The black creature on the wall had begun to grow again. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, yet steadily, purposefully, menacingly. Quickening his breath, sending streaks of cold shiver down his spine. Forcing tiny droplets of instant perspiration out of every pore on his skin. Air refused to go into his lungs as he struggled pathetically to suck it in. Instead, the silence of the room rushed in like air rushing into an empty bellow.
Silence. Ominous silence.
And a reek. The reek that had rushed into his lungs when he had, alone, quietly, stealthily, mortally frightened and desperate, visited, while his father slept, the place where his mother lay buried. He had bent down to smell the soil, hoping that the scent of his mother would fill his lungs. Hoping that the scent of golden champas would rush into his soul, hoping that the scent of the softly burning mud lamp in front of the Krishna idol, the scent of burning incense, of sandalwood, would rush into his soul. Instead the reek of a hundred tiny dirty-white mushrooms growing from the damp soil of the grave had rushed into him.
Slowly, steadily, the black creature kept growing. He could now see its huge hairy body, the hairy arms and legs, and the two whiskers, long and quivering. Two eyes took shape – monstrous, fiendish, unblinking eyes that looked straight at him. Huge eyes. Immensely huge eyes. Enormous eyes. Gigantic eyes. Red, smoldering, ember eyes.
Glowing like the bodiless eyes that peered at you from the eight corners of solitary nights.
He shrank back further into the corner of the tiny room, pressing himself as hard as possible against the walls. He wanted to get into the walls – go inside them and disappear.
And then the slow movement began. The dark creature was moving slowly, its eyes boring into him. Boring with anger, with dark, silent menace. With relentless, inescapable menace.
Now he felt the heat – the heat coming out of the creature’s eyes. As the creature took steps in his direction, its eyes not leaving his for a second. Slow steps. Steady, deliberate, purposeful steps. Powerful steps. Threatening steps. Diabolic steps.
He could see the creature lift each step up and then, slowly, bring it down.
With burning, searing, scorching anger in its eyes. With vengeance in its eyes.
And the whiskers were growing too. And they were bending now. Curling now. Curling and taking a shape he knew. A shape he knew well and feared.
Taking the shape of his father’s moustaches.
His father’s large, curved, curled, pointed moustaches. Black moustaches.
The creature’s whiskers were now the shape of his father’s moustaches.
Only larger, much larger. Huge.
And then he noticed – the hair on the arms and legs of the creature looked exactly like the hair on Father’s arms and legs. And they were changing too – the creature’s arms and legs were changing too. Changing and becoming Father’s arms and legs. And the eyes were now his father’s too.
Father stood there, before him, wearing a black vest. A sleeveless black vest.
Incoherent sounds escaped him. A confused, chaotic jumble of fast, incoherent sounds. His eyes grew wild. Lost their focus and grew wild. Desperately he looked here and there, searching for a way to escape, while he cringed and shrank into himself. Shriveled inside his skin and then contracted his skin, pressing his back into the corner of the room, pressing it hard, burying his face between his knees, putting his hands above his head, the incoherent gurgle of sounds picking up speed, gathering momentum, soaring in pitch, becoming shrill.
He frothed profusely, agonized.
And the first blow fell.
Keep quiet, you idiot!
Father’s booming voice.
Keep quiet, you trash, you rotten filth, you devil’s spawn. Keep quiet and let people live!
As the blow fell, and then fell again, he tried to crawl deeper into himself. The blabbering grew louder, faster, more incoherent. They were pure animal sounds now.
Blows. Cutting into his back. Cutting into his skin. Biting his flesh. Bringing out blood.
Quiet! Quiet! QUIET! Q –U –I –E –T!
Louder grew the commands.
While he winced. And screamed. And shrieked. The blabbering growing louder than ever. Human sounds suddenly changing midway into guttural, animal grunts. And groans. And sudden shrieks. Explosive, violent, desperate shrieks.
And down came the blows. On his back. On his head. On his hands. Like flails. Like a storm of flails. Relentlessly. Brutally. Pitilessly. Each cutting harder. Deeper.
He buried his head deeper and turned around. Turned around to face the corner of the room, the joint, the junction of the two walls. Eyes closed.
He had to escape. He must find a way to escape.
He opened his eyes. His eyes sought the corner of the walls. The joint of the walls and the floor.
The tiny crack on the cemented floor where it joined the corner of the walls.
