Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Smoke

Almost a year of being married… the anniv is fast approaching and I am about to put up a very dark, very morbid post… before any of you jump to conclusions, hold your horses! This story (yay, my second this year!!!) was inspired from a pic (yet again)

It all began when V, an ex colleague and an excellent photographer showed me one of his photos. Before I begin on the photo, let me tell you that this man has instrumental in fanning my love for photography and opening up the world of photo editing for me! So, back to the pic he showed me. It was a shot of a cigarette dangling from a woman’s hand. The ring finger had a ring on and there were swirls of smoke all around. I don’t know why,  but the pic spoke despair to me… a kind of giving up on hope and acceptance of destiny. That’s what I told V and he kinda agreed… so while I was chatting, the story began to form in my head. Experience has taught me to write down when the idea strikes or lose the intensity and flow of thoughts. So that is exactly what I did! The next two hours were spent in writing this short story… it was 2:00 am when I finished and partially responsible for the neck pain I have had last week (that warrants another post though!)

I really wanted to put up that pic with the story, but well… something to do with the photographer and model’s agreement prevents that. I tried an image search many times, but found no picture on the net that produced the same emotions. That, I guess is the artist’s genius! And I can also sympathise with all the filmmakers who write a story with a particular artist in mind and the star rejects it! It was also freaky that the domestic violence awareness ads have begun on TV. I saw the first one right after this was done. But enough said, its time now for smoke…


SMOKE

Cold feet, Goosebumps all over and a thin veil of smoke around me. These were the least of my worries… more important was the dread - icy cold, lead heavy dread that slowly wraps itself around my heart. Its tentacle like fingers advanced when I was absorbed elsewhere and when they had the whole pulsating thing in their grip, they gave it such a major squeeze, I never recovered from it. That cold dread had become a part of my days and the evenings and the nights. I waited for the inevitable, because I knew it was coming. Even on days when it did not come, there was no respite. It was not an end, a mere break. What solace was to be derived from the postponement of misery? Especially when you know the misery will be back the next day, stronger and more forceful. The first time he struck me, I cried for hours on end. My eyes were red and puffy the whole day afterward and I pretended conjunctivitis at work. The dark glasses hid my eyes, the pain, the hurt, the sadness in them. What they could not hide was the strain in my voice. So I spoke little – very little. Those who cared did not get to hear my voice and those who heard it did not care. I hid behind a self created smoke screen, telling myself that there will be flowers and an apology waiting for me when I get back home. I’ll be angry for a while, but give in when he professes his undying love and devotion to me.

Today, I laugh at my naivety, my optimism and my inane belief in the goodness of mankind – especially of mankind. But there’s no way I could’ve known. I was young, not worldly wise enough and ridiculously woven into ideas of romanticism. Blame a protected childhood and hordes of Mills & Boons for that. What waited for me back at home was an evil shadow monster armed with a leather belt and spiked buckle. The welts on my back stung for years – they never healed. Every evening, he’d rip open the partly healed flesh, drawing fresh beads of dark crimson blood. He stopped wearing that belt after 2 days – it stank of blood and sweat soaked leather. He hung that belt proudly in his almirah and soon his clothes began to emit that smell too. No matter how much of Brut or Axe he showered upon himself, he was always enveloped in the perfume of stale blood and rotting, decaying leather.

The beatings wore him out usually and he downed 2 cans of pepsi after them. Ironically, he was a teetotaler and a non smoker. He was a well educated, highly placed professional in a reputed MNC that I had chosen as my life partner, almost against my parents’ wishes. “No vices” was the phrase I’d used to describe him to mum. No vices indeed. He didn’t need a plural. He had but one vice – to flag his wife everyday. But that took over everything else, a thousand times over. Husbands who smoke, drink or cheat on their wives can still be forgiven. But those who derive their satanic pleasures from seeing blood dripping across their wives’ flesh are not meant to be forgiven.

It was a matter of weeks in which I began to hate everything he did, everything he touched. I would shudder every time he stood close to me. The involuntary shiver of disgust was perceived as fear and his satisfaction bolstered his confidence, fanning the flame of monstrosity. Every belief he upheld in public began to seem like a façade, every word he uttered was laced in treachery. The very language he spoke seemed repulsive. That’s when I switched to Hindi. The first time we had met, he spoke to me in English and we had continued with the language even though both of us came from primarily Hindi speaking families. My switch from English to Hindi seemed to infuriate him and he was more brutal the evening I refused to answer him in the Queen’s language. He saw my action as a taunt and a vertebra bore the brunt. That evening I ended with a broken rib. I moved through my agony, as if nothing had happened. I knew he could batter my body, but would not break it. He was careful to land his blows where the world could not see them. After all, he had a reputation to protect. And since I had most nearly walked out on my family when they opposed our marriage, returning to them was out of question. I called it a quirk of fate, this suffering I had to suffer.

