…without a second thought,
…without a second thought,
I had to call Shruti. Again. And even though Shruti doesn’t mind helping me, I felt hesitant to call her this time. Because I always thought Shruti could see through me. And I didn’t want Shruti to know what was going through my mind. And I definitely didn’t want her to see me like this.
God, I look terrible. I can’t even look at my own face this time. It was that brutal.
But I did call Shruti, held the phone away from my ear when she yelled at me, and cried when I hung up.
As soon as I hear the doorbell ring, I run and open the 6 locks on my door and open it so that Shruti could squeeze in faster and without anyone noticing. She gasps when looks at me.
“What has that beast done to you this time?” she whispers.
She bends down to see my face. “What is it this time?” She asks me softly.
I laugh weakly and say, “The same.”
When I say ‘the same’, it’s usually my husband coming home late in the night, occasionally with a skimpily dressed woman, screaming at me for being present in my own home, and then locking himself in our bedroom with the other woman. In the morning, before leaving for work, he beats the living hell out of me and dares me to tell this to anyone. I could never accept that dare.
This was sort of a routine, and until Shruti came, I never told this to anyone. Not to my parents who married me off 5 years ago and never bothered to look up on us, not to my closest friends, that is, if I had any left. And no siblings to tell this to. After beating me up, he never left home without ordering me to clean up well. To get ready for the night.
When she came over to my house, looking to bond with the new area, I saw her face fall. I knew right then that she knows that I was being hurt. My make up attempt was fruitful until her. Or, maybe no one bothered to look at me properly.
When she came in the second time, she asked me what was happening to me. I couldn’t hide it further. I told her everything. And she started helping me by cleaning and covering up my bruises with expert make up. Then she told me what had happened to her. She had also shown me the scars all over her thighs, and stomach and breasts.
She was only twenty two, and the wisdom she had, because of her experience, gave me the courage to stand up for myself. I think that’s how I ended up going to self defense classes. Also the reason why I ended up getting a lot more bruised than usual. But no one knows this. Not even Shruti.
She shakes her head. “This cannot go on anymore. I am going to put an end to this.”
I grasp her hands, rather tightly, and look at her in the eyes, without letting her know my thoughts. “No, you can’t. You know what is going to happen if this gets out.”
It will be huge. No one will believe us. They would think we were doing this for money.
She shakes head at my comment and takes me to the dressing table in the spare bedroom and sits me down. When she begins, it seemed like a dark shadow passed over her face. And I realize that whatever she was thinking, it wasn’t pretty.
“Hey, Shwetha?” She calls to get my attention.
“Hmm?” I ask.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a long time now,” she says. “Remember the incident that happened to me sometime back years ago before moving here?”
I tense. I knew that she was going to tell this not-so-pretty fact that she’d been thinking. “Is everything all right?”
“No, actually,” she takes a deep breath. “When I told you I couldn’t remember the person’s face, I lied. I know all about him, where he lives, who he’s married to and what he does to his wife.”
I am too astounded to speak. I try shaking my head, but I can’t move. I try to speak, but no sound comes out.
But I try again. “No,” I whisper, as tears start to fill my eyes. I quickly dab at my eyes when she’s not looking.
She finishes her work in silence, and I couldn’t speak anything else. I don’t ask her this, but somehow I know that she knew about my husband right when he met her. Which was when she came down to my apartment right after moving.
Instead, I ask her, “When were you planning on telling me?”
She has to think about. Why does she have to think about it?
“I wasn’t, actually,” she says.
I take a deep breath to calm my nerves but it only makes me more nervous. I know what I have to do. For Shruti. For myself. For that so-called husband of mine who is soon going to wonder why he was born in the first place.
“Promise me,” I tell her, “you won’t do anything irrational. Not for me.”
She smiles. “I promise you’re going to something for both of us.”
I know she is right. She can predict the future. Or she can just see me.
I look up, closing my eyes, imagining the stars, and a ‘thank you’ escapes from my mouth.
She dresses me up and smiles at me. And I smile back at her. She leaves as soon as we hear footsteps from the corridor.
And when she sneaks a hug from me, I hug her back just as tightly as she did.
I am crossing the living room and am halfway across to the kitchen when I hear the bell ring. I look at myself in the mirror and brave a smile and think about what I am going to do to him.
I still smile as I open the door, surprised that he hadn’t brought anyone home today.
“Hi, baby,” I whisper against his ear as I take his bag and rip his jacket off. “You must be very tired.”
He seems surprised at the gesture but pleased all the same. “What happened to you?” He asks, in that flirty way and gives me his signature half-smile. And I realize that that’s how he picks up women from places. I am disgusted by it. I am NOT going to be one of them.
He’s still smiling and backing me up against the wall separating the kitchen and the living room. I smile back at him. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I tease. “You still have dirt all over you.” I wrinkle my nose to show him that I like it when he’s clean.
“What do you propose I do?” His nose is touching mine now, his one hand on my hips, the other next to me on the wall, leaning towards me, making sure that there was no air gap between us.
“I have a surprise for you,” I say, smiling. “You should clean up.”
He laughs softly and says, “You always know how to make me happy.” He turns and goes off towards our bedroom to clean up.
He does not take more than five minutes to come out of the wash. He is so predictable. He comes out in a towel. I look at him, a little surprised maybe, and he widens his arms. “We’re anyway going to take our clothes off, so why waste energy in putting them on?” He asks and smiles seductively.
I sigh. And smile, pretending that I was smiling with the thought of what he is going to do to me. Oh, if only he knew.
