I see the dense smoke drift away slowly from my half closed lips, blending with the humid air. Standing by the edge of the terrace, elbows leaning on the concrete wall, cigarette in my right hand, I gaze at the full moon. It is cold and I can feel goose bumps on the exposed skin of my legs under the khaki shorts and on my arms where my gray round neck tee sleeves could not reach. I ignore the chill of the night; gulp it down with some assistance from the tobacco smoke. I contemplate on how the moon has always stayed a constant companion to me, always discreet with my secrets. A fleeting thought suddenly occurs to me. How many nights have I spent this way; talking to moon and being escorted always, by my only other companion- Cigarette?
I do a mental calculation and come up with an answer to my question. I started smoking at the age of 13 and it’s been little over 9 years since I started coming here regularly. The terrace of my apartment served as a hiding place during my initial days of the addiction; a safe haven away from my controlling parents.
A flash from the past hits me with full force.
“Look what your son is hiding in his dirty little bag. That scoundrel!” my dad fishes out a cigarette pack from my school back pack, which I had nonchalantly tossed on the sofa. “Is this how you raise your child?” his voice grows ominous and he strikes out at my mom.
I hear the thwack of his slap across mom’s cheek ring in my ears and I immediately cower under the study table of my room. My heart had pounds against my chest when I hear heavy footsteps advancing toward my room. My mom enters the room furious, and drags me out by my ears from my hiding. I scream in pain and the next thing I know, blows are raining on me. I try to protect myself, but my lean, small hands are insufficient against the violence. The ordeal lasts for a good 10 minutes, but I feel the pain only for the first three blows after which I stand there, pillar like, not harried to protect myself from her blows anymore. I realize I’m numb and the pain is replaced with ecstasy. I watch everything happening around me in slow motion. I can see my father standing at the entrance of my room smoking, maybe relishing in my agony, my mother striking me again and again, the shards of her broken bangles fall to the ground. Once she was done venting out her frustration she leaves the room crying followed by my smug dad. I stand still for what seems an eternity; my tears dried, leaving stains down my face. There were no more fresh tears in my eyes, instead there was something new. Resolve!
Since that night, the moon emerged to be my only companion and I grew to be a rebel, distant from my parents, oblivious to their complaints. During new moon, I would usually stay back in my room and write my experiences over the month. Tonight, with the moon shining bright on me, I feel unusually melancholic. A thought struck me, a line in fact, from Kahled Hossieni’s book- Kite Runner, “After all, didn’t all father’s in their secret hearts harbor desire to kill their sons?” I wondered if it applied to my father too.
My introspection is interrupted by a sudden feeling of someone watching me. I turn around to find a girl walk up to me slowly and take a place next to me against the terrace wall. The moon light shines on her face making her look radiant, almost divine. For a minute I am left wondering if she is a figment of my imagination. She smiles and says “Hello… It’s cold isn’t it?” Her smile is infectious, and involuntarily I could see myself smile back at her. She stays about a foot away from me and I ponder why she would not come close to me. Did she want me to make the move to get close to her? She had mentioned it was cold. Getting close to her was the only logical thing to do.
I choose not to make the move anyways and stay put. Instead I say, “Yes, it’s cold, but the moon makes you forget it.” I scan her without making it evident and find her astoundingly beautiful. She looks a few years older to me and filled out nicely in her floral tunic that did no justice in hiding her curves. Her legs long and thin in the black legging and her hair tied neatly in a ponytail; with a strand framing her cheek, mesmerizes me.
“What brings you here at such an ungodly hour?” I ask. Does she stay in my apartment building? If so; why then haven’t I seen her before? No one usually comes here past midnight, besides me.
She smiles back, a forced smile, but this time I notice something sad about it. Was it existent the first time too? “It was stifling at home, I wanted some fresh air” she says. I could see tears welling up in her eyes. It glistened in the moonlight. She turned her face exactly when the tear threatened to fall on her cheek and reveal itself.
There was a hush which stretched on for what seemed an eternity. I hear her soft sob and decide to break my silence, “I’m sorry, but is there something which is worrying you?”
Her wails get louder; she turns toward me and manages to get the slurry of words out amidst her sobs. “I….I can’t keep up this charade. I thought I could love my husband… my parents convinced me that it’s not a big deal when two strangers marry each other. Marriage would bring the much needed love into our lives. But, I don’t see it happening. How can I love someone who finds reasons to hurt me and does not spare a single chance to show violence on his wife?” She vents.
“How long have you been married?” I am curious.
“A year; and not a single day has passed when I have not repented my decision of marrying him” she confesses.
“He may not be that bad. You just need to get to know him better.” I reassure her.
