The Last Sin
For some time she stood still, hunched over the sink, grabbing the head of the tap with both her hands, like a sinner at the aisle, breathing heavily. The tap gave a spurting cough, dripped a few more times before running dry. She stood there, arched like a bow in tension. The sound of birds, the cawing and cooing coming from the cage hung from the window-bar, went through her head, pricking and lancing like an uncomfortable piece of shrapnel. It didn’t allow her to think in peace. She had to decide. Find a way. Quick. The birds chattered all the more, and she could feel their beaks gnawing at her nerves, her brain-mass. She had to keep her calm
. Slowly she put her hands inside the water. Ripples ran through the
square basin, the clatter of utensils hitting against each other added to the
noise of the birds, and the sink overflowed, as she pulled out a steel knife
from below the water.
The other night, they had lain asleep under stinging orange bars of light from the street lamps which invaded the room every night. Akhim tossed and turned. The light made sleeping difficult for him, not that he was a sound sleeper in general.
He turned around to look at her. She always slept in a brown dressing gown, torn below the right arm-pit, and with her back to him. The tear looked fresh. He closed one eye and focused on the stitches. The frayed ones stood out. The wall-clock he had brought the day they had married had its hands at three and forty-seven. He realised it would be impossible to drift back to sleep unless … unless he touched her, poked and jabbed, made the tear wider, pressed and clawed at her skin reddening it to wounds and gaps, and released on her. That was, more often than not, his last resort, his only lullaby. Armed with a nascent morning wood, Akhim snaked his way to her where the sharp smell of the ittar, which she had picked up off Yakub’s shop, welcomed him. ‘Stupid bitch,’ he muttered under his breath. He dragged in a long breath, and decided he would rather smell blood.
He picked up the ivory-toothed keyring near the mantelpiece and began to navigate it up and down the crack of her arm-pit where the tear was, up and down, up and down, quietly cajoling her to ditch her beauty sleep for lust. His breaths became ragged as he opened his mouth and pressed his lips below her neck dragging in more of her smell, and the swoosh of the keyring turned frenetic. She was still asleep.
With his other hand he made his way up her spine to her neck and held it in a loose grip to position it. He opened his mouth wider releasing warm breath on her as he fumbled with the keyring around the crack. And opening it fully, he suddenly sank his teeth into her skin, tearing at it. She woke with a start and a resounding scream. Blood oozed out of her bitten flesh. He smelled it and let out an awful laugh. The birds screamed out loud in response, and shook the cage.
She turned quickly..The keyring was now in his mouth. He was sucking at it. It smelled of her.
‘What the fuck!?’ she bellowed at him.
He hit her.
He chopped three times into her tummy and she fell down on the cold hard floor, clutching herself in the foetal position. He showered kicks onto her body, undressing himself with each kick. He lay on top of her. The floor felt cold to his shins. Holding her by her stretch-mark ridden stomach, he entered her. She didn’t resist, she was used to it. When he was done she dragged herself to the guest bathroom and stayed locked in there for the few remaining hours till dawn. While she wept silently, he slept like a child, like his own child.
‘Bastard,’ Jenthai spat out. She had loved him once, deep passionate love it was.
She emerged from her reverie and boiled water to make milk for her seven-month-old son. The child was always hungry, bawling his jaw off for more milk, between her feedings and the milk powder. The birds broke into their cacophony as she measured four careful spoons of milk into the bottle with the water – automatic clockwork hands moving, and her mind in overdrive with anger and fear. She fed Varun, the apple of Akhim’s eyes, and lulled him to sleep. Will he also hit his wife? Once Varun was nodding his head back with gentle snuffles, she slid him into the crib and went to the living room. She lay there on the cold tiled-floor and stared into the empty ceiling. The rain-water had seeped in and left damp-patches on white. Looking at it, she thought of her own body, her torn flesh, like a broken window screen – tiny jagged splits all over.
She couldn’t remember the exact date when he first hit her but it was three months after they were married. He had dragged her by her hair and slapped her for serving him tepid tea – and she had shrieked on and on. The neighbours pretended not to hear her screams. And five years of marriage dragged on. At twenty-six she felt like an old hag. Of course now she was wise enough not to utter a word on such occasions. But today, her rage got the better of her. It had begun to rain outside again. She could escape this very moment. But not without slaying that snake, not without making him suffer, she thought.
In his sporadic good moods, she pleaded with him:
‘Let us end this marriage Akhim. I don’t want anything from you. Just let me go.’
