She giggled, aiming the gun at my forehead.
“I’m gonna fuckin’ shoot you through the eyes, you son of a bitch!”
I stared into the icy blackness inside the barrel. A drop of familiarly cold sweat trickled down my neck, seeping silently into the collar of my torn sweatshirt. The stench of alcohol in her rasping breath numbed my senses further, as she dug the cold metal into my skin, her abuses flowing in short, excited wheezes.
“Get down on your bloody knees and apologize, you filthy scum!”
Funnily enough, I could still hear the wall-clock ticking away in the distance, measuring out whatever remained of my wretched existence. For a moment, just a fleeting moment…our eyes met. I gazed into the dismal, murky depths of her olive-green eyes, searching for my answer. Like always. The cruel disgust that they exhibited, however, made me look away. Like always.
Damn, I could hardly believe that I’d fallen in love with those same green eyes…fifteen years ago.
“Alice, baby, don’t move…or Mommy will kill you.” My violently drunk wife snarled sweetly at our ten year-old daughter cowering behind the LCD TV. The words of protest formed a weak, helpless lump in my throat, held in check by the gleaming knife in her left hand. I stepped forward.
Oops. Really shouldn’t have done that.
The initial expression of shock and disbelief gave way to one of wild anger. The knife slashed out at my arm, leaving a slowly thickening line of fresh blood in its wake. Her shrieks of delight rent the air, as my foggy brain registered the excruciating pain shooting up my shoulder.
She was not done yet.
“I’m sorry honey, but you won’t really like what’s gonna happen now.”
I felt the renewed sensation of metal against skin as she got ready to end my misery. For the last time, I looked at her eyes, set in the only face that I’d ever loved. And then at Alice’s face…a face that I would never love enough for the rest of my life. I closed my eyes.
When I opened them, the bullet had torn through my daughter’s body.
Just another of those sickening nightmares that have been haunting my sleep for eleven years. You know, the really ugly ones which make you sit right up in your bed, beads of perspiration dripping off your oily forehead. Oh c’mon, I’m sure you’ve had them once in a while or something.
Guess what…I have them too.
Every single goddamn night.
While the rest of Manhattan sleeps, a fifty year old loser lies awake, staring at the ceiling of his twentieth floor apartment. Finally, he lifts himself off the creaking bed, and wanders around the dark, empty rooms. He stops in front of the gleaming bathroom mirror. Stares back at the dull, sunken eyes. Runs his fingers through his greying hair. And wonders where the hell his life messed up.
Say hello to Jitesh Patel. The man who lost everything he ever cared for.
Not that the world thinks of me in that light, of course. I mean, with a job that most men would kill for and an NRI tag to boot, there isn’t exactly much to crib about, right?
Well, some facts never change. My ex-life as a battered husband is one of them.
One of the dozens around you at this precise point of time. Like that random guy in your office who shows up with a broken jaw and says that he fell down the stairs. Or your friendly neighbour who smiles at you politely in the morning, fully aware that you heard his wife slapping him the last night. Or the fellow drinker at the pub who wears torn (read: cut up) clothes every other evening, and boasts about how loving or caring or whatever darn thing his wife is.
I wish I could give it a good try like him. I can’t.
Come to think of it, I should’ve realized the symptoms the day Sarah punched me in the eye. Hard. Later in the night, I listened patiently to her loud sniffles, my arms comforting her heaving shoulders. As I wiped the snot from her pink nose, she looked at me with bloodshot eyes.
“I can never forgive you for the way you looked at me when I…h-hit you.”
“How did I look?”
“You looked shocked and hurt…and a-angry, Jee-tesh.”
“How should I have looked after you hit me?”
“I needed for you to understand how I was feeling at that time, damn it! I needed your support, not your anger.”
Now I know why she didn’t apologize even once during the four years of our marriage.
