The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories
Seema slathered bathing gel onto her calloused palms. Oh! How much she craved these hours of solace. With a jerky movement like a knee- reflex she looked at the glow-in-the-dark clock on the shelf beside the tub she was in. She had to be quick though there was still an hour to go before he would arrive.
Marking his entry by noisily dumping his keys onto the dining table in case Seema wasn’t present to welcome him. That was her signal for serving him cooled tea and hot bhajjiya. And after that massaging his stinky feet while he watched the evening news.
And while his feet stank she had to smell fresh. Citrus to be specific. Lemon to be very specific. That’s why it was important for her to finish bathing before he arrived.
Knowing there was still an hour left; she relaxed a little and played with the bubbles.
Remembering the scene from the cartoon Cinderella where she blew bubbles while mopping the floor singing ‘O sing sweet nightingale’. Wasn’t she almost like her? Supposed to be treated like a princess but ends up doing house chores, her back upright and head bent low at every command of her in-laws?
But at least Cinderella had her friends (mice or no mice, friends come in all shapes and sizes) beside her to help her through thick and thin and the most important she does meet her prince charming.
But a girl after marriage is treated like an outcast by her own parents. She must swallow her sorrow without belching any grief to her family/society.
Seema dwells in her fairy tale world in order to escape her every day torture. What dreams she had had when she was single. Most of her classmates rushed into marriage like it were a feast not to be missed. Like it was a seasonal mela. All the unnecessary hype for nothing. It could have been postponed. Or rather avoided.
Ha! Now she knows better. All her illusions of a blissful marriage burst like crackers leaving the smell of smoke for her senses to cherish.
What for had her parents groomed her so well? What for had she topped in all those exams and excelled in extra- curricular activities? To sit at home and cook? Oh! Her trophies must be grey from age. She wanted to bring them along with her to her new home. But Ma said her in-laws wouldn't like it. It was childish. Maybe Ma would have discarded them the day she stepped out of her single threshold. (She didn’t know that Ma would polish it every day. Even now.)
What for had her parents always reminded her to take her vitamins? For healthy thick black hair? For healthy glowing skin? So that her husband may admire her. So that her in-laws would compliment her. But none of that happened. They always found a flaw in her no matter what.
Why had Ma warned her to keep her temper in check for so long that now it had reduced to a dying ember? Did she know that Seema would need her temper the most here? So that her in-laws could get a piece of her mind? Maybe she did and that’s why she hadn’t sparked the fire. Because who was to lose in the end?
Her precious daughter, Seema. Not those hissing pythons, her in-laws, not even her husband Akash. He would find another wife. A more subtle one. But she didn’t have to worry about that for now there was no energy left in her to fight back. She realised it was a lost cause.
A woman is always responsible for her failure no matter what. A widow. A rape victim. A divorcee. A spinster. An infertile or an unhappy married woman. It isn’t in her hands yet she is blamed for it all.
Whereas her success is frowned upon but always attributed to her supporting husband/in-laws.
Though she knew the answers she still questioned herself like a stubborn child not wanting to admit defeat.
And why had Papa pushed her to get a driving license? Why? Why? She asked the bubbles. They snapped in reply.
Again her attention went to the ticking clock reminding her she only had another half hour left.
Why did she have to feel like that? A prisoner in her own home? Maybe it was not really her home. Home was with Ma and Pa. Flesh of flesh.
Pa loved calling her a butterfly. She was so. Hyper and bright. Her Pa also knew that if a butterfly lover held her wings for too long fascinated with her beauty, wouldn’t her colour fade? Leaving her bright soul only to be imprinted on the lover’s fingers?
But what would a butterfly be without the lover’s attention? Of what use would her beauty be if it wasn’t appreciated?
He was a father. Right. Worrying came naturally to him. But he had to give her away in marriage. How long could he keep her in a jar? She had to go and experience. Love.
Love which doesn’t sprout from blood but fate. Which is not originated from an umbilical cord but vows.
The doorbell chopped Seema’s reverie leaving it hanging like a decapitated chicken.
The interruption from fantasy to reality (or life to death in case of the chicken) so abrupt, it seemed surreal.
He was back before time!!! Oh my God! What could it be? It couldn't be anyone else. They never had visitors at this hour. Everyone knew this was the time when Akash was back from work and he needed his rest.
And besides he had recently begun the ritual of ringing the bell even though he would unlock the door a minute later. Why? Because many a times Seema hadn't heard the lock click and he hated that. He wanted her prepared for his arrival. Like the fanfare marking a king’s arrival.