“Last week he came drunk and when I served him dinner he started screaming at me and name-calling me with dirty abuses. When I asked him not to shout as the neighbors will be disturbed, he spat on my face and slapped me hard.”
“Sometimes he would come home late at night and rape me when I’m asleep. I would wake up in the middle of the attack and weep inconsolably, but he would have no mercy.” It was getting difficult for her to breath amid her short sharp cries. “Every day I have to worry that my colleagues will figure out my plight looking at the marks on my face and body.”
It was then that I notice a hint of a deep gash on her forehead which she had carefully covered it under a side fringe. Her right arm had fresh red print of fingers, disclosing that she was held too tightly. I avert my eyes half with decency and half with disgust.
We stand there talking for more than an hour, which mostly included her recounting her incidents with her abusive husband. I can feel myself get more and more furious with every incident told by her. “Why don’t you take an action against such a monster?” I ask.
“I can’t” she says, still sobbing “I have nowhere to go. My parents are not supportive. They are worried what the society will say if I go to the police or even leave my husband. I’m helpless, with no option but to stay with him all my life” she shudders with the cold and wraps her hands around herself in an embrace.
I feel sorry for her. A beautiful woman like that deserved better than being treated the way she had been. I try to speak but the pity I feel for her overwhelms me, I wonder about her fate to be stuck with an unscrupulous husband.
“I think I should leave. I just came here for some fresh air.” She wipes the traces of tears off her face and leaves with a meek ‘thank you for listening’.
I stay there contemplating morosely at her situation and a plausible way out of it and then head my way back to my apartment after 10 minutes.
Three days later I wake up and decide to read the morning newspaper, which is unusual as I preferred reading just news alerts on my phone. I see a photo on the page that I could recognize. It was the same woman I had met on the terrace two nights back. I read the news following the photo:
‘Aranya Kashyap, a 26 year old receptionist was asphyxiated as she fell into a manhole on Friday night. Aranya was on her way back from office late at night and is being suspected to have overlooked the manhole and stumbled into its depths. She was discovered 5 hours after the accident, when her worried husband set out for a search with a few locals. She had suffered a concussion on her head due to the fall which resulted in losing her consciousness and eventual death by sewer gases.’
Upset, I abandon the paper along with my morning tea and go out for a long walk.
That night back to my usual spot on the terrace watching the moon, I realize I missed the only woman who spoke to me at this spot. But then convince myself that what happened to her was for the best. A smile spreads across my face, another achievement to be shared with my only friend: The moon.
I tell him how I tracked her office the day after we met her, which was not difficult at all, given how stupid she was to not care about who was following her. I waited in the darkness outside her office on that fated night. I had decided the attire for the night would be an ill-fitting hoodie which would hide my identity, yet make me look unsuspicious. She stayed at her office late, till 10pm while I was patiently waiting since 8. Once she came out of the building I decided to follow her. The night made it easier for me to stay in the darkness, undiscovered. I had observed that every day she would walk her way back to home after work. I had finalized on a deserted road on her way back home with a manhole to put my plan into action.
Once she reached the manhole I crept up behind her quick as a flash. I pulled out the hammer that I had been hiding under my long sleeved pullover, clamped her mouth shut with my left hand and with my other hand, swung the hammer hard on her head. I could see the head of my hammer coated thick with her blood. I kept her face turned away from me so that she would not recognize me if she happened to survive. I then pushed her into the manhole knowing that it was about 10ft deep and was an enclosure to poisonous gases which would eventually kill her, had the hammer failed.
I turned around to find the street was empty as before, so I pocketed the hammer and scurried my way back home.
I turn to the moon, leaning against the wall casually with a cigarette in hand and brief him “She wanted a way away from her husband and I did this keeping her best interests in mind. If not, she would have continued living her life with someone she hated without making an attempt at improving it.”
“Marriage should not end up to be a prison where you are forced to live with each other. If in future they decide to have a child, he would for no reason suffer due to the differences between his parents and become another messed up kid with a normal healthy outlook.”
“I see unschooled women, without jobs, still taking a stand against abusive husbands. This woman on the other hand was an educated, independent wife who felt she could not survive without support! By not raising her voice against injustice she was being a part of the crime.
Anyways I gave her another chance at making her life better. She has received the freedom she deserved.”
I stub my cigarette and smile as I imagine the plight of her husband when the police soon find the hammer at his house. The same hammer which I’d used to hammer her head with and was careful to wipe my fingerprints off and wash traces of blood, still leaving enough for the forensics to accuse him of his wife’s murder. I had sneaked it into their apartment when he was out searching for his wife.
I feel pleased at myself and wink at the moon. The moon gives me an all knowing, sly smile and we bid Goodnight.
Also Read: 2 MINUTE’S KISS