It was dark. The flames from the pyre that was burning at a distance and the twinkling stars were the only source of light. Hot smoke lingered in the air suffocating the dogs making them howl in pain. The flames lessened with every passing minute and you were on the verge of being reduced to ashes. You were now a star in the vast sky. You would be spoken about in the past tense. Your existence has faded into oblivion. But your deeds both good and bad would remain etched in the minds of your near and dear forever. Closing your lifeless eyes, you let the tears settle on the burning lower eyelids. Pictures of a younger you, dressed in a red-coloured Kanjeevaram saree danced before you. Jasmine flowers that were meticulously woven adorned your silky hair. One or two wayward tresses fell on your face concealing your eyes. With your index finger, you held those tresses and disciplined them by tucking them behind your ears. The heavy metallic earrings lined with pearls and embellished with green and red-coloured stones swayed to the tunes of the breeze. Your almond-shaped eyes gyrated sending his heart for a toss. Your eyelids fluttered like a butterfly as you approached him holding a tray in your hands. You bent forwards and handed him coffee. The steam emerging from the cup settled on your bow-shaped eyebrows like the drops of dew that settled on a leaf. A smile escaped your lips and your hands trembled as his fingers inadvertently stroked yours.
Slowly, you lifted your gaze and your eyes met his. Something happened in that fleeting moment. Something deep and beautiful. You were enveloped by the flames of love and shimmers of happiness trickled down your body. Six months after the traditional bride-seeing ceremony, marriage happened. The love at first sight deepened with every passing day. The way he noticed and recognized your smallest of needs tugged at your heartstrings. Your days were hectic and nights were filled with love and ecstasy. He not only loved you but he also was devoted to you. You took care of his parents like they were your own. You massaged your mother-in-law’s knees every evening and attentively listened to your father-in-law’s anecdotes that were laced with imagination. You were living the best life and there was no dearth of peace or happiness.
Two years passed. Suddenly, everything beautiful had come to a halt. God had put a comma to the influx of happiness in your life. His firm had opted for a cost-cutting policy and he lost his job. But not losing his confidence, he had begun a job hunt. What you earned as a part-time nurse was meagre and you joined a hospital as a full-time nurse to compensate for the lost income. You were busy for most of the days and dropped dead tired at night. Not having anything worthwhile to do, despair overpowered him. That enchanting smile disappeared. Fights and quarrels over petty issues made their way into your lives. Happiness took the backseat and love dwindled like a lamp placed in the open. Yet you stood strong, gathered every ounce of strength left within you and held the fort high. You tried to look for warmth and love in every nook and passed day after day hoping that everything would fall into place sooner or later.
Six months passed and he still hadn’t secured a job. The patience in him diminished and the courage that once dwelled in your heart seemed to decrease. While you were engrossed in concealing the bare and shredded fibres of your marital life, a catastrophic event brought the world crashing before you. That night, as you were busy clearing the kitchen, you heard a thud. Dropping the cauldron soaked in soap, you rushed to the living room. Watching your father-in-law lay on the floor while clutching his chest tightly created turbulence in your heart. You rushed to the room and reached for your phone. The ambulance arrived and your father-in-law was driven to the hospital. Surgery was performed and the blocks were cleared. That incident brought a tad of change in his behaviour. With renewed zeal, he looked for a decent-paying job. The uncertainty of life was a game changer. Step by step, understanding made its way into your lives. While you toiled all day to make ends meet, he did everything he could to find a job that suited his qualification.
Your father-in-law’s surgery emptied your bank account. In an attempt to overcome the hand-to-mouth situation your family was in, you welcomed every opportunity that came your way. While your life on the professional front was fulfilling, there was a void in your personal life. Your heart yearned for a little bundle of joy. You wished to hear the squeals of your little one. You desired to witness the tantrums thrown during the terrible twos. Having handled many children at the hospital, you had fallen in love with kids.