As if his feet massage was not enough for him to feel superior over her. He hated the cracks on her heels but not once had he suggested massaging some ointment into them. That would be a disgrace!! What irony!! A husband having to massage his wife’s feet. That too a housewife!! What work did she have to do other than sit with her feet propped-up? Who was around to see any way? Maybe a CCTV camera should be installed to see if Seema’s claims are right. Her screaming heel cracks were of no protest.
His parents went to his sister’s place most of the time nowadays. Because it was known to everyone that a bahu never gets along with her in-laws. At least a modern one never did. The one with fancy medals/qualifications only to be faded/burnt with time.
Now, he would be furious if he saw her wet hair. He preferred it oiled and plaited. He hated carelessness.
She hurried out of the tub after a quick scrub. Dried her hair furiously with a thin towel that hung on the door’s rod. It hurt her and she winced. Disappointed strands flew from her head and plunged to their death. Some stubborn ones left her head but clung to her towel for dear life.
She had always been delicate.
He banged the bathroom door with his bunch of keys and she pissed in fright.
That’s how he preferred to communicate with her. Through sounds, grunts, silence, commands and curses.
So it was him. But what was so important?
Her mind tried fishing for the date. Maybe its relevance had slipped her mind. But nothing came to her in panic. No numbers. Just static. She closed her eyes and silently thanked God for her intuition not to play music while bathing for she wouldn’t have heard the doorbell in that case and it would have been the end of her.
She looked down at the bathroom floor which was a mess of hair strands twirling in pee.
She unlocked the door and just stood there terrified. She had forgotten to wrap herself in the towel.
How miserable she must have looked to him?
Nude. Crouched at an odd angle. Hair loose like a banshee. Split-ends glowing in the bathroom light like tributaries. Brandishing her towel as a weapon. So helpless. And to top it all with hair and pee at her feet.
But he didn’t look. He was already inside their bedroom.
She hurried out. Still naked.
He was holding handcuffs. Her husband. She had always seen police holding them. What was he doing with those? She didn’t have to ask.
For the first time she saw excitement in his eyes. He wasn’t this happy even during their honeymoon. But somehow this didn’t excite her.
‘Ohh good I don’t have to waste my time getting you undressed. Here see what I found today. My colleague said his wife was all perky to try them out. I had nothing to contribute to the conversation, you very well know why. But see I got them for us to try it out. Come!’
She stood there. Pee trickled down her right thigh in a spiral making her leg look like a plump candy- cane. Her legs started trembling.
He laughed loudly. ‘Fear is good. But I’m not yet started. Come! So that I can also say that I couldn’t wait to try it out with you. No one has to know how boring you are.’
When she found consciousness, she didn’t realise what she was doing. Screaming? Dreaming?
Her husband was in front of her. Looking like he was doped. The look of ecstasy. And she was handcuffed.
She didn’t deserve this. As it is all she felt was bondaged in this marriage. Suffocated. Restricted and shameful. Humiliation aimed at her upbringing in every word hissed at her by him or his parents.
This was the extreme. She felt her soul being torn into a million pieces by rabid dogs. She screamed and screamed hoping it would scare the nightmare away.
Her husband only laughed louder. ‘Yes woman!! Yes!! Scream your lungs out!! You’re getting there.’
Maybe she was. Maybe she was getting closer to her Prince Charming. She looked at the clock. It struck twelve. Soon. Soon. He would find her lost soul and come looking for her. Completing her. Re-uniting her soul with his.
Her screams would draw him closer.
And she would be waiting. Waiting.
Just like a zoo animal waiting in hope of being freed someday.
Or a princess waiting for her prince. Or a damsel in distress. Does it matter?
© Michelle D’costa December 2012
a.k.a The Bookworm is an Indian writer/editor raised in Bahrain. Her prose/poetry can be found in many online/print journals like eFiction India, Big River Poetry Review etc. Her writing has won international contests, recently being the Runner-up of poetandgeek.com poetry competition 2012. She accepts feedback from her readers on her Facebook page- http://www.facebook.com/MichelleWendyDcosta?ref=ts.
Mamta didn’t need an alarm to wake her up every morning. She was among those blessed early risers who found themselves unable to sleep beyond their routine waking up hour
It was time for my family to look for marriage proposals for me. Amma decided that only a job would get me a girl. A job that paid. Something. Anything.