So that was when things turned seriously bad. I guess the rot had already set in when my fashion designer wife began to come home at dawn from her several high-profile parties, her beautiful silver-blond hair reeking of tobacco and cannabis. She stepped things up a little by locking me outside the house into the freezing Manhattan winter, such that I had to spend the night at Steve’s. And soon my wife (if I could still call her that) took the concept of rage to a whole new level altogether when she began to hurl anything within a one-metre radius at me, including a Swiss knife and a marble rolling pin.
Wow. Things couldn’t be better, right?
Oddly enough, it was around this time that I met Sonia.
Funny how you end up meeting the wrong people at the wrong time, isn’t it? Sometimes, in hindsight, I wish my long-suffering car hadn’t finally given up that fateful monsoon evening. That I hadn’t entered the phone booth to call up the mechanic. That I hadn’t observed through the misted glass, the muddy waters lapping at the heels of her shiny pointed stilettos. That I hadn’t allowed my moronic eyes to wander uncontrollably up those translucent, incredibly seductive stockings, right up to her rounded hips.
Damn, that I hadn’t given in to pure, sinful lust.
Unlike most others of her type, she did not flaunt a cigarette between her glistening red lips, but stood timidly just around the corner, shy, even embarrassed, waiting for the next customer. The fearful uncertainty in her smouldering eyes, however, made me wonder whether it was her first time in the business. An unfound fear, a delicious vulnerability, which became pronounced in those deep hazel eyes whenever a blade of lightening streaked across the American sky.
It was the first time that I’d seen a woman so terrified, so defenceless, so…susceptible. And believe it or not, it turned me on. Literally.
Not that I made any real advances towards her, of course. Surely, whatever happened to the goody-goody husband who loves his spouse completely and helps her out with the gardening and all that crap? And so, along with my daily routine of slaps, punches and abuses was thrown in a refreshing dose of eager excitement every evening on the way back from office.
The girl with the scared eyes. Same time, same place.
Now don’t ask me why, in all this time, I didn’t even think about pressing assault charges against Sarah. I mean, c’mon, one look at my swollen, bleeding lip and she would’ve spent the night behind bars, right? Surely, this is the proud nation with the Statue of Liberty, symbolising justice and other nice things, right? We live today in a glorious era of gender equality, right? Right?
Wrong. If there was someone who spent the night behind bars, it was me.
“Dude, what the heck!” My easily excitable lawyer friend told me later. “You gone bonkers or something? Like, you actually called up the police? Like, seriously? What exactly were you thinking? That the cops would arrest your wife and not you when she claimed to be only defending herself against domestic abuse?”
It was only then that I realized the deep shit I’d gotten myself into.
The year dragged away. And then another. The funny thing was, she did remember our wedding anniversaries. Each and every one of them. We spent lavishly on booze parties to celebrate another year of my filthy slavery to her. We grinned widely at the guests to prove us as one of those picture-perfect couples who were still crazy about each other four years down the line. And at night, as she lay down beside me (yeah, we still slept beside each other), she leaned in slowly and whispered in my ear…..
I love you.
Of all the lies she ever told me, I hated this one the most.
I hated it with every inch of my being. I hated it with a disgust so vile, sometimes I wondered if its putrid stench would reach my wife sleeping next to me. No, not because it was an outright lie. Not because she didn’t care enough to show it.
But because it was the only thing in the world which made me believe that maybe, just maybe…she really did love me.
As always, I was proved wrong the next morning.
There wasn’t anything much different about that cold, wet morning either when I left for office after a particularly vicious scuffle and a dark bruise fresh on my chin. C’mon now, what was the big deal about it? Just another day in the life of a battered husband, right?
You know, sometimes I wish the sun hadn’t risen that day.
As I drove back from office, people turned to snigger at the prominent dent in my car’s bonnet, an ugly souvenir of my wife’s outburst last week. I chose to ignore them.
But it was too late.
The thoughts had begun pouring in, like little ants ready to feed on a chained prisoner. Impossible to swat away, hungry, persistent. They slowly engulfed my mind, triggering an endless chain of thoughts which branched off everywhere…and met nowhere.