The blows. Animal sounds.
His nails would go in. If he had nails. If only he had nails! He had only bloody finger tips.
Bloody from scratching. Bloody from groping. Bloody from tearing.
He scratched at the crack on the cemented floor. Scratched at the sharp edges of the crack. Tore at it. Tried to rip it apart.
All the while making animal sounds.
The crack wouldn’t tear. It wouldn’t rip. It wouldn’t widen. It was still so narrow.
But he had no choice.
He had to escape. And there was no other way. Father was right behind him. Each blow cut deeper. Can’t escape that way.
Crawl head first into the crack. Quick! Fast! Head into the crack! Push hard! Harder! Harder still! And quick! Fast!
The despair in the blabber, in the guttural grunts, was dark now. His bottom, now up in the air, convulsed this way and that as he fought desperately to avoid the blows. The froth from his mouth had made the crack wet. And into that wet, narrow crack he pushed his head with all his might.
The head wouldn’t go in. Try again with your hands. Tear at it. Tear the crack apart! Rip it open!
Bloody fingers trying to rip open the bloody crack on the cement floor.
No, not hands. Head again. Push your head in. Hard! Harder! Harder still!
Then the kick came. On the rump. A hard, mighty, angry, savage, murderous kick. His head banged against the wall. BANG!
And then he began falling through the crack. Began falling slowly, gently. Into darkness. Floating down, and down, and further down, softly, gravity kind to him. Floating downwards like a feather.
He was a white feather with infinitely soft down on it, swaying gently in the breeze, in a breeze full of the fragrance of champas, coming leisurely down, weightlessly, effortlessly, sailing down through warm air, enjoying the caress of space, enjoying the security of the air that was cradling him with hands as soft as the petals of a pink lotus.
Floating endlessly down, floating downward in a mild, soft, pink ecstasy, he reached the bottom of a deep pit. He lay on a soft bed of serenity there, surrounded by gentle warmth, on the bed of a deep chasm.
There was no Father there. There were no black monsters there. No blows with belts there. Nothing there. Except darkness. Comforting, secure painless darkness. Primal darkness. Endless darkness. Lumbar darkness.
Safe from his father. Safe from everything.
Later, much later, his mother came to him.
She was wearing the pink housecoat he liked so much.
She didn’t have the decaying smell of tiny gray-white mushrooms, or the stagnant smell of a closed room with no ventilation. Instead, she had the scent of golden champas. And she smelt of the softly burning mud lamp in front of the idol of Krishna, of burning incense, of sandalwood. She smelt of milk and honey, of cooked rice, of ripe fruits.
Wearing the pink housecoat, she stood smiling at him, while butterflies fluttered around her, while a soft breeze blew around her, carrying the intoxicating scent of the earth as the first raindrops fell. She stood smiling at him like a moonlit night. And then she bent down and picked him up gently, softly.
He was a little baby now, smiling at his mother. And laughing. Laughing a child’s innocent laughter, laughter full of mirth.
Mother was feeding him. She was feeding him from a small feeding vessel with a tiny spoon. Seating him on her lap, mother fed him mashed pulp of fruits but he wouldn’t swallow it. Instead, he laughed and brought the pulp mash out and let it drool down his chin, laughing all the while. His mother tried again and again to gently push the pulp in, which made him laugh all the more.
What he wanted wasn’t food.
He wanted milk. He wanted his mother’s breast. He began jumping up and down on his mother’s lap, pulling at her breast with a tiny arm, hardly managing to catch it, demanding the breast in his mouth, while his mother held his hand down with one hand, the hand by which she was holding him, and, with the other, pushed the cloth to a side, revealing a soft breast full of milk, seeing which he got excited, thrilled, impatient. He was laughing now, fighting, grabbing at her. Mother was drawing a breast gently with her hand towards his mouth and then trying to put the nipple into his mouth. He had difficulty in taking it in as he, restlessly, greedily, took his mouth all over the breast. And then the nipple was in his mouth, in his small toothless baby mouth, and he began sucking at it, drinking. With one tiny hand he held tightly on to the breast, pressing it now, squeezing it now, fondling it now, liking it all. Mother liked it too. She smiled again and closed her eyes.
Suddenly he pushed the breast away, pushed Mother away. The milk had begun to taste like blood. He wiped his mouth with his fingers and looked at the fingers. Blood! His fingers were full of blood. Red blood. Fresh blood. The smell of fresh blood rushed into his nostrils.