‘Why? I love you.’
‘But I don’t. I want to start my life once again.’
‘You don’t get it do you? I will never let you go.’
That day stretched on and on, without an end, in their huge Cleave Colony flat in Shillong, as the rain drummed a mad beat on the rooftops. She marched up and down in her faded white slippers, the rubber soles slapping the marble floor.
She thought of home and plonked herself on the sofa, hugging her knees tight. She had tried getting help from home but those were just useless phone calls to her mother in Kohima. The memory of it made her wince at their indifference.
‘Mama, I can’t take it anymore.’
‘But Jenthai, he loves you. How can you say such things about him?’
‘He has threatened to kill me if I leave him. I don’t trust him at all.’
‘No he won’t. And what will you do after leaving him?’
‘I want to start a new life, I have managed to get a job in Bangalore. My MBA is still valid after five years.’
‘Don’t be silly, Jenthai. You know your sister is back with us now with her two kids. And your father’s lungs are getting worse. I tell that old man to keep off the chillum but he will never listen. The rains worsen it even more.’
She gave up on Mama.
The sales girls in her neighbourhood supermarket gave her advice about which eye shadow to hide the marks, about how to use toothpaste on her wounds for swift healing, about the phone number of the nearest police station to lodge her complaint. The eye shadow came handy many times. After much trial and error she had zeroed in on a purple shade as her constant choice.
The continuous rains outside made everything seem grey, even though it was only mid-afternoon. She opened the window to the cold air. The raindrops winked at her and screamed – Run Jenthai, RUN!! She stretched her hands out, let the rain wash over them, dried them on the folds of her shabby dressing gown and repeated.
I let him have his way all these years. No, not anymore!
Waves of anger washed over her and she vomited plain, tart-tasting water-blood into the rain. There had to be a way to pay him back and to get her freedom. His weakest link – think you dumb cow!
What did he like? Other women – no. Booze? That control freak never drank anything but milk. Golf? Yeah, right. Break his golf sticks or sleep with his caddy.
In frustration, Jenthai started hitting the wall with her hands. The birds screeched loudly and she screamed at them, letting out shrill cries into the moist air. Her left hand barely missed hitting a framed photo. There were many of them on the wall—mostly of him and Varun. She pulled out a recent one, stroked the laughing people with fingers that left grubby trails on the glass and hugged it tight to her breasts. She smiled while tears flowed uninterrupted down her body. She had already chosen it now. No freedom could ever be bought without slaughter.
In the evening, she went to the kitchen to wash yesterday’s plates as Varun cried, turning in his crib, loud enough to fill her head with the sound of birds, utensils and the flowing water. She came back with the knife, kept it on top of the dressing table and took Varun to the bathroom for his evening wash. She filled the tub until it started overflowing and the water spread out, flooding the floor. She kissed his tiny rose-red brow, ruffled his curls and lowered him gently down into the water—down and still deep inside it. He made meowing whimpers but she heard only the vicious lashes of rain outside.
When Akhim returned from the office, she was ready for him in her favourite red sari, face expertly done, her doe eyes regaining their lost splendour, and her long black hair left loose.
He scowled when he saw her. ‘Who are you meeting? You look like a cheap whore in a cinema hall who jerks you off for twenty bucks.’
She smiled at him.
‘Go to the bathroom. There is a present for you.’
Something in her eyes made him run for it.
She picked up the knife from the table, dragged her packed suitcase to the living room and went in search of him. His eyes were mad with grief and horror. He clutched her arms in a deadlock. His fingers dug into her forearms and he was howling.
For a minute she kept quiet, looking straight into his eyes, curling her lips into a smile he had never seen. And as his body shook with uncontrollable sobbing she pushed him away with all her strength and he crashed against the bathroom tiles.
She walked out tall with the knife clutched firm in one hand and the suitcase in the other. The rains had made way for a clear, starry, May night. As she drove away, she was filled with a violent sense of freedom.
Gaurav Deka studied medicine at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital. When not writing, he is a practicing physician. His fictions, poetry and essays have been published in The Open Road Review, The Tenement Block Review, Café Dissensus, The Four Quarter Magazine, Indian Ruminations, The Thumb Print Magazine, Fearless [poetry zine], The Northeast Review, and The Solstice Initiative, among others. His fiction To Whom He Wrote From Berlin won The Open Road Review Short Fiction Contest, 2014. He lives in Guwahati, Assam.