“We must plan for a baby. The baby would usher happiness into our lives,” you tried to voice your desire one evening.
“I cannot think of having a baby till I get a job. I don’t want to be tagged as an irresponsible and useless father,” he snapped at you and walked away. Wiping the tears with your turmeric-stained hands you had spent the rest of the night staring at the cracks in the ceiling. Like those in the ceiling, the cracks in your life too seemed to be deep and serrated. The jagged edges appeared prominently. Yet you did nothing about it. It took two to tango and you felt that he was equally responsible for the discrepancies in your married life. Having cried yourself to sleep that night, you missed the alarm the next morning. The scorching rays of the sun that fell on your face woke you up. Through your squinted eyes, you looked at the clock and jumped off the bed. The next hour that you spent running hither-thither passed in a daze. Gobbling the ice-cold tea, you rushed to work.
The lunch box that lay in the corner of the dining table stared at the doorway hoping that you would return. But it was to no avail. The light-weighted bag gave you a hint but brushed it off. Your stomach rumbled and grumbled but ignoring its incessant complaints, you got into the blue-coloured gown, Oblivious to the danger looming over you, you stood in the dim-lit room performing your duties. Ignoring the walls that reeked of blood and pus and made you feel nauseated, you focussed on the task in hand, when the door opened and he entered. One looked around the room and the box slipped from his hand and fell to the floor. The scattered lentil gravy formed an abstract art on the otherwise murky flooring. The bizarre surroundings made him tremble. Sweat beads did a salsa on your forehead and you fidgeted with your hands. Your mouth went dry and you felt a clutching fear in your stomach.
“How did you know that I was here?” your voice shook as you spoke.
That look in his eyes, made you cringe in disgust. Without uttering a word and not waiting for you to explain, he darted out of the room. Concealing the tears that were rolling in your eyes and masking the guilt that was strangling you, you stood with your head held low. A firm grasp on your left arm made you lift your gaze. “You were supposed to keep this a secret. We cannot afford a loose end,” the doctor retorted while you twitched in pain.
“I’m sorry, I will,” not letting you finish the sentence, “How did your husband know where to find you? Even the staff aren’t aware that this room is functional. You weren’t forced into this. Clear the mess you created,” the doctor yelled while looking straight into your eyes. While you stood still, the doctor turned and continued to do what he was doing as though nothing had transpired. Your hands quivered and you felt dizzy. The remaining day passed uneventfully.
That evening, seated in the auto-rickshaw you mentally rehearsed the explanation you had carefully crafted for the millionth time. The sputtering sound disrupted your chain of thoughts. The sight of your humble abode that usually filled you with warmth scared you. You got off the vehicle and walked to the door. Your fingers shook as you hit the doorbell. A few seconds later, that almost seemed like an eternity the door opened and you walked in. You sighed in relief from not finding him in the living room. You knew that the worst would happen sooner or later yet his momentary absence gave you solace. You entered the room and sank onto the bed. The not-so-soft mattress that you otherwise despised felt soothing. His eyes and that look filled with shock and anger formed before you. The knot in your chest tightened and trying to maintain your composure, you closed your eyes.
After a while, the door opened. Your eyes were still closed but the whiff of alcohol confirmed his presence. Dragging the chair towards you, he sat and stared at you with bloodshot eyes. He deserved an explanation and you were determined to justify your actions.
“I did it for money. Dad’s surgery had dried the bank account,” you spoke breaking the horrifying silence.
“What about your morals and principles? Did the money drain the empathy out of you? You aren’t the same Renuka I fell in love with,” tears laced with anger choked him as he spoke incoherently.
You sat upright, looked at him and with your eyes that shot a million arrows, you said, “It has been a long time since you earned a penny. So bite your tongue and stop hurling words at me.”