Scared, screaming, he looked up at Mother.
There was no Mother anywhere.
Horrified he looked around. Where was he?
He saw walls around him. And two windows. And a door. Closed. Bolted from outside. He was in a room. He was in his room. He was lying in a corner of his room. In the corner farthest from the door.
Lying bathed in blood. Lying curled up, his knees against his chest. Lying like a fetus. Lying parched. And when he licked his lips, he tasted blood. His own blood.
His whole body was a screaming bundle of pain. His head was throbbing, feeling like it weighs a ton.
The spasms of searing, screeching pain cleared his mind. Bringing a moment of clarity to him.
He was a prisoner in a small, dark, stuffy, ill-ventilated room in his house. His father had locked him up there, never allowing him to go out, except to let him go to the bathroom. When he screamed for it.
He did not want to be in that room. He did not want to be locked up in the room. He wanted to be let out. He wanted to go out.
He wanted to get out.
Bang on the door. Bang on the door. Let me out! Bang on the door. Pull at the bars of the window. The bars do not come off. Try the other window. Pull at the bars. Pull them off. Bang on the door. Out! Out! Let me out! Let me out of here! Now! I want to go out! Let me out!
Bang on the door. Bang. BANG! Mummy! Mummy!
No. Mother wouldn’t come. Mother couldn’t come.
He collapsed on the floor, drained of all energy.
Mother wouldn’t come. Mother couldn’t come. They have buried Mother. They had laid Mother on a mat on the floor and bathed her. And the priest chanted mantras and did the pooja. The pit to bury Mother in was ready. In a distant corner of his backyard. Under the breadfruit tree where he sometimes had the swing. And they wanted to take her and bury her there. But he did not want them to. He did not want Mother to allow them to bury her. Run, Mother, run – he had said. Mother didn’t move. And when they tried to pick her up and carry her, he had fallen on her and held her down tightly. He wouldn’t allow them to take her away. He wouldn’t allow them to bury her. He had hugged her tightly. Clutched her. Weeping. Screaming. Protesting. Begging Mother not to allow them to. And when someone had tried to pull him away from Mother, he had scratched at him. Hit him. Bit the hands that held him. Kicked the people who were trying to pull him away. Pushed them away. Nobody will take my mother away, he had said. Nobody is going to take my mother away, he had screamed. Leave my mother, leave her alone, he had shouted as loudly as he could. His voice had begun to crack, shouting. He was so angry, so mad.
And yet they had taken Mother away. And buried her. Placed her in the pit and covered her up with soil.
Mother wouldn’t come. Mother couldn’t come.
Mother! Mother! M-O-T-H-E-R! M O T H E R!
There she was!
But she isn’t coming to him.
She can’t come to him.
How can she come to him? She is hanging from the ceiling fan. There is a tight rope round her neck and she is hanging from the ceiling fan by the rope. With round, protruding, wide open eyes. Wearing a maxi. The pink maxi. Her maxi gently fluttering in the light breeze.
He ran to her. He hugged her legs. Tightly. Shook her by her legs. Come down, Mother, come down – he begged.
The stool. The wooden stool. Mother needs the wooden stool to come down. Place the stool under her feet.
He picked up the stool that was lying toppled and placed it under her feet. Carefully placed her feet on the stool. The silver anklets spoke to him. They always tinkled and talked to him. Sometimes they sang – beautiful melodies. As when she walked. Or danced.
Mother danced. She danced for him. With him. When they were alone. When Father wasn’t around. He wasn’t ever to mention it to Father – not ever to mention that Mother danced.
He looked at her feet lovingly. She had such beautiful feet. And a lovely silver ring on a toe.
The feet were moving away from the stool. He brought them back again. Mother, Mother, he called, pulling at her maxi to draw her attention. Mother, come down, Mother.
Mother didn’t come down.
Now he was angry with her. And desperate. Come down, Mother, he called in an angry, helpless, loud voice. Come down. If you don’t come down this instant, I am never going to talk to you again. Not ever.
Still she wasn’t coming down. Not listening to him.
He began crying. Crying loudly. Crying in bitter pain. Mo-ther! MO-THER!
Father’s footsteps. Angry footsteps. Approaching. Fast. Fast and angry. Father entering the room.
