Anjali Sharma posted under Flash Fiction QuinTale-11 on 2019-08-25

Finally, I moved into my new flat. Renting a flat to myself had been a bigger challenge than getting the new assignment. The owner’s questions were point blank ‘’What are your timings, late nights, boy..err friends? Sorry for being blunt, this is a conservative society, people object to singles staying alone.’’ I made sure not to reveal my real profession, or this flat too would’ve slipped.

I was fixing my favourite copper bells at the door when I heard the opposite door open. A waft of incense filled the corridor. The lady of the house was chanting a prayer and moving about the doorway. I tried to wave a hello. She glanced at me from the steel grill and smiled. Next moment, a stodgy man came out muttering something. He slammed the door hard and left. 

I saw him again in the elevator, while returning from work in the evening. Reeking of alcohol, he almost pushed me aside while exiting. ‘Conservative Society’ huh!

Managing the house and work was getting to me. I needed help and decided to knock at my neighbour’s door. She came out. It seemed she had just woken up, sullen face, disheveled hair. 

“Hi, sorry did I disturb you?’’ I asked her. 

‘’No’’ she replied, ‘’have fever… you..?’’ 

‘’I needed help with finding a housemaid.’’ 

‘’Okay, you can inform the guard, he will send someone.’’ 

I could hear someone talking aloud inside. She hurriedly closed the door and disappeared before I could say anything.

This became an everyday affair. I would often hear the man screaming, whenever he was at home. Curious, I often tried to catch a glimpse of her. Last I saw her, she had a dark bruise on her face. She tried to hide but eyes said what words didn’t. On other days, she performed her puja piously. Somedays when she had no visible wound, she would offer prasadam to me with an elusive endearing smile, avoiding conversation at the same time.

I came home exhausted that day, after a grueling week. Deepa, my cousin, had come over, with pizza and the movie discs. We had just settled when I heard someone yelling, loud enough to be audible behind the closed door. The shouting grew louder, and then, I heard her shriek. Deepa was startled now. “What’s that?’’ ‘’The next door neighbour. I guess he beats her but she never complains, don’t understand why.’’ 

The noise didn’t abate, slurred shouts and wails. Now, I was worried and couldn’t stop myself. I stepped out and rang the bell. 

The door opened swiftly. It was her, tearful, shivering, as if waiting for someone to interrupt. 

‘’Hello, is it me you’re looking for?’’

She ran towards me and hugged me, drops of blood trickling from her nose smeared my shirt.

‘’Girl, why are you here at this hour?’’ he growled, grimace writ large on his face.

Jayeeta Sinha. I showed my ID card ‘Special Officer, Crime Branch’ and dialed the police station.

Puja: Prayer
Prasadam: Sweet offered to deity