t look twice at the chargers dangling through the house. The difficult part was to get to her leave the house. But she never left the house or her mother alone. Their only opportunity came today when she left the house for errands and after the team had set the stage and the drugged buttermilk, they equipped the mother for the final curtain raiser- The mic.
She had watched dumbfounded as they got into action after her daughter collapsed. It was so dramatic that she felt she wouldn’t be able to play her part. They needed her daughter to confess she did it, they said. She, who had rarely questioned anyone in her life, had to twist a confession from her daughter. They prepared her like one would prepare for a skit, but she was unprepared for the shock it eventually resulted in. As a mother, it was the first time she saw the monster in her daughter. The coldness in her eyes and the wickedness in her voice. It wiped out the human that should have existed in her. It shook her. Psychopath, they had categorized her daughter as. But she is normal, she had argued. The doctor explained how perfectly regular it was for a psychopath to function like everyone else, appear normal while hiding their true selves. It was a struggle before she finally accepted it. Her blood. Her daughter. The knot in their family that would never straighten out.
Her phone rang. She sighed and answered it this time. It was her cab. She shut the door to the house one final time. Their twisted story had finally come to an end. The rest of the world would be safe. Hopefully.
Maa – Mother.
Tant- traditional Saree type.
Khichuri – Rice and lentil dish.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!