He ran to him and kicked him. Father had killed her. He had slapped her, beaten her, kicked her. And belted her. And killed her. Wicked Father. Wicked, wicked Father.
Father’s slap was brute. Rough, hard, and brute. Father slapped him and pushed him to the floor. He fell down. His head hit the floor. His head was throbbing. His cheek was burning. He began screaming.
Scream. Scream in protest. Scream in pain. Scream in despair. Scream!
Lots of people. People coming running from everywhere. But he wanted his mother. Someone taking him to another room. He wouldn’t go. It was Raja’s mother. She was taking him away from his mother. He didn’t want to go. He scratched her face. Scratched her hands. But she took him away. Lifted him and carried him away to the next room.
And now they were taking her away. They had bathed her and the priest had done the pooja, chanting mantras and now they were taking her away to bury her in the pit under the breadfruit tree.
He wasn’t going to allow them to take her away.
He clutched her tightly.
Clutched her with all the strength in his body.
And the blows fall on him, too.
On his back.
The belt falls on his back, too. And it hurts. It hurts badly. It hurts dreadfully. The blows fall savagely on his back as he lies on his mother, protecting her. The belt cuts the air and then it cuts his back. Cuts his skin.
But he won’t leave.
He won’t let Mother be belted.
Father is belting Mother. Wicked Father is belting his mother. He will protect Mother. His dear mother. Mother who loved him so much. He hugs her tightly, his body wincing at each blow.
Father snatches him by the hand and throws him to a corner of the room. He is dazed for a moment. The room whirls round. He is on a swing. Swinging forward and backward. Like on the swing on the breadfruit tree. The world rushing at you. The world rushing away.
Everything rushing at you, everything rushing away. And he is swinging up forward, down backward, up backward, down forward, up forward again. Swoosh up, swoosh down. Out of breath. Everything swinging. Everything spinning.
The swinging slows. The whirling slows. The swinging and the whirling stops. And Father is there. Still belting Mother. Kicking her.
So you love the little bastard, eh? He is shouting. You love him enough to take money from my pocket, eh? Without asking, eh? And buy him a ball, eh?
His new rubber ball.
Swish, the belt comes down.
Mother winces as it cuts her skin.
Father drops the belt. Drags Mother to the wall. Bangs her head on the wall. Speak, you whore, speak! Speak, you daughter of a bitch, speak!
If only he had been big. He would catch father’s head and bang it on the wall. As Father is doing with Mother’s head. And Father would beg – no, no, don’t, please!
Apologize! Say you are sorry! Beg! Beg on your knees! Beg on your knees! Beg of me to stop! Beg for my mercy! Apologize! Apologize to me! Now!
Mother doesn’t apologize. Mother doesn’t kneel down. Mother doesn’t beg. She just weeps. Lying near the wall. Curled up.
Blood on Mother’s hair.
Father pulls Mother up by her hair. Thick, dark, long hair. Soft hair. Fragrant hair. Father pulls Mother up by her hair. She is on her feet now. He shakes her. He slaps her. A stinging slap. More slaps. You will buy a ball for him with stolen money, with money stolen from my pocket. Whose bastard son is he, anyway? Tell me, whose bastard son is he. For six years I have been asking. Tell me now, whose son is he, anyway? Not mine, I am not fair – whose son is the bastard? COME ON, TELL ME! Father’s booming voice. Booming, angry, violent voice – WHOSE BASTARD IS HE?
Mother silent. Not a word from her. Slap on her face. Slap on the face again. Father throws her on the floor again. Kicks her again.
Tell me, tell me you bitch, tell me you whore, tell me you whore of a leper, tell me you worm of the dirty gutter, tell me – whose son is he? Today either you will tell me or you will die. You will both die. I will finish you off first and then I will finish him off. Or maybe I will finish him off first and then I will deal with you. Or else you tell me. I want an answer today.... Are you going to tell me? Or do I break your bastard’s head on the wall, spill his brains on the floor? No? You won’t say? All right, if that is what you want.
Father is coming towards him. Murder in his eyes. He is going to kill him today. Murder in his eyes. In his unblinking eyes. Fierce eyes. Burning eyes. Always burning eyes. Now murderous eyes. Today Father is certainly going to kill him.
Father’s steps moving towards him. Angry steps. Strong steps. Mother struggling to get up. Mother rushing at Father, pulling him back. Father pushes her down. She catches hold of his legs.