I vividly remember the day he was promoted. His friends demanded a party and he promptly threw them one. He arranged for everything himself – the food, the décor and the booze. I was informed an hour before the first guest arrived. I had to rush home from work and be ready to entertain his elite visitors. I was expected to be the perfect trophy wife – reveling in her husband’s new found success. That evening I saw his old self again, the one that had charmed me. He was an embodiment of charm - his words, his actions, his glances; his touches were all just perfect. He was the perfect doting husband. But the rose tinted glasses had been ripped away from my eyes long ago. I could see the knuckled fist when he had to be polite, the flared nostril when he uttered an endearment. I could feel the pressure on my arm when he held it. His hands were itching for his belt – his ever faithful belt, hanging in his almirah and waiting for his loving caress just before it scorched my skin. After the party was over, I received a verbal lashing for not being the perfect wife, for not displaying enough affection. While one part of me covered in fright, the other spat out in disgust. How could this man expect me to partake in his gross scheme after what he did to me, was still doing to me? He gave me a look, shook his head and disappeared inside. I waited for him to come out but he did not. I was frozen to the spot and dared not move. In the two hours I spent there, I passed through every emotion from self pity to disgust to intense hatred for the man whose snores now reached my ears. When I did get up, my hand brushed a bottle and it rolled on the ground. I leapt to pick it up. My hand clamped over it and the noise stopped. I waited for the sound emanating from the bedroom. The sound of his rhythmatic breathing, his snoring, a ruffle of sheets. There was none. None of these. The sound that greeted me was the soft creek of his almirah followed by muffled footsteps as he crossed the carpeted floor. I was frozen for the second time. The footsteps stopped. I knew he was standing right behind me. I could sense him and smell his belt. I closed my eyes, bracing for it to come crashing down on my back. It didn’t. Instead, he ordered me to pick up the bottle and stand. I did. He turned me around harshly and took the bottle in his had. It was a bluish tinged bottle with a clear liquid in it. The label said Bacardi. He read it and smirked. “Bacardi Nights” he said and thrust the bottle back in my hands. “Drink”, he whispered with a devilish glint in his eye. I looked up at him, slightly confused, unsure whether I heard his command correctly. “Drink” he said once more. I raised the bottle to my lips and brought it down, merely wetting my lips. Infuriated, he grabbed the bottle with one hand and my jaw with the other. Forcing my mouth open, he poured the rum into my mouth. I tried hard to not swallow it, allowing it to fill my mouth and fall to the sides. He kept pouring. I kept resisting. Finally, he left my mouth and punched my stomach. I gulped and the liquid burned through my insides like an acid. The horrible taste made me want to throw up, but the alcohol went straight to my head. Within a minute, I felt braver. I knew he would beat me and that I couldn’t do anything about it, but the fear had flown. The blows had started and I was not even aware of it. I felt something tickle my side and laughed. He, who was jabbing his finger at sides, was maddened. I don’t recall much after that, except for the fact that I woke up the next day with a headache. I had long since stopped noticing the pain in the other parts of the body. I knew I could not live with the awareness of that pain every moment. If every breath served as a reminder of the horrors of my life, I would die. And like each organism on this planet, the will to just be alive kept me going. I still do not know the reason I did not wither and break then. That would have been easier perhaps than to endure what I did.

Alcohol became my aide after that evening. I would already be high before he returned home from work and his beating would be a lot less painful. The mornings that followed were much worse, but I was willing to pay the price. I discovered the cigarette soon after, realizing it allowed me to get through the day. Dependant that I was on booze, I never took it before evening. I knew its role in my life, and was determined to keep it that way. There were only so many things about my life that I could control, I wasn’t about to relinquish that. In the evenings, I would often smoke before I drank. Holding the cigarette in my left hand, its unburnt end touching the side of my engagement ring. It looked out of place in my long shapely fingers, adorned by the wedding ring but felt just right. It felt as if it belonged. For him, flogging me had become a routine, something he did out of habit – like brushing his teeth or shaving his overnight stubble. But try as I might, I could not look at this as a routine. Perhaps it was this one thing that kept me sane then.

Today, my nightmare is over and I can’t believe it. No, I didn’t kill him… but I didn’t save him either. Last evening was another deception party – a gathering of a few elite officials and their wives. The Wasabi restaurant at the Taj was brimming with people and our table faced the entrance. I waited for him to take a place first and then proceeded to sit on the other side, wanting to put as much distance between us as I possibly could. He had his back to the door and when the mass of the bodies parted, I had a broken view of the entrance and the gallery beyond.

I heard the noise before I saw them - the gun yielding maniacs who open fired at everyone in view. The people shouted and tried to run helter-skelter. People on our table scattered and tried to duck below the tables. He was left standing as he looked around, tried to gauge what was happening around him. I saw the gunman turn, bringing his gun back in firing position. I was less than a two feet away and could have pulled him under the safety of the table. Perhaps he could have been saved. Any other wife would have done that, but I watched with bated breath. Every fiber in my body willed the gunman to shoot and the bullet to pierce the heart of my tormentor. The gunman lowered his gun once more. Perhaps he was looking for someone and the man left standing was not him. But then, another gunman entered. His face was contorted with a rage much stronger than his partner. He looked around the room and not finding his target, roared in anger. He opened fire at every person in sight, one lucky bullet finding its way where I had wished.

I have vague recollections of running, hiding and being rescued by black uniformed men after losing all sense of time. Others called it shock, I called it ecstasy.

I am back in the flat now, perched in front of the television, watching endless debates and the political drama around what the media calls 26/11 attacks. A bottle of Bacardi sits on the table nearby and a cigarette dangles from my fingers, touching the engagement ring yet again.