Creepers and Grapevines
by Ranvir Singh Parmar
part 1 and part 2
appear in this issue.
part 3 of 3
She was woken by the sound of the tap. The water was running so fast it felt the whole house would get flooded; the sofas, chairs, and beds would swim between rooms and knock against the walls to bring the house down. Sanskriti tried to flick on the bulb but there was no light.
She slid towards the end of the bed and touched the carpet to see if it was soaked in water. It was dry, but like the base of a boat. She knew there was water everywhere around; her dolls sleeping on their divan downstairs had most likely drowned; their frocks she had herself sewed and buttoned on their innocent bodies would have come loose. She herself would be safe only as long as she stayed in her bed.
She stuffed her ears with her fingers and tried to sleep. She thought about her school and her summer homework; about the boy in her class who repeatedly pestered her to let him stick his fingers between her legs in exchange for his printed pencils and expensive sharpeners. She used to allow him before, but nowadays he had begun to put his fingers under the noses of the other boys to smell, and Sanskriti was forced to say him no, once and for all, no matter even if he writes a pencil factory on her name; no, no, no.
She thought of her box containing her beads, clips, and necklaces that her mother had tricked out of her baggage because she was anxious Sanskriti may loose it. But in spite of so many issues to think about — the boy and his pencils, excuses for incomplete homework — she couldn’t ignore the voice of the tap, and along with it another far away voice, like someone crying: an animal, a human, moon, or her jiju?
She went to the window and drew away the curtain. The moon was at its full circle. She couldn’t believe there was so much light outside, and all this time she was sitting in dark. She could open her comic book and see the figures inside it, talk to them, tell them how strangely her didi was behaving today. The trees and the flowers glinting with a flash of silver from the moon appeared angry — they have lost their night’s obscurity in so much light. Leaves, petals, blades of grass stood distinct from each other, looking restless with their craving to touch each other, but feeling hesitant they may be seen making love.
Then something flashed. If only she had her binoculars — the night vision ones father had brought for her from London — she could see what lurked behind those trees. She pulled open her window and stepped outside; her feet met the cold surface of the parapet. She could easily make out its white surface in such dark. She took a step forward, breathed, took another step, and breathed again — one thing at a time. A single misstep and she would land two storeys down to her death.
She had made a painting of this house last summer, caught the minutest idiosyncrasies in its architecture with her brush. She had painted its each window, the maze of parapets and balconies facing the garden, and every air-conditioner studded into its walls. She was aware that at the end of the parapet she would have to stoop to prevent her head from bumping into the air-conditioner, and two steps further down she would meet the balcony of another room, her sister’s and jiju’s room.
Sanskriti jumped onto their balcony, opened the back door, and went into the room. Muskan was not inside, and neither was her jiju, though as far as she could recall she had heard his car outside her window. The quilts lay folded over the bed. There was enough moonlight on the bedspread to make out no one had climbed into the bed.
She knew her jiju got into this bed first thing when he came into the house at night, before even taking off his tie and suit, and sometimes with his shoes on. They would be loosened later, slowly, one by one, as Muskan would pester him to get into his night dress before sleeping off, first his tie, and slowly he would peel away his clothes like a dying man, flinging them away on the couch, missing the target and disordering the room, inviting more reprimands from Muskan.
Sanskriti opened the door and descended the stairs. It was dark here and she let her toe sniff her each step before she went ahead. The water was still dripping and its echo was loud here. Though, the water hadn’t yet flooded the house. She didn’t have to swim her way to the garden.
She couldn’t decide between closing the tap first or checking the source of the flash in the garden. At last she decided to close the tap before her fear turned into reality, and her dolls somehow alive and breathing on their divan would be drowned and dead by the time she returned from the garden.
She walked to the end of the corridor where the bathroom was located, guided by the light of the candle that burned in it. It threw out shadows on the wall outside, and in the midst of the confusing patterns she could spot a bent shadow of a woman in a sari. Didi? She ran to embrace the figure behind the shadow. ‘Didi,’ she cried on reaching the door. ‘Didi... who...?’
* * *
Sanskriti realized in her eagerness to meet Muskan she had stepped inside the bathroom, and onto something. But she remained frozen, not able to take a step backward or forward. The ‘thing’ was getting crushed under her slipper but she let it be. A woman was bending over the bathtub scrubbing at the red stains on its side that Sanskriti made out were blood. Wherever the light from the candle fell there was blood: on the sink, splattered over the walls and floor, making its way out of the paydan that had soaked enough blood so that its colour had changed from white to red.