Run, Son, run – Mother’s words. Run, Son, run.
He runs out of the room. Run, Son, run. He runs out of the house. Run, Son, run. He runs out into the street. Run, Son run. He runs through the street. Runs without stopping.
Murder in Father’s eyes. Run, Son, run.
He is hiding behind a little kiosk. Nobody can see him now. Father cannot see him now.
He has been hiding there long. The fat boy is eating a toffee. He has bought a toffee and is eating it. He wants a toffee too. He is hungry. He is afraid to go home. Murder in Father’s eyes. Run, Son, run. But he is very hungry. There are cramps in his stomach. And he is thirsty. He has to go home.
He opens the front door slowly. Nobody in sight. Father not in sight. He opens the door to the inner room. That’s the way to the kitchen. Darkness in the inner room. And then he sees.
Mother. Mother hanging from the ceiling fan. A rope tight round her neck. She is hanging by the rope from the ceiling fan. Mother’s eyes wide open. Not blinking. Her maxi softly moving in the breeze. A wooden stool lying toppled under her feet. Mother. MOTHER!
He runs to her. He hugs her legs. Tightly. Shakes her by her legs. Come down, Mother, come down, he begs. He picks up the stool that was lying down, toppled, and places it under her feet. Carefully places her feet on the stool. The silver anklets speak to him. He looks at her feet lovingly. She has such beautiful feet. The feet are moving away from the stool. He brings them back again. Mother, Mother, he calls, pulling at her maxi to draw her attention. Now he is angry with her. And desperate. Come down, Mother. Mother! MOTHER! MO...THER!
The door opens.
What do you want? The booming voice. The booming, angry, violent voice.
Mother – whimpering.
Want your mother? Want your mother, eh? The booming voice. The booming, angry, violent voice. Threatening. The belt coming out.
No. No. No. Pleading.
Don’t want your mother? The booming voice. The booming, angry, violent voice. Threatening.
His head shakes. No. No.
The belt goes back.
Go back to your corner. The booming voice. Your mother is dead. The whore is dead. The booming voice. She isn’t coming back, isn’t ever coming back. The booming voice. Go back to your corner. And keep quiet. The booming voice. Not one word. Not a sound. The booming voice. The booming, angry, violent voice. Threatening.
He backs away to the corner. Whimpering.
Not a sound! The booming voice.
He stops whimpering.
The door closes. Father disappears. Father’s footsteps moving away, growing distant.
He is alone in the room now. Alone in the corner.
Silent room. Stuffy room. Suffocating room. Smothering room. And ...
He looks all around. Searching eyes. Scared eyes.
The dark blot on the wall.
The black creature on the wall.
It’s growing. Growing slowly again. Growing fast again. Growing very big. Black. Huge. Enormous. Monstrous. With huge hairy arms and legs. With long whiskers! Whiskers that are beginning to change!
Mother! Mother! Come, Mother! The monster advancing. Menacingly. Advancing. With slow, steady steps. Powerful steps. Unerring steps. Purposeful steps. Advancing.
Turn around. That crack in the corner. That tiny crack. That bloodstained crack. Pull it apart. Pull it apart with your fingers. Rip it apart with your fingers. That is the only way out. Push your head in. The head is not going in. Not going in at all. Push harder. Push your head in harder. With all your might. Tightening every muscle. Push it in.
The head is not going in. Not going in at all.
Mother! Mother! MOTHER!
Behind him the sound of the door pushing open with a bang.
Father at the door again. Standing at the door filling the space. With head in the sky. Giant Father. Angry Father. Violent Father. Monstrously angry and violent Father.
The monster has gone. Father at the door, monstrously angry.
So you won’t keep quiet, eh? Won’t keep quiet, eh? The booming voice. I’LL TEACH YOU TO KEEP QUIET! I’ll teach you THAT! The booming voice. The booming, angry, violent voice. Menacing. Advancing steps.
His mouth begins to froth. Incoherent sounds escape him.
A confused, chaotic jumble of fast, incoherent sounds.
Wild eyes. Frothing mouth. Incoherent gibberish.
Turn around again.
The crack in the corner again. The narrow crack. Bloodstained crack. Crack in the cement.
Scratch at it. Pull it apart. Rip it open.
Push your head in.
Pull it apart. Pull apart the bloodstained crack. The narrow crack. Rip it open.
Push your head in. Crawl in.
MO – THER!