On listening to your no-nonsense tone, he froze. The bottle from his hand slipped and fell to the floor, breaking into many pieces. You bent forwards and your distorted reflection stared at you. Weren’t you supposed to apologize? Every fibre in you knew that you were wrong. But not wanting to portray yourself as docile you silenced him by triggering his Achilles heel. Ignoring the conscience that occasionally pricked you like a thousand dart pins you walked to him and hugged him tightly. He tried to free himself from your grasp but with every passing second, your grip tightened making him feel suffocated. With your right hand, you gently nuzzled his hair. Shaking his head with all his might, he tried to resist but failed at it. You knew that the nudging would calm him. Wanting to pull the plug on the issue, your lips inched towards him. You were desperate to keep your family intact. You loved him after all. Though the love came with terms and conditions. He stared into your deep brown eyes for a few minutes and melted like butter placed on a hot pan. His lips gently caressed yours and his hands took a tour of your luscious physique. He lifted you in his arms and threw you on the bed. Ripping his shirt apart, he pounced on you like a hungry leopard. A smile embraced your lips as you moaned. You got what you wanted. Knowing that you would never be able to justify your actions, you had chosen the easier path. The path of euphoria. His arms were entwined around your waist. He held onto you like you were the post in a storm and slept like a baby. As the night enveloped your soul, you stared into nullity, stabbing and throttling your conscience.
The next morning, droplets of water lining your hair landed on his face and woke him up. Free from the clutches of alcohol he appeared to be stable and clear, making it difficult for you to face him. The well-practised tears sat on your water line waiting for your signal. His eyes drifted away from you and lo and behold, your tears cascaded freely down your cheeks as though you had set off a button.
“It will not happen again,” you spoke. Your mind wasn’t in accord with your lips as you feigned truthfulness.
He looked away and his indifference made you seethe with anger.
“We needed money. I had no choice,” you tried to explain.
Love drooled out of your eyes and you tried to coat your tone with nectar.
“There is always a choice. A choice to do the right thing,” His stern voice frayed your nerves.
An unworthy person who hadn’t worked for a day in a long time was imparting life lessons to you. His looks filled with abhorrence scraped your soul. A part of you wanted to give up. Walking away seemed like the best option. But the other part wanted him by your side. You wanted him to hold you tightly and make you feel wanted. You yearned for his gaze that was once filled with love and admiration. Gathering whatever patience was life within you, “Forget the past. Let us start afresh,” your almond-shaped eyes and silky tone glazed with sorrow aimed at melting his resolve to condemn you.
He got off the bed and walked towards you. Clutching your arms, his gaze was pinned against yours. You felt his warm breath on your face. His skin still reeked of alcohol and the juices in his stomach churned.
“Fulfilling the needs of the family is never easy. Medicines and regular check-ups for your father, house rent, electricity and phone bills and other miscellaneous expenses. The list would go on. How do you think I managed everything with that lawful meagre salary? You didn’t question me as long as it was convenient to you,” your accusatory remarks silenced him.
Searching for words, he stammered. His eyes exhibited helplessness that was wrapped in wrath.
He was weak and vulnerable. Another nail in his head was needed.
“Did my words bruise your fragile male ego? Truth is always bitter,” you said.
His hand almost reached your neck but he took a swing at the table.
“Life rarely gives you a second chance. You better utilize it judiciously,” he warned you.
Not looking at you even once he entered the bathroom. You walked to the kitchen, put up a happy front, finished the daily chores and left for work. You made a conscious effort to make amends. But habits died hard. You were addicted to money. Those green-coloured notes make you feel euphoric. It transported you to a utopian world where everything was beautiful. You missed the adrenaline that rushed through your veins as you assisted the doctor. Your eyes that shone while counting those notes were lustreless.