Oh, wait. He will soon.
“But don’t you remember?” I try to pout cutely. “The best part of us was taking each other’s clothes off. Now only you get you enjoy that.”
“Isn’t that extra work? It would be so much easier if I’m like this.” He scratches his head.
I give a small laugh and walk towards him. Slowly. “But that will be unfair.” When I reach him, I lift my hand to his jaw line and slightly brush it. “Don’t you think?”
He puts his head back, shakes it, thinking how unbelievable I am for making him do this and turns and walks back to the bedroom to dress up. I sigh in relief. I DO NOT want him to be seen naked.
Then I walk to the balcony. It is perfect because it has a gorgeous view of the lake and today, especially, the moon is beautifully reflected in the waters.
I expect him to dress up real quick and hold me from behind. He did that, before things changed. Which was a really long time ago.
Instead, I hear a crash and when I turn around, he looks at me guiltily. He just broke my favourite antique vase by the door of the balcony. I shake my head, trying not to be mad at him and try to smile, to let him know that it was okay.
He sighs in relief.
Then I turned back around and he puts his arms around me, which are not resting. “I hope you’ll let me make it up to you,” he whispers against my ear.
“Come on,” he says, pressing against me. “Let me make it up to you. I know you can’t be mad at me for long.” I feel his smile against my neck.
I finally turn to face him and hold him really close to me. He is probably wishing that we could rip each other’s clothes off right then, by the way he was looking at me. Then I thrust my tiny kitchen knife through the place where it hurts most.
He kneels down, howling with pain, when I clamp my hand over his mouth. “I’m not done yet.” I hiss. “You’re going to pay.”
I force him to stand up, make him look at the balcony, and… It is a good thing that the balcony of a tenth floor apartment has short grills.
He doesn’t even try to cry for help, because he knows that it is useless. I watch him becoming smaller and smaller, and fall with a thud on the ground. And I see him lying lifelessly on the ground.
And then, after what seems like an eternity, I call Shruti. I am very scared.
“Shruti,” I haven’t realized my breath was shallow and fast. “I did it.”
“Again?!” I yell into the phone. I could feel her cringe.
“Please. One last time, Shruti,” she pleads.
I take a shaky breath to compose my anger against what was happening to her. I decide to do something.
“Fine,” I say. “One last time.”
I grab the pack full of makeup which I made particularly for her and my keys and head downstairs, to floor 10, to her flat. I ring the doorbell and I hear her running and tugging at the locks. She opens the door just wide enough for me to squeeze in sideways. She doesn’t even look at me. I set my pack down and turn around to look at her, and I gasp.
“What has that beast done to you?” My voice is barely a whisper. I could see bruises on her face even though she has tried hard to cover it with her hair. I walk up to her and bend down to examine her face properly.
“What is it this time?” I ask her softly.
She laughs weakly through her tears and bruises. “The same.”
I shake my head. “This cannot go on anymore. I am going to put an end to it.”
She grabs my hands and looks at me in the eyes with a different emotion in hers: determination. “No, you can’t. You know what is going to happen if this gets out.”
I know exactly what will happen. That doesn’t mean I can sit back and watch the show of “How hard can I beat Shwetha?” by her husband every other day. She’s been my best friend ever since I moved to this apartment 3 years ago, after the huge incident. I still look back to that day. Even though the very thought of him makes me want to hide in a hole, he led me to her. Someone I could confide in and not feel like the world was ending every time I thought about it. And someone whom I should be ever grateful for. But, I still have one last thing to say to her. It will shatter her, but it is very important that she know it.
I shake my head at her comment and take her to the dressing table in the spare bedroom. We both know the drill. It flows with us naturally. He does something, she calls me, I come, she cries, and I apply make up to her to cover anything that gives away her unhappiness. This time, it’s different. She hasn’t wept in front of me, like she used to. It’s like she’s a whole new person today. I wince at the thought of how much damage it would cause her when I tell her what I’d been meaning to tell her from the very moment I stepped into her apartment, asking for help in the new area. But I work up the courage and decide to tell her.
“Hey, Shwetha?” I ask to get her attention.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a long time now,” I say. “Remember the incident that happened to me some years ago before I moved here?”
She tenses. “Is everything all right?”
“No, actually,” I take a deep breath. “When I told you I couldn’t remember the person’s face, I lied. I know all about him, where he lives, who he’s married to and what he does to his wife.”
I carefully look at her as realization dawns upon her.
“No,” she whispers, tearfully.
I continue my work and couldn’t help noticing how deep the wounds are this time. Also, I can see wounds of struggle on her arms.I finish my work and help her put on new clothes, when she finally breaks the silence. “When were you planning on telling me?”
I think about it. “I wasn’t, actually.”
She exhales steadily and says, “Promise me you won’t do anything irrational. Not for me.”
I smile. “I promise you’re going to do something for both of us.” I believe that she will. She’s the more sensible of the two of us, and I know she will not act rashly.
She looks up, closes her eyes and breathes a faint ‘thank you’.
After dressing her up, I look at her face and I realize how I’ve never seen her skin bare. I think about that and how I know I will see her makeup-less skin in the near future. I smile at her and at the thought that I am leaving her in good hands. She smiles back at me.
I leave her, just as we hear footsteps from the corridor. And I sneak a hug from her. She hugs me back just as tightly as I did.
One hour later, she calls me. “Shruti,” I could hear her heavy breaths and through my speaker. I also notice that she’s whispering. “I did it.”
(This was for a friend’s women magazine, named Bella Donna, and I was so happy to write this for her!)