Did I really deserve this? Why was I even putting up with this? Was this all I’d ever live for? The unasked questions that had always been buried away somewhere at the back of my brain began rearing up insolently, like horrible, disfigured skeletons popping out of an old, dusty closet. ‘No,’ I tried to clear them in vain, ‘Go away…please…’
And it was then that I saw her standing at the corner.
The girl with the scared eyes.
Tentative, docile, a little jaded after nearly three years in the business. It suddenly seemed liked I was seeing her again, after all these years, on a wet, rainy day. Come to think of it, I’ve never really known, to this day, what made me do what I did. Maybe it was the alluring appeal of a submissive woman, a woman I’d never found in Sarah. Maybe it was my own way of rebelling against the wretched life I’d been cursed with. Or maybe I was just bored…
“Hey there, what’s your name?” I found myself pulling up beside her.
She turned, the relief of bagging a rich one palpable in her eyes, “Sonia.”
“Get in the car, will you?”
We drove to her apartment block. It was a small, grungy building, with mounds of garbage dotting the surrounding lanes. We climbed the narrow stairs to the second floor. Reached the landing outside her apartment. And as she fumbled in her handbag for the keys, I pushed her against the wall.
I guess that was when I committed the second big mistake of my life.
The handbag fell. She looked up, startled, but did not protest. Just the way I liked it. Her slow, ragged breath brushed across my lips, as she allowed my hands to move up her waist, her pulsating neck…to her face. I moved a wet strand of hair away from her forehead, and our eyes met, for a brief moment…as I leaned in…closer….
The clock had begun chiming when I entered my apartment. It was midnight. Sarah sat reading one of her fashion magazines on the sofa. She lowered her reading spectacles to scowl at me furiously. “Where the hell have you been, Pea-Brain? Do you know what time…”
And suddenly, she knew.
She knew it from the pink lipstick stains on my cheeks and shirt, glaring evidence of my infidelity. She knew it from the drained, guilty, but blatantly rebellious look in my eyes. A look which said, clearer than words that, after long last, she’d been defeated. Finally.
She drew closer to me. I waited for the screams and punches to begin.
“I’m going out. When I get back, I want you outta this house.”
Excuse me? I stared at her, certain that I hadn’t heard it right. Wasn’t she missing out on the teeth-breaking session? What about the abuses that usually flowed copiously by now? Even a slap would be somewhat inadequate in this situation…
I raised my eyes to look at her properly for the first time in three years. She seemed way older than when I’d married her. Her face was gaunt, expressionless, fine lines running across the stretched skin. Maybe she’d never expected this to happen in the first place. Or maybe she’d seen it coming. All along.
“Forgive me Sarah.”
She staggered past me in a daze, as if all the wind had been knocked out of her lungs. Reached the door with slow, heavy steps. And turned.
“You know something? I am gonna be the mother of your child.”
I could feel the words sinking into me, but could do nothing about them. Nothing at all. The emotions simply refused to flow. There was no pang of regret, no spurt of joy. Just a deep, hollow emptiness. And yes…guilt. Raw, painful guilt, gnawing at my insides like a starved animal.
I crouched over, unable to bear the anguish.
When I looked up, she had walked out of my life. Forever.
Maybe I shouldn’t have done what I did. Maybe I hadn’t been the perfect husband. But it wasn’t really much of a choice, was it? Leave…or get killed. The choice was simple. I’d made it, and was set free. Yet every freedom demands a price. And I’d paid mine, too.
I’d paid for my freedom with the joy of fatherhood.
Every month, I do actually get to meet my daughter. More often, I dream of my wife shooting her. But the funny part is, even after ten long years, Sarah and I are still in touch. We aren’t officially divorced or anything yet, but I’ve heard she’s seeing this new guy who may just take my place as Alice’s new daddy.
Sometimes, as we talk, I can hear her smile ruefully on the other side.
“You’re the only person who ever understood me, Jee-tesh.”
The face I see as she speaks is still the one who held the knife.
Kanishk or K-man as he is popularly called, is a 3rd Year MA Economics student. He is a hard working young man and you can catch him anytime busy studying in the DCF. That he is also a talented dancer is a well kept secret.