“Life rarely gives a second chance,” his warning rang in your ears. But you walked into that dingy room anyway. “You are late,” the doctor scorned. Ignoring the jibe, you covered your nose and mouth with a surgical mask, gloved your hands and captured your hair in a disposable head cap. Your hands trembled as you handed him the scalpel. It wasn’t your first time. Yet the fear of your family falling apart was wrenching your soul. While you watched everything that transpired without winking your eyes, the organ was carefully removed and preserved in a jar filled with a liquid. The entire process gave you goosebumps. It sent an exciting chill down your spine. Like a scared child watching a horror film through her partially closed eyes, despite every cell in you shuddering in fear, you intently observed the entire procedure. You discarded the blood-soaked gloves but you couldn’t wash your sins. You cleaned yourself meticulously before leaving the hospital. He still doubted your intentions and had an eye on you. You didn’t want to fuel his suspicion. On the pretext of hugging you, he tried to get a whiff of your sins.
Slowly, with time the memory of your misdeed had become hazy and you were at peace. But the truth couldn’t be concealed for long. It rose its mighty head and sunk its sharp teeth into your teeth that evening. A pungent odour meandered in the air. Your eyes felt watery and you looked around for the source of discomfort. Before you detected the source of malodour, he noticed that your bag was wet. He walked to the bag and sniffed it. Twitching his nose, his face displayed a disgruntled expression. You darted forwards but he pushed you away and opened the bag and emptied the contents. The floor displayed purple, green and yellow coloured notes. The veins on his forearm were visible. You felt the thrumming of blood in his angered blood vessels. Where did you go wrong? You were cautious. You didn’t want to get caught. You remembered that you had absent-mindedly placed your bag on a table that had traces of blood and formalin.
“You didn’t change. Not even a bit. You were leading a double life all these days. I was taking a tour of the hospital when I had come across the unused room months back. I was passing by it when I heard a familiar voice. Your voice. I entered and what I saw rendered me speechless. Not knowing what to do, I left. You are an accomplice to organ trafficking. You aren’t the woman I once loved. But I couldn’t let go of you. So I gave you a second chance. I started believing in you. But you are a greedy witch. You are a vampire who sucks the life out of everyone,” his scream curdled your blood.
“I’m ….” before you uttered a word, he reached for his phone and said, “I’m going to inform the authorities.” He was dialling the number when you leapt forwards, grabbed the phone and smashed it against the wall. He grabbed you by your neck and pushed you against the wall. With all your strength you pushed him away and rushed towards the bed. You wanted to warn the doctor about the fiasco.
Before you laid your hands on your phone, he shrieked in frustration, “I’m going to the police station.” You folded your hands and pleaded. But he didn’t pay any heed. You obstructed the path and threatened him with a pocket knife you always carried with you. You didn’t want to harm him. You never did. But he left you with no choice. He shuddered at the sight of the knife. More than the knife it was your merciless eyes that shocked him. He tried to snatch the knife away from you.
“You aren’t in the right state of mind,” he muttered.
As you grappled, he grabbed the knife. His hands trembled making the knife slip and pierce your chest. Blood oozed out of your existence. Clutching his head, he collapsed on the floor. Your parents-in-law weren’t home and you had no one to seek help from. Leaning against the door, you slumped on the floor. Drop by drop, life dribbled out of your existence. Your skin turned blue and your eyeballs popped out of the sockets. As your lay on the floor, soaked in blood, your entire life played before you. You had had your share of favourable and not-so-favourable days. You remembered the happy moments you spent with him and a smile escaped your lips. It was an accident. He didn’t want to harm you. Your greed had uprooted your family. But you didn’t feel guilty. You had made your choices and you stood by them. Looking at his unconscious form one last time, you breathed your last.
With whatever little flesh was left of you, you saw that he was taken into custody by the police. You loved him but you loved yourself more. You paid for your actions. It was his turn to burn in sorrow and guilt. You wondered if he had intentionally stabbed you? You knew that he would have read your post-mortem report. He knew that a seed was sprouting in your womb and he destroyed it. With that thought, you were burnt to ashes and you left the world. Hoping that the other side of the world would treat you better, your soul drifted in the air. You were gone forever. And it was for the good of all.
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