The woman’s hair was falling over her face; its snaky curls hung like worms crawling around a source of food. There was a fair chance she was so busy wiping the blood she hadn’t heard Sanskriti come in. Sanskriti decided to take her chance. It was risky, as the woman’s hip was dangling close to the door, and she could shut it with a flick from her butt. She held her breath, collecting it all somewhere deep inside her chest in the shape of a ball — a round churning ball that was creating a vacuum everywhere else in her body. She decided to run. But then the horrific happened. The woman tucked her curls behind her ears and looked at her. ‘Youuuu...’ Sanskriti screamed. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
‘Hey, girl,’ the woman shouted. ‘Keep your mouth shut, because if I scream, it will bring your whole house down.’
‘What are you doing in our house?’ Sanskriti somehow managed to say.
‘Oh, now look what have you done. Where are you standing?’ The hag slapped on Sanskriti’s feet, forcing her to take a step back. She picked up a small object and held it the light of the candle for inspection. ‘Now, now,’ she said. ‘Look at this mess. Didn’t your sister ask you to stay in your room, huh?’
Sanskriti noticed the object held close to the flickering flame of the candle, so close once or twice the flame brushed past it. The hag was holding a finger from the nail-end, and it was bent around the knuckle. ‘God, what is that?’ Sanskriti asked.
The hag waved her away and put the finger inside a heavy bin bag lying in one corner. ‘Now don’t let me speak so much,’ she said, ‘or you will get nightmares.’
‘What is all this blood?’ Sanskriti said. ‘Where is didi?’ The first drops of tears ran down Sanskriti’s cheeks.
‘Not my mistake,’ the hag said. ‘Your sister’s husband wears rings smaller than the size of his fingers. They weren’t coming off. God swears, I tried spit, soap, oil, every lubricant I knew of, but they wouldn’t slip off. I asked your sister and she said I can try other ways I know.’ She picked up the scrub and started rubbing at the stains again. ‘Now, how many ways do I know at this age?’
Sanskriti looked at the bin bag. She could not fathom what it contained. Amongst what all other things the finger would have landed? The bag bulged out on all sides. Sanskriti felt an urge to feel the contents of the bag. She had this urge before whenever her father had brought home a mutilated chicken inside a black bag. She would never see inside it, but would touch the bag from all sides. She would feel the bones and flesh lying side by side, dismantled from the structure they took so long to grow into. She would marvel at the alternative feelings of bone and flesh, and would fear that somewhere in some part of that bag a ‘bite’ was waiting for her fingers.
The hag put the scrub brush under the tap to clean off the blood it had soaked up. Sanskriti took a step towards the bag, but the hag displayed the agility she showed earlier in the day on the terrace and sprang in front of her and blocked her way. ‘Now where is the princess heading?’ she said. ‘This isn’t your sister in here,’ she said, pointing to the bag. ‘Get out or I will put you into the same bag.’ Sanskriti ran out into the garden, blinded by tears, somehow managing not to bump against anything. She saw Muskan at once, sitting under a tree not far away, dressed in a white sari. She straightaway held Muskan’s hand, ignoring the big knife it was holding — she wasn’t at all pleased to discover what had glinted at her window. There was a faint sound of a song coming from inside the house. Sanskriti looked back to check if the hag was following her.
‘Come quickly, didi,’ Sanskriti said. ‘That woman from the lake is inside our bathroom. Get up, what are you doing here?’
Muskan got up and dusted her sari. But instead of going with Sanskriti to the house she started walking towards the pond. ‘Sanskriti,’ she said. ‘Let’s sit at the pond for a while.’
‘That woman,’ Sanskriti said. ‘She is inside our house. Where is jiju?’
‘Auntie is only here to help me,’ Muskan said. ‘Let her finish her work.’
‘Auntie?’ Sanskriti wrenched her hand free from Muskan’s grasp and got few paces away. ‘She isn’t my Auntie.’
Muskan seated herself at the edge of the pond. She threw the knife in the pond — it settled down with a soft clink — and started swimming her fingers in the water. ‘She is an old lady,’ Muskan said. ‘She isn’t that bad as I first thought. She is here to help me, and I hope not, my love, but she could be helpful to you, too, in the future.’
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Ranvir Singh Parmar